The Longest Strike in the U.S.
by Tom Broderick
The longest current strike in America continues. The rank and file of UNITE-HERE! Local 1 voted to rally on June 15 at the Congress Hotel to mark the ninth year of their strike. This is 3,285 days.
In his speech at the end of the rally, Henry Tamarin, President of Local 1, referred to the usual suspects being present again. Some of the groups that were on the pavement included Interfaith Worker Justice, Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation and Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Several unions were represented by individuals wearing their union colors. The giant inflated rats were there as well. Tamarin also mentioned another group of usual suspects — the Chicago Police Department., some of whom had been at all the previous rallies.
The picket line was larger this year than last. Weather probably had an impact on the gathering last year, as we marched in the rain. This year we walked from the north end of the building, to the south end and then around the corner to the west-end of the building and back. The line was solid the entire length of the picket. Chants included “Up Up with the Union, Down Down with the Congress.” During this chant, pickets reach up during the Up Up and lower themselves during the Down Down. My knees won’t let me do the Down Down portion, but it is fun to watch.
In addition to Tamarin’s talk during the close, Father Larry Dowling spoke, as did Dolores Contreras, one of the original Congress Hotel strikers. Several of them were on the speaker’s platform. Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez also spoke. The event closed with Young General doing his hip-hop song from the video produced by Columbia College students about the historic strike.
UNITE-HERE! is also engaged in a contract struggle with the Hyatt Hotel chain. One of the areas of concern for UNITE-HERE! is subcontracting work to temp agencies. Henry Tamarin said that that practice began in Chicago at the Congress Hotel which he said now has not much more than 15 actual employees. The rest are temps. It’s also worth remembering that three Boston-area Hyatt Hotels asked their housekeeping staff to train other workers to learn how to become housekeepers. Once the new workers were at the level that the management considered acceptable, they fired their current staff and replaced them with the newly trained workers. Despicable by any definition of the word.
UNITE-HERE! is planning a week of action in several cities in the U.S. and Canada focusing on the Hyatt campaign. This will lead to a call for a global boycott. The specifics are not complete, but in Chicago, the general outline is:
- Monday, July 23rd, Hyatt Visibility Day with young folk taking the forefront, making the struggle visible around the Chicago area.
- Tuesday, July 24th, Community Day with community groups taking the forefront, focusing on Hyatt Hurts themes. A newly formed Community Outreach committee will be working on these specifics.
- Wednesday, July 25th, Medical Community Day with the medical community taking the forefront. The medical community is the largest money-making group for the Hyatt chain.
- Thursday, July 26th, Mobilization Day. This is still in formation, but the idea is that the public is center stage, supporting the union’s workers and their families.