The Spark

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

Hotel workers:
More than a fight for a new contract

Oct 11, 2004

On September 30, about 1,200 workers at four large luxury hotels in San Francisco, members of Unite Here Local 2, walked out. Union representatives said it would be only a two-week limited strike to protest the fact that the workers were working without a contract.

Within two days, the hotel owners escalated the fight. Management at all 14 hotels covered by the union contract locked out all 4,000 union workers – indefinitely. The hotels then brought in scabs and extra management personnel to run the hotels.

The main union demand is to align the new contract expiration dates in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. with the hotel contracts in seven other big cities. Unite Here spokespersons say that if the contracts expire together, they will have added leverage to gain better contracts against the big hotel chains, including Hilton, Hyatt, Omni, Crowne Plaza, and a few independent operators.

Once the union contracts expired in the three cities, the owners took the initiative against the workers. First, the owners unilaterally began to deduct an additional premium for health benefits from the hotel workers' checks. In Los Angeles, the owner of the Wilshire Grande locked out nine workers in the laundry.

Effectively, the hotels put the unions on notice they were prepared for a fight. The unions did not respond in kind.

Certainly hotel workers could have a lot going for them in this fight – if they decide to use their forces. They can count on their own ability to organize, which they have shown just recently as they built unions in several new cities.

And they have the possibility to up the ante by bringing other workers into the fight. After all, these hotels are in the centers of large cities in which there are tens of thousands of other workers who face the same problems – low pay, few benefits, and ever heavier work loads. The strike of the hotel workers could be the jumping off place for a much wider fight in which workers jam the big downtown areas, their streets, plazas and buildings, in a fight for a better life.

This fight, like others before, carries within it the possibility of becoming something that the working class in this country has needed for a long time: the beginning of the workers' counteroffensive against the unending onslaught of corporate attacks against the entire working class.

But for that to happen, the workers have to break out of the straitjacket that union officials have put them in strike after strike. They have the means to do what union leaders didn't call on them to do – respond to the lock-out with a wider struggle.