by a worker at Seward Co-op
On June 16th nearly the entire staff on shift at Seward Co-op’s Franklin Ave. store in Minneapolis walked out for a 9 minute work stoppage to mourn the murder of George Floyd and to stand in solidarity with the #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd protests erupting around the world. Nine minutes is the length of time George Floyd suffocated under MPD officer Derek Chauvin’s knee.This was an effort led entirely by rank and file workers. With our action we also hoped to encourage the Seward Co-op to announce it’s support for dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department and called on the leadership of UFCW Local 663 (our union) to demand immediate resignation of the police union’s president, Bob Kroll, who is openly bigoted and racist.
I was a part of the core group who organized the work stoppage. We were inspired by a very similar action planned by workers at a different Minneapolis Co-op, the Wedge, a couple weeks before ours. As soon as we heard about the Wedge action, we knew we wanted to plan something at Seward. We were excited about the idea of using our power as workers to act in solidarity with the uprising happening in Minneapolis and to call on our store management and union leadership to take bolder steps in addressing systemic white supremacy, particularly the way it is embodied in the Minneapolis Police Department. We also hoped that our action would play a small roll in helping push the labor movement (and our union) to be more militantly anti-racist and to see anti-racist struggle as interconnected to the struggle against economic exploitation.
We started having conversations about the action with our co-workers on the shop floor a week before the action. Almost everyone responded really positively to the idea. Unsurprisingly the folks who were most on board initially were people of color, many of whom work in the “back of house”, particularly in the deli. One strategy for spreading the word that I found very helpful (and first learned in an IWW Organizer Training 101), was to connect with folks who had significant social capital and trust among their coworkers in their departments, and ask them to help us spread the work. It is much more likely that people will listen to, and act with, someone they’ve worked closely with than an eager “organizer” from a different department running around trying to talk to literally everyone.
Unfortunately, our union was pretty resistant to the work stoppage from the beginning, and especially when they learned that one of the demands was directed at union leadership. At first they were concerned that we could get reprimanded or the union could get fined because we were breaking the “no-strike, no-stoppage” clause in our contract. While this was a concern for us organizers, we were pretty sure that such a move would create a public relations nightmare for the co-op management, who work hard to make the business look “woke” especially around issues of racism and white supremacy (Never mind the fact that most of the workers of color at the co-op are paid poverty wages.) The union was also concerned that we would aggravate management right before we begin bargaining (this August), and would make that process more difficult. My feeling was that this was more of a problem for the union, who seem to benefit the most from “harmonious” contract bargaining. While I, and many of my co-workers, are thankful for the union’s presence, we can’t ignore the fact that the harmonious bargaining the union desires has resulted in co-op jobs that keep many of my co-workers poor and needing to work second jobs. In order to secure jobs that pay a livable wage with decent benefits, in a city that is increasingly prohibitively expensive, workers have to create tension and conflict in the workplace. We have to fight.
On the day of the action, we were blown away when nearly everyone on shift walked out with us. I chatted with some workers afterward who we hadn’t been able to reach out to about the stoppage beforehand, but still decided to walk out on the fly. I’m pretty sure there were several workers who we did not connect with beforehand but chose to walk. I think one possible reason for this is that the uprising in Minneapolis has created a sense of urgency and opened up many folks’ imaginations and interest in breaking social norms to fight for social and racial justice. In a lot of ways, the status quo has cracked. To me this shows that in historic and tumultuous moments like these, when people are given an invitation (even without all the 1 to 1’s and follow-up conversations that are typically the bread and butter of workplace organizing) many will act. Embedded in the Minneapolis uprising there is a lesson and an invitation for the labor movement to act in solidarity with popular revolts, to bring more people into the struggle for liberation in the workplace, and to be more militantly anti-racist; to truly embody the reality that an injury to one is an injury to all.
Oaklandsocialist comments: Congratulations to the workers at Seward Co-op! It is never easy risking your job, but they did what is necessary. Their action comes at a time when the unions are starting to feel the pressure of the movement. The ATU has stood behind the refusal of many of their city bus drivers to be “bust” drivers who transport protesters the cops arrest, as well as the refusal of New York City bus drivers to transport cops around the city. And the King County (Seattle) Labor Council has voted to expel the cops “union” from their council. We also see the longshore workers will be shutting down the docks on the West Coast on Juneteenth. But the worker who wrote this report nails it when he talks about how the union leadership is determined to keep “harmonious” relations with the employers. We hope that these UFCW members will join up with other members of their union, including those who work in meat packing, and organize to change their union from top to bottom. Oaklandsocialist will be formatting this article as a leaflet to hand out to union grocery workers here in our area. We hope others do the same. Readers who want to contact these workers at Seward Co-op should contact us.