By Don McIntosh
The strike that began Aug. 10 at the Portland Nabisco bakery is turning into a closely watched nationwide struggle against corporate greed. Joining Portland, other members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco, and Grain Millers (BCTGM) shut down Nabisco bakeries in Richmond, Virginia, on Aug. 16 and Chicago on Aug. 19, as well as distribution centers near Denver and Atlanta. All told about 1,000 BCTGM members are on strike.
The strike is to oppose company demands for major economic concessions at a time when Mondelez-Nabisco is in record profit territory. Two demands in particular are galling: Nabisco wants to divide union members by making new hires pay more for health insurance. And after more than a year of extreme overtime and nonstop weekend work, Nabisco proposes to eliminate the hard-won pay premiums that compensate workers when they make those sacrifices. If—as the bumper sticker says—the labor movement is the folks who brought you the weekend, then Mondelez-Nabisco is staking out a position as the folks who want to take the weekend away.
And the fight is getting dirty. At 6 a.m. Aug. 17, Day 8 of the strike, scabs supplied by the strikebreaking specialist Huffmaster started arriving by bus at the Portland plant. So far they’re showing up in relatively small numbers, and strikers think the plant is not producing much, yet.
Then on Aug. 31, the company cut off health insurance benefits for strikers and their families.
The roughly 200 members of BCTGM Local 364 in Portland are now in their fourth week of the strike, and only two are said to have crossed the picket line. On the 24-7 picket line, spirits seem to be holding up so far, and have been buoyed by an extraordinary and unrelenting outpouring of solidarity. The strikers’ struggle has energized the local labor movement and won considerable national attention.
First to support them were fellow Nabisco workers, 33 maintenance mechanics in Machinists Local 63 and nine electricians in IBEW Local 48. They honored the picket line and stayed off the job since day one, along with a handful of stationary engineers in Operating Engineers Local 701. And that’s not all. Teamster truck drivers are refusing to make deliveries or pick up product. And railroad workers have so far declined to make deliveries of raw ingredients.
Meanwhile, Portland DSA and Portland Jobs with Justice have organized spirited strike support rallies every Saturday morning since the week the strike began. The rallies have drawn hundreds of union members and community supporters, including elected leaders like Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal.
At the Aug. 28 rally, over 100 supporters peeled away from union picketers and marched to a nearby Fred Meyer grocery store, which they briefly occupied, chanting “Support the strike! Boycott Nabisco!” to cheers and fist pumps from some shoppers….