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Good Earth Workers Union Goes Public

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contacts: Ben Bourgoin (320) 291-7197 , Zach Ewald (612) 597-8944

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On May 3rd, 2017 workers at the Good Earth Food Co-op went public to management as members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). IWW members met with the General Manager and handed her a letter with signatures in support of the Good Earth Workers Union (GEWU). Workers presented their demands which include:

1.) Voluntary Recognition of the Good Earth Workers Union
2.) Automatic Owner Membership for Workers after 90 day probationary period
3.) Distribution of the Industrial Worker at the store
4.) Boycott Driscoll’s Campaign
At press time, the General Manager has voluntarily recognized the union, allowing the distribution of the Industrial Worker, and exploring the other demands with the union. Kitchen worker Zach Ewald celebrated, saying: “Hit up the Co-op and support this awesome place! It’s one of the few food cooperatives that hasn’t engaged in union-busting.”

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About half of the GEWU was able to get in one place for this shot!

This announcement comes after three years organizing below the radar and several shop floor actions.

In the Summer of 2013, the Workers Committee formed as an organizing body and safe space for rank-and- file workers to discuss work related issues and find ways to resolve them. One of our first actions was against a Bra Policy that would require all female identifying individuals to wear bras while at work. This policy was reversed after circulating a petition and applying pressure to upper management.
In the Summer of 2014, workers slapped “Know Your Rights” posters on the GMs door and in the Breakroom after workers were told they could not talk about their wages. This action helped educate workers on their rights in the workplace while also introducing them to direct action.

In July of 2015, workers demanded the removal of an abusive department manager and backed it by threatening a picket. The manager was removed.
In the Fall of of 2015, Produce Workers refused to handle Driscoll’s Berries to honor the Boycott of Driscoll’s and Sakuma Bro’s. This led the Good Earth Food Co-op to publicly honor the boycott for over a year until FUJ called it off. Good Earth was the only grocery store in MN to honor the boycott.
In the Fall of 2015, Member’s Committee was organized to address deteriorating buying standards and support the organizing efforts of The Worker’s Committee.
In the Winter of 2016, a Worker/Buyer Delegation met with the Board of Directors demanding the removal of a General Manager. This demand was backed by a large number of workers willing to strike if he wasn’t removed. This manager was removed.
In November of 2016, Deli Workers organized a worker-managed kitchen model and have been running it democratically without a manager ever since.

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Solidarity from the worker-run kitchen!

Jeff, a lead cashier, said “It’s been nice to see some of the hard work everyone has put into the union start paying off at the Co-op. We’ve had some great accomplishments and some big hurdles to overcome. I think us organizing at the Co-op has brought more people together and we are ready to tackle other issues that might come our way.”

“Workers have a stronger voice and more power on the shopfloor since we started organizing” said Sydnee, a cashier of five years.
Alex, a worker in the produce department, adds “Working class solidarity is where it’s at. While we’re a small shop, the tactics we employ are unprecedented in St. Cloud. I had no exposure to organizing before I started working at the co-op about a year ago. There will be a lot of struggles to be fought over the coming months and years, and working at the Good Earth has helped me find the comrades I will be fighting with.”

“The worker-run kitchen has given, not just myself, but all of my comrades in the deli and bakery a new found sense of importance.”, said Maddie, “Because we are now more democratic and horizontally run, we are all able to explore our passions and put our individual strengths to use without fear of overreaching. The worker-run kitchen has taught me a great deal about trusting myself and my ideas as well, and I’m very appreciative of that.”

“This has been my first experience in a collective ran workplace.”, added Eric. “It is tremendously rewarding to have the entire kitchen recognized as equals for our hard work and contributions to success and growth. The high level of morale, paired with freedom of creativity, has allowed our kitchen to flourish like never before. I am ecstatic to be part of such a beautiful team.”

The Good Earth Workers Union is a campaign of the Central Minnesota IWW. The Industrial Workers of the World is a revolutionary labor union founded over a century ago for all working people.

 

 

Educators Take on Trump, Sexism, and Anybody Else Who Threatens the School System: SJEM Organizers Talk Back!

by John O’Reilly 

One of the Twin Cities IWW’s most exciting areas of work is the Social Justice Education Committee (SJEM). Since 2012, SJEM has been organizing workers in K12 education across the metro for justice at work and in the community. C.M., an elementary school teaching fellow, says of SJEM: “We bring together education workers to give them tools to organize their schools to disrupt the oppressive status quo. We know that no matter what kind of policies are enacted at a district level, oppressive, hierarchical structures that are built into our school systems will need to be resisted from the grassroots.” By building a democratic organization across the education system in the Twin Cities, SJEM organizers hope to empower people who work inside the education system to stand up for themselves and their students. They work to “band together against white supremacy, the commodification of children and staff, and other oppression taking place in schools,” C.M. adds.

While the public education system is already represented by mainstream teachers’ unions, SJEM organizers see that there’s much more room for an organizing approach inside schools. C.M. notes that “with the rise of charter schools, organizing within each school is essential to avoid massive attacks on workers’ rights and school funding as more and more schools operate outside of the unionized world.” The prevailing model of unionism in the education sector, and in most of the country, is sometimes called “service unionism,” where unions offer themselves as a product for members, instead of members themselves directly taking action at their schools and in the community. C.M. sees the limitation of service unionism as a limitation to the ability of educators to change the system they work in. “We cannot really transform schools without building power and using creative action way outside of what the union bureaucracy allows for,” she says.

Another SJEM organizer, Moira, also works in elementary education, and says that the division within unions in the school district is a challenge that SJEM hopes to take on. “The current model of school unions is too divided to give education workers true power,” she says.  “Engineers, education assistance, cafeteria workers, and licensed educators all have their own separate unions.” Echoing a slogan that has long been a rallying cry for the IWW, she says that workers need to organize industrially, all across the school system among different kinds of work, “in order to create schools that are socially and racially just.”

One of the most important impacts of the Trump regime so far has been its threatening attitude towards immigrants and refugees. Educators in the Twin Cities have seen this in their schools and are organizing against it, but it can be difficult. Moira says that an atmosphere of fear has already been created at her school, and that staff are nervous to talk too openly about Trump. SJEM is doing work to fight these fear. C.M. tells a story of what’s happened since the election at her school:

 

 “The thing that has come up so far is that students are scared. My Somali students and students of color came in crying the day after the election and are worried that people ‘want them out.’ I assured them that I would do whatever I could to protect them and to keep our school a safe place, and a key part of actually acting on that promise will mean organizing with other teachers to create plans for what to do if our students or families come under attack.”

 

SJEM is currently working on developing organizing pledges for education workers to push their schools to commit to protecting undocumented students. The school system is a central part of our society and education is a right guaranteed to everyone in our community. SJEM members won’t let Trumpism take that away from their students. “Organizing ourselves to prepare for direct action, rather than trusting systems which are designed to work against us, will be critical to protecting our students,” adds C.M.

Women workers play an important role in the education system, a field dominated by female labor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 75% of teachers in the K12 field are women. Traditionally, the high proportion of women in education has been one of the reasons why teachers and related education occupations have been underpaid and undervalued in our society: the same patriarchal values that permeate our society have real effects in the economy. The powerful have dismissed education as “women’s work,” and have dismissed “women’s work” as unimportant. The rise of teachers unions in the Twin Cities and around the country have gone a long way to fight these double standards. In fact, the first teachers strike in the United States was the 1946 AFT strike in St. Paul.

Still, despite decades of educator unionism, double-standards and bias remain for women in the workplace. Administrators can use sexist tropes to dismiss women in education. “Male bosses don’t take me seriously,” says C.M., “It is hard to maintain credibility when higher-ranking men come in and paint you as the ‘dreamer’ and themselves as the ‘thinker.’” Additionally, she points out that the lack of men in the field becomes a problem for students as well. “Young boys benefit from being represented on staff,” C.M. points out, but often don’t see role models for themselves at school because the amount of work, both paid and unpaid, that goes into education discourages men from entering the field.

SJEM has been pushing away at these and other problems across the metro area, and won’t be stopping any time soon. They see schools as an institution to protect and also one to transform: Asked why she’s working with SJEM to make things better at her school, C.M. has passion and a vision:

“I want my students to be treated as children, not products. I want to empower students to follow their interests and learn to be a part of a supportive and democratic community, not to sort my students into different classes for the benefit of the ruling class. Schools shouldn’t be a holding place for students, they should be a place to offer knowledge and growth that nurture humanity and the whole child. I am organizing because I think the only way to create schools that are actually good for people is to have them be designed by the people who work and learn in them.”

 

With Trump in power and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, taking aim at the public education system, the brave organizers of SJEM and those like them are standing up for their students and their schools.

 

One Class, One Struggle! Undocumented and Documented Workers Unite on May Day.

By Patrick O’Donoghue

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Fellow workers in the General Defense Committee stand against the far right

 

A Day of Resistance! 

Today is May Day, or as we in the labor movement call it, International Worker’s Day- a day of celebration and resistance for working class people. It is a day not only of looking forward to the future, but also remembering the lessons of the past. May Day commemorates the struggle of the Haymarket Martyrs, a group of labor organizers, most of them immigrants, executed in Chicago for their work in the Eight Hour Day movement. The Eight Hour Day was the first time that workers around the world joined together in one campaign, supporting each other’s strikes and protests around a single demand- reduce the work day to eight hours, without a cut in pay. The movement faced violence and arrests from governments, but eventually won in country after country. The eight hour day became the basic work day for workers across the countries where the movement fought, with victories across Europe, North and South America, Australia, Iran, Japan, and elsewhere. Over a century ago, workers realized the power we have when we refuse to be divided by borders, industry, or race.

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Lucy Gonzales Parsons, whose husband Albert was one of the Haymarket Martyrs, said “My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production.”

This May Day is also the Day Without Immigrants. It is the latest in a wave of of day strike by immigrant workers- not only to protest wages and work conditions, but also to protest the Trump’s plans to increase deportations. Under the Trump’s ramping up of the Obama administration’s already record-breaking deportations, ICE has increasingly targeted previously protected DREAMers and other undocumented people not otherwise criminalized by the state. ICE raids are becoming more regular even in “Sanctuary Cities”, and more of our neighbors, coworkers, family, and friends are being captured, torn from their homes, forced through over-crowded detention centers and courts without due process.

In the Twin Cities, many of the actions today are organized by CTUL, the workers center for low wage workers of color, especially immigrant workers. Even more of the walk outs and sick outs are “wildcat” actions organized on the shop floor between undocumented workers, without needing the go-ahead from a union or organizer.

By striking, these undocumented workers are showing how important they are to making the world run. How many restaurants are shut down today because the back end staff didn’t come in? How many landscapers and construction companies who rely on day laborerers are not making money today? How many farm fields aren’t being worked? Every day, undocumented immigrant workers do some of the toughest jobs in America, and the country starts to grind to a halt without immigrant workers. Deportations crackdowns have already left millions of dollars of produce to rot in the fields in Alabama, Georgia, and California as farmers dependent on exploiting undocumented workers can’t find Americans to work for as low as $10,000-$12,000 a year. The four industries with the most undocumented workforce- agriculture, cleaning and maintenance, construction, and food preparation and service- are all expecting labor shortages if Trump’s deportation plan is carried out. American companies and bosses need our immigrant fellow workers- but the administration and parts of the press try to tell workers who are citizens that undocumented workers are hurting American working standards. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hard Times and Scapegoats

Those of us born here in the US might hear from our coworkers, “Why should we care about the immigrants out protesting today? They’re taking our jobs! They’re taking our welfare! They’re bad hombres!”. Sadly, this idea that immigrants are taking our jobs and tax dollars is common around America, fed by a media machine headed up by Fox News, Breitbart, and right-wing talk radio. This media machine has built up as part of a long-term strategy for the Right and corporate America to drum up public support for rolling back social programs, public spending, and labor rights, as laid out in the famous Powell Memorandum that instructed industrial lobbyists on how to organize politically to push back against workers’ movements. The push against immigrants, as well as the Right’s rhetoric about the “inner city” and those of us who live there, reflects the Southern Strategy, an intentional decision by the Right in America to use racial anxiety against people of color to enlist white voters. This is done by implying or repeating, over and over, that immigrants and people of color are criminals, do not work, and are taking public benefits without contributing. The fact is that undocumented workers not only contribute over $10.6 billion in local and state taxes and $15 billion in social security annually, but are also ineligible for public assistance including welfare, SNAP, and Medicaid. On the whole, undocumented workers are not among the most exploited at work, but also subsidize a tax pool for benefits that they are not able to apply for. Still, US-born workers are expected to believe that undocumented workers are the cause of low wages and high unemployment- not decades of attacks on worker power and unions through mechanization and outsourcing. This narrative is pushed for one reason- to get workers with citizenship to act as attack dogs against workers without citizenship. Buying into it gets workers nowhere.

Race to the Bottom, or Struggle From Below?

When Trump says, “Make America Great Again”, he is calling voters to remember a time when America was different in two very different ways. First, at the peak of what many conservative Americans remember as the time the country was “great” in the 1950s and 1960s, segregation was still law in most of the South and unofficially practiced, like it is today, in most of the country. Women’s liberation had not yet picked up steam, and LGBT rights were considered a fringe issue at best. Without a doubt, anxiety over the changing status of people of color, women, and queer people is one of the emotions driving Trump’s presidency, especially in the wealthier voting bloc that gave him the bulk of his support.

Still, among working class Americans, especially white workers in the Rust Belt and Appalachia, the phrase also brings to mind the higher standard of living working class people enjoyed at the high water mark of unionization and social democracy in the US.

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Unionization has fallen from almost a third of American workers to just over a tenth, not only from direct union busting, but also from the loss of jobs in former union strongholds like mining and manufacturing. With these blue collar union jobs gone, wages have stagnated since the 1970s. Meanwhile, productivity has steadily climbed. Profits have skyrocketed as more of that productivity goes to our bosses instead of to our paychecks. As a result, inequality in the US has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. Infant mortality, substance abuse, and depression are all increasing, and life expectancy is falling. Workers are expected to either accept our place in low wage service work, or to “increase our human capital” by taking on enormous student debt for a chance at a career.

Still, it’s not blue collar jobs like auto manufacturing, mining, and longshore workers we really miss; it’s the workers’ power we built on those jobs. These were only good jobs because they were unionized. Before the unions, these jobs were considered low skill, and were almost always low wage. They were usually held by workers with the minimum education, or by recent immigrants. In fact, a lot of the arguments used against unionizing fast food, service, or janitorial workers today would have sounded familiar to factory workers before the unions!

The loss of these jobs has nothing to do with immigrants, and everything to do with a corporate strategy to bust the power of unions. In the US and in Europe, since crisis of the 1970s when manufacturing and mining workers pushed against the stagnation of wages and inflation, business looking to keep profitability have adopted a dual strategy for gutting the power of labor- replacing high waged workers with machines, and moving production to places where labor is kept cheap by poverty and repression.

The mechanization of jobs has been most stark to workers like coal miners, who Trump promises to “put back to work” even as experts say it is impossible. Even before the rise of cheaper natural gas, solar, and wind put the final nail into coal’s coffin, the bulk of coal jobs were lost decades earlier as the industry switched from large shifts of underground miners, to environmentally devastating mountaintop removal mining with bulldozers, back hoes, and drag lines. Since 1983, West Virginia and Kentucky alone have lost around half of their former 79,000 coal jobs, despite production holding almost steady at 245 million short tons in 1983 and 250 million in 2011. The same trend has happened in granite quarrying here in Minnesota. Quarrying jobs in the area around Saint Cloud have declined by about a third since 1990 even as production expanded, while in the Iron Range what mining is left after the closure of pits for cheaper ore elsewhere, is done with more heavy equipment and fewer workers.

The second method for breaking American unions has been outsourcing unionized jobs to countries where wages are lower and unions are more easily repressed. For example, the Ford Plant in Saint Paul shut down in 2011, resulting in over 2,000 layoffs, even though it was one of Ford’s most productive and efficient plants. Its closure was part of Ford’s strategy, called “The Way Forward”, which outlines how Ford will weaken the United Auto Workers by moving production to Spain, Mexico, China, and other countries where labor is cheaper, and attacking the unions there to keep that labor cheap. Between 1979 and today, manufacturing employment nationwide fell from around 19.6 million jobs to 12.6 million, with 5 million jobs lost since the signing of NAFTA. Trade deals like NAFTA allow companies to move to where low wages are enforced by violence against union organizers. Some companies don’t even need to move operations overseas- they can “outsource” jobs to prison labor where prisoners can be made to work for pennies an hour, and the prison system ramps up harsher penalties and more prison time to keep cheap prison labor available. The violence of mass incarceration here and union busting overseas busts unions here and leaves everyone working more for less.

When politicians promise to make manufacturing jobs “come back”, they’re not offering us the same deal that assembly line workers in the 60s or 70s might have had. Instead, these jobs are mostly coming back as non-union, low wage labor, mostly in states across the South with weaker labor protection, where the companies are fighting to keep the United Auto Workers off the shop floor. Wages for production workers declined 4.4% between 2003 and 2013, when a fourth of all manufacturing workers made $16/hr or less. The median wage for manufacturing workers in 2015 was just $16.14 an hour.

Our politicians, whether following the policies of international trade deals or the policies of protectionism and “America first”, offer no real alternative for workers- just a race to the bottom for the lowest wages. This May Day, immigrant workers are showing us all another way- fighting back against exploitation anywhere to fight for workers everywhere.
Make The Working Class Rise Again!

While workers take to the streets today, we need to look to the next day, the next week, and the next month to keep up the fight against exploitation. Some of the most important work linking the struggle of undocumented workers and citizens is being done quietly, on the shop floor and in our communities every day. The transformative power of solidarity can be seen in work like the Worker’s Project in Indiana and its campaign between union carpenters and non-union immigrant construction workers. When Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne hired non-union immigrants to work on construction projects, the Trades unions initially planned to rally for “Local Jobs for Local People”. As they talked it over and met with the immigrant workers, though, the carpenters realized the oldest truth in the labor movement. As the union put it, “if  they’re getting f–cked, we’re getting f–cked”. Or, as we say in the IWW, “An Injury to One is An Injury to All”.

Instead of campaigning against undocumented workers, the union invited the undocumented workers to their meetings and listened to their grievances and plans. The undocumented workers launched a campaign over unpaid overtime, and the union workers helped them workers get documentation for the hours they worked. When the undocumented workers picketed their job site over safety hazards, Trades workers honored the picket lines. Finally, the Trades workers invited the undocumented workers into the unions. Eventually, the undocumented workers won settlements from the university, some joined the unions, and both the citizen and undocumented workers came out stronger.

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IWW General Defense Committee stands in solidarity with immigrants, Sheboygan WI

This is the kind of the solidarity between workers that the Industrial Workers of the World, including our Wobblies in the Trades in Indiana, fights for. We extend our solidarity and struggle to every fight against the attacks on the working class. In New York City, IWW members picketed and locked down to bread delivery trucks to stand with undocumented workers threatened with deportation. In Milwaukee and in Saint Cloud, IWW General Defense Committee members have helped provide security at rallies by immigrant communities facing intimidation by anti-immigrant forces. In Minneapolis, the IWW has picketed in defense of CNT union organizers at Ford factories in Spain, where low wages contribute to outsourcing from Minnesota. The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee organizes imprisoned workers across borders, and last September launched the US’s largest ever prison strike. Campaigns like Stardust Family United and the Burgerville Workers Union are building worker power in food service industries that have kept traditional unions out.

There is a new labor movement, and with it a new world, being built every day in the shell of the old. Today, undocumented workers march at the front of it. By stopping work just for a day, they are showing us all a lesson that the Haymarket Martyrs knew long ago. Working people make the world go around, and that by simply taking a break, we can make the world stop until it listens to us. Today, immigrant workers take to the picket lines and the streets. But, they can’t stand alone, and they won’t- the working class knows no borders.

 

Teachers Push Back Against Mismanagement

By John O’Reilly

The story that came down was simple: we were going to get our hours cut. We work at a school for adults, teaching ESL to immigrants and refugees. Because many of our students are Somali, they use Somali-speaking daycare for their younger kids. Since Friday is the Muslim holy day, their daycare centers generally aren’t open, and so any of our students with children younger than school age can’t come in to learn English on Fridays. The result of this situation is that our student numbers plummet on Friday, and student numbers matter for state funding.

So 3 of us were going to lose our Friday hours. We already work a hard, underpaid and underappreciated part-time job. While teachers in the K12 system are getting attacked by Betsy DeVos and her cronies in Washington, teachers in adult education have long been considered unimportant. No paid time off or sick leave, years since the last raise, and with a management team that wouldn’t know education if it bit them in the eye: it’s tough out here. Losing a whole day a week of pay was intolerable. Tali is a loving mother of two young girls and it’s obvious from talking to her that she would do anything for them. Jane has a bright teenage son looking at colleges. I’m still paying off my debt from the years of college I had to complete to become a teacher in this run-down school and the mice in my apartment eat better than I do some weeks.

We knew what needed to be done. Lacking students, it sure didn’t help that our school’s approach to outreach was to not do any. Rather than cutting hours, what we needed to do was build our program, bring in more students, and expand the student body beyond our primarily Muslim base. After all, there’s lots of people in Minneapolis who could use a free, supportive classroom space to work on their English skills.

Teachers are not known for their interest in shying away from a fight. We talked to all of our coworkers, one by one, over coffee or cheap fast food. We told them that we weren’t okay with losing our hours, that we couldn’t afford it, and they agreed with us. “I don’t understand why they run things this way,” our newest coworker whispered to me over the table at a coffeeshop, looking both ways to make sure nobody was watching us, “It’s like they’re trying to make the school fail.” It turned out the three of us weren’t the only people who had complaints. We promised to support our coworkers if they had our backs this time around.

On the day before the cuts were to go into effect, we marched into management’s office. Appointments be damned. The manager’s eyes went wide as saucer plates when she saw us. The director, smooth as he is, slapped everybody on the back and sat down with us in the plush conference room. He’s got a reputation as someone who will show you the nice things one day and fire you the next for looking at him funny. Great view, I thought as I looked out the large window in his second floor office and settled into a cushy chair, better than the dingy, windowless basement that my students are subjected to all day. We stuck to our plan, each said our piece, delivered the letter with our proposal and signatures, and got up to walk away before he could get a word in edgewise. Everybody’s knees were shaky as we walked out of there but we had gotten through it.

Four hours later, we got an email: the director had approved our plan. Sure, it was good for the whole school, but it wasn’t like those geniuses, who’ve never actually taught a day in their lives, had come up with it. We, the workers who keep the school going, knew what we needed to succeed. “Praise Jesus,” Tali said when I texted her that we’d won, waiting in the school parking lot to pick up her girls. “I realized, he’s just another guy. He’s not better than us, and we made him listen to us,” Jane said as we debriefed. We did it together. We kept our hours. We built our program. The teachers, all women save myself, served our students, overwhelmingly women themselves. We made the big man upstairs listen to us. And we, the workers, did it on our own. It turns out that when you get a bunch of teachers mad, sometimes they fight back. And when we fight, we win!

A Shift in Power: Unprecedented Victory at the School Board

 

Thanks to Unicorn Riot for their great video! 

“It’s pretty clear that there’s a problem,” said Director Nelson Inz at last Tuesday’s school board meeting, “And it’s really disheartening to hear the things that people are saying about racism and practices taking place in our schools to silence teachers of color that we worked so desperately to get to work for our kids, because we know how important it is that they’re there. It’s crushing, really. I can’t believe I’m hearing it.”

At the Social Justice Education Movement (SJEM), our mission is to empower education workers to organize to fight for social and racial justice in their schools, as well as to fight for their own rights as workers. What we’ve found time and time again is that if we don’t do the second, we can’t do the first. In other words: if teachers can’t defend themselves, they can’t defend their students.

Unlike Director Inz, we were not surprised by the stories educators of color shared publicly at Tuesday’s meeting, about the various ways they were pushed out of their schools in a systematically racist school district. They are consistent with what we have heard, seen and experienced in MPS and beyond: staff who speak up for students, or speak out against administrators in any way, are pushed out of schools. We see this pattern hit staff of color the hardest, in large part because staff of color are often the ones to notice and speak up about practices that harm students.  In Minneapolis 66% of students are students of color, and yet our teachers of color only represent 15% of the teaching staff. A recent study shows that having just one black teacher in elementary school can dramatically increase students’ chances of graduating. In a district that claims to know how important it is to have staff that represent students, staff of color who face racism in their schools that goes unchallenged or is directly perpetrated by administrators.

Some of these stories were shared before the school board on Tuesday. We heard from a teacher who got positive performance reviews for two straight years, but was then told she would not be asked back for “poor performance” a month after disagreeing with the principal at a staff meeting. In another instance, a black Special Education Assistant (SEA) was fired for refusing to deny hot lunch to students as a form of punishment. Another black SEA resigned in protest over the way he and his students were being treated–then his former boss made it impossible for him to get another job in the district by calling him “unprofessional” in references. A Hmong social worker at Hmong International Academy was fired for “insubordination” after refusing to comply with administrative orders to unlawfully expedite a special education designation. These are just a few of the stories shared, and they are only a glimpse of what is happening across the district.

The board would like us to think this is a crisis of communication, a problem that results from them not “knowing the full story,” as Director Rebecca Gagnon put it. But do they really want to know? The board tried to block the community from entering the boardroom because of overcrowding; security guards were ordered to push us aside and close the doors. We had to push our way in, only to find ourselves in a room that comfortably fit us. Comfortable except for the heat, which the board repeatedly said was because the room was over capacity. Those of us who stayed after, however, heard the AC go on after the crowd left.

Do they really want to know? Superintendent Ed Graff began the meeting by framing all of the testimony to come as the sad consequence of necessary budget cuts.

“I want to acknowledge that we have a number of individuals coming forward tonight to speak about their personal situation, specifically as it relates to employment decisions and race,” he said “We know that this is a very difficult time for employees who are impacted by the cuts and organizational restructuring that is taking place.”

Not a single one of the educators speaking that night were excessed due to budget cuts, and the board knew that. They read our emails, and promised a meeting with the fired educators, which they canceled the day of. But it’s certainly easier to be sad about budget cuts than  racism, or staff fired for advocating for students.

Do they really want to act? The board responded to the testimony with outrage and a promise to look into it later–then prepared to move on. We were ready for this with a fully-written, legally sound motion that we requested the board vote on. A motion to rectify the wrongful firings of educators who spoke that night, as well as prohibiting food punishment in the district. Though the discussion mainly consisted of board members saying that this was not the proper process, that they needed to investigate further, and that this didn’t set a good precedent; they were looking at a room of 200 people on their feet, holding signs in support, who had pushed through guards to be there. They passed the motion unanimously with two abstentions. Seven dedicated educators of color can work with our students again.

Do they really want to act? In the face of the budget deficit, the cuts the board is choosing to make are telling. The Davis Center and central administration, which primarily “oversees” (rather than assists) us, has a $43,000,000/year budget for salaries alone. Yet only a small percentage of the total cuts will come from the Davis Center. Yet massive cuts are coming from programs that our students of color rely on the most, including Check and Connect.  They’re also coming from massive pay decreases and work increases for the engineers who make our schools clean and safe, most of whom are people of color. And whose budget remains untouched? School resource officers, who mostly get paid to be on their phones, and often make school a criminalizing and traumatizing place for students of color.

The fact is, we’re being given a tired story: that we just need to give the people in power more time to fully understand the issue and then they will fix it. But the solution is not to rely on the nine people sitting on the school board to understand what is happening in every school – that’s impossible. Our schools are somehow supposed to prepare students to live in a “democracy” while being run as dictatorships, where administrators hold all the power. Our schools are somehow supposed to be able to fight racism when the administrators who run them with unilateral power benefit from avoiding controversy. In the same way it is in the board’s best interest to silence us, it is in the principal’s best interest to silence staff.

The solution is not to be patient with our “leaders.” The solution is for the workers, students, and families in schools to have the power. To shift power from positions that benefit from quieting dissent to people whose first priority is the students and the health and happiness of the school community. The solution is to organize for social and racial justice in our schools, and to protect each other along the way. An SJEM organizer who spoke at the meeting framed the night as a “test” for the board, but the real test was for us: could we build the power to defend each other? All it took was connecting educators across the district who wanted to fight, and an organizing strategy to do so. Now that we see the power we have, it’s time to expand it. It’s time to continue the fight. Time to get organized Will you join us?

Come reflect and celebrate this Thursday, 5-7pm at the Waite House Community room: facebook event here. Or contact us at SJEMiww@gmail.com.

 

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IWW Members Stand with Fired Ford Union Organizer in Spain—Solidarity is Strength! (en Inglés y Espanol)

By John O’Reilly

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Wobblies talk to workers and management at Midway Ford

On Friday, March 24th, Twin Cities IWW members gathered outside the Roseville Ford dealership to stand in solidarity with a fired union organizer from our sister union in Spain. An organizer with the National Confederation of Labor (or CNT, for its name in Spanish) was fired in retaliation for organizing in Valencia, Spain. His court date for reinstatement was set for March 27th.

A dealership manager approached our members and told them they were annoyed that we were picketing their workplace. The manager insisted that the site was union friendly and then sent out the union representative from the service workers to talk with IWW picketers. IWW member BP reports that “after some good conversation with the steward, he said he was on our side and took a large quantity of flyers – much to the dismay of the manager!” Workers from the site soon gathered and mixed with IWW picketers, impressed by the dedication of our members to their coworker in Spain’s cause.

Ford’s restructuring plan, The Way Forward, lays out a strategy of closing down plants in the US and moving them overseas to countries where the wages are lower. That’s why, as IWW member ED points out, “the Twin Cities factory shut down, taking away 2000 well payed union jobs, while production is ramping up in Spain, where labor laws are changing to make firing workers easier.” But the strategy only works as long as wages remain low in those countries. “So, by busting unions in Spain, Ford can keep outsourcing jobs, which busts unions here in the US. An injury to one is very much an injury to all,” ED adds.

The working class in the United States and globally is under attack by the international capitalists and their buddies in government. By moving labor and attacking workers organizations, the bosses try to keep us divided and fighting with each other, instead of working across national boundaries. Outsourcing only works if unions around the world are kept divided and weak. As ED points out: “Global capitalism can only be answered with global labor solidarity!”

 

 

 

Miembros de la IWW defienden Organizador Sindical Despedido por Ford en España – ¡La Solidaridad Hace la Fuerza!

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Una IWW signo de piquete, “Ford ataca a los sindicatos en Estados Unidos, España, y en todas partes!”

Por John O’Reilly

El viernes, el 24 de marzo, miembros de la IWW en las Ciudades Gemelas reunieron afuera de la representación de Ford en Roseville, Minnesota, para estar en solidaridad con un organizador despedido de nuestra unión hermana en España. Le echaron a un organizador con el CNT por organizando en Valencia, España. Su fecha de corte para reintegro fue el 27 de marzo.

Un jefe de la representación se acercó a nuestros miembros y les informó que estaban enfadados que estuvimos picoteando su taller de trabajo. El jefe insistió que el sitio era pro-sindicato y mandó a un representante del sindicato de los trabajadores de servicio para hablar con los picadores. Miembro de la IWW nombrado “BP” dice que “después de alguna conversación buena con el representante, nos dijo que estaba con nosotros y tomó un gran cantidad de informes – ¡el jefe se dejó consternado!” Trabajadores del taller se agruparon por el piquete y charlaron con los sindicalistas. Se impresionaron la dedicación de nuestros miembros para la causa de su compañero en España.

El plan de restructura de Ford, “The Way Forward,” es una estrategia de cerrar fábricas en los estados Unidos y moverlos a otros países donde los salaries son más bajos. Por eso, según miembro de la IWW nombrado “ED,” se cerró la fábrica en St. Paul, eliminando 2000 puestos buen pagados y sindicados. “Esta estrategia solamente funciona si salarios se quedan bajos en otros países y Ford lucha contra sindicados para hacer eso,” él dice. Entonces, “Ford ataca sindicatos en Espana, y por eso puede seguir externalizando aquí, y por eso puede atacar sindicaos aquí en los Estados Unidos,” ED añade.

Los grandes capitalistas y sus amigos en gobierno están atacando la clase trabajadora en los estados unidos y mundialmente. Los patrones traten de dividirnos por moviendo labor y atacando organizaciones obreras. Ellos quieren que nos peleamos en vez de coordinar a través de fronteras nacionales. Externalización solamente funciona si uniones en todas partes se quedan débiles y divididos. Como ED dice, “¡solo podemos responder al capitalismo mundial con solidaridad trabajadora mundial!”

Workers Inside, Workers Outside: IWW Organizers Fight Prisoner Exploitation in MN!

By John O’Reilly 

The Organizer sat down with Sophia, an organizer with the IWW’s Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, to talk about organizing the working class behind bars and the particular struggles of incarcerated women.

Q: What is IWOC and why do you organize prisoners into the IWW?

Sophia: We began when prisoners organizing in the Free Alabama Movement reached out to the IWW to support work stoppages inside. A common misconception is that IWOC members on the outside are organizing people inside. We support the self-activity of prisoners organizing to change their conditions and make the prison system untenable by building collective power and class consciousness. We have over 800 inside members nationally. As people on the outside we provide support and resources to those putting their lives on the line inside.

We believe fighting the prison system is an important arena of struggle against racialized capitalism. We also believe in working class solidarity and see prisons destroying the social fabric of our communities and families. We are explicitly abolitionist, meaning we don’t believe in reforming prisons but abolishing them altogether. IWOC is taking the IWW back to its roots of multiracial organizing at the front lines of wage slavery.

 

Q:  What kinds of IWOC organizing are prisoners and supporters doing in the state of Minnesota?

Sophia: Unlike other states where we witnessed massive mobilization for the national prison strike on September 9th, our inside organizers in Minnesota are still in the initial stages of building organization. The outside committee continues to struggle with mail censorship which has made communication with our inside members difficult. We’ve started to more heavily rely upon phone communication for this reason. We’re also producing podcasts amplifying the voices and analysis of prisoners on conditions inside. This has allowed us to continue to build connections while we’re under heavy surveillance by the Department of Corrections.

 

Q:  What’s the next step for prisoner organizing in the IWW?

Sophia: We have a national conference coming up this spring that will allow us to share best practices across locals and solidify conversations about national structure. I think the priority continues to be how we orient to local organizing while recognizing we don’t have functioning outside committees in all the places where we have members inside. We are still reflecting on the implications of the national prison strike. Many of the most prominent strike leaders such as Siddique Abdullah Hassan have faced intense repression as a result of their participation.

Locally, we’re working to change the composition of our outside committee to include more former prisoners and family members. Once people are released it’s often a survival game, so organizing is a challenge before people get back on their feet. We’ve also had several people get violated and sent back. We’re building stronger connections with our inside organizers’ family members. Finally, we’re determining how to respond to ongoing surveillance by the DOC.

Q:  What kinds of specific challenges do women prisoners experience under our capitalist prison system?

Sophia: Women prisoners face particular challenges inside. While they make up a small percentage of those locked up, women, specifically Black women, are the fastest-growing segment of those incarcerated. Many women are locked up for defending themselves against their abusers and many are mothers with primary custody over their children prior to their incarceration. Gender-specific healthcare is another major concern. While the demands women are agitated around may vary, the organizing methods and strategy are largely the same. We saw mass participation from women inside during the national prison strike given their relatively small percentage of the overall prison population.

There’s one women’s prison in Minnesota in Shakopee. Twin Cities IWOC continues to make connections there but have struggled because cold call letter writing is much less successful than outreach within our networks, the majority of which are male prisoners.

When It Happens, What’s Next? May 1st is Coming! by John O’Reilly

All over the country, workers are standing up. The rise of Trumpism, combined with the daily attacks on our class by big business, have awoken a sleeping giant. In February, hundreds of thousands of workers participated in the “Day Without an Immigrant,” a mass political strike against the administration. May 1st, International Workers Day, is right around the corner. Where are you going to be on that day?

What’s unique about our role as working people in the economy is that we make the whole thing spin. As the old labor anthem Solidarity Forever goes: “without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn.” Will May 1st be a day when the working class, united across its differences, steps out of the workplace and onto the political arena? Will it be the day that we stop being just the working class by accident of birth or luck, and start being the working class for our own interests?

It’s hard to know, but while we in the IWW welcome the call for May 1st strikes and actions, we also think about the long game. If you and your coworkers strike on May 1st, what will you do on May 2nd? Or May 3rd? We can send a powerful message to the politicians in Washington and St. Paul with our big day of actions, but we can’t shake the foundations of this unjust system with a single day. What we need to do that is a unified working class, taking action at our workplaces and building the power of our class where it really hits the system: profit.

So let’s build hard for May 1st. Talk with your coworkers, talk with your friends, talk with your family. Strike, walk together, break bread with new friends you didn’t know you had in the streets. But don’t forget that what really matters in the long run is what you do on May 2nd and after.

History Made Real: How I Became a Wobbly by David Feldmann

I first heard of the IWW when I was a teenager in a conservative suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. I’d always felt out of step with my surroundings, so when I was reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” in homeroom one day, it felt exciting to read about the history of the Industrial Workers of the World. I couldn’t believe that there had been a labor union with such a radical vision as well as a relatively sizable membership during the first couple decades of the 20th century. I learned a lot from that book, but I remember being particularly intrigued by the sections dealing with the Wobblies.

After high school, I moved to the big city and worked a string of low-wage jobs in the service sector. I was a seasonal janitor at a non-profit wild bird sanctuary, a food service worker at a deli (a frustrating and disgusting job for a vegetarian), and a low-level clerk at a public library. It wasn’t until 2006, several years after reading Zinn’s book, that I learned that the IWW still existed, albeit as a much more marginal union with few members. I had read a graphic novel history of the IWW that came in at the library called Wobblies! and learned that the IWW, while largely inactive for most of the latter half of the 20th century, had seen a bit of a resurgence in the last few years. I was excited to hear the Wobblies were still around, causing trouble and getting the proverbial goods. I joined in late 2006 and have remained in good-standing ever since.

In the ten years since I got my first red card in the mail, I’ve gone through a lot of life changes, both with my work and personal life. I continued to work at the public library, off and on, until 2014. I worked at a cooperative bakery for a couple years, baking bread and making deliveries. After moving to the Twin Cities two years ago, I worked at a non-profit food charity as a fundraising canvasser and gardener. After leaving that job last year, I worked a seasonal gardening job elsewhere before getting a permanent, full-time gig as a truck driver for a Minneapolis bakery.

Through it all, my membership in the One Big Union has been a constant in my adult life. While I’ve never been part of an organizing campaign myself, the union has been there for me in other ways. The sense of community and collective strength that comes from being part of an organization that I know I could call on should I have an issue with my employer is comforting and reassuring. Earlier this year, while dealing with health issues, I received a lot of support (financial and otherwise) from fellow IWW members across the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

It’s been exciting to see the IWW rebound the past decade after a long period of decline. Our numbers may still be low but I believe we have a spirit and dedication to class struggle that’s often lacking from the mainstream trade union and public sector unions. While I’m not as active with the IWW as some others, I’ve always been proud to be a member and I look forward to what the future has in store for Wobblies everywhere.

From Green to Red: How I Became a Wobbly by shugE Mississippi

In 2001 I was beginning to understand and come to terms with being an anarchist. After most of a decade as a pretty mainstream liberal election-oriented activist, I had in spurts become radicalized. Doing support work for various radical environmental campaigns and being more directly involved in the 1997-98 campaign to blockade the reroute of Highway 55 in Minneapolis steered me away from electoral politics and organizing based on manipulating centralized forms of power. I’d seen the corruption and manipulation required to be successful in electoral politics, even in the most genuinely intentioned leftist camps. I had also seen more radical campaigns where successes were won through direct action rather than money, and manipulation of political systems. I was on the cusp of abandoning my blossoming political career and proudly coming out as an anarchist shortly after I started working at Sisters’ Camelot in 2001.

I first met many of the core people who would build Sisters’ Camelot through it’s infancy at the Minnehaha Free State, a coalition effort blockading the Highway 55 reroute in 1997 and 1998. Over the next few years, Sisters’ Camelot built quite a positive reputation amongst anarchists and other radicals in the Twin Cities, gaining much of its street cred when their office/home was raided by the federal government and police during the International Society for Animal Genetics conference in July of 2000.

Sisters’ Camelot was founded as a Minnesota-based nonprofit corporation in 1997 by self-proclaimed anarchist and ex-social worker Jeff Borowiak. Its main function was to pick up bulk surplus organic food several times a week from local distribution warehouses and give the food away freely and randomly on busy Twin Cities street corners out of a colorful painted bus. As the organization grew, its operations expanded– building two consecutive commercial-grade kitchen-buses, and developing a garden plot in South Minneapolis. Sisters’ Camelot was giving away bulk surplus produce on street corners, cooking hot meals at community events, and growing food in their garden. All of this was made possible by the work of a canvass operation consisting of door-to-door fundraisers, who raised the money that paid for all of Sisters’ Camelot’s operations (from gasoline, to insurance, to salaries). By the end of 2012, Sisters’ Camelot had a warehouse space, three buses, a fifteen passenger canvass van, and an annual budget of over $270,000, all stemming from money raised by the canvass workers.

When Sisters’ Camelot was first formed, the board of directors consisted of hand-picked friends of Jeff Borowiak. Beyond giving full power to Borowiak to run Sisters’ Camelot as he saw fit, the original board had little involvement in Sisters’ Camelot’s operations. This hierarchical power structure led to the first worker struggle at Camelot when canvassers became increasingly disgruntled over Borowiak’s decisions. He paid himself a salary, paid a friend a salary as the chef of the first kitchen bus (which was not yet completed), and decided who got salaries to direct foodshare operations and the canvass. It was later discovered that Borowiak had become negligent in responding to mail from the Minnesota Attorney General’s office regarding important annual filings.

The canvass workers first organized against abuses of power at Sisters’ Camelot in 2001 at one of the weekly meetings. The canvassers organized themselves and elected two representatives, Rob “Tumbleweed” Czernik and myself, to present their demands to Jeff Borowiak. At this meeting, the canvass threatened to strike unless Borowiak gave up his power of Executive Director and allowed all workers at Sisters’ Camelot to create a democratic collective structure by which all workers within the organization could have equal voting rights in running the organization.

After several meetings regarding the workers’ grievances, Jeff Borowiak decided to avoid a strike and gave his power of Executive Director over to a newly elected board of directors. This board was empowered to create the collective democratic structure. In 2002 the new collective was formed to run the organization, giving anyone who worked for Sisters’ Camelot the option of being founding members of the collective which would operate by a consensus process. There were two of the founding collective members, Eric Gooden and myself, who would be workers at Sisters’ Camelot in 2013 the next time the canvass workers would organize and threaten a strike.

In November, 2009 I resigned my position as Canvass Director at a Sisters’ Camelot collective and left the organization until spring of 2011. I quit because I felt the collective was micromanaging the canvass operation in ways in which would require me to enforce bad policies that I could not in good conscience enforce. While I was working elsewhere I resumed regular meetings with the later Canvass Directors (Will Dixon & Hardy Coleman) to help them with targeting of their monthly turf grid cycle and maps. Those canvass directors tried many times to openly and publicly recruit me to return to working as a canvasser at Sisters’ Camelot, which I finally did in the spring of 2011.

By 2012, the collective process at Sisters’ Camelot had changed significantly from when it was first created in 2002. Not long after the collective was created, guaranteed voting rights were closed to workers within the organization and a process was created where any member of the collective had the right to deny any new workers who wanted to join the collective. This created a dynamic where each year there was a collective of bosses at Sisters’ Camelot that was less representative and included fewer of the rest of the organization’s workers than each previous year. By the end of 2012, several workers at Sisters’ Camelot had been denied their requests to join the collective and it had become common practice for the collective to hire, discipline, and even fire workers without democratic input from a majority of the workers within the organization.

By the time the union organizing began in 2012, all members of the managing collective had given themselves program positions with salaries, and had created a policy that only collective members were allowed to hold these salaried positions. During the years where these salaried jobs were created, the fundraising canvassers had their bonus structure slashed and vacation pay taken away from them. The canvassers were given a 2% raise to attempt to appease complaints, but the raise came nowhere near to making up for the loss of pay that reducing performance bonuses and removing vacation pay caused. Before this pay cut, the canvass workers at Sisters’ Camelot (who raised over 95% percent of Camelot’s budget) were already the lowest paid canvass workers in a local industry of about a dozen professional canvass operations. It was common for Sisters’ Camelot canvassers to openly talk about accepting such low pay so that they could work for the only canvass organization whose mission didn’t compromise their anarchist or similar radical leftist political convictions.

There was no base wage, only commission on money raised. This meant that people who were attracted to working for Sisters’ Camelot because of its radical counterculture image were convinced to sacrifice basic workers’ rights for what was considered a politically radical and righteous job. It was a job where a bad day of fundraising would often mean making well below minimum wage and sometimes even zero pay for a day of work. The canvass workers at Sisters’ Camelot were horribly exploited, but the politically radical work environment (lacking class analysis) created a mentality where many people convinced themselves that they were political martyrs rather than exploited workers.

This environment allowed the bosses to feel like they were radical political leaders working to build a better world in a way that justified years of stripping more and more dignity away from the workers who made the organization’s growth and the bosses’ salaries possible. This became a slippery slope where the bosses protected their own power at the expense of the workers more and more each year until it was inevitable that the workers would eventually reach a breaking point and fight back.

The bosses’ greed for power and bullshit radical political status got to the point where by the time we organized our union of workers, they were blind to how wrong their exploitation of the workers was. They actually thought that they were justified in treating workers like shit in order to be respected and admired in a small and local radical political cult. I also believe that they actually thought they were morally justified in the union-busting campaign they were soon to wage against a union of workers standing up for basic rights.

In the latter half of 2012, several collective members recruited their house-mate Aaron “Muskrat” Baark to join the collective and almost immediately promoted him to the salaried position of Canvass Director. This was done without democratic input from the canvassers, many of whom had years of experience. Aaron, on the other hand, had only a few months canvassing experience and was one of the worst performing and laziest canvassers at Camelot. This was a blatant example of the bosses putting a puppet friend in charge of the canvass instead of allowing the workers with knowledge and experience to have any control over their own working conditions. This hurt morale, as Muskrat was an incompetent Director who collected a salary while the experienced crew struggled to maintain a functional canvass operation despite their boss. This sucked. At this point the workers were close to revolt. There was much talk amongst workers about how unfair the situation was, but it still wasn’t quite bad enough for people to risk their jobs to fight for changes.

In the first week of December, 2012 the collective decided to take away the field manager positions held by canvassers Will Dixon, Jimmy Jansen, and John Snortum. This decision took the management of day-to-day canvass operations out of the hands of three workers who collectively had over a decade of experience, and gave most of this responsibility over the canvassers’ working conditions to Muskrat. The night after this decision was made, collective member Bobby Becker (who also acted as Aaron’s assistant Canvass Director) approached myself and Will Dixon outside of work and asked us to be a part of a union campaign in the hopes of regaining more democratic control for the canvassers over their working conditions.

Later that week, I attended a meeting with six other canvassers where we unanimously decided finally organize as exploited workers. We agreed to a strategy of methodically talking and inviting other canvassers to weekly meetings with the intent of unionizing the canvass workers at Sisters’ Camelot. This meeting and many more would include Bobby Becker, even though he knew he would not be able to join the union as long as he was one of the bosses. Myself, Will Dixon, Jimmy Jansen, Bridget Laurenson, John Snortum, and Bobby Becker were in attendance that day at the first meeting of the newly formed Sisters’ Camelot Canvassers Union.

The canvass workers were mostly self-proclaimed radicals, some of them anarchists with many years of involvement in radical movements for change. We decided that the radical anti-capitalist one big union (the IWW) was the only union that made sense for us to join. We knew the IWW already represented our beliefs regarding capitalism, opposing hierarchy, and embracing class struggle. We had already unionized without contacting an official union, but felt that we needed to choose to become Wobblies (a term commonly used to identify members of the IWW) before going public because there is no other union that so naturally made sense for our radical anti-capitalist leanings.

Many of the canvassers were already known anarchists and were friends with local Wobblies and supporters of past IWW organizing. In February 2013, the Sisters’ Camelot canvassers joined the IWW so that we could proudly go public to our bosses as unionized members of the Industrial Workers of the World.

During those few months of our union organizing drive, we kept everything a secret from even our closest friends. We had intentional one-on-one meetings with our coworkers, quickly getting almost all of the canvass workers attending meetings and supporting our union campaign. We met at least once every week, more often as we came closer to going public in February. A handful of volunteer outside organizers rotated in attending our meetings. They helped us with our organizing plan, and tried to warn and prepare us for worst case scenarios. In hindsight, we’ve all agreed since then that we didn’t take their warnings seriously enough.

We thought it was highly unlikely that our bosses, most of whom were respected self-proclaimed anarchists and radicals, wouldn’t embrace our newly formed worker’s union. Despite the Wobbly organizers repeatedly stressing to us that we should prepare for our bosses to actively union bust just like most bosses would, we didn’t take their advice seriously enough to be prepared for what would happen. We were all agreed that we would go on strike if they forced us to by not negotiating in good faith, but none of us believed that if we did strike that the bosses wouldn’t quickly change their minds when faced with losing almost all of their funding.

Before we all officially joined the Industrial Workers of the World, we had unionized all of the canvass workers except for a select few. We strategically chose to keep three current canvassers in the dark. These were our boss Aaron’s best friend who had only worked a few shifts, another new worker who had also only worked a few shifts, and one coworker who we all agreed couldn’t be trusted not to snitch the rest of us out to our bosses in hopes of a promotion for himself.

I spent the entire night before we went public to our bosses worrying. I knew that once we went public in the morning there was no turning back. I laid in my bed all night thinking about it without sleep. I knew that I would be accused of orchestrating everything by people who hated me and considered me to be a traitor to green anarchy. I knew that it was very likely that somehow they would try to make this about me rather than all of the canvass workers, but I also knew that my coworkers would never let that divide them. I knew how amazing and solid they were, and that helped keep my worries from getting out of control that night, instead replacing some of the anxiety with the type of excited anticipation that I can only compare to the feeling I would get on the night before Christmas when I was a little kid.

On Monday, February 25, 2013 most of the unionized canvassers and a few outside Wobbly organizers met at 8 AM at a coffee shop a few blocks from the Sisters’ Camelot office. We drank coffee and went over our plan in anticipation of announcing our union to our bosses at their weekly meeting at 10 AM. We’d roleplayed our march on the bosses many times with the other Wobblies, assigning specific roles to specific coworkers. Jimmy Jansen was the closest friend to most of the bosses, so his role was to basically shush any of the bosses who tried to interrupt or otherwise disrupt our statement. John Snortum was to read the prepared statement announcing our union and the terms for moving ahead with negotiations. We were excited and full of anxiety at that early-morning coffee meet-up, and as we walked as a group down the middle of a neighborhood street towards our place of work, we were laughing and telling jokes.

I think we were all full of excitement from the powerful feelings associated with taking collective action with co-workers to stand up for ourselves. We were also terrified of the unknown future we were about to bring into our lives. We all had a job. It was a hard and shitty job, but we all felt a certain amount of freedom and pride because of our ability to feel morally good about our jobs at the end of the day. We had jobs that didn’t contribute to the world being shitty. Rather, we were fortunate enough to have jobs that we felt helped make the world better. With every step we walked through that south Minneapolis neighborhood we knew we were getting closer to doing something that could cost us our jobs. The exploitation of our labor had finally become bad enough that we were willing to throw aside our politically-motivated justifications for tolerating it.

As we walked towards the warehouse, the bosses at Sisters’ Camelot were beginning their weekly management meeting. Sitting around a large wooden table in a dirty warehouse which housed their two buses and canvass operation, the seven bosses of Sisters’ Camelot were about to be surprised (all of them except one) by a newly-unionized canvass workforce. At the time, the bosses at Sisters’ Camelot consisted of Clay Hansen, Bobby Becker, Aaron “Muskrat” Baark, Lisabeth Foster-Bayless, Eric Gooden, Dave Senn, and Clive North.

The door at the far end of the warehouse opened and the canvass workers walked into the building, past the side of the colorful foodshare bus, towards their bosses. About a dozen canvass workers walked across the warehouse to the back office area where the meeting was taking place. The workers stopped a few feet from the table, and amidst an eerie silence, one worker stepped in front of the rest, and began reading from a piece of paper. As John Snortum read the prepared statement, each worker standing behind him held up their red I.W.W. membership cards.

“On behalf of the Sisters’ Camelot canvass, we are issuing a statement to the collective:

The Sisters’ Camelot canvass is now an organized union. We are now card-carrying members of the I.W.W., the Industrial Workers of the World. We are acting in response to recent trends and changes in the canvass workplace.

 We care deeply about the mission of Sisters’ Camelot and act not out of anger or spite, but in order to ensure that the values of autonomy, sustainability, and equality are applied to all within the organization. It is not our intent to disrupt or change other Camelot programs. We respect the hard work that collective members provide for the food share bus, kitchen bus, and garden. We realize that it is not our place to demand control over these programs. We are demanding the same level of respect and control when it comes to running the fundraising operation.

 We wish to deal with these issues in a timely manner, but do not want to disrupt the regular Camelot work week. Therefore, we demand that negotiations begin here this Friday, March 1st at 10 a.m. If this is not met, then we are fully prepared to commence a strike, go to the press, and take other actions effective Friday March 1st. We have the full support of our union, the Industrial Workers of the World.”

While this statement was being read, two of the bosses spoke. Eric Gooden said, “It’s about time” and Clay Hansen said, “Congratulations.” After the statement was read, the unionized canvassers all turned around and walked out of the building.

This was how it happened when the I.W.W. Sisters’ Camelot Canvass Union went public to their bosses, setting into motion a workplace struggle that would change the lives of many people involved.

This campaign was how I came to join the IWW and become a Wobbly. I’ve said many times that I’m surprised I didn’t join earlier, as I’ve been friends with many active Wobblies over the years and supported their organizing, but it took organizing in my own workplace to finally push me to take out my red card.

As some of you know, that campaign got pretty crazy. We ended up going on strike and we survived a brutal union-busting campaign coordinated by my old green anarchist friends. The NLRB ended up taking the bosses to court over illegally firing me during the strike for union activity, and we even started a new democratically IWW worker-run organization. Today, we are technically still on strike from Sisters’ Camelot.

I’ve been Wobbling pretty hard ever since.