The following article was written by John B. Engberg '80 and Linda M. Thurston '80, members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Friends of the United Farmworkers.
Why are the United Farm Workers working on the J.P. Stevens boycott? The UFW, which has worked for the past 15 years primarily near its base in California, is moving into other areas.
The union wants to organize agricultural workers in the South, an area with a very anti-union sentiment. While the UFW has been organizing in the fields of California and Arizona, textile workers in the Carolinas and Georgia have been attempting to organize in the fabric mills and apparel factories.
Most violent in its illegal resistance to the struggle for unionization has been the J.P. Stevens Company. As long as there remains such strong resistance to the unions, and while companies such as J.P. Stevens still retain their hold on southern workers, the UFW's organizing work in the southern fields will have to wait. Instead, the farmworkers will support the struggles of the textile workers, in order that the workers of the South, both in the fields and in the mills, will realize that the fight for unionization must be waged together.
To this end, the UFW has resolved to support the nationwide boycott of J.P. Stevens products, recently organized by the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union. The boycott has been organized under the belief that it provides the only effective means by which consumers may express their opinions and voice their outrage at the conditions in the factories which produce their textile goods.
The boycott effort not only serves to increase awareness of the plight of the Stevens workers, but also provides economic pressure to aid the workers in the tasks of organizing and collective bargaining. Stevens' large size, 85 plants in several countries, would make it possible for them to outlast a strike that only shut down a few of their plants. Due to this economic advantage and to their illegal union-busting tactics, the boycott and other unconventional economic weapons must be used.
The textile workers union and the rest of the AFL-CIO are waging battles on four other fronts in addition to the boycott. The union is still very active in the mill towns of the South. They continue to help the workers in their efforts to organize more plants for certification elections and to carry on negotiations in the seven plants where representation has been won. Both of these duties are incredibly difficult due to the harassment and stalling by Stevens, but it is in this area that success on all fronts will become evident.
In the corporate campaign, J.P. Stevens is being isolated from its companions on Wall Street. Avon Products and Manufacturers Hanover Trust have both censured Stevens employment practices by severing board-room connections. According to former big-businessman Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.), Stevens has done a "disservice to every responsible business and industry." Their illegal and unethical deeds are not limited to unfair labor practices; corporate America is finding their company extremely distasteful.
On the legal front, the union is still busy with litigation attempting to remedy past illegal acts by Stevens. Recently the Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision that Stevens was in contempt for multiple violations of previous court orders. Stevens is liable for fines of $100,000 for each violation and $5000 per day for violations of a continuing nature. These fines as well as court ordered admissions of guilt should make Stevens hesitant about continuing its unlawful acts.
The remaining battlefield is Congress. The AFL-CIO is supporting a labor law reform act. The most important parts of this act would not make new rules, but just increase penalties for violations of existing labor laws. Violations such as Stevens has perpetrated in the past will only cease when the laws make them unprofitable.
The legal, legislative and corporate efforts are vital to success--but they can only succeed if it becomes increasingly apparent to the parties responsible that the American people demand justice for the working people of our country. We of Harvard-Radcliffe Friends of the United Farmworkers organize consumer delegations to Cambridge area stores to request that they remove Stevens products from their shelves. We have distributed leaflets in Harvard and Central Squares to raise consciousness about the issue.
On Wednesday, April 19, All New England Campus Mobilization Day, we ask you to show your concern by attending a rally to support the J.P. Stevens workers on Memorial Church steps at 1:30 p.m. Justice for Stevens workers will only happen if consumers speak loudly enough.