in the news

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at
Sun Feb 28 12:02:09 PST 1999

It becomes very difficult in those circumstances of tension and conflict. I just want you to know where you would find me, on the line with the strike until it is over. That is my version of solidarity.

Doyle Saylor -------------


this particular strike was not formally sanctioned since we were still in the process of unionizing. There were plenty of issues to strike over, but reinstating somebody's girlfriend wasn't high on my list. Paychecks were routinely late or bounced, working conditions were poor, but a strike was a very bad idea, since the organization was disintegrating from chronic low and stalled county re-reimbursements, endless state changes in regulation, and a wildly shifting federal payment system under the first Reagan administration. Unionizing was a good idea, but going on strike had little meaning. We were not being squeezed for profit or management gain--there was no money, period. Nobody was preventing us from unionizing or advocating a union and there were no reprisals. Lay offs were necessary and it was just a question of who. Of course these lay offs followed old organization enemies settling scores, but everybody was at the bottom together.

It is hard to remember since it was almost twenty years ago. We had voted to unionize and that vote fell almost exactly along the divide between disabled and able bodied, which also reflected the division between supervisors and 'management' versus 'in line' workers. It also highlighted the division between direct services and the various policy, political, and legal advocacy arms of the organization. Some body in the auto shop had gone to the Alameda Labor Council for guidelines for forming a union, but there was no established union working with us. I suspect they didn't want to touch it.

Because nobody was going to give an inch, the strike dragged on and by the end of a month, I was worse than broke. I had just split with my wife, done a stint under CETA(?), and had my eight year old son living with me. In any event, that strike exposed the method that the organization had used to survive--not paying their quarterly withholding, so the IRS conducted a disastrous audit. The board decided to sell the one asset they had, about three quarters of the commercial property to pay the back taxes.

As far as the services went, the auto shop stayed out through the bloody end, and then closed, while the other services went back after a month and then died more slowly. The whole organization went down over the next two years after another round of walk outs. Several spin-off organizations formed during this collapse and managed to barely survive under their own shaky grants.

My answer was to march on Sacramento, together--that's where the problem was. That's what I meant by solidarity. But this idea was put down because there was no clear disability issue involved. A community organization was being starved to death which is why there was no money. CIL 'management' argued that taking on State government funding was counter productive, might be used by the Right as a way to shut the doors permanently (anti-lobby provisions), and would ruin whatever chance of survival there was.

But, like I tried to explain, these oppositions are the product of a politics of scarcity where it becomes extremely marginal to maintain a purity of principles at the bottom--something like the Donner Party eating the corpses. Nobody came out clean on this one either.

But returning to today, rather than yester year. There are now private for-profit companies that provide services under various city and county contracts. None of the ones in LA, that I have heard of are non-profit community based organization like CIL. Are these city or county agencies? I don't know. Clearly the political and economic context is different. Should those workers be unionized. Of course. Should the disabled manage their own services? Of course. But the bigger question is why are public monies being spent to provide those services through contracts to for-profit companies in the first place?


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