By Phil Wilayto
for The Virginia Defender – virginiadefender.org
HENRICO COUNTY, VA, Sept. 19 — It was a beautiful scene today outside the Mondelez industrial bakery in eastern Henrico County, as a jubilant crowd of union members gathered to celebrate their victory over the Chicago-based Mondelez corporation, one of the largest snack makers in the country.
“WE WON!” read a sign held high by one of the workers, while smiles and high-fives drove that message home.
The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union had beaten back an attempt by the company to cut the good wages and benefits the workers have won over the years.
Adding insult to injury, the company was demanding the cuts at a time when its profits are soaring, nearly doubling in the latest quarter as so many people, forced to stay home during the pandemic, have been increasing their consumption of such well-known Mondelez brands as Oreo and Chips Ahoy! cookies, Wheat Thins and Triscuit and Ritz crackers.
The company tried to keep up production during the strike with scabs (so-called “replacement workers”), but union members and their supporters had maintained a militant, 24/7 picket line outside the bakery since Aug. 16.
Henrico was the third BCTGM local to go out on strike, joining their union sisters and brothers at Mondelez bakeries in Chicago and Portland, Ore., as well as three distribution centers. Altogether, the strike involved about 1,000 workers.
More than 400 workers are employed at the Henrico County bakery, making it an important part of the overall strike effort. Some 60-70 percent are African-American, with many women workers. It has been especially inspiring to see the unity between these workers, Black and white, women and men, as they stood together against the company.
Union struggles are rare in the Richmond area, and this one has inspired workers across the region. Encouraged by the Virginia AFL-CIO, members of other unions came to join the picket line, bringing supplies and solidarity. Other supporters included the Richmond chapters of the DSA and IWW, as well as the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, which publicized the strike, brought supplies and made a $100 contribution to the union’s strike fund.
With employers crying that they can’t find workers to take their low-wage jobs, now is a good time for organized labor to increase its ranks by organizing the unorganized. The successful Mondelez strike shows that working people – when united and determined – can win.
It’s a lesson we can all be grateful to the BCTGM union members for showing us.
A longer analysis of lessons from the strike will appear in the Autumn issue of The Virginia Defender, due out Oct. 20.