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KC Labor Newsletter
Fortnight In Review, February 28, 2004

Fortnight In Review
After this catch-up we plan to return to Week In Review.

Why the Line Didn’t Hold—Some Lessons From California
The nearly 70,000 southern California grocery workers who were on the picket lines for five months deserve our congratulations. There were few scabs. They did a great job in mobilizing community support. The stores involved in the strike/lockout suffered big financial losses.

Nevertheless what was billed as a struggle to "hold the line on health care" has gone down to defeat. How did this happen?

Many critics cite strategic and tactical errors of both commission and omission on the part of the UFCW and AFL-CIO leadership. Undoubtedly most of these charges have merit and deserve study. We should always try to identify, and learn from mistakes. This important struggle warrants extensive analysis.

But if we limit ourselves to a critique of union leaders we will make little progress. There are at least three major factors that led to this setback that we can no longer afford to ignore.

1) The grocery bosses brought the weight of their vast national, even international, operations to bear on the localized fight in southern California. They were in a position to accept local losses and hang on for "one more day" than the workers. In the absence of a nation-wide strike/boycott effort this advantage alone sealed the contractual doom.

2) Even if the national leadership of the labor movement had wanted to escalate the fight to a national level they could only have done this by widespread violation of statutes and contracts. The Taft-Hartley Act bans such tactics as mass picketing to block entrances, hot cargo, and secondary boycotts. And, of course, virtually all union contracts ban strikes and other job actions during the life of an agreement.

3) Employer based health care will inevitably eat up employee compensation. If the workers don’t pay more for premiums and copays they will pay by diverting future wage increases to apply to runaway health care costs.

We’re running out of options. In my opinion, just to survive, much less advance, we have to win the labor movement over to a strategy that includes:

Taking whatever action is necessary to protect our living standards and working conditions, through strikes, boycotts, demonstrations, and massive civil disobedience—in violation, when necessary, of undemocratic, unconstitutional laws that favor the bosses.

Building a mass political movement that can win universal health care as a right financed by society as a whole.

This, of course, is easier to proclaim than to achieve. All the more reason for urgent discussion and organization around this perspective.

We in Kansas City are fortunate to have an opportunity to review experiences and search for alternatives at the Worker Rights At Home and Abroad conference March 19-20. If you are in the area I hope you will attend.

‘Seriously flawed...deprives workers of a voice in collective bargaining’
This is from a statement condemning California’s new agricultural labor mandatory mediation law. The bitter complaint came not from a union but from the management of the Pictsweet Mushroom Farm. The United Farm Workers utilized the recent legislation to finally settle a contract—after a 17-year fight.

The UFW initially organized the state’s largest mushroom producer in 1975—one of the first under California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Law. Several peaceful contracts were negotiated until Tennessee-based United Foods Inc. bought the operation in 1987. Since then the new bosses simply stonewalled the union.

In 2000 the union launched a successful boycott of Pictsweet products ultimately cutting production in half. It was, in fact, the pressure of this campaign that was the primary factor leading to the settlement. The new law was a convenient face saver for the company.

The 300 workers involved will get 2.5 percent annual raises over the three year contract as well as a company financed health insurance plan.

Hats off to the Pictsweet workers!

Sorry We’re Causing the Deficit
I was one of those ignorant folks who believed the runaway federal deficit was the result of a combination of vast increases in military spending with big tax cuts for the wealthy. But Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan showed me the error of my ways. It seems that Social Security benefits are really what’s driving our government to the poor house.

This guru of American capitalism is not alone in such chutzpah. Even the much admired liberal President Bartlett recently maneuvered the West Wing and congress to ignore political fallout and do the right thing to "save" Social Security by reducing benefits and making workers labor longer in life.

The fact that so many are so openly talking about "reforming" Social Security like they "reformed" Medicare should be a loud and shrill alarm bell to all working people. You can find a lot of resources about Social Security on the KC Labor Social Security page.

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In solidarity,

Bill Onasch
webmaster, kclabor.org