Monday, February 09, 2004
News from the front
The money quote comes from Kent Wong, director of UCLA's Center for Labor Research and Education. He says, "The union in this instance underestimated the commitment on the part of the supermarkets to drastically alter the labor relations scenario. It was taken by surprise by just how fierce and how willing the chains were to risk hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, and their reputations, to bust the union and drastically drive down labor costs."
But what did the union do wrong? As the reporters note in their lead, "By traditional measures, the Southern California grocery strike would seem to be going well for the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Most customers have honored picket lines, strikers have held fast, and the union has inflicted financial damage on the three supermarket chains – Albertsons, Safeway-owned Vons and Kroger's Ralphs, which have lost combined sales of $1 billion because of the fight."
The union's failure lies, apparently, in not realizing that the supermarkets would hold out this long. But suppose the UFCW had known that the supermarket chains were in for the long haul. What could they have done differently? They could have agreed to give up their health insurance and to institute a wage ceiling for new workers. That is, they could have agreed to join the working poor.
It isn't over yet, and the UFCW may bring the compainies to their knees. But if they don't, and if the chains succeed in busting the union, that doesn't mean the workers were wrong to go on strike. Sometimes losing is better than not fighting.
Don't want the UFCW to be broken? Worried that the three grocery chains are setting a dangerous precedent by colluding in an effort to take health benefits from their workers? Do something about it!
Donate to the Strike Fund.