The Barking Dog – tales from a factory floor

The Barking Dog is a compilation of the rank and file newsletter of the same name published by Caroline Lund, US socialist and United Automobile Workers (UAW) militant.

Introducing the book, Barry Sheppard – Lund’s long-time companion and comrade in the Socialist Workers Party (until both left in 1988) – describes how she relished the political tasks of an industrial militant. “In one small factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which employed some deaf workers, she began to learn sign language. In a steel mill, where we both worked, she was the first woman ‘crane repairman’, and encountered hostility at first because of her gender. But she soon won over her crew, and then the whole department.”

From 1992 until her death in 2006, Lund was an assembly line worker at New United Motors Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), an auto plant in northern California. She published The Barking Dog over her last eight years.

It was a period in which the once strong UAW was faltering under the leadership of a stagnant bureaucracy. From the beginning, Lund clearly saw The Barking Dog as a tool to cohere rank and file opposition. The newsletters reveal details of behind the scenes manoeuvring the officials wanted to keep hidden: a struggle that exposed her to lawsuits, and intimidation.

Its pages drip with disgust at the perks enjoyed by officials at members’ expense. Reporting on her first UAW conference she wrote to those back on the floor: “It was held in Palm Springs, at a nice hotel which had a pool, a hot tub, a gym and a golf course … There was a huge hunk of beef being carved by a waiter, a whole pig with the head still on, and a turkey. I felt very uncomfortable … I’m not interested in going to another conference like this.”

Lund distributed The Barking Dog at work, but her reports gained a much wider readership than the NUMMI factory alone. Workers wrote in from auto factories across the country. “Keep telling it like it is”, penned one from Illinois. “You are fighting those who have evolved into allies of the company.”

In order to steer anger at the union leadership away from apathy and toward activity, the newsletter tackled a variety of workplace issues: from speed-ups to bathroom breaks and disputes within the union about collective bargaining. Lund even sounded the alarm when management replaced two-ply toilet paper with single-ply.

The compilation allows a unique insight into the anatomy of class struggle at one factory over nearly a decade. The reader soon learns the names of the rats, the militants, the managers and gains an understanding of the day to day issues that push the drama forward. By the end of the book it feels as if you’ve worked there for years.

Lund didn’t confine The Barking Dog to industrial issues either. The newsletter offers positions on key political questions of the day. Lund argued that workers at NUMMI should follow world events and take a position with their class. Ultimately, she wrote, “the only way working people get real changes is by getting out on the streets and raising hell.

Every militant can learn something from this indefatigable attitude. The Barking Dog stands as a remarkable contribution to the struggle for the heart and soul of the union movement.

[Copies of The Barking Dog: a plant newsletter published by a militant autoworker can be ordered by contacting [email protected].]