Issues Surrounding The Strike At Cambion
FOR THE LAST six months, 250 members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machinery Workers of America Local 262 have been on strike at the Cambion Corporation's Concord Avenue factory. The main issue in the strike--a blatant attempt by Cambion at old-fashioned union-busting--is relatively clearcut. But the strike also continues to raise other important issues: the inadequacy of the National Labor Relations Board in protecting the right of workers to organize has been made all too apparent. The questionable deployment of a poorly disciplined Cambridge police detail at the plant has aroused a furor. And problems in labor organizing in the electronics industry as a whole have made the developments surrounding this strike particularly significant.
Cambion, a Cambridge electronics firm whose biggest contractor is the U.S. Defense Department, has consistently sought to destroy the unionizing effort at its Cambridge plant.
Contrary to a company vice-president's statement at a City Council meeting last week to the effect that Cambion had a close "family-like" relationship with its workers before the strike began April 14, the fact is that two years ago the NLRB ruled against the company for firing two workers who supported the unionizing drive at the plant at that time.
In a flagrant use of illegal tactics to break the strike, the company tried last summer to deny to workers vacation pay earned before the strike began. Only imminent legal action against the company moved Cambion to pay the wages after a delay of 2 1/2 months. Throughout the strike the only contract offer by Cambion has been the one made the night before the strike began. The company has refused to bargain, despite the union's willingness to alter its proposals and to submit to binding arbitration.
CAMBION, WHICH refuses to discuss the strike, is making no claims of economic hardship. In fact, while workers have asked for a 70 cents hourly increase, Cambion has offered only 20 cents, but has spent enough money on a special police detail at the plant since the strike began to have paid workers a 51-cent-per-hour increase for a year.
Frank Lyman '31, Cambion's wealthy owner, knows time is on his side. Although the NLRB is scheduled to begin prosecuting Cambion for refusing to bargain in good faith on November 17, more than six months after the union first issued its complaint, any decision against the company is certain to be appealed--a process which will probably take several more months. In the meantime the strike may be broken. And in the final analysis, the weak sanctions against offending companies provided for in the National Labor Relations Act are not much of a deterrent.
The Cambridge Police Department's actions during picketline confrontations have led to a score of injuries to workers, including two women who required hospitalization. One of the women has been permanently disabled and cannot work as a result. Last month four policemen were mildly disciplined after the City Manager investigated charges of police brutality and gross misconduct in connection with the same incident.
With Cambion using illegal tactics to avoid meeting the union's demands, it is regrettable that the Cambridge Police Department has seen fit to provide a police detail, paid overtime wages, to bring strikebreakers into the plant. Individual patrolmen should weigh carefully the moral implications of profiting from participation in strikebreaking activities.
With the deck stacked against them, unemployed strikers with families to support have shown remarkable restraint--possibly due to the historically difficult position of many Cambion workers: half are women, and a third are Portuguese-Americans, many of whom cannot speak English. However, in recent weeks Cambion has succeeded in bringing in 15 former strikers to work. Few other union members are likely to follow, but there are rumors among the strikebreakers that Cambion plans to begin bringing in new outside workers. Such a move would represent a serious provocation, with potentially disastrous consequences.
The strike also has important economic ramifications locally. In comparison with other Cambridge factories, a significantly large proportion of Cambion workers are Cambridge residents. Local unemployment as a result of the strike is detrimental to local economy. And if management relocates production out of state, as it has said it might, Massachusetts--with its already high unemployment and flagging economy--will suffer even more.
But of greater importance is the potential damage to the labor organizing in this industry if the strike is broken. Natonally, union organizing has been sluggish. Other electronic firms and their employees are watching the Cambion strike closely. The relatively new industry, with its low wage levels is almost entirely non-union. If UE Local 262 succeeds in negotiating a fair contract, fellow employees in the industry will be encouraged to organize, and management will be far more likely to cooperate. But if the strike is broken, unionizing will suffer.
Workers' demands in the Cambion strike have been both reasonable and justified. Management's response has been nothing less than reprehensible. UE Local 262 should be supported in its struggle.