Ravenswood: The Steelworkers' Victory and the Revival of American Labor

Ravenswood: The Steelworkers' Victory and the Revival of American Labor

Ravenswood: The Steelworkers' Victory and the Revival of American Labor

Ravenswood: The Steelworkers' Victory and the Revival of American Labor


Over the past two decades, Americans have seen their workplaces downsized and streamlined, their jobs out-sourced, sped up, and, all too often, eliminated. Unions have seemed powerless to defend their members, with big defeats in the strikes at PATCO, Eastern Airlines, International Paper, and Hormel. Ravenswood recounts how the United Steelworkers of America, in a battle waged over an aluminum plant in West Virginia, proved that organized labor can still win-even against a company controlled by one of the world's richest and most powerful men. Fast paced and compellingly written, the book provides an insider's look at the new tactics that many hope will revitalize the struggle for workers' rights in America. On November 1, 1990, just as its contract with the United Steelworkers of America was about to expire, Ravenswood Aluminum Corporation locked out its seventeen hundred employees and hired permanent replacements. Despite deteriorating conditions that had led to five deaths in the previous year, the company had refused to discuss safety and health issues. The locked-out workers faced an industry in turmoil, a plant manager with a grudge against the union, and a business controlled by a billionaire fugitive from justice. Tom Juravich and Kate Bronfenbrenner describe how victory was achieved through the commitment of the workers and their families coupled with one of the most innovative contract campaigns ever waged by an American union.


When the Ravenswood Aluminum Company locked out seventeen hundred workers on October 31, 1990, it hardly looked like a big opportunity for labor. in what had become standard operating procedure for employers during the 1980s, management broke off bargaining with the United Steelworkers of America, and then brought hundreds of replacement workers into a heavily fortified plant surrounded by barbed wire and security cameras. Injunctions prevented union members from doing little more than symbolic picketing, and the wheels of justice, as they had done for more than a decade, creaked ever so slowly. All the pieces were in place for another long, drawn-out defeat for labor.

The seventeen hundred employees of the Ravenswood Aluminum Company were not the only workers in the 1980s who felt the ground shift under their jobs. a bold new group of CEOs, financial consultants, and corporate raiders had emerged who abandoned traditional business practices. They quickly went to work buying and selling companies that had been long-term, stable American employers. Using junk bonds and leveraged buyouts, moving money around at lightning speed, they left American workers in a state of shock, watching as their work was downsized, contracted out, sped up, streamlined, and eliminated. Production was global, American workers were told, and they would have to compete in a worldwide market.

Many lost their jobs and the ability to earn a living, while others just lost their will to fight back. of those who kept their jobs, many were forced to take massive concessions in wages and benefits. Later they watched as the number of hours they worked steadily increased to make up for the concessions and cutbacks. Their job security had disappeared and in its place came new expectations, new responsibilities—multi-skilling, multi-tasking, and “continuous quality improvement.” the net result was that jobs were harder, more stressful, and considerably less safe and secure than even half a generation earlier.

During the 1980s, unions were largely defined by their losses. Little that labor did was effective in stemming the tide of corporate power and . . .

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