Friday, August 3, 2012

HERE/UNITE rally at Oakland Airport. Subway workers want a Union

As you can see, this was a spirited rally organized by HERE/UNITE Local 2850.  There has been a lot of intimidation and firings of workers like these at Subway who are trying to organize.  Local 2850 is trying to organize them.

It was very spirited and great to see the young people out there, many of them I am sure never having been involved in a collective struggle like this.  It is empowering to participate in such an event with one's co-workers.  There were also a number of Union staff and volunteers present, young people that the Union gets from social justice classes at high schools.

I spoke to a couple of the volunteers and a staffer.  I asked the volunteers what the strategy was for winning as they were confident they were going to win.  One of them told me that the board members of the Oakland Port Authority that runs the airport were on the side.  I was a little skeptical about that and she said that three of them were.

The main food service provider at the airport is unionized and subcontracts work out to Subway, that is non union.  It's obviously a way for the Unionized food service provider to avoid further Unionization.  One worker descibes it:

"At the airport, I see other food service workers that have a union. They get family health care and overtime pay. They have set schedules and RESPECT. They work for HMS Host, the main food service contractor in the airport. The Subway where I work is a subcontractor of Host. There are 8 of these non-union subcontractors in the airport, with about 80 workers altogether. WE’RE LIKE THE SECOND-CLASS CITIZENS OF THE AIRPORT."
  More here.

These events are not pickets but protests though and they are very limited in what they can accomplish.  When the hotel workers were locked out in San Francisco a few years ago the same strategy was used.  A deal was made between the city, the police and the Union leadership not to impede scabs and tape was even set down on the sidewalk marking out where the protesters could walk and it ended at the hotel entrances so people could go in.  Needless to say, workers get a bit demoralized after a while seeing that, especially when you're not getting paid.

HERE/UNITE also has a similar campaign at a golf club for millionaires where workers have been locked out for six months or so.  There was a similar campaign for four years at a fancy hotel in Lafayette CA a few miles east of Oakland that ended in failure. We have to ask ourselves why this strategy is not working.  Workers cannot protest or be on picket lines for years on end and Union wages and conditions are continuing to decline.  Calls for the employers to be fair and demands for justice in the abstract fall on deaf ears as far as the bosses are concerned.

In these struggles where the main emphasis is to rely on the courts, the Labor boards or so-called "friendly" Democrats we always lose.  The threat to the bosses from the young staffer in the video that "we'll see you at the Labor Board" means nothing to them.  Every worker knows that intimidation and threats for standing up for your rights are illegal but they do it all the time.  People are terrified to speak up.

The only thing the bosses understand is profits.  We have to halt profit taking and that means we have to stop production. In all these cases, the hotels, and most workplaces, Unionized workers continue to deliver supplies.  The goal of every struggle must be to shut down the employers business and bring the power of Labor to the table.  We don't deliver goods, we don't work the phones, we don't do anything until our demands are met. Every struggle must reach out to all non unionized workers and link the struggle to organize with a campaign for higher wages, benefits, increased leisure time and other needs.  Here in Oakland as everywhere else, the public sector workers are being laid off, having wages and benefits cut and their pensions blamed for the economic crisis. We have the power to shut them down if we act.

Our communities are also under assault, schools are being shut down in Oakland and there has been some considerable opposition to this including an occupation of one of them.  These issues are all linked and the struggle to unionize 8 subcontractors of a Unionized firm at the airport has to be linked to these community and other Labor struggles; we have the power.  The Unionized food service provider wouldn't be contracting work out to a non union firm if they cared about workers, they are no more pro-Union than the non union firms. 

No Union can drive back this offensive alone nor can any single community.  The intent of the bosses is to put the US working class on rations and drive us back to the conditions that existed before the great uprising of Labor in the 1930's.   When the bosses intimidate and fire workers as they have done at Subway the local Labor movement must retaliate in force and that means mobilizing to stop production as opposed to putting the fate of workers in the hands of the Labor Board.

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