For most of the summer, people in New England have been following the saga of Market Basket, a supermarket chain known for its low prices, relatively generous wages and benefits for workers, and the CEO responsible for these things, Arthur T. Demoulas. As almost everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows, Arthur’s cousin and rival, Arthur S. Demoulas, gained control of the company, fired him, and appointed two new CEOs, leading to a months-long, nearly unanimous revolt by Market Basket workers, who demanded Arthur T.’s return. Arthur T. responded by making an offer to buy the company, which was finally accepted this Thursday. During the worker protests, Arthur T.’s name and face were widely seen on signs, posters, and t-shirts. However, due to the advice of his lawyers during the negotiations, he made no public appearances and almost no public statements. This all changed on Friday morning, when he gave a speech to crowds of happy workers and supporters. Here is an excerpt:
“You taught everybody that here at Market Basket, it’s a place where respect, honor, and dignity is a way of life. Your words were supported by your actions from deep within your hearts. It was your voices that blared through the television, the radio, and newspaper print, to trigger this insurgence and in that act, you displayed to everyone your unwavering dedication and desire to protect the culture of your company. You have demonstrated that in this organization, here at Market Basket, everyone is special. You have demonstrated that everyone here has a purpose, you have demonstrated that everyone has meaning. And no one person is better or more important than another. And no one person holds a position of privilege. Whether it’s a full-timer or a part timer, whether it’s a sacker, or a cashier, or a grocery clerk, or a truck driver, or a warehouse selector, a store manager, a supervisor, a customer, a vendor, or a CEO, we are all equal. We are all equal, and by working together, and only together, do we succeed. You proved, all of you, that your grassroots effort to save your company and harness thousands and thousands of people was not about a family conflict or a Greek tragedy, but more about fairness, justice, and a solid moral compass that unites the human soul. I have always believed that we are born into this world at a certain time and at a certain place to be with certain people for a reason and a purpose. Everyone has invested in me, because of you, I stand here with a renewed vigor and a sense of purpose, and may we always remember this past summer first as a time when our collective values of loyalty, courage, and kindness for one another really prevailed, and in that process, we just happened to save our company… You all, each and every one of you and thousands more that aren’t here today, you have demonstrated to the world that it is a person’s moral obligation and social responsibility to protect the culture which provides an honorable and a dignified place in which to work.”
Arthur T. comes across as an honest, genuine, down-to-earth person. And he stands for a very important ideal: that even jobs not considered “prestigious” have honor and dignity. Years ago, it was perfectly feasible to make a decent living doing a blue-collar job, such as cooking, plumbing, construction, or working in a grocery store. Today, however, it has become increasingly difficult to survive doing anything other than a white-collar job that requires a college degree. Far too many people work 40 hours a week or more, yet are unable to make enough money to live on. Market Basket is an exception to this disturbing trend. Baggers, cashiers, truck drivers, and warehouse workers perform just as valuable work as much as investment bankers, management consultants, lawyers, and doctors, and society could not function without them. Arthur T. recognizes this. His return this Labor Day weekend provides a reason to celebrate, not only for his employees and customers, but for everyone who believes in the rights and dignity of workers.