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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve been Wobbling pretty hard ever since.

From Conspiracy Theorist to Co-Conspirator: How I Became a Wobbly by Micah Robin

In the summer of 1992 I was brought into this world by a struggling university student mom and truck driver dad in the Chicagoland area of Indiana. For those first few golden years of childhood, I grew up blissfully unaware of the struggling and poverty around me. Instead, I just liked to sneak out of my house and go play with the neighborhood kids unsupervised. My curfew was sundown, and as far as where I was allowed to go…well let’s just say more than a few times neighbors had to bring a particularly excited little boy back to his worried sick parents. Even after getting hit by a car at age 3 and staring death in the face before I could even say my ABCs, I still was as extroverted and bulletproof as ever. This would come in handy later.

As I got older, I started to notice little things that just didn’t seem right. “What’s WIC mommy?” “Mommy why do we have to get the boring cereal? I want the good kind like grandma has.” Sorry son, we can’t afford it. “When’s dad coming home?” Not for another week, he’s gonna be on that truck for a loooonnnnng time. More siblings were born, and pretty soon the apartment we lived in on the outskirts of Gary was just too cramped to raise a growing family. A month after 9/11, my parents picked up everything and moved us all way down south to Vincennes, Indiana. Dad started working for a trucking company that hauled coal to power plants from the mines in nearby Kentucky, while Mom became a full-time parent to 5 kids.

Once I reached adolescence, I started actively questioning the world around me and my anti-authoritarian streak started to manifest itself. I was raised to be very religious, and church on Sunday (and youth group on Wednesday night) was just a part of life. Eventually though, I began to notice unfairness in the church. The youth pastor would say one thing and do another. Rumors of him making unwelcome advances to some of the teenage girls in the group started to pass around. All of this coincided with my family being viewed with judgemental stares and whispers of “trailer trash,” “white trash,” and the like, and I started to turn away from Christianity. Discovering heavy metal and punk music probably didn’t help in that regard either.

Just before high school, my family picked up and moved everything again, this time to an even smaller town in an even more conservative part of an already blood-red, cornfed, God fearin’ Red state. At this point, I was already forming my own political opinions, but they were about as far removed from the beliefs generally associated with the IWW as you could get. 9/11 was an inside job! FEMA is building concentration camps! The Illuminati are behind the G-8, the G-20, the NAFTA treaty, the IMF, the Federal Reserve, it’s all a conspiracy! Go ahead and laugh, I know you are and I don’t blame you. I will say in my defense, my politics developed in a household where my two choices to take influence from were my far-right, white supremacist dad or my mom who was too busy being a mother, housekeeper, taxi driver, and cook to 5 growing children to have any time to worry about politics.

I wouldn’t be a conspiracy theorist forever. It wasn’t long before senior year came around. Obama was up for re-election, America had started bombing Libya, there was a revolution in Tunisia, and a massive uprising in Egypt. The whole world seemed to be erupting. Just before I graduated there was the Madison, Wisconsin uprising where union workers and their families and supporters occupied the state house against a right-wing anti-union law. I wound up taking a field trip up to Madison just for a day and stayed with a group of folks associated with Jobs With Justice in Indiana. At this point, my politics were all over the place. One minute I sounded like every other cringe-inducing internet libertarian, and the next minute I was talking about exploitation at the hands of big corporations that don’t care about their workers. It probably didn’t help that I worked at a factory where my first day on the job I was injured by a piece of wood bouncing off a blunt saw blade that hit me right in the temple and could have killed me.

By the time 2012 and the election came around, I had already emerged from Occupy a full blown anarchist. Multiple demonstrations in Chicago, Indianapolis, and West Lafayette had baptized me in the fire (and pepper spray) of class war, and I was hooked. In West Lafayette, I was working at a majority black workplace, a McDonald’s that served mostly Purdue University students. When George Zimmerman was acquitted for Trayvon Martin’s murder, our manager dismissed a few of us who she knew were planning on going to the protests that were planned for that day in anticipation of the verdict. It was a very empowering experience for me and my coworkers to be marching, still in our McDonald’s uniforms, and getting excited when the “fuck the police” chants started up (only to be quickly silenced by the “socialists” in the ISO).

It was right around this time that I met two people who changed my life forever. They were two fellow Chicagoland natives, one of them even living in the town I was born and raised in. After talking for a while, and getting a crash course in labor history, I had a signup sheet for the Industrial Workers of the World in front of me and I was filling it out. In November of 2012, I got my red card and was initiated with 17 others at the first meeting of what would become the Indiana General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World.

Since then, I’ve uprooted my entire life to relocate twice. First to Chicago to join an ill-fated campaign only to get plugged into more promising organizing ventures. Then, to Minneapolis where I currently reside. I’ve become heavily involved in the General Defense Committee, and while just a few years ago when I first joined I didn’t know the first thing about organizing, today I’ve done just about everything short of going on strike. From a march on the boss at a sandwich shop in Chicago to get a racist boss fired in light of the Ferguson uprising to showing solidarity with striking rail workers by walking a picket line, to taking the streets of Chicago for May Day, to being a part of the 4th Precinct occupation, my life since joining the IWW has been an exciting one. I went from being a conspiracy theorist to being a co-conspirator. I’ve had my share of close calls with law enforcement, time spent in the back of a squad car, and even a little harassment from Neo-Nazis and the gross underbelly of 4chan trolls, but that hasn’t dampened my spirits in the least. I’ve made it this far because of the incredible group of people that I share a bond with in this organization. I struggle with depression and trauma from an abusive past and yet still manage to make time to kick ass for the working class. I’ve faced hardships and found solidarity in fellow Wobblies more than happy to lend a helping hand. The IWW has helped me in growing into who I was meant to be, and I know that sounds like a weird, culty thing to say but it’s true. I’m not just an anarchist, I’m not just an organizer, I’m not just a leftist. I’m an Industrial Worker of the World!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revolution one step at a time,
Dade Murphy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Trump Wins, I Ain’t Going Back To Africa: A Decree Of Preservation and Refuge by Keno Evol

“You are so full of shit it’s sickening. Remember something you cry baby moolie, this country was founded by white europeans not black savages from Africa. It is their country and you are barely tolerated miscreant along with the rest of them. Get used to it, the men’s room attendant is on his way out and Trump is going to win…You parasites have bled the country dry for decades the party is over you filthy animal..while you’re at it why don’t you just kill yourself or move to Africa since you’re so unhappy here??”
– Email sent to Jeffrey Shaun King American writer, entrepreneur, preacher and civil rights activist. Senior Justice Writer | Daily News 3/2/16

In the beginning black folks were most effectively colonized via a structure of ownership. Once Slavery ended, white supremacy could be effectively maintained by the institutionalization of social apartheid and by creating a philosophy of racial inferiority that would be taught to everyone. This strategy of colonialism needed no countryBell Hooks,109 Teaching Resistance.

What if I want to raise my babies here? What if I imagined those babies and my body as something that can’t be voluntarily or forcefully expedited via America’s new inheritance into a new stage of its racism– the Trump presidency. What if Donald John Trump and the America who baptized him out of what America calls its “virtuous” history will have to deal with me and my blackness and the blackness of my babies. When I say the ‘Blackness of’ I am referring to a self determined force within one’s black body oppositional to being commodified, displaced, gentrified and colonized. I am referring to a black energy oppositional to being the “assumed to be” object of fear sculpted by the imagination of whiteness and the agenda of commodification. More importantly, I am referring to an inner location that dwells in the love of self, lineage, and culture.

America has always framed the duration of blackness as experimental and indefinite. We see this in housing projects and our decrypt school systems. These weren’t set up to be sustainable let alone successful on the contrary they were set up to be suicidal. In regards to visioning black and indigenous place making being a slave was not sustainable. We have put up what Alice Walker warriorously frames as “A good struggle.”

Our existence here has perpetually been iffy. Background noise to a chorus of disparities. We have been abandoned and those who have abandoned us have allowed us to play in the continuation of that abandonment. What if I considered liberation actualized as a willingness to preserve one’s own home, dreams and kin as a decree of resistance rather than an escapist response to oppression.

You Can’t Blow Up A Social Relationship: An anarchist case against terrorism- an essay published originally in 1979 Australia. Within the title alone we arrive at a profound consideration. I would add to this, with the inability to blow up a social relationship, with one’s inability to escape it. The plague of colonialism, white supremacy and racism has no jurisdiction. Neither does any ideology for that matter. When we realize this, escapism–which is a trend that has romanticized black liberation and sovereignty–is I’m afraid implausible. What if I dare to consider the location of freedom not being dependent on a nation’s borders. The direction of many black bodies escape routes lead to the original womb of the earth, Africa. This direction serves as ancestral symbolism though within the context of our reality– with the pathology of white supremacy and capitalism on the African continent– isn’t productive or advantageous to peoples of African descent, in search of a liberation outside the united states. This romanticism of escapism to anywhere in the material world especially to Africa distorts and thwarts an understanding that could be happening around the history of colonialism and black capitalism in Africa. In 1982 Historian Dr. Walter Rodney writes

“There was in existence a fundamental class contradiction between the ruling nobility and the commoners; and the ruling classes joined hands with the europeans in exploiting the african masses– not unfamiliar situation on the African continent today.” Forced Migration; The Import of The Export Slave Trade On African Societies.

In Lose Your Mother | A Journey Along The Atlantic Slave Route, Saidiya Hartman writes

“Ghana, or the Gold Coast as it was called 1957, had been entangled with the west for at least five centuries, and the buying and selling of slaves had been central to this association. The slave trade required that a class of expendable people be created.”

This sort of “expendable agenda” in 2016 America isn’t specified to a particular time and place. Capitalism and white supremacy have carried expendability globally across borders and most terrifying across skin color. We see this expendable pathology in the insidious terrorism of the prison industrial complex. The killing off of black, working class and indigenous bodies by the hands of state endorsed executioners–the police. We the people are in need of many soldiers with many weapons, those of which come in all shape, sizes and ability. We need you to weaponize your imagination and expand the capacity of your heart, these are the building blocks that create the agency for movement making.

I am wondering on how we imagine black and oppressed peoples ‘place making’. The last words of Harriet Tubman, that concluded a life’s work of militancy, radical imagination and resistance work were “I go to prepare a place for you”. Have we, in the era of the Flint water crises, carpet bombing, and a drone presidency, cultivated a place that lives up to such words rooted in a stubborn continuation of struggle. A consideration of freedom in spite of bearing witness to the barbaric institution of slavery which Tubman did so valiantly. When we speak on place making we are speaking on, in public, spaces that steer away from capitalist interests and prioritize the fellowship of community and neighbor. Models like Ancestry Books in North Minneapolis, MN of which is black owned that allow bodies to be present even if they are unable to make a purchase during the duration of their visit. We will definitely, more than ever, need to exercise our muscles of place making if we are to survive a Donald Trump America.

Not only do we not have a country as black persons, we often do not have ‘place’. This is what white supremacist capitalist hetero-patriarchy ensures. That the mobility of black/indigenous/working class/ and oppressed people be halted if not suspended by injury or death. Capitalism is not accessible. Though we can claim and play inside of country and place if we are willing to participate in expendability and capitalism. Personally I don’t identify as an American because I don’t identify with something that is killing me, let alone admit that I exist. America will surely admit I exist if I trade in my critical indictments and endorse its agenda to prioritize corporate capitalistic interests over that of my community neighbor and conscious. Evil in order to survive needs your endorsement. We must divest from fear, otherness, corporate interests and judgement and invest in our ability to build place for
those who Frantz Fanon spoke to as “The Wretched Of The Earth”

Black refuge under supremacy can seem at times like a naive laughable imagining. How can we take refuge when we don’t have the luxury to even pray in public space, doesn’t the church shooting in Charleston, S.C cripple us from imagining such solace? Music genres such as The Blues and Hip Hop have showed us that we as black and indigenous peoples are not aliens to the features of terrorism and the catastrophe of anti–human agendas. I mention music, because it is within the culture we cultivate that is a vehicle to galvanize, organize, and find dignity in the midst of brute force and barbaric oppression.

But how? How do we find consistency and solace within our communities and ourselves when our very existence is tentative? How do we straighten our backs when the bar of valuing black and indigenous life is set so low? If you could not have our verdict be determined by how we dress on any giving day or what we might have in our pockets, or if our tail light might be out that would be a inkling of justice? I believe apart of the answer might be our own consistency and long haul endurance to still produce what makes our traditions so great, joyous songs, joyous relationships and joyous militancy. The ability to use our various interlinked cultures as a report back to both what Paulo Freire calls “our situation” or what Samuel Beckett calls “the mess” of society.

A declaration of the preservation of self, when that “self”resides inside of a body that is apart of the expendable class is directly oppositional and their for resistant. If Trump gets elected not only am I not going back to Africa, I’m hugging all my friends family and the folks and we will work to organize black/indigenous place making, leading with something Trump can never lead with, love. If Trump gets elected not only am I not going back to Africa I’m raising my babies on this land. I’m re-reading Killing Rage by Bell hooks. I’m re-reading Black Prophetic Fire by Dr. Cornel West. I’m re-reading Pedagogy Of The Oppressed by Paulo Freire and Waiting For Godot By Samuel Beckett where in he eloquently writes “Was I sleeping while the others suffered? Tomorrow when I wake, or think I do what shall I say of today?” What will we say of the days of Trump? That we escaped the presidency of a fascist leader just to fall victim to his insidious foreign policy? If Trump gets elected not only am I not going back to Africa I’m investing in cocoa butter, conceal and carry licenses, as much Nina Simone records as I can find and anything else to build sacred black placemaking.

I will remind myself exactly who I am– the actualizing of my ancestors intuition for freedom in the flesh. The best way I feel to perhaps honor them and their sacrifice now is to respond to our intuitions for freedom in a 2016 America. So what informs your intuition for freedom? Because I can hear the catchers in the woods to. I can hear the dogs to. They’re coming, they’re barking loud as ever.

From Here to There: How I Became a Wobbly by Juan Conatz

During 2005, I was working in a warehouse for a somewhat large mail-order company in Peosta, IA. At the age of 22, it was the longest-held job I had at that point. It’s hard for me to remember exactly when or why, but there were issues at work I thought needed to be addressed and the only way it seemed they would be is if we had a union. The IWW’s website said a lot of things I agreed with, and so I joined them through a membership application in the Industrial Worker, sending along a letter about my desire to organize. Unfortunately, the IWW didn’t really exist in any meaningful sense anywhere nearby, so I contacted a number of local unions who all referred me to the Teamsters.

The Teamster organizer gave me very little advice or help, but I did manage to get a small committee going through 1-on-1 meetings with some coworkers. But with no real assistance from the organizer and only a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election as a goal, we fell apart because of being unable to grow that much.

For the next 2 years, being only a paper member of an organization that didn’t have a presence near me, I drifted away. In early 2007, I moved to Cedar Rapids, IA and worked a succession of various temporary jobs. My sister and a number of people I had grown up with were living there and I made new friends fairly quickly. One of those friends worked in a massive warehouse that stored and shipped products from the nearby General Mills and Quaker factories. I also worked at this warehouse, but as a temp on first shift, as opposed to my friend, who had been hired on and worked second shift. One time, visiting his trailer, I spotted a copy of the Industrial Worker on his counter. Turns out, there had been an IWW member there, attempting to organize only a couple of months before I started working at this place! This Wobbly had also sold my friend the trailer he lived in. Eventually, my friend sold it to my sister.

About a year later, in 2008, I became involved in a small anarchist group in Iowa City, IA that was formed to get people to the Republican National Convention protests in St. Paul, MN. Turns out that this Wobbly that had worked at the same warehouse as me, and whose trailer my sister was now living in, had been a member of the Eastern Iowa General Membership Branch (GMB). This GMB was now defunct, but the main people that had been involved were the primary initiators of this anarchist group I was now involved in. It’s funny to me to think about the 1 or 2 degrees of separation I had with this Wobbly in Iowa (who I met a couple of years later, finally!).

From the summer of 2008 until late 2010, Iowa City was my home. The anarchist group I was a part of eventually reformed and became reorganized. We started to talk about specific long-term things we wanted to do. I was always in favor of starting an IWW branch and doing workplace organizing, but being in the minority on this, it never happened. Despite that, I re-joined and paid dues on and off. Attending an Organizer Training 101 in the Twin Cities, I finally met active members of the IWW and planned to organize at work, which at this time was a warehouse contracted by Procter & Gamble to put together and ship merchandising displays. However, despite some small informal job actions, me and my coworkers didn’t attempt very much, and my time there ended soon after.

Finding stable and reliable employment became more difficult for me in the over-educated university town of Iowa City, which resulted in getting more or less got evicted and living wherever possible could for a few months. Around this time, while living in Davenport, IA, massive protests erupted in Wisconsin in reaction to the right-wing Governor’s proposal to abolish public sector collective bargaining, with the largest centered in Madison. The IWW branch there was heavily involved, and was swamped with tasks. Some IWW members in Minneapolis and Detroit knew I didn’t have anything holding me down, and so convinced me to move to Madison to help out with things, primarily trying to push for a general strike.

Once there, I was put on a (very) modest stipend and instructed to do various tasks. Members of the Madison branch provided me with housing. I helped plan events and trainings, fliered at marches, built relationships with other groups, wrote pamphlets, attempted to make state-wide contacts in the public sector, among other things. It was a very memorable experience.

As the movement in Wisconsin put everything into an effort to recall the Governor and multiple Republican state senators, I moved to Minneapolis for better job prospects.

In Minneapolis, I became a part of the Twin Cities branch of the IWW. I’ve helped run pickets, edit and write for the union’s publications, facilitate organizer trainings around the country and many other activities. Although small, I’ve gained invaluable knowledge and experience from the IWW. I’m proud it has been an important part of my life for the last 5 years and hope it will be for far longer.

On Voting- by FW W.H. Glazer

Introduction

Every four years, Americans are subjected to a painfully long election cycle. It is January of a presidential election year, and that means that we can anticipate another ten months of mainstream media coverage that manages to simultaneously overwhelm us with its volume and leave us with no novel or useful information (did you know, for example, that Dr. Ben Carson was a rageful and violent nerd growing up in Detroit? Or that Donald Trump is a shameless blowhard whose racist, classist, and sexist rhetoric appeals to a sizeable group of racists, classists, and sexists?). My boss loves to play CNN in the office as background noise, but my proximity to the television means that I know a lot more about Martin O’Malley and Carly Fiorina than I ever needed to.

Inherent in the decision to enact non-stop coverage is an assumption that all of this election stuff really matters, that who you support and ultimately vote for can have a tangible effect on the lives of millions of people. We are taught from a young age that our right to vote is a tremendously precious one, and further that failure to participate in the election process is a failure of civic duty. We are Americans, god dammit, and it is our responsibility to uphold justice and liberty and democracy through our voting process.

democracy!

My allegiance is to the Republic!

From a pragmatic standpoint, there is actually some truth to this idea. It is, from a purely practical point of view, smart to vote for the lesser of two evils. Hillary Clinton is less likely to impose anti-Muslim immigration reforms than is Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders is considerably less scary and objectionable than are the cackling hyenas who comprise the Republican field.

 

ed

Gov. Jeb Bush

In the IWW, though, we can’t only think in terms of pragmatism and practicality. We are a revolutionary anti-capitalist union, and it can be convincingly argued that active participation in electoral politics is not only counterproductive for our organizational goals, but counter-revolutionary. After all, no major party candidate will ever advocate for the dissolution of our capitalist economy and the establishment of a worker run society. Voting third party in a presidential race may be more morally justifiable, but barring tremendous social and political upheaval, a third party candidate will never take the White House.

So what do we do then? Do we vote as a practical measure to prevent things from getting worse, or do we refuse to vote because it ultimately represents capitulation to the status quo? I sent this prompt out to a number of Wobblies- Is participation in elections (national, state, and local) ultimately a capitulation to a system that actively works against working people? Or is it a pragmatic tactic to ensure that those in power are as minimally objectionable as possible? What bearing does this have on the IWW? How should we talk to people we are organizing about voting? A few notes:

  1. I have changed the names of the FWs for the sake of anonymity.
  2. I have edited the responses for style and grammar, but have not changed any of content.
  3. This article is not intended to portray any official IWW stance on voting, nor is it intended to encourage the establishment of such a stance. Rather, it is meant to begin conversation on an important subject that will only become more relevant in the coming months.
  4. The opinions and political stances of the FWs below are theirs alone.

Opinions

FW Emma

In my own personal philosophy of anarchism, I believe that, in general, voting is a waste. That being said, I have voted in national elections several times when I thought something very bad would happen if the Republican candidate were to win office. Maybe it truly doesn’t matter? They’re all generally alike. I’m not sure. Voting in federal elections may not matter at all anyway because once someone holds office it doesn’t mean they actually have any power. They are still controlled by the military-industrial complex and the capitalist system.

The reason I don’t vote in local elections, however, is due to a lack of faith in the entire system. I don’t believe in reform. I don’t trust the government to create any positive change that’s good enough for the people. I don’t want to participate in an election when the results just mean more of the same. Maybe voting isn’t so bad sometimes, but I think the more you start to participate in electoral politics, the more you risk falling victim to the false belief that things will change if we only get the right people in office. That seems counter-productive. It’s also a belief that most of our coworkers have, and I believe only education can really solve this issue. People just don’t know the truth–at least our truth–about capitalism and true democracy… the list goes on…

I studied public policy in school and was on track to participate in local and state politics to try and influence social change, specifically in public schools. I abandoned that pursuit because I didn’t want to be a part of our political system. I didn’t want to work in a field dependent on electoral and general politics. Trying to do research and write reports that politicians may or may not even read, let alone consider, seemed like a huge waste of time. I felt my time and resources would be used better elsewhere.  If voting took up a large amount of my time, there is no way I would ever participate. I came to believe that the power of the working class could change the system; that we should be organizing the working class and promoting class struggle, because class effects absolutely everyone, and most people are workers.  

Now, when you think about it, the Social Justice Education Movement is working within the system. For them, there seems to be no way out in order to win battles for workers and students alike. Attending school board meetings and organizing around issues not directly related to working class solidarity is a different approach than what I’ve seen most campaigns do in the IWW. However, they aren’t pulling for any specific people to be elected to the school board or engaging in political action that requires voting.  

FW Coeur

I see voting as a primarily defensive act. Sure, there are benefits to preventing the obviously harmful candidates from obtaining public office. But I don’t see any productive outcomes from voting. Our political system is set up in such a way that even if a candidate truly set out to enact drastic reforms of the Capitalist system, they would be prevented from doing so through perfectly legal and “democratic” means.  That’s why I think in the end, the best defense is a good offense.

The danger in accepting the “least awful capitalist” is the potential for increased apathy. People see a politician doing all of these “progressive” or even “radical” things and think, “Yea, maybe just a few more years of X politician or X party, and things will really start to turn around.” But guess what: That’s what we’ve been saying since the bourgeois revolutions dumped the monarchies in favor of “democracies” run by a slightly larger body of the ruling class.

Listen, Wobblies can and should vote as little or as much as they want. I usually go to my polling station, grab a ballot, and drop it in the box without even looking at a pen. No matter what the outcome, the IWW’s mission and tactics remain the same: the revolution of the working class against Capitalism through direct action and industrial control.

When I talk to my coworkers about voting, I treat it as any other conversation. Above all, it is important to give your honest opinions to anyone you are seeking to organize in order to build trust and accountability. If they want to vote, I generally encourage them to do so, while also explaining my issues with voting. If people are going to vote, I’d rather them be an informed and critical voter than one who is just a step (or less) away from drinking the Kool-Aid.

I love telling people that I’m not going to vote in the next election. Watching their eyes double in size, listening to the stammered phrases of anger and disbelief. Then I explain to them why, and often they think for a while and then say “Oh, yea, I guess that makes sense…”

FW Okwute

I’m openly hostile to electoralism. To vote in a representative “democracy” is to give away power. Our power lies in our numbers, solidarity and direct action. Voting as a way to pursue a progressive agenda is the strategy of social democrats and liberals. But, I don’t try to stop people from going out to vote, I mostly try to convince them that we must do much more. Arguments can be made that voting could improve some things here and there within the capitalist system, but it’s not a strategy for building mass movements capable of carrying out social revolution.

FW Brett

My thoughts are that the discussion is vital and needs to be had, and be had in ways that move away from what I think of as posturing. Yes, representative government is bad; no it cannot be a tool in our revolutionary toolbox (it will destroy us if we try, by transforming us into what we loathe). But simply shouting “I don’t vote” and getting claps on the back from fellow radicals is not enough. There are good moral reasons for avoiding voting – including the sense that participation in the system affects a person’s moral fiber, as well as registering you for jury service, to determine a fellow worker’s potential freedom or liberty. There are good strategic reasons for not relying on voting – it cannot actually progress our agenda. But many of the arguments I hear are silly – it takes too much time (really? unless you’re campaigning, it doesn’t), that it’s completely rigged (a conspiratorial perspective that collapses the ways in which the system is genuinely rigged with a fantasy about a cabal of people manipulating the vote; the vote is rigged far before anyone gets into a booth), etc. I think we need to discuss ways to move people from relying on representative structures of decision-making to reliance on ourselves and each other. But lecturing people about voting with poor and transparent arguments are not useful.

FW Maria

I always vote. I think I have only missed one election, both state and national, since 1966. I missed one because I was too sick to go. The pervasive cultural indoctrination of the 50’s and 60’s probably has something to do with my participation. I view it as a pragmatic tactic, I guess. When possible, I vote for communists or socialists of any stripe, hoping that my vote shows up in a chart somewhere and registers as a vote against the norm. Pretty pathetic. I don’t think I have ever tried to get a worker to vote.

Conclusion

There is not a clear answer to the dilemma of voting. To some, it will always seem at best a waste of time and at worst a capitulation to the capitalist state. To others, it is a sound defensive tactic whose utility is increased because our ability to go on the offensive is curtailed by our small numbers and relative obscurity. One thing I think we can all agree upon is that this is an important issue that’s worth discussing at length. As FW Brett mentioned, “simply shouting ‘I don’t vote’ and getting claps on the back from fellow radicals is not enough.” We need to talk about voting and electoralism amongst ourselves so that we are prepared to talk about it with our decidedly less radicalized coworkers. When the dominant narrative says that voting is important and everyone should do it, anti-capitalist revolutionaries like Wobblies should have thoughtful, well considered responses to challenge it.

I encourage Wobblies and fellow radicals to consider the issue of voting and respond with thoughts and ideas. Email them to theorganizertc@gmail.com!

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.”