News from Houston

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USW strikers on picket duty.

USW strikers on picket duty.

Today’s post comes to us from fellow IWW’s in Houston giving us a brief overview on their recent work around the USW strikes on the oil refineries.

Click here and you can also listen to an interview with two of the Houston wobs talking about the work their branch is doing, and also their perspectives on the IWW’s projects at large.

 

A Houston Wobb’s Reflection on the USW Strike
by Adelita

Unions’ power is in decay and lately have been resorting to more creative methods in order to remain relevant. We’ve seen the Democrats putting their money behind the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Fight For $15 in Houston at the same time attempting to “turn Texas blue.” But this dependency of unions like SEIU and the United Steel Workers (USW) on the Democratic Party means they are severely limited in what they are willing to do in the realm of tactics. This along with union density being sharply in decline, as well as union power being undermined by Right-to-Work spreading to states like Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, means the unions are not up for waging anything close to a class struggle. Instead unions like the USW maintain their position as representing only certain interests and timidly bargaining around them. (more…)

A new society must be built

| Filed under For discussion Our writings

Equilibrium & Disequilibrium

Equilibrium & Disequilibrium

The 2008 financial crisis in the US led to a flurry of ink and predictions of world collapse of capitalism. None of that has come to be as of yet, but the significance of the crisis is still unsettled. This week’s piece comes to us from Scott Nicholas Nappalos, and argues that more than crisis we need to create the pre-conditions for collective struggles and to actively construct a new society beyond waiting for conditions to do it for us. (more…)

Beating Back the Bureaucrats

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Bloque Sindical de Base

Bloque Sindical de Base

 

We are happy to present Beating Back the Bureaucrats from a comrade writing in South Africa. The piece focuses mostly on a recent initiative called Bloque Sindical de Base in Argentina. Argentina’s labor movement and its many divisions are not well known or understood by english-speakers in the workers movement. Having a history of revolutionary unionism that pre-dates the IWW by some decades and has continued through multiple dictatorships, union labor laws modeled after Mussolini’s Italy, and more recently a severe crisis in 2001 that led to 75% unemployment and a broad uprising, Argentina’s history contains a lot organizers can learn from about building the IWW and more broadly militant workplace organization. How do we deal with government control over the labor movement? With efforts that push organizers into bureaucracies? With reform efforts within unions? Beating Back the Bureaucrats is a welcome addition to bring some of the perspectives and debates to our audience.
The author gives a general history of the development of Argentina’s two largest trade union federations today, the CGT and CTA, starting at the birth of the CGT, its unification with the Peronist movement, and the fights and splits that have followed in the past 50 years since. Much of the work focuses on a recent initiative by union militants within the rival federation CTA which split from CGT. These militants formed a current called Bloque Sindical de Base aimed at increasing rank and file participation and combating bureaucracy within the unions it organizes. Bloque Sindical de Base uses union assemblies to mobilize worker participation on the one hand and on the other runs slates in union elections. Drawing from his analysis of Bloque Sindical de Base, the author argues for positions about the development of more combative and libertarian workers movements, and how new unions initiatives could help or hinder that situation. We have some reservations about the strategy presented at least where we live in the US and Canada, but the article raises important questions for anyone that wishes to develop revolutionary unionism, and we hope it can inspire constructive debates over these issues.

(more…)

On Bluffing

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Rage

Rage – contribution by M. Kostas

 

This week’s piece comes to us by fellow editor at Recomposition, Phineas Gage. In it, he analyzes three instances in different organizing scenarios where bluffing, whether premeditated or spontaneous, helped leverage reactions that would not have otherwise happened. A running theme through these experiences is the desire to struggle, but to struggle together, paired with the glaring fear that people won’t have each other’s backs when push comes to shove. His insight not only lets us in on the small details that can make or break actions, but also shines a light on how every step we take in our organizing, as in our life, is a gamble. (more…)

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?” (more…)

Fast Food Unionism: The Unionization of McDonald’s and/or the McDonaldization of Unions

| Filed under For discussion Our writings

fastgood

This week’s piece comes to us Erik Forman, a contributor to Recomposition. Forman cut his teeth organizing as an IWW in different fast food establishments before the recent push by SEIU and other unions. The text is a repost from from Counterpunch’s Monthly Digital Exclusive. In Fast Food Unionism, he gives a broad background of the industry, business union tactics, and draws out some directions that an autonomous movement of fast food workers could take to remedy the issues he identifies. Drawing from his experience both as a worker and a direct organizer in the field, the piece brings a closeness that is often missing in many discussions.  (more…)

Communication is a Revolutionary Act: Thoughts on communication and media for liberation

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fight-for-15This week we’re including a piece by Scott Nikolas Nappalos on media and communication where he argues that we need to view them as part of our political process rather than just tools. The IWW has a unique history when it comes to culture, media, and communication in the history of North America. In particular, the IWW experimented with different forms of communication and media as part of its organizing including the famous cartoonssongsthe Industrial Worker newspaper, and the One Big Union Monthly. IWWs used forms of communication as political acts in ways that were innovative for their time such as silent agitators (mass visual propaganda), song and soapboxing tactics, and publications that sustained a working class culture of writers, artists, poets, and working intellectuals. Though good history of this is absent (and indeed of the IWW in general), Salvatore Salerno’s book Red November, Black November explores how culture and community formed a backbone of the IWW. The union went so far as to create a workers university run by IWWs, the Work Peoples College, that addressed a broad range of life under capitalism including basic skills, jobs and home life, as well as training for participating in the IWW, and of course political, artistic, and scientific education. This tradition was picked up by IWWs who started an annual educational and cultural retreat in Minnesota for IWWs by the same name. While focusing on the North American context and the IWW specifically, his points also apply more generally. Nappalos ideas open up a different take on communication that moves away from all the hype and technofetishism of our age, and tries to shift the focus towards understanding our role in sustaining and nurturing political relationships in struggle.


SN Nappalos

Traditionally many radicals have looked at communication and media as tools for implementing their ideas, programs, and lines on populations. Adopting the same model from capitalist marketing theory and propaganda models, communication is thought of as transmitting information from sender to receiver, with most of the thinking centered around how we can best transmit the information to our receivers, how to achieve the greatest numbers, etc. Different media are debated, and today fascination with the emergence of social media and internet culture has captivated political actors of all stripes. After the development of mass industrialized media around a century ago, the model of media and communication as a megaphone still is dominant in the actions and thinking of our time. (more…)

Going Green at the Cost of Workers’ Safety

| Filed under For discussion life on the job

 

by Emmett J. Nolan

The issue I’m writing about may seem rather trivial to some readers. To be honest, I too was shocked that my co-workers and I had to fight so hard to be heard on such a small and seemingly obvious issue. The issue which management picked to draw a line in the sand over was providing a trash can in the dining area of the café I work at. Yes, a trash can. Something most customers and workers take for granted. Rightfully so, because who could imagine a counter service café with a bus your own table practice operating without a trash can?

 

In an effort to make the company more green, a composting service was hired and new compostable packaging materials were chosen. Now, compostable items were separated from recycling and garbage. A part of this change included removing all four of the trash cans within the dining and patio area of the café. The cans weren’t replaced with a sorting station like many other businesses had done. Instead the company replaced them with a sign that read:

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No Need to Wait till Tomorrow, When Safety Concerns Can Be Fixed Today

| Filed under For discussion life on the job

by Emmett J. Nolan

 

When we encounter challenges and worsening conditions at work, if we don’t respond immediately to those negative changes we risk having those degraded conditions becoming standard procedure. Whether it’s a reduction of staffing, an increased speed of work or anything else that makes our day-to-day lives on the job more complicated or less valuable, we must act quickly or run the risk of these lower standards becoming firmly established into precedent. The longer we wait to respond to these issues, the more challenging it becomes for us and our co-workers to change them. One such example my co-workers and I encountered involved a safety concern. If we did not respond to it immediately, the result would have been a permanent risk to our well-being.

 

One day I arrived to work and nothing seemed to be different; a day that was starting off just like the rest. Fifteen minutes into my shift, I needed to slice a loaf of bread for a customer. Our slicer is automatic, just push a button and a weight pushes the bread against a dozen or so jostling blades, neatly slicing a full-size loaf of bread. For years we’ve used this machine with no issue. I trained and seen countless co-workers trained on this machine. Each time, the optical sensor –if triggered– will stop the blades. This feature is pointed out and demonstrated often by one passing their hand by the sensor. The safety feature came in handy in the past when errand objects fell into the slicer and we needed to fetch them out by hand.

(more…)

We’re Not Horses, We Can’t Rest on Our Feet

| Filed under For discussion life on the job

by Emmett J. Nolan

 

On my first day of work, my manager explained to me the three options regarding breaks:

  1. clock out for 30 minutes,
  2. take two 10-minute breaks on the clock, or
  3. take a 20-minute break on the clock.

Additionally, an hour and a half “black-out” period existed for breaks during the busy middle of the day. The actual state law is a 30-minute meal break and two 10-minute rest breaks for a work period over six hours. Not only was this buffet option of breaks illegal, but it was also a strain on the body during a 7 to 9 hour shift. This situation continued on for two years and I discovered that this system was not just limited to my department or workplace, but existed within other departments and at other locations in the company.

(more…)