By IVAN DOLPHY
All across New England, workers in over 240 Stop & Shop stores have declared that they will not tolerate the attacks to their wages, benefits, and jobs being made during contract negotiations by their employer. Some 31,000 employees have moved to strike and join the picket lines at their shops. On April 11, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Locals 371 and 919 who work at Stop & Shop in Connecticut walked off the job, as did union members in Locals 328, 1445, and 1459 who work at stores in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
While it is unclear how long the strike will last, visiting one of these picket demonstrations will make it obvious that the working class has a shared sense that things are not as they should be—and that they must act!
For many, this is their first time on a picket line. This past year has seen a revival of militant labor struggles throughout the country. With more workers on strike since 2018 than in the previous three decades, it would not be melodramatic to see this moment as at least the rumblings that could precede a general revival of the labor movement.
Many Stop & Shop employees say that they are living paycheck to paycheck and depend on time-and-a-half on Sundays to just get by. This, along with health care, pensions, and job security, comprise some of the items in contractual jeopardy. For one woman in Willimantic it could mean paying more than triple in premiums. A butcher from the same store is not even sure he will have a job, as the company is looking to import pre-cut meat from an outside source.
Many of the younger workers, like their cohorts across all industries, are unsure if by the time they reach retirement age they will be able to count on having pensions at all. These policies that the corporate cockroaches introduce as cost-cutting measures have real ramifications for those who make them their profits, but capitalists can’t be bothered by moral arguments—or they would be unable to sleep at night. The only thing they understand is force, and the only way we can exert that is collectively as a united front—to strike as one huge fist!
The public, who has a tangible connection to the workers, has been showing magnificent support throughout the region. On the picket line, it seems as if half or more of passersby choose to honk, wave, or raise a fist. There is an almost constant supply of donated water, coffee, donuts, and pizza with scarcely any shoppers crossing the picket line.
Furthermore, thanks to the Teamsters—who in a bold act of solidarity have refused to distribute food to Stop & Shop—most stores have not received shipments since before the strike, which is five days at the time of this writing. One strike captain remarked that because their trucks are tracked by GPS, the Teamster drivers simply perform a lap around the parking lot and drive away without unloading so much as an apple.
It remains to be seen what kind of progress is being made at the negotiation table, but with the support of other unions, grassroots activists, students, and the general public, the laborers should continue to fight—not just to survive but to win and prosper.