YAKIMA, Wash. — Socialist Workers Party presidential and vice-presidential candidates Alyson Kennedy and Malcolm Jarrett, on national tour across the country, explain that the party’s campaign is aimed at helping workers forge a union in every workplace and a fighting working-class movement.
The SWP’s program is drawn from past battles by the working-class movement and from revolutionary struggles worldwide. The course outlined can be used by fellow workers to overcome divisions in the working class, win solidarity with workers’ battles around the globe, and to build the labor movement. Discussion on this perspective was at the center of the SWP candidates’ Aug. 30-31 visit here in the Yakima Valley. The SWP is on the ballot in Washington.
Kennedy and Jarrett met over dinner with five workers active in the drive to organize a union at Allen Brothers in Naches, 15 miles from here. The union is called Trabajadores Unidos por la Justicia (Workers United for Justice).
The first group of fruit packinghouse workers to go out in a series of six strikes last May in the midst of the pandemic, demanding safe working conditions and higher wages, were from Allen Brothers. They returned to work after three weeks, having won some of their demands, and, most importantly, building their self-confidence and fighting spirit.
Agustín López, president of the new union, said they had gotten enough signatures to petition the National Labor Relations Board for a union-representation election at the plant.
Maribel Medina, treasurer of the union, said line speeds are too fast. “If the bosses see one line is going slow, they just put more bags of apples on it to speed things up,” she said. “We need to get jobs rotated so you are not doing the same thing all day. Many of us have problems like carpal tunnel.”
“Your fight sets an example for what all workers need, a union movement in every workplace,” Jarrett said.
Union vice president Angela Lara said conditions improved after the strike. “Before they gave one mask a week to workers. Now we get two a day. There is less harassment now if you need to use the bathroom.”
“It’s out of struggles like yours expanding the union movement that more workers will see it’s possible to build our own party, a labor party,” Kennedy said. We need to break from the bosses’ parties, the Democrats and Republicans.
Lara said her brother is in prison in Seattle and has been getting the Militant. “He has told others there about the strikes and how his sister was part of it.”
Kennedy and Jarrett said they will spread word of the packinghouse workers’ fight wherever they go.
They also met with Ramon Torres, president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, which grew out of a four-year battle that won a union contract at Sakuma Farms in Skagit County in 2017. Torres has been helping workers in Yakima County organize.
“The strikes started at Allen Brothers and we think they are going to finish the fight with a union contract there,” Torres said. “That will be an inspiration to workers at the other packing plants.”
‘We need our own party’
Knocking on workers’ doors in Yakima, Kennedy met Elizabeth Boyle, a retired nurse. Boyle said, “Everything is getting worse for working people. Prices are going up for groceries and rent, and when the COVID virus hit Yakima a few months ago, the emergency rooms were so crowded people had to wait over night.”
That’s one reason we need our own party, a labor party, Kennedy said. A labor party based on a union movement would fight for universal, free, cradle-to-grave health care. Boyle got a copy of the Militant and Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? by Socialist Workers Party National Secretary Jack Barnes.
“When anyone talks about a union at work they get fired,” Teresa Harris, a plastics factory worker, told Jarrett. It’s always 20 degrees hotter in the plant than outside, she said, but the bosses refuse to cool things down.
“That’s why we need a union and workers control of production,” Jarrett said. “We need to take control over safety, health, line speed and all aspects of production out of the hands of the bosses. They only care about profits, we care about human beings.” Harris subscribed to the Militant.
The candidates also campaigned at a shift change at Columbia Reach, one of the plants that had been on strike. Workers took the SWP platform and 15 bought copies of the Militant. Some workers greeted Kennedy, remembering her from when she was on their picket line in May.
Rebecca Williamson contributed to the article.