Anyone but the members
AFSCME Local 444
Members of UNITE/HERE Local 2 in San Francisco have been on picket lines since September 29th when the Union called a two-week strike at four of the city's hotels. Two days after the walk out, the employers locked out workers at the remaining ten hotels, some 4000 workers in all. Not only did the employers lock out their employees in solidarity with the four struck hotels; they extended the lock out beyond the two-week strike deadline, which ended October 13th.
Union officials are now condemning the employers for what Mike Casey, President of Local 2 calls, "an outrage". Perhaps I am missing something. Did Mike Casey and the strategists at Local 2, those responsible for planning the strike, actually think they could pull their members off the job and return to work at a time determined by the Union leadership? Did they honestly think the employers wouldn't retaliate as they did in the grocery strike, the ILWU contract dispute and numerous other labor management disputes?
I am sure that the Local 2 leadership, along with the heads of the other major Unions and the Central Labor Council might have considered that the employers would lock out their members. But the strategy was to pressure the local Democratic Party politicians to intervene on their behalf; this was the purpose of the two-week stoppage.
This was confirmed today by Josie Mooney, the president of the San Francisco Labor Council who told the San Francisco Chronicle that, "If the workers were still on strike, there would be unbelievable pressure on them to settle the strike and get back to work. There has not been created unbelievable pressure on the employers to end the lockout and return the workers to work, and it's unacceptable. Not in our town."*
The Union wants the employers to let its members back on the job and agree to a 90-day cooling-off period during which negotiations would continue and the Union would agree to not strike. The employers, naturally feeling very confident given that the politicians are on their side, are refusing and will only agree if the Union drops its demand for a two year contract that will bring SF hotel contract expiration dates in line with contracts in other cities making a nationwide shut-down a possibility. The Union has so far said no.
The "unbelievable pressure" that should be brought on the employers is the pressure of the 80,000 members of the San Francisco Labor Council. Mobilizing the power of labor to act on our own behalf and to rely only on our own strength; this is what will win this strike. It will mean challenging anti-union laws and violating injunctions, but relying on Mayor Newsome or and any other corporate politician is a recipe for disaster. It hasn't worked in the past and it won't work now.
By setting a date for a one-day work stoppage and by seriously preparing for it, the San Francisco Labor Council can take a first step toward victory for the hotel workers and begin the process of reversing the miserable record of the policy makers at the AFL-CIO and in affiliated Unions. This has to be initiated by Local 2 and will obviously mean a battle within the local labor movement against the policy of relying on the employers' politicians to help us as expressed above by Josie Mooney. Workers outside organized labor can be drawn to a more generalized offensive if it includes a campaign for health care for all and $15 an hour minimum wage to give a couple of examples.
Anwar Elgonemy, one of the hotel employers' advisors on how to destroy workers' standard of living, says the San Francisco hotel strike is being closely watched across the country. He means closely watched by the employers. But workers too will be watching this strike, some more than others no doubt. A real victory for any Union would begin to transform the mood among working class people inside the Unions and out. This is what the employers are afraid of and it is what the Union officials are afraid of.
But the employers are fairly confident that they will prevail. Steve Burd, the CEO of Safeway, and official bogeyman of the labor movement during the recent grocery strike, explains why, "I think we have a set of objectives that we have to achieve in order to be really competitive... I believe most of the union leaders understand that. They're just trying to come to the table and negotiate something that makes them look like they properly represented their employees".
Burd means members of course but the point is clear and the use of the term employees is revealing as most Union leaders at the higher levels see themselves as CEO's of an employment agency and the members as their employees. A picket captain at one hotel referred to the Local 2 staffer as "my supervisor".
Because our Union leaders "understand" that the employers have to be competitive as Safeway's CEO says, the Local 2 leadership, Josie Mooney of the San Francisco Labor Council or the rest of the labor hierarchy will not likely abandon their present strategy of relying on the local politicians. They are committed to this policy and equally committed to opposing any movement from below that threatens it, that threatens the good relations they are trying to maintain with them and the employers they represent.
Therefore it is up to the membership whose dues money pays the salaries of the officials and their staff, to organize and fight to change our unions. This is a daunting task when we consider that we are also facing a struggle against the boss every day on the job but it a struggle that is inevitable if we are to avoid losing what workers have won over a century of struggle.
* Locked out workers vent to supervisors (SF Chronicle 10-23-04)