This might serve as a comment on Michael Yates' article, responses to it, and about workers and also recent posts on unions. It was written by a young leader of a group in solidarity with the grocery strikers:
NOW THAT THE STRIKE is over I actually get a chance to write more than once a week =).
Look, one thing I learned over the past five months is that there is no monolithic working class, union, worker-militant etc... I met people in the beginning who I thought would be strong until the end who cracked half-way through. I met a picket captain (the leader of the picket lines) who was so bad in December that he actually told people just to make it through the new year and then just to do whatever they want who ended up being one of the strongest militants I ever met. I met a union "bureaucrat" who put in 16 hours a day and did everything he could to help our group any way he could. I met "leaders" who should have been strung up by the workers and fed to the lions. I saw that the "union" was actually seven different locals with extremely different politics. I saw that left groups who actually took the time to meet the workers and listen to them were given the chance to speak at rallies and earned the admiration of the workers involved.
Did some of these workers have messed up attitudes? Yes. But I witnessed a striekr defend a gay scab who was attacked on the basis of his sexuality. I can also tell you without exaggeration that the picket line has a way of breaking down racism, sexism, and homophobia more than many of us realize. The grocery workers were a very diverse workforce. It was 60 percent women, and a large number of people of color and immigrants and there were also many white workers. It's hard to explain what it was like on the line but I promise you I've never seen anything else like it in my life. People were a team out there.
When the strike started they felt more alligence to their particular companies then each other. Many didn't Vons workers didn't know Ralphs and Albertsons workers and vice versa. But they had to learn how to work together. They had to learn how to trust each other and fight together. They realized that no matter how nice the manager was acting the managers aren't really their friends. They learned how to stand up to the police. It meant something to them when they sand the song "we are the union, the mighty, mighty, union".
When we heard comments that weren't cool we talked to the workers about it. But I know I've heard a lot more racism and sexism coming out of the students of ucla then I did on these picket lines. These strikers put their lives on the line and their trust in each other. I don't know what will happen in the future but for five months their world wasn't about color or sex. In many ways their world was broken down to striker, scab, and company. It was just a material fact that they had to learn how to get along with each other. We saw friendships form that yo wouldn't have thought were possible and in many ways identity polictics were washed away. White Gay workers saw white gay customers cross the line and spit in their faces while black co-workers backed them up. Latino striekrs just their face smashed in by Latino scabds while white workers backed them up. You get the point... Did racism and sexism disappear? Of course not. But these past few months renewed my faith in the world that is possible not because I read about it in a book but because I saw what is possible with my own eyes. People lost their homes, went bankrupt, lost their cars, and 14 workers died way before their time due to heart-attacks and weather related illnesses. Yet after 140 days very few people crossed the lines to scab. They woke up every single day and dealt with the insults, the psysical attacks, the crazy weather, fires, and police intimidaion to walk the picket lines. They inspired me more than I could every describe with words.
Just showing up with hot coffee on a cold winter night meant the world to them. Most never dreamed they would have been on strike. It was 25 years since southern California saw a grocery strike but they walked those lines with pride.
We were welcomed into their lives. I spent new years eve with a strikers familiy. We were present at birthday parties and trusted with their truthful opinions about the strike. I promise all of you I will write more about this. The vote on the contract will be tallied by tomorrow night. As it stads it seems the union has mortgaged their future for the present, a two-tier system is a betrayal of future workers, but before we analyze the contract we still have to see it.