Home Nonviolent defense Organization on the front lines of the class war” – Workers World

Organization on the front lines of the class war” – Workers World


If you’re looking for a fun read based on real events and filled with historical lessons about labor organizing, “Fighting Times: Organizing on the Front Lines of the Class War,” published by PM Press, is worth a look. The author, Jon Melrod, takes the reader on a journey through time.

Melrod begins with his childhood in Washington, DC, where he learned the harsh reality of racism and national oppression when he saw black prisoners in chains working on a country road in rural Virginia. He joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as an ally in 1965 and was involved in actions against former apartheid South Africa around the same time.

Curious to learn more about socialism in China after reading Edgar Snow’s classic “Red Star Over China”in high school, Melrod wrote a personal letter to Mao Zedong. In return, he received a four-volume set of “Selected Works of Mao” in a package bearing the Beijing postmark.

In 1968, Melrod joined the Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was involved in opposing the American invasion of Vietnam, fighting for independence and a socialist future. A few years later, he moved to Oakland, California, and became involved in a group of radical activists who, pushed by the People’s Republic of China, formed the Bay Area Revolutionary Union, which became a national organization, the Revolutionary Union. .

As an organizer with RU, Melrod found himself in Milwaukee and later Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he worked for American Motors (AMC, acquired by Chrysler in 1986) and was a member of the United Auto Workers. During his tenure in Milwaukee, he worked alongside members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

Important lessons for today

As many young people are currently working hard to organize places like Amazon, Starbucks and Apple, several lessons can be learned from reading “Fighting Times”. Melrod succeeded in bringing workers together under unique and difficult circumstances.

While at the AMC plant in Milwaukee, he helped organize the UAW Local 75 Fight Back class activist caucus. With limited resources, Melrod, along with his closest associates and comrades, got creative. In addition to producing agitation flyers, Fight Back Caucus members screen-printed T-shirts that read “Fight Speed ​​Up” in defiance of management’s threats of retaliation.

In one chapter, Melrod talks about his time organizing a multinational contingent of people to defend the Menominee Nation on their reservation in Gresham, Wisconsin’s campaign against racist violence. The Menominee seized an abandoned Catholic abbey on the reservation, aiming to turn it into a much-needed health clinic. This brave act was attacked by armed and racist militiamen, who were given the green light by the state to harass and intimidate the Menominee people in their own land.

Melrod was moved to another AMC factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a town infamous to WW readers as the location where cops crippled Jacob Blake and where a right-wing extremist murdered two anti-racism protesters in 2020. Kenosha plant, Melrod belonged to UAW Local 72 and was involved with the United Workers Organization, which printed and distributed a newspaper with the same title as the book, “Fighting Times.” The UWO becomes the United Workers Caucus of Local 72.

In Local 72, Melrod helped organize more innovative collective action. Through the diligent efforts of UWC, Local 72 was the first UAW Local to earn Dr. Martin Luther King Day as paid time off in its contract. (See Workers World, “Anti-Racist Solidarity: Kenosha’s Labor Story.”)

While in Local 72, Melrod helped his co-workers stand up to a violently sexist supervisor, participated in a campaign against a racist chief shop steward, and even dodged a life-threatening confrontation with an armed Nazi in a bar. The book ends in the early 1980s, when Melrod and his cronies used their diary to challenge both the AMC leadership and the conservative, labor-intensive leadership of the UAW.

Relevance for today

Throughout the 1970s there were many idealistic revolutionaries like Melrod who were fascinated by the huge gains of socialist China and tried to organize themselves into heavy industry. Few, however, have been able to write down their experiences as Melrod did. The stories of shop floor battles and multinational solidarity are reminiscent of “Blast Furnace Brothers,” written by Workers World Party co-founder Vince Copeland and published in 1973.

Workers World explained to Melrod why he decided to write a book about the events that took place five or six decades ago. He said, “Today hundreds of young organizers are taking up the class struggle against the propertied class in the struggle for decent treatment. Many of the essential organizational lessons that will help empower these young activists have been learned by previous generations. What I have written speaks to these lessons and creates a blueprint for building a class conscious movement against racism and sexism and for workplace dignity.

“Fighting Times” can be a guide for those looking for creative ways to organize today.