A lot of Occupiers who went out to support the strikers of Baker’s Union Local 125 were excited to be in the picket line, working toward an achievable short-term goal with that long-mythologized Occupy-hating community, “working folks”. The excitement was mutual. The striking workers, –many of them Latinos–were happy, if not curious, about their new allies and there was a general atmosphere of camaraderie. For several hours, beginning at 4 am, I and others put our bodies in front of “scab-mobiles” and confronted the odious security drones of Huffmaster, perhaps one of the most obnoxiously vile companies on earth.
The police presence was insane. Over a dozen squad cars, and an armored vehicle literally illustrated every anti-capitalist rant ever formulated. Nothing is more important to the city, county, state and federal government than the welfare of corporations. When low-wage candy workers form a picket line, city and county will send police to escort in the bosses; just as, when port workers go on strike, the President sends out the paramilitary Coast Guard to make sure that grain shipments enrich corporate bosses.
Workers new to striking, and on uncertain terrain legally, went from elated at the sight of a cavalry of activists, to abject despair when they saw the extent of political and institutional support their opponents enjoyed. Their hearts were broken when they watched the Union City Police Department literally working for the owners of the American Licorice Company. Subsequently, enough workers knowledgeable in the operation of the licorice making equipment crossed the line to make further struggle by the others, moot. A vote was had, and the decision was made to accept the original contract.
Later, when they resumed their positions, they learned that there had been almost nothing in the warehouse–the picket had been working. They’d been perhaps only days away from victory. But there were just too many forces arrayed against them; in addition to the help from police, and Huffmaster stormtroopers, the company was paying some workers to strike with the others, and relating intelligence back to management.
These double-agent strikers had even attended the liaison meetings between Occupiers and the workers. The company had plenty of money–even enough to pay ethics-deficient employees to literally do nothing–but not enough to cover paying for health insurance. Part of the conditions of return was an amnesty banning reprisals from the union or workers against the spies.
It was a humbling and tragic experience for workers and the solidarity activists who joined them. But it was also a first cautious and–on its own merits–successful, step towards the focusing of Occupy power for ongoing and aligned struggles. It won’t be the last.
[a very minor disappointment was that I had just started my fake Huffmaster twitter account]
*this post was written at Oscar Grant Plaza
Update: JoeyMRB sends in this video that shows police escorting a delivery truck through the strike and picket line. You can see Newark and Union City police badges here–there were also Fremont cops and Alameda County Sheriff’s there. It’s obvious that direct action by low wage workers is a dire emergency that requires a multi-agency response. I wonder if Homeland Security funds went into this.