At May 30 Bronx march to defend Stella D'Oro strike. (Photo: EdC/DailyKos)
The struggle of the 136 bakery workers at the Stella d’Oro cookie factory in the Bronx, on strike since last August 15, has reverberated through New York City labor. The company’s use of low-paid ($10 an hour) scab labor to run the struck factory is a threat to unions throughout the city. But paper resolutions expressing fine sentiments of labor solidarity are not enough. The fact is, NYC labor officialdom has not actually done anything to use its power to win the strike. If it had, the strike would have ended in a victory months ago. We need to massively mobilize NYC labor to beat the union-busters at Stella D’Oro!
On May 30, hundreds of unionists and strike supporters are expected to rally and march to the bakery at 237th Street in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. Among those unions who have participated in earlier rallies are the UFT (teachers), PSC (faculty at the City University), 1199 (health care workers), SEIU (service workers), UFCW (grocery store workers), AFSCME (government workers), RWDSU (retail workers) and others. These demonstrations of labor solidarity are important, as are the checks that several unions have presented to the strikers. But far more is needed to actually win this crucial strike.
The courageous members of Local 50 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Union walked out when the bakery’s new owners demanded drastic pay cuts (slashing $1 an hour each year over five years), an end to pensions, cuts to health care, the elimination of sick days and cuts to vacation time. For many of the production line workers, a majority of them women, that would have driven their income down from $37,000 to $27,000 a year. A single mother could not survive on those wages. In the face of heavy odds, the workers have stayed strong. Not one striker has crossed the picket line.
Brynwood Partners, an investment firm that bought Stella d’Oro in 2006, specializes in squeezing extra profits by busting unions. This Greenwich, Connecticut-based firm specializes in “flipping” companies: they buy up “under-performing” plants, slash wages and working conditions, and then resell them at a huge profit. These guys are almost caricatures of the ruthless buyout profiteers like the character Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street. They are not going to be defeated by playing nice and being “reasonable” according to established rules. The whole strategy of the Stella D’Oro bosses is geared to destroy the union.
The Bakery Workers have brought a complaint against the employer to the National Labor Relations Board for refusal to bargain in good faith, and have gotten a preliminary ruling favorable to the union. Some strike supporters are fantasizing that with Democrat Barack Obama in the White House, they could even get the NLRB to prohibit the company from hiring “permanent replacement workers” (scabs). But even if the NLRB were to decide against Brynwood, the company would simply appeal it to death in the capitalist courts, dragging the case out for years while workers are without a job. Legal action will not stop these cutthroat labor haters.
The bottom line is: you can’t win by playing by the bosses’ rules. Labor must play hardball to win!
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Much effort has gone into building a boycott urging consumers to support the strike by refusing to buy Stella D’Oro cookies. This can be a useful way to build support for a popular and hard-fought strike. But all too often, the union bureaucrats have resorted to consumer boycotts in order to avoid the kind of class-struggle action that is crucial to winning. In some cases, like the Hormel P-9 strike in 1986, consumer boycotts have masked the abandonment of a strike. Using the organized power of the unions is key.
For starters, NYC labor should use its muscle to stop the delivery of Stella D’Oro products to the stores, and get the scab cookies off store shelves NOW! Union truckers and railroad workers should refuse to deliver ingredients and supplies to the struck plant! We have made concrete proposals for an open letter to New York City unionists urging labor, particularly grocery and retail workers unions, to declare that scab products are “too hot to handle” and make sure no one touches them.
To win this strike, it is necessary to shut down the scab operation. One way to do that is by a plant occupation, which cannot be done without careful and systematic preparation. Workers from the Republic Windows and Doors plant in Chicago, who occupied their plant last December, have visited the Stella D’Oro picket lines. The Republic workers’ example electrified labor across the U.S. And in any case, NYC labor should organize repeated mass mobilizations to build picket lines so large and militant that no one dares cross.
Long ago, this was a family owned business. But at the end of the 1980s it was bought out by Nabisco, and in 2000 it was taken over by Kraft Foods. The current owners are notorious takeover artists, but the previous corporate bosses set the stage for this battle by driving out the Teamster delivery truck drivers after a 2003 strike. So instead of leaving the Stella D’Oro strikers isolated, thousands of New York City unionists should march on the plant to stop the scab occupation and win the strike, making it clear that there will be hell to pay if Stella D’Oro workers don’t win.
When construction workers shut down Midtown Manhattan over MTA plans to use scab labor, 29 June 1998.
Impossible? Not at all. As recently as 2005, the 35,000 transit workers shut down the city with their powerful strike. Despite the bosses’ propaganda blitz, the strike enjoyed the support of working people throughout the city. And in 1998, tens of thousands of construction workers turned out to picket the Metropolitan Transportation Authority headquarters for hiring a non-union construction firm, Roy Kay Inc.. The workers marched through Midtown shutting down construction sites and blocking traffic. The NYPD mobilized 1,000 cops, but couldn’t stop them. For Stella D’Oro workers to win, we need to “do a Roy Kay” on a mass scale.
The Stella D’Oro strike is not an isolated local event. From the auto industry to government jobs, the bosses are using the economic crisis of their capitalist system to grind down the workers and take back what few benefits that unions have won. To defeat this onslaught, it is necessary to fight politically. Many unionists look to Obama and the Democratic Party. Yet the Obama White House and Democratic-controlled Congress are ripping up the auto industry, sacrificing tens of thousands of auto workers’ jobs, slashing health care and wages, while channeling tens of billions to the auto bosses and trillions of dollars to bail out the Wall Street banks.
Workers need to break with the Democratic Party and forge our own, class-struggle workers party that fights for a workers government.
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