R.I.P. Jerry Tucker
Great article on a labor hero in (of all places) The New Republic:
He brought the same lesson to UAW showdowns in the 1980s, working as assistant director for the region stretching from Missouri to Texas. Seeing how ineffective strikes were becoming -- employers were more than happy to take a strike and bring in replacements -- Tucker resuscitated the work-to-rule strategy, in which workers frustrate employers by slowing down operations all the while technically hewing to the letter of their contract. Work-to-rule appealed to Tucker because its success depended on the full understanding and empowerment of the entire workforce. In the most practical terms, this meant getting workers to grasp the “reverse engineering” of plant operations in order to identify the bottlenecks that would confound production without breaking the contract. At a time of precious few victories for unions, Tucker’s approach succeeded at one plant after another, two of which were documented in an AFL-CIO manual on the “Inside Game.” “We would organize a communications network on the shop floor, a 1 to 10 ratio, so everyone’s in the loop,” recalled Uehlein. “It would be putting out word for all different kinds of actions...And it did catch on in a pretty big way.”
At one of the victorious sites, the 500-worker Moog Auto Plant in St. Louis, managers expecting a conventional showdown shut off the power the night that the union’s contract expired in 1981. But at Tucker’s direction, employees reported for work the next morning and launched a six-month internal-pressure campaign: a “solidarity committee” came up with work-to-rule tactics and on-the-job protests, workers contributed a little from each paycheck to support colleagues who were fired or disciplined, and workers, white and black alike, skipped work January 15 to object to the company’s refusal to recognize the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. As the “Inside Game” manual recounts, the campaign reached its peak when several hundred tradesmen walked out in protest of supervisors’ refusal to deal with smoke and chloride fumes. Management finally came back to the table with a 36 percent pay increase over 40 months – and recognition of MLK Day. Word started to get around about Tucker’s success. As his obituary in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch put it, “He said he had never lost a work-to-rule campaign, never failed to win a fair contract, and always got illegally fired activists their jobs back with back pay.”
But this approach also represented a challenge to union leadership. Whereas the traditional strike depended on the top-down command of union leaders, a robustly-deployed inside game depended on the engagement of workers, who knew the day-to-day operations of the workplace the best and had a better sense of how to confound them than their union superiors did. This was precisely why Tucker advocated for this approach: It was hugely empowering for workers to come up with their own tactics. Invariably, it made them more supportive of major actions--more willing to “up the ante,” as Tucker liked to say.
Making "work to rule" prefigurative, eh? Why not fire the executives and crowd-source corporate decision-making? We could hardly do worse.