imc indymedia

Los Angeles Indymedia : Activist News

white themeblack themered themetheme help
About Us Contact Us Calendar Publish RSS
Features
latest news
best of news
syndication
commentary


KILLRADIO

VozMob

ABCF LA

A-Infos Radio

Indymedia On Air

Dope-X-Resistance-LA List

LAAMN List




IMC Network:

Original Cities

www.indymedia.org africa: ambazonia canarias estrecho / madiaq kenya nigeria south africa canada: hamilton london, ontario maritimes montreal ontario ottawa quebec thunder bay vancouver victoria windsor winnipeg east asia: burma jakarta japan korea manila qc europe: abruzzo alacant andorra antwerpen armenia athens austria barcelona belarus belgium belgrade bristol brussels bulgaria calabria croatia cyprus emilia-romagna estrecho / madiaq euskal herria galiza germany grenoble hungary ireland istanbul italy la plana liege liguria lille linksunten lombardia london madrid malta marseille nantes napoli netherlands nice northern england norway oost-vlaanderen paris/Île-de-france patras piemonte poland portugal roma romania russia saint-petersburg scotland sverige switzerland thessaloniki torun toscana toulouse ukraine united kingdom valencia latin america: argentina bolivia chiapas chile chile sur cmi brasil colombia ecuador mexico peru puerto rico qollasuyu rosario santiago tijuana uruguay valparaiso venezuela venezuela oceania: adelaide aotearoa brisbane burma darwin jakarta manila melbourne perth qc sydney south asia: india mumbai united states: arizona arkansas asheville atlanta austin baltimore big muddy binghamton boston buffalo charlottesville chicago cleveland colorado columbus dc hawaii houston hudson mohawk kansas city la madison maine miami michigan milwaukee minneapolis/st. paul new hampshire new jersey new mexico new orleans north carolina north texas nyc oklahoma philadelphia pittsburgh portland richmond rochester rogue valley saint louis san diego san francisco san francisco bay area santa barbara santa cruz, ca sarasota seattle tampa bay tennessee urbana-champaign vermont western mass worcester west asia: armenia beirut israel palestine process: fbi/legal updates mailing lists process & imc docs tech volunteer projects: print radio satellite tv video regions: oceania united states topics: biotech

Surviving Cities

www.indymedia.org africa: canada: quebec east asia: japan europe: athens barcelona belgium bristol brussels cyprus germany grenoble ireland istanbul lille linksunten nantes netherlands norway portugal united kingdom latin america: argentina cmi brasil rosario oceania: aotearoa united states: austin big muddy binghamton boston chicago columbus la michigan nyc portland rochester saint louis san diego san francisco bay area santa cruz, ca tennessee urbana-champaign worcester west asia: palestine process: fbi/legal updates process & imc docs projects: radio satellite tv
printable version - js reader version - view hidden posts - tags and related articles

The Los Angeles Supermarket Strike of 2003-2004

by Loren Goldner Wednesday, Mar. 17, 2004 at 9:28 PM

Media coverage was eclipsed by Hollywood’s Academy Awards, but on Sunday, Feb. 29, Southern California supermarket workers voted 86% to end their five-month old strike, accepting a contract that amounts to a serious, if not total, victory for a determined employer offensive with national implications.Thus one of the most important strikes in the U.S. in years has ended in defeat.

NOTES ON ANOTHER DEFEAT FOR WORKERS IN THE U.S.

The Los Angeles Supermarket Strike of 2003-2004

By Loren Goldner

Media coverage was eclipsed by Hollywood’s Academy Awards, but on Sunday, Feb. 29, Southern California supermarket workers voted 86% to end their five-month old strike, accepting a contract that amounts to a serious, if not total, victory for a determined employer offensive with national implications.Thus one of the most important strikes in the U.S. in years has ended in defeat.

In October of last year, 97% of members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in southern and central California voted to strike Von’s, a supermarket chained owned by Safeway, a national chain. The main issue was the health benefits of the workers, paid entirely by the company; Von’s wanted the workers to pay 50% of health costs under a new contract. They also wanted to introduce a two-tier wage system. Within hours, two other chains with contracts pending, Albertson’s and Ralphs, locked out their employees. Beginning in early October, 70,000 members of the UFCW were on strike in the region.

The strike began with great enthusiasm from the workers and with a surprisingly high level of public support, as struck supermarkets remained largely empty, including in the big end-of-the-year holiday season. Further, mass transit workers of Los Angeles struck at the same time, also over health benefits, creating a “strike wave” atmosphere not seen in decades (their strike was handed over to “arbitration” and they returned to work a short time later; at this writing, nothing has been resolved). (Foreign readers should understand that since the U.S. has no national health care system, health benefits are often one of the most important parts of employee compensation. The average wage of a southern California UFCW worker is less than per hour, and most workers are guaranteed only 24 hours of work per week. Many workers hold the job mainly for the health benefits.) The International Longshore and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU) the west coast dockers’ union, shut down Los Angeles harbor in a one-day sympathy strike, and shortly thereafter did the same at the nearby San Pedro shipyards. They also contributed 0,000 to the Ralphs strike fund.

All three supermarkets are part of national chains as the result of a major consolidation of retail grocery sales over the past 30 years. The supermarkets claimed they needed the givebacks because of impending competition from Wal-mart, the retail giant, which is planning to open 40 new outlets in southern California in the next few years (Wal-mart is infamous for low wages and no employee benefits). Everyone understood that the outcome of the strike would set a pattern for many other unions and workers in the region, and nationally. (Increasing numbers of labor disputes are precisely over health care costs.) Nevertheless, in spite of all the working-class support, the unions have been following the narrow, legalistic strategies that have resulted in so many defeats over the past 25 years. On October 31, they pulled the pickets from Ralphs as a gesture of “good faith” to focus them on Von’s; the employers immediately announced that they would be sharing profits and losses during the strike. The union went so far as to urge people to shop at Ralphs, where their own members were locked out. Even though the chains are all national, with total sales of billion a year, the unions shyed away from any national strategy, sending a few “informational pickets” to outlets in northern California and elsewhere. Last fall, the UFCW did manage to win a similar strike at Kroger’s (the chain owning Ralphs) in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. On November 24, the UFCW did extend the strike to the ten southern California distribution centers supplying the supermarkets, and the Teamsters (International Brotherhood of Teamsters-IBT) agreed that their 7,000 members delivering to those sites would not cross the picket lines. But the UFCW did nothing to stop thousands of scab trucks delivering the sites, and on Dec. 19 they tried to pull the pickets. On Dec. 22, at the El Monte Von’s distribution center, UFCW members refused to close down their picket lines, and they stayed up. By mid- January, picketing resumed at some Ralphs sites, but strike pay had been cut from 0 to 0 per week.

In mid-December, John Sweeney and Rich Trumpka, the two top leaders of the "new" AFL-CIO, came to Los Angeles to meet with the presidents of 50 UFCW locals, putting the national prestige of the organized labor movement on the line to win the strike. One might well ask, beyond the usual leftist cries of "betrayal", why they took such a risk after a long string of defeats in previous years. (Union membership under Sweeney, since he took office in 1995, has fallen from 14% to 9% of the U.S. work force.) My own opinion is that, in their own narrow terms, with their timid strategies and tactics, they underestimated the willingness and ability of the three chains to lose millions of dollars in order to break the power of the unions.

The unions were successful in keeping the relatively young and inexperienced work force under control. No mass meetings were held to discuss strike strategy, and members generally felt excluded from influence on the direction of the strike. Ralphs was being kept open by scabs from the notorious Personnel Support System, Inc., which provides thuggish “replacement workers” for just these occasions. But the UFCW seemed determined to follow the localist and legalist strategies of so many losing strikes of previous years, not even capable of resorting to the kinds of anti-scab tactics which created unions in the first place. The employers said they were prepared to take a year to defeat the UFCW, and without a change in strike strategy by the workers, they succeeded.

59,000 UFCW members voted on the three-year contract over the weekend of February 28-29. By any standard, the settlement must be considered an important employer victory. While the supermarkets did lose .5 billion in income during the strike, they established a precedent for many pending contracts around the country, and not merely for supermarkets. Wall Street greeted the settlement, and Safeway stock prices have remained firm throughout the strike.

The new contract provides for a two-tier system. Current employees will receive no pay increase for the first two years of the contract, but will receive a ratification bonus. In the third year, they will begin making monthly payments for the family health plan.

New employees will have lower wages and will receive only limited health coverage. The two-tier contract will thus open the way for pushing older employees out the door. Finally, the contract allows the supermarkets to fire up to 630 UFCW members for “misconduct” on the picket lines within 36 hours of ratification.

In the same way there were no mass meetings during the strike, the ratification vote was rushed through on a 16-page small print contract. The UFCW and the AFL-CIO declared victory for having saved the health plan for current employees for two years, but no one doubts that for a strike with very strong support from the rank-and-file and from the “public”, this was a massive defeat, opening the way for future massive defeats. It is possible that the UFCW leadership in Southern California thought they could win, based on the early momentum, not realizing that the supermarkets had national backing and a national strategy. On Feb. 16, Rick Icaza, president of UFCW Local 770 and a major strike “leader”, told the Los Angeles Times that “I felt…we had passed the era of the need for strikes…I thought those days were over.” It seems highly probable that at both the local and national levels, the UFCW did not want to embarrass the Democratic Party in an election year.

But aside from the short-sightedness and top-down character of the union strategy, the decisive factor in the defeat was the absence of any challenge to the union strategy from the UFCW rank-and-file.

The ultimate issue in this strike was the corporate offensive against the outmoded “private Social Democracy” for the minority of American workers with union-contracted, and no longer affordable, employer health plans. This offensive can only be answered by a class offensive to make universal health care a political issue, one no longer confined to isolated groups of workers in losing local struggles. Don’t expect such a struggle from either the UFCW or the AFL-CIO, not to mention the Democratic Party.



Other articles on the class struggle in the U.S. and elsewhere are available on the Break Their Haughty Power web site at:

http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner

Report this post as:

LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 6 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
TITLE AUTHOR DATE
EXCELLENT ARTICLE ******* 7 STARS Wednesday, Mar. 17, 2004 at 11:51 PM
Every Strike is a Victory A Friday, Mar. 19, 2004 at 4:06 AM
fresca huh? Friday, Mar. 19, 2004 at 5:36 AM
OneEyedMan KPC Friday, Mar. 19, 2004 at 10:25 PM
Do union members? Scabbie Saturday, Mar. 20, 2004 at 12:27 AM
do union members organize? more rational Saturday, Mar. 20, 2004 at 4:29 PM

Local News

Change Links September 2018 posted S02 10:22PM

More Scandals Rock Southern California Nuke Plant San Onofre A30 11:09PM

Site Outage Friday A30 3:49PM

Change Links August 2018 A14 1:56AM

Setback for Developer of SC Farm Land A12 11:09PM

More problems at Shutdown San Onofre Nuke J29 10:40PM

Change Links 2018 July posted J09 8:27PM

More Pix: "Families Belong Together," Pasadena J02 7:16PM

"Families Belong Together" March, Pasadena J02 7:08PM

Short Report on the Families Belong Together Protest in Los Angeles J30 11:26PM

Summer 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert! J11 6:58AM

Watch the Debate: Excluded Candidates for Governor of California M31 5:20AM

Change Links June 2018 posted M28 7:41AM

The Montrose Peace Vigil at 12 Years M22 8:01PM

Unity Archive Project M21 9:42AM

Dianne Feinstein's Promotion of War, Secret Animal Abuse, Military Profiteering, Censorshi M17 10:22PM

CA Senate Bill 1303 would require an independent coroner rather than being part of police M10 9:08PM

Three years after OC snitch scandal, no charges filed against sheriffs deputies M10 8:57PM

California police agencies violate Brown Act (open meetings) M02 8:31PM

Insane Company Wants To Send Nuke Plant Waste To New Mexico A29 11:47PM

Change Links May 2018 A27 8:40AM

Worker-Owned Car Wash on Vermont Closed A27 5:37AM

GUIDE TO REBEL CITY LOS ANGELES AVAILABLE A13 12:39AM

lausd whistle blower A11 6:58AM

Website Upgrade A10 10:02AM

Help KCET and UCLA identify 60s-70s Chicano images A04 8:02PM

UCLA Luskin: Casting Youth Justice in a Different Light A02 6:58PM

Change Links April 2018 A01 6:27PM

More Local News...

Other/Breaking News

Paraphysique de psychosomatique S22 6:58AM

Chuck Grassley: Women Abusing, Animal Murdering, Illegal War Supporting Criminal S22 2:58AM

Finance Capitalism and the Digital Economy S21 4:45PM

Muselières syndicales, muselières patronales S21 7:19AM

Jeff Bezos, Amazon, The Washington Post, Whole Foods, Etc S21 2:50AM

Why Choose Nut Milk Over Cows' Milk S21 1:01AM

Antrhopocène, le grand effondrement S19 9:53AM

Creative Destruction Hack Diamonds Windows/iOS/Android - Creative Destruction Generator S19 12:51AM

Abolir l'économie S18 11:18AM

The Dictatorship of Corporations S17 5:26PM

18 Lethal Consequences Of Hunting S17 3:13PM

Paraphysique de l'outplacement déontologue S15 6:51AM

Creative Destruction Hack Mod Generator S15 3:49AM

Shopping du bashing S14 8:42AM

After Lehman Brothers, Experts Say Global Financial Crisis Can Happen Again S13 8:28PM

“Animaniacs in Concert!” Starring Voice Legend Rob Paulsen S12 9:30PM

Probabilités de fin d'humanité S12 6:49AM

Florida Area of Migrant Farmworkers Denied Right to Construct Health Clinic near NaplesCIW S11 2:57AM

Propagande de virus, virus de propagande S10 7:34AM

Steer clear of work morality! S09 12:10PM

Sweatshop Lodge Ceremony Continues in US Fed Prisons Led by Inmates S08 6:17PM

Paraphysique de l'origami S08 7:11AM

The Shortwave Report 09/07/18 Listen Globally! S06 11:23PM

August 2018 Honduras Coup update S06 12:28PM

Du réussissement putréfié S06 10:55AM

Brett Kavanaugh Filled The 5th Circuit With Execution Judges S06 6:14AM

Log S06 4:25AM

Augusta Georgia Woman Gets 5 Year Prison Sentence for Writing About Russians Crime Acts S05 8:29AM

More Breaking News...
© 2000-2018 Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by the Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Running sf-active v0.9.4 Disclaimer | Privacy