Bread and Roses Heritage Festival, Lawrence MA
In a sense the heroes of Labor Day 2014 are the employees of the Demoulas Market Basket supermarket chain, from part-time baggers all the way up to CEO Arthur T. Demoulas, whose dismissal six weeks ago prompted a mass walk-out and consumer boycott that brought him back to the company’s helm. It was an unusual example of labor solidarity, to say the least.
To re-cap, when Arthur T. was ousted as CEO by stockholders led by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, middle managers walked out, truck drivers stopped making deliveries, baggers and clerks made protest signs during their shifts, and customers heeded the call of workers for a boycott. Five weeks later, August 27, Arthur T’s bid to buy out his rivals was accepted and workers and shoppers returned to the stores scattered across Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine.”
[See earlier post, “Bring Back the Boss.”]
I talked to two of the workers, Dave and Jordan, at the doorway of the Fort Eddy Road Market Basket in Concord, New Hampshire last Thursday, the morning after the deal was announced. They run the produce department, but with no produce on the shelves they were spending their shift welcoming customers back to the store after a five-week boycott and strike.
Dave said he had been “ready to battle to the end,” and that in the end “we hit them in the pocket.”
“We won,” said one smiling shopper. “Congratulations,” said another. “Those asses don’t know their asses from their elbows,” commented a third. “Thank you for your resolve,” added a fourth. Speaking of the customers who did their shopping elsewhere during the job action, Dave said, “We did it together.”
“There’s a power there,” commented Robert Forrant, a professor of history at UMASS Lowell, speaking four days later in the labor history tent at the 30th annual Bread and Roses Heritage Festival in Lawrence, MA. The Demoulas story is “evidence of collective action, workers and consumers working together.”
“If there are no workers, there is no production,” Forrant said. While that may be as basic a statement about the power of labor as one could make, it’s not one that has produced many compelling and successful examples in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in the 21st century. So far.
“If I was a fast food worker, this would inspire me to think solidarity was possible,” said Forrant, who received this year’s Labor Day Heritage Festival Hall of Fame Award.
The festival also featured the first annual wreath-laying ceremony at the monument to the 1912 strike commemorated by the Bread and Roses Festival. There, too, Demoulas workers were front and center. “This monument speaks to me,” said Steve Paulenka, one of several company executives fired for instigating protests. “Remember what they did and why they did it.”
We should also remember the summer of 2014, “when a whole lot of ordinary folks got together and made extraordinary things happen,” Paulenka continued.
Professor Forrant says it’s too early to know whether the Demoulas struggle is one for the history books. But in 1912, he said, no one knew the Bread and Roses strike would inspire workers decades later.
Flowers laid at memorial to the 1912 Bread and Roses strike