Year begins with solidarity, inspired rank and file action
WATSONVILLE, CA. — Cannery workers throughout California are gearing up for the new year. Frozen food workers from United Foods in Salinas and Modesto are continuing their strike, which just passed the half-year mark. Their goal is to at least maintain the prevailing wage and benefits levels won by the Watsonville strikers during their 18-month-long strike. This should be of help when, in February, the contract in Watsonville is reopened to negotiate wages and benefits.
The cannery owners want to use the reopener to push down wages and benefits. The Watsonville workers, on the other hand, see it as a chance to fight for an improvement in wages and benefits.
What happens during the February reopener will have a big and immediate impact on the wages and benefits of the approximately 10,000 cannery workers in the frozen foods sector of the industry.
Also, in July the contracts for 40,000 workers in the peach and tomato canning industry expire. The owners are already talking about wagand benefit cuts. Workers in the cannery sector of the industry, in the face of attacks on the Master Agreement, still are intent to fight to keep a uniform level of high wages which they have won in the past.
In union halls and homes throughout the central and coastal valleys of California,
the 70,000 mostly Chicana and Mexicana cannery workers are organizing, determined to defend their living standards and fight for the future of their families and communities.
Spirit of solidarity
Inspired by Watsonville, there has been an upsurge in rank and file activity. A new
generation of Chicano leaders has won union office in this past period, helping to usher
in greater Teamster union motion. A spirit of cooperation and solidarity can be felt
from Watsonville to Salinas to Modesto.
Watsonville workers at Nor-Cal overwhelmingly refused to process scab United Foods
broccoli and cauliflower, and have joined in United Foods picket lines, marches and fundraisers. Workers in locals affected by the contract expiration in July have already met to elect rank and file contract committees.
A surprise took place in negotiations with NorCal/Crosetti in Watsonville for
the February contract reopener. Sitting across the table, the company found not
only representatives of Watsonville Teamsters Local 912 but also representatives from
Local 748 in Modesto and Local 601 in Stockton.
This solidarity of union locals, combined with growing rank and file initiative and
organization, is laying the basis for a strong and formidable movement.
On January 23, the cannery workers movement will come together for a one day
conference, “Maintaining our Unity and Moving Forward,” called by Frank Gallegos,
head of Teamsters Local 890; Sergio Lopez, head of Local 912; and Gloria Betancourt
and Chavelo Moreno, president and treasurer, respectively, of Centro Jose H.
Lopez Para los Trabajadores de Caneria in Watsonville.
This growing struggle is involving not only the workers, but their families and the entire Chicano movement. In the wake of this battle for
better contracts and a decent standard of living comes the struggle of
Chicanos for equality in the unions and political representation in the city halls of the
small towns of California. This battle will also have a significant impact on the
future strength of the labor movement. A new movement is taking shape which promises to bring change to the agricultural valleys of California, as well as the whole