Milwaukee, WI – On the evening of September 27, one year after the publication of his book Fighting Times, author Jon Melrod joined a discussion led by a panel of workers in an event organized by the Young Workers’ Committee (YWC) of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council (MALC). A noted labor activist and lawyer, Melrod spoke with the young unionists, community activists and students regarding the importance of the unions and their place in building a revolutionary movement.
When asked how he found himself in the struggle for worker’s rights, Melrod explained that his participation in anti-Vietnam War projects at University of Wisconsin-Madison was a perfect place of entry. Tactics such as door knocking in dorms and staging directed protests against university leadership united students against warmongering mandatory ROTC programs. Joining unions created a path of entry for students to sustain radical struggle rather than get mired in bourgeois politics.
The young workers asked how to involve working-class people in political projects through their workplace. At American Motors and many other industrial workplaces, Melrod built solidarity through worker-driven shop newsletters, the use of smaller out-of-work gatherings, and targeted campaigns against management. Through a larger class struggle view, the workers found their objectives clearer, and their work more approachable
As a UAW worker at American Motors, he led grievance strikes, fought racist, anti-women management and sought to build a workplace united against the boss, in the interest of workers. In one anecdote, Melrod relayed the successes of building a bridge between white and Black workers. While facing a prolonged strikebreaking effort, a white union member’s car was repossessed. By enlisting the help of a local mainly Black meatcutters union, the car was won back with a picket. Later that week, the UAW workers joined the meatcutters on the strike line to help them win a crucial contract victory.
Relating this to the current UAW strike, Melrod spoke to the efficacy of uniting community groups with labor action and labor groups with community action. He urged those in attendance to get on the strike line with their union siblings in the UAW, and spend time linking organizations. Following Melrod’s advice, the gathered crowd of young unionists spent time creating strategies and building connections after the main discussion ended.