2001

Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

Articles from the January/February 2001 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Berkeley recyclers organize IWW - Steve Ongerth & Bruce Valde

An article by Steve Ongerth & Bruce Valde about an IWW campaign at Community Conservation Centers in Berkeley, California. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001).

Recyclers at Community Conservation Centers in Berkeley, California, have unionized into the IWW and have been pressuring management to sit down and negotiate with them. Signed union authorization cards representing a super-majority of the workers were presented to management on Dec. 27 by a group of workers and union representatives. Management refused voluntary recognition of the union and the union reps were physically assaulted. A very tense situation took a strange twist when the police arrived and informed management the union organizers would be allowed to complete their work on the property.

Workers at CCC, also known as The Buy Back, have been organizing for three months, seeking better working conditions, better pay, more vacation time, specific skill level definitions, and more democracy on the job. CCC workers started talking union when IWW members at curbside recycling in Berkeley signed a new contract. Word spread that the curbside contract was a good deal for the workers and the organizing drive picked up momentum through the efforts of a union rep and a curbside worker who left curbside to work at the Buy Back. One crucial concern is health benefits for workers' families. Presently health care is available only to the workers themselves. The lowest-paid workers at the Buy Back are making $8 an hour, which during economic boom times is scandalous. Additionally, CCC workers want a union to gain respect on the job. They say there hasn't been much up to now.

CCC general manager Jeff Belchamber agreed to consult with the union, but ultimately refused to recognize the union or to agree to abide by federal labor laws. The workers brought signed cards to the National Labor Relations Board in early January. The election is scheduled for Feb. 7. As of now management has yet to engage in blatant union busting tactics. Management did turn the list of eligible voters over to the IWW and the NLRB on schedule.

Workers are still asking the Community Conservation Centers board of directors to voluntarily recognize the union and immediately begin negotiating a union contract. If they refuse, organizers are confident that they will win the NLRB election set for Feb. 7. It appears that the board is split on the issue of voluntary recognition and has so far opted for the election process.

Buy Back workers have been meeting with union organizers once a week to strategize and prepare for the election. Wednesdays are union solidarity days. Last Wednesday, every worker was given a sticker that said Union Si or Union Yes as they entered the plant gate. They wore the stickers all day. Wednesday is also the day of the week that the election will take place.

The union, NLRB and management have agreed to a 45-minute election period Feb. 7th. The facility will shut down early and management will leave the property.

CCC will become the second recycling shop represented by the IWW in Berkeley. The IWW also represents the curbside recyclers at the Berkeley Ecology Center. The Buy Back is where curbside recycling is unloaded and sorted. Individuals can also recycle their plastic, glass and metal at The Buy Back and receive cash.

Javier Ceja, Buy Back worker and strong union supporter put it best. He said simply, "The union benefits us all, for our families and for ourselves."

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

Detroit newspaper strike ends in ignominious defeat - Mike Hargis

A short article by Mike Hargis announcing the end of the Detroit newspaper strike. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001).

After five and a half years, the strike against Detroit's two major dailies has ended - and ended badly.

The strike by 2,500 unionists against the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News cost the papers an estimated $200 million, as circulation dropped by a third. Yet it was the unions that in the end cried uncle. Of the settlement, announced on Dec. 17, a union representative indicated that the unions didn't salvage much, "But it's better," he said, "to have a contract than no contract at all."

At 2 percent, the wage improvements are about half the current official rate of inflation. Moreover, wages have been slashed for some workers. For example, mailers (Teamsters) who once earned $16 an hour are now paid about $11 an hour. About 185 workers are waiting for openings before they can return to work; and if the companies have their way, 200 more will not be rehired at all.

The unions also agreed to an open shop, meaning that scabs hired during the strike and new employees do not have to join the union or pay agency fees for the cost of representing them as a condition of their employment.

Of course things didn't have to end this way. Early on unionists from all over Detroit turned out to the picket lines to stop delivery of scab-produced newspapers. But the unions capitulated to court injunctions and abandoned effective picketing in favor of a boycott, which failed to force the bosses to settle. Now that the battle is over the unions have agreed to help the papers to rebuild circulation in exchange for bonus money.

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

No honor, no dignity, no justice - Larry Skwarczynski

A short article by Larry Skwarczynski about the end of Detroit newspaper strike. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001).

Detroit was once another name for solidarity - unionism - unity - standing up for working people's dignity. No more!

Whether it is fighting for a living wage for unjustly fired and locked-out workers, for diverse union membership, for education and health care, for community needs and for respect, union leaders have the responsibility to their members and their community to foster justice. Instead, they have decided their interests are the same as the companies', betraying workers' struggles as they get all they can for themselves and fight to stay in control.

After five-and-a-half years on the street, the Teamsters union - the last to hold out - surrendered totally rather than face Gannett's racketeering lawsuit, the ongoing drain on strike funds, and the difficulties of prolonged struggle. Gannett told the unions it would never take the fired workers back, and demanded a vote before Christmas.

The contract had nothing for the fired or locked-out workers, nor did it offer back wages or seniority. It took away $5 an hour for all mailers, while giving one percent pay hikes and the chance to grovel for merit pay to others. There's no sick leave, and scabs can not be bumped from their positions. TheDetroit newspapers will be scabby, open shop sweatshops.

Many workers were outraged and walked away as the Executive Board said it was the worst contract they had ever seen but told us to ratify it anyway. The vote in the 1,138-member Teamsters Local 372 was 139-46, in the 255-member Teamsters #2040 it was 36-33. The other unions - the Newspaper Guild, Printers, Pressmen and Engravers - broke rank months ago, settling for equally bad contracts.

During the strike/lock-out, some religious leaders and politicians rallied constantly against the newspapers' union-busting, but now who speaks when union sister and brother turn their backs on the fired and locked-out left without? At the end of January their benefits will be cut off and workers with years of seniority will be left scrambling for whatever jobs they can find.

Gannett pulled its RICO suit off the table in exchange for the unions promising to tell all that the strike is over and everyone who canceled their subscriptions in solidarity with the workers to restart. I, as a most active participant, see no honor, no dignity and no justice - only corruption, deceit and treachery.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

Against the Summit of the Americas

A resolution from the General Executive Board of the IWW supporting the planned demonstrations at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001).

Whereas on April 20-22, 2001, the Summit of the Americas will convene in Quebec City; and,
Whereas the government and business concerns attending this Summit plan to begin establishing the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA); and,

Whereas the proposed Area would, in essence, expand the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to cover all of North, South and Central America and the Caribbean, with the exception of Cuba; and,

Whereas the documented effects of NAFTA in Canada, Mexico and the United States include increased unemployment, depressed wage levels, weakened environmental regulations, increased consolidation of industry through corporate mergers and buyouts; and numerous harms to the working class in these countries in result of these conditions; and,

Whereas the Industrial Workers of the World has affirmed since its founding in 1905 that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common; and,

Whereas the groups and individuals comprising the Summit of the Americas Welcoming Committee/Le Comite d'Accueil du Sommet des Ameriques (CASA) and the Anti-Capitalist Convergence/La Convergence des Luttes Anti-Capitalistes (CLAC), along with many others, have called for international solidarity in resisting the Summit of the Americas;

Therefore be it resolved:

That the IWW condemns the Summit of the Americas as another act of war by the employing class against the working class of the Americas; and,

That the IWW pledges to resist implementation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and

That the IWW supports those who stand in resistance against the Summit of the Americas, and encourages IWW members to join in demonstrating their resistance to global capitalism.

IWW General Executive Board, January 2001

For information on protests in Quebec City, e-mail: clac@tao.ca web: http://www.quebec2001.net tel: +1 514 526-8946 post: 2035, St. Laurent Boulevard, 2nd floor, Montreal, Quebec H2X 2T3 Canada

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

Around our union

A round-up of IWW news. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001).

Montreal Wobs win union recognition

The recently organized Montreal IWW now claims 15 members and should be applying for a branch charter soon. The two workers of the CFS-Q (a student union) have joined and are preparing to negotiate their first contract.The IWW is also close to securing a majority at a local vegetarian grocery, and has several Wobs working at a large marketing research firm.

They have also been busy translating IWW literature into French, and have distributed 1,000 copies of a "Direct Action Gets the Goods" newsletter.

IWW organizing Pitzer College

The General Executive Board has chartered an Industrial Union Branch for faculty at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. The Pitzer faculty began organizing in October, and now have more than a third of the faculty signed up and have begun reaching out to faculty at nearby colleges.

A member of the Boston Education Workers IU 620 Branch met with several Pitzer Wobs in January, discussing strategies for reaching majority status and possibilities for organizing effective solidarity actions for Pitzer faculty and cafeteria staff (who have been struggling for union recognition for several years).

Industrial union organizing summit

The East Bay (California) IWW hosted an industrial union organizing summit the weekend of October 15th, which kicked off with a discussion of industry-wide versus individual shop organizing. In the long run, participants agreed, organizing industry-wide is the more practical approach.

Other discussions addressed the challenge of how Industrial Union and General Membership Branches can more effectively support each other. Although the IWW generally begins by organizing GMBs and working to build Industrial Union Branches from that base, Seattle and Portland began with industrial campaigns in the food service and nonprofit sectors with some success.

Participants were interested in targeting a few industries, such as education, restaurants, construction, and transportation, for organizing. This will require developing issue-based campaigns and networks of activists as we work to build a base in these industries capable of making our presence felt.

Another union café

Workers at Madison's Café Assissi lined up in the IWW in December, bringing the number of job shops in the city to three. (The other two are Lakeside Press and the UW Greens Infoshop, an independent educational resource center.) The café serves natural foods, and has a space for performers and film showings. It is the only unionized coffee house in Madison.

Boston actions hit sweatshop labor

Several members of the Boston IWW joined demonstrations outside Niketown and the Gap December 16, joining over a hundred protesters with our banner and exhorting passersby in Boston's toniest shopping district to take a stand in solidarity with our fellow workers overseas.

We were soon joined by a horde of police who decided the Wobblies were blocking an entranceway too effectively and shoved us aside. Police were much rougher with a follow-up demonstration the next week, preventing protestors from congregating on the public sidewalks in front of the stores.

IWW elects general officers for 2001

In balloting last month, IWW members have voted to re-elect General Secretary-Treasurer Alexis Buss to serve a second one-year term. The 2001 General Executive Board will include: Sam Adams (Minneapolis), Jeff Brite (New Orleans), Mark Damron (Cincinnati), Joshua Freeze (Austin), Breeze Luetke-Stahlman (Lawrence), Mickie Valis (Atlanta), and John Persak (Seattle). Jon Bekken (Boston) was elected to edit the Industrial Worker.

The International Solidarity Commission members will be Liam Flynn (Baltimore), Ron Kaminkow (Chicago) and Peter Moore (Ottawa). Eric Chester (Western Massachusetts) is first alternate.

Elected to the union's Conflict Mediation Committee were Bill Bradley (Portland), Heather Hall (Winnipeg), Robin Hood (Detroit), Betsy Law (Louisville), and Mona Tapp (Louisville). Mark Damron will also serve as secretary of the General Defense Committee.

The IWW's 2001 General Assembly, at which members come together to discuss union policy and nominate officers for the coming year, will be held the first weekend in August in Boston, Massachusetts.

Constitutional amendments to reorganize the General Defense Committee, streamline the union's election process, and speed the issuance of recall ballots in the event that members petition to remove an officer were approved. A proposal to make it more difficult to press internal charges against union members was defeated.

Farewell, Fellow Workers

Fellow Worker David Miller, who lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills near the old Gold Country, died Dec. 14. He rejoined the IWW about 18 months ago. Last time I spoke to David, he was looking for suggestions on how to organize loggers at Sierra Pacific Industries to try and oppose clear-cut logging.
Fellow Worker Dave Johnson, formerly of IU 510, Marine Transport Workers in San Francisco, is dead at 57. A deck-hand at Red & White, he was a great guy, always friendly and amiable.

They will both be missed.

-- Steve Ongerth

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

When binding arbitration doesn't bind - Alexis Buss

An article by Alexis Buss about how binding arbitration favors employers. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

The IWW has always taken a dim view of arbitration, recognizing that no union ever won something from an "impartial" arbitrator that it was not strong enough to win through its own power. Arbitration promotes the illusion that problems at the workplace can be resolved through an appeal to fairness or to some objective standard of the exact degree of exploitation and degradation the worker should have to endure. Fundamentally, it is based on the premise that the interests of the workers and the bosses can be reconciled, if only by an outside "expert" who dispassionately weighs the evidence for both sides.
So, Wobblies are reluctant to entrust individual grievances to the hands of an arbitrator. But the notion of letting an arbitrator decide the conditions under which all of us will work is even more repellent, and I don't know of an instance where an IWW branch has ever agreed to do such a thing. However, many unions are not as particular as we are, and it is not uncommon - especially in the public sector, where there are often fairly severe legal limitations on striking - for unions which have been unable to reach a contract agreeing to submit the matters in dispute to binding arbitration.

As just one example of the narrow-minded, class bias typical of arbitrators, who are most usually chosen from the ranks of lawyers, consultants and others who will never have to work under the conditions they impose, Arbitrator Frank Keenan recently dismissed a grievance from Steelworkers Local 14734 on behalf of a worker suspended for three days without pay. His crime? Giving the finger to management in a photo snapped to commemorate his fifth-year anniversary. The arbitrator ruled that "conduct disrespectful of supervisors and the institution of the Company" is grounds for discipline. When's the last time you heard of a supervisor or a CEO losing pay for being disrespectful of the workers on the line?

Quite often workers have emerged from these arbitrations vowing "Never again," yet unions don't simply repudiate the results of an arbitration process into which it had voluntarily subjected itself, no matter how repugnant. The bosses, it seems, are under no such moral compunction.

Last year, Hawaii public school teachers submitted their salaries to binding arbitration after years of stagnant pay. The arbitrator agreed that some measure of relief was called for, issuing an order giving the teachers far less than they had asked for during bargaining. The state government has simply refused to pay up, claiming that it doesn't have the money (though it has no difficulty finding the funds for an endless series of tourist-oriented boondoggles).

Closer to home, for me, Philadelphia firefighters have long been demanding compensation when they are exposed to Hepatitis on the job, a serious disease which has hit many firefighters in recent years. The city has refused, and so the matter went to arbitration as part of their new contract. The arbitrator figured that when firefighters were injured on the job, they were certainly entitled to compensation. The city simply refused to accept the arbitrator's ruling, instead rewriting the contract to suit its own tastes and imposing that on the firefighters. The firefighters sued, but as usual the courts ruled that workers have no rights that the bosses are obliged to respect, and overturned the arbitrator's award for sick leave for workers ill with the virus.

If workers refused to follow an arbitrator's ruling (or a court ruling, for that matter) on the grounds that they couldn't afford it (they, after all, have to pay rent and childcare, pay for our food and medical bills, etc.), the back-to-work orders and contempt of court jailings and firings would hail down on their heads until they lay battered and bleeding on the street. But the bosses can pick and choose what orders they follow. Binding arbitration, it seems, is binding only on the workers.

-- Alexis Buss

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

Review: The New Rank and File by Staughton and Alice Lynd

A review of by Joshua Freeze of The New Rank and File by Staughton and Alice Lynd. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

The New Rank and File by Staughton and Alice Lynd, ILR Press (Ithaca, NY), 2000. Available from IWW Literature Dept. for $15.95.

It's rare that a sequel exceeds the original, but in The New Rank and File, Staughton and Alice Lynd have at least equaled their 1973 Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working Class Organizers. In an inspiring series of pieces by rank-and-file activists and organizers from many sectors of the labor movement, the Lynds demonstrate the type of grassroots approach that the labor movement needs if we are to achieve the strength needed to win against a global, wealthy and well-armed foe.

Directed at two groups, rank-and-file workers and young people dedicated to service to the labor movement, the book directly takes on the ideology of business unionism. Condemning old guard and reformers alike, the Lynds write in their introduction: "These leaders are committed to what labor historians call `business unionism': the goal of signing collective bargaining agreements complete with management prerogative and no-strike clauses; the dues checkoff as the means of funding union bureaucracies; the protection of jobs in one's own nation at whatever expense to workers in other countries; and the capitalist system as the desired context of all of the above. Therefore the labor movement must find ways to be more visionary, more inclusive, more democratic, and more willing to take risks than the union movement can be expected to be."

The book is divided into four sections, each titled with a line from Ralph Chaplin's "Solidarity Forever." "The Union's Inspiration" shows stories of union organizing, both for new shops and to win demands, demonstrating the effect of direct action as opposed to primary reliance on labor law and government agencies. "The Ashes of the Old" examines the recent context of globalization, capital flight and disinvestment. "Anywhere Beneath the Sun" takes a look at unionists outside the US and the need for the labor movement to be transnational if it is to fight modern capital. Finally, "In Our Hands is Placed a Power" presents rank-and-file unionists fighting and winning battles by creating horizontal support networks either without or in opposition to the leadership of their business unions.

Those from the IWW school of unionism will see their reflections in the workers of this book. Far from viewing unions strictly as a tool to get better pay and benefits for their members, they show that solidarity and the vibrancy of working class culture is what makes a union, not the contracts or officials.

The story from Mia Giunta, an organizer for United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers in Connecticut demonstrates this best. UE organizers were not sent from place to place, but would set down roots in an area. "The organizer took part in the negotiations at the place he orshe had organized." She says "I was a better `organizer' because I was also a `servicer' and a better `servicer' because I was also an `organizer.'" At one factory she helped organize, they had a radically different response to a reduction in work. Instead of laying off the workers with the least seniority, "Somebody suggested, `we'll all work a few hours less each week. That way everybody can stay. Everybody can have health insurance.' And they took advantage of the vacation and maternity leave, and that became the tradition at that factory."

Ed Mann, who passed away in 1992, and to whom the Lynds dedicate this book, worked in steel mills in Youngstown, Ohio. He was a member of the IWW and of the Workers Solidarity Club, a militant retirees organization. Mann believed that workers have "too much contract." He believed the proper way to solve problems was direct action. "I think the first three months I was there [on the open hearth], they must have had ten wildcat strikes. `We want rubber tire wheelbarrows.' ... `We want a relief man.' ... `We want cold water.' ... `We need safety masks today.' `Hey somebody got burned. We want safety jackets or we aren't going to work on those furnaces.'

"The grievance procedure wasn't working. That's why we had wildcat strikes. We weren't going to get tied up in paperwork. The wildcats didn't last long: a day, two days at most, maybe eight hours."

An activist in the Hebron Union of Workers in the West Bank of Palestine provides a contract for one of their workplaces, that not only provides for certain rates of pay and workplace insurance, but also: "On the ninth day of each month, there is a general strike against the occupation. If on that day the worker can not come to work or is late coming to work, nothing will be subtracted from their pay," and "Transportation to and from work must be paid by the employer." This union has only volunteer executive committee members and, "in each factory the union deals with the employer, not by someone from here [the executive] going to discuss for them, but by a committee of the workers themselves."

Martin Glaberman tells a funny story from the Dodge Main plant in the 1970s: "There was a joke in Hamtramck, where the plant was located, that an optimist is a Dodge worker who brings his lunch box to work. Day after day, some department would wildcat, and by the middle of the day the plant was shut down."

And on and on, the worker tell their stories. They're not all victories and these rank-and-file activists do not have stars in their eyes about their work, but the stories do provide hope and a reminder that we are not alone in the class struggle. The Lynds have done a fantastic job of pulling together workers into a book that provides innumerable examples of strategies that work, not in someone's theory about organizing, but in actual jobs. If you want to read about the IWW's ideas, then read this book.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)