Community solidarity wins Pepsi strike
by Erwin Marquit MINNEAPOLIS: Thanks to labour-community solidarity, members of Teamsters Local 792 ended their 79-day strike on August 28 with a victory over the Pepsi Bottling Group that serves the twin-cities area of Minneapolis and St Paul. By a vote of 257 to 114, the workers accepted a new contract that provides a 2.7 percent raise in each of its two years, reduction of the retirement age with full pension benefits to 55 from 62, increases in pension pay and reduction of the amount that retirees must pay for health-care insurance. Those voting against the agreement wanted to continue the strike until Pepsi was ready to match the gains won recently at the Coca-Cola bottling plant. The failure to match the Coke agreement was the reason the union agreed to a two-year contract instead of the usual three years. Dan Boden, Local 792's business agent, told the People's Weekly World that he hoped the union would be able to restore parity with Coke during their next round of negotiations. The strategy that developed in the strike was a lesson in the importance of labour unity and labour-community solidarity. Shortly after the strike began, the union issued a call for a boycott of Pepsi products and began leafleting and distributing "Boycott Pepsi" buttons and balloons at local festivals featuring Pepsi booths. Local 792 also sponsored radio ads about the strike issues. Pepsi countered with store subsidies and giveaways and made up for the lost production by shipping its products from its bottling plant in Mankato, Minn., 80 miles to the south. Mankato production workers, but not drivers, are unionised. Leaders of Local 792 welcomed the formation of a solidarity committee. Some 25 people from Local 792 leadership and other unions and community groups (including a Central America solidarity organisation and the Communist Party) met to develop a strategy for winning the strike. The Community Strike Support Committee laid out a plan for rallies and leafleting at the leading supermarkets. Bill Pearson, President of Local 789 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, followed up by sending out letters to the supermarket managers urging them to pressure Pepsi to settle. Two supermarket chains, Rainbow Foods and Cub Foods, take 70 percent of the bulk shipments of Pepsi products in the Twin Cities area. Intervention by the Rainbow Foods management did indeed lead Pepsi to resume negotiations broken off after the union rejected Pepsi's "final offer". The solidarity committee began leafleting Cub Foods in Mankato August 23. Pepsi offered to settle the strike the next day, just two days before a major rally scheduled by the solidarity committee in front of the showcase store of Cub Foods in its headquarters city of Stillwater. Twin Cities unions and community groups had planned to bring perhaps 1,000 supporters to this demonstration. Pepsi had sent the union attorneys a letter demanding the rally be called off, implying that it was in violation of the Taft-Hartley Law ban on secondary boycotts. But it was the solidarity committee and not the union that was sponsoring the rally. According to Business Agent Dan Boden, these solidarity actions played a key role in winning the strike. Local 792 Secretary-Treasurer Larry Yoswa was quoted by the Star Tribune as saying that "Pepsi has never been beaten anywhere in the US. They had never changed a final offer." This victory in which solidarity actions played a key role is the third this year in the Twin Cities area. Hundreds of union supporters from other unions and community organisations guaranteed a successful turnout for a recognition rally called by the United Food and Commercial Workers at a cattle-butchering plant in South St Paul, despite the fact that management prevented the workers from the attending the rally by forced overtime. Mass protests over Holiday Inn's attempt to use the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to deport undocumented workers who supported an organising drive by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) led to an agreement that the INS would not enter situations in which there was a labour dispute. A solidarity committee participated in the organisation of rallies, marches and strike support to help HERE win a strike against eight major hotels and avoid one at a ninth.