Socialists Walk the Line in Battle Creek
by Heather Hillenbrand
“If you’re affiliated with that group up the road, can you get them to bring Bernie out?” a striking worker asked me as snow pellets bounced off my glasses on a blustery December Saturday. I don’t usually get the chance to talk about deer season and the desire to apparate Bernie at the same event. Like any group of American workers, you’ll find a wide variety of politics amongst the workers on the BCTGM Local 3g picket line outside Kellog’s flagship plant in Battle Creek, Michigan. You’ll also find a strong sense of solidarity throughout the community, and an appreciation for those of us willing to join their fight to keep “the best jobs in town” available for young and future workers. They were happy a statement of support from Joe Biden tanked Kellogg’s stock prices on December 10th. They were happy Redditors spammed Kellogg’s job application site, interfering with the company’s attempts to hire scabs to permanently replace them. They were even happy to see a DSA member from Ohio who had made the windy drive up to hear their stories on Southwest Michigan DSA’s Day of Solidarity (which included every Michigan DSA Chapter).
Even before the pandemic, working in the Kellogg’s plant was not for the faint of heart. Workers told me about the tradeoffs they made willingly: it’s a hard job with long hours and plenty of people get hurt, but if you stuck with it you knew you could provide for your family for life. The entire community is threatened by Kellogg’s hiring an increasing number of “transitional” employees: workers hired after 2015 (currently 30% of plant workers) who have lower pay and fewer benefits. These workers were promised but not given a path to better compensation, creating a tiered system meant to erode the union and save Kellogg’s money. Kellogg’s experienced record sales during the pandemic and CEO Steve Cahillane made over $11 million in 2020. To create all this value, Kellogg’s workers were compelled to work 12+ hour days, 7 days a week. Everyone I spoke to had regrets over missing family time. As we traded stories of workplace Covid outbreaks over a burn barrel, I was shocked to hear that the Kellogg’s workers’ experience of forced overtime sounded a lot like being locked in the plant at the end of your shift. The injustices of capitalism are laid bare in these experiences, yet workers are troubled that the company has a larger platform and that people will believe management’s claims that the workers are being greedy. Nothing could be further from the truth. These workers fed us throughout the pandemic, and they are asking to be treated fairly.
Kellogg’s has walked away from the bargaining table after the worker’s voted down their latest lackluster offer, so the strike continues. There are ways to support these and other strikes from afar. While important and appreciated, for socialists, there’s nothing like visiting the picket line. Yes, I was apprehensive about driving 4 hours each way alone in the winter to go stand in inclement weather with strangers. However, this was very little effort compared to the fortitude these workers have been showing on the line day and night since October 5 as a multibillion dollar corporation attacks them every way it can. For socialists to win, we must show workers our solidarity is heartfelt and unwavering. When we embrace joining workers in their fights, we open ourselves to recognizing our shared experiences. This fosters the trust it will take to build a fighting labor movement to win socialism. I suspect we could all use a little more inspiration running through our blood. Bernie will be holding a rally in Battle Creek December 17 at 3PM. Can I count on you to join DSA on the picket line soon too?
Heather Hillenbrand is Co-Chair of Akron DSA and SEIU Local 1 Executive Board Member Representing Akron
Support the striking workers by donating to DSA Cincy’s Bowl-A-Thon. Our team name is “The Outside Agitators”