“Nobody Gave Us Nothing!”: 40th Anniversary Recap

2018 was a milestone year for Steelworkers who worked in the Newport News shipyard. USW Local 8888, which represents nearly 10,000 hourly workers in the yard, celebrated the union’s 40th anniversary last year.

In February 2018, Local 8888 closed out Black History Month with a tribute to members who participated in the historic 1978 organizing drive that led to a bitter 82-day strike, bloodshed, court battles and, eventually, the first contract negotiated by the Steelworkers that guaranteed dignity and fairness for all hourly workers.

The organizing drive had been started by four African American men – Oscar Pretlow, Eddie Coppedge, Ellis Cofield and W.T. Hayes. They were dissatisfied with the pace of ending racism in the shipyard. For example, water fountains and restrooms were still segregated – in 1978.

Several pioneers from that historic campaign for union recognition were presented with “History-Maker” plaques for their role in launching USW Local 8888. The 40th anniversary slogan, “Nobody Gave Us Nothing” expressed how the hard-fought gains achieved over the years are still enjoyed by shipbuilders today.

In March 2018, Local 8888 hosted a special 40th anniversary book event. Lane Windham, the author of “Knocking on Labor’s Door,” visited the union hall to talk about her much-acclaimed book and the chapter devoted to how the Steelworkers and shipbuilders achieved a profound change in the South 40 years ago. As a bonus, the first 75 people who arrived also received a free autographed copy of Ms. Windham’s book.

Last September, union members and their families mixed fun and fond memories at Local 8888’s Charter Day Cookout. Hundreds of those who attended also received a special 40th anniversary tee shirt, wrist band, and towel. The cookout culminated a year-long celebration of the what the Steelworkers had achieved over four decades. Speakers warned against complacency and urged this generation of Steelworkers to become “history-makers” in their own way.