routes included small black convenience stores while the white drivers
got the big grocery chain stores.
Hostess Bakeries was
recently allowed to close its doors when mediation between the union
company failed. In St. Louis,
the company never really changed its image or racist practices in 40
ITT conglomerate was hit by a boycott back in 1971 from ACTION, an
direct-action protest organization. Because all the ACTION demands were
met, the boycott remained in effect.
There were three unions that represent
the 18, 500 workers across the
country. They are the Bakers, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers
(BCTGM), United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the International
Teamsters Union. Union workers stood tall and firm in their refusal to
intimidated by the bullying tactics of the company. They now all face
When Hostess Brands announced it was
seeking bankruptcy (again) in the
midst of contract disputes with its union workers, the workers went on
To add insult to injury, the company announced it intended to pay $1.75
in bonuses to 19 of its executives. The company has been in bankruptcy
eight years of the last decade. It had stopped paying into the workers’
pensions, and decreased health benefits but seemed to be taking good
its top execs.
Even as it was throwing the blame of the
company’s dismal future at
the feet of the workers, Hostess had already given its executives pay
earlier this year. The CEO’s salary tripled from $750,000 to about $2.5
million. This doesn’t exactly sound like a company in financial
sounds more like a company who wants to maintain superprofits
for the top execs and its shareholders on the backs of its workers.
Back in 1971, a boycott campaign against
Hostess and Wonder Bread, led
by Percy Green and ACTION, proved to be incredibly successful even
internet and cell phones. Within a few months, stores had snatched
and Hostess products off their shelves. The protests and subsequent
dominated the local news for months.
Those brand names fell under ITT which
stands for International
Telephone and Telegraph. At one point the ITT portfolio included a
seemingly unrelated industries such as bakeries, hotels, insurance
and electronics for weapons of war.
To add insult to injury, the company announced
it intended to pay $1.75 million in bonuses to 19 of its executives.
The company brought out its few black
employees as the front guard of
their fight, including its PR man, Sam Wheeler, (former Harlem
basketball player), who called the protest “black against black.” The
drivers who received commissions from the sales of the delivered bakery
products were encouraged by Wheeler to set up a protest at the ACTION
headquarters. The drivers who were misled by the company apparently
realized an important element of discrimination uncovered by ACTION:
black drivers’ routes included small black convenience stores while the
drivers got the big grocery chain stores.
When the company tactic to pit their
black employees against ACTION
didn’t work, the corporation tapped into its buddies in higher places.
Missouri Attorney General Jack Danforth
injunction and conspiracy suit against ACTION. The antitrust suit
claimed that ACTION
and Colonial Bread were in cahoots with one another to bring ITT
Bakeries down. Colonial Bread was Wonder Bread’s competition and it
unintended beneficiary of the ACTION boycott. It also became a
co-conspirator in the AG’s anti-trust law suit.
This tactic backfired as well. It
catapulted the conglomerate and all
its dirty linen into the national spotlight for several years. It put
resources of a peer corporation into action (no pun intended) and
state attorney general’s office to settle the suit that there was no
doing on Colonial’s part.
The conglomerate became a target of
antitrust groups but more volatile
was being a target of the anti-war movement that prompted a national
Wonder Bread with the slogan, “Don’t Buy Bombs when You Buy Bread!”
ties to the CIA’s topple of the democratically elected Chilean leader,
Allende, were also
uncovered during this time.
The historical struggle of
workers against companies like Hostess is a testament that we must stay
vigilant in our efforts to uphold racial and gender equality and pay
along with issues of worker safety and product quality. These greedy
corporations don’t get better with time. Let’s make sure we are
immediate victories for workers but also for worker security and rights
will endure well into the future.
Board member and Columnist, Jamala Rogers, is the leader of the Organization
for Black Struggle in St.
Additionally, she is an Alston-Bannerman
Fellow. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle. Click
here to contact Ms.