Photos from the Teamster Local 439 strike 10/2000 in Tracy, CA.
Institute of Industrial Relations Gallery, UC Berkeley 10/5/2001-1/15/2002
click on photos for larger view and full caption
All photos copyright 2001 Tamara Kay.
In October 2000, members of Teamsters Local 439 organized a strike against Summit Logistics, which serves as the main warehouse and distribution center for Safeway supermarkets. Striking workers sought to remedy a variety of pay and health and safety issues for drivers and warehouse workers. During the forty-five day strike, Teamsters picketed the Summit Logistics warehouse in Tracy, California and passed out leaflets at Safeway stores. The strike lasted forty-five days and ended on November 30, 2000. These photographs were taken on the picket line in Tracy and at various Safeway stores during the final days of the strike on November 24, 25, and 26, 2000.
The photographs in this exhibit present the everyday experience of life on a very specific picket line. These photographs are not about the heated, intense moments that make headlines and inspire twenty-second news soundbytes. Rather, they are about the monotony, the daily grind of life on this or any picket line. While many photojournalists rush to capture and many scholars attempt to explain the emotional moments of a strike -- the violence, the raw conflict -- this collection of photographs depicts the subdued moments that accompany strikes. It also examines the provisionality of the picket line; distinctions of private space and notions of home dissolve as workers turn pickup trucks into bedrooms and create communal kitchens in rundown RVs. The picket line explodes in contradiction. The constant flow of replacement workers references the work that creates abundance or immiseration. Here plenty and scarcity, public and private, individuality and communalism, success and failure, coexist. The picket line is also about repetition. Indeed, these photographs could have been shot on any three days during the strike; there is so little to distinguish one day from another. An endless cycle of cooking, sitting, pacing, watching, and strategic sign and body placement, characterizes the forty-five day ordeal.
The exhibit also includes photographs in which no workers are present. These images depict traces of the strike: signs, empty chairs, skid marks. The signs are defiant, filling the spaces that bodies usually occupy. The image of skid marks left by untrained and inexperienced replacement workers suggests a violence that the images of restrained workers belie. Some images even imply humor, albeit a humor steeped in irony; a woman dismisses a picketer to answer her cell phone.
This exhibit locates itself in the moments that require waiting, patience, bracing against the cold, surviving on donated hot dogs cooked in industrial drums, adjusting to a changed daily routine. It is about a constancy of character and the commitment that is needed to survive through months of insecurity, instability and physical discomfort.
Tamara Kay received her B.A. in Sociology, and in Art Theory and Practice with a concentration in Painting, at Northwestern University in 1993. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her scholarly work examines labor, economic development, and processes of globalization. Her Ph.D. dissertation focuses on the effects of globalization and North American economic integration on transnational labor movement organizing. For more information about the Teamsters, their strike, or the exhibit, contact Tamara at: email@example.com.