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Jesse Jackson Speaks to Striking Grocery Workers

LOS ANGELES - The Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to striking grocery clerks at a rally here yesterday, saying their strike was part of a wider struggle by workers across the country to fight employers' efforts to shrink wages and benefits.

"This is a profound national, political, ideological struggle to dumb down workers' wages," Jackson told a crowd outside a Ralphs store. "The trend is profits up, wages down, workers busted."

More than 70,000 Southern California grocery workers from Kroger Co.'s Ralphs, Safeway's Vons, and Albertsons went on strike or were locked out Oct. 11 after contract talks stalled over the proposed cost of health care benefits. More than 850 stores from San Luis Obispo to San Diego have been impacted as many customers, along with Teamster truck drivers and warehouse employees, chose not to cross picket lines.

Thousands of Kroger workers also walked off the job last week in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Missouri.

Nine days after the Southern California clerks walked out, negotiations remained suspended, and there was no indication that talks would resume between the chains and the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

"Unless the union makes the decision to come back to the bargaining table, and does that in a way in which they will begin to negotiate meaningfully, it looks like this labor dispute may go on for quite a while," said Terry O'Neil, a spokesman for Ralphs.
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