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Supermarket workers in struggle

by Javier Saturday, Oct. 25, 2003 at 7:29 PM
Javsacs@yahoo.com

The significance of the strike is based in the issue of health care. We are the only industrialized country to not have health care and the union estimates about 60 million went some time with out having any health care last year. This number is growing based the deteriation of the tiny bit of basic rights and benefits we have. It is time for us to not be on the defensive of these issues and begin to fight back.

As I write this, 70,000 supermarket workers are on strike from

three different companies. It started when Vons/Pavilion attempted

to push the new contract that sliced away the healthcare and pension so

the workers union, the UFCW rejected the contract and went on strike to bargain for the same wages and benefits as what existed before. But the

next step in this attack shows how malicious our system can be. Albertsons

and Ralph’s, two big supermarkets showed their corporate

solidarity with Vons by locking out there workers because “a strike against one is a strike against all.” This forced the UFCW to expand the strike and raise

the stakes to higher level. The same struggle is now taking

place at Albertson’s and Ralph’s where the workers are being threatened

by losing their health care, pension and new workers will be at a lower wage. The union estimates that the lockout by the two employers exceeds

0 million. On the news every night, we hear these

representatives of supermarkets victimizing themselves saying how the workers

only have to pay dollars a week for health insurance instead of ,

which is a lie. The workers will have to pay a month for prescription coverage, they would lose dental and optical coverage and hospital stays

and chemotherapy will be covered to a less degree. Overall the

union states that the health care will be cut in about half. The companies want to shift almost a billion dollars in health care costs onto the workers. This all potentially adds thousands of dollars to the to the

medical bills of the workers who average -14 dollars an hour and average 2 a week.

> >The companies cry about how they have to cut costs to succefully compete with Wallmart and other super-big stores that are spreading

like cancer. But Ralph’s, Albertson’s and Vons, the poor victims of the market, have made an accumulative 1.6 billion dollars last year in profit,

and the Kroger co. which owns Ralph’s and Safeway made 5 billion in sales last year. These supermarkets control 60% of the southern

California market and their sales and profit have consistently have been going

up. The operating profits of these companies have increased from 5.1

to 9.7billion from 1998 to 2002 and the general profit has gone up 91% percent the last 5 years. The claim that Wal-Mart will out compete these stores is not realistic for the simple reason that Wal-Mart is not a

supermarket and doesn’t offer the variety that these

supermarkets offer.Wal-Mart says in the next period they will capture only 1% of

the food and grocery market in California. These poor victims also have

an interesting amount of capital at their disposal. Albertson’s, used half a million dollars on just preparing for the strike which activity like flying in scabs from other states and paying them more than

regular workers just to keep the store going during the strike. While the Kroger co., which owns Ralph’s and Safeway, also has 27 million dollars in stock and the CEO himself has 6.2 million in shares. This it self

would enough to pay for a large portion of the workers health care.

The general sentiment of the workers at the supermarkets has been very

militant and optimistic. Many different workers have

personally told me that they will strike as long as it takes. All of them find the new contracts appalling and detrimental to the well being of the work force. Watching the cars role in, the strikers would tell each person that the customer should respect the picket line and shop somewhere else. Some people would have a curiosity and listen to the workers and

then shop somewhere else. Others would not listen and go in. But the general business has fallen around 75% and I also noticed the majority of the people crossing the picket had a nice Mercedes or a new SUV, showing that the middle and upper middle class customers have the strongest impulse to cross the picket.

Pat, who was interviewed by www.wsws.org and works in the bakery department, said, “The top people in this company aremaking so much money, and were not even asking for a pay raise.” She continued and a said, “the scabs are getting paid an hour. After 11

years, I get about . Their hotel and food are also being paid for. The company hired one gal who came here with her husband from Washington State. She had no ideas that we were on strike. They didn’t tell her. She ended up walking out, saying she wouldn’t dare cross the picket line.”

> >

> This is the sentiment that we need to support. If these strikes fail, it will give a green light to other business around the country that they should cut the health insurance to and make the workers pay

for but if the strike wins, it will show that the bosses shouldn’t get too greedy because the workers will strike back. We have started a committee in the

Los Angeles area to support the strikes in order to bring people to the picket, raise money, distribute a petition and get media support. The more the general population is involved the more the workers

have a chance in winning. If the strike wins, everyone will gain a real life experience in winning a struggle and gaining confidence in making social change. These are the lessons that people should learn in

times of such reaction and conservativism, that change is possible, but it is up to us to make that change.

People can join LASSO and help win the strike to show the corporate elities that this not acceptable and the workers will struggle for justice. backlasso@hotmail.com



> > Javier

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