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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.

15 at UPS- by FW Coeur de Bord

Eleven months ago, the Package Handler’s Organizing Committee (PHOC) voted to begin a campaign demanding the starting wage at the three UPS hubs in the Twin Cities be raised to $15/hour (from the current $10), and a corresponding $5/hour raise for all hub employees.  We had our sights set on building power towards some form of disruptive action during 2015’s Peak Season.  Now that Peak has arrived, I would like to share some of my feelings on the progression, evolution, and execution of this campaign, as well as some ways it has influenced our organizing in general at UPS in Minneapolis.

I feel this document is useful as part of a future retrospective assessment of the Boxmart campaign and the PHOC committee itself.  However, I hope it can also serve as a useful reference for other IWW organizing committees thinking about taking on labor-intensive, medium- to long-term campaigns such as this.  Whether or not such a campaign would have a positive impact on your organizing is a decision that only your committee can make, but I hope that by offering my perspectives other Wobblies will be able to make a more informed decision.

The motion (original language):

Notes 16/01/15

What: $5 hourly raise across the board, which would bring starting wage up to $15. Also, end petty wage theft and other shop floor issues where possible.

When: Major direct action during peak season 2015 aimed at entire Twin Cities operation.  Smaller DAs before them, at moments to be determined. Campaign to start within two months (petitions coming out along with Screw ups at MPLS, Eagan, Maple Grove and airport).

Who: Petition to be drafted by core committee, Mass meeting to be run by ——, other tasks delegated to —, —- and — wherever possible to gather support from rest of branch. New shop floor contacts will be expected to further trenchwork on shop floor, canvass for issues to be addressed by escalating Direct Actions, and inoculation. OTC to arrange an OT soon after mass meeting for new contacts. Core committee (eg —–) to fill in gaps where people cannot attend a full OT.  

Where: Meetings at TC IWW office, actions in MPLS, Eagan, Maple Grove and airport.  Actions to focus on Minnesota operation unless tempting opportunities arise.

How:

  1. Use petition to gather contacts for mass meeting. Create Facebook, etc contact points.
  2. Use mass meeting to identify people willing and able to be organizers (and other roles) and set broad outlines of effort, changing as necessary to reflect workers’ concerns.
  3. Follow up with potential organizers, get to OT where possible and patch with one-on-ones where not. Create a campaign committee to broaden work, bring in smaller escalatable issues (eg petty wage theft, harassment etc), grow committee itself.
  1. Do direct actions on smaller issues, symbolic stuff where appropriate. Include off-shop-floor issues eg prison slave labour ala hands up don’t ship.
  2. Follow up on retaliation for the above.
  3. Bring smaller issues back in, build excitement and commitment and hold mass meetings in the months leading up to peak to organize peak action.
  4. Mess everything up during peak.
  5. Publicize concessions and workers’ eye view analysis of fight, follow up on retaliations.
  6. Set further goals.

 

Observations:

We got off-track from the original motion early on.  The first round of petitioning went rather well, gathering over 200 signatures from the Minneapolis & Maple Grove hubs.  Within a short period of time, we had collected that contact information into a shared document and called through the whole list.  We planned the first mass-meeting for early March.  We had about a dozen people who said they would attend.  And then nobody showed up.  We tried again, with the same results.  We then shifted our focus to setting up One-on-Ones with contacts.  This had more success, but we failed to reach the number of signatories we had hoped for.  

Being off-track early on meant that the committee did not grow to the level we needed to continue escalating as planned.  A small committee decreased our ability to hold actions around smaller grievances.  Our influence didn’t spread to other areas of the buildings.  Looking back, these should have been early signs that our strategy needed to be revised..

But we did gather a lot of contacts.

We did an OK job of generating conversation and some level of “hype” around the demand through several symbolic actions.  We had petitions out with every Screw Ups, which added new contacts to our document.  We called each one to set up 1-on-1s or invite to committee meetings.  In September, we handed out stickers along with Screw Ups that read “I Support a $15/hour Starting Wage and a $5 raise for current employees.  It’s Time!!”  Lots of people wore them around work that day, and many stickers ended up on walls, equipment, and other surfaces around the hub.  In November, we stood outside the hub at the end of Twilight and Midnight shifts one night with posters containing the same text as the stickers.  We took pictures of people holding the signs, which were then posted to the facebook page.  

But hype is not organization.  Many people who have been “touched” by this campaign don’t get anywhere beyond signing the petition.  Unsurprisingly, it has been the people with whom organizers have a longer, more in-depth relationship with who come to meetings, and participate in the campaign in a larger way.  Those relationships have been built through several pathways, but the common thread is the one-on-one (or other style of targeted AEIOU conversation).  

Agitation has not often been an issue when organizing our coworkers.  Where I think we have had the greatest difficulty has been Educating and Inoculating.  Because agitation is so high, those are generally the first areas that we cover when meeting with coworkers.  They are also very difficult topics to cover in passing while at work.  If you can’t get past the Education and the Inoculation, how are you ever going to build long-term Organization?  One-on-ones become even more crucial in this equation.  Repeated one-on-ones.  The most consistent participation we have had has been the result of a series of out-of-work interactions and a persistent effort to work through issues that may be holding someone back from organizing.

Thoughts:

One thing I think we failed to do is allow the campaign to evolve as the size and capacity of the organizing committee changed.  Early on in the year, we were riding a high of momentum and had a relatively large committee that peaked at 6 members in good standing organizing at two local hubs.  At that point, we were optimistic about our capability to organize a broad swath of hub workers and pull off a large-scale action during peak season.  At the same time, we were falling behind on doing one-on-ones, which have always been high on our list of effective organizing tools.  I think we relied too heavily on workplace contact and conversation, as well as agitational tools such as Screw Ups.  Later in the summer and fall, our committee lost half of our in-shop organizers, and didn’t keep them on as outside organizers.  The reduced committee stayed the course without taking time to analyze our capacity.  We realized too late that we hadn’t conducted enough one-on-ones, or otherwise developed our coworkers to the point where we could ask them to step up to keep us on track.  

There have been several moments over the course of the campaign when we have had an influx of momentum.  These have been moments when our coworkers with whom we have strong relationships (both at and outside of work) have attended our meetings and contributed their ideas on the campaign and other grievances.  The lesson here is simple: We need to be consistent about agitating, educating, and organizing our coworkers.  It is really hard to generate momentum when weekly meetings consist of the same people, talking about the same things, coming up with the same tasks.  Also, it is easier to get less-organized coworkers to meetings if their friends and/or trusted coworkers are attending.

I began writing this document at a moment that felt particularly “low” energy.  In that same moment, we as a committee had a serious talk and have since generated significantly more energy.  We just welcomed a coworker into the IWW.  There is serious talk of having a sick-in.  I am even more hopeful now that this document can serve as a tool to improve the overall quality of our organizing, in terms of both building worker power at UPS in Minneapolis and building a revolutionary, militant working class movement composed of sharp, hardened, and committed individuals.

Impacts to Organizing:

When this motion was first presented at the January 16th 2015 PHOC meeting, I had reservations about a few aspects of it.  My major sticking point centered on my concern about taking on a campaign of this scale with a committee that was both relatively small (>1% of the part-timers at the Minneapolis hub alone), and relatively young (half the committee had worked at UPS for 3 months or less).  Could we manage the pressure of building for such a monumental demand in a relatively short time-frame without losing sight of the smaller issues that have been galvanizing moments in our previous organizing?  Would anybody take us seriously?  Could we decide to change course in 6 months without losing all our support, or feeling like our time had been completely wasted?

I ended up voting in favor of this motion.  I am glad I did.  That being said, I have wavered back and forth over the course of this campaign on whether it was having a positive or negative effect on organizing in general at UPS.  Some of that is due to the aforementioned peaks and valleys of momentum.  Below is some analysis of my initial reservations that I think accounted for the rest of my mixed feelings.

  1. Could we manage the pressure of building for such a monumental demand in a relatively short time-frame without losing sight of the smaller issues that have been galvanizing moments in our previous organizing?  For the most part, I think we maintained the ability to take on smaller fights.  We even got better at addressing small grievances in a way, as our social network got larger and we got “in” with lots of people.  I believe we learned about more workers’ grievances, and that more people came to know us as people to approach when they had an issue with conditions at work.  

On the other hand, conducting this campaign has been incredibly labor-intensive.  Even when we have fallen behind on tasks, Burnout has always been lurking in the shadows.  Screw Ups was published less frequently this year than it was last year.  And though I hope this is not true, I wonder if the chronic stress associated with a few organizers (most of whom were working 2-3 jobs throughout the year) working on a massive campaign in a large workplace stopped us from taking on smaller fights.  This could have come in the form of blatant rejection, or in the failure to recognize an issue/opportunity when it presented itself.  I can at least say that we never, to my knowledge, turned away a coworker who came to us with an issue they wanted to organize around.  But did I fail to pick up on someone who was obviously having a bad day?  Did I do a bad job listening to a coworker who was trying to organize me?  These are important questions to revisit on a regular basis.

  1. Would anybody take us seriously?  Yes.  Not everybody, but I don’t think we were ever that naive.  Working a unionized manual labor job that pays less than comparable non-union work across the city means that people listen when the topic of a raise comes up.  For newer workers (let’s say within the last 5 years/since the last contract), our part time wages are almost never enough to live on.  For those who have been around the company longer, they have seen their wages remain stagnant since Reagan was president.  Stagnant wages are one of the rank-and-files biggest issues with the Teamsters.  So in that sense, wages were a great issue to take on for a dual/solidarity union campaign.

But of course there were those who dismissed us.  Many of these reactions were based on people’s (begrudging) allegiance to the Teamsters.  “That’s not in the contract,” and “not unless the Teamsters support it,” were typical responses we heard from people who did not support our petitioning and other efforts.  A successful antidote to these sentiments was a good old-fashioned one-on-one meeting.  Being able to sit down with someone, explain the role of the Teamsters in our shop, and why we were raising this demand as rank-and-file workers, was often enough to at least garner support.  One of our most successful lines, corny though it may sound, was something to the effect of “well if the Teamsters won’t get it for us, we’re gonna have to get it for ourselves.”  The biggest lesson I learned here is the power of the one-on-one.  If someone just knows you as an agitator, they are less likely to take you seriously than if they know you as an organizer.

  1. Could we decide to change course in 6 months without losing all our support, or feeling like our time had been completely wasted?  This is a tough question to answer, as it is completely hypothetical.  However, I still think it has some value as a way to evaluate a large campaign.  Things don’t always go as planned, and it is useful to have a backup plan that can help salvage the gains you have made and begin to move forward in another direction.

This question forces you to think critically about the steps you take in building and running a campaign.  For instance, our first step of gathering names and contacts en mass through a petition ensured that we would have gained a valuable resource even if we had to abandon the $15 starting wage campaign.  That list also generated one-on-ones with a variety of workers whom we would otherwise maybe not have contacted.  Even if the campaign folds, we have built relationships with more of our coworkers, and hopefully developed some of them into organizers.  

Conclusions:

Undertaking this campaign has taught me many important and lasting lessons as a union organizer.  Many of these lessons I would not have learned had we continued along our existing path. I learned the importance of a democratically functioning committee with a diversity of opinions and perspectives.  Accountability among committee members must be established early on, and maintained throughout even the most difficult moments of a campaign.  I quickly realized that I could not be an effective organizer by only talking with people I knew already.  Organizing is not a comfortable, social affair; at times, it feels like what my co-committee member describes as “a fucking war zone.”  And as long as you understand and are prepared for that, you can make impressive gains in the struggle against the wage system.  

But this campaign has been more than just a learning experience.  Despite some lingering moments of disappointment and nagging doubts, I am convinced that this campaign has had an incredibly positive impact on our organizing at UPS.  We have identified and developed a crew of shop-floor militants, and brought a few of them into the IWW.  We are tapped into social networks across our shop. These networks cross the boundaries of age, race, and gender.  We have learned to back off and play defense when conditions require it.  Through all of the stress, joy, disappointment, and abundant humor, we have stayed together and even grown as a committee.  While the $15/hour starting wage campaign itself may not be successful, I believe that we have shown that the idea of taking on a major, public campaign contributes to greater overall success in organizing our Fellow Workers.

For the One Big Union,

FW Coeur de Bord

PHOC member

#4ThPrecinctShutdown- A Statement On Magic and Resistance

An article written by FW Keno Evol.

Still there is magic. Throughout the days I’ve spent at the 4th precinct, on that sacred, now spiritual road of Plymouth Avenue, I have seen what I’ve imagined in my mind’s eye for quite some time – a community blockade of resistance. I say sacred intentionally. Throughout black history the shedding of black blood has made things sacred. Consider the way we view voting. Often the argument is that it’s necessary to vote, because there is blood on these ballots. The people who came before us suffered so we can show up to the booth. This is true, though I think the idea distorts and manipulates people’s commitment to figuring out their own consciousness and defining for themselves what activism really is. It creates a sort of guilt complex around the trauma of our elders. I’m thinking of A letter to Maria when June Jordan writes, “So voting, or the right to vote, was a goal, yes, but not an overriding objective, nor was it a strategy, nor was it a tactic. The overriding objective was freedom from American apartheid.”

 

I also say spirituality intentionally, though not in terms of organized religion. But in terms of organizing around a common suffering, an approach which lends itself to a certain otherworldliness taking place – in this case within North Minneapolis.

 

I would go as far as to say the entire nation is in a moment of magic. I say magic within two categories of the word. For white Americans, I mean it in the most exhaustingly literal of terms. A Black boy vanishes and white America has a moment of immediate awe! They can’t believe it! Where did the black boy go? The cop, the magician in this ritual, knows what a person in his trade would know about fooling the audience. Tragically unsurprised, however, black people living in this country know where every mirror, every smoke canister and every trap door is placed. This is what I mean by magic centered in white America.

 

However, for black America I am talking about an unflinching people who, through remarkable odds, hold fast to their own moral court of law while getting maced to being shot with rubber bullets repeatedly. Enduring the terrorism of white supremacists coming to this sacred place, filming themselves and harassing peaceful community members. Witnessing those same white supremacists shoot bullets into a crowd of forty plus, and still manage to remember their historical vocation to “non-violence”.

 

When I say magic centered on blackness, I mean an extraordinary joy that can be found, around a bonfire in twenty eight degree weather as young people – sixteen, seventeen year old men and women, who media would articulate as thugs – conversing on the unifying of local gangs against a common foe. Conversing on ancestry and old bartering systems of Africa as it relates to the way we must supply each other to endure this occupation. The media has no coverage of this joy even though they are there – across the street even. The media – vultures who swarm in over a dead black boy’s body waiting for some “real action”.

 

The world has vouched for capitalism as the way to distribute goods and services. However, living in poverty and having mouths to feed jolts your imagination to consider alternative ways to meet everyone’s needs. So, when I speak on the encampment being a place of magic, even at times otherworldly, I am speaking on a community’s thinking on bartering, receiving unprompted donations, everything from heat lamps to replace bonfires to having knitting classes and free massages for protesters and young ones.

 

Capitalism is obnoxious and annoying, but more than that it’s the process by which we abandon people. Presently at the encampment you get to witness the antithesis of that abandonment. You see sacrifice. An offering of gloves, the unofficial allowance to skip the line for soup if you’ve been there for eight plus hours. We must allow our imaginations to transport ourselves to future societies where we can further actualize what we’ve seen at the encampment these past days – to imagine if this process of abandonment has to exists for us to have uninterrupted lives. We must not succumb to its weight to say that capitalism is natural; there were slave owners and enslaved people who also said that the barbaric institution of slavery was natural. Capitalism is surely not what’s best of the human being’s imagination. I say we come from a more wiser and creative peoples.

 

What would it mean to take the lessons we’ve gathered from the encampment on bartering, free education in skill building and community policing to radically illustrate future societies of our own design? Looking into yesteryears of our past, we’re able to recall otherworldly cases of revolutionary autonomous maroon communities. Consisting of men, women and children who liberated themselves from chattel slavery, these visionaries took it upon their imaginations and fortitude to forge societies in the woods, swamps and mountains of Florida, Haiti, the Caribbean, Jamaica, and Brazil. Fascinating to acknowledge the visionaries, who revolted to ignite these communities early on, had military training. Some were previous prisoners of war. They were equipped with otherworldly vision and tactic. Though maroon communities were at their best autonomous, it’s critical to recognize that they were always in negotiation with colonial powers for their survival.

 

When thinking on the encampment of the #4thPrecinctShutdown, are we willing to negotiate with the powers that be for a soon as possible solution? Do we understand harvesting freedom is a long arch? Is this a fight for freedom in long distance? Are we organized enough to self generate the necessities to hold the encampment for as long as necessary? If the encampment is to be raided, do we move the encampment to another precinct? Do we believe we are that magical?

 

It’s important to note here that when we speak of magic, it must not be synonymous with something being sexy or fetishized. There is nothing sexy about having your body feel as if it would be more relieved if your toes were simply cut off because of the cold. Contrary to the atmosphere of white American bougie art spaces, there is nothing sexy about black blood, black suffrage, or black pain. Nor is there anything sexy about excessively running noses or witnessing a fluid mixture of milk being poured into a shrieking young woman’s eyes from being pepper sprayed by cops. Where protesters were simply holding up a tarp to prevent being sprayed in the first place. These are not at all sexy images. This occupation is not a sexy scene or is it one for adrenaline junkies. Black Magic, as it relates to black pain, is not at all erotic and should never be revered as such, though the struggle for a free autonomous people can be seen as beautiful. Beautiful not in the sense of the pornographic, but in the sense of a historical grace that is something to be honored and committed to. Not discarded after you have an emotional or physical reaction to it via a photograph or two minute video on social media.

 

Is a world without police possible? Or does our demand end at police brutality? How far do we extend our trust to the state? Does our individual trust for the system trump the history of systematic violence of any oppression on a mass people? Are we the contemporary maroons of Haiti actualized in the dawning of the 21st century? Oppression has a vision for us all, and so much funding behind it. How far do we stretch our imagination? Are we able to recognize that our creativity is the only military training we will be able to rely on, especially when we have to figure out how to defined us and our love ones from the tear gas? How magical are we? How magical do we give ourselves permission to be?

 

All oppression is built on maintaining fear, profit and public image. Legislation and the gains in legal integration will seduce your critical lens to say America as a nation has become less afraid of us. This is a lie. One of the perceptions of magic that exists at the #4th Precinct Shutdown is the sense of a free people.

 

Exactly what does it mean when we say freedom? Nina Simone described it as how she felt on stage, reaching the highest nirvana, as possessing no fear. Think on this. If you live in a society where you are afraid, how could you possibly be fully free? Racism, while being institutionalized, is still a social relationship of power plus privilege, because fear is still a social relationship. It wasn’t magic that killed Jamar Clark. It wasn’t a trick mirror. It wasn’t a disappearing act. It was fear. In magic, smoke is used as a distraction. In revolution, it’s simply a confirmation, a testimony.

 

I know in my heart nonviolence is a distorted word. I know I say “Peace” entering and exiting conversations as often as I can. I know peace not to be the norm of this nation, especially for the black people. I know violence is the norm which manipulates the term “non-violence”. When a protester throws a rock or a bottle or their body into a barricade of police officers, they aren’t interrupting peace. They are interrupting violence! I know this and I have seen the prayer circles and are critical of their timing in moments which I feel can be better spent strategizing around the perimeter where the shots could come from. I know all this. I also know the moment I hear a bullet break through the cracked brittle cold air of November that I by hell would’ve wished I took the time to memorize a prayer.

 

The releasing of a video on November 23rd, where white supremacists fired shots into a crowd, proved they were working with the police. We know tapes of the original November 15th shooting of Jamar Clark have yet to be released. It will be traumatizing to watch when they are. This is nothing new for the American supremacist project, though. We don’t need evidence that reaffirms the trauma and testimony of what black people have been saying for hundreds of years. This is why we assembled here in the first place!

 

This is a moment of black magic. We have an appointment with a very long winter. The great American project has executed a thousand rebellions; this is the work of any empire. Yes, the people have held out for this long. We have placed a minor inconvenience to the state. I would push us to think on what it is this encampment is in tandem with – connected to on the national than local level. I say that to forewarn terrorism has allies. The day will come when the police of the fourth precinct decide to act, with direct orders from the mayor or governor, to remove those of us who will be labeled as protesters to trespassers, domestic terrorists or whatever feeds the narrative to justify their brutality. When they decide to remove us, they will by any means necessary.

 

These orders will come. We need to think on how are we preparing for those orders and preparing to either comply or defy. After those orders are given, what will long distance freedom fighting look like? Organizing at another precinct? Because isn’t this fire, this magic around Jamar Clark, also about Terrence Franklin? Sandra Bland? Tamir? Isn’t this fire, this magic, about every precinct? Every police patrol?

 

America has this vast optimism that thinks the history of suffrage so attached to my people will go away after we die. The universe promises death to our bodies, but not our history. A sort of bargain I suppose. The only thing that goes to the earth are our bones, our memories remain on the surface of the earth screeching at the top of their lugs.

 

My people, without being able to breathe in this country, are finding ways to sing. How is this not magic? Smoke is either evidence of deception or something burning. My scarves, my clothes, my fear and freedom all smell of smoke. In the crowd of the encampment, there are children of ex slaves who have nothing up their sleeves, except the smell of fire. All the evidence is on the table as to why we need to burn anything that isn’t built for us in this country, which is in a terrifying literal sense of the idea, everything. As far as deciding on the language to convince a mass populous why the burning should occur, well, we have so many great examples to pull from. I think I’ll leave you with the blues. I believe it was Muddy Waters, with his guitar in 1950 with his song “You’re Gonna Need My Help”, who cried out from a swamp in the heat of Mississippi, screaming to an unexpecting America.

 

“Well, you wake up in the morning,

Your face so full of frowns. Asked you,

“What’s wrong?”You say, “I’m sorry, I’m puttin’ you down!”

 

Well, you leave home in the morning

And you won’t come back tonight.

You won’t give me no food

You still say you treat me right.”