General Strike at the Dollar General in Eliot
As Maine Beacon reported, in early May this year “[t]hree workers at the Dollar General in Eliot, Maine decided this week that they had had enough. They walked off the job together, leaving the store with only one employee. But before they locked up after their last shift on Monday, they tendered their resignations and taped them to the glass door.” Pine and Roses’ Isreal Mosley caught up with one of the workers to find out about how life at the Dollar General pushed them to starting thinking about a General Strike.
You may have seen these working-class heroes in the news lately when employees at the General Dollar in Eliot, Maine threw in the towel. Maybe you were excited that someone finally pushed back about people being called lazy and wanting handouts. Maybe you wished you were in the position to quit that way too. Maybe you even started thinking about how you might quit. And maybe you tried to picture what you might do instead of the unending daily grind. Or maybe you’re like me and you felt some combination of all of these things.
So I reached out to Berndt Erikson, one of the workers responsible for the signs in the window, to hear his experience and why he decided it was time for a General Strike at the Dollar General.
Bernt started in January 2020 just before the pandemic hit. Despite being praised by customers for keeping things running, he told me that “management provided only two washable masks for the first two months of the pandemic and only got around to supplying more when customers began complaining and corporate felt it might hurt their bottom line.” Over time the praise died down from all but the regulars. Then the anti-mask crowd started appearing more regularly “making a big scene and having to be kicked out.”
Then there were the hours. As Berndt put it, “Scheduling was the worst at the beginning of the pandemic because I kept getting called into work. I tend to be a night owl and often don’t go to sleep until 4 a.m. If you call me into work early you are cutting into my sleep. My manager (not a manager who quit early on) knew this but kept calling me in early anyway. I would have quit earlier but I liked my manager (the one who quit) and once they left the firewall was down and I could see they were going to start calling me in to cover those hours and I wasn’t having it.”
There was no hazard pay for all that praiseworthy and important work of keeping things running. “We were eventually given a one-time bonus payment after ten months which, for my position, equaled about one week’s worth of pay,” explained Berndt. That one week’s pay was about $520, which breaks down to twelve dollars per week. And believe it or not, the hourly employees were lucky because the manager who quit had their own wages stolen by being required to work seventy hours a week without overtime due to staffing shortages and employment law loopholes.
Given all that, Bernt and his coworkers thought, isn’t there something we can do about it? As Berndt put it, “I put up those signs because I want people to think about their positions and how they get treated and what they deserve from their work. I hope they realize that power should be in their hands. That’s why I said to google a General Strike. I think it’s something a lot of people can get behind. It doesn’t have the scary ‘union’ word. You don’t have to join a group, you don’t have to be beholden to anybody. You just all have to agree that enough is enough and if you don’t give us what we want, you don’t get product or workers anymore.”
Your position, how you are treated, and what you deserve from your work.
This is the conversation we should be having as workers. We’ve been fighting for $15 an hour for more than a decade. We just got the closest we have ever been to making that happen this year and it was shot down in Congress. It’s my personal opinion that if they will not do it then we must. So, is there something all of us can do about it too?
Yes, talk to your coworkers about what is going on in your workplace, how you feel about it and what you want to change. Then demand exactly that. If you don’t get it, they don’t get your labor. In America, the threat of large scale strikes organized by Black Labor Unions in the first half of the twentieth century pushed the ball forward on issues such as Civil Rights and desegregating the military, laying the groundwork for Martin Luther King’s famous speech. It’s about time we carry that energy forward into a new era.