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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.