Inner City Voice (1975)

Mark Brad­ford, Red Paint­ing, 2009.

Editor’s Introduction

On the 50th anniver­sary of the start of the Great Rebel­lion in Motor City, View­point is proud to present the open­ing chap­ter of Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, Dan Geor­gakas and Mar­tin Surkin’s indis­pens­able chron­i­cle of the Dodge Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Union Move­ment and the League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers. We thank Hay­mar­ket Books for allow­ing us to repro­duce this chap­ter here.

Two years after the riots in Watts had cat­alyzed a turn to Black Pow­er, the sum­mer of 1967 saw black-led rebel­lions in some 164 cities across the Unit­ed States. A hun­dred more would fol­low in ‘68. But the insur­rec­tion in Detroit was the apex of this cycle, erupt­ing across the heart­land of the auto­mo­tive indus­try for five days, mak­ing it the third largest social dis­or­der in the his­to­ry of this coun­try, only steps behind the Rod­ney King riots in 1992 and the vicious­ly racist New York Draft riot of 1863. In the Detroit case, loot­ing and prop­er­ty destruc­tion had an indeli­bly polit­i­cal char­ac­ter, with most riot­ers being of black work­ing class back­grounds (with espe­cial­ly high rates among the unem­ployed and armed forces mem­bers). And racial ani­mus – so vital to the divide and con­quer man­age­ment of the shop floor – was in part sus­pend­ed. While the pol­i­tics of Appalachi­an migrants in Detroit tend­ed to vac­il­late between the sym­pa­thy for the Kennedys and sup­port for George Wal­lace, in the heat of 1967, they had a vital role in the city’s “pro­le­tar­i­an shop­ping.” And to the sur­prise of the local police depart­ment, they dis­cov­ered that the cop-tar­get­ing snipers were not the poor black res­i­dents but white “hill­bil­lies.”   

In this chap­ter, Geor­gakas and Surkin stress how the Detroit Rebel­lion not only sig­nif­i­cant­ly dis­rupt­ed the order of things, but for­ti­fied and ener­gized pre-exist­ing rad­i­cal net­works in the city. Gen­er­al Gor­don Bak­er Jr., a cen­tral fig­ure in the LRBW and in 1967 a promi­nent labor activist and leader of the draft resis­tance move­ment in Detroit, noticed that many of the fel­low par­tic­i­pants in the upris­ing worked along­side him on the assem­bly line. He and fel­low mil­i­tants from black nation­al­ist and social­ist cir­cles used the rebel­lion as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to estab­lish a “per­ma­nent orga­ni­za­tion” that “could pro­vide a bridge” between the ebbs and flows of polit­i­cal activ­i­ty. Inner City Voice, the news­pa­per found­ed by John Wat­son, Bak­er, and oth­er future LRBW cadre, was only the ini­tial foothold, but it chan­neled the cur­rents of resis­tance the Great Rebel­lion set in motion, and helped chart the course for one of the most pow­er­ful sequences of insur­gent work­ing class strug­gle in US his­to­ry.


Inner City Voice (1975)

1

In the vio­lent sum­mer of 1967, Detroit became the scene of the blood­i­est upris­ing in a half cen­tu­ry and the costli­est in terms of prop­er­ty dam­age in U.S. his­to­ry. At the weeks’ end, there were 41 known dead, 347 injured, 3,800 arrest­ed. Some 5,000 peo­ple were homeless…while 1,300 build­ings had been reduced to mounds of ash­es and bricks, and 2,700 busi­ness­es sacked. Dam­age esti­mates reached $500 mil­lion.

– Time Mag­a­zine, August 4, 1967

Less than 30 days after the Michi­gan Nation­al Guard lift­ed its occu­pa­tion of the city of Detroit, H. Rap Brown spoke to an explo­sive crowd of some 5,000 per­sons gath­ered in and around a the­ater on Dex­ter Avenue just a mile or so from what had been the cen­ter of the Great Rebel­lion. Brown, who in August of 1967 was near the height of his influ­ence as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary ora­tor, deliv­ered the kind of angry and mil­i­tant speech for which he was famous. Lat­er, he would be quot­ed as say­ing, “There are peo­ple who can relate the strug­gle of black peo­ple bet­ter than I can. Peo­ple in Detroit, for instance.” The spon­sors of his appear­ance were some of those peo­ple. Their pur­pose had been to raise inter­est in their new month­ly news­pa­per, the Inner City Voice.

The first issue of the news­pa­per appeared in Octo­ber 1967. The head­line was “MICHIGAN SLAVERY,” and the focus on urban revolt was under­scored in one of the first edi­to­ri­als:

In the July Rebel­lion we admin­is­tered a beat­ing to the behind of the white pow­er struc­ture, but appar­ent­ly our mes­sage didn’t get over…We are still work­ing, still work­ing too hard, get­ting paid too lit­tle, Jiv­ing in bad hous­ing, send­ing our kids to sub­stan­dard schools, pay­ing too much for gro­ceries, and treat­ed like dogs by the police. We still don’t own any­thing and don’t con­trol anything…In oth­er words, we are still being sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly exploit­ed by the sys­tem and still have the respon­si­bil­i­ty to break the back of that sys­tem.

Only a peo­ple who are strong, uni­fied, armed, and know the ene­my can car­ry on the strug­gles which lay ahead of us. Think about it broth­er, things ain’t hard­ly get­ting bet­ter. The Rev­o­lu­tion must con­tin­ue.

ICV (Inner City Voice) car­ried two descrip­tive phras­es astride its mast­head – “Detroit’s Black Com­mu­ni­ty News­pa­per” and “the Voice of Rev­o­lu­tion.” These reflect­ed a belief that the paper’s hard-hit­ting and rev­o­lu­tion­ary view­point was an accu­rate expres­sion of the dom­i­nant mood of Detroit’s black pop­u­la­tion. ICV was not like the alter­nate-cul­ture news­pa­pers of that peri­od. Its edi­tors did not see its func­tion sim­ply as one of a prin­ci­pled oppo­si­tion to the dom­i­nant cul­ture. Using their own resources, they tried to build their paper into a vehi­cle for polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, edu­ca­tion, and change. ICV was to be a pos­i­tive response to the Great Rebel­lion, elab­o­rat­ing, clar­i­fy­ing, and artic­u­lat­ing what was already in the streets. There seemed to be no rea­son why ICV could not sup­plant the week­ly Michi­gan Chron­i­cle, Detroit’s largest-cir­cu­lat­ing black news­pa­per, and per­haps one day become a black-owned dai­ly able to com­pete with the morn­ing Detroit Free Press and the evening Detroit News.

The peo­ple who put out ICV were not new­com­ers to strug­gle and they were not under­ground jour­nal­ists of the type which pro­duced hun­dreds of peri­od­i­cals dur­ing the late 1960s. Their col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence includ­ed every major black rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment of the pre­vi­ous decade. They had been active in SNCC (the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee), the Free­dom Now Par­ty (an all-black par­ty which gained bal­lot sta­tus in Michi­gan), UHURU (a Detroit rad­i­cal action group), RAM (Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Action Move­ment), and a num­ber of addi­tion­al for­mal and infor­mal group­ings. Some of them had been part of a group which defied the State Depart­ment ban on trav­el to Cuba in 1964, and some of them had per­son­al con­ver­sa­tions with Ernesto “Che” Gue­vara.

ICV met its month­ly pub­lish­ing sched­ule for the next year with an aver­age press run of some 10,000 copies. Each issue cou­pled a dynam­ic prose style with explic­it rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas about local, nation­al, and inter­na­tion­al events. The first issue set the tone with three front-page sto­ries con­cern­ing liv­ing and work­ing con­di­tions in the city of Detroit. The lead sto­ry was an exposé of sub­stan­dard con­di­tions at Detroit Gen­er­al Hos­pi­tal, an insti­tu­tion most poor peo­ple in the inner city had per­son­al con­tact with. Inter­na­tion­al prob­lems were giv­en a sharp local focus by ICV’s advo­ca­cy of mas­sive black par­tic­i­pa­tion in the nation­al anti-war March on Wash­ing­ton sched­uled for Octo­ber 21, 1967. Sub­se­quent issues dealt with self-defense in the event of new fight­ing, with food and water logis­tics treat­ed as seri­ous­ly as overt mil­i­tary prob­lems. Sto­ries cov­er­ing nation­al events adopt­ed a unit­ed front approach. Every fig­ure or group active­ly engaged in strug­gle was giv­en space, whether a white Catholic inte­gra­tionist priest such as Father Grop­pi in Mil­wau­kee, the emerg­ing Black Pan­ther Par­ty of Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, or a black nation­al­ist such as Ima­mu Amiri Bara­ka (LeRoi Jones) in Newark. Much of the paper dealt with rev­o­lu­tion­ary events on the nation­al and inter­na­tion­al lev­els, but the front-page and fea­ture sto­ries were root­ed in Detroit con­di­tions. Over the year, the head­lines includ­ed:

MICHIGAN SLAVERY

COPS ON RAMPAGE – 14 YEAR OLD SHOT 

GIRL LOSES EYE RUNNING FROM RATS

WHITE FOREMAN KILLED AFTER RACIST INSULT AT FORD’S

BLACK WORKERS UPRISING 

The lit­er­ary style and sen­sa­tion­al­is­tic pho­tographs of ICV were delib­er­ate­ly provoca­tive. The edi­tors of ICV want­ed to present com­pli­cat­ed rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas in a pop­u­lar and excit­ing for­mat. The influ­ences of Mal­colm X and Che Gue­vara were strong, but there were many oth­er cur­rents. ICV reg­u­lar­ly repro­duced arti­cles from the Cru­sad­er, a newslet­ter writ­ten by Robert Williams, an ex-marine whose advo­ca­cy in 1954 of armed black self-defense while head of the Mon­roe, North Car­oli­na, NAACP had led to a kid­nap­ping charge and self-exile, first in Cuba and then in Chi­na. ICV fea­tured a reg­u­lar col­umn by Detroi­ter James Bog­gs, who had pub­lished The Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Note­book in 1963. Some of the ICV staff had worked with Bog­gs in polit­i­cal groups, and he was high­ly respect­ed even when peo­ple did not agree with him. ICV also reprint­ed speech­es by black Marx­ist C.L.R. James, best known for his book Black Jacobins, a study of the Hait­ian revolt led by Tou­s­saint L’Ouverture. James had orga­nized polit­i­cal groups in the city, and Mar­tin Glaber­man, the chair­man of one of those groups, had once con­duct­ed a pri­vate study class on Marx’s Cap­i­tal for some of the indi­vid­u­als most promi­nent in pro­duc­ing ICV. Although a total­ly black-owned and -oper­at­ed paper, ICV pub­lished a few sto­ries by whites which were either writ­ten exclu­sive­ly for the paper or tak­en from wire ser­vices. The uni­fy­ing ingre­di­ent in all ICV mate­r­i­al was the sharp empha­sis on defin­ing the strat­e­gy and tac­tics of the ongo­ing black lib­er­a­tion strug­gle and how it might pre­fig­ure and trig­ger a sec­ond Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion.

Vir­tu­al­ly all the indi­vid­u­als who lat­er emerged as the lead­er­ship of the League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers worked on ICV, but the key per­son was edi­tor John Wat­son, a slight­ly built man then in his ear­ly twen­ties. Wat­son already had a long polit­i­cal his­to­ry. As ear­ly as 1960, he had been iden­ti­fied as too rad­i­cal for CORE (Con­gress of Racial Equal­i­ty). A few years lat­er, he was expelled from SNCC, along with the entire Detroit chap­ter, because the group had advo­cat­ed direct action in the North as well as in the South. Dur­ing the next few years, he worked with NAC (Negro Action Com­mit­tee), the Free­dom Now Par­ty, and UHURU. In 1963, Wat­son was part of a group accused of jeer­ing at the Amer­i­can flag and boo­ing the nation­al anthem dur­ing a cer­e­mo­ny at City Hall staged to inter­est the Olympic Com­mit­tee in select­ing Detroit as a site for a future Olympiad. A year lat­er, he was part of a group that threat­ened a mass insur­rec­tion of 50,000 blacks if one of their num­ber should be draft­ed, a pure bluff which brought about the mobi­liza­tion of hun­dreds of troops around the Wayne Coun­ty Induc­tion Cen­ter. Instead of 50,000 demon­stra­tors as promised, there were only eight. Nev­er­the­less, the prospec­tive inductee was found “unsuit­able” for ser­vice.

Wat­son had been involved in so much activ­i­ty and he had such a non­cha­lant per­son­al man­ner that his pow­er as an intel­lec­tu­al was some­times under­es­ti­mat­ed. Wat­son had attend­ed the Fri­day night forums of the Social­ist Work­ers Par­ty in the ear­ly 1960s, and he had helped orga­nize the all-black group that stud­ied Marx­ism with Glaber­man. He was a peren­ni­al uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent, but most of his learn­ing came from pri­vate read­ing, polit­i­cal activism, and con­tacts with peo­ple involved in polit­i­cal strug­gle. In con­trast to some of the orig­i­nal SNCC and UHURU peo­ple who fell away from activism, Wat­son became increas­ing­ly impor­tant as an idea man, a pub­lic speak­er, and a per­son who could get things start­ed. A rel­a­tive­ly poor admin­is­tra­tor who was slop­py with details and time sched­ules, Wat­son was most effec­tive when he had a col­league to han­dle day-to-day oper­a­tions. He had almost unlim­it­ed ener­gy when he was work­ing on a project he con­sid­ered impor­tant. At con­sid­er­able ·cost to his health, his sheer ener­gy pushed through project after project that oth­ers con­sid­ered too bold for suc­cess. Wat­son had the abil­i­ty to take an idea, shape it to Detroit real­i­ty, and some­how find funds to put it into action. Wat­son, more than any­one else, was respon­si­ble for the exis­tence of ICV and for its char­ac­ter­is­tic abil­i­ty to present com­pli­cat­ed ide­o­log­i­cal analy­ses of cap­i­tal­ism in a pop­u­lar style which made the leap from the­o­ry to prac­tice seem almost auto­mat­ic. An edi­to­r­i­al of Feb­ru­ary 29, 1968, was typ­i­cal:

To strug­gle in our own inter­est means that the black peo­ple of the ghet­to must strug­gle to over­throw white cap­i­tal­ism. The strug­gle against cap­i­tal­ism is world wide and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle of the ghet­to is cru­cial and essen­tial in the over all world rev­o­lu­tion. If the Kore­ans and Viet­namese can over­throw impe­ri­al­ism in Asia then Asia will be free. But if the Black Rev­o­lu­tion can over­throw cap­i­tal­ism and impe­ri­al­ism in the U.S., then the whole world will be freed. This, then, is our role.

With this under­stand­ing, let us praise the Viet­namese and Kore­ans, but let us pass the ammu­ni­tion and do our own thing.

The paper’s con­sis­tent anti-cap­i­tal­ist analy­sis trans­formed arti­cles about hos­pi­tals, police, and hous­ing from sim­ple expres­sions of griev­ances capa­ble of reform to a cri­tique of the entire social order. While empha­siz­ing cau­tion, ICV con­tin­u­al­ly evoked the lib­er­at­ing spir­it of the Great Rebel­lion, which it referred to with the phras­es “shop­ping for free” and “the gen­er­al strike of ‘67.” The ICV analy­sis of what was hap­pen­ing to blacks in the Detroit auto plants fol­lowed the same style. Oth­er forces in the city spoke stri­dent­ly of an abstract black pow­er, but ICV raised the specter of an upris­ing of black work­ers which not only would strike at the com­pa­ny but would total­ly bypass the Unit­ed Auto Work­ers as well. A June 1968 front-page sto­ry laid out the prob­lems of black work­ers and spoke of direct action on the shop floor:

[B]lack work­ers are tied day in and day out, 8-12 hours a day, to a mas­sive assem­bly line, an assem­bly line that one nev­er sees the end or the begin­ning of but mere­ly fits into a slot and stays there, swear­ing and bleed­ing, run­ning and stum­bling, try­ing to main­tain a steadi­ly increas­ing pace. Adding to the sever­i­ty of work­ing con­di­tions are the white racist and big­ot­ed fore­men, harass­ing, insult­ing, dri­ving and snap­ping the whip over the backs of thou­sands of black work­ers, who have to work in these plants in order to eke out an exis­tence. These con­di­tions cou­pled also with the dou­ble-faced, back stab­bing of the UAW have dri­ven black work­ers to a near upris­ing state. The UAW with its bogus bureau­cra­cy is unable, has been unable, and in many cas­es is unwill­ing to press for­ward the demands and aspi­ra­tions of black work­ers. In the wild­cat strikes the black work­ers on the lines do not even address them­selves to the UAW’s Griev­ance Pro­ce­dure. They real­ize that their only method of press­ing for their demands is to strike and to nego­ti­ate at the gates of indus­try.

The first steps to stop such mes­sages from reach­ing the streets of Detroit were tak­en by the Amer­i­can Legion and oth­er well-orga­nized groups of the Right who tried to use their influ­ence in the state leg­is­la­ture and the mayor’s office. They con­tend­ed that ICV was call­ing for a resump­tion of the Great Rebel­lion, but, in fact, the paper stayed with­in the bound­aries of the Bill of Rights and could not be legal­ly sup­pressed. Break­through, a Detroit split-off from the John Birch Soci­ety which had ter­ror­ized peace marchers with phys­i­cal assaults, began to attack ICV through its spokesman, Don­ald Lob­singer. Break­through even­tu­al­ly attempt­ed to dis­rupt a pub­lic meet­ing. An ICV arti­cle car­ried this terse infor­ma­tion on the out­come: “Lob­singer found one of his fol­low­ers lay­ing in the lava­to­ry floor in a pool of his own blood.” ICV omit­ted all details about its self-defense pro­ce­dures. This was char­ac­ter­is­tic of those who pro­duced the news­pa­per. While con­sid­er­ing mil­i­tary mat­ters to have a high pri­or­i­ty, they always gave their spe­cif­ic appa­ra­tus a very low pro­file in all pub­lic pro­nounce­ments.

The ene­mies of ICV soon found more effec­tive pres­sures than vio­lence and open cen­sor­ship. The FBI made a prac­tice of vis­it­ing shops which pro­duced the paper and of inquir­ing why the own­ers were sup­port­ing sub­ver­sion. The usu­al result was an imme­di­ate refusal to print any more issues. An even more effec­tive weapon was the typog­ra­phers’ union, which took the posi­tion that even if a print­er was will­ing to pub­lish ICV, the union would call a strike to pre­vent it. John Wat­son recalls with bit­ter­ness that one of the offi­cials of the union had been a well-known mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty. When per­son­al­ly asked to use his influ­ence with­in the union, the offi­cial replied that noth­ing could be done. Oth­er estab­lished rad­i­cal groups and indi­vid­u­als asso­ci­at­ed with them as for­mer or active mem­bers were like­wise unwill­ing or unable to aid ICV. Their lack of sup­port, rather than appar­ent ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences, was the basis for the gen­er­al­ly poor opin­ion of the Left held by most of the ICV staff. As a result of the FBI and union harass­ment, the ICV was nev­er print­ed in the same shop more than twice. The con­se­quence of the dou­ble attack was that copy had to be tak­en to Chica­go, where it was print­ed by the same firm that print­ed Muham­mad Speaks, the news­pa­per of Eli­jah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. The print­ed papers were then trucked back to Detroit for dis­tri­b­u­tion.

2

Sen­a­tor [Robert] Grif­fin: Can you tell me what is the sig­nif­i­cance of Gen­er­al Gor­don Bak­er? Is that real­ly his giv­en name? 

Detec­tive Sergeant Paul Cham­bers: That is his name, sir…It is not a rank. 

– U.S. Sen­ate Sub-Com­mit­tee to Inves­ti­gate Admin­is­tra­tion of the Inter­nal Secu­ri­ty Act and Oth­er Inter­nal Secu­ri­ty Laws, hear­ings of August 6, 1970

The pub­lish­ers of ICV were the core of a group of some 30 black activists who had orga­nized them­selves into an infor­mal study/action group. Most of their time was spent explor­ing how rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas might be imple­ment­ed in their places of work. One of the most respect­ed mem­bers of this group was Gen­er­al Gor­don Bak­er, who was then work­ing at Dodge Main, an assem­bly plant of Chrysler Cor­po­ra­tion. Baker’s rad­i­cal back­ground was exten­sive. He had been part of RAM, the Cap­i­tal study group, UHURU, and the group that vis­it­ed Cuba in 1964. In 1966, along with Glan­ton Dowdell and Rufus Grif­fin, he had been charged with car­ry­ing con­cealed weapons to a dis­tur­bance on the east side of Detroit. He and Dowdell had been con­vict­ed and placed on five years pro­ba­tion.

Bak­er was a pow­er­ful­ly built and ami­able man who had often expressed his rev­o­lu­tion­ary views at work and in the streets, only to find them reject­ed as too mil­i­tant. By the spring of 1968, the mood of work­ers had shift­ed. Mike Ham­lin, anoth­er of the key fig­ures at ICV, recalled the sit­u­a­tion in an inter­view giv­en to the authors on August 24, 1972: “Grad­u­al­ly he [Bak­er] began to pull togeth­er a group of work­ers who began to meet in the offices of the Inner City Voice. Usu­al­ly, Gen­er­al and I would meet with them late at night…One of the key per­sons in the plant was Ron March. It took him a long time to move to under­stand­ing that con­di­tions in the plant were relat­ed to what was hap­pen­ing in Viet­nam. Even­tu­al­ly he came to a sound analy­sis and with the rest of the group of work­ers decid­ed to start agi­ta­tion at Dodge Main.”

Hamlin’s role as an inter­me­di­ary between those most con­cerned with the pub­li­ca­tion of ICV and those who were involved in direct in-plant orga­niz­ing was one he would repeat many times in the next years. A truck dri­ver and Kore­an War vet­er­an, Hamlin’s spe­cial tal­ent was to act as a medi­a­tor when seri­ous dis­agree­ments arose. A soft-spo­ken man of great patience, Ham­lin spent hours weld­ing togeth­er ele­ments that might oth­er­wise have blown up at each oth­er in fits of anger, frus­tra­tion, and mis­un­der­stand­ing.

Nine months and five days after the Great Rebel­lion, the work of Bak­er, Ham­lin, and March bore fruit when on May 2, 1968, 4,000 work­ers shut down Dodge Main in the first wild­cat strike to hit that fac­to­ry in 14 years. The imme­di­ate cause of the strike was speed-up and both black and white work­ers took part, but the dri­ving force was the ICV group, which now named itself the Dodge Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Union Move­ment – DRUM. The activ­i­ties and ideas of DRUM were to inspire black work­ers in fac­to­ries through­out the Unit­ed States. No less an author­i­ty than the Wall Street Jour­nal took them very seri­ous­ly from the day of the first wild­cat, for the Wall Street Jour­nal under­stood some­thing most of the white stu­dent rad­i­cals did not yet under­stand: the black rev­o­lu­tion of the 1960s had final­ly arrived at one of the most vul­ner­a­ble links of the Amer­i­can eco­nom­ic sys­tem – the point of mass pro­duc­tion, the assem­bly line. And the DRUM mil­i­tants were not sim­ply anoth­er angry cau­cus of rank-and-file work­ers of the type that peri­od­i­cal­ly sprang up in one plant or anoth­er. DRUM’s anger was the anger of the Great Rebel­lion and its vision was that of a new soci­ety. In one of his rare pub­lic writ­ings, Gen­er­al Bak­er, the soul of DRUM, spoke of being dis­missed from his job for lead­ing the wild­cat strike. When Bak­er raised his voice against Chrysler Cor­po­ra­tion, his words rep­re­sent­ed the feel­ings of many rank-and-file work­ers, and they rever­ber­at­ed through­out the plants. His views were a mix­ture of social­ism and rev­o­lu­tion­ary black nation­al­ism, but he was always con­sis­tent and force­ful in sup­port­ing work­ers’ griev­ances and in push­ing con­fronta­tion for­ward. Using the device of an open let­ter to Chrysler Cor­po­ra­tion pub­lished in the June 1968 issue of ICV, Gen­er­al Bak­er took the offen­sive – the DRUM road – against the com­pa­ny and the union:

OPEN LETTER TO CHRYSLER CORPORATION 

Dear Sirs:

In response to my dis­charge on May 5, 1 968 for vio­la­tion of the 5th sec­tion of the agree­ment between Chrysler Cor­po­ra­tion ·and the UAW, dat­ed Nov. 10, 1967, which reads

“No Strike or Lock­out”

(1) Strike pro­hib­it­ed (etc.)

In dis­charg­ing me you have false­ly placed the ban­ner of lead­er­ship upon my shoul­ders. And in so doing you have denied two main things. Num­ber one, you have denied me the right to receive any jus­tice from this cor­po­ra­tion. And num­ber two, you have nul­li­fied the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the real issues which caused the walk­out of ever being aired. Even though you have false­ly placed the ban­ner of lead­er­ship of a wild­cat strike upon my shoul­ders I shall wear it proud­ly. For what more nobler ban­ner could a black work­ing man bear. In this day and age under the bru­tal oppres­sion reaped from the backs of black work­ers, the lead­er­ship of a wild­cat strike is a badge of hon­or and courage. In dis­charg­ing me you have attempt­ed to belit­tle the racial over­tones in this affair which will prove to be an impos­si­ble task on your behalf. Any con­fronta­tion between black and white men in this racist deca­dent soci­ety is a racial and there­fore a polit­i­cal ques­tion. Let it be fur­ther under­stood in the wild­cat strike that the harsh­est dis­ci­pline was issued against black work­ers attribut­ing fur­ther to your bla­tant racism. Also, Ham­tram­ck Assem­bly Plant (old Dodge Main) has a long his­to­ry of tram­pling upon the rights of black peo­ple. It was as late as 1952 while black men were shed­ding their blood in the dirty unjust war of aggres­sion against the Kore­an peo­ple that black men were allowed to work on the assem­bly lines, in the trim shop, and final. assem­bly. And even then, many white work­ers stormed off of the line refus­ing to work next to black men. Some of the same out­right white racist pol­i­cy mak­ers of this cor­po­ra­tion are still in con­trol of this racist cor­po­ra­tion today. Black peo­ple are expect­ed by the Chrysler Cor­po­ra­tion to pur­chase Chrysler fin­ished prod­ucts, but are bru­tal­ly oppressed and over­worked and harassed on the pro­duc­tion lines.

Yes, the strug­gle between black work­ers and white, racist Corpora­tion own­ers and oper­a­tors is the most vicious of all exist­ing strug­gles in the world today. It is some­times opened and some­times closed, it is some­times hot and some­times cold. It is, nev­er­the­less, in the final sense a vicious strug­gle. Let it be fur­ther under­stood that by tak­ing the course of dis­ci­plin­ing the strik­ers you have opened that strug­gle to a new and high­er lev­el and for this I sin­cere­ly THANK YOU. You have made the deci­sion to do bat­tle with me and there­fore to do bat­tle with the entire black com­mu­ni­ty in this city, this state, this coun­try, and in this world of which I am a part. Black peo­ple of the world are unit­ed in a com­mon strug­gle which had its begin­ning with the exploita­tion of non-white peo­ple on a world wide scale. To quote from W.E.B. Du Bois, “The eman­ci­pa­tion of man is the eman­ci­pa­tion of labor and the eman­ci­pa­tion of labor is the free­ing of that basic major­i­ty of work­ers who are yel­low, brown, and black.” You have made the deci­sion to do bat­tle, and that is the only deci­sion that you will make. WE shall decide the are­na and the time. You will also be held com­plete­ly respon­si­ble for all of the grave con­se­quences aris­ing from your racist actions.

Thank you again

Gen­er­al G. Bak­er, Jr.

0290-170

p.s. You have lit the unquench­able spark.

This excerpt is tak­en from the chap­ter “Inner City Voice,” in Dan Geor­gakas and Mar­tin Surkin, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying (Chica­go: Hay­mar­ket, 2012 [1975]), 13-25.

Authors of the article

is a writer, historian, and activist with a long-time interest in social movements. He is the author of My Detroit, Growing up Greek and American in Motor City.

received his PhD in political science from New York University and is a specialist in comparative urban politics and social change. He worked at the center of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit.