San Francisco Hotel Workers: Stop Bosses' Business or Watch Another of our Unions Smashed!
My partner and I just spent a couple of hours trying to figure out how she could get the CE (Continuing Education) she needs to keep her Veterinarian license. She had two full day conferences in the next month at San Francisco hotels. We had to cancel them due to the hotel workers strike/lockout, which will likely go on for the next month, and maybe the next 6 months. My partner will not be crossing the picket line on principal, but she will likely be the only one out of 200 vets. The union can't rely on principled workers but instead need to STOP people going in.
It's clear that the Hotel employers are going to try and bust another one of unions and it's not fully clear to the workers that the employers may succeed.
As a union carpenter for the past 20 years I have watched union after union go down the same road of reducing their strike strategies to what is acceptable to the employers courts and police. Picket lines are not picket lines if you don't stop people entering the workplace. The hotel workers' picket lines are so tightly controlled by the union leaders that they can hardly be described as picket lines. They are symbolic and unreal. The employers' war on the workers is, on the contrary, very real.
The successful union struggles of the 1930s taught us that workers can win ANY strike if they can: 1/ Stop the employers' business, and 2/ broaden the strike. Auxiliary direct action in support of the Hotel workers is also necessary to help the workers win this battle. This would be to help show that you can break the employers' law and it can help the strike. Something such as blocking the street, so as NO traffic moves into the hotel. This can act in two ways. On the one hand it can let the union leaders off the hook by becoming the direct action "component" of the strike, thereby removing the heat from the leaders to take mass union direct action. OR it can be done as a part of helping bring to the workers the potential for mass union direct action. For this, I think we need to spell out concretely what needs to be done.
In a factory, stopping production is relatively simple. You stop the goods going in and out of the gates. In a hotel it is similar but a bit more complex. Mass Picketing: the union should tell all workers to mobilize their family members, neighbors and all to join/begin genuinely effective picketing. The union should bus in union members from all over the county and state and encourage other union rank and file, over the heads of their leaders, to join the mass picketing.
Hotels are places where people sleep, eat and have conferences. Therefore during an effective strike it should be impossible to sleep, eat or have useful conferences. Mass picketing should close down all traffic into the hotel. This should be supplemented by actions that stop the hotels from functioning. The union initially held early am noise rallies to prevent anyone sleeping behind the picket line until the police stopped them, they should organize to violate these legal obstacles. Every conference held behind picket lines should know that invading picketers would constantly disrupt their meetings. Food and other goods should not be handed over to managers out on the street as is currently the case, but shipments should be sent back.
This would result in mass arrests of union members, family members and supporters. In turn the unions should turn outwards to other workers, union and not, to fill the picket lines. When we fill the jails and inspire the entire workforce, the public authorities will be forced to add their pressure on the employers.
Our choice is to fight effectively now or keep retreating until we have nothing left.
The San Francisco Labor Council should be contacted but not relied on to do any organizing. If the strike becomes aggressive and effective enough the SF labor leaders will feel the heat from their members to get involved.
If the hotel workers' leaders now recognizes that we are at war, as they have been quoted in the newspapers as saying, they should begin by spelling out to the troops a concrete alternative to the failed approach of all recent strikes and lockouts that proceeded this one.
Rob Rooke, Recording Secretary and Executive Board member of Carpenters Local 713 (2000-2003). Local 713 is a 4,000 member construction local in the San Francisco east bay and its members led the 1999 SF Airport Wildcat strike.