Thanksgiving and Class Struggle

Two prominent IWW campaigns have recently incorporated Thanksgiving into their strategy, recognizing that this is an incredibly profitable time for US capitalism, and a time when most US workers want to work less and spend time with people they care about.

Whole Foods workers in San Francisco declared their IWW membership and delivered demands to management on November 6. According to the story a group of 30 of them stopped work to come out as the union and deliver demands, including a $5/hour increase for all workers. As many current and former Whole Foods workers could tell you, this company micromanages and pushes it’s work-hard ideology even stronger than most retail chains, so the work stoppage must have been incredibly empowering to those who took part.

Whole Foods responded with a $1.25 raise across San Francisco, which the workers are rightly taking credit for, but they also made clear that they would continue fighting for the full $5 raise. For context, a recent study estimated that workers in San Francisco need $29.83 to afford a one-bedroom apartment, which means the new starting wage of $12.75, while a gain, is still not enough. As the workers say, they want to earn enough to be able to quit their other two jobs.

The workers announced a 24-hour picket of the Northern California Distribution Center on November 21-22. That is where the majority of merchandise is delivered from, in one of their most profitable regions, during either their 1st or 2nd most profitable week of the year. We are still waiting to hear from them, but there is a lot of potential here to show the company that the union is strategic, intends to stick with its demands, and is willing and able to make this a serious economic issue.

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While the Whole Foods workers have been focusing on raising the stakes with the company during it’s super-profitable lead-up to Thanksgiving, our Fellow Workers at UPS are dealing with one of the give-backs that the Teamsters accepted in the recent contract. The contract used to provide the day after Thanksgiving as a holiday, but under pressure from Amazon and it’s competitors who want to begin Black Friday on Thursday night, UPS successfully got this removed from the new contract.

The contract provides for double pay on the day, and a minimum of four hours (compared to an average shift of 2.5-3.5 hours for package sorters). Screw UPS, a newsletter by and for UPS workers, is right to point out that the company stands to make a killing on Black Friday, and if it can get away with it, will only ask for more next year. They are reminding workers to work as slowly as possible, and to stay as long as they can stand it to soak up the double pay.

The contract which gave back the day after Thanksgiving gave a lot more back too, and spawned a massive “Vote No” campaign, which the Teamsters leadership managed to defeat by telling the members to keep voting until they got it right. In that context our Fellow Workers are right to hammer home the ways that UPS workers are being squeezed harder and harder by the company, not to focus on criticizing the union or trying to reform it. As Farrell Dobbs, a former teamster, put it, the important thing is to get workers to aim at the bosses, and get the union bureaucrats in the crossfire. (He was writing in a time when more workers had to deal with union bureaucrats.)

At the last retail job I had where I was trying to organize, I got the sense that there is a palpable anger over the encroachment of Black Friday into Thanksgiving, an anger which is common to anyone working retail. Companies which pay time and a half end up around $15, which workers should be making anyways (at a minimum). We’ve seen that Our Walmart can get workers to congress to talk about the problems of retail workers at the holidays, but they haven’t shown how workers can fight and win. A labor movement which would do that would have to wage effective strikes, which will probably mean strikes which go outside the law. The neo-liberal wing of the labor movement (SEIU, UNITE, UFCW) is ready to do anything to grow, except wage effective strikes.

A union movement which showed that it knew how to win back holidays, or use the pressure of holidays to gain significant wage gains, could inspire hundreds, maybe thousands of workers in the Bay Area alone. We are on the right path to do that. Will we know what to do afterwards?

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