Last Sunday, a two-month strike by 500 workers at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California, was broken up by the United Steel Workers (USW), who forced a sell-out contract. Workers who were fighting to stop an inflationary pay cut, dramatically improve staffing levels and get rid of grueling and hated work hours, received a deal that was worse what they started with.
The USW announced the tentative agreement on Thursday and then had workers vote the following day, Friday. Their strategy was that after two months of isolating these workers from their brothers and sisters in the oil industry, with no strike pay, the workers were mellowed enough to allow them to push through the contract.
No tally was released on the vote tally. News reports suggest it barely passed. Workers at the plant report that those who voted “yes” included workers who had been deeply impacted financially by the two months without strike pay (despite the USW having more than $150 million in cash, according to his latest Ministry of Labor file).
Workers across the country have expressed outrage at this betrayal. Many want to let the Richmond strikers know they see what happened and support them in their fight against Chevron and the USW.
Jonny, a sheet metal worker from Idaho and a member of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, told the World Socialist Website, “It goes without saying that I support Chevron oil workers in Richmond, California. After months of uniting against inflationary wage cuts, poor working conditions and terrible working hours, their struggle has been betrayed by the very organization that claims to represent their interests.
The United Steelworkers have long since traded whatever alignment they once had with real labor struggles for a bigger slice of the capitalist pie. Workers should not be fooled into thinking this is just about their local or this round of leadership. The entire trade union apparatus has turned into a police force for the capitalist class, ensuring that workers’ struggles are contained. That workers from different factories, shops, industries, geographies, of different races and ethnicities never combine their struggle, never fully realize the power they have as a class, as a force for revolutionary change, is the direct result of the suppression of strikes by the unions.
I urge you to continue this fight. Join or form a grassroots committee, to take the struggle out of the hands of the union leadership that betrayed you, and hand it over to those affected by this contract, you. The only way to win is to stick together. The struggle of oil workers must be joined with the struggle of all other workers across the country and around the world.
The WSWS also spoke to a BNSF railroad worker who had read WSWS coverage of the USW betrayal. BNSF workers fought for almost identical issues to Chevron workers. Above all, BNSF railroad workers are forced to introduce a grueling overtime schedule that prevents them from enjoying a social life with family and friends. Workers there have been without a contract on many rail lines since 2020. Their unions, like the USW, play a duplicitous role.
The BNSF worker said: ‘Once again the national unions are showing that they represent the interests of companies over their members.’ He continued, “This period of inequality will not end until we collectively say more. Chad further expressed its support for the workers in the creation of rank-and-file committees to oppose the betrayal of the USW.
John, a Chevron worker who participated in the strike, also spoke to the WSWS. In response to reading a WSWS article about USW’s betrayal at Arconic, John said, “[the] The USW told the oil workers we had a good deal too. When a few refiners decided they didn’t care, the USW bullied them into bringing them back online. More people need to stand up for what they believe in and not be swayed.
John described the impact that a national oil refinery strike could have had on the situation of oil workers. “A national strike would quickly remedy the situation [in my opinion],” he said. “Hell, more frequent sympathy strikes would be better, not to mention a nationwide strike.”
He added: “The unions have lost their usefulness for the worker and have begun to rot from within…Class consciousness is better than a union.
Chris, a local city employee who works in a town adjacent to Richmond and who had followed the coverage, also spoke to the WSWS:
Chevron workers in Richmond, Calif., have been “sold out” and “left dry” by the very organization that falsely claims to support the interests of its members…the United Steelworkers Union, Local 5. This concerted effort to undermine the very workers who produce the wealth for both Chevron and the Union only serves to underscore how intertwined and aligned the Union and Chevron are in their desire to seek profits by exploiting the working class.
In a region that is one of the richest in the world, this contract is rightly understood as a “slap in the face” for striking workers who have seen their wages drop under the effects of recent inflation as Chevron recorded record profits. It’s a betrayal in its most honest definition and one that won’t be soon forgotten.
On social media platform Imgur, a commenter responded to the rotten deal with the question, “How is this legal?” Another user replied, “laws of man don’t apply to oil gods.” Earlier, a post based on the WSWS coverage of the Chevron strike went viral with over 100,000 views.
On a subreddit for oil and gas workers, commenters passionately discussed the sellout and what it said about unions, in a thread based on a WSWS article. An oil worker presented the post with an award (which can be given out at the site) in thanks for shedding light on what happened. The thread was the third most popular discussion over the past month.
Chevron’s struggle has won immense support from the working class. The USW, however, sought to isolate it, demoralize workers and impose the hated National Contract.
The task now for Chevron workers, as well as oil workers across the country, is to learn the lessons of this struggle and begin preparations for a new fight that looms on the horizon. Workers do not need to wait for their contracts to expire to free themselves from the isolation and defeat imposed on them by the USW. Build rank-and-file committees to openly discuss what happened and begin to connect with thousands of other industrial workers who have come to the same conclusions about the rottenness of unions.