Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Picketing Safeway for Life

Our father never met a picket line he would cross and seldom met one he wouldn't join. The right of workers to organize was sacred to him. I was brought up in his church listening to the hymns of Woodie Guthrie, the International, and Utah Phillips.

While other girls sold girl scout cookies in front of Safeways, I grew up picketing them with my Dad to support the Farmworkers boycott in the 70's. For a long time we didn't eat grapes. Sometimes we didn't eat lettuce. And often we spent Saturday morning together walking the line at a Safeway in San Diego (usually the one on Washington Boulevard nearest our home, but sometimes another one that needed us more).

I loved everything about the picket line. The crowds, the press, the urgency, the talking to people. Most of all the signs. Well, and the food. If there's one thing you can count on from a union, it's good food.

Eventually the Farmworkers settled in some way and we could eat lettuce again. To this day I feel guilty about grapes.

40 years later, I am just recovering from my grudge against Safeway. Given a choice between supermarkets, I also choose another one over Safeway to this day. And even though Safeway is by far the closest supermarket to our home now (a beautiful new one went in a few years ago in midtown Sacramento), I find that I've avoided it.

Recently I convinced myself this was silly. I can't keep holding against this company the feelings generated from a labor dispute so long ago. It's a good store. It's time to shop there more. I even went so far as to place a monthly order for Safeway scrip to benefit our son's school.

Wouldn't you know it, the last two times I've shopped at our local Safeway AFTER I've gone in and shopped a picket has appeared outside. I know it's after because there's no way I would obliviously cross the line. The sight of those signs and those workers absolutely sets off a visceral reaction in me.

The first time I asked the people on the line what it was about.

"Are you asking us not to shop here?"

She says, in broken English, "I no discuss. Call him." and hands me a slip of paper with a phone number and name. I call the number and leave a message. He declined to return my call.

Today, the picket appeared again after I shopped. I wince as I see it out of the corner of my eye while I'm paying for my groceries. I ask the cashier what she knows about it. She says that it's some dispute with a construction union in another city or state and nothing to do with this location. I nod and wonder what to take from it.

Should I cancel my scrip? Should I join the line for something I don't understand? One thing's for sure, I won't cross it and I expect good food.

1 comment:

Evan said...

Very fitting post, Sara. I just got back from holding a picket sign all day (and boy are my arms tired). Today Oakland teachers mobilized in strong numbers for a better contract. The most fitting part is that I spent the whole day with Maya by my side. She is an expert at getting cars to honk as she bounces about with her colorful "Honk for Teachers" sign. And so the father once again passes the picket sign down to the daughter.