marketbasket

Market Basket Workers Claim Victory

Read our previous article on the strike here.

An air of open jubilation has seized Market Basket workers and their supporters as restocking of shelves throughout the 71-store New England grocery chain begins. A deal was reached August 27 under which ousted CEO Arthur T. Demoulas would buy out the interests of his hated family rivals, regaining control over operations.

marketbasketThis outcome satisfies the sole concrete issue motivating the strike.

Workers had been encouraged by lower-level managers to paralyze all aspects of operations for 40 days, from warehouse to distribution to stocking to accounts payable to vendor relations. These previously unorganized workers followed through with great enthusiasm, showing workers in union shops an idea of what union power is capable of achieving, once it is organized and mobilized.

In the aftermath of claiming victory, workers throughout the company are busily pitching in to get operations back up to speed as quickly as possible. Estimates are that it will take at least seven days to approach full service at all locations once again.

A newly found self-confidence now animates the 25,000 employees of Market Basket. In the course of this fight they got their first taste of what it means to exercise the power they are just now discovering lies within their grasp. Nothing moves without the kind permission of the workers. As long as they maintain unity among their ranks, and maintain strong ties of solidarity within the community, the workers can call the tune.

Market Basket workers could find themselves tested sooner rather than later, as the terms of the buyout may very well oblige the restored management to secure extra short-term financial resources through the raising of prices and the lowering of wages and benefits. When—and not “if”—this comes about, the workers will in turn face the need to strengthen the ties they began to make among themselves throughout the enterprise in order to take renewed action in defense of their own livelihoods against management’s moves.

Capitalists wary

Boston-area capitalists have been watching this situation with a mixture of awe and alarm.

The insurgent management team that fired Arthur T. clearly misjudged the situation, and when faced with a unified opposition to its moves from employees, along with massive and visible solidarity from the community, failed to organize a retreat in order to better prepare itself.

Instead it sat, stunned and silent, watching tens of millions of dollars drain away, threatening the very survival of the grocery chain.

They faced withering criticism from other leading spokespeople for the Boston capitalist class, such as former John Hancock Insurance CEO David D’Alessandro, who was quoted by The Boston Globe as having “never witnessed a board behaving this badly. A good one, he said, would have resolved this crisis in a week.”

Another Globe article cited a self-criticism by one local business advisor: “‘It was an unprececented situation, and it defies everything we thought we knew about how businesses are run and who has the power,’ said Daniel Korschun, a fellow at the Center for Corporate Reputation Management at Drexel University. ‘Many scholars, myself included, are eating crow right now.’”

The Globe noted, “Anxious at the deteriorating finances of the company, the Market Basket board of directors was considering a plan to shutter 61 of the chain’s 71 stores and lay off most of its 25,000 employees if the negotiations between the warring Demoulas camps carried on much longer.”

The executive power of the capitalist class in two states, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, was mobilized as the governors of both states intervened with the board to try to get it to come to terms with its hopeless situation. The potential social impact of 25,000 suddenly unemployed workers, combined with the looming blow to New England’s food distribution economy, compelled capitalism’s political machinery to take a direct hand in the negotiations.

The terms of surrender by Market Basket’s board were simply the sale of all their shares in the company to the restored CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, for $1.64 billion. He had to borrow two-thirds of that sum, though, and servicing that debt could very well transform the business model that won him so much support in the past.

As an August 28 Globe column warned, “Who knows if Market Basket will ever be the same, make as much money after all it has been through, or whether it will have to do business differently. But one thing’s for sure: It will give workers and corporate chieftains pause about how much power they each really have.”

Nothing has changed—but everything has changed

Because of the strange combination of interests and class forces that came together in this perfect storm, striking workers did not have to face the wrath of the armed might of the state, as is almost invariably the case when workers attempt to shut down production in defense of their own interests.

They did not have to face the problem—this time—of organized strikebreakers being hired by the company to take over their jobs and revive production.

Because they did not face a united front of opposition from the entire capitalist class and an associated campaign of vilification from the big-business media, they won a relatively painless victory, costing only a few weeks of lost take-home pay—they faced no arrests, no bail money, no fines, no picketline deaths or injuries.

And, because they did not bear the entire weight of the struggle on their own shoulders, they were able to win without having previously organized themselves into a solid union formation throughout the company.

Now that the long-term divisions within the ownership of Market Basket have been resolved, in future conflicts over the company’s course they will increasingly find themselves on their own. Consequently, they are well advised to turn their attention now towards strengthening the roots of organization of the workforce that were planted during the walkout, as well as cementing the ties of solidarity with other workers and the community at large that helped them win.

This is just the beginning of the story.

The self-confidence that the Market Basket workers have won in the course of this struggle can be an invaluable contribution to their own future strength, if they see fit to deepen their gains through permanent, democratic union organization.

 

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