Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Reflections on a Worker Action at Ralphs Headquarters, Compton, CA

For the third time in one day, several hundred grocery workers and clergy from CLUE presented a large-format letter to management, in this case, Ralphs. Other actions in the day, Albertsons and Vons.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011
10:00AM: Vons Headquarters, 618 Michillinda Ave., Arcadia, CA

12:00PM: Albertsons Headquarters, 1421 S. Manhattan Ave., Fullerton, CA 92831

: Ralphs Headquarters, 1100 W Artesia Blvd. Compton, CA 90220

I was at the third encounter.

We gathered in a Coco's parking lot, and with signs and water bottles, we walked several blocks beside the steel fences that walled in an entire section of Compton, the stronghold of Ralph's. At one of the gates, we were met by some officials, who guardedly "welcomed" us, but we could not enter the property beyond the gate. Plenty of guards were in appearance, although they waved at me when I waved at them (I think they understand that the fight for fare wages and decent benefits is their fight, too).

As I walked along the fence line, I thought: Corporate life is walled off from the world, like Fort Knox. When the VP of Marketing met us, a lady in her early 40s, I'd say, beautifully and expensively dressed, I asked if she had a religious tradition and she said, "Yes." I asked, "Which one?" and she said Baptist.

I looked at her expensive apparel and then I looked at the workers behind me - the women and men who cut and package our meat, who stock the shelves, who clean the floors, who check us out and bag our groceries - the gulf between the two worlds is huge, and I couldn't help but feel sorrow for the VP of Marketing - it's her job to sell groceries and make a profit. It's her job to "welcome" us and assure us that Ralph's is working hard to resolve this (hardly the case at all). It's her job, and I'm sure she's well-educated and grateful to be working. But did she see the workers standing at the gate, like Lazarus at the gate of the rich man? Does she ever feel the tension of the struggle between corporate profits and workers' right? Does she ever lose sleep over the ethical dilemmas of her work? She's in a position of power, but I wondered, "Who's her boss?" who gives the marching orders to her.

Ralph's is prepared to draw upon hundreds of millions of dollars, as needed, to stall the workers, and if Ralph's can't bust the union, at least try to cripple it. The company can afford to wait. The workers can't.

I was glad to be there. The People. That's what it's all about. And their right to work well, to earn a living wage, to have decent benefits. They're not asking for wealth, but health-care. They're not looking to live in a 6000 square-foot home, but they only want a roof over their heads, and maybe some assurance that there'll be enough income to provide for their children's future.

In America, the pie is big enough, if those in power are willing to settle for a smaller piece so that those on the lower tiers can have a piece slightly larger.

Is this too much to ask?

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