The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Los Angeles:
Workers Confront Big Bosses

Aug 21, 2023

Hotel workers in the Los Angeles area, whose contract expired on June 30, have been conducting rolling walkouts at dozens of Los Angeles hotels since early July. So far, UNITE-HERE Local 11, which represents 15,000 workers at more than 60 hotels in Southern California, has organized four waves of strikes, where workers walk off the job at a number of hotels, for three to five days at a time.

Besides better wages and benefits, workers are demanding better staffing. When the Covid-19 pandemic began three years ago, hotels drastically reduced staff, but they did not recover the old staffing levels when the hotel business picked up again. Alain Kemple, who works as a concierge at Waldorf-Astoria in Beverly Hills, said that the hotel had 27 personal concierges before the pandemic, but now there are only six. “I do the job of five people … I’m only paid for one,” Kemple said.

Another crucial issue for the workers is that their wages don’t keep up with the cost of living in the L.A. area, and in particular the cost of housing. Many of the hotel workers work two jobs, and few can afford to live near where they work. A recent survey by Local 11 found that more than half of its members either had moved outside of L.A. or were planning to do so in the near future, because of housing costs. Many workers have very long commutes, and some live as far as 105 miles away.

In fact, the cost of living is the same issue of another group of workers on strike in L.A.: writers and actors for the movie studios and tech companies that run streaming services. The writers, who have been on strike for more than three months, and the actors, who joined the writers on picket lines about a month ago, also point out that, with the amount of money they make, they can no longer make a living—especially since the companies have used changing technology to reduce payments to writers and performers.

The bosses are intent on using the high cost of living as a weapon against the workers. A movie industry executive told the news website Deadline, "The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses."

There is something else the hotel and movie industry workers have in common: the size of the enemy they are facing. As in other industries, big companies in the entertainment industry have been buying up other big companies in recent years, bringing the striking workers face-to-face with corporate giants: Disney, which bought 21st Century Fox in 2019, made 83 billion dollars in revenue last year, 23% more than the previous year; while Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, cashed in 121 billion dollars. As for the 44 hotels that are digging in against their striking workers, behind them is also big capital—either big hotel chains such as Marriott, Hilton and Sheraton, or big real estate companies or private equity firms.

Low wages and high housing costs, combined, make it impossible for workers to live. These strikes in L.A. could be part of a bigger fight to put together the combined power of more workers. The whole capitalist class, not just one industry or two, has declared an all-out war against the livelihood of the working class.

Most trade union leaders keep the fight contained in a narrow vise—proposing to fight one corporation at a time. But the working class can fight much more effectively, by joining all of our forces together—across all industries.