Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Unreported story puzzles the will
But the strike should be big news. For over three months, 70,000 grocery workers have either been on strike or locked out. All three of the major grocery chains in California are affected, having decided to negotiate with the union as a block. And the story isn't confined to California. A nine week strike of 4400 grocery workers in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky ended just before Christmas. 10,000 grocery workers in St. Louis were on the streets from October 10 thru 24. In Chicago, Dominick's (owned by one of the chains involved in the California strike) is, according to this report, planning to close a fifth of its stores in the city, "as it prepares for a new round of labor talks."
This is one of those stories that needs a closer look. Follow that last link and one of the things you'll find out is that Dominick's showed a small but real operating profit last quarter. If you've somehow managed to follow the news of the California strike then you know that the workers aren't asking for any significant increases in compensation, that they are, in fact, being asked to agree to wage ceilings and reduced benefits, and that the three chains have shown strong profits over the last five years. So why would profitable companies court massive labor unrest in order to disrupt the status quo?
The companies say, and despite the objections of UFCW leaders there's really no reason to doubt them, that they believe they have to cut wages and benefits because Wal-Mart plans to open dozens of hybrid grocery store/supercenters in the area in the next several years. So the think piece, if any mainstream press would care to cover it, is about the way that Wal-Mart's expansion into urban markets is leading to massive labor upheaval.
"Ho-hum," you might say, "think pieces are all well and good, but if I wanted to think I'd read CounterPunch. The story isn't in the news because strikes, except at the beginning and the end, are pretty much the same day after day."
Point taken. But the thing is, there is new news if only someone would print it.
Back in November, the Teamsters stopped delivering goods to warehouses, leading to empty store shelves. This week, in an effort to restart the bargaining process by showing good faith, the UFCW pulled their picket lines from the warehouses and the Teamsters started up deliveries again. link
If that's not good enough for you, there's this: Yesterday the UFCW filed a lawsuit against Ralph's (one of the three chains) because Ralph's had begun re-hiring scab workers under false names and was failing to make contributions to the pension fund. This is dirty pool and it ought to be national news. It would be national news if the strike were being treated as if it were important.
There is some good news on the labor front. The good folks at Borders store #1 in Ann Arbor, Michigan have finally got a contract.