Peril In UFCW Strike!
by Mike Griffin
NOBODY DESERVES to win a labor dispute more than locked-out and striking
UFCW members involved in the West Coast struggle that idled thousands of
grocery workers. The grim reality is however; that victory is unlikely and
more tragic, many workers will never get their jobs back. Consider the
history of the UFCW leadership in struggles where the International Union
caved in with little more than a whimper, then allowed scabs to permanently
replace long-term, loyal union members. No one questions the necessity of
this struggle; it is extremely important to every UFCW union member in the
retail grocery industry in the U. S. and Canada. Most problematic is UFCW
leadership (or lack of it) and their inability to strategize or provide
leadership and soon, the question of their resolve must be raised as well.
Well before negotiations began, UFCW leadership should have been developing
a strategy to deal with the enemy on a number of fronts. Coalitions with
union and legislative allies, as well as the shopping public should have
been formed. The UFCW should have, but failed to understand, the serious
threat of Wal-Martization of their industry. That threat is the vehicle
driving the powerful coalition determined to win at any cost. That is not to
say this struggle was un-winnable; far from it. You must know your enemy and
where to apply the thousand points of pain it takes to defeat a determined
enemy; and above all else, you must recognize your enemy. For years, the
UFCW has assumed those major retail grocers were allies and rank and file
needs came second. Labor leaders know there are no "silver bullets" in labor
disputes, as local Teamster leadership perceived their valiant but poorly
timed efforts when they refused to haul from grocery warehouses.. Thus far,
UFCW and Teamster leaders have engaged a powerful, well-educated enemy with
tactics that have not worked for decades, if ever. Unfortunately, they sent
their troops into battle nearly unarmed and with no credible battle plan.
Looking back in UFCW history, the P. 9 struggle with Hormel in Austin,
Minnesota comes to mind. The fight with Hormel turned into a major fracas
that drew nation wide support; support the international union could not
control. Assisting the struggle was independent labor consultant, Ray Rogers
and his staff at corporate Campaign, brought on board by local P. 9
leadership. The funds and national support raised by Rogers made it
difficult for the UFCW to throw in the towel. In spite of that support and
the hopes of hundreds of thousands of union supporters, the UFCW cut a deal
with Hormel, took over local P. 9 and replaced the local leadership. Many
dedicated UFCW members watched it shock as their lifelong jobs were
permanently filled by scabs.
There have been many valiant struggles by UFCW members, but the results are
nearly all mirror images with rank and file members suffering the losses.
Organizing attempts by the UFCW have been as feeble as their efforts to win
struggles. Many UFCW members live with poor wages, little representation and
unjust working conditions.
The recent gathering of AFL-CIO leaders on the West Coast may appear as a
gathering of eagles to desperate striking workers. Workers who have needed
their support since the beginning and deserve it. But even buzzards gather
and soar before they feast on their prey. Make no mistake, "the dog and
pony show" has begun and while the house of labor makes militant speeches,
engages in a little street theatre, the UFCW is quietly planning an "Exit
Strategy." That1s what labor calls it when betrayal is in the works. The
movement will be told through the bureaucratic labor news of the victory
they scored. They "saved the union", they will tell us, and they will spend
several years re-writing the history of their betrayal. But, the truth will
burn forever in the hearts of the members and their families who suffer the
Recently, mainstream media prostitutes are touting the involvement of
Richard Trumka, Secretary-Treasurer of the National AFL-CIO; suggesting his
leadership will bring more militant strategies. Nothing could be further
from the truth. My experience tells me the AFL-CIO will spend some money,
make a few seemingly militant demonstrations and Trumka will enter the
negotiations and a deal will be cut. It will be far from victory and none
will be spared the losses except the suits in the UFCW and the AFL-CIO.
The examples are endless. The Detroit News Strike is but one of many.
After being shamed into a national rally in Detroit, Sweeny led more than
one hundred thousand supporters through downtown Detroit to the biggest
block party in Detroit¹s history; no militancy, no sit-down, and no real
effort to win that struggle. The result was a stunning loss that allowed
scabs to replace most of the valiant union workers.
The WarZone struggles in Decatur IL that idled more than four thousand
working families at Firestone, Caterpillar, and Staley is another example.
When the AFL-CIO refused to engage in those struggles under the feeble
leadership of Lane Kirkland, the Staley local loaded up busses and went to
Bal Harbor Fla. to challenge the AFL-CIO. After Kirkland and his band of
bureaucrats descended on Decatur a few months later, it was learned that
Kirkland was not going to give any real support for the Decatur unions. The
Staley local put together a strategy with the help of supporters across the
country to indict Kirkland¹s leadership. That effort culminated in Chicago
after protests from the floor led to Kirkland resigning the following day.
At the 1995 convention in New York, after Sweeny claimed the throne, a
meeting was set up between local leaders from the Decatur struggles and top
officers of the ³New Voice² team, including Richard Trumka and Linda Chavez
Thompson. They promised massive support for those struggles, support that
never came. The ³New Voice² developed laryngitis almost immediately.
Sweeney was supposed to meet the Staley local president in London to meet
directly with Neil Shaw, CEO of the Staley parent, Tate&Lyle PLC. Instead
Sweeney went without local leaders and a deal was cut, and the Decatur local
was betrayed. No support was ever provided the Caterpillar workers or
Firestone workers and they too were forced to work side by side with scabs.
Staley workers picketed the Paperworkers National Headquarters in Nashville
TN on two occasions and were locked out of the building by security. Local
members and leaders were brought up on dozens of bogus charges and most
damning, the entire membership and most of the local leadership was evicted
from their own union hall by the same police that gassed and terrorized them
on the picket lines. Trumka was confronted at a labor forum at the
University of Illinois a few months after the betrayal in a painful lesson
in accountability. Months later Sweeney was picketed in Madison Wisconsin
as a large contingent of Decatur workers carried a large black coffin in
front of the speakers stand, signifying the death of their struggle by
betrayal. In a meeting with Sweeney after the demonstration, Sweeney
promised a letter explaining why he withheld support from the struggles.
That letter never came.
The AFL-CIO secretly, or so they thought, flew Father Martin Mangan, the
local priest who supported the struggling workers and was arrested at the
gates of Staley, to Washington in an effort to stop the protests. When that
did not work, and Mangan continued his support, Trumka flew into Decatur
unannounced to the media and met with about 50 plus angry workers at St
James Church, Fr Mangan¹s Parrish. It was a tumultuous meeting and Trumka
was quizzed several times about breaking his promises. Each time he
responded, ³the AFL-CIO cannot render support unless it is requested by the
national affiliate². Translated, We cater to who pays the per capita to the
AFL-CIO. Translated, they lied to us in New York after we played a key role
in their election. Trumka left Decatur with no credibility.
Knowing this, how would you rate the chances of humble grocery workers?
Once again, it is time for the big show. How do I know? I saw the show
before; I lived with the betrayal. I am a former locked-out Staley worker
from the "War Zone", Decatur, IL.