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Writers offer an inside view of '95 labor dispute

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DECATUR - Steven K. Ashby and C.J. Hawking had to wait until they felt perhaps a bit less wounded and were a little more removed.

Both were very much a part of the events in a labor conflict in Decatur that ended in 1995. Soon, their first book collaboration will be published, "Staley: The Fight for a New American Labor Movement."

Q: How close were you to the events?

"We were as close as you could be to the struggle without being a locked-out union member or a family member," Ashby said.

"We were both participants," he continued, getting to know the workers who were involved with that conflict at A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. as well as those in the disputes at Caterpillar Inc. and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.

Hawking said she even moved to Decatur for a few months.

"I did move there to help organize the religious community and to help with some of the organization in the African American community," Hawking said.

"The fight ended in December of 1995. It was such a devastating defeat to the workers and to us," she continued. "We had to wait a few years before we could start to write the book.

"That whole struggle is personal to everyone involved. We shared their pain as much as possible."

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Q: And about the book itself?

The writing began in 2001 with lots of interviewing and researching, Hawking said.

"It went through about five different incarnations, always with the University of Illinois Press," she said.

"It's not an academic book," stressed Ashby. "People have told us that it reads like a novel."

"The human texture of the story (is) so compelling," Hawking said. "I feel as if the book brings that to the forefront in unprecedented ways."

"It's a great people story," Ashby added.

The couple compiled 75 interviews and drew upon videotapes that were made of union meetings to tell the story.

"We have an entire chapter that tells the incredible work that the African American workers did. Another chapter is on the religious community and all of the support that they gave," Hawking added.

There was unprecedented solidarity with the workers of Staley, Caterpillar and Bridgestone/Firestone, Hawking said. It tells the story of one of the historic labor struggles of the past 30 years, Ashby added.

Q: And just a bit about this married couple and collaborating on a book?

Ashby is a professor of labor studies at the University of Illinois and teaches noncredit courses in labor history, steward training and collective bargaining.

Hawking is a United Methodist Church pastor and executive director of a faith-based workers rights group, Arise Chicago.

"We are both activists for workers' rights," he said.

"Often, Steven would start out a chapter," she continued. "There are 20 chapters. Each chapter passed back and forth between us a dozen times."

"It's both a beautiful and painful experience to write with someone else," admitted Hawking.

"What's the painful part?" teased Ashby.|421-6976


According to Herald & Review archives, there were three strikes and one lockout in 1995. They included:

* United Paperworkers International Union Local 7837 went on strike against A.E. Staley Mfg. Co. and it resulted in a lockout. The strike ended just before Christmas.

* United Auto Workers Union Local 751 went on strike against Caterpillar Inc. That dispute ended earlier in December.

* United Rubber Workers Local 713 ended a 10-month strike against Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. in May.

About the book

TITLE: "Staley: The Fight for a New American Labor Movement" by Steven K. Ashby and C.J. Hawking

TYPE: cloth or paperback, 384 pages including 10 photographs

ISBN-10: 0252034376

ISBN-13: Cloth: 9780252034374; Paperback: 978-0-252-07640-4

PUBLISHER: University of Illinois Press; 1st Edition edition scheduled April 3

LIST PRICE: Cloth $75; paper $25



APPEARANCES: Ashby and Hawking are scheduled to make a presentation followed by a book signing from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28, in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Hall, 3390 N. Woodford. Admission is free; books will be available for purchase.

"We made a very conscious choice to start our book in Decatur," said Hawking.

"We will read five or six passages," said Ashby, talking about each passage's significance for the labor movement today.


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