UFCW on the Brink in So Cal

Posted Tuesday, December 23 2003
by remote_viewer mailto:remote@ufcw.net

AS THE FESTIVE SEASON approaches, has UFCW International President Doug
Dority been struck by some misguided spirit of giving or is the leader
of one of North America's leading biz unions simply setting the stage
for a graceless exit from the two-month long supermarket strike in
Southern California? I'm betting on the latter.

Some 70,000 workers from Ralphs, Albertsons and Safeway/Vons
supermarkets in have been on strike since October 11, 2002. At the heart
of the dispute are the employers' demands for drastic reductions in the
workers' health care benefits - some $1 billion in savings that the big
food retailers say is needed to help them compete against Wal-mart.

The strike, the largest in retail food history, has been hailed by many
unionists as a testament to solidarity among working people. Certainly
the workers who have endured the hardship that being without pay for
more than two months brings, have displayed incredible resolve. The
support they have received from members of their communities, including
from other workers (union and non-union), is most encouraging as well.
This aspect of the dispute says a great deal about the willingness of
members of the worker community to stand together and to support each
other. But what about the leaders? What about guys like Dority and the
leaders of other unions, who profess solidarity with working people but,
given recent developments, have other priorities - ones that the
corporate bosses understand all too well.

Late last week, with the massive strike in its second month, the UFCW
announced that it was going to remove its picket lines from the
supermarkets' distribution facilitities. A UFCW media release
http://www.ufcw.org/press_room/index.cfm?pressReleaseID=74 hailed the
move as "a dramatic gesture to reopen negotiations". The UFCW thereupon
"immediately challenged the employers to match the UFCW's good faith by
ending their lockout of workers at Ralphs and Albertsons stores".

As negotiations resumed on Friday, December 19, 2003, the UFCW made
another dramatic gesture: It tabled a proposal giving ground (about $350
million worth) on the issue of health benefits. The employers
demonstrated their good faith. This report, from the web site
http://www.ufcw324.org/2003strikepage.html of one of the locals
involved in the strike, tells the story:

    On Friday, December 19, we met with the employers for nearly 12
    hours. We presented them with a comprehensive proposal that would
    save the companies hundreds of millions of dollars a year through
    major cost-containment measures. Our proposal covers each and every
    problematic issue and is reasonable and fair.

    The employers rejected it completely and immediately, saying that
    they wouldn't accept it in part or in full. Clearly, it isn't good
    enough because it does not surrender to their unchanging demand that
    we voluntarily devastate the previous agreement.

    In a good faith effort to move toward a resolution of this ten-week
    dispute, we announced that we are taking down our picket lines at
    the distribution centers and warehouses. The employers could not
    have cared less.

UFCW negotiators: I feel your pain but I am baffled by just what you
could possibly have been expecting. These employers have been very clear
about their intentions right from the outset. There has never been any
indication that they were prepared to play by anybody's rules but their
own. What was President Dority thinking when he decided to pull the
pickets from the distribution centers (which are a very vulnerable spot
for retail food businesses)? What was he thinking when he conceded the
union's position on health care cuts? What kind of good faith was he

A recent article from the LA Times
http://www.ufcw324.org/122003talkshalt.html sheds considerable light
on what's driving Dority (apart from his enduring faith in the good
faith of corporate leaders). It seems that leaders of the Teamsters
Union, which was honouring UFCW picket lines at the distribution
centers, decided they'd spent as much as they were going to spend
supporting the grocery workers. It was time to bail out. Jim Santangelo,
President of Teamsters Joint Council 42, is quoted as saying that his
union lent its support thinking that it would be a "silver bullet" that
would end the strike quickly. Clearly, the strike had dragged on much
longer than Teamsters officials had expected and, it seems that the
length of the strike was a surprise to UFCW officials as well.

Are Dority and his soulmate, Teamsters President James P. Hoffa,
balancing idealism and pragmatism and making tough leader-like
decisions? Is Dority simply trying to end the dispute before union
members' resolve begins to dampen? Or are he and his biz unionist
soul-buddies simply bottom-line oriented guys who, like their corporate
counterparts, need to protect their assets (and their asses)?

Whatever Dority's intentions, his dramatic gestures have not brought the
employers any closer to respecting the interests of 70,000 working
people in Southern California. If anything, Dority's magnanimous offers
signal to the bosses that he's ready to retreat. Statements by Teamsters
officials like Santangelo to the effect that they can't expect their
members to support other union's members indefinitely, reaffirm in the
bosses' minds the widely held (in corporate circles) belief that union
leaders are, deep down inside, territorial and self-serving and that
concepts like "unity" and "solidarity" are just the electric fencing
that keeps the members from straying too far from their pens.

"The one with the most money is usually the winner." states Teamsters
Joint Council President Santangelo. 'Nuf said about what the biz
unionists believe in. That kind of thinking will get workers shafted
every time.

Working people need unions that help them realize and use their power to
advance their interests. They don't need a bunch of scheming pragmatists
who secretly worship the almight dollar and hoist the white flag once
fighting for their members becomes costly and inconvenient.

The white flag that Dority is fixing to hoist in SoCal may well be his
biggest - and his last. If the tens of thousands of workers who have
been picketing the hugely profitable corporations take anything away
from their experience of the past two months, it may just be that they
can't count on their big biz union but they can count on each other. Can
a new labour movement (or, as I prefer to think of it, "a new community
of workers") emerge from the shadow of this latest greatest biz union
debacle? Yes it can. Will it include business unions like the UFCW? Not
a chance. Who needs 'em?

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