East of the Mississippi, especially, the large population concentrations and extensive road networks required to supply large stores and provide easy customer access did not exist.
Before World War II there were some supermarkets in large metropolitan areas, most famously the A & P chain. There were enough people who could walk on city streets to the markets and also roads and paved streets to keep big stores supplied by increasing numbers of vehicles.
Few employees of what were called “Mom and Pop” shops of those days made a living, usually only Mom and Pop themselves. As today, controlling labor costs was crucial to operating at a profit.
Without strong unions, non-owner employees worked “at will,” that is, at the whim and will of employers.
In those days, the image of kids hurrying to the grocery store or butcher shop after class in high school to haul sides of beef or to put the cans on the shelves and lift the huge tubs of butter into the refrigerator compartment behind the counter was quite accurate.
Full-time work outside the family was rare. Where it existed at all, pay was pitifully low, with no benefits of any kind, and worker exploitation was rampant. No vacation, no retirement, no medical coverage – no nothing. And nothing to do about it.
If employees got sick and didn’t work, they didn’t get paid. If they didn’t like it, they could seek employment elsewhere – that is, until the Retail Clerks and the Butchers started to organize and flex their united muscles.
Sad to say, none of this history is taught in American schools any more as it once was. Rather, today we have the intense, aggressive move to bring back the bad old days where the employers did whatever they wanted with their people to maximize profits.
“ Today we have the intense, aggressive move to bring back the bad old days where the employers did whatever they wanted with their people to maximize profits.”
In our powerful organization of more than 22,000 strong, our all-time high membership, we must never forget those who came before. The women and men of this local for more than 75 years had to strategize, organize, mobilize and fight to get what we have today against what sometimes appears to be the overpowering resources of the employers.
Arizona continues to grow and prosper, as does the union and the well-being of our members. A future in which the best is yet to come is being written right now by Local’s 99’s members.