An interview with a former member of revolutionary UPS workers group Uprise! by libcom, based on a libcom questionnaire. Uprise! was active in 2002 and 2003.
Who are you?
I post under the sophisticated and sublime name kdog. I describe my politics as revolutionary anarchist. I am a past member of several Midwest (US) anarchist collectives and two attempts to organize anarchist federations. My partner and I have two young sons. I am a worker.
Briefly, what was the group?
The group Uprise! was an attempt to organize what y'all call "workplace resistance groups" and what i/we thought of as an explicitly revolutionary "extra-union" organization at United Parcel Service (UPS) in Chicago, IL (U.S.)
I recommend these articles on our efforts:
- Organizing for class struggle at UPS - Uprise!
- Teamsters local opposes Iraq war - Uprise! press release
How big did it get and how long did it last?
Our group never got very big. Four core members, and a number of supporters over its two years of life (2002-2003 I think). We were able, however, to influence events somewhat and learn alot.
How did it get started?
It got started by myself and another older radical seeing each other at union meetings and seeing the need for a more radical grassroots approach - especially toward the hundreds of part-time workers.
Why were more other more traditional organisations (e.g. trade unions) not appropriate?
We did critically participate within the union - two of us were elected stewards. But we did not limit our political work to the union structures or to the role of union opposition. Our main constituency were workers who did not orient to the union,we emphasized organizing solidarity amongst grassroots workers at work. But we didn't exclude intervening at union meetings or steward meetings either. Thus "extra-union".
What kind of problems did you come up against?
Where to begin? The main problem was that although we were able to strike a chord with the many workers we were unable for a variety of reasons to bring them into the organization or into consistent joint organizing and action. The two original members of our group were both white amongst a heavily black workforce, and that was a big obstacle to folks actually joining.
Our explicitly revolutionary stance, while useful for distinguishing ourselves from the socialists (International Socialist Organisation, like the British Socialist Workers Party) who oriented to the bureaucracy and reformism, made it a big jump for workers to consider joining. In retrospect maybe organizing the group around direct action and direct democracy might have been able to include more workers in a collective dialogue and action planning.
Other problems include our relative poverty and lack of resources made it hard to meet the needs of the workers that did approach us the one moment when we did have an actual opportunity to become a mass organization. The anarchist collective I was a part of - with just a couple of exceptions - was not able to give any support either. These anarchists were just not ready politically or psychologically to engage with the poorer sections of the working-classes.
We faced a bit of repression from the company and the union. It's all in the articles linked above…
What types of action did you take?
There were a number of small steward type battles that we were involved with all the time (over management doing union work, someone getting fired, sexual harassment, a one day strike by the union, etc.) but there were three episodes that stand out the most:
-The first was a small job action in which 9 UPS package car drivers briefly joined an anti-police brutality demo together in our UPS trucks.
-The campaign to vote down the union and company's contract. This was a fairly well organized effort with stickers flyers lots of leafleting. It provoked some major confrontations with the company's security goons at one large facility where one of our members worked.
-finally anti-war organizing at the lead up to Bush's invasion [of Iraq]
Our actions were varied. From using the steward position and our leaflets to agitate around all kinds of daily abuses, to the "Vote No" campaign, to interventions/confrontations at union meetings, to the ride over to the demo while on the clock (there were many little things I'm forgetting).
During the Vote No campaign, because of the excellent reception our agitprop and rap was receiving at the massive CACH facility (the second largest UPS facility in North America) it became a goal to reach a point where a mass walk-out could be called over the Living Wage demand. If we had been better organized and had more resources/outside support this was a real possibility. Such an action would have had a huge impact…
Could you describe the makeup of the group at its height?
Our four members:
Myself - Irish American dude early 30's anarchist veteran of Anti-Racist Action & Love and Rage and at that time FRAC [Federation of Revolutionary Anarchist Collectives of the Mid-west/Great lake region].
Other dude - older white Jewish guy, a veteran of the 60's struggles who was part of a Panther-affiliated project to do community organizing in Chicago's "white ghetto" - Bridgeport neighborhood.
Other dude - Black mid twenties worker with no political history. Natural "solidarity steward" and good friend.
Other dude - young working-class mexican, singer in punk band, member with me of the BRICK anarchist collective (FRAC).
We had a number of other workers who supported us - from passively to at times pretty firmly (voted with us, came to meetings we called, helped get out flyers and stickers, took action) Like the workforce as a whole they were mostly African-American and a disproportionate number of our supporters were women, though our core membership was all men.
We were never able to develop a base beyond the UPS workplaces organized under Teamsters Local 705.
Why did it fold?
One of our core was fired. Two others quit and I transferred to another city where I was fired. (Both firings were clearly retaliatory for our activities.)
I would really refer comrades to the two links above for more. The highpoints are described there...
Thank you kdog!