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HomeColumnsUnion Roundup - November 2003

Union Roundup – November 2003

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AFL-CIO: Today’s biggest labor story in Hollywood doesn’t have to do – directly – with Tinsel Town’s own unions, but rather, with where the celluloid biz’s employees are getting their groceries. It’s a safe bet most of them aren’t getting them at Ralph’s, Albertson’s, or Vons – the three chains picketed by UFCW, the grocery workers’ union.
At least, they’d better not be. SAG sent out an advisory to its members expressing good ol’ labor-movement solidarity with the picketers. The Teamsters are refusing to drive up to store loading docks, and IATSE’s parent organization, the AFL-CIO, summed up L.A. labor agonistes in the form of a John Sweeney statement, which read, in part: “The tens of thousands of workers who are on strike in California… and elsewhere for quality, affordable health care are taking a stand for all American working families who are being squeezed beyond their limits by our broken and inadequate health care system. We commend the grocery store workers and Los Angeles transit workers who are exercising their unified voice on this issue through their respective unions, the UFCW and ATU, and insisting that they will not sacrifice affordable health care.”
These non-Hollywood strikes are of interest to showbiz unions precisely because they draw a line in the sand, and the message is quite clear: Once they come for the health benefits of the store clerks, they’re coming for yours next.
Nathan Ballard, the communications director for the California Federation of Labor, told Below the Line that health care issues were the underlying cause of at least “50% of strikes.” With premium increases “in double digits” every year, “more costs are being shifted onto workers.”
But management is willing to fall on its sword. Safeway CEO Steve Burd says the stores won’t budge in their last, best offer. Any loss of business revenue during a strike would be “an investment in our future.” A future that will see hourly-wage employees paying more health coverage out own pockets.
So how can the workers win? Ironically, one plucky, obscure online publication suggests it can only happen if the grocery clerks engage in what can only be called a “Hollywood”-style strike. Which is to say, Hollywood girds for a general shutdown whenever any of its guilds or unions walk out. Production may limp along for awhile, but even if you bank enough scripts, sooner or later, the whole town just stops, and the strike has to be settled.
Well, offers the World Socialist Web Site (“Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International”), a mere “consumer boycott” style strike won’t cut it. Lip service from Democratic politicians won’t cut it. Indeed, Teamsters driving groceries up to the sidewalk where management can unload them won’t cut it. Citing a recent rally at a Hollywood market, the WSWS noted that “despite the fact that there were more than enough people present at the rally to shut down the supermarket where it took place, there was no attempt to do so.”
It would have made the politicians nervous.
But the WSWS is voicing the old-fashioned idea that only a massive strike, where food doesn’t get moved at all, where drivers don’t bus in replacement workers, etc. will make the Steve Burds of the world take note.
In short, they’re calling for a total shutdown of production – Hollywood style. It doesn’t seem as “radical” in Hollywood, because so many specialists are required, and replacements can’t just be bussed in.
But we are at a very interesting juncture in labor relations in the U.S. – and everywhere else in the age of global economy: Either employees in other sectors will have to figure out how to have those “Hollywood style” strikes if they want to get noticed (observe that L.A. area transit workers are already getting some movement from management as of this writing because trains and buses aren’t rolling and it affects everyone), or Hollywood labor will watch that “line in the sand” move closer to its own door, and will find itself fighting the same fight the grocery store clerks are now – to hold on to benefits that everyone assumed were long since settled.
By Mark London Williams

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