By EDGAR REYES
This article is reprinted from Workers’ Voice / La Voz. See: https://lavozlit.com/workers-wage-two-week-strike-at-the-senior-aerospace-ssp-plant-in-the-los-angeles-area/
Following a two-week strike characterized by steadfast solidarity, more than 300 aerospace manufacturing workers that belong to UAW Local 509 voted to accept a new three-year union contract and returned to work on October 6 at the Senior Aerospace SSP plant in Burbank, California, in the Los Angeles area.
The strike was prompted by attempts by the company to force workers to accept significant concessions, including major increases to their health care costs. Initial contract offers from the company also included minuscule wage increases. Beyond that, many workers on the picket line expressed grievances about the company’s punitive, abusive point and attendance system, as well as the issue of mandatory overtime. The strike began on September 22.
During contract negotiations, the company had claimed that it was experiencing economic difficulties and needed workers to accept concessions. Workers saw this as a bluff, as most employees at the plant have been working heavy amounts of overtime of late in order to keep up with a surge of production orders. In recent months, workers have regularly worked six days a week—and sometimes seven days a week—to meet production demands.
Workers at the plant manufacture parts for both the commercial aerospace and the defense industries. Among other parts produced at the plant, workers make internal ducts used as components in certain types of military aircraft.
The Senior Aerospace SSP plant in Burbank is owned by Senior, a multinational company based in the United Kingdom. According to its website, Senior operates some 30 businesses in 13 countries. In addition to designing and producing equipment and parts for the aerospace and defense industries, the company also manufactures parts used in vehicle production and for the power and energy industries.
The nature of the production process at the Burbank plant requires a highly skilled, specialized workforce, which includes many welders, CNC lathe operators, and other machine operators. As a result of this, during the strike, workers were well aware of the fact that it would have been next to impossible for the company to replace significant numbers of strikers with scabs. Indeed, throughout the strike, the company never attempted to bring in replacement workers. Most inspiring of all, workers on the picket line observed that, to their knowledge, not a single member of the bargaining unit crossed the picket line.
These dynamics turned the strike at the plant into something of a waiting game. Eventually, the company was forced to cut a deal with the union that workers found to be acceptable.
For its duration, the strike was characterized by a sense of unity and resounding collective confidence on the part of the strikers. Workers picketed the plant seven days a week, from early in the morning until 9 p.m. at night. During two weekday visits to the picket line at the end of September, there were well over a hundred workers picketing in solidarity in the street in front of the struck plant. The union set up a grill on the side of the street facing the main office entrance of the plant, and workers cooked each other hot dogs, hamburgers, and quesadillas for meals.
For workers, one of the high points of the strike came on Friday, October 1, when the strikers hosted a Norteño band that performed on the picket line in front of the struck plant. (Norteño is a popular genre of Mexican music that’s well loved by Los Angeles’ disproportionately immigrant working class.) Workers stayed on the picket line that night until around 11:30 p.m. The good times being had on the picket line no doubt sent a clear sign to the company: After nearly two weeks on strike, morale among the strikers remained high, and workers had no intention of giving up their struggle.
One disappointing feature of this struggle was the failure of the local press in the Los Angeles area—and for that matter, the local Left—to provide any news coverage whatsoever of the strike. As labor journalist Jonah Furman wrote in his weekly Who Gets the Bird? strike roundup column, the strike received “zero press coverage … despite being a large industrial action in a big metro area.” Thus, the struggle at the Senior Aerospace SSP plant speaks to the need to expand the labor and socialist press and build strike solidarity networks—so that workers, including industrial workers like the UAW Local 509 strikers in Burbank, have a strong base of support when they enter into struggle in the future in the Los Angeles area and elsewhere.
The last strike at the Burbank plant took place 45 years ago in 1976. According to a news brief about that struggle published in the Los Angeles Times, the 1976 strike at what was then known as SSP Industries lasted 13 weeks and ended in July after members of UAW Local 1047 approved a new three-year contract with the company. According to an unnamed union spokesman referenced in the news brief, the deal provided for “improved wages and fringe benefits.”
As was the case historically, Los Angeles is still home to a large concentration of workers in the aerospace manufacturing industry. Workers in this sector occupy a critical chokepoint not only in the process of capitalist profit accumulation but also in an industry that functions to maintain the unjust, odious system of U.S. imperialist oppression and domination.