BRONX, NY, January 26 — “It may be freezing…but they will not shut us down!” declared one Stella D’Oro striker. These bold workers just passed the 5-month mark of their strike. The vicious bosses, the private equity firm Brynwood Partners, have tried “…to slash these workers wages by 25%, do away with Saturday overtime and impose a new, crushing 20% employee contribution to worker health care benefits” (NY Daily News 1/22), plus eliminate four holidays, one week of vacation and all 12 paid sick days!
The strikers talk constantly about their hatred for the new owners, who broke up their lives trying to destroy the union and resell the plant as a low-wage, non-union operation. “We’re there to work hard, we didn’t want to be out here in the cold; they pushed us out the doors.”
Although these scumbag bosses have tried to bring the strikers to their knees, while replacing them with scabs (supposedly limited to two months), not one worker has crossed the picket line. “I agree that the best way to get them [the Brynwood bosses] where it hurts is by taking our labor power away from them,” one worker told a PLP teacher.
Class struggle is a harsh, punishing master of workers’ lives. It crashes into our lives in the form of wars and lockouts, layoffs and medical bills. And, in this case, racism, as the overwhelming majority of the strikers are black and Latino, super-oppressed by these bosses to rake in super-profits.
The strikers have no more health insurance. COBRA costs $1,200/month for family coverage. Applying for it doesn’t guarantee being accepted. Not having health insurance is a worry generally, but especially when you’re on picket duty in 21º weather.
“No contract, no cookies!” remains the slogan of 136 striking workers. “The support from people in the neighborhood has kept us going,” explained another striker as he took another stack of 40 CHALLENGES and placed them next to the coffee and donuts.
Within minutes most workers picked them up and began reading. “I like this paper!” exclaimed one striker. She said, “It really talks about fighting back!” She then asked if PL would help them build for their march and rally at Target here on January 31. They thanked us again for raising $5,000 dollars for their local. We said we’d try to announce the march at the next teachers union Delegate Assembly and ask for more money to support their strike. In addition to bringing the usual coffee and donuts, we also donated a bunch of hand- and foot-warmers.
“A” is one of the most active strikers, a modest guy who’s also a natural workers’ leader, leading by example. When we first met him last October, he was distributing flyers on the picket line and did so whenever the union brought some. They stopped coming a long time ago and few got printed anyway — no resources. The International gives nothing beyond strike pay. They had the gall to offer the Local a loan at interest rates higher than a bank’s!
When discussing the risk of getting sick on these four-hour mid-winter shifts, “A” told us he’d gone to a clinic run by the Espada family of Bronx politicians, seeking the free care that Espada, Sr. had promised the strikers at a rally. At the clinic Espada, Jr. became very hostile: “How do I know my father told you that? Do you have it in writing? Where’s the paper? Why has no one else come in?” So there was no free care, only insults. “A” turned his back on Espada and left.
He says “bad people” provoked the strike, people so greedy they’re crazed, almost inhuman: “Why do they want more, more, more when they’re already rich? Why do they want to ruin our lives for a few more dollars? Why are they like that?”
When the cops made the strikers tear down their well-made protective tarp and dump their chairs; when they refused a permit for a warming van; when Brynwood owner Hank Hartung lied and had a striker arrested and jailed for five days on a charge that has little chance of sticking in court — why are they like that? Is this just how people are? No, it’s capitalism as a system.
When talking to “A” about it, it feels good to be a communist, with a Party that’s studied these things and a tradition going back 160 years. Maybe “A” will join PLP in the future, take communist ideas and run with them and bring his leadership ability into the Party and the class war way beyond one strike and one company and one bosses’ nation.
Maybe along the road to revolution these strikers will join hands with workers in Israel and Gaza, and “the workers of the world will rise again.” Then the mystery of why bosses and cops and politicians and International union officials are like that will become clear to them all.
Many of the strikers openly support the slogan, “Make the bosses take the losses!”