[R-G] Cal. supermarket workers' fight continues in face of wavering by UFCW officials
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Jan 5 07:42:17 MST 2004
SOCIALIST WORKER, Jan. 2, 2004
UFCW Strike at Crossroads
By Karl Swinehart and Gillian Russom
LOS ANGELES--In defiance of a decision made by leaders of the United
Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), rank and file
union members at a grocery distribution center near Los Angeles
to maintain their picket line in the big Southern California
supermarket strike and lockout. "Thats where we work, thats where we
stay, and no one can drag us out of here," explained Jim Davis, a UFCW
member and a 27-year employee at Vons, which is owned by Safeway, Inc.
Following the unions call to pull the picket lines, UFCW Local 1167
President Bill Lathrop visited the distribution center in El Monte
December 21 to convince workers to take down the picket line, but they
refused. "Our general feeling down here is that we shouldnt have
the [picket] lines down anywhere --stores, distribution
centers--anywhere," UFCW member Matt Bruno told Socialist Worker. "Our
local president knows he works for us now."
Following this bold stand by rank-and-filers, the UFCW and Teamsters
modified their strategy and agreed to maintain picket lines at the
Vons distribution centers in Southern California--but not centers
by Albertsons or Kroger Co.s Ralphs stores, which locked out the UFCW
after the union walked out at Vons and its sister chain, Pavilion.
At the Vons grocery distribution center in El Monte, UFCW meat cutters
normally work side-by-side with members of the Teamsters union. UFCW
members had been picketing grocery distribution centers for a
month--and 8,000 Teamsters members refused to drive or load trucks
supply the markets.
Under pressure from the Teamsters leadership--which said their members
want to return to work-- the UFCW announced that picket lines at
distribution centers for all three chains would be removed the Monday
before Christmas. UFCW leaders told their members that they were
pulling the pickets as a "goodwill gesture" toward the companies in
order to get negotiations restarted.
But thats meaningless to these giant corporations, which together
control half the U.S. grocery industry-- and who joined forces to put
70,000 UFCW workers on the picket line. When the UFCW removed picket
lines at Ralphs in October to try and divide the employers, the
companies agreed to share profits for the duration of the
Healthcare is also a central issue in this battle. The companies aim
make the employees shoulder the burden of rising health care costs
through drastically increasing the amount employees pay for their
benefits--putting coverage out of reach for thousands of the low wage
and part time workers.
These highly profitable corporations are asking their 70,000 Southern
California UFCW members, in effect, to grandfather out the union
through subcontracting and a two-tier wage system.
This strike has electrified the local labor movement and dozens of
unions have been carrying out solidarity actions on a weekly basis. A
spirited march of 8,000 strikers, led by AFL-CIO President John
and Miguel Contreras, LA County Federation of Labor Executive
Secretary-Treasurer, took the workers message to Beverley Hills
Rick Icaza, UFCW Local 770 president, announced on the radio later
day that the assembled unions together put $4 million towards the
workers' strike fund, that the International Longshore and Warehouse
Union has pledged to do a second "stop work" meeting in January, and
that informational picketing at Safeway stores will extend to other
parts of the country.
Yet these efforts are undermined by the unions own strategy of
de-escalating the struggle where it matters most--at the distribution
centers and outside the grocery stores themselves.
Moreover, UFCWs plans to cut members strike pay in half on January
despite the large sums of money raised by union members in solidarity
with the supermarket workers. Even worse, picketers at one Los Angeles
Vons store showed Socialist Worker that the union had cut their pay
without warning one week earlier, on the day after Christmas. Now most
union members will be receiving only $100-$125 a week. The union also
advised its members to look for other "interim employment." This level
of hardship for strikers will undoubtedly create a sense of
and a willingness to accept any conclusion to the strike, even if it
involves major concessions to the corporations.
This is why the action by rank-and-file workers at the El Monte
distribution center is so important. As El Monte worker Jim Davis told
Socialist Worker, "There is no goodwill with corporations. Us keeping
the picket line up was a good decision. Its definitely good for
morale. We took a stand. It may not have been a popular stand, but it
shows people that were serious. And were here for the duration."
In deciding to keep their picket lines up, rank-and-file workers at
El Monte distribution center have taken a very important step forward
in pushing for a more militant strike strategy--and more democracy in
the unions decision making. The courageous stand by the UFCW strikers
in El Monte shows that initiative by the rank and file to escalate the
action is the key to winning this fight.
Maya de Leon, Bill Neal, and Randy Childs contributed to this article.
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