L.A. labor rallies to build unity with grocery workers, stop neighborhood disruption
Rally outside a Ralph's grocery story in L.A., July 9. | PW

LOS ANGELES—In a rally of solidarity Tuesday afternoon, July 9, the United Food and Commercial Workers union assembled hundreds of their members at the entrance to Ralphs grocery store located in the neighborhood of Western Ave. and 6th  St. Dozens of other unions, including Firefighters, participated and had members there in support. Other names from a list of supporting unions were read by speakers standing on the back of a flatbed truck which served as an open-air stage for speakers.

When Ralphs, Vons, and Albertsons are trying to disrupt people’s lives by forcing grocery workers to strike, nothing is stronger than neighborhoods and unions when they unite to protect their communities.

The Rev. James Lawson, a living icon in the Black religious community and a nationally known fighter for the rights of workers and social justice, spoke, saying, “U.S.A. plantation capitalism has never been ended.” He went on: The “working world and the religious world must call to dismantle plantation capitalism.” He led the crowd to understand that a strike is nothing new in the face of the exploitation because 3,170 years ago in Egypt the exploited class of slaves used the strike to end the cruel conditions they suffered.

Marcos Escalante, who has worked at the same grocery store for 24 years in the Echo Park neighborhood, mounted the platform and spoke about how one job is not enough to make it because of low wages. People are needing two and in some cases even three jobs to live decently and meet the high cost of living. Marcos has been re-elected head union steward at his job site for the last 20 years and is an integral part of the store where he works.

Rally outside a Ralph’s grocery story in L.A., July 9. | PW

Workers living in communities and working in the businesses in those communities are what brings those communities to life, making them places to grow their families and live out their lives. In large part, how happy those lives are depends on how good a job you have.

Herb Wesson, president of the Los Angeles City Council, seeing wide ranger of union and community support, said that the grocery corporations were not just going up against Local 770 of the grocery workers union but against the “entire house of labor” everywhere. His last comments were in Spanish, “Unidos podemos más” (Together, we can do more).

Ron Herrera, Teamsters International vice president of the Western Region, secretary-treasurer of Local 396, executive director of the National Hispanic Caucus, and trustee of Joint Council 42, has been a Teamster since 1975. From the truck stage, Herrera’s words drew great cheers from the crowd when he said that there are 160,000 Teamsters in Southern California and that if the grocery workers have to go on strike “not a single truck will cross a union picket line.” This commitment had been unanimously approved in a meeting of the Teamsters’ joint council.

This action on behalf of the UFCW “reminds us why we call one another brother and sister in a union,” Herrera continued. “One job should be enough! We will win! Sí se puede!” He also made union solidarity very clear when he got the crowd to answer a call and response, repeating several times, “If you walk / WE HONOR!”…“If you walk / WE HONOR!”…“If you walk / WE HONOR!”

Father Richard Estrada from the Church of the Epiphany in the Lincoln Heights community was present, as were other clergy. Havana-born Rev. Pastor Juan Carlos Durruthy of the United Methodist Church, a faith-rooted organizer for Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice, commented in Spanish, “We can no longer support being run over by these corporations, and we are struggling for dignity and justice as workers.”

As a member of the National Writers Union Local 1981 UAW, I felt very fortunate and proud to be part of the house of labor and a “worker of the word” joining my sisters and brothers in defense of their livelihood and lives. We don’t want to strike, but we are ready to fight because we wish to live peacefully and decently in our neighborhoods and communities. Ralphs, Vons, and Albertsons, you cannot do what you want or do as you please! We will be respected!


CONTRIBUTOR

Ismael Parra
Ismael Parra

Ismael Parra is a writer and activist living in Los Angeles.

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