Workers Vanguard No. 1142
19 October 2018
Marriott Hotel Strikers Fight Poverty Wages
OAKLAND, October 14—Some 8,000 hotel and restaurant workers organized by UNITE HERE have been on strike for over a week, from Boston and Detroit to California and Hawaii, against more than 20 hotels run by Marriott International. The picket lines of this majority female workforce are a snapshot of the multiracial working class: black and white, Latino and Asian, and foreign-born workers from China to the Near East to the Caribbean. With strikers fighting for the very right to make a living wage, their central slogan, “One Job Should Be Enough,” resonates with workers across the country who are forced to work multiple jobs in a desperate scramble simply to survive. The strikes, which follow a recent hotel strike in Chicago, have struck a chord among poor, working-class and immigrant youth like the Asian-Pacific Islander, Latino and black high school students who have joined the picket lines in Oakland.
Marriott International, the largest and wealthiest hotel chain in the world, is out to squeeze even more profits out of its workers by cutting back hours, slashing health care benefits, eliminating jobs through automation and increasing backbreaking workloads. Meanwhile, Marriott has used “eco-friendly” scams to allow hotel guests to opt out of room cleaning in the name of saving water and other resources. The bosses then cut back working hours and shifts while allowing housekeepers no extra time to clean the now-dirtier rooms. This has meant increased exploitation of, and injury to, the heavily immigrant women housekeepers. These workers are also often subject to sexual assault by those who feel entitled to abuse and harass their female “servants.”
With guests complaining of dirty rooms and closed restaurant facilities and others canceling their events, Marriott is beginning to feel the effects of the strike. Now it is reported that the company has sent out a scabherding email asking for “3,500 volunteers across the company” to cross the picket lines and replace the striking workers. In Hawaii, some struck hotels have offered scabs bonuses of $300 and hourly wages above what many Marriott workers make. This must be fought by building picket lines that no one would dare cross!
Although unions like the Teamsters in San Francisco are honoring the lines, Marriott’s operations are still running, and the UNITE HERE leadership has made no effort to stop anyone from scabbing. This has emboldened the company to make its open strikebreaking bribes. Powerful unions like the Teamsters, longshoremen in the Bay Area and Hawaii and other labor battalions from Boston to Detroit need to mobilize their muscle in active solidarity on the picket lines. Not only would such action quickly shut down Marriott’s operations, but it would also strike a blow against the anti-black, anti-immigrant racism and anti-woman sexism that the bosses wield to divide and conquer the working class and defeat its struggles.
Following the arrest of 41 UNITE HERE members during a civil disobedience protest outside a Marriott hotel in San Francisco on October 12, the city’s black Democratic mayor, London Breed, voiced her support for the strike and invited union representatives to meet “to discuss potential paths forward.” Any striker who believes they’ll get a fair shake from the Democrats should look at what they’ve done for more than 50 years in presiding over the transformation of SF from a labor town to a city where only the rich can afford to live.
Breed rode into office with the funding of tech multimillionaires who backed her calls for sweeping the homeless encampments from the streets and adding 200 more cops to the racist SFPD to do the job. Now, in the lead-up to the midterm elections, Breed and other Democratic Party politicians from Boston to Hawaii have declared their support to the hotel workers strike. This is little more than a cynical bid for votes. At the same time, it’s some easy payback to the UNITE HERE bureaucrats and fellow labor misleaders for their longtime support. But should the strike ignite some genuine labor solidarity in struggle, it will be a different story. Then these politicians will take a page from Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who during her time as SF mayor sent a SWAT-style team of cops to escort scabs across the picket lines of a militant hotel strike in 1980.
The last contracts the union negotiated with Marriott were in the wake of the devastation of the 2007-08 economic crash brought on by the financial swindlers on Wall Street. The UNITE HERE misleaders boast that they were the first union to support Barack Obama’s bid for the presidency. It was Obama who bailed out the banks and the auto bosses while he and his fellow Democrats preached that the workers needed to sacrifice to keep American capitalism afloat. Wage increases for unionized hotel workers were held down for several years. While the workers got robbed and were increasingly reduced to poverty, the Marriott bosses made out like bandits. Marriott International raked in $3.2 billion last year alone!
Now the UNITE HERE leadership argues that their members who shared the pain in bad times should share the gain. But it doesn’t work that way. Capitalism is defined by the brutal exploitation of labor for profit. It is only through hard-fought struggle mobilizing the power of their class that workers can begin to change that equation and win some amelioration of their condition. But there will be no end to this system of wage slavery short of its destruction by working-class socialist revolution and the establishment of a workers government. When the workers rule, the vast wealth and resources of this society will be wielded for the benefit of the many and not the profits of the few.
The Marriott strikes pose vital issues for the working class as a whole if it is to struggle against and prevail over the capitalist masters. Labor’s muscle must be used to fight for full citizenship rights for immigrants, for black equality and women’s liberation. In struggling even for basic necessities like decent wages and quality housing, medical care and education, the working class runs up against the capitalist profit system. What is needed is a new leadership of the unions that breaks labor’s ties to the Democrats and all other capitalist parties and will fight it out class against class. Out of such struggles, a mass, multiracial revolutionary workers party will be forged that can lead the fight for the liberation of the working class and oppressed.