By MARK UGOLINI
A spirited and determined group of about 150 current and former Nabisco bakery workers and their supporters demonstrated on May 18 at Mondelez International’s annual shareholder meeting in Lincolnshire, Ill. Workers protested the company’s decision to lay off 600 of the 1200 workers at its Southwest side Chicago plant.
Mondelez International is the parent company of Nabisco, which makes snack foods including Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers. They have recently opened a modern plant in Salinas, Mexico, where they have invested $130 million, and plan to transfer some of the Chicago Nabisco plant’s production there. In 2015, Mondelez posted over $30 billion in revenue.
The protest was organized by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) and its Chicago Local 300, which represents most of the workers at the Chicago plant.
BCTGM workers from locals in Cleveland; Atlanta, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Battle Creek, Mich., participated, as well as supporters from the Chicago Teachers Union, UAW local 551, Fight for $15, and Jobs for Justice.
Prior to a rally, I spoke with BCTGM Local 300 President Edward Burpo, who described what the union is facing: “277 received their notification of pink slip on Jan. 19. They were let go on March 23. Another 43 have received their notification of pink slip and they are designated to be let go on May 27.” He told me that the union expects another round of layoffs prior to Labor Day, and by the end of the year a total of 600 bakery workers will have lost their jobs.
“They are downsizing the plant itself,” Burpo said, “At the end of July we should be downsized from 17 lines to six, and the equipment is already being taken out.”
Workers at the protest were demanding that Mondelez shareholders reverse the decision of CEO Irene Rosenfeld and reinstate the laid-off workers. A delegation of union members went inside the shareholders meeting to present their case.
Reporting on the shareholders meeting, the Chicago Tribune said that for the first time since the layoffs were announced, Rosenfeld fielded questions from laid-off workers. Many of the questions pertained to the company’s massive profits and Rosenfeld’s obscenely high compensation.
At the rally outside Jethro Head, International Vice-President of BCTGM-Midwest told the crowd: “We are here this morning to identify the core of corporate greed. … In essence we are here to indict Mondelez-Nabisco [CEO] Irene Rosenfeld for corporate gluttony, an obsessive and outrageous feeding at America’s economic trough. Today, Irene Rosenfeld will receive another $20 million payday. That means she will have been paid $185 million in the last nine years. That ain’t all, my sisters and brothers. In her back pocket she’s got another $35 million pension.”
I spoke briefly with 51-year-old Rodney Beasley, one of the laid-off workers hoping his job and those of his co-workers would be reinstated. Beasley worked eight years for Nabisco, and prior to that, 23 years with Nabisco’s sister company, Entenmann’s Bakery. He told me: “They [the union] are doing whatever they can to keep our jobs. Right now they are currently in negotiations with the company … on the contract and to get as many of us back to work as possible. … That’s our hope and our prayer.”
Apparently, Rosenfeld has already dashed these hopes. The Chicago Tribune reported on her comments during the shareholders meeting: “Rosenfeld emphasized that the jobs were cut and not coming back.”
Unfortunately, some speakers and some signs and banners at the rally conveyed a nationalistic “America First” and protectionist “Buy American” tone. Said Jethro Head, reflecting the view of the International union leadership: “Let’s send a message across the country—Do Not Buy Mexican-made Nabisco Products!” He then led the crowd in chanting, “Mexico Hell No!” Many in the crowd did not participate in this chant.
The problem with this approach is that it appeals to American chauvinism, and paints Mexican workers as the enemy of working people in this country. It poses the issue as one of competition between Mexican and U.S. workers, and aids ruling-class efforts to divide working people from each other.
In fact, our struggle is one with Mexican workers in demanding that our capitalist governments provide good jobs for all and union rights regardless of which side of the boarder we happen to live on. Revolutionary socialists are internationalists, working to build solidarity among workers everywhere.
To fight against unemployment and for good paying jobs, we demand government-funded public-works programs. These can rebuild badly needed infrastructure, build things we need—like housing and schools—and put millions of unemployed back to work at union wages.
This program includes immigrant workers as well. Part of the struggle is to demand an end to deportations and all forms of scapegoating of immigrant workers, and to extend to them “legal protections” afforded to other citizens.