Update on P-9: Concession Battles Continue

Against the Current, No. 9, May/June 1987

Roger Horowitz

WHEN THE United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) signed contracts with the Hormel and Oscar Mayer companies last August, union leaders confidently predicted that wages in the packinghouse industry were finally stabilizing.

However, demands for concessions since the beginning of 1987 have forced strikes at packing plants in Cudahy, Wisconsin; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Dakota City, Nebraska. Packing companies have showed their intention to force down wages by immediately recruiting strikebreakers and enlisting the aid of local police to pre­ vent effective picket lines.

Rank-and-file packinghouse workers, not confident in the determination or ability of the UFCW to protect their jobs and living standards, met in Austin, Minnesota, in early May to plan their own efforts to resist concessions. They noted the hesitancy of the UFCW to prepare adequately for the lengthy strikes now characteristic of meatpacking or to employ innovative tactics which could prevent the isolation of these struggles.

These unionists expressed their objectives in a “Rank-and-File Workers’ Bill of Rights” adopted unanimously by the conference. It calls for industry-wide master agreements that would provide a living wage, secure jobs and a safe workplace, and a democratic international union of plant-based local unions with the rank and file electing all union officials, as well as controlling contract negotiations and strike strategy. The conference urged packinghouse workers in all unions to discuss the Bill of Rights and explained, “Our goal is one United Democratic Union of all packinghouse workers.”

Conference participants also heard from Austin Hormel workers about their ongoing struggle with the company and the UFCW. Local P-9 is still run by UFCW-appointed trustees, and nonworking P-9 members must continue to pay dues to the union in order to retain membership rights. The controversy over the P-9 mural on the Austin Labor Center (see Against the Current #6) is at a standoff, with local trustees prohibited from inflicting further damage but also not required to repair it.

In addition, federal tax documents show that Region 13 of the UFCW received $1.2 million in donations for P-9 that were never forwarded to the local. The international has billed P-9 for $1.4 million in strike benefits and has used the money held by Region 13 to offset this expense.

The conflict between the workers and the Hormel company, though more muted than during the strike, remains bitter. Several union members not currently working in the plant have been officially fired, under the “Ray Rogers” clause of the new contract, for activity such as wearing buttons or displaying car bumper stickers calling for a boycott of Hormel products. The Hormel boycott remains on. On the July 4th weekend in Austin, the Hormel Company will be holding “Spam” days to celebrate the fifty years of this product. In response, the Austin United Support Group has called for “Cram Your Spam Days” to maintain the pressure on the company. For more information, contact the support group at P.O. Box 396, Austin, MN 55912.

May-June 1987, ATC 9

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