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Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Oct. 30, 2003
issue of Workers World newspaper

By John Parker
Los Angeles

THE STRIKE AND LOCKOUT AT Los Angeles supermarket chains entered the third week Oct. 26 with cracks showing in the anti-worker alliance of the three supermarket chains: Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons/Pavilion, which is owned by Safeway.

A United Food and Commercial Workers union official who prefers to remain anonymous told Workers World that Albertsons and Ralphs management were considering breaking from Safeway's CEO Steven Burd and negotiating separately.

UFCW workers can take credit for weakening management unity with their militancy. Also, community support is still strong against the big three grocery chains of Ralphs, owned by Kroger, Albertsons and Vons/Pavilion.

The community's boycott is working. Cash registers are silent as shoppers go elsewhere.

Part of the engine for building this militancy and support has been the frequent rallies at local stores. At a Vons store in the Echo Park area of Los Angles, UFCW Local 770 organized such an event for the striking workers Oct. 26.

The local has already organized mass rallies with big-name celebrities and labor officials. Other unions supporting the rallies have included the Teamsters, Service Employees, Television and Radio Actors, and Hotel and Restaurant Employees.

Part of the local's strategy to keep up the spirits of striking and locked-out workers is to organize more frequent and smaller rallies of support at each store, especially those located in more remote areas. At the Oct. 26 rally the tactic worked well. Workers not only got the chance to show their militancy through chants but also marched by the store's entrance, where they blocked entry.

After the march, officials from the United Transportation Union, representing striking Metropolitan Transit Authority workers, expressed their solidarity, focusing on the demand for decent health care for workers. They were followed by a teacher representing the United Teachers of Los Angeles. He said the school he taught at was around the corner, and that all the teachers at that school had been instructed to not patronize this Vons.


Health care is one of the key issues of the strike and lockout affecting 71,000 UFCW workers in Southern California. The big three food chains are trying to cut $1 billion in health-care benefits from UFCW workers.

After Safeway's proposal for drastic cuts, over 95 percent of UFCW workers voted to strike. When this happened, Ralphs and Albertsons locked out their UFCW workers without giving legal notice.

Miguel Arrow lives not far from this store. He was observing the rally. Asked what he thought, he said: "We can't let these big corporations get away with murder by denying basic health care to workers. If they take it away from these people, who's to stop my boss from making eyes at my health-care benefits. I'm with them."

Former customers of the big three have shown unprecedented support for the strike, which demonstrates this struggle's universal nature. Not only health care, but workers' basic right to have a union, is at issue.

Ralphs has proposed opening up new stores that will be non-union.

The big three are proposing a two-tier wage system that would significantly lower starting wages for new employees. This would provide great incentive to eliminate workers with more seniority and thereby lower labor costs.

And workers near retirement would face the loss of hundreds of dollars per month in lost medical benefits.

In recent newspaper ads, the corporate executives of Vons, Alberstons and Ralphs falsely stated that the workers are overpaid. In reality, the average worker makes $312 per week. Many employees earn less than $10 per hour.

Lying and breaking the law seem par for the course for these supermarket chains. In early October KFMB-TV, channel 8, reported on a videotape taken at a Ralphs in Chula Vista. The video shows how this store was circumventing truckers' refusal to cross picket lines.

Channel 8 reported that on the videotape, scabs could clearly be seen unloading creates of milk from a U-Haul truck without refrigeration. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, "Milk must be handled in such a way that protects against temperatures above 45 degrees."

The store is currently under investigation. As it gets pretty hot here in Southern California, especially in a U-Haul cab, 45 degrees would be hard to maintain.

This shows the stores' cavalier attitude toward both the workers who produce their profits and the health of their own consumers. Many of these same wage-and-benefit cuts against the UFCW would help drive down wages and benefits for all workers, including those who shop at their stores.

However, instead of the government seriously going after these violations, it chooses to harass and intimidate workers with non-legal immigrant status. This took place in raids Oct. 23 in Wal-Mart stores, when federal authorities arrested 250 workers, mostly janitors. Some feel that this may have been an attempt by the government to eliminate workers who might be most sympathetic toward a union drive at these stores.

The move to unionize Wal-Mart is picking up steam. It has become a focus in this strike/lockout. Many workers cheered Jesse Jackson at a Local 770 rally at a Ralphs in South Central Los Angeles when he said, "Organize Wal-Mart."


Exploiting bitter rivalries among Ralphs, Albertsons, and Vons (Safeway) could be an effective tactic. In targeting Safeway, the UFCW viewed Safeway management as the architect of a non-negotiating hard line that forced the union to strike. Safeway would be particularly vulnerable if the labor movement as a whole could take on the giant supermarket chain.

Safeway owns 330 stores in central and southern California. It is one of North America's biggest supermarket food retailers, with a total of 1,800 stores and over 172,000 workers. Safeway operates in the Western, Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic regions, and western Canada. It operates under different names: the Vons/Pavilion companies in southern and central California, Dominicks Finer Foods in Chicago, Carr-Gottstein Food in Alaska, Genuardi's Family Market in the eastern United States, and Randall's Food Markets in Texas.

Organizing and spreading the resistance could bring this Wall Street food-chain giant to its knees. Here lies a formula for success that would bring economic and social justice to 71,000 UFCW workers who are waging a heroic struggle. In unity there is strength.

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