"Irresponsible" Striking

We’ve known for a while now that the economic crisis has dampened the willingness of workers to head out on strike (with some courageous exceptions). That’s partly due to the business class and the corporate press, who take every opportunity to poison the atmosphere against rank and filers who dare to resist corporate demands.

Last month Boeing demanded that the Machinists in Washington state deliver a no-strike pledge to keep the Dreamliner 787 plane produced there. The union, which struck for 57 days last year, eventually offered up a 10-year strike ban. Regardless, the company chose a non-union plant in South Carolina for its second production line. In Philadelphia, transit workers were raked over the coals for daring to strike last week.

And today The Arizona Republic published an editorial that puts all this strike-bashing into sharp focus.

The paper accuses UFCW Local 99 leaders of “herding members off a cliff” and of being “irresponsible” for threatening to strike. The local represents 24,000 members at Safeway and Fry’s who voted up a strike authorization if their negotiators don’t reach an agreement with the companies by Friday.

These very same workers, the paper alleges, are putting the union “under siege” and mounting protests of their own union. Similar protests during a different campaign attracted “dozens” of workers, we’re told. The paper seems confused about how majority rule works.

The editorial gets one point right: striking during an economic downturn is extra hard. Safeway and Fry’s have already been advertising for temporary workers should the union strike, and with unemployment numbers as they are, out-of-work Arizonans may be ready to queue up.

But placing blame on the union for not wanting to take the burden of the crisis on their backs is like leading their readers off a cliff.



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The union has solid arguments against the companies’ concession demands, ones that many workers in Arizona might understand, if given a chance to digest.

For one, the companies are matching the national grocery chains’ strategy to divide the workforce into a multiple-tier system and push out older workers who enjoy good wages.

In the companies’ proposals, new hires—who make minimum wage, of course—would be asked to pay more than 12 percent of their wages for family health insurance.

The company has offered to pay 10 cents more an hour for workers’ health care next year, which the union says will cover less than 1 percent of the 10 percent-plus annual inflation in medical costs. So the union is taking heat for holding out for a better deal.

The Republic is flogging to death the old argument the bosses always trot out—you’re lucky to have a job. Sit down. Stop complaining. The pressure on assertive workers and unions only ratchets up during a crisis, when so many struggle to find decent—or indecent—work.

Let’s point fingers where the real money is, at the executives who are going to be rolling in big end-of-year bonuses—and companies like Safeway, which made $128.8 million in net income in the third quarter.

Tiffany Ten Eyck is a former staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.


Ferdinand (not verified) | 11/10/09

Recession creates depression; the economic instability had created a thousand of individual who got laid off homeless and facing the uncertain future. Many dreams had shattered, many opportunities had been missed, yet where are still on the chaotic part, the economy doesn’t seem better. Have you heard the Microsoft layoffs? Microsoft is a company that excels and innovates- even with Microsoft layoffs! The 5,000 that were sent packing weren't apparently, enough, and now 800 more will join the ranks of the Microsoft Layoffs.