Hostess Strike in US

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mhou
Hostess Strike in US
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11/13/2012

 

Nationwide Strike At Hostess Brands

 

Today is the fourth day of a national strike by the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco, Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) members against Hostess Brands, formerly owned by Interstate Bakeries Corporation. Three days into the strike, Hostess management began a scorched earth policy by closing 3 bakeries (food production factories) which had a striking membership. It is a policy that will likely escalate as the strike goes on, as Hostess CEO Greg Rayburn was recently quoted as saying, “This is a situation that needs

to be resolved in days and not weeks, so it's really going to hinge on whether the bakers who are striking decide to come back to work.” [1] After emerging from a round of severe concessionary bargaining and a Chapter 11 bankruptcy just 3 years ago (bankruptcy lasted from 2004-2009), Hostess has surrounded itself with liquidation experts and hedge fund managers whose sole business is breaking apart and selling off what would normally be profitable companies. The situation at Hostess, which has been building to the crescendo its battered workers find themselves in today, could have been foreseen. Hostess is part of a small club of companies (such as UPS and Ryder) which have one important common link- their workforce is nearly 100% unionized nationally. This complete management of its labor force through collective bargaining and forever weakening national unions has made extracting more and more money from the business easier for those at the top. Most Hostess workers belong to one of two unions- the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) (just over half of the workers) and the BCTGM (just under half of the workers); the former covering mainly delivery drivers, warehouse workers and retail store clerks, and the latter covering mainly food production workers. These two unionized groups of workers make up all but approximately 1,200 workers at Hostess. The remaining workers are covered by 10 different unions, each with a sliver of the total workforce. The other unions include the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers (GMP), Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers (part of the Service Employees International Union/SEIU), United Auto Workers (UAW), United Steelworkers (USW), Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) along with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (merged into the UFCW), etc. [2] This situation makes the spectacle of how organized labor operates today that much more transparent and tragic. When Hostess sought in bankruptcy court to discard existing collective bargaining agreements and force upon its unionized workforce a heavily watered down concessionary contract, at least two of the unions representing Hostess workers (the BLFO-SEIU and GMP) did not even contest its ability to do so. The new contract, which contained substantial wage cuts, increased member healthcare costs and an overhaul of pension agreements (among other ‘cost saving’ measures) was sent to the membership of many of the other unions to ratify as a ‘Last, Best and Final Offer’.  The company made it clear that if either of the two largest unions at the company, the Teamsters or the Bakers, voted ‘No’ on the contract that they planned to liquidate the company. In September the Teamsters members voted by 53% to accept the ‘Last, Best and Final Offer’. Later that month the Baker’s members voted 92% ‘No’.  Part of the reason why bankruptcy is such a useful tool for companies seeking to extract capital from a unionized membership is that bankruptcy law is on their side. By filing an 1113 motion, a company can ask the bankruptcy judge to allow them to scrap existing collective bargaining agreements and force upon their membership a one sided, company written contract in its place. On October 3rd, not long after the Baker’s membership voted ‘No’, the bankruptcy judge granted the 1113 motion by Hostess to impose the contract on all of their workers regardless of what they voted. This is what led to the strike by the BCTGM that is ongoing right now. This portion of the Hostess workforce is showing characteristics of a bygone era of militant American trade unionism; something that is becoming very rare. It is easy to understand what the workers are fighting for- good paying, stable jobs with decent healthcare and a Multiemployer Taft-Hartley Defined-Benefit Pension (rather than the nearly unusable healthcare ‘benefits’ offered by employers like Wal-Mart and Starbucks and a retirement package based on stock prices of the company which may be devalued at any time). The culture of the single-income, blue collar family is nearly extinct, and it appears the times are catching up to the remaining workers that have at least the superficial protections and benefits of a unionized production job. This strike differs from many others of recent memory in the United States because of the overwhelming participation of BCTGM members in the process of trying to save their standard of living and quality of life. So far the facts of what the union leadership are doing are unknown and remain to be seen (likely well after the strike is over), but the nearly unanimous ‘No’ vote on a clearly poverty level contract and high participation in the strike (such as creating and honoring picket lines) on a national level show a group of workers who, for the first time in a very long time in the US, are drawing a line in the sand and seem united in efforts to fight against intransigent executive board bosses and race-to-the-bottom unions. Teamster members are continuing to sell Hostess products through their retail outlets, stock Hostess products in supermarkets and convenience stores across the country and deliver products nationwide. Bakery division union bosses at the Teamsters submitted a letter to their membership today claiming that, “It’s unclear whether the goal of the Bakers strike is to force Hostess to negotiate or just put Hostess out of business. In interviews Hostess claims BCTGM leaders have not returned calls for many weeks. In addition, Teamster Leaders were not informed by the BCTGM of its actions that began on Friday.

 

. . .

 

We recognize this is a tough position for all Hostess workers – Hostess management over the years has done nothing to build confidence that it can manage the business successfully BUT a majority of Teamster members, based on REVIEWING THE FINAL OFFER AND listening to our restructuring experts and Teamsters leaders, believe the management changes and increased oversight and governance controls contained in the ratified final offer provide the only chance to preserve jobs at Hostess.” [3]

 

One thing is very clear- by helping the company turn out their fellow workers pockets and rob them of healthcare benefits and a decent pension, the concession-bargaining unions (specifically the Teamsters but also the other 2 who voluntarily accepted the final offer) are acting as a tool of the company bosses to extract further profits at the expense of their fellow workers. The division of the total workforce through competing jurisdictional interests on the part of nearly a dozen unions, each with a different level of ‘partnership’ feelings toward management, has made it possible to divide the nearly 20,000 workers at Hostess Brands in different ways (geography, job description, etc.). It is difficult to imagine the frustration of the striking BCTGM members when they see their fellow workers continuing to work during a strike that is in defense of every Hostess worker’s standard of living and benefits. In many ways the strike was a losing proposition as soon as it was called due to the lack of solidarity between competing unions in their jurisdictional feuding in a company that is on the verge of breaking apart. We can only watch and offer our support for the striking workers as they try to defend a quality of life that is disappearing in the age of part-time, precarious and often part-time jobs. The barriers to their success are great, but spreading the strike across union borders and into every facet of the company is what needs to happen if there is any chance for a victory.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.teamster.org/sites/teamster.org/files/111212nov13memberupdate2.pdf

 

[2] http://www.teamster.org/content/hostess-spars-smaller-unions-during-labor-trial

 

[3] http://www.teamster.org/sites/teamster.org/files/111212nov13memberupdate2.pdf

jk1921
So, Hostess has responded to

So, Hostess has responded to the strike by going out of business and laying off its 18,500 workers. This is just another example of why it is so hard to struggle today. Still, it was clear from the beginning that there was no hope of a "victory" here in the current economic situation. In the end, its not solidarity between competing unions we need, its solidarity between workers across jurisdictional barriers and against the unions.

Fred
jk is there any hope of

jk is there any hope of a"victory" anywhere in the current economic situation? And is the "current" economic situation likely to improve? I think not. That the bourgeoisie respond to their decreasing profits, or threats of bankruptcy, or threats from their workers, by closing down their failing businesses, isn't so surprising in the current final years of capitalist "prosperity". If we struggle within a collapsing system for improvements to our conditions, we must now inevitably fail! We must understand that as soon as possible. It's hard to struggle for reforms that are no longer available. In fact it's ridiculous. We're struggling for the wrong thing. In fact, we shouldn't be struggling at all. We should abandon defensiveness - we have nothing left to defend only foolish dreams that capitalism could give us a life worth having - we must go onto the attack! We have to see this. Bugger the unions! Yes, we need solidarity - across all industries, all countries, and embracing all workers and all who can identify with our cause, old, young, unemployed and whoever- but this solidarity is not for the bettering of our predicament under the collapsing system, those days are gone, solidarity now is for the attack against the system and for it's final dismemberment. When we realize this it will no longer be hard to struggle and to fight, because we'll know what we're fighting for and VICTORY will acquire meaning.

SOLIDARITY with all the DISPOSSESSED and all those under it's threat; which is just about all of us now.