By Jai Chavis
On September 9th, 2022, Teamster Local 251 hosted a rally in support of striking Teamsters at the DHL shipping warehouse in Pawtucket, RI. The workers were on Day 82 of the strike, fighting for a starting wage increase to $23/hour and access to actually affordable healthcare benefits (since currently, the workers cannot afford the plans offered in the previous union contract).
Despite the recent national DHL contract successfully adopted in August, the Pawtucket workers work for a subcontracting company and have to negotiate a separate agreement. The subcontractor has already acknowledged that they can afford to meet the workers demands but has brazenly refused to do so and has ceased negotiating in any real way.
ISG members in Providence have regularly visited the picket line to show our support as the strike drags on. While on the picket line, members discussed with a number of the workers on strike, getting updates about the strike and sharing our experience with other strikes and labor actions we’ve been involved in. Friday’s rally started at 8am before the work shift began in order to slow down the ability of scabs to enter the Pawtucket work-site. About 150 people manned picket lines in front of the two facility gates, most of whom were Teamsters from Local 251. Overall, the large picket was pretty effective at massively slowing down the scabs from getting on-site and even turned a couple scabs away altogether!
The cops were heavily present in response to the rally to protect DHL and limit the picketers’ ability to hold back the scabs. A few of the cops were aggressively shoving people towards the very beginning of the rally and doing their actual job (protecting capital) very well, at the expense of striking workers and other Teamsters who were there to support them. The cops were immediately recognized by the crowd as being on the wrong side of this labor dispute and as being overbearing and aggressive.
A few politicians spoke (including acting governor of RI McKee, the current mayor of Pawtucket, and a few other politicians) and some local labor leaders spoke very briefly, making nice sounding statements about supporting good wages which they failed to back up with action. The politicians at the event were more concerned about the strike being a nice photo-op for the brief amount of time they graced the picket with their presence, rather than accomplishing the actual point of a megapicket, which is to slow down (and even stop) business from operating. The politicians had long disappeared by the time the police grew more violent against the picketers.
Once the majority of the scabs had arrived to work, the picket migrated to the exit (where trucks are sent out to make deliveries) to slow down the scabs from leaving to deliver packages. One of the scab drivers sped up toward the crowd in an intimidation attempt, nearly running over a few strikers. Unsurprisingly, the cops did not acknowledge it even happened and helped the scab drive away without any repercussions. Similarly, the cops conveniently ignored the fact that half of the scab drivers were on their phones as they drove away. Union members reported the same happening during previous pickets as well.
As more scab DHL trucks were being blocked from leaving, more cops emerged from the woodwork and began rapidly escalating the situation. Cops began to shove the crowd more aggressively as they were desperately trying to control the crowd that was largely ignoring their, as several picketers said, “bullsh*t orders”. A number of cops began antagonizing individual Teamsters (including a few leading members of the strike), shoved them to the ground, arrested five people, and pepper-sprayed the crowd for the “crime” of trying to conduct an effective strike.
The arrests were not at all random. Strike leaders were targeted to try to intimidate the strikers, including their shop steward and business agent. The cops were clearly on the side of the company, which was correctly pointed out explicitly by many of the workers on the picket line after the union-busting arrests were made.
One of the arrested strikers was being held at the ACI (the local RI prison) under the pretense of prior criminal history and the other four were soon released on bail.
As of the end of October, the strike is still ongoing. Workers, union members, and community supporters should visit the picket to offer their support at 101 Concord St. Pawtucket, RI. ISG will continue to join the striking workers on their picket line!