The recent Market Basket strike — 25,000 employees from 71 stores — was characterized by a Boston Review– and MIT Sloan-sponsored roundtable as The Summer of Market Basket. Unlike the summer’s other labor dispute to gain notoriety, fast food workers protesting for higher wages, the Market Basket strike seemed like a radical departure from a labor strike’s usual goals. Instead of higher pay or better benefits, these workers demanded a new boss. Or, to be more precise, they wanted their old boss back.
At the heart of the Market Basket dispute was an inter-family struggle for control over the chain of low-cost grocery stores. On one side was Arthur T. Demoulas, the longtime CEO beloved by employees for paying livable wages — the Boston Globe reported that a truck driver recently retired with a nest egg of over $700,000, while two store managers left as millionaires. On the other side of the struggle, wresting control from Arthur T., was his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, who was a bit cozier with shareholders and made no promises to keep his cousin’s business model of sharing profits with employees.
After weeks of strikes that were led mostly by middle management and supported by loyal customers who showed solidarity with the chain’s employees by taping grocery receipts from other stores onto the window of their local Market Basket, Arthur S. gave in and agreed to sell the business back to his cousin. The non-union employees of Market Basket, with generous support from their communities, had effectively chosen the leadership of a $4 billion company. As heartening as the story is, it overshadowed a more radical, albeit smaller, labor development in New England: the creation of the largest worker cooperative in Maine.