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by John Reimann
Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2003 at 2:44 PM
As the grocery strike goes into its second month, it's time to go beyond the conservative strategies of the AFL-CIO
Fight to Win!
For nine weeks now, the grocery workers (members of the UFCW) in southern California have been on strike, showing tremendous determination and sacrifice. Forced out in defense of affordable health care, they are really striking for all workers in the US; if they lose, then all employers who offer health care will go on the offensive on this issue. This is especially so as new union contracts come up for renewal.
On Dec. 16, the UFCW called a national conference to discuss how to win this strike. They brought representatives from all locals across the country. This was a very positive thing. The plan that they came up with was a national boycott. Whether this will be of all the chains or only of Safeway is not clear. What is clear is that this strike can be won, but a boycott is not the most effective tactic.
In the 1980s, there were a series of bitter, prolonged strikes, some of them of UFCW members (Hormel). In the case of the strike against Eastern Airlines, Greyhound and Hormel, the union tried a corporate campaign, including a national boycott. In none of these instances did the boycott succeed. This is because labor is strongest when it fights as workers, not as consumers. It is far, far more difficult to organize people as consumers.
A Winning Strategy
This strike can be won quickly, but a more aggressive approach is needed.
First, many people who cross the picket lines at Safeway comment that they, too, have to pay for health care. Many others say that they don’t have health care at all. In order to win over these many workers, the UFCW leadership should organize a campaign for free health care for all workers and for a nationalized health care plan. They should make it clear that this strike is the start of this campaign.
Second, the UFCW leadership has to develop a strategy to physically shut down all the stores of the struck chains. This can easily be done, if they break with the conservative, timid approach of the AFL-CIO. Based on a demand for free health care for all, the Union leadership could organize millions of workers to occupy the stores (in other words, to go into the stores and take them over). This should lead up to a national one-day walk-out to highlight the demand for a nationalized health care system (something that neither the Democratic nor Republican Parties are discussing.)
Some may be concerned that taking over the stores is illegal. This is true, although paying someone starvation wages or denying them health care is perfectly legal. In the past, simply organizing a union was illegal. If enough people do it, there is not much the authorities can do.
The grocery chains are pointing to Wal-Mart and other non-union stores as an excuse to cut their wages. The labor leaders have to have a serious approach to dealing with this. The entire leadership of the AFL-CIO (including the UFCW) should organize tens and hundreds of thousands of union workers to go to the non-union work places and help the workers there organize. The tactic of mass occupations of the work places should be used in order to win good union contracts.
Many union members agree with this approach. However, we can not simply wait for our union leaders to organize it. If we do that, we will be waiting a very, very long time. It is necessary for us to organize amongst ourselves to take whatever steps in this direction that we can, while at the same time demanding as one, organized voice that our leadership take these steps on a mass basis. This is the best way to win this strike and to start moving forward.
If you want to help organize along these lines, contact us!
“Good Faith Bargaining”?
On Dec. 19, the UFCW national leadership announced that they would be removing pickets at the distribution warehouses of the supermarket chains in Southern California. This is a major mistake. These pickets have been some of the most effective, as they have kept the stores in the area almost empty of stock. This is announced as being a “good faith” gesture. The corporate tops don’t consider “good faith”; they consider power - power to hurt their profits. Instead of removing those pickets, they should be expanded to all the warehouses of these chains throughout America. If it is a question of the Teamsters feeling the financial pinch, then the UFCW leadership should initiate a major fund raising drive throughout the entire labor movement for strike support for striking UFCW members and the Teamsters.
Another mistake is the strict compliance with a pledge to keep what happens at the bargaining table secret. Most assuredly, the heads of all the chains know what is happening; the only ones kept in the dark are the striking union members. This secrecy gives room for rumors and suspicions. The membership should be kept fully informed and fully involved.
Labor's Militant Voice
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