Submitted on Mon, 09/11/2006 - 3:16pm
“This is solidarity unionism!” declared Daniel Gross, addressing the raucous crowd of members and supporters of the Industrial Workers of the World, (IWW), in front of the Landmark Cinema Complex in Berkeley CA last Friday. Gross was addressing the crowd which numbered between 80-100, and included members of the Bay Area branch of the IWW, many out of town Wobblies, (including many from Canada), and many supporting radicals, community members, and folks from other unions. People flew red and black flags, IWW flags, held banners, chanted, and largely took over the entire front of the movie theater, as well as a next door Starbucks. Several music performers took to the mic, and several speakers from the union addressed the crowd as well. The event ended in a march through the streets to the other Landmark owned cinema complex, just several blocks away.
While the campaign to unionize and gain workers power at the cinema may be reaching it’s highest stages now, the campaign began many months ago in May, when after talking to IWW members, workers signed and turned in authorization cards for the union. “We're only asking for work conditions that are reasonable and humane. Management needs to start listening to our concerns and valuing its workers. We need our voice to be heard. It's time we had a union!” said Lauren Grady, a cinema worker. Primary worker concerns include the recent revoking of worker privileges, lack of management accountability, inconsistent raise policies, and inadequate breaks, all contributing to the increasingly hostile work environment at the Shattuck cinemas. Further source of tension lies in a worker wage cap at over three dollars less than the city standard. Harjit Singh Gill, one of the Wobblies that helped the Shattuck Cinema workers to unionize the store, spoke in an interview about the lack of division between organizers and workers. “Our goal is to provide the workers the skills to self-organize and manage their workplace. While this takes time, we do our best to explain and educate workers on every part of the organizing process”.
In May, the first public rally occurred in front of the cinema complex, with close to 80 Wobblies and supporters out in force. Another rally took place in June, and was held to put pressure on the theater management not to scare workers into voting no in the June 16th election, in which workers voted overwhelmingly in a 22 to 2 vote, (one of the no votes was from management), in favor of the union. Although the workers had won the union, now they had to dig in their heels as contract negotiations began. Far from separating the old time “organizers”, from the workers in the shop, the IWW negotiation process included workers from the cinema in every step of the way, including at the table with the bosses. In June and July, other rallies were held, again in front of the cinema complex, in support of the workers, and to demand that the company give in to the IWW’s demands.
It seems that the union pressure did not go unnoticed by the bosses, and in August, the company upped the starting wage from $7.25, to $8 an hour. It seemed that Landmark was eager to show it’s other workers that they were willing to grant small concessions, in order to keep other workers from possibly joining the union. But those in the union knew that the pressure had to be kept on the bosses, regardless of the scrapes that they were throwing out. A fourth rally was then planned on September 1st, which of course co-incited with the 2006 IWW General Assembly. Wobblies from all over were now ready to throw their support behind their fellow workers. Having the out of town help meant a lot to the workers at the cinema complex, as well as Wobblies that didn’t work at the shop, but who had helped organize the campaign. “Personally I am deeply honored to have had Fellow Workers from all over come into town early before the assembly to support the Shattuck Campaign.”, said Harjit Singh Gill. Also important, was the showing of solidarity that other Wobblies from other IWW shops on in the bay area showed. Two recycling centers are unionized by the IWW, as well as a fabric store. Gill commented on this showing of support, “What builds a union is solidarity. When workers from Stone Mountain and Daughter, (the fabric store), or Buyback, or Curbside, (recycling centers), show up as they have in support of the Shattuck Workers, they are showing that they stand in solidarity with other workers, and are here to support them through this process.”
Gill was one of the fellow workers who addressed the rally that day, stating that although the cinema workers now had a union, the fight was far from over. Negotiations have now begun with the company’s lawyers, and the workers will have to fight and keep the pressure on if they want to get a fair contract. Also speaking at the rally was IWW General Secretary, Mark Damron, who spoke briefly on working people taking sides between the interests of “property and profit”, and “people”. He also sang a rousing rendition of “Which Side Are You On”, which put his words into a musical context, and got the whole crowd clapping and singing along as well. Several musicians graced the stage, including Riot Folk collective member Mark Gunnery. Stealing the show however was the short speech given by recently fired Starbucks IWW organizer Daniel Gross. Gross talked about the long and hard fight of the Starbucks workers to get a union, fight corporate harassment, and also work to get those fired rehired. Like Gill, Gross stressed the importance of solidarity, mutual aid, and cooperation between fellow workers, inside and outside of the union to fight against the bosses.
After the music and speakers were finished, the Wobblies then took to the streets. With large banners and flags waving, chants loudly proclaimed, “Who’s in the Streets? The Working Class! Who’s Gonna Fight? The Working Class! Who’s Gonna Win? The Working Class?” The march started off into the sidewalk, and then soon took up busy Berkeley streets, while onlookers generally where either supportive, or asked us what was going on. The march lasted for about 15 minutes, and stopped off briefly at another Landmark owned cinema complex, which was only a couple of blocks away.
When the march headed back to the entrance, the whole crowd was chanting, “We don’t need the boss - the boss needs us!” It’s a message that the owners of Landmark won’t soon forget. Across the country, the union, which calls for capital’s overthrow, and the “abolition of the wage system”, is swinging back into gear. Today workers will make lattes and coffee, run projectors and make popcorn; who knows how many among them are ready for a world without bosses? It appears in Berkeley, as across the country, there are a few more.
Keep the Pressure on Landmark, call and/or email today!:
service@ landmarktheatres.com -or-1-888-724-6362
For more information, on the Shattuck Cinema Campaign and others go to: