Using spring break to help Stella strikers

April 21, 2009

Jessica Carmona-Baez reports on the planning for a campaign to win more support for workers on strike at the Stella D'oro cookie factory in the Bronx.

IT'S SPRING break 2009, and if you walk through most college campuses, you're likely to find quiet, abandoned buildings, with one or two stragglers roaming a hall. Most students and staff are on vacation, and at first glance, it looks like there will be no activity until break is over.

But that isn't the case at City College of New York, NAC Building, Room 3-201.

Crammed into a small student club room are a group of Stella D'oro strikers, strike supporters, CUNY students, a transit worker and several community activists. The group was strategizing on ways to link the struggle of the Stella D'oro cookie factory in the Bronx with the student movement against tuition hikes and budget cuts.

A few latecomers wander in and take a seat on the floor. Others stand by the doorway, peering in. All are eager to be a part of this meeting. There is an air of excitement and possibility that can't be shaken. On the walls are beautiful hand-painted signs and posters, such as one that reads: "This space was won through struggle."

Stella D'oro strikers and their supporters rally in front of City Hall in New York City
Stella D'oro strikers and their supporters rally in front of City Hall in New York City (SW)

This meeting marks a further step in the Stella D'oro boycott campaign, the daily activities of the strikers, and the leafleting at grocery stories and markets by strike supporters.

During this time of economic crisis, the workers at Stella D'oro are a shining example of workers' power. They have been on strike since August 2008, walking (often in the rain and cold) the picket line and standing up to the new management at Stella D'oro.

At issue is a proposed contract that includes a 25 percent cut in pay, elimination of overtime pay, gutting of pensions, and increased premiums for health care. This outrageous contract is being offered by Brynwood Partners, a vicious Wall Street investment firm that took over the company in 2006.

Through a boycott and publicity campaign, strikers and their supporters have been successful in reaching out to community members, informing them about the struggle and winning new support. Pickets and rallies have drawn wide support, and other actions include leafleting at local grocery chains such as Met Foods, Fine Fare, C-Town and Pathmark. Recently, a cultural fundraising event was held for strikers where many came out to give voice to the struggle.

At the CCNY meeting, people discussed the fact that CUNY schools used to be free, with open admissions, and that educational programs for students of color were won through struggle and protest.

There is a student walkout planned for April 22, and Stella D'oro strikers will come from the picket line to join the students for a rally--then, the students will go with the Stella strikers to the Bronx to walk the picket line.

As one of the chants sung at the rallies goes: "We are all Stella!!

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