A union defeated

March 4th, 2004 – 10:47 pm
Tagged as: Uncategorized

There’s an excellent piece over on Daily Kos about the end of the big west coast supermarket strike:

Indeed, instead of pressing for better pay, better benefits and better conditions, the United Food & Commercial Workers union practically found itself on its knees trying to halt backsliding from Safeway, Albertson’s and Kroger. The supermarkets didn’t quite break the UFCW, but there’s no way to sugarcoat the union’s disastrous defeat, even though its leaders are already trying.

A just cause, but a lame effort, I’m sad to say. I know several UFCW organizers and I would never denigrate their hard work under difficult circumstances. However, I must take issue with the bad strategy of the top leaders. Putting up token “informational” picket lines instead of massive ones, letting Ralph’s off the hook while it conspired with its “rivals” to share profits, failing to maintain picket-lines at warehouses all contributed to this failed effort. Given the importance of the dispute, the AFL-CIO also dropped the ball by not providing funding to keep massive picket-lines running and union members’ health care paid.

Under the new pact approved by 86% of union members over the weekend, a two-tiered hiring system will come into effect. New workers will be hired at lower wages, be granted raises more slowly, be covered by a cheaper health plan than that which covers existing workers, and get smaller pensions when they retire. In two years, existing workers will begin paying $20-$60 a month for health care in addition to the $10 co-payment they plunked down for each medical visit under the old plan. The union did manage to keep the companies from reducing pensions of already retired workers. But that was clearly one of those items management stuck into the negotiations knowing full well it would yield as a “compromise.”

This is not the end, however. Union-busting consultants probably won’t be landing at LAX tomorrow afternoon. But it would not surprise me to see, not long from now, the first efforts to decertify the union, clearing the way for Safeway and the others to operate with an unorganizaed labor force. Just like Wal-Mart, whose labor and business practices the supermarkets used to catalyze this dispute in the first place.

Basically the UFCW tried to play nice with the supermarkets, and got screwed for it. As the author concludes:

It’s said that the supermarkets lost more than $1 billion in this dispute. Precisely the amount they claimed they needed to shave off wages and benefits to protect them from the Wal-Mart juggernaut. The losses don’t seem to bother them, nor do they seem to bother their shareholders.

That’s because this fight wasn’t about three big corporations chopping a billion dollars off labor costs associated with 70,000 workers. It was just another installment in the grand scheme that the plutocrats and their bootlicking pundithugs call “class warfare” and blame on its victims. For two decades, they’ve done their best to enlarge the income gap between not merely the top and the bottom, but between the top and everybody else, with the middle class their biggest target. One more round to their side.

It’s a sad ending, but one that more or less typifies what’s been happening to labor unions in America since they started trying to get along with the bosses and work within the system.

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