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Archive for September, 2009

Norma Rae Dead at age 60

September 14th, 2009 2 comments

Crystal Lee Sutton the inspiration of Sally Field’s Character in a 1979 movie Norma Rae has died at age 68.  It is reported that Sutton died from brain cancer in the Burlington Hospice Home in Burlington, North Carolina.

According to Sutton herself in an article from Facing South the health insurer delayed treatment.

Read the Facing South article for more information about her treatment and history as a labor activist.

Real ‘Norma Rae’ dies of cancer after insurer delayed treatment

The North Carolina union organizer who was the inspiration for the movie “Norma Rae” died on Friday of brain cancer after a battle with her insurance company, which delayed her treatment. She was 68.

Crystal Lee Sutton, formerly Crystal Lee Jordan, was fired from her job folding towels at the J.P. Stevens textile plant in her hometown of Roanoke Rapids, N.C. for trying to organize a union in the early 1970s. Her last action at the plant — writing the word “UNION” on a piece of cardboard and standing on her work table, leading her co-workers to turn off their machines in solidarity — was memorialized in the 1979 film by actress Sally Field. The police physically removed Sutton from the plant for her action.

But her efforts ultimately succeeded, as the Amalgamated Clothing Workers won the right to represent the plant’s employees on Aug. 28, 1974. Sutton later became a paid organizer for the union, which through a series of mergers became part of UNITE HERE before splitting off this year to form Workers United, which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union.

Several years ago, Sutton was diagnosed with meningioma, a type of cancer of the nervous system. While such cancers are typically slow-growing, Sutton’s was not — and she went two months without potentially life-saving medication because her insurance wouldn’t cover it initially. Sutton told the Burlington (N.C.) Times-News last year that the insurer’s behavior was an example of abuse of the working poor:

“How in the world can it take so long to find out [whether they would cover the medicine or not] when it could be a matter of life or death,” she said. “It is almost like, in a way, committing murder.”

Though Sutton eventually received the medication, the cancer had already taken hold. She passed away on Friday, Sept. 11 in a Burlington, N.C. hospice.

“Crystal Lee Sutton was a remarkable woman whose brave struggles have left a lasting impact on this country and without doubt, on me personally,” Field said in a statement released Friday. “Portraying Crystal Lee in ‘Norma Rae,’ however loosely based, not only elevated me as an actress, but as a human being.”

Field won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of the character based on Sutton. The film in turn was based on the 1975 book “Crystal Lee: A Woman of Inheritance” by New York Times reporter Henry P. “Hank” Leiferman.

Sutton was only 17 when she began working at the J.P. Stevens plant in northeastern North Carolina, where conditions were poor and the pay was low. A Massachusetts-based company that for many years was listed on the Fortune 500, J.P. Stevens is now part of the WestPoint Home conglomerate.

In 1973, Sutton, by then a mother of three, was earning only $2.65 an hour. That same year, Eli Zivkovich, a former coal miner from West Virginia, came to Roanoke Rapids to organize the plant and began working with Sutton, who was fired after she copied a flyer posted by management warning that blacks would run the union. It was that incident which led Sutton to stand up with her “UNION” sign.

“It is not necessary I be remembered as anything, but I would like to be remembered as a woman who deeply cared for the working poor and the poor people of the U.S. and the world,” she said in a newspaper interview last year. “That my family and children and children like mine will have a fair share and equality.”

For more on Sutton’s life and work, visit the website of the Alamance Community College’s Crystal Sutton Collection.

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Obama Stands up for Tire Workers

September 12th, 2009 1 comment

President Barack Obama took a stand on Friday night by imposing an import tax on tires imported from China.  This has been an issue I have been involved with since 2004 with the “Export Tires not Jobs” campaign. And, I am proud to say that this is a step in the right direction for salvaging what is left of the US Tire Manufacturing Industry.

China may appeal the Tariff to the World Trade Organization according to the Wall Street Journal and according to the New York Times China denounced the new 3 year declining tariffs within hours of its announcement.  Appeals and denouncing the tariffs are probably on the horizon as it is in China’s best interest since the USA is likely the largest importer of Chinese exports.

Tariff’s will begin September 26th at 35% for one year with 30% the second year and 25% the third in the form of an Ad Valorem tax in addition to the duties and taxes in place prior to the announcement. The Ad Valorem tax, often called VAT, will only cover tires for cars, light trucks, vans, and sport utility vehicles.

The timing of Obama’s announcement is particularly suspicious as the meeting of the top 20 economic countries, known as the Group of 20,  is in 2 weeks.  This will come off to many, and me, as a political move to pay back union members for their support and financing his election and will be used as a trading card in the Pittsburgh meeting.  The opposition argument will be protectionism, like Daniel Ikenson of the Cato Institute, or international obligations. This bold and perhaps controversial move by the Obama Administration will be put on the chopping block for other political gain in the international politics marketplace.  My early prediction is that Obama’s stand for Tire Workers is short lived or best case scenario will be scaled back.

My biased opinion is we have to take care of ourselves first.  As a friend of several tire workers I have seen the impact of globalization of tire manufacturing.  With plants closing, hours cut, and jobs lost the illegal flood of Chinese made tires has impacted domestic tire workers and most importantly my family and friends. If the tariff does stand it sets a precedent for other Ad Valorem tariffs to come.  I hope it will be a Tariff on Steel Products particularly Tubular as it is cleaner than steel pipe made in China.