Remembering DRUM - 30 years later

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Fri Jul 3 00:05:42 PDT 1998

The forwarded post below should be of interest to lbo-talkers, given our continuing discussion on class & race.


Date: Wed, 01 Jul 1998 13:52:47 -0500 From: Jim Davis <jdav at MCS.COM> Subject: Remembering DRUM - 30 years later Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L at YORKU.CA>


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.

****************************************************************** This article originated in the PEOPLE'S TRIBUNE (Online Edition), Vol. 25 No. 7 / July, 1998; P.O. Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, pt at or WWW:

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