Wave of Strikes Hits Major US Industries
No longer are service workers sitting idly by as wages decrease and prices increase
108 workers at the Elkhart Products factory in Elkhart, Indiana have been on strike for roughly a month, citing the new contract they were offered by Aalberts Industries, a Dutch firm. This transnational connection confirms the late Samir Amin’s analysis of imperialism; “[s]mall and medium-sized companies, and even large ones…are enclosed in networks of control established by the monopolies upstream and downstream”. The new contract does not meet any of the demands of the workers such as an extra 70 cents an hour, a fairer insurance scheme, and reasonable amounts of vacation and sick days. I conducted an interview with CJ Smith, a former Elkhart Products employee whose wife still works for the company. Smith argued that Aalberts Industries would “never be able to get away with this type of contract” in their ‘home’ country of The Netherlands because of strong unions and labor movements historically which have cemented European social democracy. He also noted that this is their strategy, “they rule from afar”. According to the Aalberts Industries website, their buyout of Elkhart products, “...puts Aalberts Industries in the top position in the world market for copper fittings”. This buyout happened in 2004, and at the time of the merger:
Elkhart Products Corporation (EPC), is one of the three biggest players in the North American market. EPC concentrates on the wholesaler market, where it has an estimated market share of 35%. EPC’s 10% share of the retail market makes it the third largest retail supplier.
As of 2022, EPC has a revenue of $55.4 million per year. With control of EPC, Aalberts Industries has a strong position in the North American copper fittings industry. According to Smith, this market position, and the revenue brought in by EPC and Aalberts Industries is due to the exploitation of the laborers. Smith continued, “they [Aalberts Industries] have hired high-priced labor attorneys, we believe, to break the union…we are the wall that's standing for everyone here in this area so the corporations don't have another win”. EPC/Aalberts Industries have hired scabs to cover the shifts at the plant and have even offered $1/hour more than striking workers make and a $1,000 sign-on bonus. According to some of the striking workers and people familiar with the situation on the ground, these scabs have emerged from the plant with visible facial and bodily sores from improper use of chemicals. This is reminiscent of when office managers at striking John Deere factories were crashing equipment due to improper training. Smith told me that these scabs hired in the last few weeks are receiving one day of training before operating a plant that uses corrosive chemicals and other dangerous materials.
This all comes amidst a rise in strike activity across the USA. According to research from Cornell University, there have been 180 strike actions involving 78,000 workers in the first 6 months of 2022. The Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way, the major railroad workers union, is dangerously close to a strike that could further cripple the entire–already crippled–US economy if it goes through. These strikes in the US also include nurses in Minnesota, timber workers in Oregon and Washington, teachers in Ohio and Washington, and metal casting workers in Kokomo, Indiana. Workers from the parasitic Starbucks corporation are forming unions at a breakneck speed in the United States as well. This is representative of the corrosion of the consumer society, no longer are service workers sitting idly by as wages decrease and prices increase. The United States, as the premier imperialist power in the capitalist world system, has been facing a serious economic downturn since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and especially now under the Biden regime. Gas prices and food prices have increased the most as Americans struggle to find work and stay healthy.
I met the striking workers and their families at a fish fry on Saturday, October 15th. Proceeds from the fish fry went to the strike fund so that these workers–who have gone one month without pay–can get some groceries and other vital supplies. All the workers I met are as humble as they are proud to be in a union that is taking matters into its own hands. The message which was ubiquitous during the event is that the 108 striking workers at EPC refuse to bow to corporate interests. Smith related this to his own personal and religious beliefs when he said to me at the end of our interview, regarding EPC and Aalberts Industries, “if you serve mammon [Mammon is the Biblical term for wealth/riches, and their debasing influence on humanity, mentioned by prophet Issa (PBUH) during his Sermon on the Mount], you sure as hell don’t serve me”. As I talked to workers and their supporters, and absorbed the environment around me, I remembered the words Jean Baudrillard said many years ago, “the consumer society sees itself as a Jerusalem, rich and encircled”. May these workers be successful in their struggle, and may Babylon’s walls be shattered.
-Amin, Samir. 2019. The New Imperialist Structure. Monthly Review.
-Baudrillard, Jean. 1970. The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures. Sage Publications. London.