"I barely survived on Chicago-Lake Liquors wages": an account of a campaign

"I barely survived on Chicago-Lake Liquors wages": an account of a campaign

An account by Juan Conatz of an Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) campaign at a liquor store in Minneapolis during the first half of 2013.

Introduction

This is an account of a campaign that the Twin Cities General Membership Branch (GMB) of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) initiated. While we did accomplish some great things, overall the campaign was a failure that bred a not insignificant amount of animosity between, and disillusion among, some Wobblies. Members of the former organizing committee have different accounts and opinions of what happened. Unlike campaigns there has never been a serious, formal discussion or account of what happened. In fact, it has often been purposefully avoided. I began writing this account during the Fall of 2013. Even though by the Spring of 2014, it was nearly completed, I ended up abandoning it for the fear that it would disturb old wounds and create unnecessary conflict.

Recently, though, I’ve come back to it and have now completed the account. It is worth going over this kind of stuff. We can’t shy away at assessments of our activities, even if they can be somewhat painful to remember. We should learn from it for our next campaigns.

With that said, I acknowledge that this is my own personal account and that others involved may have different perspectives.

Background

In the Spring of 2013, I participated in a IWW campaign as an ‘outside organizer’. I didn’t work at the business where the campaign was, but was asked to come on board by the organizing committee to help out. The understanding was that I would be pushing the committee to accomplish tasks, do 1-on-1s or 2-on-1s with their coworkers or any other work that could help things along.

The campaign was at Chicago-Lake Liquors, a liquor store in south Minneapolis. Chi-Lake claims that it is the highest volume selling liquor store in the state of Minnesota. Whether that is true or not, the store gets a lot of business, from both area residents and people from the suburbs. It should be pointed out that in Minnesota, the only places you can buy real beer or liquor to take home are liquor stores. Grocery stores and gas stations cannot carry liquor and the beer they carry can only be 3% alcohol. So the liquor stores place in the retail industry looms larger than in other places. The store’s owner was John Wolf, a former sports agent, as well as part of the family who once owned and operated the regional grocery chain, Rainbow Foods. Around 25 people worked there, with varying amounts of hours.

Before I was asked on, there had been a couple of Wobs working there for a year or so. At some point, and this has always been unclear to me, other Wobs got jobs there, too. Later they began meeting as a committee, thus officially starting an organizing campaign. Out of the 6 main organizing committee members, 5 of them had been IWW members before working there. 3 of these 5 have been commonly referred to as ‘salts’ or as having ‘salted in’. But depending on who you ask, it is unclear which of these salts were brought in because of a committee decision, through talking to an individual committee member or just taking it upon themselves.

Chi-Lake didn’t seem to have been picked as a target. It just sort of morphed into a campaign as Wobblies who worked there decided they wanted to do something about their workplace conditions.

Joining the Campaign

Towards the end of February 2013, 2 Fellow Workers (FW)1 asked if I would be interested in joining the campaign as an outside organizer. I was interested, but needed clear guidelines and expectations of my role and responsibilities. From past experience in Wisconsin, this could develop into a problem if not clear. I met up with one FW at a restaurant to get the background on the campaign, what actions had been done, the composition of the workforce, who the owners and management were and other information.

After the first committee meeting I attended, my role was expressed in the following ways: doing tasks that can be done by non-workplace organizers, keeping the committee on track, possible 2-on-1s down the line and political education.

Activity Before April 1st

The organizing committee was 5 workers who had been IWW members before working at Chi-Lake, 1 who hadn’t been, but lived with 2 of the others, and 2 other coworkers who had came to committee meetings, but didn’t attend regularly. 5 of the organizers had been involved in previous branch campaigns, such as Jimmy Johns, a grocery store, or other efforts in retail and education.

It was my impression that little to no 1-on-1’s had been done outside of work before the firings, with the exception of the coworker who also lived with 2 of the organizers. Petitions were signed on the shopfloor, often right before a march on the boss. Committee meetings were not always regular, and happened at organizer’s apartments, instead of at the IWW office. Notes were taken, but not circulated or sent out through email.

The committee itself had other issues of accountability, besides this. One organizer’s drinking had been having a polarizing effect on the committee. The drinking often was associated with behavior that either could be detrimental to an organizing campaign or would prove to be contentious and controversial to other committee members. Behavior such as talking about the union with coworkers while drunk, drunkenly trying to convince on-the-fence coworkers about the union at parties, coming to committee meetings intoxicated and having romantic relationships with coworkers. At some point the rest of the committee gave an ultimatum to the Fellow Worker: “Quit drinking or we may have to kick you off the committee.” This FW did exactly that, initially enthusiastic about the challenge, although later that enthusiasm became resentment.

There was also some issues of who was doing the tasks, with 2 of the organizers often disproportionately taking on stuff, while others often did not pick up some of the workload, or failed to complete tasks when they did.

I believe some of the dysfunction in the committee created a desire to speed the campaign along more quickly, so that it would be ended or result in forcing others to accomplish their tasks. A very premature ‘going public’ date was set for May 1st, and a tentative timeline was set-up that would lead up to that date. Although the May 1st date was, in my opinion, unrealistic, the timeline did begin to force the committee to formalize what they were doing in a useful way. Meetings became more regular, 1-on-1s were assigned, notes were circulated through email and there became a shared understanding of what was needed to be done.

Before April 1st, there were 3 ‘march on the boss’ actions, which involved delivering petitions on workplace issues. Each one involved a greater number of people signing them, with the third and last one getting a majority of the workforce. The first 2 marches on the boss were over more minor workplace issues, such as scheduling. But the third one was over wages. Going forward with this was decided at a committee meeting I didn’t attend, due to being sick. I would have argued against doing this, because once you take on the wage issue, you’re basically a public union effort. It should also be noted that the participants of the marches on the boss were mostly restricted to committee members, with 1 of them in particular usually doing most of the talking. In retrospect, it wasn’t very difficult for management to figure out who the ‘troublemakers’ were.

The Firings

On April 1st, a couple of days after the third march on the boss, 5 committee members were fired from Chicago-Lake. We held a hasty meeting, which in addition to the 5 fired workers and 2 IWW members who weren’t fired, had 4 others coworkers in attendance. We never again had this level of active participation from the workforce at Chicago-Lake.

While we figured out a response to the firings and whether we should ‘go public’ or keep our heads down, we wanted to do something ASAP. We thought we could possibly prevent further firings by showing management we wouldn’t go away quietly.

The next day we filed Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). We also used the GMB meeting that happened that night to mobilize the branch for an action at Chi-Lake.

In a initial show of strength while still not publicly IWW, around 40 Wobblies came to the store, got in line and asked to speak to a manager. Once a manager arrived, each person asked why the 5 workers had been fired and urged management to hire them back. It ended up being pretty disruptive to the store.

In the flurry of meetings, both official and informal, that followed, we set up a solidarity committee, so the workload could be spread outside of the overburdened organizing committee. We decided that once we were public, we would be as Food & Retail Workers United, rather than Chicago-Lake Liquors Workers Union, because we wanted to specifically break with the IWW practice of naming a union after one enterprise.

We also immediately set-up an online donation fund for the fired workers and started planning pickets, phone-banking the entire branch to turn out.

The Pickets

The pickets were the best part of the Chi-Lake campaign. Using the then still-in-development Twin Cities General Defense Committee (GDC) picket training, we put on 4 well-run and organized pickets.

The first picket, on April 6, corresponded with us ‘going public’ as an IWW campaign. This ‘informational picket’ was mostly focused on informing customers of Chi-Lake’s labor practices, showing management we wouldn’t go away and announcing our demands, which were: rehire the 5 fired workers, pay a living wage to all employees and stop union busting.

The two following pickets, held on April 13 and May 4 were ‘soft pickets’. They were not necessarily directed at the public, but at disrupting business. Using a liberal interpretation of the somewhat contradictory Minnesota picketing laws, we blocked the two main parking entrances with multiple, constantly moving pickets. Picket captains stopped each vehicle that came to the entrance, while someone else walked up to the vehicle, handed the driver a flyer, and asked them to shop elsewhere.

For the stretch of time we did this, which was at vital business hours, we turned away ⅔ to ¾ of incoming customers. Police, who were quickly called, argued with our police liaison intensely over the legality of what we were doing. In the end, they grudgingly allowed it, but it seemed that could change at any time.

At the end of May, we held our fourth picket. I was out-of-town and can’t remember now what kind of picket it was, nor how it went. After this picket, there were rumors in-shop that the company and police had reached an agreement on interpretation of state picketing laws, and that blocking any of the entrances, for any amount of time, would result in arrest. We also heard from the NLRB that any action we did that would be considered ‘unprotected’ (such as breaking the law in a picket) could result in our case being thrown out. We didn’t end up finding out what would happen with these issues, as the late May picket was our final one.

Solidarity Committee/Food & Retail Workers United IOC

As mentioned, the solidarity committee was set-up to take on tasks that it wasn’t important for the organizing committee to do. Outreach to other unions, writing articles for The Organizer and Industrial Worker, planning the pickets and daily flyering at Chi-Lake were some of the activities that became the responsibility of the solidarity committee. The idea for this came from the Jimmy Johns campaign.

Although some members of the solidarity committee sometimes felt overwhelmed and undersupported, splitting up the workload this way was felt to be important because the organizing committee needed to focus on talking to workers at Chi-Lake.

One interesting thing we experimented with was having the Food and Retail Workers United Industrial Organizing Committee (FRWU IOC) create a newsletter for liquor store workers called The Broken Bottle2. One of the thoughts behind this was to use the publicity of the Chi-Lake campaign to get contacts of other liquor store workers and possibly scare the owners of these stores into pressuring or instigating divisions between them and the owner of Chi-Lake. We did not receive any contacts from this distribution, although it was generally well received.

The justification of distribution in order to possibly create pressure within the apparently tight knit group of liquor store owners was based on a conception of historical industrial union campaigns. In some situations, such as various CIO or pre-CIO strikes and organizing efforts, one of the reasons they won was that they created a split among employers in a certain industry.

It was rumored that the owner of Chi-Lake was a bit of an outcast among liquor store owners, primarily because he bought in bulk to undercut other store’s prices and because he supported Sunday liquor sales, which most owners do not. We thought that it was possible to isolate him even further, which would result in him being more willing to agree to our demands.

There’s no way to know how successful this was, but it is worth thinking about the relationships between groups of employers and how we can exploit them to our advantage.

FRWU IOC’s attempted look wider than this single shop also had them trying to identify the distribution network. They talked to delivery drivers and eventually the driver’s Teamster local business agent with the idea that at some point we may ask them to honor our picket lines. The Teamster business agent initially reacted with hostility when 2 Wobblies met with him. He claimed he had never heard of the IWW, calling us a ‘rogue outfit” and tried to claim jurisdiction because we were organizing at a store that received deliveries from Teamsters. FRWU Wobs also followed the delivery drivers and talked to them about possibly honoring a picket line, although they referred the Wobs to the business agent.

Media + Fund

While not getting any attention from the big news stations and newspapers, we received pretty favorable coverage from City Pages, the local free cultural newspaper. Also, some sympathetic people from Occupy Minnesota made short videos from 2 of our pickets.3

There’s not much we could have done better with this, other than build relationships with individual, sympathetic reporters. Most of the press contacts we had were from the Jimmy Johns campaign and Wobblies who had been involved in Occupy. The organizing committee mostly understood that there would probably be limited coverage of their efforts, and that media wasn’t the most important thing we were doing.

The online donation page for the fired workers we made ended up raising several thousand dollars, which we dispersed to the fired workers to help them get-by while they were unemployed.

In-shop after the firings

With a lot of effort going towards the response to the firings, there were still 3 organizing committee members working at Chi-Lake. None of them were public. Only 1 had been to an Organizer Training or regularly attended meetings prior to the firings. This person, along with the fired workers, continuously attempted to meet up and talk to Chi-Lake workers so that the committee could grow and the campaign continue.

Regretfully, with a few exceptions, no one would meet with us. Those that did were understandably scared. Very little successful groundwork in establishing a base at the store happened prior to the firings. For most people, the April 6 picket was their introduction to the IWW. Some workers were momentarily impressed. But as ‘the union’ and ‘fired workers’ became more closely associated, that excitement waned.

We never quit trying to continue the in-shop campaign at Chi-Lake, but as time wore on, it became clear to some of us that it wasn’t going to happen.

The Settlement Offer

At the end of May, the NLRB found that our complaints had merit, which means they think that Chi-Lake broke the law and were going to pursue the case. We were weakly pushing on with a July 4th boycott plan. The solidarity committee was down to basically two people. 1-on-1s and house visits weren’t happening. There was growing concern from the organizing committee members still at Chi-Lake that we were doing too much outside stuff.

At the beginning of June we heard back from the NLRB, who said that Chi-Lake was interested in offering a settlement.

The settlement offer proved to be the most internally divisive, and, the way it was handled, the most destructive issue of the campaign. At first it broke down between the 3 who wanted to hear the settlement offer and the 2 who did not want to hear it, apparently equating it with a desire to take a settlement and end the campaign. They made a principle out of rejecting even hearing the settlement offer based on an assumption, that at that point, was not correct.

While it is fine and inevitable to have disagreements on a committee, the way the anti-settlement folks conducted themselves virtually guaranteed that what they were against eventually happened. Before there was even explicit support for taking an offer, they made it an issue to ‘die on the hill’ over. They threatened to leave the union, avoided meetings and refused, for a time, to talk to other committee members.

I personally spent around 10 hours total doing 1-on-1’s with a few of the committee members that mostly revolved around merely whether we were going to hear the settlement offer. While I believe this did help overall, it was too late. The conduct of the anti-settlement folks polarized the committee, pushing others from merely being curious about a settlement offer, to wanting to take it.

For the, now, pro-settlement workers, the committee conflict intensified worries about a NLRB case that would drag on for years and a dead-end campaign that would as well . For the anti-settlement workers, the conflict made them feel as if a clique ran the committee and the branch, and that they were abandoning their coworkers for money.

Eventually, around the middle of June, the organizing committee decided to hear the offer. Chi-Lake offered $20,000 to drop the ULPs. None of us thought that was good enough. We counter-offered with $50,000 and that our in-shop wage demands be implemented. They responded with $26,000. We replied with $40,000 and dropped our wage demands. Finally, they offered $32,000, which we accepted.

At the same time, with no ground gained in-shop, we dissolved the organizing committee. A few days after we accepted the settlement, the solidarity committee was dissolved, and the campaign officially ended.

Other issues

Friend or organizer?

Some of the conflicts in this campaign were related to a lack of distinction between the expectations you have of friends and the expectations you have of fellow organizers. While it is perfectly fine to be both friends and fellow organizers, sometimes we need to recognize when a situation calls for the separation of the two. Ideas that were shot down sometimes got taken personally. The ultimatum given to the FW to get clean or leave the campaign eventually turned into resentment.

Complicating the distinction were conflicts in the housing situation where 3 of the fired workers were living. Some of these conflicts were clearly personal, the type that arise when people live together. Others had their roots in one of the fired workers’ partner, who was seen as being anti-IWW in the Sisters Camelot strike, creating tension both within the housing situation and the committee. This culminated in one of the fired workers spitting in the face of the other fired worker’s partner.

Drinking and sexual relationships

I don’t want to exaggerate the previously mentioned issue about sleeping with coworkers or drinking culture when you’re in an organizing campaign, but as this seems to continuously come up in the union, it deserves some attention.

There really is no easy answer. Work is where we spend a good portion of our day and we build relationships with people. This happens all the time and is a normal part of life. However, it becomes complicated in an organizing campaign, where we need to carefully consider how we conduct ourselves and how it helps or hurts the campaign. In actuality, it is a sort of image control.

The politics of sexual relationships in the workplace often reflect the worse of society’s prejudices, which break down differently according to gender. Straight men who sleep around may be seen as union conquistadors, utilizing the campaign to sleep with as many women as possible. Straight women may be seen as using sex to temp and lure coworkers into the union. Both may be taken less seriously because of these impressions, not to mention the trouble dealing with expectations because of this reputation when it comes to 1-on-1’s. For our queer and trans FW’s, some of this may apply, but an additional issue is that, depending on the workplace, the leeway they have for sexual relationships and the reputation associated may be vastly smaller than their straight/cis comrades.

This is not easy to navigate. There comes a point where we have to pick and choose which of the wider society’s prejudices to be aware of and alter our behavior accordingly, and which ones deserve actively barreling through on principle. These are also not just moral platitudes either, what we do can affect the morale of an organizing campaign and how our coworkers and committee members feel about it.

Desperation

The assumed and rumoured company and police response highlighted some contradictions a losing campaign centered on a retaliatory win may face.

Ideas were thrown around and seriously considered such as trying to get other small capitalists to exert ‘community pressure’ on the owner of Chicago-Lake Liquors. There were also plans to contact the local ‘progressive’ city council member for the ward the store is in to also apply pressure.

While these tactics may or may not have been successful, it is questionable to seek these solutions as a union. Capitalists, even small ones, are our enemies. The state and its representatives, no matter how local level, are our enemies, too. Seeking alliance with them, even temporarily, is something that should be avoided. A win as a result of small capitalists or a local politician is not really a win.

Outside organizing help

Although generally I think I did what was possible as an outside organizer, some members of the organizing committee did later reveal problems with my efforts.

One organizer said that I mostly stayed in an administrative function, always taking minutes and doing tasks like that, but not pushing committee members to actually do their tasks.

This is a valid complaint. I often struggled to deal with how, when and if I should push committee members. Most of them had been in the union longer than me, had been involved in previous campaigns, were certified trainers for the OT101, etc. Many times I assumed people would do tasks because they already knew how. In retrospect, letting someone’s organizational credentials prevent me from pushing them was a mistake. But at the end of the day, I didn’t work there. There’s only so much an outside organizer can do or push if the people actually working there are not willing, motivated or serious enough to take on and complete tasks.

Two organizers thought I should have come out in support of them during the dispute over the settlement and, in general, pushed my opinion on things more.

I don’t agree that I should have taken a side on a contentious decision that primarily affected the organizing committee and not myself. However, when the decision to hear the settlement was reached, I did argue that those who didn’t want to take it needed to propose a realistic, alternative plan of going forward.

Like with everything, there were things I did well, and things I could have done better with.

Conclusion

The organizing committee at Chi-Lake, despite involving a number of Wobblies with experience, lacked accountability and made serious mistakes. The committee did the opposite of key points that we teach in our Organizer Training 101 and suffered because of it. Disagreements turned into conflict and conflict was handled poorly. Overall, the response to the firings plotted out by both the organizing and solidarity committee was impressive, worth noting and at least got us over $30,000 for our trouble. But if the goal is to organize workers and build the union, we didn’t get that done.

Comments

An Affirming Flame
Sep 18 2016 18:37

Thanks for the write up Juan. Being on the other side of the country, I remember being very impressed with the videos of the pickets then being left wondering what happened to the campaign as news dried up.

With Starbucks, Jimmy Johns, Sisters Camelot and Chi-Lake (not to mention the Wisconsin general strike efforts), the Twin Cities have had so many organizing campaigns over the past few years. Compared to where I've lived where our only real activity in years was hosting a semi-successful organizer training, it's inspiring. But it really seems like none of these campaigns have had much in the way of long term union building success. Is that fair to say?

I know it's a pretty massive question, but do you think these types of campaigns (largely focused on one place of employment) are really winnable? And what kind of victory? A union shop with high member density or just an ongoing presence with occasional wins on specific demands?

As a wobbly from an pretty inactive area, it's been tempting to imagine that if we just had a big, active branch like the Twin Cities we could accomplish so much. The reality seems a lot harsher, unfortunately.

Chilli Sauce
Sep 18 2016 20:37

This is a really good piece and the kind that can serve to help instituationalize this sort or knowledge within the IWW/general radical organizing circles. So thanks for writing it up, Juan.

Tangentially,

Quote:
we wanted to specifically break with the IWW practice of naming a union after one enterprise.

I think this is really smart.

Juan Conatz
Sep 18 2016 23:01
An Affirming Flame wrote:
I know it's a pretty massive question, but do you think these types of campaigns (largely focused on one place of employment) are really winnable? And what kind of victory? A union shop with high member density or just an ongoing presence with occasional wins on specific demands?

There's not really an easy answer to this. I don't think whether its one place of employment or not is the main factor here. Jimmy Johns and Starbucks were one franchise of a company, with numerous locations, where Chi-Lake was one location and one company. Sisters Camelot, as a nominally culturally anarchist-leaning non-profit was an entirely different animal. Honestly, if we can't win at smaller places like this I find it hard to conceive of industrial campaigns or larger workplaces. A victory to me is continuing, meaningful presence, winning gains, expanding membership and expanding capacity for wider campaigns. By that definition, there have been very little wins in the IWW. But why is a question that's difficult to answer, and has various reasons, some of them to do with us, some of them that we can't do anything about.

Steven.
Sep 19 2016 10:46

Yeah, thanks very much taken the time to write this up. If we don't share our experiences like this then we will never learn lessons from them.

In terms of this campaign, it kind of seems pretty doomed from early on. Personally I would have thought that doing, basically ultra-militant march on the boss type actions before you have a majority of the workforce on side would be a big mistake, as it enables the boss to easily identify ringleaders, and opens up a divide between the organisers and the workforce in terms of tactics. As even in a majority-union workplace, where people may even be prepared to strike many would not be prepared to do our march on the boss (where I work would be a good example of this, where you can sometimes generate collective action but not that sort of personal confrontation).

If lead organisers get fired before you have a majority of the workforce on side, then I don't think you have any chance of winning, so the only thing you can do is try to build a campaign to leverage a better settlement, so under these circumstances the end result doesn't seem that bad. Although I can understand the disappointment of those who wanted to continue to fight. But we have to understand when we're beaten and save our energy to fight another day.

I personally wonder if the IWW brand, as a revolutionary, anticapitalist union, would hinder ever getting a majority of moderate sized workforce on board (I have done organising campaigns to get majority union density but think there is no way I could have done so to get people to join a revolutionary union - unless I completely downplayed the politics). But that's a separate issue really

fingers malone
Sep 19 2016 16:01

I also found this really interesting and think that discussing struggles 'warts and all' is useful. I am often hesitant to do that because of people getting upset but I think it would help if we could reflect more like that.

syndicalist
Sep 19 2016 16:54

I recall reading the on-going stuff at the time/ possibly some solidarity something sent.

Shall read latetha.

jef costello
Sep 19 2016 20:06

Thanks for the write-up

syndicalist
Sep 19 2016 20:29

Interesting read. Thanx.

syndicalist
Sep 19 2016 22:59

Always enjoy these type of stories.

FWIW, we would always "test" people before doing certain things. Small things, to see how strongly they were behind what was planned. In some cases, we would say that if 90% of a dept isn't at a meeting (or whatever shop wise), we wouldn't go through with things. We'd try and make and /or help people realize that others are gonna stick their necks out for the full benefit of all. And if they wanted something bad enough, they'd have to put up something. Or complain until they were blue in the face with no one listening.

In new shops or wildcats, so to speak, always, always, always tell folks the chance of firing or discipline is 100% certain. Who, what, where and when matters less. It will happen.

Those with the loudest, biggest mouths may not necessarily be the best shop guides. Always best to tap on the most respected and usually the ones with the coolest heads. Loudmouth and know it alls get pick off first. Even the most beloved. Develop layers of militants.

Keep nose to grindstone and --- I hear the firing squad now --- be productive worker. Don't give boss cause to discipline or fire.

Shop newsletter. OK, in this day and age of electronics, there's ways of getting messaging and news out. That said, and maybe I'm just an old fart, paper is good. A regular scheduled newsletter good. Shop workers writing tales from the depts good. Of course camouflaging the author is important.

Individualism, egoism, pulling seniority/rank, you're not going to tell me what to do ---- all bad. All will destroy campaigns.... and can destroy shop floor organization after a successful campaign as well. Collective accountability key, key and did I say key?

FWIW, there will be more defeats (for now) than victories. But each defeat can also be a victory of sorts. Not in a material sense, though that may happen sometimes as well, but in a certain moral and organizational. Some new workers won to the cause and the organization. Hopefully some positive lessons taken away and collectively discussed and stored. Possibly new organization down the road elsewhere or even in the lost shop. The real victory, even in the downiest, darkest losses, is never having "your" dignity stolen.

Well, sorry for the ramble and yammering about things and stuff was all prolly know by now.
It ain't evha easy, and those who think it is will have some rude awakenings.

Thanks again for the share.

syndicalist
Sep 20 2016 03:19
Quote:
By that definition, there have been very little wins in the IWW. But why is a question that's difficult to answer, and has various reasons, some of them to do with us, some of them that we can't do anything about.

I can't speak to the IWW specifically, but there's a general truism I'll share.

One off campaigns, that end in loss of militants and no continuing presence creates a no win situation. Or when there is no real long term commitment to slog along until better times. Years ago, when nearly all of our members left the needle trades industry it was damn near impossible to carry on beyond a shop or two. Sometimes its a matter of capacity, or loss thereof.

OliverTwister
Sep 21 2016 03:32

This is a really great write-up! Thank you so much for doing it and posting it up!

The only thing I would want to see more discussion of is the theory and practice of "salting." As in, it seems to me that the operational definition of "salting" at the time was "getting a job where some other IWW members work and then that place becomes an organizing campaign, without any strategizing going into it."

I don't think we've really broken from that yet although maybe we have in the Twin Cities.

Juan Conatz
Sep 28 2016 05:36

FWIW, I received some pretty strong criticism of this piece from a couple of people who were heavily involved in the campaign. They were mad that I was bringing this experience up, 3 years later, and said that it contained "mental health shaming" and "slut shaming".

I'm not going to apologize for writing accounts of collective, organizational experiences. What happened isn't the sole property of those that directly went through it, but instead a wider collection of people...IWWs, syndicalists, workplace organizers, etc.

I can't claim to have known the mental health status of anyone involved at that time or now, nor do I see where I shame people for this status.

However, in trying to describe how the issue of having romantic relationships with co-workers within the context of an organizing campaign was a divisive one, I did indeed use some language that some people might interpret as judgmental of the act of promiscuity itself. That was not my intention at all and I think people should be free to have whatever and how many consensual romantic relationships they want. I was trying to convey that it was an issue in this campaign, and that all things considered, it is a difficult topic to address, with no easy answers. In any case, I removed the language in question and replaced it with something that I think better expresses that.

jesuithitsquad
Sep 28 2016 06:24

I thought you handled the topic as well as it can be, in that, as you say, there are no easy answers. I think that these are the criticisms you received speaks to how well you handled writing about the campaign in general, given there were issues that sounded much more contentious than questions about language choices.

Also, I don't want to stalk syndicalist in Juan's blogs, but my god comrade! Your comment above is yet another reason I hope you do take some time to write some recollections!

Juan Conatz
Sep 28 2016 19:14

Well to be clear, those weren't the only criticisms I received, just the ones that stuck in my mind because I got into a fair amount of discussion about it internally in the IWW.

Another one was that I was trying to pass off that I work there based on the title. The title is a campaign slogan we used, which itself is a play on an ad campaign Chi-Lake did trying to be funny about the supposed dangerous area it was in or sketchy characters that frequent the place. It's pretty clear from the piece that I didn't work there. It's mentioned several times.

One of the two people I mentioned also said I derided their opinions in the piece, I believe in the context of the settlement. I don't think I did. At the time, I for sure had an opinion on what we should do. My experience in the IWW has been that even after basically all hope is lost, things drag on as "campaigns" for a long time, when we should probably just pack it in and focus on something else. I didn't really voice this opinion at the time.

What I told people who were against taking the settlement was that they needed to come up with a viable alternative plan that wasn't just a continuation of what we were doing: attempted 1-on-1s and pickets, because what we were doing was not working when it came to building a presence on the shop floor. An alternative was never presented and my interpretation at the time was those who were against the settlement than went ahead and accepted it because they couldn't come up with an alternative. My interpretation that those who were anti-settlement had that position because they viewed it as selling out their co-workers and admitting defeat. Maybe I was wrong on that, I don't know.

I guess it would be worth thinking about what would have happened if we refused a settlement. I have given this a lot of thought, so here's where things were leading to:

-The NLRB case could have just dragged on for years, like similar cases have with Starbucks (10 years !) Jimmy Johns (6 years) and Sisters Camelot (3 years).

-A boycott plan we had would have gone forward, but at best its success would have been unclear, and at worst a failure. I've always been skeptical of boycotts unless one can realistically enforce them.

-Eventually our pickets would be clamped down by the police and city, resulting in us backing down to informational pickets which don't really disrupt business or accepting arrests and police violence and all the money, time and energy it takes to deal with that,

-The few remaining IWWs we had inshop would continue, most likely unsuccessfully, to try and grow the committee. Maybe this would get a person or two on board, maybe drag on for 6 months, a year, two years, but it would never get to the point where we could do anything and people would find other jobs.

I think taking the settlement, within the context of gaining no ground inshop, conflict on the organizing committee and not really a viable plan forward was really the only option we had to come away with something.

I maintain that the conduct of those who were against even hearing what the settlement offer was, which involved threatening to leave the union, not speaking to other committee members, not attending meetings, etc. did have the effect of wanting others to just take the settlement and put this all behind them. It was sort of the last straw of dysfunction.

syndicalist
Sep 29 2016 00:19

Any reason why folks might not have settled and sought to build and fight another day?

In defeats, everyone is mad angry. Everyone and no one is at fault
Or let's blame the key people. Ya know, looking in the mirror us a hard thing for all to do at time like this. For most it's tough to be wrong or admit key mistakes.

But if you gained a few members and built a good rep for the local, well that's a small victory unto its self

jesuithitsquad
Sep 29 2016 01:16
Quote:
I think taking the settlement, within the context of gaining no ground inshop, conflict on the organizing committee and not really a viable plan forward was really the only option we had to come away with something.

Based on the admittedly limited info I know, I think you are absolutely right. This was the only really viable alternative.

Though it obviously was not the victory anyone wanted, it was a limited victory all the same, and hopefully others who work there come away with the lesson that collective action can work. Wheras, in the alternative of fighting on in what, almost certainly, would have been an unsuccessful campaign, it likely would have left the same people with the thought-- all that organizing accomplishes is people lose their jobs and it creates a toxic work environment.

I think it's important for us to remember in the US that most working people under a certain age have never encountered an organizing campaign, a union shop, and may not even know anyone who belongs to a union. How we comport ourselves in these situations really matters; it will leave a lasting impression--win, lose, or draw.

That said, if I'm totally honest, I can see part of myself in both camps, depending on the circumstances. I can totally understand the POV that taking a settlement is selling out, as it is using the State instead of direct action. Allowing for that concession, from a distance refusing to even hear the terms, and drawing such stark lines really seems completely counter-productive, and I think the argument could be made that it could be interpreted as being anti-solidarity.

On the title, I think it was clear to anyone who read more than a few sentences what your roll was and that you did not work there.

Juan Conatz
Sep 29 2016 02:00
syndicalist wrote:
Any reason why folks might not have settled and sought to build and fight another day?

Yeah that could have been a possibility. The fired workers could have taken the settlement and moved on with their life and or helped the remaining shop committee as outside organizers, while the 3 IWWs still working there could have continued on. What ended up happening is that within a month of the settlement, 1 person moved away, another quit, leaving 1 IWW member, who joined off the shop floor but had varying levels of commitment and time for the campaign due to issues in their life. This person pretty quickly drifted away from the union's orbit after the settlement, although a few people I believe kept loose social ties with them.

Quote:
In defeats, everyone is mad angry. Everyone and no one is at fault
Or let's blame the key people. Ya know, looking in the mirror us a hard thing for all to do at time like this. For most it's tough to be wrong or admit key mistakes.

I think every defeat is different. Some defeats inspire people and breathe energy into a campaign. Others demobilize and depress. And still others make everyone mad at each other.

Quote:
But if you gained a few members and built a good rep for the local, well that's a small victory unto its self

I don't think the campaign resulted in more members. I think it was the first campaign in the Twin Cities where we lost members. I think the small victory is the pickets that we ran which, combined with ULPs, which were pretty clear cases, forced the employer to offer a monetary settlement relatively quick.

jesuithitsquad
Sep 29 2016 02:32

Also, I meant to ask what people think about what syndicalist said about this:

Quote:
Keep nose to grindstone and --- I hear the firing squad now --- be productive worker. Don't give boss cause to discipline or fire.

I think I agree with it, but I also understand why it could be problematic to others. Thoughts?

syndicalist
Sep 29 2016 14:00
jesuithitsquad wrote:
Also, I meant to ask what people think about what syndicalist said about this:
Quote:
Keep nose to grindstone and --- I hear the firing squad now --- be productive worker. Don't give boss cause to discipline or fire.

I think I agree with it, but I also understand why it could be problematic to others. Thoughts?

Thank you for your thoughts and comments
I prefer a seperate thread if you all want to have
This convo. I do not want to derail Juan's thread
Or focus

syndicalist
Sep 29 2016 21:01
Juan Conatz wrote:
Quote:
In defeats, everyone is mad angry. Everyone and no one is at fault
Or let's blame the key people. Ya know, looking in the mirror us a hard thing for all to do at time like this. For most it's tough to be wrong or admit key mistakes.

I think every defeat is different. Some defeats inspire people and breathe energy into a campaign. Others demobilize and depress. And still others make everyone mad at each other.

True and fair enough.