20,000 show support for UFCW
By Evan Kornfeld | February 6, 2004 | Page 11
LOS ANGELES--An estimated 20,000 grocery workers and their supporters marched through the streets of Inglewood January 31 to protest the efforts of the Ralphs, Vons, Pavilions, and Albertsons supermarket chains to cut workers' health care and wages. The crowd gathered outside the Great Western Forum and marched to a nearby Vons, where they held a rally in the street to support the 70,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union on strike and locked out since early October.
Tom Morello of Audioslave, and formerly Rage Against the Machine, played guitar and sang as people gathered. There were contingents from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Laborers' International Union (LIUNA), the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), and the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA).
Members of the United Farmworkers' Union (UFW) came all the way from Delano, in central California, to show their support. The SEIU's Justice for Janitors had an especially loud and boisterous contingent. Community activists, socialists and Green Party members all turned out as well.
Unfortunately, there were few Teamsters there--an indication of that union's retreat from honoring UFCW picket lines for a month last November. Several top union officials, along with community and religious leaders, were onstage. Joseph Hanson, secretary-treasurer of the UFCW, told the crowd: "You are fighting the good fight. You are fighting to preserve affordable health care, decent working conditions and good wages."
A UFCW member named Cynthia, who works at a Pavilions store in Rolling Hills, said, "I worked for what I have. That's why I'm holding the line." Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice-president of the AFL-CIO, said to the grocery workers, "You are our heroes. Thank you for holding the line ... these strikes are holding the line for all of us."
Referring to the CEO of Safeway Inc., which owns Vons and Pavilions, she said, "We are here to tell Steve Burd to shove it." She called the bosses of the supermarket chains sinvergüenzas--people without shame. This prompted chants of "Sinvergüenzas! Sinvergüenzas!" from the crowd.
David Sanchez, vice-president of the California Teachers Association, told the strikers that his union is starting a campaign of radio ads to urge parents of schoolchildren not to shop at any of the struck supermarket chains. Two representatives of the ILWU pledged their union's support to the strikers--and presented the UFCW with a check for $100,000, the first of several payments that will total $1 million. Two representatives of AFSCME presented the strikers with a check for $25,000.
Dolores Huerta, one of the founders of the UFW, also was on stage. She didn't speak, however, even though a large group of UFW members had worked their way towards the stage, apparently in order to hear her talk. There were audible sounds of disappointment as she was hustled offstage to make room for some local politicians.
The organizers did allow Bill Lockyer, California's attorney general to speak, however. He gave a self-serving speech, in which he called himself a "unionist." However, Lockyer did make one interesting comment: "This kind of corporate behavior breeds the flames of revolutionary outrage."
Lockyer is suing the struck supermarket chains, on the grounds that their revenue sharing violates anti-trust laws. But lawsuits are not going to win this strike. Only the initiative and struggle of the workers themselves--and more solidarity action--will win it.
As Margaret Farrell, a teacher at Fremont High School in Los Angeles, put it, "We haven't seen solidarity like this in years. This is what the labor movement needs. This is like old-style solidarity."
Karl Swinehart contributed to this report.
What's wrong with the UFCW's strike strategy?
WHAT KIND of labor solidarity can help the Southern California grocery workers win their struggle? The strike and lockout of 70,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has struck a chord throughout the labor movement.
The central role being taken by the AFL-CIO in mobilizing support is welcomeand will help provide the funds needed to sustain workers in this long struggle. Yet despite the financial and active support by members, UFCW leaders' conduct of the strike has undermined the struggle again and again.
The first blunder was pulling picket lines from Kroger Co.'s Ralphs chain in late October, supposedly to win public support during the Southern California wildfires. The companies responded by sharing profits.
The second setback came in late November, when the Teamsters pressured the UFCW to remove picket lines at distribution centers and warehouses after one month. So while thousands of Los Angeles union members devote time and money to the grocery struggle, Teamsters refuse to undertake the most basic act of solidarity--honoring a picket line.
But UFCW officials are themselves undermining the strike--refusing to hold union meetings after more than three months on the picket lines. Their strategy of lasting "one day longer" against corporate giants will lead to defeat--as the UFCW's crushing loss at the Tyson meatpacking plant in Wisconsin shows.
Moreover, several locals in the Midwest refuse to join in the solidarity effort. The most egregious example is Local 881 in Chicago, which has been on a day-to-day contract with Safeway's Dominicks chain for more than a year.
The support shown for the grocery struggle is inspiringbut that support has to be turned into action that can put real pressure on the company. UFCW members need to demand pickets at all the stores, a return of pickets at warehouses, and democratic union meetings to chart the way forward.