People's Tribune
July, 1998

 

REMEMBERING A HISTORY-MAKING MOVEMENT 30 YEARS LATER DRUM: THE
BEAT GOES ON AND ON

By General Baker

Thirty years ago, in 1968, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement
(DRUM) was founded at Chrysler's Hamtramck Assembly Plant near
Detroit. It was the first of the RUM groups that later became part
of the core of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.

The Hamtramck Assembly Plant was the home of the Dodge cars, where
Chargers and Hemis rolled off the line at a clip of 72 cars per
hour. DRUM was born out of the dire need to address the conditions
of factory life at the point of production. The strike on July 12,
1968 began a groundswell and became a rallying point for black
workers everywhere! The group was formed during a wildcat strike
at the Dodge Main Plant in May, 1968 and led its first strike on
the same plant on July 12, idling 10,000 workers for 5 days.

The strike itself caught both the United Auto Workers (UAW) and
Chrysler off guard; neither was prepared to deal with the
upheaval. Thus, Chrysler labeled the strike extralegal instead of
illegal and no discharges were sustained. Both Chrysler and the
UAW frantically called out to find some new minority
representatives within their ranks, in place of the old leadership
types, to deal with the new conditions.

The DRUM strike took place because there was no other way, at the
time, to address the effects of discrimination in the workplace.
There was no possible Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
lawsuit to demand economic redress, no television or other media
exposure to popularize our plight; just tit-for-tat struggle at
the gates and the factory floor.

Things have changed since then. There are many lessons learned
from the DRUM struggles. First and foremost, that event changed
both the UAW and Chrysler. They claimed they stood for equality,
but nothing could be further from the truth. The Fair Employment
Practice Commission which was hailed as a path or solution to
racial discrimination, was incompetent and ineffective and thus
did nothing.

Not a single representative tied to the bureaucratic structure of
the corporations or the union lifted a finger. Because DRUM was
not tied to either of them, and stood independent of both, it was
able to strike out in both directions in the battle for equality.

But the DRUM road was pursued in a period when the speculative
wing of capital was still in its infancy, at a time when the
financial and industrial wing of capital held hegemony. Thus, the
large and stable plants were still like stable fixtures.

The wholesale development of plant closings was not yet
predominant, thus rendering the point of production central to
organizing large concentrations of unskilled and semiskilled
workers. It took place when the body shops and paint shops inside
of the large auto plants had real concentrations of black and
other minority workers, before they were replaced by robots.

It coincided with the period of time when trade unions were still
growing and not in decline. It took place before Honda, Toyota,
Mercedes, BMW, etc., arrived on U.S. soil. It took place when
mergers were almost unheard of and the U.S. auto industry was
exclusively the "big four" of Chrysler, General Motors, Ford and
American Motors.

Today, semiskilled and unskilled, unemployed as well as employed
workers, are all thrown into battle for the few remaining high-
paid jobs, wherever they may surface. And, once again, black
workers find themselves striking blows from the bottom as new
barriers and tests of all kinds block access to entry-level and
apprentice jobs.

Today, on the 30th anniversary of DRUM, the battle is for economic
survival.

The fight to maintain our standard of living takes center stage,
and such a struggle demands the mobilization of all who are
affected on all fronts.