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Hacking the Planet: How I Became a Wobbly by Dade Murphy

I grew up in a strange city famous for its outward and violent racism, which is at a level unusual for both its geographic location and size; it’s a city my Jewish friend described it as “The good ol’ South of the North.” As a white cis dude that appeared straight though, I was often invited to participate in or given a pass to witness terrible things that I found abhorrent. When combined with an abusive home life, I found my solace in computers. Witnessing authority figures abuse their power in that environment, even or perhaps especially those paying lip service to liberal notions of justice and diversity, left me unable to care for others on the surface for a long time.

I held a multitude of jobs, including roofing, loading trucks, cooking, childcare, and more, but none could seem to hold my attention or give me any kind of satisfaction with my work. Upon graduating from high school, I took my shot at academia. Despite scoring incredibly high on college admissions tests, I was rejected from a multitude of programs due to an only moderately high high school GPA (which probably stemmed from my general anti-authoritarian outlook). I finally made it into both the Physics and Astrophysics programs at my local research university, which truly challenged me, and I enjoyed it immensely when my life was in order. I worked with a few different research groups, but witnessed the capitalism/scientific method barrier issues with large physics experiments first hand, and left those projects feeling frustrated.

Around this same time, the anti-cult Project Chanology was launching. I was heavily involved in my local branch, as it was one of the first times I was able to express my thoughts and feelings among others who had a similar background in hacker culture. Our local branch also had a reputation for being one of the most effective cells in the nation, a reputation I chalk up to serious in person actions/organizing and rejection of national level activism. This experience made me a competent organizer on levels and in ways I find difficult to put into words.

After Chanology died down and I left research, I started a video games (as art) development club focused on education, horizontal participation, and an anti-capitalist core functioning. I had to leave university and my club a year after due to monetary issues and concerns with access to health care, but luckily my club reputation landed me a job as a programmer across the country. I packed up and moved to the South, only to figure out that the job itself wasn’t quite as advertised – I was actually designing and building slot machines to subvert gambling laws in order to put them everywhere and jack up the house take by about a factor of ten. The industry was super exploitative of both workers and consumers, litigious as all hell, and my position made me feel like I was working at a tobacco company. I was axed soon after I started asking questions, but I had to sign a non-compete contract to get the job in the first place, and I still cannot work with anything involving computers for nearly another year at the point of writing this.

After losing that job and facing police violence, a for profit hospital holding me hostage literally at gunpoint, and homelessness looming in an area with few to no friends, I returned to my hometown: the place I least wanted to be in the world. After composing myself for a few months and gaining the energy to fight back, I decided that the most important issues facing game developers (the skill diversity issue, fracturing of independent developers, and the capitalist structure of both corporations and greedy NGOs) could all be addressed by forming a union. At this same time, an old high school friend invited me to a GDC rally against the confederate flag and introduced me to the IWW. The solidarity model, the horizontal structure, and the anti-capitalist and revolutionary politics were exactly what I was looking for in both a union and in life, and I’m still baffled to this day that I had never heard of the IWW before!

Since joining eight months ago, I’ve been heavily involved with the General Defense Committee in both actions and trainings, and I’ve made a personal project of building and repairing the local branch’s technology infrastructure. I’ve also been involved with a local workplace campaign, and feel like Wobbling is something I’ve needed and have been working towards since before I knew what it was!

Revolution one step at a time,
Dade Murphy.

Misery Breeds: How I Became a Wobbly by W.H. Glazer

I started working when I was sixteen. I grew up in Baltimore and had learned how to sail as a kid, so I managed to get myself a job working as a deckhand and sailing instructor at this fancy boat club on the Inner Harbor. It was a sweet fucking gig. I got to work outside on the water, there was free beer in the fridge, and I got paid A LOT of money. I was expecting to get paid minimum wage, so when the boss told me I’d be making nearly twice that, I was ecstatic. For a kid with relatively few expenses and a free bed at home, this was an absurd amount of money. So absurd, in fact, that I wouldn’t make anywhere close to it until two years after I graduated from college.

I moved to Minnesota for college in 2008, and had a number of work-study jobs while on campus. They weren’t awesome, they weren’t terrible. They give me a bit of extra cash, and in turn took up about twenty hours a week of study time. I went home for the summer after my first year and worked as a camp counselor making minimum wage. All in all, these jobs signaled a somewhat precipitous decline on the income front. Despite this, though, I was always considered an exemplary employee. Never had a bad review, never got written up, never threatened with firing. Not once.

Immediately after finishing college with degrees that qualified me to do nothing, I began to work at the Whole Foods Market near campus. I took the job because (a) it paid significantly better than a lot of the other menial jobs I could find, (b) it had a vaguely liberal, Prius-driving feel to it that I really appreciated at the time, and (c) the employee discount made it almost affordable for someone making $10 an hour. I started off strong there and built some nice relationships with my coworkers and regular customers. I was good at raising money for Whole Foods’ various charity campaigns (which were in fact supremely questionable microloan schemes), and was generally on-board with the whole organic food thing.

About three months into the job, though, things started to change. I started getting called into the office at least once a week for various infractions- not smiling enough at the customers, checking my phone for texts, putting my foot up on the bag area and thusly displaying too much of my crotch to the customers (that’s a real one). I was told that my coworkers felt that I had an air of superiority about me, that they were complaining about my constant sass and sarcasm. When a customer told me to fuck myself, the bosses asked me to just take one for the team and keep quiet. The weekly office visits became daily, and my bosses were concerned about my happiness on the job (bless their hearts), and wanted me to know that they weren’t trying to “beat me down” as they called me into the office for the fourth day in a row. I was asked to finish a shift after I got a concussion (undiagnosed, but what else makes you start slurring your words and feeling dizzy after you bang your head?). Because I had too many absence points and would lose my job otherwise, I had to do a full shift with a high fever. You know, cause fuck food safety.

It was a pretty rough time. My feet and knees hurt constantly from standing on mats that provided almost no support. My wrist and back hurt from scanning groceries and bending over the conveyor belt. I started smoking a pack a day, I was drinking too much. Even when I wasn’t at work, I couldn’t stop talking about it and absolutely dreading going back.

About seven months into my tenure at Whole Foods, a mentally disturbed customer made a very creepy and, for all we knew, serious threat of violence towards one of my coworkers. Again, the bosses told us to simmer down and get over ourselves. A coworker of mine, who as it turned out was the Wobbliest Wobbly who ever Wobbled, organized a meeting after work to talk about this issue. He tried to whip up anger and frustration, but most of the folks at the meeting were concerned about their job security, and advocated a cautious approach. I don’t remember what I said at the meeting, but apparently it was radical enough to encourage this FW to talk to me a bit more openly. He gave me a copy of Think It Over, and I devoured it. Everything made sense. “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.” Fucking right. We did a 1:1, and I imagine selling me on joining the IWW was the easiest thing he’s ever done.

I joined up soon thereafter, and have Wobbled ever since. My friend and I tried to organize Whole Foods without any success, but I’m weirdly grateful for that awful job. They say misery breeds contempt, but in my experience it bred radicalization.