Now is the best time for millions of workers in big box retail stores and fast food outlets to form unions. McDonald’s, Walmart, Amazon, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King and other giant chains are struggling to find enough workers. Some of these companies even pay signing bonuses and increase low wages.
This is because of the upheaval of the pandemic when millions of workers quit their jobs and many have yet to return. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the International Union of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) see the opportunity of a lifetime, but are they devoting enough organizational resources to this effort?
For more than four decades, unions of all kinds in the corporate economy have been in decline. Only six percent of workers in the private sector are now unionized. However, polls show a high level of favor for unions, following the heroism of workers on behalf of victims of Covid-19.
The House of Representatives passed the Right to Organize Protection Act – which Republican corporatists oppose – but the Senate’s prospects are bleak because of the same GOP corporatists. Only Majority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York can answer why Senate Democrats do not hold regular hearings on the suffering of families of non-union workers.
Since Reagan took office in January 1981, the unions have been beaten by many forces. These include (1) the eight years of Ronald Reagan, Union-buster-in-chef, owner of the White House, (2) an ever-growing export of jobs propelled by large companies abandoning the United States for communist and fascist dictatorships abroad with their legions of bonded labor; and (3) increasing automation of the workplace. The poor leadership of many unions didn’t help either.
The youngest of these giant retail stores have little knowledge of how the unions saved the working classes in the 20e century of many of the cruelest treatment inflicted by corporate capitalism. Current union education efforts fill some of this lack of why, how and where to form a union – but not with the intensity of the late union leaders Tony Mazzocchi and Harry Kelber. Mr. Kelber was the leading writer of popular “how-to” brochures for workers looking for unions. (See: laboreducator.org).
While large retailers may sporadically fill worker gaps with one-time economic incentives, they’re still run by the same old anti-union bosses with their expensive anti-union law firms and consultants.
Their mantra: crush any small organizing effort in any store, no matter what the cost. A few weeks ago, Dollar General, with more than 7,000 stores nationwide, crushed such an effort at a Dollar General store in Winsted, Connecticut. They sent five “consultants” to stay in the store for an astonishing price of $ 2,700 each per day, according to a long one-page article in the. Washington post. These bullies and other companies sometimes outnumbered the six employees during the organizing campaign, until the unionists narrowly lost the vote to other frightened employees. An employee was fired for being in favor of the union but reinstated for the vote.
There are major strikes by workers at John Deere, Kellogg and other large manufacturing companies. Right now, however, the big battle that should be fought is for Big Retail, where hamburger or coffee making jobs can not be exported.
The results of all this are threefold.
First, the Democratic Party should step up its enthusiasm and support for these hardworking workers, even in the local Democratic Party committees.
Second, the same goes for the AFL-CIO which can provide stronger support to federation member unions and pressure the Biden administration to firmly enforce labor laws which, according to the website of the AFL-CIO, are raped with impunity by companies.
Third, consumers and their organizations should increase their support for paid sick leave, adequate health care, safe working conditions and fair wages; if not for solidarity, then for the food served in complete safety. Consumers shouldn’t want to see sick and rushed workers having to serve them, pay their bills.
For work, it’s a briefly open window in history. Robotics and surplus labor will soon shut it down. The unions must now move at unusual and rapid speeds!