In the past, both through blogging and real life, I have called myself and anarchist. I have anarchist beliefs and I try to act on them whenever possible. Unfortunately, I see the situation that we’re living in and I realize that it is impossible to be 100% anarchist outside of just theory. There are certain things within the system we live in that we have to deal with; one of these things (for the majority of non-trust fund people) is work. I believe that if we are ever to achieve this utopia so many dream of, there are stepping stones leading us out. I don’t see a way to jump from the uber-capitalism of today into anarchic society tomorrow. One of the first steps I want to see taken is for workers to reclaim their rights. Sure, I’d like to see workers destroy the bosses and take control of the factories and retail operations that they run already. But, and most unfortunately, the battle for basic rights among workers continues spiraling downhill, leaving us where we are today —a place where unions are often useless, and sometimes even counter-productive. As an example, I’d like to tell a story of the American Crystal Sugar Company.
For decades the workers at American Crystal Sugar in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Iowa worked under the protection of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union; once a union stronghold. American Crystal Sugar is the number one sugar company in the United States (thanks in part to a law passed by congress assuring that no sugar is imported into the United States unless there is a shortage). While the difference in pay between the workers and executives is unreasonable, none of the workers have ever been poor. They received ‘fair’ wages, benefits, seniority, and a decent retirement plan thanks to the protection of their union. Like most unions however, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers lost power due to business friendly politicians and their own greed and corruption. When the latest contract ran out, sixteen months ago, and American Crystal Sugar decided to (among other things) require employees pay for their own benefits (all this while the CEO was taking record bonuses), the workers were angry. There was talk about not agreeing to the contract or even possibly striking. Unfortunately, the bigwigs struck first and used a method that hasn’t been regularly used in decades- they locked out their workers.
In the weeks leading up to the lockout, workers had been bussed in from as far away as Texas, and then trained by the union workers as replacements. It is rumored that these workers, along with getting their room and board paid for, are making higher wages than the original workers made. The company demanded the workers accept a new contract, one which included a loss of seniority, literacy testing, and other humiliating rules like random drug testing, while giving nothing back to the people who had given their lives for the company. The workers overwhelmingly voted down the contract and remained out of work.
Over the next year and change they voted two more times; each time the union made concessions, the company made none, and the contract was voted down. This was the most troubling for workers in North Dakota, a right to work state where workers who are locked out are not eligible for unemployment. American Crystal Sugar profits declined, but the executives still raked in the dough while 1,600 workers wondered what was to become of their lives.
During the 16 months that the lockout has lasted, some workers have involuntarily retired, some have resigned and some are still looking for jobs. The Teamsters joined the fight, asking for the country to boycott any American Crystal Sugar products, with little to no effect. Fellow Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers International Union workers at Hostess famously got locked out of their jobs as well resulting in the demise of Hostess. Finally, a few Democrats wrote a letter to American Crystal CEO David Berg asking him to reconsider and give in a little bit for the sake of the economy. All of these acts fell on deaf ears, as executives were probably too busy counting their money.
Today, December 1st is the day for a fourth vote. The 1,600 union members are dwindling; only 800 or so remain, feeling beaten and defeated. The company will bring to the table the exact contract they presented sixteen months ago, knowing the ball is in the court of the workers. As many of the workers have expressed, they have two choices- take the deal and struggle to survive while feeling betrayed by the company they gave their lives to, or reject it and face even worse consequences.
It’s easy for me to sit here from my privileged chair and say that taking the deal would be much worse than sacrificing money or a home, it would be sacrificing pride and essentially killing the union. However, for someone who has spent their life at the factory doing what they were told, expecting that when it came time to retire the company would hold up their end of the bargain, and now face foreclosure and/or homelessness; the choice is a truly devastating one.
This is just one situation of thousands where workers are being severely taken advantage of by out of touch rich people who care more about their stockholders than the human beings who give their lives to their company. This is capitalism; a system that values profits over people, growth over health, and defines success by the size of your bank account, regardless of how that money got there. No matter whether you consider yourself an anarchist, socialist, or even a capitalist, this is not a sustainable way of living.
Meet the new leader of Egypt, same as the old. Maybe the next time a country ousts their so-called leader, they’ll replace him with no one.
After locking up their members, Russia is now banning all Pussy Riot music. I can’t remember the last time a powerful CD came out in the states.
Fast food workers throughout NYC are walking off their jobs, demanding higher wagers and the right to form a union.