The Betrayal of Local 14

One of the most momentous trends of the 1980’s was the decline of the American labor movement. THE BETRAYAL OF LOCAL 14: PAPERWORKERS, POLITICS, & PERMANENT REPLACEMENTS tackles this issue head-on and, as the title suggests, points the finger of blame not only at predatory capitalists but also timid national labor organizations. In this instance, the United Paperworkers International Union had little stomach for carrying on a costly struggle which held out scant promise of success. A skillful oral historian, Julius Getman tells a sad but stirring story of local organizers imaginatively building worker solidarity with weekly meetings. These took on an almost religious fervor and featured old World War I songs, fiery speeches, and visits from supportive celebrities like Jesse Jackson and Amy Carter.

Getman is rather vague on financial details of wages and profits at Androscoggin. The fact that workers earned good money muted class solidarity prior to the strike, and the absence of a radical ideological alternative to corporate capitalism left the union helpless in the face of IP’s fierce antiunion campaign. More information on the corporate structure of IP and the worldwide nature of the paper industry would have buttressed Getman’s argument that the abandonment of paternalistic practices proved inimical to IP’s own long-range self-interest. Ironically, the striking workers cared more about Androscoggin than IP’s corporate executives, who seemed less concerned about families who had labored for their company for decades than recently hired replacement workers (the reason being, IP wanted to assure the employment agency which provided the “scabs” in this and other disputes that they were not just employing “temporaries”).