On March 3rd, after 8 weeks of bitter struggle, the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers (ocaw) voted to go back to work at the Standard Oil refinery at Richmond.footnote1 They didn’t get everything they wanted—certainly not everything that is coming to them—but almost to a man they will tell you that the settlement is a victory and the strike was well worth it.
They will be getting an average wage increase of 58 cents over two years—14 cents below their original demand, but a full 20 cents above the company’s first arrogant offer. The company will pay out more for retirement, medical and other benefits. But most important, the refinery workers refused to go along with Standard’s attempt to fire three of the most militant pickets. Instead, the three men will return to their jobs and the company’s charges against them will be submitted to arbitration. The union’s case—including films of the company goon squad—will be very strong in arbitration, and it is almost certain that the company will fail in its attempt to get rid of the three ‘troublemakers’.
The refinery workers are going back into the plant stronger, and more united, and more determined to build their union than when they went out. In fact, some of the more militant guys have told Jake Jacobs, Secretary-Treasurer of the union local, ‘Hell, we should have stayed out a few more weeks. Now that I’m back to work I see how much we really hurt them (the bosses).’
This is exactly the opposite of the 1948 strike, which lasted 63 days and not only resulted in a humiliating settlement—including the firing of over 60 strikers—but enabled the company to divide the defeated refinery workers into 10 or more craft and company unions. After that debacle, it took the oil workers 20 years to rebuild and summon up the determination to challenge the monster.
The victory of the refinery workers—and especially the fact that they protected the jobs of militant pickets—has given added inspiration to the ocaw workers who are still striking the Chevron Chemical plant in Richmond. Chevron Chemical is a ‘wholly owned subsidiary’ of Standard Oil and part of the same giant Richmond complex as the refinery. But the Chevron workers have a separate ‘bargaining agreement’— which includes a union shop. The company—actually Standard Oil, negotiating through its dummy corporation, Chevron Chemical— has prolonged the Chevron strike by trying to force the workers to give up the union shop. This is union-busting, pure and simple, an attempt by the bosses to turn the clock back 20 years to the time the Chevron workers first won the union shop. But Standard’s main interest is not really smashing the Chevron workers. The Chevron union shop is a source of agitation and inspiration to the 2000 refinery workers, who realize that in order to really defeat the company, they have to have the great majority of the refinery workers, instead of the present 30 to 40 per cent, organized under one banner. If the company can force the Chevron workers (who do have the majority of the 500 workers in the four chemical plants organized) to give up their union shop, it will discourage the refinery workers from even raising the union shop question.
The response of the Chevron Chemical workers to the bosses’ union-busting is probably best summed up by one guy who told me: ‘Either we go back with our union shop, or there won’t be any plants left to go back to!’ A woman picket put it only slightly more mildly: ‘We’ll never go back without our union; hell, we’d be fools to do it!’
But Standard is still refusing to budge on the question because its billionaire owners are operating on the basis of the ‘domino theory’—the same approach they take, along with their imperialist buddies, in South-east Asia, and the rest of the Third World. Vietnam—despite its wealth of rubber, tin and other resources (including ‘cheap labour’) —is not of vital importance to us imperialism. But the greater Southeast Asian co-prosperity sphere—the whole row of dominoes—is of desperate importance.