Much of what has written about why the United Food and Commercial Worker’s Union, representing those at Stop & Shop authorized to strike, and for what benefits, and the bloodless P.R counterpoints from Stop & Shop corporate miss a more looming, macrocosmic issue facing service and food industry work as a whole: automation and dignity.
Automation seems been one of the main grievances of the union. Stop and Shop, as well as Walmart, Amazon (another monolith that has recently run against entrenched unions in the NYC HQ2 debacle), McDonald’s workers, etc.—an extensive list, really—are in a dismal position within the workforce. On top of self-checkouts being use at some of those places already, Stop & Shop is slated to introduce large, Roomba-like robots (called Marty) to scan the aisles, perhaps in the process cutting out an increasing part of the already under-benefitted workforce. After all robots can never gripe about the lack of mobility and democracy in the workplace. And where an employee can become superfluous, a greater profit can be struck.
Though there is much solidarity with UFCW’s union authorization to strike, there are still some who perceive it to be excessive.
After all, according to Stop & Shop corporate, their workers are some of the highest paid within the industry, and to demand higher wages and better benefits would price them out of the market. But that argument has become a tired one…an argument that goes back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution itself when manufactories worried that unions and government regulations would cut out child labor all together. This may seem hyperbolic, but in the long game of combating corporate hegemony in America and throughout the world, the past is never dead.
Though one may concede (if applicable) that Stop & Shop workers are actually better paid than, say, Walmart or Price Chopper workers, we should understand the context under which the true problems facing our society exist and ask what wage is enough on which to live a decent life? The less the pay of the highest wage earner, the less the pay of the workers below them. It is easy to pit worker against worker in an increasingly competitive environment, but harder and yet more necessary to join with those whom we may not know, whose losses we may not have a personal stake in, and to understand that an injury against any worker, is an injury to us all.
As of writing this editorial, there is no strike—but what they, rather we, stand for is that our grievances be heard and understood, above all else…today, tomorrow, and for as long as we are dispensable to the system, that we fully retain our right to dignity and respect.
— Dan Raftery, Co-Chair of the Berkshire Democratic Socialists of America
I met Marty the robot yesterday for the first time in the North Adams Stop & Shop. Another woman and I were standing by seafood and both said at the same time, “How many jobs could have been created to do that?” The seafood clerk said it cost $50,000 and that he liked it. I said, “You won’t like it so much when it’s wrapping fish behind that counter.”