As Black History month comes to a close, Labor Beat presents its own documentary about an important event in Black History and Labor History in Chicago: the strike of CTA bus drivers in 1968, an eventful year for the city. This story has been hidden away in the attic for many years by the establishment, un-commemorated for reasons...well, you can speculate on what those reasons might be.
But we have brought this memory back into the light of day, along with rare archival stills and film footage, and exclusive interviews with now retired CTA drivers who played key roles.
Here is the 60s Civil Rights movement intersecting with the class struggle in a big North American city, engaging a major public sector employer. Adding to this mix was the fact that many of the drivers were returned Viet Nam veterans with combat experience and not inclined to back down from a fight. Now back in Chicago---in the year of the infamous 1968 Democratic Party convention and of the MLK assassination--the drivers confronted racism not only in the bus company but in the company union (warning: coarse language in video). "You could stand up in that union hall -- McNamara was the President -- at Van Buren and Ashland. Before you opened your mouth - whack! - you're out of order," recalls Rodgers Harmon, retired 36 years CTA bus driver. "We didn't have any real representation in the union...the strike was not so much against the CTA, it was against the union with no representation," recalls Claude Brown, also retired.
The wildcat strike was on, and the drivers learned how to develop community support. Standish E. Willis, then CTA driver and today a criminal defense attorney, remembers: "We started drawing upon the leadership in the broader community. So we had Operation PUSH (Operation Breadbasket at the time). We would reach out to celebrities...I remember Gale Sayers...Dick Gregory...I went personally and brought Muhammad Ali to the rally. But the significant thing is that we reached out to the community by developing car pools similar to what happened in Montgomery at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, and we would take our personal cars and drive them up and down the main thoroughfares in the areas we had closed down -- the West Side and the South Side -- picking up people, getting them to the next stop. What that allowed us to do is to explain what the strike was about...and to get support in the broader African-American community."
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CTA Strike 1968
- Brand: Produced by CORE in collaboration with Labor Beat Productions
- Product Code: DVD LB-630
- Availability: In Stock
Tags: DVD - USA Orders