Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

Articles from the November 1998 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Around the union

A round-up of short articles on IWW efforts and campaigns. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

Winnipeg grocery workers go IWW

After a bit of a bureaucratic run-around from the Manitoba Labour Relations Board, the IWW's General Distribution Workers Industrial Union 660 has been certified as the representatives of the Harvest Collective grocery store in Winnipeg. Only two of 22 eligible workers voted against the union.

Management has been informed of their obligation to bargain with the IWW. Harvest workers are paid minimum wage and work part-time hours that keep them in grinding poverty.

Detroit Truckers

Detroit Wobs have signed up a majority of workers at a small trucking company, and have secured agreement from the boss to begin negotiating. They are also meeting with workers at a local restaurant, where a few Wobs were hired in only to learn that conditions were not what they ought to be and so proceeded to fan the flames of discontent amongst their fellow workers.

Aussie Wobs join fight

Members of the Melbourne IWW group joined a protest Oct. 4 in memory of Semira Adamu. The protest was part of an international day of action calling for an immediate halt to all deportations, closure of all deportation camps, and papers for everyone.

The conservative Liberal-National Party regime has been returned to national Government, but with a reduced majority to push their Goods & Services Tax on all food etc onto the electorate. Several pollies have lost office, including the infamous Pauline Hanson and David Oldfield from the One Nation Party of bigots.

The conservatives' union-busting - most spectacularly the War on the Wharfies - will continue. Civilian Conscription (Work for Dole) is to expand. The Jabiluka uranium mine on Mirrar aboriginal land will be pushed on. So more "trouble coming everyday" expected.

-- Margaret

Chicago IWW going good

Chicago Wobs joined the locked-out projectionists on the picket line again Sept. 13, picketing the Webster Place shopping center where a Loew's Cineplex is located. While Local 110 members picketed the main parking lot, Wobs held forth as the read-guard, handing out leaflets urging fellow workers to boycott the union-busters. Getting people to roll down their car windows to take a leaflet as they approached the lot was not always successful, but we did manage to hand out quite a few, and honking horns from passing motorists.

Gauging the success of the boycott is difficult as management is handing out free passes left and right, so many movie-goers are getting in for free. As of this writing (Oct. 4) there is still no end in sight.

A week later, on Saturday the 19th, we joined up with nearly 40 members and friends of the Nicaragua Solidarity Committee to picket a Hyundai auto dealership in support of striking Han Young auto workers in Tiajuana, Mexico. The Korean-owned Han Young plant welds chassis exclusively for Hyundai Precision of America. Workers have been on strike since May 22 in pursuit of their first contract, after their vote for the independent October 6 Han Young Auto Workers Union was ignored by management and the Mexican government. Hyundai is Han Young's only customer. If enough pressure can be brought to bear on them perhaps they will, in turn, put pressure on Han Young to settle with its workers.

We wound up a busy September with another "Discussions with the Wobblies" forum. The topic this time was "Art and Revolution," with Wobbly veteran and fairly well-known artist Carlos Cortez. Carlos spoke on the importance and power of visual art in getting across the revolutionary message and showed several slides of some of his poster work.

In the discussion that followed, we discussed the particular value of mural art and the respect these works of art elicit from the community, even taggers often leave these pieces alone. On the other hand, the powers that be will often go out of their way to destroy murals that challenge the status quo, as was the case with the mural on the wall of the union hall in Austin, Minnesota, which the UFCW bureaucrats had sand-blasted to wipe out all memory of Local P-9's struggle against Hormel and the UFCW. It was also pointed out that the intended meaning of images can be altered by context and text, as when billboard messages are altered by activists or when a firm appropriates an "alternative" cultural icon and turns it into a marketing tool. The turnout was half non-Wobs, and a good discussion was had.

Our next forum, Oct. 28, features Penny Pixler leading a discussion on the revolutionary potential, or lack thereof, of modern technology.

-- Mike Hargis

Loblaws stores `help' Wobs spread anti-hunger message

What was supposed to have been a short 15-minute leaflet distribution turned into a 90-minute educational event when Loblaws executives, private security and Metro Police descended on the Bathurst/St. Clair store to try to prevent customers from receiving flyers about the grocery chain's role in perpetuating hunger in Ontario.

After police threatened arrest and insisted that Toronto Action for Social Change members are all banned from Loblaws property, Matthew Behrens and Laurel Smith decided to continue their flyering on the sidewalk until darkness fell. A team of Metro police in a cruiser and police jeep, teamed with two carloads of private security and Loblaws executives, re-inforced the message that Loblaws is not interested in opening a dialogue on ending the root causes of hunger in Ontario.

As they have throughout their month-long Fast to End Hunger and Homelessness, TASC members leafletted the Loblaws store to draw connections between the corporate grocery chain's practices and growing hunger in Ontario. Those practices include glowing support for the Tories, unpaid deferred taxes of over $56 million, paying President Richard Currie in excess of $8 million in 1997, and profiting off food drives by selling at retail prices goods which people donate to the food drive.

Behrensbarely stepped into the parking lot before he was accosted by two plain-clothes security (videotaping his every move), a Loblaws executive, and Debbie Regina, Senior Manager of Loss Prevention at Loblaws, who immediately ordered him off the property. He was then joined on the sidewalk by Laurel Smith, doubling the size of the action. This threat did not go unnoticed by Loblaws, and within minutes the police jeep marked "Supervisor" for 13 division was on the scene.

"We decided that since Loblaws contributes to so many thousands of people going without supper every day in this province, that we, along with the Loblaws executives would all be a little late for supper," said Smith.

"We handed out a lot more leaflets than we expected to, a lot more people saw our message from the street, and we had some good conversations with customers who were disgusted to find police vehicles in the Loblaws parking lot defending corporate hypocrites from two people armed only with pieces of paper. Thanks to Loblaws, what could have been a disappointing and disheartening vigil turned into a really good educational event."

Loblaws has had 10 members of TASC (IWW IU 670) arrested at prior anti-hunger events, often in the middle of food drives. Among those arrested have been the Easter Bunny and three bunny helpers, Santa Claus and two elves, Robin Hood and a schoolteacher who stopped to read a leaflet after he finished shopping. All go to trial in November, December and January.

Solidarity with Han Young workers

Philadelphia IWW members joined activists from Delaware County to picket a Hyundai dealership in Springfield, Pennsylvania, October 10th. The picket was called in support of Mexican Han Young maquiladora workers, who are currently on strike because management refuses to negotiate a contract. Han Young is a contractor for Hyundai.

The Campaign for Labor Rights organized an east coast tour for Jamie Garcia Barron, a striker from the plant. During his Wob-hosted stop in Philadelphia Oct. 1st, Barron told stories from the ongoing struggle to win recognition for a union independent of the government. Government-controlled unions have attempted to raid the drive with no success, and three times workers at Han Young have voted in an independent union. When the company illegally tried to maintain production with scabs, strikers borrowed the company's fuses and stopped production. Government officials have defied federal orders and torn down strike banners, declared the strike "non-existent," and put out arrest warrants for union leaders.

Workers from the Mexican plant are returning from a solidarity visit with Hyundai workers from Korea, who also recently went on strike. The workers from Han Young have made an international appeal to hold Hyundai accountable for the conditions in the maquiladora and look forward to making solidarity links across the globe.

-- Alexis Buss

`Labor Day' in Lancaster

The Lancaster, Pennsylvania GMB made its second annual appearance at the Lancaster Labor Council/United Way Chili Cook-off. Our vegetarian tofu chili didn't win, but we got out several IWs and fliers for the Han Young Workers tour. The big hit of the afternoon was our brand-new red IWW T-shirts.

East Bay workshops

The East Bay IWW is holding a series of workshops at their office at 2022 Blake Street in Berkeley on Thursday Nights at 7 p.m. Upcoming sessions include:
October 29th - Dead Martyrs Night: a workshop/party for "In November We Remember" featuring histories of various Wobbly Class War prisoners and victims of capitalist murderers.

Nov. 12th - a discussion of the various proposals on the November IWW ballot.

December 24th - Wobbly Carol-In. We'll take to the streets and visit the hot shopping districts to sing Wobbly-ized Carols to remind shoppers of the exploitative and capitalist nature of the holiday season.

January 14th - History Workshop

Jan. 29 - Forum: What is Syndicalism?

Future workshops may include Contract Negotiations, Website Design, and Video Activism.

Regional Meeting in B.C.

The new Victoria, British Columbia, GMB is hosting a regional IWW meeting November 14 and 15th. Please contact them in regards to desired agenda, housing, etc.
The Victoria IWW can be reached at 250/360-9803, or POB 8283, Victoria BC V8W 3R9

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

A Wobbly Martyr's Grave - Bob Helms

An article by Bob Helms about finding the former home and grave of Martynas Petkus, a IWW member who was shot and killed by police during a strike in 1917. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

I am pleased to announce that the grave and the home of fellow worker Martin Petkus (Marciionas Petkeviczia)1, a Lithuanian sugar worker and Wobbly who was shot to death by riot police during a sugar strike in Philadelphia, have been located.

On February 21, 1917, a strike had been going on for several weeks, led by IWW, at the Franklin and McCahan sugar refineries. The bosses at both companies were bringing in African-Americans as scabs, and each night the police would escort the scabs home from the plants, located along the Delaware River at the foot of Reed Street.

At 5:30 p.m. such a group came out and was met by about 30 strikers' wives led by Florence Sholde, 32 years old, who threw pepper into the faces of both the scabs and the police. The crowd grew and the confrontation escalated into a pitched battle of bricks and pistol shots, involving hundreds of union supporters. FW Sholde was arrested for inciting to riot (police agents supposedly had spotted her earlier in the day urging militant action at a meeting), and scores of people were injured on both sides, but Martin Petkus was killed by a single bullet in the chest and fell across a railroad track. He lived a few blocks away at 131 Tasker Street - the house is still standing today.

The news reports say that he was one of the striking Franklin workers, that he was "known among them as a giant of strength and courage," and that the police found an IWW membership card in his pocket. He was recognized by all as a leader, and accordingly his funeral was a formidable event.

Petkus' body lay in state at the Lithuanian National Hall (still standing), which was the headquarters of MTW IU #510 at that time, and on February 26th he was carried to St. Casimir's Lithuanian Catholic Church, a dozen or so blocks away, with a crowd of about 10,000 accompanying his casket. Little girls wearing red dresses sold red carnations to union supporters.

Over 200 African-American IWW longshoremen who were out on a sympathy strike walked behind their slain comrade in a group, with red carnations on their lapels. When the funeral mass was over, about 1,500 people went in a train of vehicles to Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, about five miles distant in the western suburbs. Holy Cross is on Baily Road, and our man is in "Section E, Range 9, Lot 27, Grave CR."

The grave is marked by a black granite cross bearing the names of the Wobbly martyr and a younger brother who died the following year. The inscription is in Lithuanian. FW Petkas was 28 years old.

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

  • 1. libcom note - he was also known as 'Martynas Petkus'

Free (Radio) Speech Fight 1998 - x345417

An article by x345417 about a pirate radio conference in Washington, DC that a number of IWW members attended. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

Over the weekend of October 4-6 micro-power radio broadcasters gathered in Washington DC for a weekend of workshops, networking and action dubbed "Showdown with the FCC."
IWW members from New Hampshire, Washington DC, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Tennessee were present throughout the proceedings, in a display of the continuing networking of Wobblies in the Free Radio/Free Speech movement. Which makes plenty of sense considering the history of the free speech movement, in which the IWW played a pivotal role in the early 1900s by defying laws outlawing public speech (by "undesirables") which resulted in thousands of wobs filling up the jails to the point that the laws were changed in city after city around the country. Add to that the radio programs that IWW organizers used in Detroit in the 1930s, the recently organized IWW International Radio Network, and the syndicated IWW radio show, "Soapboxing the Airwaves," and you have a great reason for Wobs to come to DC to fight for free speech.

On Sunday, workshops were held on topics including how to work transmitters, the current legal situation, organizing strategy, public relations, and a new station being started in D.C. Afterwards, a free dinner was served followed by a Community Cabaret in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, where local performers broadcast hip-hop, tango, bluegrass, poetry, spoken word and folk music to the community over Radio Libre, 97.5 FM. The broadcast was in Spanish and English, with calls going out to garner community support for an upcoming "anti-INS raids" protest.

On Monday morning, a debate between micro-broadcasters, lawyers and FCC officials took place at the Freedom Forum, an organization in DC. Shortly afterward, the "free speech fight" and march took place, with about 200 people marching from DuPont circle to the FCC and NAB buildings, illegally broadcasting throughout, daring the FCC to make an arrest. Surprisingly, the goons who have shut down over 200 community radio stations in the past year dared not show their faces, even when the issue was brought to their front door.

This was taken as a major victory by the militant crowd of broadcasters who as a result were emboldened as they marched on to those who really pull the strings of free speech: the National Association of Broadcasters. The crowd approached the NAB building,and easily took the plaza in front despite security attempts to stop it. Amidst slogan-chanting and street theater, the NAB flag was brought down and a Jolly Roger (skull and crossbones) hoisted in its place.

16-year-old Gainesville resident Boni Ramey, who came up to D.C. with the Gainesville IWW/Free Radio Gainesville contingent, was scapegoated although the flag was not in her posession. She was handcuffed while the NAB and DC police debated what should be done with her.

Meanwhile, IWW members stayed around for support while the rest of the demonstration moved along. A security goon tried to pick a fight with some of the IWW's present but was sarcastically told that a fist-fight couldn't protect corporate radio interests. The guard looked embarrassed and awkwardly walked away. Eventually Ramey was taken to the juvenille division for processing where they said she would be let go without charges.

IWW members located Free Radio D.C./D.C. IWW member Chuck Munson who gladly navigated the way to the station where she was picked up. After her rendevous with the corporate radio elites, Boni said that she is interested is interested in the IWW because of our history of fighting for Free Speech, and is currently considering joining up. The new IWW-wide radio show "Soapboxing the Airwaves" (currently on the third edition) was also promoted to interested people throughout the duration of the event, and will be featuring the event in the third edition.

Soapboxing the Airwaves can be heard on Free Radio Memphis, Free Radio Gainesville, Free Radio Twin-Cities and on the internet at http://jones.iww.org

-- X345417

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

From the desk of...

A column from Fred Chase, then General Secretary-Treasurer of the IWW, on a member who had been imprisoned for a protest at the School of the Americas. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

This squeaky old chair I'm sitting in doesn't move a lot; but some days it can be the seat for a rollercoaster of emotions. One day at the end of September I was going through the mail as usual, recording delegate reports, logging in new members. On that day we reached a new 47 year high in membership. Our numbers dipped to their lowest in 1961 after our last large shops in Cleveland left to join the CIO rather than face McCarthy-era political repression when the IWW's General Executive Board refused to sign loyalty oaths. I guess the Board members figured they owed their alliegance to their class, not to a government which would want to crush them for their ideas. Some things don't change.

The rollercoaster reached apex as I thought about our growth and increased activity in recent years. Then I opened the next letter and the rollercoaster took a dive. It was from Fellow Worker Bill Bichsel from the Catholic Worker house in Tacoma ,Washington. He was catching up on his dues and notifying me of a change of address. The new address is a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon. Bill's going to be there for 18 months for nonviolent protest at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Bill isn't the first Wobbly to go to prison for exercising his freedom of speech. He won't be the last, another thing that doesn't seem to change much. But he's the one who's in there now; and that weighs heavy on my mind. I did some time in the early '70s for destroying selective service files, so I feel some affinity.

The U.S. government - hell, all governments - commit so many atrocities it's hard to know which ones are worth going to prison to fight. And it's frustrating to know that with a rational judge Bill would have gotten a slap on the wrist. Because he faced an irrational one he'll spend 1 1/2 years behind bars. I can feel some affinity for that too. Our sentences in the '70s were between 5 and 10 years. The next year another group did the same thing and got 1 year suspended sentences and a commendation from the judge for their actions. Ahh the vagaries of "justice."

Bill sent along some information on the School of the Americas, appropriately dubbed the School of the Assassins by its opponents. Colombia was experiencing the murder of a trade unionist every other day in the early '90s. In 1996 that number increased to 253. Of 247 Colombian military personnel cited for human rights violations, 124, 50% were graduates of the School of the Assassins. SOA training manuals advocate the use of torture, execution, false imprisonment and extortion. More than 500 SOA graduates have been implicated so far in human rights abuses. The SOA trains 900-2,000 soldiers a year from Latin America and the Caribbean. They are taught combat skills, counterinsurgency, sniper fire, military intelligence, commando tactics, and psychological operations - not to defend their borders from invasion but to make war on their own people - specifically religious leaders, labor organizers, educators, students and others working for the rights of the poor.

SOA attendees, guest speakers, members of the SOA hall of "fame" include Major Luis Felipe Becerra Bohorquez. He led a massacre in which 20 union farm workers were pulled from their beds, lined face down on the ground, and shot in the back of their heads. General Henan Jose Guzman Rodrigues allegedly aided paramilitary death squads responsible for at least 149 killings. He's in the SOA hall of fame. Etc, etc...

With NAFTA, Latin American countries import jobs that used to be done for higher wages in the U.S. and then use SOA graduates to prevent attempts to unionize. Any opposition or call for reform is likely to get the proponent killed.

So Bill Bichsel has made a good choice of where to take a stand. While I'm extremely saddened by his sentence, I'm extremely proud to call him Fellow Worker, Fellow Wobbly. Keep him in your thoughts. Paraphrasing our General Defense Committee slogan, Remember, Fellow Workers, he's in there for us. We're out here for him. Some generous Wobs have already assured that Bill's dues will be paid during his incarceration. The best tribute to Bill for his courageous stand is to work for the closing of the School of the Assassins. For some that means direct action like Bill's. Every new person who faces an outrageous sentence tweaks society's conscience just a bit more. That leads to the end of wars, to the end of segregation, soon to the end of the School of the Assassins.

If you are into petitioning government you can urge senators and representatives to support Senate bill 980 / House bill 611 to close the school. SOA Watch is planning what has become an annual demonstration at Fort Benning soon. They can be reached at 706/682-5369. Wobblies from Atlanta and Gainesville are making plans to attend.

Meanwhile, Bill, know you are in our thoughts. Being in prison for the working class is walking the picket line 24 hours a day. We're looking forward to the day when we will again see you outside on the picket line.

-- Fred Chase, General Secretary-Treasurer

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)