Leaflet distributed by the IWG during the Kellogg’s strike in Lancaster, PA.
Right now, workers across the country are looking at the 1,400 worker strong strike of Kellogg’s workers as a glimmer of hope. Covid, lockdowns, and the economic crisis have made many in our class feel isolated and atomized but when fellow workers stand up and refuse to take the bosses’ shit anymore by going on strike, it provides a beacon which inspires other workers to also stand up in solidarity and refuse to get stepped on. That’s why in this country we are going through a strike wave, where workers are striking in numbers that are the highest in decades. But for these strikes to be effective we have to be conscious about the reasons why we as workers are facing attacks on our living conditions, and look at examples of other recent strikes to learn lessons for what to avoid and what to improve.
Longer hours, benefit cuts, and removal of wage protections are symptoms of a system in crisis, and are not an aberration
Workers at Kellogg’s have had to work 12-16 hour days, seven days a week, while their holiday and work benefits are cut. This is not normal for humans but this system has to resort to it to survive. For decades now the wages and living standards of the working class have been under increasingly greater assault by the ruling class, made up of all of the bosses and politicians. This fact shouldn’t come as a surprise, as it is well-known now that since the 1970s real wages have stagnated, while things like CEO pay have skyrocketed. The reality is that this isn’t just because our rulers are bad people but because their system based on profits has been in crisis. To raise their profit rates, the bosses resort to a variety of tools to reduce our conditions, such as by lowering wages, increasing work hours, and removing health and other benefits such as holidays or pensions. Kellogg’s workers are no strangers to this, or to the two-tier wage system that the company relies on. By making our work more and more precarious, classifying us as ‘temporary’ or ‘informal’, the bosses get away with lowering our wages even further. We have to recognize that this experience isn’t unique to Kellogg’s and that workers everywhere are experiencing this, especially since the Covid economic crisis. Additionally there is no escaping these attacks without ending this system based on profits.
We need to maintain solidarity with workers of Mexico and other countries
One of the ways that the bosses try to raise their profit rates is by removing factories and workplaces in countries like the United States, where workers have struggled for basic wages and labor protections, and exporting those factories to countries like Mexico or China, where workers’ labor can be exploited more. This is the reason why so many workers in the US, especially across the Rust Belt, have been stuck in a chronic state of unemployment. The bosses try to use the threat of exporting these jobs as a way to force workers here to accept worse and worse wages and living standards. Disputes over the outsourcing of jobs overseas emerge as sites of struggle for the working class but we have to be careful to avoid falling into the trap of nationalist slogans. We shouldn’t pose ourselves in opposition to and competition with workers in Mexico or anywhere else over jobs. Instead we should recognize those Mexican workers as fellow members of our class, and realize that if we struggle together across borders on our own class terrain, then we can make a unified offensive against the bosses. The struggle here can only ever survive and truly win if Mexican workers also struggle in solidarity. The bosses want us to be divided and competing with Mexican workers. Their game falls apart if we connect with each other and rise up together, because then the bosses are really powerless. We should reach out to Kellogg’s workers in Mexico to work together and subvert the bosses’ power.
Strikes are stronger when they cross industries and involve more workers
The bosses are counting on this strike remaining isolated as it is so that they can defeat the workers and carry on with their exploitative schemes. There have been many strikes like this one in recent history, where workers at a particular plant, or even many plants of a single company, go on strike over some grievance like wages or hours. But in countless cases the strike is defeated, or the workers go home with only a paltry ‘raise’ because their strike stayed separated from the rest of the class. Often companies can deal with some plants going on strike. What really messes with their operations is when workers in other sectors coordinate strikes in solidarity, or simply carry out supporting actions. An example of this could be transportation workers refusing to transport cargo from Kellogg’s. This would severely weaken the capacity of the bosses to hold out in this strike. Because it seems like the company is going to try to bring in workers to keep the plants here in Lancaster functioning, a good way to strengthen the strike would be to reach out to them and invite them to the struggle. Additionally, if workers in the rest of Lancaster or any other plant city went on strike in solidarity, the strike would be strengthened and the demands that workers make could become even more generalized and wide.
Unions hold back the struggle and workers should go beyond their framework
Workers are at their strongest when they fight on their own class terrain, unconstrained by the union bureaucrats which more often than not hold us back. Earlier this year workers at the Hunts Point Produce Market in NYC went on strike because of a decades-long lack of wage increases and negligence by the company as significant numbers died and were infected with Covid. The union took control of the struggle and from the start limited the demand to only a $1 raise. This strike gained national attention and the momentum was building on the workers’ side, but just as this momentum was building, the union went behind the backs of the workers, negotiated a deal with the bosses, and shoved it down the workers’ throats. This deal had only a 70 cent raise and 2 extra sick days, but the union tried to parade it as a win for workers. In reality, this was an example of unions carrying out their true role, serving as the means for negotiating the sale of the workers’ labor-power so that the bosses’ machine keeps functioning and workers get back to work. Our struggle is strongest when it is us that are in control, and not the union bureaucrats. Kellogg’s workers should form their own independent strike committees and mass assemblies outside of union control, as this way workers could fight for themselves as a class, and not as pawns of the union.
Internationalist Workers’ Group