The Hormel/P-9 case remains an influential example of the labor rights movement, and what can be considered as the defeat of the workers remains the subject of a heated debate on what should have been done to let the union succeed. First of all, it should be recognized that things could have been different. The strike was a long process with many turns and developments; the story did not unfold overnight, and there were many points during the negotiations at which both the company and the union got to make important decisions; different decisions could have changed a lot. Second, recommendations can be proposed in retrospect, i.e., what strategic actions the local union members could have taken to ensure a better outcome of their protest.
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The main weakness of the strike was that it was very long; many complications could arise as the strike was progressing, and they did. For example, a ten-month period, which is how long the strike lasted (Boyce, Edwards, & Wetzel, 1986), is more than enough to allow strikebreaking.
Many people who found it too difficult to provide for their families without working in the plant caved in and returned to work. On the one hand, it can be regarded as a betrayal of the common purpose; on the other hand, judging strikebreakers may not always be appropriate because they had found themselves in very difficult situations before they gave up. Workers who go on strike should consider the risks of strikebreaking and should minimize them; in this case, minimization would have consisted in shortening the period of the strike and toughening the conditions so that the management would have been forced to accept the conditions of the workers, e.g., by increasing the wages, nullifying cuts in benefits, and improving working conditions, including safety.
However, toughening conditions may not have worked if it had only addressed quantitative indicators. In other words, if the workers had required higher wages or fewer cuts, the management would not have necessarily taken the strikers more seriously. One of the main defensive positions of the Hormel management was that the workers’ claims were unreasonable; nothing would have stopped the management from making the same claims if the strikers’ requirements had been tougher. However, what could have worked is changing the strategy qualitatively, i.e., change the mode of protest.
A retrospective recommendation for strikers is to have had a sit-down strike instead of a traditional outside strike (Boyce et al., 1986). By resorting to this method, the workers would have shut down the plant’s operation altogether, and the company would have been forced to negotiate with them more willingly. Besides, it should not be neglected that the participants of the outside strike were subjected to police violence, and Boyce et al. (1986) suggest that the management “would [have thought] twice before ordering a cop assault to clear the plant of sit-down strikers” (para. 67).
Also, while on a sit-down strike, the workers would be a bigger concern for top union executives who, at some point, ordered the local union to stop the strike; it would have been much harder to give such an order to workers who would have taken the plant “hostage” and stop any production. Overall, a sit-down strike would have been a better solution because it would have forced the management and union executives to take the strikers more seriously. After all, the strikers would have had lower risks of strikebreaking, and because it would have been harder to commit violence against them.
Boyce, S., Edwards, J., & Wetzel, T. (1986). Slaughterhouse fight: A look at the Hormel strike. Ideas & Action, 7. Web.