In 1985, local P-9 workers for Hormel company in Minnesota, US voted to strike, following the demand for new contracts. This plant had a working environment that was considered unsafe by the workers, due to the large number of injuries that were reported in the plant. However, in addition to this problem, there were several underlying problems, and these revolved around the neglect by the management of this plant regarding the welfare of the workers. Yates explains that cuts in wages and benefits for the workers served as the trigger to the strike by the workers, since there were several underlying issues .
During this period, the US economy faced a recession and this adversely affected the welfare of workers. Reduction of their benefits by the management of this company showed that it did not care about the welfare of its employees, and provoked them to take an industrial action. However, it must be noted that the decision to strike was not easy to make. There were several obstacles to the taking of this decision. One obstacle was the lack of support from the management, government, media and national union.
There was also the perception that striking worker would be replaced, since it had happened before, through the rule by President Reagan. This led to a split between the local national union leaders. The decision to go on strike was arrived at in August 1985. This was after the contract that the Hormel offered was deemed to be too poor. Initially after the strike began, the members were given $65 each week as benefits for the strike, but the figure reduced to $40 soon after. These workers received donations that helped them survive this trying moment during this period.
During December, another contract was presented to the union, and this was similar to the one that they had rejected in August. This contract delegated the issue of safety to be handled by the company, according to its judgment. The wage offered was the same as the one that had been rejected in August, and hand billing among other guaranteed union rights were prohibited. In January, the company was opened up to scabs and the police had a hectic time breaking picket lines. The President of UFCW, Wynn refused the sanctioning of Hormel boycott or roving pickets.
He saw this as a move that would undermine the gains that have been made by the unions over the years. These events necessitated the meeting that was held in the P-9 hall on January 1986. The union leaders addressed the P-9 members and their family members. It dwelt on a strategy that would enable Hormel employees win a fair contract. UFCW International Representative Lewie Anderson and UFCW Local P-9 President Jim Guyette addressed the crowd, and the following is a reconstruction of how the discussions took place, in my own understanding of the facts and application of relevant knowledge learned from all materials analyzed.
JIM: Morning everyone, I must first of all thank each one of you for the support that you have accorded us in ensuring that we attain our objectives. I thank all workers who have survived this trying time and the many challenges that have come your way. I also thank your families for standing by your decision without wavering their support at any time. We will achieve our cause sooner rather than later. LEWIE: I must also first thank everyone present in this hall today, and the rest who were not able to make it, for giving us unwavering support.
I see that you have even brought the young ones along, it is very encouraging to see that we are not alone in all this. However, a time comes when we have to question whether the strategy that we are using will yield the desired results. We have to ask whether there is a better strategy that will enable us achieve realistic results sooner. JIM: My learned friend has a point here; we have to ask what the most effective strategy for achieving our goals is. We also have to analyze the strategies that cannot work for us and eliminate them early in advance. Can dialog help us attain out cause?
I say NO! LEWIE: I understand my colleague’s feelings on the issue. It is true that Hormel is being unfair and is neglecting its employees, that I do not oppose . What I oppose is the strategy that is being used to force the company to give reasonable contracts. Let us analyze the tactics that can be used to win a strike; There is one tactic where picket fences are used to cripple operations at the plant, which is currently in use. There is also a strategy which involves organizing non-violent civil disobedience. Another involves national outreach campaigns which attract public sympathy.
Finally, there is dialog, and in my opinion, this is the way to go since all the other options have failed. JIM: We have survived almost five months relying on assistance from members of the public who identify with our cause. These young children look up to us, since if we do not act now, they will also go through what we are going through. The picket strategy is working well so far, and there is even another option that is available for us. We can call upon members of the public who identify with our cause to boycott the products of Hormel.
This is bound to pressure the ignorant management to give in. LEWIE: I am sure that I do not speak for myself when I say that I am tired of this strike and want to go back to my ordinary life. I am sure that plenty of families have suffered enough due to the strike. Five months is an awfully long time to survive without a fixed income. My colleague Jim might not feel the pressure, since he is relatively wealthy, but there are some folks out here who have had enough of this strike. I propose we end the strike and continue with our day to day activities.
After all, even during a war, sometimes the Generals order their troops to retreat so that they might re-group and launch a full scale attack. This is one of those times. JIM: First of all, I want to clarify that although I would not consider myself to be poor, I am genuinely concerned about the plight of every worker, and this is what motivates me to support this strike. The US labor law supports industrial strikes as an option of workers to voice their concerns, with the exception of a few careers which are deemed to be of strategic importance.
Such, as most of you are aware of, includes policemen, doctors and the military. However, it is within the law to present our grievances through industrial action. Of what use is it abandoning the strike after five months, if we will have to repeat it another time in future? This is the future of our children that we are protecting, I say we continue with the strike! LEWIE: There is no point of striking just for the sake of it. We have to look at the future and be realistic about the goals that are achievable and those which are not.
We have to look at the support that we have received so far. The national union does not support this strike. The government and the media is also opposed to this strike. In fact, the government is about to deploy the national guard to quell the crisis, how can we fight with the government? Hormel is hiring scabs, and there is a chance that you will lose your jobs. You have to ask yourself one important question; is this really worth it. JIM: Lewie has a point, most people have deserted us in our time of need.
But my opinion is that we should not give up; on the contrary, this should serve to unite the few of us who are fighting for this just cause. We should also seek more support from religious activists, students, other unions and other sympathetic people. This should be done through a national solidarity campaign and I propose that we begin seeking support immediately. Freedom does not come easily, and this is the price we have to pay. If we are about to lose our jobs due to fighting for the future generation’s rights, so be it.
LEWIE: I still think that you people are fighting a very strong current. There is no way that you will win this fight. Unions nowadays have very high democracy levels, and in spite of that, most of them chose not to support this strike. That should point to something; they are aware that this strike will not succeed, and that your children are suffering for no apparent reason. Just call off the strike and get back to your lives, I am sure that that this is what these young ones want from you.
JIM: The fact that the unions refused to back us demonstrates a fear that the government is using to intimidate workers into agreeing to be exploited. We shall not fall for these antics; we know that the government has artificially created bureaucracy in unions, so that there might be a detachment between the leadership and workers. In spite of this, we shall remain united and fight for our cause to the end. It is apparent that Mr Lewie came here with a mind that was already made up. I thought that we would be able to convince him to see out line of argument, but apparently that is not the case.
I would like to let him know that with or without his support, we will fight for our rights, so that sometime in future, our children will say that these people were very brave, for standing up for a worthy cause, in spite of all the opposition. LEWIE: I have realized that we will not come into a conclusion in the near future, so it I beg to be excused since I have other urgent commitments. However, before I go, I would like to warn all of you that you will suffer the consequences of making this decision; this strike will be over very soon, and you will see that I was right all along. Thank you all for giving me an opportunity to address you.
JIM: I thank the UFCW International Representative Lewie Anderson for addressing us, and I hope he has seen our stand on the issue. Hopefully, he will pass the message to other unions, that we are serious toward pursuing our cause, and that we would appreciate if they supported us. However, with or without their support, we will emerge victorious. Thank you all for coming.
Russo, John & Linkon, Sherry, New working-class studies. New York: Cornell University Press, 2005, p 161-162. Yates, Michael, Why Unions Matter. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006, p. 53-80, and p. 130-152.