By ERWIN FREED

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, workers at all four Kellogg plants in the United States walked off the job after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract. The old contract expired that day at midnight.

The Kellogg strike is the third national strike of a major food manufacturing company this year, following Nabisco and Frito Lay. All three companies, which together employ over 3000 workers, are organized with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM). Kellogg is the largest workforce of the three, with over 1400 workers between all of its plants.

The main issues that Kellogg workers are fighting for are against two-tier contracts and for maintaining and strengthening cost of living adjustments (COLA). The company made major revenue gains during the pandemic.

On Oct. 6, Socialist Resurgence members walked the picket line and spoke to striking workers with Local 374G at the 2050 State Road plant in Lancaster, Pa. That plant appears to be basically shut down. The small trickle of scabs and supervisors on site are inadequate to run the line at anything approaching full capacity.

Smash two tier! A lesson for the whole labor movement

The most burning issue spoken of by workers in Lancaster was the two-tier employment-track implemented in the 2015 contract. That change has created three tracks into which people are hired—“provisional,” “transitional,” and “legacy.” Basically, the only workers in the legacy category have been at Kellogg since before 2015. Provisional and transitional workers do not have the company-sponsored health-care or pension plans that the legacies maintain. The difference between the tiers was emphasized by one transitional worker we spoke with on the line, who emphasized that she makes at least $12 per hour less than her legacy co-workers for exactly the same job. All workers we spoke with talked about how the two-tier system causes frictions in the shop. The two tier was implemented with a false promise by the company that it would only be “temporary” and people hired into the lower tiers would quickly qualify for the full benefits of the original contract.

The decision to go on strike to maintain basic solidarity and return to a single wage scale for all workers is an example for workers in every industry. Two tier has been implemented across the country in thousands of shops with classic union benefits in order to stop workers from gaining a living wage, pension, health, and various fringe benefits. The set-up also pits workers against each other, with the lower tier angry that their fellow unionists are on a different track than they are, and the higher tier under constant threat of being fired so that the company can pocket the difference in costs.

Labor has been considering its options on how to fight two tier since the trend began with force in the 1980s. Kellogg workers are giving a definite example on how workers can fight and win against the divisions created by management. Following in the footsteps of the 2019 UAW strike at GM, which struck an important blow against two tier at one of the world’s richest companies, BCTGM workers are utilizing the working class’ most important weapon for the shop floor—going on strike.

Working conditions get worse

Kellogg was once a highly sought after place to work. In Lancaster, the plant used to be home to thousands of jobs with good union wages and benefits. Now, the company is having trouble hiring people into the lower tiers, and understaffing is rampant. Forced overtime is now a “done deal” and even workers who have been on the job for decades are often unable to get a single day off. Socialist Resurgence spoke to one warehouse worker who said that he is the only full-timer on his shift in the plant, which produces around 1 million pounds of cereal a day, and has to work back-to-back doubles every weekend, despite having worked for the company for 16 years.

Due to automation and a hyper-focus on the bottom line, hundreds, potentially thousands, of jobs have been permanently lost at Kellogg. The company is more concerned with profits than quality. In a burning example during the contract negotiations that led to two tier, the Memphis plant locked out workers for nine months in 2014. One of the scabs brought in to keep cereal production running urinated on the assembly line and was later indicted on charges of tampering with consumer products with the intent to cause serious injury.

Militancy rising

The working class in the United States is reaching a new level of militancy. The strike tactic, long growing dusty on the shelf, is being revitalized among a large number of industries in the face of economic, health, and climate crises. Over 84,000 workers are poised to potentially walk out by the end of the month in everything from health care to basic industry to film production.

Crain’s Detroit Business reports,“The number of actions is unusual. Kellogg says this is the first time its U.S. cereal workers have gone on strike since 1972. Nabisco workers last walked off the job in 1969.” While that article calls the strikes “rare,” the opposite appears to be the case as two tier is becoming a fight increasingly seen as necessary to take head-on.

Socialist Resurgence stands wholeheartedly with BCTGM workers on strike. We recommend that our readers do whatever they can in solidarity actions, from taking pictures and videos in support of the strike to walking the picket line.

Photo: Striking workers at the Kellogg plant in Lancaster, Pa. (John Leslie / Socialist Resurgence)