…And Why We Need Strikes
30,000 Stop & Shop grocery workers in New England represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) are in the second week of a strike. The workers say that the company’s offer amounts to a net loss for workers: the small raises will be swallowed up by increased health insurance premiums.
In the short term, strikes are disruptive, but they play an essential role in ensuring that an enterprise – whether a grocery store chain, an automaker, or a hotel – serves all its members. When workers produce more, the CEO will see to it that the shareholders get their cut, and competitors will ensure that consumers see price cuts. But without unions, and occasional strikes, workers get left out of the distribution.
That’s a big reason why wages were unhooked from labor productivity when union membership started sharply declining in the late 1970s. From the 1940s to the 1970s, unions were there to make sure that when workers produced more, they got a raise too – even if this sometimes required a strike. Now that’s no longer true in most sectors of the economy.
Grocery stores are one of the remaining sectors where unions still play a major role, and can strike to make sure workers get their share of the profits they have earned. And you get a chance every day to vote for or against worker justice with your food dollars. You can shop at union supermarkets like Safeway, Stop & Shop, Kroger’s and Giant, where workers get to bargain for a fair share, or you can put your money straight to the pockets of CEOs and shareholders at Whole Foods or Wal-Mart. Which will you choose?