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Report From Hotel Picket line
Is UNITE/HERE really different from any other AFL-CIO Union when it comes to the issue of fighting the employers?
We have had a couple major strikes here in California the last year
or so. The grocery workers were on strike for five months in the
south and they sent strikers up here to northern California to
leaflet the stores here asking shoppers to boycott and not shop.
They wouldn't pull their members out of the stores up here which
would have been a great step towards achieving victory because the contracts weren't up and any solidarity action like that would have been against the law, would have been unfair as they say.
The union leaders are very big on obeying the law and playing by the rules. Consequently, despite heroic efforts on the part of the members, the grocery strike was defeated.
Now we have about 4000 hotel, workers on picket lines in San
Francisco. The union pulled 4 hotels out after talks collapsed Sept. 29th for what they said was a two week strike and then they would return to work. Naturally, the employers locked them all out two days later and are so far refusing to let them back to work after the two week deadline ends Wednesday.
Mike Casey, President of Local 2, was very upset. "This is nothing
short of an outrage'', Casey told the San Francisco Chronicle, "What the employers have done is openly declare war not just against our membership, but in our view, against the citizens of San Francisco, indeed the entire recovery of the San Francisco economy."
"Can things get any worse?" I say to myself. First of all, the
employers are at war with us every minute of every day, any worker that works under a contract knows that. But is Mike Casey actually surprised at this response? Does he really think that he can pull a few thousand workers off the job and then tell them to return to work at the Union's leisure and the employers will do nothing? It's almost laughable if the consequences of such a worthless strategy were not so devastating to the Union's dues paying members.
Interestingly enough, HERE/UNITE the Union that represents hotel
workers is considered to be the progressive Union by many like minded activists in the labor movement, unlike the UFCW to which the grocery workers belong which is looked at as an old line industrial Union tainted with corruption and organized crime. HERE in this area employs young, politically correct organizers and it supports diversity.
But, not only could Mike Casey's comment be from the mouth of any seasoned labor bureaucrat, the way the hotel workers strike is being run is in no way different from the way the failed grocery strike was organized or every other strike in the past period. Union officials whether they are from the UFCW, UAW, or so-called progressive Union like SEIU of HERE/UNITE all have the same approach. Do nothing that will violate the law or seriously threaten the employers' operation,and, at no time allow the anger and hatred of the boss that exists in most workers to come to the surface; keep it contained and within the limits of what is acceptable by the business community and their politicians.
This strategy is designed to convince workers that we can never
really win. Today I went to the picket line and the first thing we
have to realize is that it is not really a picket line, it is protest
line, we are not allowed to impede people or vehicles entering the
hotels. Today, I grabbed my sign and stepped in line with the
others. Before I knew it, a picket grabbed my arm and yanked me in place. he pointed to the white tape that clearly marks the box that we are allowed to walk in.I thought for a minute that I had bumped in to an old lady or something and hadn't noticed it.
I went up to where some pickets where standing as I got a bit
depressed chanting, "who got the power, we got the power" while
picketing a brick wall and scabs milling around beside me escorting
customers in to the place being struck. There were two bulky looking guys wearing suits with wires attached to their ears, I asked a woman if they were rent a thugs dressed in suits. She laughed and agreed.
We got in to a bit of a discussion and I explained that it didn't
seem we could be real effective, that we could win, if we just walk
around in circles like this.She agreed that we should do more but the Union wants to be peaceful. She said they were making noise late at night but the cops threatened to cite them so the Union stopped them. I talked about what the kids did when they shut down the intersections at the onset of the Iraq war and she agreed it would be good to do.
The mood seemed to me to be a bit more solemn today. I think it is sinking in that they may not be going back to work Wednesday if the employers stick to their word. After a while, ineffective picketing gets old when you are out of work and people just keep crossing your lines. The flier I saw today from the Union was an appeal to customers to not check in or to check out for those that were already registered. In other words, an appeal to the consumer to boycott the employer. This is basically the same strategy as the UFCW used and has been used repeatedly in strike after strike with catastrophic results.
It is obvious that the strategy of the AFL-CIO is to try get Kerry
elected and hope for the best. In response to the employers lockout, Mike Casey sent a letter to them telling them that the union would return to work "unconditionally" either at the end of the deadline or before. It's no wonder the employers feel so confident
I got to talking to the same worker who had pulled me inside the
picketing box when I arrived and we talked about the need to break
laws that are used against us. As i was talking to him it kept going
through my mind that the natural hatred and anger workers have toward the bosses is hemmed in on all sides by the employers and the Union officials. Every strategy, every tactic, is designed to convince workers that it is no use, we can't win. The chants of how powerful we are and how strong the union is cannot overcome the reality of the situation.
The union is having a rally Tuesday at 4.15 to let folks burn off steam.
Oh, I forgot, strike bulletin #3 is upbeat, Danny Glover walked the
picket line for a while along with 50 carpenters Union Members
It is hard to go to these lines in a way because you see the
dedication and the class solidarity on the line, people are so glad
when you come to support their efforts. But, for so many of them,
the issue of strategy and tactics is something they leave to the
leaders which has disastrous results. As time goes on, like the
grocery strike and strikes before it, the members come to see what is happening and, in many cases, end up hating the union for it.