A Worthless Piece of Plastic

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Surprise - by Monica Kostas

Surprise – by Monica Kostas


This week’s piece comes to us by a regular Recomposition contributor, Invisible Man. In the face of fierce debates on racism, profiling, protests, and riots, his anecdote detailing an altercation with cops in Alberta feels painfully relevant.

A Worthless Piece of Plastic
by Invisible Man

There’s nothing to do on a Saturday night in Lacombe. We want to see a movie. In the fall of 1999, the nearest theatre is half an hour’s drive away in Red Deer, Alberta.

So, as usual, we drive into town with a borrowed ride – Terry at the wheel. (He’s white, you have to think of these things.) We turn into the theatre parking lot to read the lighted billboard on the north side of the building. As usual, there is nothing worth seeing.

“Let’s go to the cheap theatre. At least we won’t be wasting our money on a crappy movie.”

“You wanna walk?”

“Yeah, let’s walk.”

It’s not far from one theatre to the other. We joke and chatter as we cut through the parking lot. An older White couple passes. They stare; maybe they have never seen so many Brown people at one time. After they have passed, someone makes a crack that they are probably calling the police right now.

Three minutes later, the police arrive. Red and blue lights reflect darkly off brick and glass. The sound of a buzzer shatters the thick evening stillness. Three cop cars for four guys (…to be more precise, for three Brown guys and one White guy). One of them is the paddy wagon – and Red Deer’s only Brown cop is driving it. Apparently, we aren’t the only ones with nothing to do on a Saturday night.

They climb out of their vehicles, motors still running. We stop and turn. (There’s nothing to be afraid of if you haven’t done anything.)

They stand in a circle around us; two in front of us, one behind.

“Ok, boys…let’s see some ID,” says one of the White cops.

We pull out our wallets. I hand over my birth certificate.

“What are you boys doing?”

“Going to the theatre.”

“The theatre’s behind you.”

“We’re checking out the cheap theatre.”

“Did you walk through the parking lot?”

“Yes.”

“We had a report of some guys matching your description breaking into cars.”

“We weren’t breaking into any cars.”

“So you guys just walked through the parking lot and didn’t touch any cars?” the Brown cop asks.

“Yeah,” we reply.

“I’ve got this,” the White cop quickly tells the Brown cop. “Where are you from?” Mr. I’ve-got-this turns to face us.

“Scarborough,” James mumbles.

“And you?”

“Oh, I’m from Vancouver,” says Phil politely.

“You?”

“I live in Lacombe,” I respond.

“Well I see what the ID’s say.  But where are you guys originally from?”

You guys. The blameless words are inflected with an intangible chill. Originally from. We look away spite of ourselves.

“Sri Lanka.”

“I’m Filipino.”

“…And you?”

I have stayed quiet, staring at the pavement. A streetlight glints off the steel handle of a hip-holstered pistol. As my eyes slowly travel upward, I look straight into metallic grey eyes.

“I’m a Canadian citizen.”

“No, where are you originally from?”

The policeman flashes that familiar smile – no, that smirk – that red-faced baring of teeth that reveals what it also conceals. He fingers the plastic edging on my birth certificate.

“I was born in Canada.” I involuntarily point to the card as I speak.

“Well where are your parents from, then?”

“My father is Italian and my mother is Sri Lankan, but they’re both Canadian citizens too.”

“Sri Lanka again. OK.” He mutters under his breath as he scratches something into his notepad.

“Well, look,” the White cop continues. “We don’t have any evidence that you did anything. And you’ve been cooperative. But you’re going to be on file…”

(none of the cops, White or Brown, has so much as looked at our White friend yet) “…so make sure you guys keep your nose clean when you’re in Red Deer.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you very much, sir.” No one feels like watching a movie anymore.

I put the card into my wallet as we move on. The setting sun outlines my reflection in a darkened window. But I don’t see it. My head is lowered. I am staring at the pavement again. At the age of eighteen, I finally understand what I’ve been missing all this time.

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The Intermediate Moment

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This week we bring you a piece from our friends at Unity and Struggle. They’ve written a longer assessment of trying to navigate a revolutionary path in our time. Engaging ideas of some of us in Recomp and others around the country, this strikes us as important conversations to have as things are still up in the air from the events of 2008, 2012, and continuing. The intermediate moment is the first part of a two part series, the second of which is likely to be about their experiences organizing a solidarity network that has worked on housing issues in largely immigrant neighborhoods in Houston. We’re looking forward to it. 

by Adelita Kahlo and Tyler Zee

*The perspectives advanced below are those of the authors and do not represent an official “line” of U&S. U&S, as will be seen below, does not have formal positions. While many of the ideas will be common starting points for U&S, there will be nuanced differences and perhaps some disagreements according to individuals and locales.

PART ONE

Introduction

This piece is the result of many conversations and has been informed by engagement with a cross section of various nodes of activity. We, the authors, have learned so much through these conversations; many assumptions we held prior to this effort have now been either thrown out or complicated. While a number of questions remain, a few starting points have been clarified.

As a consequence of these conversations, the scope of this piece has also changed from one tailored primarily to debates within the solnet milieu, since the two of us have been doing aspects of solnet organizing for a while now, to being fundamentally about the intermediate concept and its strategic merits for revolutionaries in the current moment that takes the solnet (and others) as a kind of case study. While the scope has shifted we very much want to enter into more systematic exchange with the above folks and others that are grappling with these and parallel questions.

Part one of the piece is geared toward making sense of the current moment and elaborating on concepts the writers have used to do so. This also means a discussion that might appear as tangential but what for us represent an attempt to have a holistic, systematic, and rigorous approach. The conclusions drawn here are of necessity temporal and are toward the ends of building the bridge between the present and the medium-term future. So as “scientific” as we have tried to be, there are limits to this piece both in scope and in the factors entering our analysis.

Furthermore, this isn’t an exhaustive treatment of the possibilities and measures for militants to undertake (and certainly not the limits of the life of revolutionaries as a whole) since it deals more exclusively with the relation of revolutionaries to “advanced” workers that we have tried to understand using the intermediate concept. Advanced is in quotes because we use it in absence of a more precise term though we try to be as accurate and lucid as possible in our presentation of the intermediate concept. (Though we are familiar with Lenin’s conception of the advanced worker, we do not use it here in the same way. Hopefully in the comments folks can help flesh out this concept of “advanced” in the contexts in which we use them). We are hedging our bets, so to speak, on this relation as a primary strategic necessity of the contemporary period. We hope that whatever needs clarification can be done through further discussion in the comments section and elsewhere. We know that ultimately the conclusions we’ve drawn and have the ability to draw are tentative and partial and that we can only reach toward something more total through conversation, association, and collaboration with others.

Shouts to Nate Hawthorne, IWW-Minneapolis and Recomposition, for the initial inspiration for this piece. (more…)

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The truth about the million dollar coffee company

| Filed under For discussion life on the job

swuThis week we bring you a second piece from a Starbucks worker about a firing, following Work to Rule. Part of struggle is not only the lessons and strategies, but also the experiences and the real life costs that occur when we start to take action. This submission succinctly takes us though one woman’s experience that ended too soon. 

By: Lyssa 

I think back to the last I worked at Starbucks on 80th and York, and recall what a beautiful day it was outside, that day was a nice break from the harsh winter we had this past year. As I walked into the store that day, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right. However I still clocked in for my shift at 2:15 pm to close the store with one of new supervisors, put on the “happy barista persona” required of me, and went on the floor to work. About 15 minutes after I had clocked in I watched my supervisor Margret waltz in (15 minutes late and out of dress code) with her sister (another Starbucks partner) in tow, she had the most confused look on her face at the site of me. She said to me “Lyssa are you closing?” I looked at her with an even more confused face and responded to her. “Yeah I am. Why?” To which she replied, “So why did Jennifer have me bring my sister in to close?” At her response I simply shook my head, shrugged my shoulders, and thought to myself, so this is how it’s going to go down. A few minutes later my other shift supervisor Julian pulled me to the side and said to me, “Jennifer asked me to write a statement about the incident that occurred on Saturday even though I wasn’t here, but I told her that I wasn’t going to write it because I did not witness anything. After I told her I wouldn’t write it, Jennifer instead asked me to write a statement about what a bad partner you are, stating that you give me an attitude and that your insubordinate.” I asked her if she was serious, and she said, “Yes”. I told her I didn’t feel comfortable writing a statement like then when we work well together and that I’ve never had any problems with you. I also told her that I think your shift material, and it’s unfair for her to treat you the way she does.” All I could say to Julian was thank you. It almost brought a tear to my eye to know that I her on my side, especially because I know that I’m fighting a losing battle. I told her it’s okay, that I know Jennifer wants to get me out her store because she can’t control me, I’m a strong partner who will not let her walk all over me, and I’m not afraid to voice my opinions or my concerns. It just hurts that Jennifer will get the satisfaction of firing me, for a situation I had no control over, and handled to the best of my ability.

Around 2:35 Jennifer and Katrina (the district manager) asked to see me in the back; it’s not like I didn’t already know what was coming. I knew it from the moment I walked into the store on that beautiful March day, from the moment I saw my supervisor Margret and her sister walk into the store, from the moment my shift Julian pulled me to the side to clue me on Jennifer’s sneaky plan, and from that final moment I looked at the front door and saw Katrina walk into the store. They had finally figured out a way to give me the boot, and I had no control over what was about to happen. I took my time and finished the task I was doing before I waltzed to the back and sat down between the two of them. Jennifer broke the silence first by saying, “Based on the investigation (that lasted three days) and the statements we collected from partners and customers (falsified reports, one of the statements being her own), we’re going to have to separate with you”. I thought to myself, separate? That’s an odd word to use; I didn’t know we were dating. She continued with, “Although you may not have done anything wrong, you didn’t protect yourself and you put your partners as well as customers at risk by not saying anything to your supervisor (who witness the situation and didn’t do anything to prevent it) to prevent the situation from arising”. I said, “So I’m getting fired for handling the situation the best way I know how, even though my supervisor was present and didn’t do anything to help or stop it?” She shook her yes and proceeded to ask me to sign the separation papers (which by the way I refused to sign). She then tore off a carbon copy of the separation paper which was so faint I couldn’t even read the reason she wrote why I was being “separated” from the company, handed it to me and said, “I wish you the best of luck”.

As I sat there looking at these two women there were so many things running through my mind, things I felt I should say, things I know I had no business saying, violent things I wanted to do to Jennifer because of what she was doing to me. While I sat there I recalled the number of times that I had come in to cover shifts for her, working 6,7,8 days straight while going to school full time, working 13 hours shifts, coming in early or staying later because she had no coverage, this was the same women who had turned against me. I had done countless favors for her, looked out for her when no one else had her back, and this was what I got in return. Jennifer knew that this job was my only means of supporting myself, of paying my rent, feeding myself and paying for transportation to get to school, but she didn’t care. I was fired to protect the brand. A brand that feels their partners are replaceable, and if a partner won’t do everything they say, well they can find someone who will. This is what Starbucks does, once they feel threatened in any way by a partner, they find a way to get you out, because your replaceable and they figure someone else who will do anything and everything for your job. In that moment I had come to accept that this was the reality of; this was why the corporation is sosuccessful and why Baristas cannot come together to organize, and fight for their rights. By the time partners come together to organize, they are so broken down by the corporation that they have nothing left in them to fight. So Instead of doing something rash I kept my composure, I thought if I’m going to go, I’m not going to give them the satisfaction of seeing me break. I got up handed them my hat and apron, cleared out my locker, packed my bag, said goodbye to partners and took my last mark out. As I walked out that I door I took one long last look at the store, winked at Jennifer and said, “Don’t worry I’ll be back.”

 

 

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Beyond “F*ck You”: An organizer’s approach to confronting hateful language at work

| Filed under For discussion life on the job

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The people we work with usually reflect what the dominant culture of our society is like. This includes some of its worst aspects, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and heterosexism. For worker-organizer’s, these present their own difficulties. They impede our short term goals such as being able to withstand the drudgery of a job, as well as exist as obstacles to uniting our coworkers against management. In addition to these problems, they stand in stark contrast with our long-term goals of creating a new world free of oppression and exploitation. But how do we deal with this? Here is an account from Coeur de Bord about their response to hateful language at their workplace.

(more…)

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Being a woman organizer isn’t easy

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LaborMarch was International Women’s Day and the IWW celebrated it with a special issue of the Industrial Worker. It’s worth reading the whole thing via the Industrial Worker here and you can get a subscription via this link if you want to support it and see more writings like that. Much of the time discussions around organizing center on what keeps us from winning or building the union up to those fights. There’s less discussion around things that prevent workers from becoming their own radical agents, particularly in gendered terms. The article we’re running today comes from Miami, Florida and was published in the Industrial Worker. It’s a personal account of one organizer’s journey to becoming a committed IWW, and how she has seen race and gender play a role in her life. Though only one snapshot of these big issues, contributions like this give us a window into deep forces at play in our work and neighborhood lives, and are things we hope IWWs can continue thinking around and fighting for an alternative. 

from Luz Sierra

This past year I became politically active. I went from being completely unaware of the existence of radical politics to doing organizing work in Miami with an anarchist perspective. It has been both a rewarding and difficult journey, yet gender seems to haunt me wherever I go. I am probably not the first woman to experience this, but I believe that I should demonstrate how this is a real issue and provide my personal insight for other women to have a reference point for their own struggles.

Being raised by Nicaraguan parents and growing up in Miami’s Latin community, I have firsthand experience with the sexist culture in South Florida. Many families that migrated from South and Central America and the Caribbean arrived to the United States carrying traditions from the 1970s and 1980s. Daughters are raised by women who were taught that their goal in life is to be an obedient wife and to devote their time to raising children and making their husbands happy. Latin women are supposed to be modest, self-reserved, have the ability to fulfill domestic roles and be overall submissive. Some Hispanic families might not follow this social construction, but there are still a large number of them who insert this moral into their households. For instance, this social construct is apparent in the previous three generations of my father’s and mother’s families. My great grandmothers, grandmothers, mother and aunts never completed their education and spend the majority of their life taking care of their husbands and children. Meanwhile, various male members of my current and extended family had the opportunity to finish their education, some even received college degrees, and went on to become dominant figures in their households. The male family members also had the chance to do as they pleased for they left all household and childcare responsibilities to their wives. As the cycle continued, my mother and grandmothers attempted to socialize me to fulfill my expected female role. I was taught not to engage in masculine activities such as sports, academia, politics, and other fields where men are present. Unfortunately for them, I refused to obey their standards of femininity. I have played sports since I was 10 years old; I grew a deep interest in history, sociology and political science; and I am currently part of three political projects. Such behavior has frustrated my parents to the point that I am insulted daily. My mother will claim that I am manly, selfish for devoting more time to organizing and promiscuous because the political groups I am involved with consist mostly of men. My father will state that I am senseless for wasting my time in politics and should devote more time in preparing myself to become a decent wife and mother. (more…)

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Industrial Unity: A Response to “Locality & Shop”

| Filed under For discussion Our writings

foodservworkWe received a number of replies and great discussion from the piece by S Nappalos on the IWW’s locality versus industrial structures. E.A. Martinez has sent a lengthy response raising points of criticism and agreement that is worth engaging. While the discussion centers around structures of the IWW, bigger issues are at hand. In reality the debate centers around the role of the workplace organizer, how they relate to their job and neighborhood, and where we situate their struggles. We’re glad to see this thoughtful reply, and hope it generates some reflection and responses.

E.A. Martinez

The division between local organization and industrial organization – and which should prevail over the other – has been a hot topic of debate within revolutionary unions for decades, and the IWW is no exception. Locality and Shop Inside Revolutionary Unions provides one perspective on whether the local form (the General Membership Branch, or GMB) or the industrial form (the Industrial Union Branch, or IUB) is superior.

After examining attempts by the Portland IWW to build a patchwork of IUBs in the early 2000s, the author concludes that industrial organization is not suited for the present socio-economic conditions in which we find ourselves, or for the present state of the IWW. Rather, we should look to build the IWW as local groups of militants and political radicals who “take [their militancy] with them through their jobs.”

The author points to many Wobblies’ opposition to activism as one of the chief causes for the preference of industrial units over local units, which is not untrue. Many Wobblies have argued that locality-based IWW branches are often mistaken for merely another acronym in a city’s alphabet soup of revolutionary groups, book clubs, NGOs, and non-profits. To combat the perception of the IWW as anything but an industrial union, Wobblies have pushed for more workplace- and industry-based organization, as this will demonstrate to activists that we are in fact a union, and not one of many political clubs. (more…)

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Joe Burn’s review of Lines of Work

| Filed under For discussion Our writings

our jobs our storiesJoe Burns, author of the influential book Reviving the Strike put up a review of our new book Lines of Work on his blog. We want to direct to the discussion to the Reviving the Strike blog where he posted it. His comments are flattering and we aspire towards and contribute to the sort of revival he advocates. “Although written in terms of stories and experiences, the book’s approach offers a different approach to union revival, one deeply rooted in the workplace and rooted in the daily experience of workers.” This Saturday we remind our readers near Miami, Florida that there will be a Lines of Work worker story workshop.

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Review of Lines of Work

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lines of work boxesOur friends at Unity and Struggle reviewed our new book Lines of Work. We want to direct to the discussion on their site linked above. The review makes us proud of our work and thankful for all the great people who engage with this project, contribute, read, and make Recomposition what it is. At the same time there’s some seeds for us to think about as we keep moving forward with organizing, writing, creating, and reflecting. The friendly critical thoughts at the end are worth thinking about and could help improve all of our work “a more robust theory of the moment is needed in order to inform these struggles and prepare them for the next level. And not just for the theoretically inclined of the volume, who work tirelessly to this effect — for every would-be workplace organizer. This means a vision of what society is and what it needs be, beyond bosses and workers, justice and injustice, freedom and unfreedom, coupled with an analysis of the conditions under which we can reasonably strive to get there.” Likewise there’s an exploration of the relation between the contributors experience of work and thinking around how workplace struggles have been changed or possibly weakened with broader social shifts put forward by folks like Endnotes. We share the author’s critique of aspects of those pieces and that there are elements in those debates that are important. Looking forward to seeing discussion around the themes JF from Unity & Struggle has raised, and a reminder that on April 4th there will be a Lines of Work worker story workshop in Miami, Florida.

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Actions and objectives of the workers movement

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krasWhat is the relationship between the objectives of the revolutionary union movement and its actions? Ever since unions were first integrated into the State and its legal framework for collaborative industrial relations, the revolutionary union movement has had hard questioned pressed upon it. At crucial moments revolutionary unions defected to back policies destructive to the working class such as the CGT in France supporting WWI, the leadership of the CNT joining the government during the war, and Mexico’s Casa del Obrera Mundial taking up arms for the state against the rural Zapatista movement in its revolution. The post-war labor movement has been defined by trying to navigate the integration of unions within the State and often management, and the subsequent dismantling of those relationships. Today we still grapple with these issues as we try to find ways to fight around daily issues while building a powerful movement of working class people towards a new revolutionary horizon.

This piece comes to us from our brothers and sisters in the Confederation of Revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalists CRAS-AIT in Russia. Vadim Damier, historian of the seminal work Anarcho-syndicalism in the 20th Century (published and translated by Black Cat Press) writes about the experiences of the spanish anarchosyndicalist union the CNT from a critical perspective, and gives an alternative followed by CRAS-AIT today inspired by experiences in anarchosyndicalists in Argentina. Whichever position you take, this discussion is crucial now as the basis for unions is being transformed, and uncertain possibilities and challenges are unfolding.

Anarchism and Syndicalism: the «CNT model» and its dilemma
-by Vadim Damier

One philosopher has once told that the one, who doesn’t study history, is doomed to repeat its errors. The problem consists just in looking for what was made may be not correctly or not very well in the past. This can give a possibility to avoid some mistakes in the present and in the future.

Of course, it would be unreasonably and conceitedly to give advices to comrades living in a country removed in thousands of kilometers, with quite other situation and with differing conditions of social and workers struggle. But when I turn around back on history of anarcho-syndicalist movement in Spain, I see not only brilliant victories and the Great Revolution, but also certain internal problems. And these problems remain the same throughout all history of heroic CNT.

The attempts of Bolshevist usurpation in the beginning of 1920s; the permanent discussions about participation in the politic; the cooperation of leading group of Pestaña and Peirò with oppositional politicians in the struggle against the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera; the Treintismo; the refusal of realization in July of 1936 of Concepto confederal del comunismo libertario adopted on Zaragoza congress; the “Ministerialismo” in the Civil War; the common front of “internal” fraction with authoritarian parties in the struggle against Franco in the 1940s and 1950s; the “Cincopuntismo”; the massive infiltration of the Reformists and then finally the splits which led to a creation of the CGT; and finally the actual troubles with the “heterodoxos” and attempts to force some of their most active critics out of Confederation… (more…)
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How I Got Fired And Won My Job Back

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This submission comes to us from an IWW organizer about his organizing that led to his being fired and returned to work. Given that firings are the greatest fear we often encounter in organizing, a detailed account like this is valuable for workers learning to organize. Emmett was organizing in a typical environment we find ourselves in; without a union, organizing only semi-publicly, and trying to move forward without reproducing the errors of business unions. Working without contracts, elections, or the typical management union relation, Emmett’s piece helps show the tensions that come out of our work, and how they were able to turn things around.

By Emmett J. Nolan
Originally Published in the Industrial Worker Issue 1761 December 2013.

The Termination
Arriving to work, I entered through the break room as usual. There, awaiting me was my manager who immediately said that we needed to talk. He told me not to put away my bag; I couldn’t get ready for my shift like I usually did. I asked him if this was a disciplinary meeting but he did not respond directly to the question. He just said, “We need to talk. This will just take a minute.” While walking through the production floor I greeted co-workers as I usually do and I followed my manager into his office. Seeing that no one else was in the office, I asked, “Is someone from HR [Human Resources] going to be here?” He barked back at me, “This is coming straight from HR.” I then asked him if I could have a co-worker in the meeting with me. He denied this request, responding, “Hmmm, no.”

Immediately after the door closed, my manager informed me “this” wasn’t working out, perhaps justifying this by stating I was “clearly unhappy” here. He went through a cursory explanation of paperwork and stated that I was terminated. I did not agree with the judgments and told him so; and when instructed to sign a termination form I refused.

I inquired if the termination was a result of my work performance. “No. You’re a great worker, but a bad employee,” he replied. While still in shock at what was happening, I had enough sense to ask some follow-up questions and see what he’d reveal. Foremost, I was curiously struck by that explicit worker/employee distinction he mentioned, and so I asked him about it. He elaborated that while I was a “leader” on the crew, I was nonetheless disrespectful to the owners. For example he cited the frustration I’ve expressed to other co-workers, including him, about how the owners leave their week-old dirty dishes from the office by the sink and neglect to wash them. With that I readily pointed out how he and everyone else complain to me about just that practice as well.

“They’re the owners, and it doesn’t matter,” he replied.

“Can I work my shift or am I fired?” I asked to clarify that firing was, in fact, underway.

I was told no, I could not work my shift. I inquired if the company would approve my unemployment, to which he responded affirmatively.

I’ve had many a nightmare about being fired from this job; and have thought at length about what I would do should that day arrive. Having seen how managers call unsuspecting co-workers to cover shifts for workers walking into termination, and how they wait for their target to arrive through the break room, I recognized what was happening to me. Previously, when my departmental co-workers and I were better-organized, we discussed what we’d do if one of us was fired for a collective action we’d taken. (more…)

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