After the Grocery Strike: Forum Looks at Next Steps

Note: Grocery workers in four UFCW locals representing all three companies in the recent southern California strike attended the Labor Notes forum in Los Angeles April 22, “Building Power: Next Steps for Grocery Workers and Allies.” Joining them were Teamsters, other union members, and supporters. The event included breakout sessions to help generate ideas and strategies, following the main session. One participant and speaker shares here some of the ideas generated at the gathering.

There is no question that there was great support during the strike from other unions and groups of activists. But, suffice to say, no one who attended the forum was pleased with the employers’ actions, and they were even more disturbed by the union’s lack of aggressive response.

Stewards talked of being moved out of their home stores because of their union affiliation and strike activities. Workers told how some managers are giving scabs better and more hours than those who returned from the strike. Longtime employees have been laid off and replaced by scabs. Most disturbing was a steward who reported having her life threatened.

There was a lot of anger and frustration, but most important—energy. We heard workers tell of their efforts to overturn store managers’ foolish decisions, and some successes they’ve had. Those present felt it important to turn the anger into action.

Here is a short list of ideas and suggestions from the event:

It is critical to begin direct memberto-member contact in each store to build a more informed membership.

From that, create a network of store leaders who will connect with one another and begin to strategize how members can influence and set a new direction for the union.

Keep relationships with other union and community supporters open and growing.

To address hostility and management harassment in the stores, encourage workers to keep a notebook to document contract violations, threats, and intimidation. Ask a co-worker to be present whenever management is attempting to intimidate or harass.



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Call the union about problems and if they fail to respond, members should collectively make calls to get their message across. If that still fails, organize calls to the president by as many members as possible. (The union has the legal duty to fairly represent members. As a last recourse, legal action may be taken.)

Develop some communication tools, like expanding the use of low-cost web-based communications, and consider a computer template for members at each store to easily publish a newsletter to keep co-workers informed.

Request copies of the union bylaws. It’s every member’s legal right to have them.

Encourage members to get a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order to understand how to participate effectively in local union meetings. Members can actually have enormous power on the floor of meetings; all it takes is understanding the process and getting members to the meeting. [See the Labor Notes book Democracy Is Power to learn more about using union meetings to organize.]

The session could have gone on for hours. Grocery activists vowed to come together again soon, and plans are already in the works for further meetings.

The closing message was simple: union members have the power if they use it. They can demand that elected leaders listen and act on their behalf.

Grocery worker Kathleen Doyle said: “Now I feel there’s a chance. There are so many smart people who want to fight. I feel like we’ve been given the starting point to do what we need to do.”

Thanks to the Labor Notes bunch for their efforts in making the night happen, and special recognition to Renuka Uthappa.

Bill Pearson was a longtime member of UFCW 789 in Minneapolis and is now involved in support work for UFCW members.

Labor Notes also hosted two organizing workshops for grocery workers in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area about building member networks and mobilizing members for the northern California contracts. For information, contact Renuka Uthappa.