by Jeff Saviano
UPS Strike a Good Reminder to Get Out and Hear Workers' Perspectives
The UPS strike is more or less 'over,' though technically the company and the Teamsters have reached only a tentative agreement.
Did the strike matter? Depends on whom you ask, but generally friends and foes of labor alike felt that UPS workers and the broader union movement gained a lot from this apparent victory.
The striking workers weren't just challenging UPS. They were challenging current trends in corporate behavior: using part-time workers to do nearly full-time work at part-time pay and benefits, subcontracting work out to avoid paying benefits, playing games with workers' pensions, or acting as though workers have little to do with creating company profits-in the case of UPS estimated to be around $1.5 billion.
I was happy to see that so many members of the public saw this broader aspect of the strike very clearly and even supported this challenge.
David Kirsh and I visited local 391's picket line at the Eubanks Road UPS facility, Orange County, about a week before the strike 'ended' to hear these workers' points of view. I returned a week later when the 'tentative agreement' on returning to work had been announced.
In their early stages, strikes are great interruptions of work routines and so energize people. When David and I dropped by people were happy and proud to be on the lines. "Only one scab crossed the picket line," they kept bragging to us. A dead copperhead marked his betrayal.
We had a great conversation, nearly all of it off the record. Had more people heard workers speak in detail of their concerns, then maybe there would have been fewer arrogantly uninformed commentators who described striking UPS workers as robots blindly following the orders of Ron Carey. Unfortunately, most interviews I saw with strikers were very, very brief and focused on the question of how workers would cope with the hardship of the strike.
Mainstream media coverage of the strike was quite honest and fair, in my opinion. That is, understood within the context of the deeply anti-labor attitudes adopted by mainstream media sources. If my impressions are correct, then perhaps that openness was (in part) why so many people defied expectations and supported the striking workers. (Or perhaps it's the other way around.)
(I apologize to members whose quotes didn't make it; a few of the first interviews never quite made it onto the tape.)
In this society we receive much encouragement to think of ourselves according to different parts of who we are: as consumers, as taxpayers, as women, as youth, as sports fans, as gardeners, etc.
With luck and much help, this paper could be able to present more perspectives from people who think about issues from the point of view of people as workers-and not just when it's strike or crisis time.
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