On the Picket Line: November 2021

We need to open this edition of On the Picket Line with an apology: there are so many major strikes going on right now that we were only able to write summaries covering a fraction of the strikes we’ve been following! This, of course, is a very good problem to have in our opinion. In addition to write-ups that we were able to complete, in this edition we are including links to coverage of other major strikes.
Here are some trends that we think are worth noting about the current wave of strikes:
The uptick in strikes is overwhelmingly concentrated in the private sector – a development that contrasts with trends in strike activity in North America in recent years, where the majority of large-scale strikes were led by public sector workers. And within the private sector strikes, it is notable that the majority of the strike activity has been concentrated among industrial workers – particularly workers in the centrally important manufacturing industry, but also workers in construction and other sectors.
Most of these strikes are purely economic in character. They involve questions of wages, hours, workplace conditions, jobs, and scheduling. With relatively few exceptions, these strikes have not raised broader political demands – although it’s clear that, among many groups of strikers, workers have nonetheless developed a view of themselves as being part of the working class, writ large,  that is exploited by and in struggle with the ruling class. The overwhelmingly economic character of the strikes currently taking place fits in with the broader trajectory of workplace struggle in the United States in recent decades.
Within the purview of economic issues, however, one recurring theme in many of these strikes, particularly the strikes at the point of production, is the fight over scheduling and overtime – specifically excessive mandatory overtime. (The most prominent examples of this include the strikes waged by the BCTGM thus far this year at Frito-Lay, Nabisco, and Kellogg’s. In addition, the UFCW at Heaven Hill bourbon production facilities has also centered around the issue of non-traditional work schedules – and attempts by the bosses to create a grouping of workers that are scheduled to work through the weekend.)
Another key theme of the uptick in strikes is rank-and-file struggle against the union bureaucracy. (This was particularly evident in the strikes by the Carpenters in the Seattle area, as well as the strikes by UAW members John Deere – and, earlier this year, in the strike by UAW members at the Volvo trucks plant in Dublin, Virginia.)
Yet another theme of these strikes is the ongoing attempt by companies, particularly in certain sectors of manufacturing, to pit U.S. workers against Mexican workers. This has been a factor in the strikes at both Nabisco and Kellogg’s. In addition, the strike by UAW members at the Senior Aerospace SSP plant in Burbank brought to light the need for workers in this sector to build solidarity with Mexican workers employed by the same company in Mexico.
Another theme is the use by the bosses of replacement workers, anti-strike injunctions, and other anti-labor measures provided for under U.S. labor law, which is essentially designed to deny workers in most cases the right to wage effective, production-halting strikes. (Prominent examples of this include the nurses’s strike at the St. Vincent hospital in Massachusetts and the UMWA strike at Warrior Met Coal. Anti-union injunctions (and the use of white-collar people as scabs) have been a key issue of contention in the UAW strike at John Deere, as well. Beyond that, the question of permanent replacement workers in the strike at Heaven Hill bourbon in Kentucky has played a prominent role in the trajectory of events of late.
Yet another theme is opposition by workers against efforts by the bosses to implement two-tier schemes. (Examples of this include the strikes at Kellogg’s, Nabisco, and John Deere – and the potential strike at Kaiser.)
We’ll be examining the roots and implications of the current upsurge in strikes in future pieces, but for now, here are the labor actions we’ve been following

10,000 John Deere workers at 12 plants in three states on strike

Not only are the size of this strike and its militancy against the imposition of a 2-tiered wage system impressive in themselves, it is a testament to rank and file union democracy, as workers continue on strike having voted down two tentative contracts. You can read Left Voice’s most recent coverage here.

Thousands of union Carpenters strike in Seattle area, win modest concessions in controversial top-down deal following months of militancy.

This struggle included a rank-and-file rebellion against the conservative, ossified union bureaucracy of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC). Militant strikers have organized themselves into a rank-and-file opposition group — the Peter J. McGuire group, which is led by a rank-and-file socialist Carpenter and named after the socialist founder of the Carpenters union from the nineteenth century. Another notable aspect of this strike is the involvement of Seattle City Council member and socialist Kshama Sawant. You can find Socialist Alternative’s assessment here, as well as The Seattle Times’ account here.

The Nabisco/Mondelez strike has come to an end.

The militant Nabisco strike, which took place at facilities in five states and lasted more than a month, has come to an end. Workers accepted a new agreement with the company on September 18. It appears that the strike was considerably successful in beating back some of the most egregious demands by the company for concessions. The nature of the strike settlement was accurately captured in the headline from The Militant: “Nabisco workers go back to work stronger, ready to fight.”

Over 400 workers win concessions following six weeks on strike at production facilities owned by the major bourbon manufacturer Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Kentucky.

After 6 weeks on strike, Heaven Hill bourbon manufacturing workers have secured a new five-year contract.  The core issue at play in this strike relates to the efforts of the company to force through an unacceptable change to shift scheduling that would create a new “weekend shift” at the company’s facilities, and the contract includes explicit provisions against mandatory weekend work. You can read local media coverage here, and there’s also a pretty decent Wikipedia article documenting the strike here.

There is a strike taking place at the Senior Aerospace SSP plant in Burbank, California.

Workers’ Voice comrades in Los Angeles got the scoop on several hundred aerospace manufacturing workers who won a new contract following 2 weeks on strike. Read our coverage here.

There is a union drive taking place at the HelloFresh production facility in Aurora, Colorado.

Workers at the Aurora plant are seeking to unionize through UNITE HERE! In addition, workers at the HelloFresh facility in Richmond, California are also waging an organizing drive. You can read Vice’s coverage here.

There is a major union drive led by the Teamsters that’s taking place at the Amazon facility in Edmonton, Canada.

Teamsters Canada have filed for a union election at an Amazon warehouse in Edmonton, the first such election at an Amazon warehouse facility in Canada. This initiative, which was publicized in mid-September, is intended to be part of a broader effort to fight for better working conditions at similar facilities across the country. Workers’ primary concerns have been unsafe working conditions, low pay, and unfair treatment by supervisors. With this drive, the Teamsters are now attempting to organize 9 Amazon sites across Canada.
This union drive comes not long after a drive at a similar facility in Bessemer, Alabama failed to secure enough votes in the wake of interference by Amazon. Workers in Edmonton have been hesitant about giving comments to the press for fear of retaliation, and the Teamsters have pre-emptively issued statements that they expect Amazon to attempt to “bend the rules”. Edmonton is located in Alberta, a province known as one of the weakest on labor law enforcement.

Teamster drivers strike enters month six in Rhode Island

by Ernie Gotta
Teamster drivers at Johnson Brothers Liquor Company in North Kingstown, Rhode Island have been on strike since May 26, 2021. Johnson Brothers is a highly profitable company, recently building a seven million dollar warehouse, and the lone distributor of Gallo Wine products. The drivers organized with Teamster Local 251 in September 2020 but have been denied a fair contract. Johnson Brothers thought that by delaying and not signing a contract they could get workers to decertify the union.
Instead, while the bargaining unit of twelve workers is small, they are maintaining picket lines and leafleting liquor stores asking Rhode Islanders to boycott Gallo Wine products. Their demands include wage increases and reductions in healthcare costs. Currently workers can pay up to $20,000 in out-of-pocket premiums and deductibles for a family healthcare plan.
These workers have been fighting hard to keep scab booze from flowing in Rhode Island and need solidarity. The union has filed 26 violations with the NLRB concerning wage theft, discrimination, and bargaining in bad faith. Ultimately it will be the ability to maintain the strike and holdout until Johnson Brothers signs a contract. In Rhode Island the union is asking people to boycott Gallo wine, Carlo Rossi wine, Barefoot wine, High Noon Seltzer, or other Johnson Brothers of RI products. See the full list here: https://bit.ly/2WIewUI. Follow Local 251’s Facebook page
Donations can be made to:
Teamsters Local 251 Strike Fund
121 Brightridge Ave
East Providence RI 02914
Picket lines are up 24 hours a day at:
Johnson Brothers of Rhode Island
120 Moscrip Ave
North Kingstown RI 02852
Key times are 6:30-8:30 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.
Let Johnson Brothers know about your concerns at:
651-649-5800 (Corporate) or 401-583-0050 (Rhode Island)

BCTGM workers at Kellogg’s in four states on strike against cuts

Workers at Kellogg’s plants in Omaha, Nebraska; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Battle Creek, Michigan and Memphis, Tennessee have gone on strike against proposed benefits cuts and unsustainable work schedules following the expiration of their last contract. The roughly 1,400 workers are represented by the BCTGM union, making this the third major strike that BCTGM has organized since July.
Kellogg’s has attempted to intimidate striking workers by threatening to “ship jobs to Mexico”, a threat which has pushed strikers to respond with nationalist slogans about keeping jobs in the US. While threatening to offshore jobs to places with fewer labor regulations is a tried and tested dirty trick for bosses, the solution for workers is not to demand that companies keep jobs American: rather, we must fight alongside our international comrades to secure better working conditions everywhere and to dismantle the brutal militarized borders that allow companies to exploit international labor and pit it against workers in the US. Our bakery and confectionery worker comrades across Latin America in the IWL-FI stand in solidarity with US workers at Kellogg’s, for we are all fighting the same exploitation by the same companies, and a victory for US workers winning better working conditions and compensation is a victory for the international working class.

UC-AFT Teachers Threaten to Strike

Since April of 2019, lecturers at the University of California have been fighting for job security, fair working conditions, and compensation that reflects the high costs of living in California. At the UC campuses, 30-40% of all credit hours are taught by about 6000 lecturers, teaching faculty who usually have the same training and credentials as tenure-track professors but are employed on short-term, part-time contracts for significantly lower wages. They are dedicated mentors and educators whose critical work with students is undermined by constant anxiety and uncertainty. Even those who are lucky to have a full-time salary are often earning poverty-level wages by the standards of the cities where they work. And while the number of lecturers in the UC system continues to grow—allowing the university to balance its books on the backs of low-cost teachers with few protections—about 25% of all lecturers are let go each year, many of whom are doing a good job and want to continue teaching. It is a labor model that runs on a principle of disposability, and lecturers have had enough.
This past summer, after two years of disrespectful and failed negotiations with UC management, members of the union representing lecturers (UC-AFT) voted overwhelmingly to authorize its leadership to declare a strike if necessary. This demonstration of power mobilized pledges of solidarity from more than 800 tenure-track faculty across the state, and it activated alliances across student and labor groups. After two days of rallies and pre-strike picketing across the nine campuses, in late October, management finally came back to the bargaining table and made its first significant move toward job security. The massive show of unity and support produced a clear sign of progress. But management’s proposal for new rehiring rights still has large loopholes and it falls short of the standard already in practice at the California State Universities. Their wage proposals leave lecturers gasping behind inflation, and they offer nothing to eliminate unpaid work. If the administration does not move quickly to offer a contract that reflects the expertise, teaching commitment, and basic dignity of its teaching force, lecturers are ready to strike and bring the university to a halt.

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