By Jerry White
World Socialist Website (9/12/18)
The strike by over 5,000 Chicago hotel workers spread to 26 locations Tuesday, as hundreds of workers walked off the job at the Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile hotel, just north of downtown. Thousands of housekeepers, bellhops, servers, cooks and other hospitality workers walked out across the city last Friday to demand increased wages, year-round health benefits and reduced workloads.
Labor agreements covering 6,000 members of the UNITE HERE in Chicago expired on August 31, along with thousands of others at major hotels across the country. On Tuesday, hotel workers in Hawaii voted by 95 percent to approve strike action at six Marriott-operated hotels in Honolulu and on Maui. Hospitality workers at Marriott, which became the world’s largest hotel chain after its $13 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, will take strike votes today in Boston, September 13 in San Francisco and San Jose, and September 14 in Seattle.
The strikes pit some of the most exploited sections of the working class, including large numbers of Latin American and Asian immigrant workers earning near poverty wages, against some of the most powerful and politically connected multinational businesses. This includes Marriott—which owns 30 brands and more than 5,800 properties in more than 110 countries—and Hyatt Hotels Corporation, which has 777 properties in 54 countries.
Chicago hotels raked in more than $2 billion in revenue in 2017, with more than 55 million tourists visiting the city. Occupancy at the downtown hotels—where a stay in a five-star room can go for anywhere between $440 and $1,500 a night—reached 90 percent.
The walkout by hotel workers and the growing number of strikes in the US, which itself is part of the escalation of class conflict around the world, points to the mood of militancy and anti-capitalist sentiment that is growing among workers and youth.
In addition to Marriott properties, the strikers are picketing two out of three of the hotels owned by Hyatt. This is particularly significant since the hotel chain is owned by the Chicago-based Pritzker family, ranked by Forbes as America’s seventh richest family, with a net worth of $29 billion. In addition to their vast wealth—the family also owns TransUnion credit bureau, Braniff airlines, McCall’s magazine, and the Royal Caribbean cruise line—the Pritzkers are a prominent fixture in the Democratic Party machine politics in Chicago and throughout the US.
Hyatt Chairman and CEO Thomas Pritzker, whose net worth is $4.2 billion, is the former chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major think tank for US imperialism, and Northwest America Western Asia Holdings. The latter is an investment firm Pritzker founded with a former Pentagon official in 2011 to exploit profit opportunities in Iraq’s oil and shipping industries under the US occupation.
Penny Pritzker, one of the heirs to the Hyatt fortune with a net worth of $2.5 billion, was picked by President Obama as US Secretary of Commerce. Another heir, JB Pritzker, a venture capitalist with a net worth of $3.3 billion, was the national co-chair of the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2008. He is the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor of Illinois in the November elections.
Given the candidate’s family connections to Hyatt, a local ABC reporter asked the Pritzker for Governor campaign for its comments on the ongoing strike. “JB stands with the labor movement across Illinois in the fight for better wages, benefits, and working conditions,” the campaign cynically declared.
The 1995 retirement of Jay Pritzker, co-founder and president of Hyatt, led to a nasty feud over the company’s assets, leading several family members, including JB, to reportedly stay away from management control. Nevertheless, all the Pritzkers, including the Democratic candidate for Illinois, have large holdings in the company and profit handsomely from the exploitation of hotel workers in Chicago and around the world.
While restaurant and cocktail servers at the Chicago Hyatt Regency can make as little as $9 an hour and a housekeeper as little as $14 an hour, the company spent nearly $600 million in July on a stock buyback program to drive up the value of its shares for Hyatt’s richest investors, including the Pritzker clan. According to its second quarter financial statement, “The Company expects to return approximately $800 million to shareholders, compared to a previous expectation of at least $700 million, through a combination of share repurchases and cash dividends on its common stock.”
War against workers
The Pritzker family has waged a long and bitter war against hotel workers. During repeated strikes between 2009 and 2015, hotel workers were subjected to harassment and intimidation.
The company has been found repeatedly in violation of restrictions on contracting out for cheaper labor. In January, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint because Hyatt refused to respond to multiple accusations that it was using facial recognition technology, in violation of state law, to spy on hotel workers at the Chicago Hyatt Regency.
In the summer of 2013, Hyatt turned heat lamps, usually used to warm guests in the winter time, on striking workers to break up a picket line. “They put the heat lamps on us, like we were nothing,” Linda Long, a worker at the Hyatt kitchen, told the local media. “If the heat didn’t kill us, the heat lamps would.”
Nearly 30 unions have backed Pritzker’s election campaign, including the Chicago Federation of Labor, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. If the UNITE HERE union has not officially endorsed the billionaire candidate’s campaign bid, it’s only because this would further discredit the union in the eyes of workers.
UNITE HERE is deeply embedded in the Democratic Party and in 2015 endorsed the reelection campaign of the widely hated Mayor Rahm Emanuel, known among workers as “Mayor 1 Percent” for defending the city’s corporate and financial elite while shutting public schools, overseeing the decay of neighborhoods and social services and covering up the brutality of the notorious Chicago Police Department.
There is little doubt that behind the scenes UNITE HERE and the unions are working diligently with the Democrats to reach a rotten deal and rapidly shut down the strike. This is what happened in 2015, when, after nearly six-years of impotent strikes, protests and boycotts, UNITE HERE signed an agreement with Hyatt that maintained poverty level wages and dangerous working conditions but made it easier for the union to gain access to workers in non-union locations and collect union dues. …
(Commoner Call cartoons by Mark L. Taylor, 2018. Open source and free for non-derivative use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )
Critically Injured Kokomo Fiat Chrysler Worker Faces Protracted Recovery
By Sharon Jones
The World Socialist Website (9/11/18)
A worker critically injured at the Fiat Chrysler Kokomo, Indiana Casting Plant last Wednesday has been identified. Eric Parsons suffered severe injuries when a die slide fell on top of him. A team from the Kokomo Fire Department rescued the man with the help of plant workers, who used machinery to lift the die off the victim. Parsons was later airlifted to a trauma center, where he faces a long and difficult recovery.
According to the Kokomo Tribune a chaplain for United Auto Workers Local 292 from the General Motors components plant in Kokomo told participants at a United Way fundraiser Friday that Parsons’ internal bleeding had been stopped and that surgeons had to place screws in Parsons’ hips. He noted that the worker also suffered broken ribs and a broken back.
Neither UAW Local 1199 at the casting plant nor UAW Local 685 at Fiat Chrysler’s transmission operations in Kokomo have issued a statement on the horrific accident. In July, more than 6,000 Fiat Chrysler workers in Kokomo, members of Local 685, overwhelmingly voted to authorize strike action over a backlog of hundreds of grievances dealing with health and safety issues.
The injury to Parsons came just days after Brian Harlow, head of manufacturing for Fiat Chrysler’s North American operations, declared in relation to the company’s Kokomo operations, “We’re one of the safest plants to work at in the world.”
Fourteen hundred workers are employed at the casting plant, which is the largest die cast facility in the world. Fiat Chrysler has recently ramped up production at its Kokomo operations that supply transmissions to all FCA vehicles in North America and increasingly for the global market.
A Gofundme account has been set up to raise financial support for Parsons family. …
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