Supermarkets and the Future of the Middle Class

SUPERMARKETS AND THE FUTURE OF THE MIDDLE CLASS….This whole grocery store strike had me kind of depressed last night. Why, I wondered, do liberals seem so lukewarm toward supporting working class unions these days? Why do so many of them seem unsympathetic to the fact that yet another industry is trying to cut wages and reduce health benefits for their middle class workers?

But I felt better when I read this today:

A spot check of major markets revealed near-empty aisles and parking lots. Meanwhile, UFCW members rallied with other union members and supporters around Southern California.

“It’s a tremendous morale booster,” Ellen Anreder, a UFCW spokeswoman, said from a rally attended by hundreds in La Habra. “And what’s really interesting is that this is happening all over Southern California. I can’t get to the rallies quickly enough.”

….A Vons in Montebello seemed practically deserted Saturday morning, with fewer than a half-dozen customers and workers. One check stand was open. A large portion of the deli section was empty, and the produce department had several empty bins.

Kevin Murphy, who describes himself as libertarian-right, says he nonetheless thinks “the union is dead right on this one,” and examines management’s offer here. In short, it sucks.

But read the comments to his post too. One commenter basically says unskilled labor doesn’t deserve to make much money, and they’re just being greedy. Another says that she has to pay for health coverage, so why shouldn’t they?

I can hardly express how destructive I think these attitudes are. The American dream was built on the back of a decently paid middle class, and that middle class largely worked in unionized manufacturing jobs. Those jobs are declining, and today’s working class high school graduates are far more likely to work for Safeway than they are to work for General Motors. So if we decide that these kinds of jobs don’t deserve more than $20-30,000 a year, we can just wave goodbye to the American middle class.

Safeway got itself into this mess through bad management and ill-advised acquisitions, but instead of firing their CEO they’ve decided to take it out on their workers instead. Don’t let it work.

Don’t cross the picket line.

UPDATE: As Atrios correctly notes, it’s worth pointing out that only Vons is being struck. In a show of management solidarity, Albertsons and Ralphs responded by locking out union workers.

Since these three chains control most of the Southern California grocery market, this has the effect of making the strike far more inconvenient for shoppers and thus makes the union look far more militant than it really is. It also makes the strike much more expensive for the union to maintain.

Don’t fall for it. If they can show solidarity, so can we. Don’t cross the picket line.