Fast Food Walk Outs and Protests

7 posts / 0 new
Last post
mhou
Fast Food Walk Outs and Protests
Printer-friendly version

The apparent upsurge of workplace discontent by retail and food service workers is seemingly driven by the media: I've seen a few shrewd union staffers describe the whole struggle as a 'PR campaign'.

"Seattle, WA: May 30, 2013, workers from different fast food chains (Burger King, McDonalds, Jack In The Box, etc.) walked off the job. The liberal magazine The Nation reported, "Like those cities’ strikes, Seattle’s is supported by a coalition of labor and community groups; in each case, the Service Employees International Union has been involved in supporting the organizing efforts. The Seattle campaign, Good Jobs Seattle, is backed by groups including Working Washington, the Washington Community Action Network and OneAmerica."

http://www.thenation.com/blog/174577/fast-food-workers-striking-seattle#

The Washington Community Action Network is a regional Saul Alinsky style community organizing activist organization. Like the National Action Network (civil rights organization led by Rev. Al Sharpton-which was present at some of the fast food protests), OneAmerica is a community organizing organization which combines elements of a traditional 'Beltway think-tank' (parliamentary policy research and lobbying), a civil rights activist group and non-profit/NGO.

Good Jobs Seattle appears to be an independent social media organizing umbrella to support the retail-food service workers campaign in the Seattle area; however, examining the website shows it is a clone of the 'Fast Food Forward' website with a different color scheme. This means it is most likely the work of the Service Employees International Union and the Change to Win federation's "Strategic Organizing Center".

Working Washington, like the 'Good Jobs Seattle' title and website, appears at first to be an umbrella coordination and organizing center for the state of Washington; on its 'About Us' page, Working Washington says it is a "coalition of individuals, neighborhood associations, immigrant groups, civil rights organizations, people of faith, and labor united for good jobs and a fair economy."

http://www.workingwa.org/about-workingwa/

and references the slogans of the Occupy Movement (the 1% vs. 99%). However, the catch tag of the website is, "Fighting For A Fair Economy: Working Washington". Fighting For A Fair Economy is a campaign of the Service Employees International Union; like the various umbrella and coalition websites, searching for "Fighting For A Fair Economy" online turns up several results, such as this website which carries SEIU's trademark purple in the background and also references the language of Occupy Wall Street:

"The Fight for a Fair Economy (Ohio) is a collaboration of efforts between SEIU, labor allies, community partners and grassroots supporters to fight back against attacks on working people and their families all across Ohio."

http://fightforafaireconomy.org/about/

Affiliate unions of the SEIU (such as the United Long Term Care Workers) as well as numerous local unions all make use of the same template in their internet-social media orientation and organizing; the same slogans, the same language, the same message. As an, "In These Times," reporter noted:

"Change to Win itself is small–only about 35 employees–and three-fourths of its $16 million budget goes to the Strategic Organizing Center."

A nationally coordinated, union led campaign is underway and has been in the works for nearly a decade (since the 'New Unity Partnership' of the AFL-CIO). It is media driven: press releases and a combination of national and international news as well as local news (TV, newspapers, magazines and radio) have given the retail and food service workers considerable attention. Combined with a coordinated organizing effort via social media and strategic use of the internet, Change to Win is harvesting the fruits of a decade of preparatory work. With the re-integration of the UFCW into the AFL-CIO this past August, it seems likely that the perceived success of the service unions to change the dialogue on unions and wage labor in America and an impressive, nationally coordinated organizing effort and media campaign will bring the Change to Win unions into a position to control the direction of the union movement in America and dictate to the rump manufacturing, construction and public sector unions of the AFL-CIO.

"[The SOC] is leading some of the best campaigns to give workers rights and dignity. While no longer an affiliate of CTW, we continue our strong relationships with the Teamsters, SEIU and the Farmworkers.  We will remain active in the SOC and bring our AFL-CIO partners into collaboration with private-sector unions in an effort to build more power for workers." UFCW Press Release 08/08/2013

As of 2010, the state estimates that approximately 3 million workers are employed in 'fast food'. It is also one of the few growth sectors of the American domestic economy today. It is not surprising that these workers would be a target of the large service sector trade unions. What does it mean that one of the largest and most powerful unions in the country is directing a nationwide campaign with the veneer of a decentralized, localized movement of fed up food service and retail workers?

The organizational geneology of the Seattle fast food protests/walk-outs is similar to that in every other city where such protests, walk-outs and/or strikes have taken place: groups directly affiliated to SEIU and Change to Win are at the top, surrounded by groups affiliated with Jobs with Justice and also a myriad of Alinksyite, faith and civil rights groups. All are connected by social media and a national template for seemingly local outbursts. What does this all mean for the growing number of workers employed in retail food service/fast food; how long can the demand '$15 an hour and a union' hold water before the workers realize the impossibility of concessions in the ever worsening crisis?

 

A.Simpleton
'Cosa Vostra'

Hi mhou and thanks for a comprehensive and elucidating post. It is very valuable in any area to read a contribution that 'looks under the hood' of such a principle as ;

'the trade unions have become true defenders of capitalism, agencies of the bourgeois state within the working class. ' ICC platform.

And shows precise examples of the actual workings of this by example: you also relevantly list and identify with specifics, parallels with other 'alleged' agencies of 'social justice'.

What you write is very much in step with other threads 'Indignation ..' '20th Resolution..' where contributions have been substantial: the opposite of 'fast food for thought' if you will pardon the mediocre pun.

There is much to digest: the ICC's overview makes a good attempt to define and bring into the field of 'necessary analysis' and view many of the 'on the surface' so disparate and vulnerable yet 'on the streets' expressions of 'we've had enough'.

Where do they 'fit in : how do they 'fit in': are there genuine compositional differences which might tend to give them different weight.

I had a josh with another c'rade who was a bit surprised that such 'heart of the matter' threads had 'gone quiet'. Well...yes compared with the 24/7 speed of light quote mongering 'fervour' that was part of the path to identifying what requires thought re-thought and I mean 'thought' 

Nor do I (surprisingly!) feel discouraged just because it seems that questions like 'can this or that new condition develop into anything relevant ?' or 'how long can this or that hold out' appear to be the of the classic prototype 'how long is a piece of string?'

It struck me - quite forcibly - just last night how easy it is to fall into the error of even such a trivial 'philosophical abstraction': the oppressive connivance of Union/Capital/State : the street cries of the oppressed cannot be 'misrepresented' as 'pieces of string' - if you see what I mean.

Hmmm. I'll try to formulate that again : the 'questions' which seem to demand 'answers' are not mathematical or philosophical questions: from a core Marxist standpoint they are not questions at all : nor would an apparently reasonable 'answer' be an answer.

They are new 'moments' in the dialectic of history : and Marxist method and principle provides a huge tool-box with which to extract, identify the actuality, and draw with best effort the tendential consequences.

It goes without saying that right now I just can't seem to find any socket wrench that fits...

AS

 

 

 

mhou
'the trade unions have

'the trade unions have become true defenders of capitalism, agencies of the bourgeois state within the working class. ' ICC platform.

This is a position which seems to involve the question of analysis (the 'Grand Narrative'): at the moment, seen in the fast food organizing campaign and in the lead-up to and results of the 2013 AFL-CIO Convention, a different kind of trade union sponsored campaign that's seemingly both manufactured (in its origin) but decentralized (at the local level) is taking shape. Workers centers are being affiliated directly to both union federations, minority unions and front unions are being formed and held at arms length from the large trade unions. Different unions are taking very different paths due to the pressures of the contemporary political-economic terrain, resulting in different kinds of workplace manifestations of organization and struggle (depending on the approach of the unions and existing workplace/community factors): do these details matter for the life of a communist organization (with the quoted position on unionism in this period of capitalism)?

 

Alf
syndicalism

The development of base unionism is probably one of our biggest challenges, and tends to create a split among revolutionaries themselves. For example, between marxists and anarcho-syndicalists who are to say the least vulnerable to the lures of radical unionism; but there are also major divergences among the communist left groups and elements on this problem. 

A.Simpleton
Advance

Focussed and very helpful contributions : your ability, mhou, to extract and define is exceptional and backed by specific example . I am also relieved to hear Alf's balanced 'overview' addition (challenge such encyclopaedic knowledge if you dare)

My initial response was somewhat groping in the dark. At least I now know that 'new conditions', de facto unprecedented are not Grade One analytical challenges.

mhou asks most relevantly;

' do these details matter for the life of a communist organization with the quoted position on unionism in this period of capitalism?

' i.e.'the trade unions have become true defenders of capitalism...et seq....'

Alf's statement that precisely these different (or are they) - manifestations of 'struggles-with-an- apparently-different-union-presence' suggests that they DO matter to the life of organisatons: the 'milieu jury'  -as it were- has divergent initial assessments.

I can't elucidate much, for I am at the edge of my grasp here but for what it's worth: mhou precisely identifies :

Workers centers are being affiliated directly to both union federations, minority unions and front unions are being formed and held at arms length from the large trade unions. Different unions are taking very different paths due to the pressures of the contemporary political-economic terrain, resulting in different kinds of workplace manifestations of organization and struggle (depending on the approach of the unions and existing workplace/community factor

But in all cases it still  has that : 'sponsored by the front union' 'affiliated to the decentralised union' 'depending on the approach of the unions' feel.

Just first thoughts but.... 

Would it not most joyously demonstrate the essence of growing class consciousness if these ' workplace manifestations of organization and struggle' made actual (wirklich) the realisaton that the workers don't need any initial 'help-with-their-homework', do not need to 'affiliate to' or 'depend on' anyone but themselves?

And I might add, not because 'The Grand Narrative' says so , but because that's the way they decided to do it ?the 'Verdinglichung' of the Grand Narrative ist verboten  !

AS

 

Fred
I must try and learn German,

I must try and learn German,

mhou
Alf wrote:The development of

Alf wrote:

The development of base unionism is probably one of our biggest challenges, and tends to create a split among revolutionaries themselves. For example, between marxists and anarcho-syndicalists who are to say the least vulnerable to the lures of radical unionism; but there are also major divergences among the communist left groups and elements on this problem. 

If I understand the ICC position on trade unionism correctly, particularly in the articles on the differences with the GCI, that unionism is not a timeless and amorpheous phenomenon but is historically determined (the form of unionism corresponding to a co-determined relationship with changes in the organization/regime of capital). In that sense, I'm inclined to look at the relatively recent (post-1980's) phenomenon of base unionism/independent or atypical unionism as just another shift corresponding to changes in the organization of international capitalism- no different from the changes of preceding periods when industrial unionism overtook craft unionism or when craft unionism overtook secret societies and mutual assistance/beneficial associations (corresponding to changes in capital).

The US manifestations of the phenomenon seems largely linked to single shop unions or independent-democratic unions (United Electrical Workers) and the rise of workers centers; all originating in the same international trends from which "base unionism" proper in Europe has developed. In the fast food campaign, it almost seems like the traditional-mainstream unions are orchestrating a top down attempt to co-opt the trend. Hard to differentiate what is and is not the machinations or influence of established unions on local campaigns.

I agree that it is a difficult issue, particularly when linked to ongoing and unfolding lived experience of the class of the unions and state of capital today (and whether communists have adequate existing tools to understand the direction of organizations operating within the class or those seeking to do so).

Quote:

Just first thoughts but.... 

Would it not most joyously demonstrate the essence of growing class consciousness if these ' workplace manifestations of organization and struggle' made actual (wirklich) the realisaton that the workers don't need any initial 'help-with-their-homework', do not need to 'affiliate to' or 'depend on' anyone but themselves?

http://www.labornotes.org/2012/07/boycott-palermo%E2%80%99s-say-milwauke...

This specific case in Wisconsin of factory workers forming their own contingent single-shop union and striking on their own outside of the legal trade union apparatus was met with a legal union forcing themselves onto the factory workers (United Food & Commercial Workers) by getting on the secret ballot shop election.

When it comes to more directly spontaneous or extra-union organizing/actions, I wonder if its simply a matter of size and clout and the nearly timeless allure of funds and experience in exchange for autonomy or control. The phrasing of the ICC Platform on trade unions is worded very well: capitalist organizations operating within the working-class. Seeing solidarity as writing checks and making 'suggestions' is a less ominous means for unions to benefit from and control independent trends. Maybe there is a periodization issue with these manifestations: the inability to win real reforms for workers, in traditional labor relations or atypical forms, drives such manifestations closer to the established collective bargaining regime (the decade long march of independent unions and worker centers into the AFL-CIO directly).

(Below is a quoted bit from the article on the Wisconsin Palermo factory workers: it isn't showing up in my edit box to be quoted properly):

The NLRB also set July 6 for a union vote. But the Food and Commercial Workers union claimed jurisdiction and asked the Board to be added to the ballot, which pushed the date back to July 27. The workers and their supporters said UFCW Local 1473 didn’t have a base of support before it intervened. The local declined to comment. - See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/2012/07/boycott-palermo%E2%80%99s-say-milwauke... NLRB also set July 6 for a union vote. But the Food and Commercial Workers union claimed jurisdiction and asked the Board to be added to the ballot, which pushed the date back to July 27. The workers and their supporters said UFCW Local 1473 didn’t have a base of support before it intervened. The local declined to comment. - See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/2012/07/boycott-palermo%E2%80%99s-say-milwauke...