We Have Nothing to Lose But Our Grains

Solidarity with Striking Workers

On October 5, around 1,400 Kellogg’s workers at four different US plants began a strike after the company drafted a new labour contract that denied workers benefits previously provided by the company. Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union (BCTGM) president Anthony Shelton said the following on the issue: “Kellogg’s response to these loyal, hardworking employees has been to demand these workers give up quality health care, retirement benefits, and holiday and vacation pay. The company continues to threaten to [outsource labour] if workers do not accept outrageous proposals that take away protections that workers have had for decades.” This is after workers worked “seven days a week, 16 hours a day” during COVID-19 lockdowns, according to Kellogg’s employee and union president Trevor Bidelman, while executive earnings and bonuses increased significantly. 

This isn’t the first large-scale strike that has taken place this year: in the past few months, two other member groups of the BCTGM – Frito-Lay and Nabisco workers – went on strike for better working conditions, better pay, and more time off. Prior to this, the most recent strikes affecting these companies took place in 1973 and 1969, respectively. Both resulted in improved conditions, pay, and benefits for workers. Earlier this year, Volvo Trucks workers in Virginia went on strike, successfully securing a new labour contract that included a signing bonus, increased wages, and more. Currently, 10,000 John Deere employees are striking in response to a new labour contract, the first strike at the company in over three decades. In the entertainment sector, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), a union representing tens of thousands of film and TV crew members, will begin a strike on October 18 unless a deal is met. 60,000 production workers in the industry would strike for the first time since the 1940s, effectively bringing production of film and television in the US to a halt. Approximately 24,000 healthcare workers in California and Oregon just voted to authorize a strike on October 14 after months of bargaining for fairer wages.

While these strikes are taking place in the US, Canadian unions are following suit: Alberta Real Canadian Superstore union members served Loblaws a strike notice in September, Quebec daycare workers are currently on a rotating strike, and Canadian Union of Public Employees locals in New Brunswick (who represent 22,000 workers in the province) voted in favour of a strike earlier this month. Across industries, across borders, workers are standing in solidarity to improve conditions for the working class. The labour movement is being revitalized: in the US and Canada, tens of thousands of workers are striking, putting immense pressure on companies to provide fair working conditions.

While not all of these strikes succeeded in obtaining every improvement they advocated for, all have resulted in improved working conditions. Strikes get results, whether it be increased wages and bonuses, better hours, ending mandatory overtime, guaranteed time off, benefits, or annual pay raises. Striking sets a precedent for other unions; they encourage workers to advocate for change in their respective workplaces.

Anti-union rhetoric, often perpetuated by management within workplaces, as well as larger figures, including CEOs and politicians, has obstructed workers’ liberation and made organizing an uphill battle. Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos is notoriously anti-union, and Amazon employees have reported that management engages in active union-busting efforts. Their anti-union campaign allegedly includes targeting and firing pro-union employees, even stalking and spying on them to gain information on organizing initiatives. The Intercept reported on Amazon’s anti-union tactics at their Alabama factory, where Amazon hired RWP Labor, a specialty firm that assists companies in “maintaining a union free workplace.” A management-side attorney estimated the amount Amazon spent on anti-union consultants was in the millions. Unfortunately, no US Amazon factory has successfully unionized – yet. In spite of these unsuccessful efforts, it is important to remember the labour movement has always been “about failing forward. […] Workers trying, workers losing, workers trying again.” With unionization efforts galvanizing labour rights movements across the continent, workers are growing more and more empowered. 

Despite corporations’ best efforts, the number of large-scale strikes in the US this year alone displays a trend of workers recognizing the power dynamics at play in their workplaces, recognizing their value as workers, and successfully organizing as a result. The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to labour rights and inequities present in most workplaces, especially in regards to safety: lack of safety protections for workers, no paid sick days, and no hazard pay, among others. As companies complain of labour shortages (i.e. workers choosing not to work for below liveable wages or in unsafe conditions), workers are putting themselves in strong positions for bargaining. The number of manufacturing strikes that have taken place this year alone show the momentum gained by workers: the more high profile successful strikes that take place, the more workplaces are inspired to strike for their rights. 

As consumers, it is our responsibility to support these actions: Kellogg’s workers are asking that we stand in solidarity with their strike efforts by boycotting Kellogg’s products. Striking and boycotting work in tandem to put pressure on corporations to take their workers’ concerns seriously.

However, the mission of these actions is to support the cause as much as you are personally able; minimize your purchase of Kellogg’s goods, be ready to cancel your streaming services in support of IATSE, and support other boycotts, like the ongoing calls to boycott Amazon. Shaming others for their inability to fully participate in a boycott is unproductive and often ignores the needs of disabled people. Nonetheless, it is crucial to express solidarity with workers in any way possible. Support your local unions, unionize your workplace, and participate in strikes and boycotts however you can.