I have to cheer when workers take collective action to defend dignified working conditions. So I was happy to stop by the picket line outside the Demoulas Market Basket Supermarket in Concord for a chat with some of the workers this afternoon.
Three workers were out on the road, waving signs and collecting honks from motorists. Others were by the doorways, hanging out with fellow workers who were on the job. Workers are even making picket signs inside the store. They don’t have a union and the workers I talked to don’t want one. This is the strangest strike I’ve ever observed.
Strangest of all: their demand is to win reinstatement of the company’s paternalistic CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, who workers say has treated them well.
The chain’s 71 stores have been open since the labor conflict erupted two weeks ago. The issue is a conflict within the Demoulas family, which has been squabbling for years. When Arthur T. was deposed by the company’s board, workers revolted, from management to entry-level. The stores are open but the shelves are getting bare, especially since the regional distribution center is mostly shut down.
The Boston Globe has provided a useful chronology.
Austin, who was waving a sign on Fort Eddy Road in Concord this afternoon, said the struggle has “a lot of union aspects,” but said the workers have no interest in forming an actual union. Apparently they believe their interests are being adequately represented by others who are at the negotiating table with the Demoulas family and the Board of Directors.
I told him my own activist career started, in a sense, as a participant in supermarket picket lines during the United Farm Workers boycotts of the 1970s. He has heard of Cesar Chavez and says the Demoulas workers have had supportive visits from union reps.
Demoulas workers say that under Arthur T. they have been treated well, prices have been kept lower than in other chains, and customers have been happy. Their fear is that the Board will discard profit-sharing and other policies that make Demoulas a good place to work.
Brianna, who has been working as a cashier for a year, has been happy with her wages and says there’s been no talk of unionizing. She just wants everything to go back to the way it was.
What I wonder is whether workers who have gotten a taste of their power will go back to what she called “normal.” “Normal” has a way of changing.