LA docks shut down for grocery strike rally
By Sarah Knopp and Dana Blanchard | November 14, 2003 | Page 12
THOUSANDS OF dockworkers shut down ports in Los Angeles November 10 to hold a solidarity rally with striking grocery workers. "This is what solidarity looks like," a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 13 told Socialist Worker. "We should be doing this all the time."
The ILWU used a clause in its contract to hold a "stop-work" meeting to close the port in San Pedro for the evening in support of some 70,000 grocery workers on strike or locked out in Southern California since October 12. The shipping line bosses and stevedoring companies were fuming--but ILWU members shut down the port anyway.
The mood was electric at what was the biggest labor rally in the area in years. As some 3,000 ILWU members joined the picket at a nearby Albertsons, hundreds of striking members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 770 arrived.
Next came a big delegation from Teamsters Local 560, along with their union's semi truck, which served as a rally stage. Dozens of members of unions representing teachers, health care workers and government employees were there, along with activists from U.S. Labor Against the War.
The picket line was five abreast--and completely shut down the store for more than an hour. So many people were trying to join the picket lines that traffic was tied up throughout San Pedro. Chants and cheers could be heard blocks away.
For the UFCW members, the rally was a tremendous boost. "Corporate greed has got to stop," ILWU Local 13 President Joe Donato told the crowd. "Our stop-work meeting is here tonight to support the UFCW. There is nothing moving on the waterfront tonight."
The strikers are fighting the three biggest grocery chains in the U.S.--Kroger, which operates Ralphs in California; Albertsons; and Safeway, which owns Vons and Pavilions. The companies are trying to force workers to pay health insurance premiums for the first time while limiting the employers' own payments into the health plan.
This would raise workers' health care costs to as much as $95 a week--far too expensive for low-paid grocery workers. The harshness of the employers' demands--and the widespread outrage over health care costs--has led to widespread support for the grocery strikers.
"An injury to one is an injury to all," said one ILWU member when asked why his union took action to support the strikers. "Everyone needs to do this," another dockworker said. "This needs to be the culture of unions in this city."
The picketers marched down the block for a spirited rally of 6,000 that featured local UFCW and ILWU leaders, as well as officials from the United Teachers Los Angeles and Service Employees International Union, and several Democratic Party politicians. Chairing the rally was Miguel Contreras, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which has played central role in organizing support for the strikers.
Maryanne, a locked-out UFCW worker at Albertsons, told the crowd, "Whether you make $350 a week or $500 a week, we are going to fight for rights for everybody." The solidarity on the docks can be the model for how to take the grocery workers' struggle forward.
The UFCW has withdrawn pickets of Teamsters-organized grocery warehouses and has pulled picket lines from Ralphs in what the union said was a bid to maintain public support. The result of these moves, however, was to weaken the fight.
But the ILWU stop-work rally showed exactly how to build support for workers--through action. This demonstration showed that we have the power to organize the kind of labor solidarity that can force the employers to back down.