Jeff Stansbury brought his friend Jerry Tucker to the ILGWU hall in Los Angeles in 1988 to meet the staff and elected leaders of the union. Jerry was on the precipice of winning the job of UAW Region 5 Director. We all sat around the boardroom across from Macarthur Park as Jerry explained the history of his candidacy and why he had run for director of a vast region that extended from Missouri to Texas with 80,000 members. Jerry would be seated as Regional Director in October and would become the lone dissident voice among twenty-two members of the UAW Executive Board.
Jerry and Jeff had worked together in 1978 in a campaign in Missouri to defeat a Right to Work initiative on the state ballot. They barnstormed across the state visiting farmers and rural folk coalitioning with them to make sure they understood whose interests were served by the anti-worker ballot proposal. The initiative was defeated.
Jerry taught that workers could stay at work, get paid and engage in inside actions that would bring the employer to heal.
Jerry was responsible for introducing the “Inside Game” into the lexicon of labor organizers. At contract time rather than dutifully walking out on strike upon expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, Jerry taught that workers could stay at work, get paid and engage in inside actions that would bring the employer to heal. He successfully implemented these strategies in several facilities in Region 5 of the UAW when he was Assistant Regional Director.
Jerry was a big picture guy. Beyond advocating for strategic initiatives in the workplace that placed worker action first and foremost, Jerry was about labor playing a big role on society’s stage. He was a founder of US Labor Against the War (USLAW) on the eve of the Iraq invasion and he was a big advocate of Labor for Single Payer, the attempt to get universal national public financing for health care.
The ILWU benefited from his advice as we employed the “inside game” at our battle in the Mojave Desert with Rio Tinto Corporation in 2009-2010.
After he was defeated by the UAW Administrative Slate in his run for reelection in Region 5 Jerry spent the rest of his years teaching and mentoring. The ILWU benefited from his advice as we employed the “inside game” at our battle in the Mojave Desert with Rio Tinto Corporation in 2009-2010. Similarly when ILWU Organizer Carey Dall confronted German giant pharmaceutical Bayer over the contract for 500 workers in Berkeley California Jerry was there on the phone patiently probing, questioning and advising on how to move workers to act without a contract.
I wish I could have gotten to know Jerry and his family better. I do know that Jerry spent some time in his youth in San Francisco with the beats in North Beach, and I know that he was a fanatical St Louis Cardinals fan. He was very disappointed when they traded away Albert Pujols, but very happy to see them running deep into the playoff this year.
Jerry’s ideas have influenced a whole generation of trade unionists. For his courage and ssteadfastness he certainly paid a price. If he had only “waited his turn” he would have had a secure career in the UAW. When the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Department published their handbook for organizers entitled, “The Inside Game”, they were forced by UAW big shots to air brush out any mention of Jerry Tucker as the man on the ground who had pioneered these strategies.
Jerry will be missed, but we will carry on his memory in the work we do.
Peter Olney is Organizing Director of the ILWU. He has been a labor organizer for 40 years in Massachusetts and California. He has worked for multiple unions before landing at the ILWU in 1997. For three years he was the Associate Director of the Institute for Labor
and Employment at the University of California.