There is a common notion in the United States and other powerful Western nation that the process of deindustrialization is complete and total. According to many, this process has left the workplaces of American merely small hubs of service work, totally unorganizable and not worth our time. However, along many industrial lines there remain a number of mass workplaces, especially along the supply chain. These circuits of capital flow every day and night and create huge logistical challenges – the permeation of warehouses has been one way for companies to cope with the difficulties of logistics. With the creation of these hubs, capital creates a dangerous situation for itself, because if these chokepoints are organized they can severely cripple the flow of goods. The recognition of this fact has spurred many revolutionaries to organize in these sectors. In this essay, IWW organizer Coeur de Bord analyses the first year of organizing at a United Parcel Service hub in Minneapolis outside of the preexisting trade union structure. They show how even a small core of organizers can engage large numbers of workers and mobilize them around concrete demands.
In this piece Phineas Gage recalls the challenges of organizing under punitive back to work legislation and the effect it had on shop floor organising. As tensions grow over a dispute about the safety of various parking arrangements around renovated facilities the shop again begins to mobilise. Then tragedy strikes and the workers are reminded that sometimes the cost of a partial victory can be as great as any defeat.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
A significant amount of organizing experience in the IWW comes from working in relatively small workplaces such as stand-alone single shops or franchises of multiple smaller shops. These places present their own set of difficulties and opportunities. Lou Rinaldi talks about what happened at a former job of his in this piece.
Lessons from small shop organizing
by Lou Rinaldi
From May 2012 to August of 2013 I was involved with organizing my workplace, a local small business in Providence, Rhode Island. My experience with that organizing, which lasted about a year before the campaign ended, has given me a lot of perspective that I plan on taking with me for the next time I’m organizing. I wanted to take the time to write down my thoughts and turn them into coherent lessons for my fellow workers, to aid in the creation of better organizers and better organizing campaigns.