“Everybody is so happy the strike is over.” That’s the line in the news tonight, as we learn the two-week strike at Stop & Shop ends.
You can tell local reporters went out with a happy-news line of questions when they interviewed customers outside the stores. “Isn’t it great? Tell me how great it is!” Reporters come loaded with their story line. They don’t even have to chat you up to get a quotation they like. We’re wired to accommodate them, not argue with them.
Well, I’ll argue. Workers should always have a right to organize, negotiate, and strike, but no more than any other group in our republic, they do not have a right to coerce. Built into strikes from the start has been use of force and violence. Strikers reason they must block alternate workers, or scabs as strikers used to call them, to succeed. Since management can use vehicles and escorts to bring strike breakers in, strikers feel obliged to use force in return. As a bargaining method, strikes have intimidation and coercion, and consequent potential for aggressive violence, built in.
As a newer development – now that owners do not so readily bring strike breakers in to work during a strike – strikers picket the place of business to prevent customers from entering. Note that the simple meaning of ‘picket’ is to blockade a workplace. To use a blockade to prevent customers from entering is a big mistake. People do not forget this kind of behavior. Strikers explicitly reject the community of interest among owners, workers, and customers that exists when a business succeeds.
When they set up a blockade, they may appeal for your support, but actually they just want to deprive their employer of revenue – revenue, one might add, that would fund their demands. That’s under the non-coercive, community-of-interest model. Under the coercive model, strikers blockade parking lots, a visible police presence aids their effort, and in fact few people enter the store. I did not care to slip around the blockade, I can tell you that.
Customers are not a party to the dispute. Strikers do not have a privilege to block property owned or leased by the company that employs them. Customers may or may not support the strike, but the union that organizes the strike should not, and legally cannot, block people from entering the business. At the least, they lose a lot of good will for themselves.
People like me think, if they treat me this way – as a pawn in their dispute – what does that communicate about their attitude toward me when it’s business as usual? They just want my money, right? Why should I spend that cash to support a business where workers block me out to screw their employer, then welcome me back after they win?
I wish I could say I’m not going to patronize Stop & Shop anymore. They sell my favorite chocolate bar for less than I can get it elsewhere. They are convenient to where I swim. As the strike dragged through its second week, I started to think about the best alternatives. I’ll continue to do so. Plenty exist.
People like to shop where they feel welcome, where they feel good when they go in, and better when they go out. It’ll be some time before I feel that way about Stop & Shop again. Workers may have blockaded their stores politely, but they still used symbolic coercion, and numerous physical blockades to prevent store traffic. I wish they thought more of me. I do not like to be used as a tool in someone else’s dispute.