LABOR BEAT
Bernadette Kelly, Karl Ross, Margaret Viggiani
volume:  
volume 38
issue 5
October 2017
imagestuff

Rini Templeton illustration used on brochure for Seattle FSP’s summer labor history seminar.

Facebook cafeteria: union on the menu

Over 560 people working in Facebook’s cafeterias celebrated Labor Day this year as new union members.

In July, more than 500 food service employees at the online social media giant’s company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., unionized under the banner of UNITE HERE Local 19. They were soon joined by some 60 cafeteria staffers in Facebook’s Seattle campus — who will be represented by UNITE HERE Local 8.

Line cook Mari Duncan said, “I’ve worked in food service for 18 years and I finally feel like I can have a real future for me and my son. We all deserve stability and respect for the work we do — that’s why we’re unionizing.”

Workers at both locations cite skyrocketing rents and high healthcare costs as some of their reasons for joining UNITE HERE.

Facebook did not publicly oppose the organizing drives. The tech company has stated “We are committed to providing a safe, fair work environment to everyone who helps Facebook bring the world closer together, including contractors.”

Despite toiling in the Facebook cafeteria, the staff are actually hired by a contractor called Flagship Facility Services. According to the law, these contracted-out jobs are not entitled to the same legal protections and benefits as regular full-time employees at Facebook.

Food service employees at Flagship typically make about $18 an hour in Facebook’s cafeterias but the high cost of living in the Bay Area have seen some workers living in cars and garages or commuting for hours. “Their quest for a better life in Silicon Valley is what moved them to unionize,” said Enrique Fernandez, a representative of UNITE HERE Local 19.

Collective bargaining gives power to the people. Perhaps the tech workers will follow the brave example of their more vulnerable, contracted brothers and sisters in the cafeterias and GO UNION!

— Bernadette Kelly

Making use of labor history

Seattle Freedom Socialist party turned up the heat on the class war with a crash course in working people’s history.

The six-week “Labor History Seminar” educated participants on strikes, organizing, and solidarity. It presented strategies for unlocking worker’s strength and provided opportunities to take theory and put it into action.

Students learned about the leadership of radicals, women, immigrants, and people of color. They studied major struggles like the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike, “Bread and Roses” textile strike, Memphis sanitation strike, and organization of Filipino cannery workers.

There were video clips, readings, presentations, and lively discussions. Kirk Duncan, a member of Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, spoke about the cross-union organizing the group did, noting “we can do things a union can’t do, like secondary boycotts.”

The seminar benefited from the experience of its radical attendees sharing their history. Monica Hill discussed the 1973 strike at the University of Washington that resulted in higher pay for classified staff workers. Union electrician Kathleen Merrigan talked about campaigns against sexism waged at Seattle City Light. Annaliza Torres recalled her Filipino immigrant father Ponce Torres, who fought racism and xenophobia to form the Cannery Workers and Farm Labor Union in 1937.

Instructor Steve Hoffman wanted to “help folks realize they have a rich, brave, and innovative heritage to draw from” in fighting the bosses. And they did.

Patience Malaba, an organizer for Service Employees International Union, reported on vicious retaliation against Amazon security staff for union organizing. People immediately got involved.

And when Hoffman’s state worker union held an emergency rally against a threatened government shutdown, seminar members jumped in to make the event a success.

“We need fights to have wins,” declared instructor Maxine Reigel. By the seminar’s end, the truth of this simple lesson was left without a doubt.

— Karl Ross

Tunisian port union thwarts bigots

In August, angry fishermen blocked an anti-refugee boat from docking in the harbor town Zarzis, Tunisia. It was a blow for the organizers of the fascist group “Defend Europe” who were on the vessel named C-Star.

Their avowed mission? Stop African refugees from landing in Europe. Draped across the ship’s bow were banners in English and Arabic that read, “No Way. You will not make Europe home.”

The C-Star is run by a movement in France, Germany, Austria, Italy and the United Kingdom that falsely accuses refugee-rescue boats in the Mediterranean Sea of “illegally trafficking” people into Europe. “Defend Europe” is financially and politically supported by the Ku Klux Klan and other racist outfits in the U.S.

The bigoted rhetoric didn’t fly with unionized fisherman in North Africa. As a Tunisian port worker exclaimed, “Us let in racists here? Never!”

Before the showdown, Chamseddine Bourassine, a representative of the fisherman, stated, “If they come here, we’ll block the refueling channel. It is the least we can do given what is happening in the Mediterranean. Muslims and Africans are dying.” Over 10,000 people have drowned over the past three years trying to cross the sea.

The Tunisian unionists carried out a bold yet simple plan. Stop the C-Star from refueling. Other local groups took up the call, demanding that port officials refuse fuel, food and water. The tactic worked, and the C-Star was turned away.

These fishermen stood up to fascist thugs. Such direct action is what’s needed to stop Nazi groups. Union members across the globe will take to heart the lessons of these Tunisian workers. Concerted labor action can help stop the racists in their tracks.

— Margaret Viggiani