Sunday, February 13, 2011

Could Muncie's strike-torn union past haunt its future?

MUNCIE -- Although the incidents took place in Muncie, they were noteworthy enough to rate a mention in The New York Times: Two thousand members and supporters of a Muncie labor union went on strike. As marchers took to the streets and rioting ensued, store windows were smashed. Workers and strikebreakers threw rocks and fired shots into the air. Businesses shut down after threats were lodged and the Indiana National Guard was called in.

The turmoil unfolded during an Indiana Union Traction Co. strike in January 1908.
Ancient history? A Google search of the words "Muncie" and "strike" results in short articles about the conflict. And while no one would equate a 103-year-old interurban strike with the community's current business climate, the volatility of Muncie's labor-management relationship dogs the community a century later, largely because of divisive strikes throughout the 20th century.

Mayor Sharon McShurley recently told The Star Press that, during her economic development trips to Japan, concerns about labor and Muncie's proximity to what some call the national union/nonunion dividing line -- Interstate 70 -- have come up.

"The Japanese in particular will point at I-70 on a map of Indiana," McShurley said, adding that the potential investors believe workers north of that interstate are more prone to union organization. The theory is one that's cited in explaining why recent auto plant developments -- including the Honda plant in Greensburg -- have been built south of I-70 and, most often, in southern states.

"I do have concerns about the United Auto Workers trying to unionize international facilities," McShurley said. Because international companies can easily relocate jobs, the mayor added, "That will hurt our chances at investment."

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