Open Letter to Socialist Alternative for campaign in UFCW

Dear Comrades in Socialist Alternative:

Your recent 15 Now conference had some interesting debate on different issues. For me, the most important issue was that of the collective bargaining opt-out for HERE members. We will see how that issue plays out.

Whatever differences we have on those issues, I’m sure we all would like to see as strong a $15 per hour minimum wage in Seattle as possible. The official support of the unions would be a great help in that. Disgracefully, the leadership of UFCW has not jumped on board, despite the fact that union workers at QFC, Albertson’s, Safeway, etc. in Seattle start at $9.42 per hour. Their courtesy clerks top out at $9.52 per hour and workers don’t reach the top of their pay scale until they have worked 7800 hours (3.75 years if they get 40 full hours per week, 52 weeks per year, which many of them don’t.) A strong $15 per hour minimum wage ordinance would tremendously help the lives of those workers, yet their leadership is not supporting it. The reason is that they believe they have to help these stores maximize their profits, which means at the workers’ expense.

I think it would be a great advance for 15 Now to develop a campaign aimed at these workers. 15 Now supporters could go into the grocery stores and hand out leaflets to the workers there explaining what you are trying to do, explaining that their union has not endorsed 15 Now and urging them to get involved in their union, to organize to force their union to endorse, donate to and mobilize for 15 Now. The campaign could also explain that this would be the first step in organizing to change their union, to make it really fight for the membership.

In other parts of the country, including the San Francisco Bay Area and in northern California, UFCW rank and file members have been organizing along these lines for years, but their success has been limited. The reason is that most members don’t really believe that anything can change. With a prominent elected public official – Kshama Sawant – associated with this campaign, it just might break through this defeatist mood. If it did, then regardless of the outcome of the 15 Now campaign and ballot initiative, this would be a huge step forward for all workers.

This idea has its roots in our experience here: In 2003-04, there was a grocery strike in Southern California. The UFCW sent pickets up to the San Francisco Bay Area to get a boycott of Safeway going. A few of us formed a group called Bay Area Striker Solidarity Organization (BASSO). We did exactly what is described above. We had great conversations and in a few cases a shop steward or other worker actually called a work place meeting on the spot for us to speak to a group of workers. Our success was limited, but that was then and this is now, and also we didn’t have a “Kshama Sawant” to point to either. But anyway, we learned a lot from that experience. And if you would consider doing a campaign like this, I’d be happy to come up there again for a few days to use what I learned in order to help that campaign get started.

I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Yours in the struggle,
John Reimann

Update: The fact that Socialist Alternative never responded and never made any attempt to directly involve these members showed their orientation towards the union leadership rather than to the members. Years later, they in effect dropped the campaign for 15 “Now” altogether, in favor of the union leadership’s “Fight for Fifteen” (some years in the future). See the added comment below.

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  1. Note: This letter was sent to the Socialist Alternative leadership in Seattle in late April and then published about a week later. We never heard any reply to this. We cannot help but believe that this failure to reply stems from the fact that a campaign like what is suggested here would have thrown them into a direct conflict with the union leadership. Since that time, a $15 per hour minimum wage ordinance was passed by the Seattle City Council, but one with so many loopholes that Kshama Sawant had called similar proposals in the past as having “as many holes as Swiss Cheese.” It is inexcusable that Socialist Alternative should choose to side with the union leadership – who represent the employers and the Democrats inside the unions – instead of siding with the membership. We have seen the same thing in the ongoing (as of 11/2014) struggle inside SEIU Local 6, where the Socialist Alternative leadership has studiously avoided the battle.

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