Organizing at Jimmy Johns
This is the third part of a series of concrete examples (Part I – Part II) and very brief summaries of organizations that have some component of direct action and a form of collective bargaining that operate outside the labour relations framework. The following examples are from the IWWs organising efforts in food service. This includes fast food as well as grocery stores in a lot of the examples the IWW actually engaged in innovative organising that broke ground in more high profile campaigns like the well known “Fight for Fifteen” campaigns around raising the minimum wage in the USA.
Port of Metro Vancouver Workers Protest
This is the first part of a series of concrete examples and very brief summaries of organizations that have some component of direct action and a form of collective bargaining that operate outside the labour relations framework. The first series are entirely owner operator associations in Transportation. There is a conventional argument, bolstered by employers, that these folks are not workers but rather small business people. Of course that’s nonsense, being a worker is not determined by the form of wage you take and being paid piece rate is as old as payment itself. Owning your own tools does not make someone a business owner, if that were the case many tradesmen wouldn’t be workers. These workers have responded to a unique situation that opens up positive examples for organisers all over and should be watched.
Emilio Lopez Arango
What is the role of unions in a future free society? How does the structure of capitalism and unions today reflect that? The difficulty of the end of the 1920s (fascism and repression, changes in demographics and industries) gave an opportunity for reflection on strategy and vision of the revolutionary movement. This happened mainly within the International Workers Association (IWA-AIT) which at the time likely involved millions of workers across the world, but also within the IWW. The subject is poorly studied with minimal resources in English, most of what is publicly available about the IWA can be reduced to a few articles. The debate was wide ranging covering union structure, future society, revolutionary methods, amongst other subjects. Part of the discussion focused on whether revolutionary unions should adopt craft or industrial unions as their primary structure.
What follows is a translation of Medios de Lucha, Means of Struggle, by Emilio Lopez Arango, a working class autodidact and baker; the main thinker of Argentina’s powerful Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA). The FORA dominated the Argentine labor movement for decades in the turn of the century and its model spread across Latin America, in some cases like Chile and Mexico displacing the IWW affiliates. In the piece Arango grapples with the question of industrial organization and industrial unionism and critiques the IWW’s idea that unions within capitalism should form the basis for a future society especially centered on using capitalist industries as the model. He was not alone in this as some IWWs also critiqued it. We also recommend reading the recent piece by S Nicholas Nappalos that looks at the debate more in depth.
The piece today is also part 5 of our Against the IWW series, which, to be clear we’re not anti-IWW, we’re very pro-IWW and we’re running this series because we think IWW members should read criticisms of the IWW, discuss them with each other, and be able to respond to those criticisms. In our organizing we inoculate our co-workers to the criticisms employers make of the IWW. Similarly IWW members should be inoculated against political criticisms of the IWW. We invite people to write full rebuttals to this and all of the other criticisms of the IWW and submit them to us and to other web sites and publications.
You can find our previous posts in the series here:
Against the IWW Series Part I: The Bankruptcy of the American Labor Movement
Against the IWW Series Part 2: The IWW (1955) by James P Cannon
Against the IWW Series Part 3: An Infantile Disorder
Against the IWW Series Part 4: The Legacy of the IWW
This week’s piece comes to us from a Starbucks worker and member of the IWW. She describes what happened when an incompetent bosses crossed the line, and the workers came together to assert themselves. The author describes the tactic of working-to-rule, or following all of managements often incoherent rules that inevitably slows work to a crawl without disobeying any directives. Key to this experience was not only the grievances or tactics which are worth discussing in their own right, but also the perception of power and inspiration that the workers expressed. This is a common theme in worker organizing and often passed over when it remains at the center of the hearts and minds of people standing up against perceived injustices.
We 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.
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.
How the I.W.W. can contribute to Working Class Revolution
by Phinneas Gage
The I.W.W. we used to have.
The late 19th century and early 20th century were characterised by tremendous changes to the nature of industry. The rise of coast to coast rail lines, assembly line manufacturing, and the consolidation of Capital into monopolistic trusts came the stagnation of the conventional trade unions of the AFL and the Knights of Labour. Many unions in the late nineteenth century began groping for some kind of national organisation that could span the continent of North America and bring back the ability of workers to wage the class struggle effectively.
This post reproduces a short speech from the convention floor at the founding convention of the IWW. The IWW was formed in the middle of a several decade long cycle of struggle and organization. The revolutionaries involved with the creation and operation of the IWW are often underemphasized in accounts of the history of the left. The proceedings of the IWW founding convention as well as other early IWW publications contain a wealth of material which is not just relevant for understanding the past but for engaging with the problems of our day.
Recomposition’s newest post is “Building radical unionism: Providing services without creating service unionism,” by Adam W. This wasn’t intentional when the article was initially put in the list of material to publish on the blog, but the piece speaks to themes in the recent series of posts on leadership. In a way, this post continues that series.
Syndicalism and Anarchism, by Errico Malatesta
The relationship between the labour movement and the progressive parties is an old and worn theme. But it is an ever topical one, and so it will remain while there are, on one hand, a mass of people plagued by urgent needs and driven by aspirations – at times passionate but always vague and indeterminate – to a better life, and on the other individuals and parties who have a specific view of the future and of the means to attain it, but whose plans and hopes are doomed to remain utopias ever out of reach unless they can win over the masses. And the subject is all the more important now that, after the catastrophes of war and of the post-war period, all are preparing, if only mentally, for a resumption of the activity which must follow upon the fall of the tyrannies that still rant and rage [across Europe] but are beginning to tremble. For this reason I shall try to clarify what, in my view, should be the anarchists’ attitude to labour organisations.
The Battle of the Sandwiches: What Does the Bosses’ Offensive Look Like?
by Alex Erikson
If you read stuff about the labor movement of the 1970s and 80s, there is a lot of talkabout the “bosses’ offensive,” an aggressive attack on workers movements by capital.
A friend of mine from Italy told me that in 1977, the bosses and pro-boss workers (we call these people ’scissorbills,’ because their words cut you) staged a march of several thousand people in opposition to the continued wildcat strikes, sabotage, and occasional kneecapping, kidnapping, or assassination of bosses in the plants of northern Italy. This action was sufficient to change the climate and turn the cultural tide against the workers’ insurgency.
In my own workplace, we have seen an ebb and flow of class struggle on a micro-level. Initially, when the union went public, the boss was so afraid of us that he would sneak in and out the back door of the store without us knowing. We actually had a hard time planning actions because we could never find the boss to make demands.
A pamphlet produced in January 2009 by Brighton Solidarity Federation as a clarification of the meaning of anarcho-syndicalism in the 21st century, and as a contribution to the debate over strategy and organisation.
By P. Gage
The first permanent job I got at Canada Post was in the early weeks of the spring of 2007.
It was an ‘inside job’ processing and splitting up flyers between one hundred or so letter carriers. I had been working for Canada Post as a Term (read temp) for a year before getting a permanent position. Because of the labour shortages in Alberta I moved up in seniority quickly.
Being the flyer guy in the depot made me far from the most popular person. Letter carriers like delivering flyers even less than their customers like getting them, they see them as a waste of time and not worth the $0.15 piece rate they get paid to deliver them. It did mean that I got to talk to almost everyone in the depot and hear their opinions on everything. Sometimes those opinions were not just about how much they hated seeing me every morning.
A New Workers Movement in the US: A proposal for a refoundation through the intermediate level
By Scott Nappalos
It’s a tired truism that the workers movement in the US is floundering without a real base or path forward. A new generation of experimentation, struggle, and militants emerged from the ashes of the union’s most recent collaborationist strategy of labor-management partnership, contractualism, and labor’s historical parochialism of our-jobs-for-us.
Solidarity Federation’s Industrial Strategy
The Solidarity Federation seeks to create a militant opposition to the bosses and the state, controlled by the workers themselves. Its strategy can apply equally to those in the official trade unions who wish to organise independently of the union bureaucracy and those who wish to set up other types of self-organisation.
It Takes Two to Tango
by P. Gage
As I pulled the gearshift into drive my cell phone was flashing telling me that I had a voicemail. When I got to my next stop I saw I had three messages on my phone now and my voicemail was full. I rubbed my hands together over the vent trying to forget about December in Edmonton. I got curious so I opened my voicemail box as I listened to each message my heart sank further.
“Hello, this message is for Phinneas, my name is Steve and I’m a driver in the same department as you. I understand management has cancelled all of the Christmas overtime for the rest of the month because of the fight you had with them this morning over paying the correct overtime hours.
In this post we reprint an article which appeared in the Workers Power column of The Industrial Worker newspaper in February 2008
Workers have been organizing at a low income reproductive health clinic for the past few months.
It all began when the company, which was on solid footing, had gone on a hiring spree and improved a lot of working conditions. The federal government began requiring any recipient of aid (the majority of our patients) to prove citizenship. Undocumented workers don’t actually need to strangely, all they need is to indicate that they’re permanent residents. The net effect on the industry has been to cut 30% of the funding to all low-income clinics generally. That is the real target of this federal assault, to cut social funding under the guise of racially based nationalist sentiments.
In organizing, you have to develop a theory and an understanding of society, make a plan for action, and fully devote yourself to carrying out the plan and reaching your goal. There can be no half-measures if you want to be successful. Only by carrying things through to their logical conclusion can we decisively determine whether we were correct in our strategy.
This kind of committed, dedicated, singleminded attitude is the polar opposite of the mode of operation of much of the rest of the activist left, which typically proceeds from a fuzzy, hazy theory of society, does not clearly identify goals, and does not follow through with tasks, instead jumping from project to project in what a friend of mine has dubbed “fast food activism.”