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On the picket line

February 13, 2004 | Page 11

Southern California grocery strike
By Alison McKenna

LOS ANGELES--Negotiations over the four-month grocery strike and lockout of 70,000 United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) members were set to resume February 11 following management's rejection of the union's offer of binding arbitration. The Los Angeles Times wrote that the arbitration offer was "shrouded in secrecy until the news conference," when Rick Icaza, President of UFCW Local 770, announced the proposal February 5.

Rank-and-file union members were told the day before that a "dramatic development" would be announced. But many in the labor movement felt the arbitration offer was a blatant admission of defeat. But the corporations--Albertsons Inc., Safeway Inc. and Kroger Co.--immediately refused the offer.

Meanwhile, the situation at most UFCW picket lines is grim. Socialist Worker has spoken with UFCW members who have lost their homes, are staying with friends, or are even living in cars.

Yet many rank-and-file workers remain determined to fight. An inspiring and boisterous example of this militancy has been a series of picket line rallies organized by UFCW Local 1442 in the West Los Angeles area.

These rallies have regularly involved between 150 and 300 people picketing in front of different stores each week--virtually closing the stores down. Picketers follow scabs and shoppers to their cars, rightfully heckling and shaming them. The rallies have both kept up morale and drawn badly needed media attention to the grocery workers' fight.

One Local 1442 striker named Jeff told Socialist Worker, "It keeps customers aware that we are still out here, we are still on strike, and that we are still fighting for health care." Robert, another Local 1442 member, told Socialist Worker, "It is not right when these major grocery chains can't pay health care, and their top executives are getting $9 million bonuses!"

He also argued that UFCW locals needed more coordination. "One of the missteps we took was that locals stayed small when the big corporations were gobbling up the competition." Other UFCW members should take inspiration from Local 1442's organizing efforts and try to duplicate them.

Randy Childs contributed to this report.

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