International Paper strike

The International Paper strike was a strike in 1987 by paper mill workers at a number of plants in the United States owned by the International Paper (IP) company.

At the time of the strike, International Paper was one of the best-managed and wealthiest of the large international paper manufacturers.

Collective bargaining negotiations between the union and employer had been stable and uneventful for years. When contract talks with the various locals of the United Paperworkers' International Union (UPIU, now part of the United Steelworkers) opened, it became clear that International Paper's attitude had changed. The company, which had recently recorded near-record profits, demanded wage givebacks, high monthly payments for health and other insurance, an end to double-time pay for work on Sundays, and the elimination of all holidays (including Christmas). The company then locked out the strikers.

Although all of UPIU's locals at IP struck, much scholarly research on the labor disagreement has focused on the strike in Maine.

When paper workers at IP's Androscoggin plant in Jay, Maine began their talks with IP, the Maine AFL-CIO assigned staff organizer Peter Kellman to work with the local.

UPIU Local 14, however, had no history of member activism and little organizational infrastructure. The local community provided little support for the paperworkers' union so long as IP provided well-paying jobs, and citizens were unwilling to take action (such as demand an end to mill pollution of the local waterways) which would anger the company.[1] But within a month of the start of the strike in June 1987, Kellman had radicalized and energized the factory workers and was building a successful "class-based social movement."[2] The strike by IP's 1,200 workers in Jay generated international attention and even provoked the introduction of a bill to ban striker replacement in Congress.

International Paper immediately fired every single union worker who had struck, and hired permanent replacements.

Although the strike lingered until October 1988, Kellman and the union were fighting a losing battle. Kellman convinced the local union leadership to seek assistance from their parent union and the AFL-CIO. Initially, UPIU leaders agreed to begin a comprehensive campaign against International Paper. But UPIU was unprepared to engage in such a battle. Neither the local nor the international union had had enough lead-time to conduct research, the unions did not have economic or shareholder leverage against IP, and state and local community leaders were ambivalent about supporting the union.[3] The strikers had little bargaining power once they had been replaced.[4]

Many in the labor movement later argued that UPIU and the AFL-CIO had "sold out" Local 14. In time, some came to moderate this position, arguing that a comprehensive campaign strategy would have worked but that all organizations involved lacked the organizational expertise and infrastructure as well as the political will to successfully implement the tactic.

In August 2006, the Androscoggin plant was sold by International Paper to Verso Holdings, LLC.[5] The Androscoggin plant remains non-union as of mid-2011.


  1. Steve Early, "Solidarity Sometimes," The American Prospect, September 11, 2000.
  2. Ellen J. Dannin, "Divided We Fall: The Story of the Paperworkers' Union and the Future of Labor (review)," Labor Studies Journal, Spring 2006, pp. 96-97.
  3. Getman, The Betrayal of Local 14, 1999.
  4. Timothy J. Minchin, "'Labor's Empty Gun': Permanent Replacements and the International Paper Company Strike of 1987–88," Labor History, February 2006.
  5. "Verso Paper Reports Third Quarter 2006 Results". BusinessWire.


  • Dannin, Ellen J. "Divided We Fall: The Story of the Paperworkers' Union and the Future of Labor (review)." Labor Studies Journal, Spring 2006.
  • Early, Steve. "Solidarity Sometimes." The American Prospect. September 11, 2000.
  • Getman, Julius. The Betrayal of Local 14. New ed. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8014-8628-9
  • Kellman, Peter. Divided We Fall: The Story of the Paperworkers' Union and the Future of Labor. Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Apex Press, 2004. ISBN 1-891843-23-0
  • Kellman, Peter, ed. Pain On Their Faces: Testimonies on the Paper Mill Strike, Jay, Maine, 1987-1988. Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Apex Press, 1998. ISBN 0-945257-96-1
  • Minchin, Timothy J. "'Labor's Empty Gun': Permanent Replacements and the International Paper Company Strike of 1987–88." Labor History. February 2006.
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