Tasia Edmonds, IWW Union Member at Insomnia Cookies, Fired! Union Claims Retaliation, Please Support!

Dear IWW Supporters,
Immediately after agreeing to pay four IWW strikers for illegally firing them, and promising not to retaliate against workers for union activity, Insomnia Cookies has suspended IWW Organizer Tasia Edmonds for an entire month without pay on flimsy pretexts. You’re invited to take action against this outrageous act of union-busting by the boutique cookie business. IWW’s and allies will picket Insomnia’s Boston location, 708 Comm Ave, this evening (Friday) starting at 7 pm. The store is very close to the BU East stop on the Green Line’s B train. Please come if you can! The Facebook event is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/604465696296628
Please also email the company any time at pfs@serveubrands.com, and call CEO Seth Berkowitz at 877 632-6654. Suggested message: “It is intolerable that IWW Organizer Tasia Edmonds has been suspended without pay for her union activity. Please take immediate action to bring Tasia back to work, and compensate her for any loss in pay. Union-busting is disgusting!”

To help Tasia with her living expenses, please contribute here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/support-tasia-fight-union-busting/x/6674514>.

Watch Tasia speak about the IWW and conditions at Insomnia here:
*Background: *Tasia went public with her union affiliation on December 7.  She has been building the union in her store. In February, a new manager began harassing her about her union membership. On March 9, Tasia was told she has been suspended without pay for a month! The union has filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). An IWW organizing drive began at Insomnia in August after 4 workers spontaneously went on strike. Their demands included $15/hr, health care, and a union, and they were immediately fired. Despite recently promising to give about $4,000 in back pay to the strikers, and post a notice pledging not to retaliate against workers for union activity, Insomnia is apparently still determined to crush the union drive. The union is even more determined to get justice for Tasia and her co-workers! Please help however you can.

Insomnia Cookies Strikers Win Back Pay; Company Must Post Notice, Agree Not to Retaliate for Union Activity

“…Something told me to stand up for what I believe in. To me, this victory was worth every bit of the struggle.” – Jonathan Peña, IWW member and Insomnia Cookies Striker.

Four workers at Insomnia Cookies’ Cambridge store went on strike on August 19, protesting poverty pay and wretched working conditions, and demanding $15/hr, health benefits and a union at their workplace. The company illegally fired all four. For the next six months strikers, IWW members, allies, and student organizations at both Harvard and Boston University held pickets, marches, rallies, forums, phone blitzes, and organized boycotts, while workers continued organizing at both the Cambridge and Boston locations. The union also pursued legal charges through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

On March 3, a company representative signed an agreement promising almost $4,000 in back pay to the four strikers (two of whom had given notice before going on strike; and all of whom had moved on to more rewarding jobs or pursuits). The company also agreed to post a notice in the Cambridge store, promising not to fire or otherwise retaliate against workers for taking collective action, including joining the union and going on strike. The company was also made to revise a confidentiality agreement that improperly restricted workers’ rights to discuss their conditions of employment with one another and third parties (including union organizers and the media). All references to the terminations have been removed from strikers’ personnel files.

“Since the first utterance of the word ‘strike’ that late August night, it has been an uphill battle for all of us,” says striker Chris Helali. “The Industrial Workers of the World answered the call when no other mainstream union was interested in organizing a small cookie store in Harvard Square. We picketed, we chanted, we sang. I thank my fellow workers, the IWW and all of our supporters for their continued work and solidarity through this campaign. I am proud to be a Wobbly (IWW member)!”Jonathan Peña says, “I remember just feeling real conservative that August night, but something told me to stand up for what I believe in. I had nothing to lose but I had much to gain. Being apart of the IWW means something to me. I will never forget the four amigos, Niko, Chris, Luke, and [me]. We actually made a difference. Being a Wobbly can change your life! I just want to really thank everyone for their solidarity and commitment to crumbling down on this burnt Cookie.”

The IWW vows to continue organizing efforts at Insomnia Cookies. Helali says, “ I am extremely pleased with the settlement, however, it does not end here. This is only the beginning. The IWW along with our supporters will continue to struggle until every Insomnia Cookies worker is treated with respect and given their full due for their labor. There is true power in a union; when workers come together and make their demands unified voices and actions.”


Industrial Worker – Issue #1763, March 2014

The Industrial Worker is the official newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union.


Being A Woman Organizer Isn’t Easy
Mobile Rail Workers Win, Wobblies Organize Worldwide
International (Working) Women’s Day


Staughton Lynd: A Tribute To Rosa Luxemburg
Jane LaTour: Toward Equal Employment For Women
Addressing Sexual Violence In The IWW

Download a Free PDF of this issue.

R. I. P. Pete Seeger (1919-2014)


(reposted from Rock & Rap Confidential…)

RRC Extra No. 41:Dave Marsh on Pete Seeger

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Dave Marsh writes:  I met Pete Seeger about 40 years ago on the Clearwater, a refurbished 19th century sloop which had begun its then seemingly hopeless task of cleaning up the shores and waters of the Hudson River. Like a lot of the things that Pete got involved in, it was a hopeless task until it turned out to be common sense.
That day, we cruised Long Island Sound, if I remember right, from Port Jefferson to Oyster Bay, which is not very far, and back, which is still not very far. It was worth every minute, and would have been if only for the chance to spend time aboard the 106 foot, single-masted Clearwater, a gorgeous vessel, stable even in Long Island Sound’s considerable chop and carrying as cargo volumes of lore and lessons about the costs of environmental neglect.
You could say that those early Clearwater voyages were the precursors of the present-day celebrity cruise, but with fewer celebrities. No more were needed. Pete Seeger was not only the enduring star of American folk music, he was its leading evangelist and one of the greatest singer/musicians this part of the planet has produced.  I remember Pete singing though not what songs, and some lectures about the important work of the ship and the ecology of the Sound and the Hudson River region, though not their specific content. The presentation did its best to be as folkie as a much-darned pair of wool socks, and unmistakably also an event with a star and a crew and an audience, never exactly commingled. It was also a strong, healthy political event, by which I mean that each of us left with a sense of mission and some ideas about how to execute it.
I wasn’t there to clean up the Sound, though I was glad to be part of the movement, or to hear Pete perform, though I knew the importance of his music. I was there to write a story for Newsday, the Long Island daily. I did what you do in those situations, where you don’t know anybody and nobody knows you, which mostly means I watched and listened and took mostly the kind of sensory notes that you don’t write down on the spot.
When we docked everyone headed for the parking lot. Pete and his wife Toshi had several bags. I introduced myself, not only because we were meant to talk for a few minutes, but as a prelude to asking if I could help carry their stuff.
I got no further than, “Hi, I’m Dave Marsh from Newsday,” before Pete turned to me and snapped—and I mean snapped, like he was already booking me for malingering—“Grab a couple of those bags. It’s good for white collar workers to do physical labor.” Thus spoke the Harvard gentleman to the brakeman’s son who’d never owned a necktie.  And no, I didn’t come up with my usual smartass retort. He was Pete Seeger, who had changed not only my life but the world, and the alternative to silence was insulting him as much as he’d just insulted me, and…well, for once it was not in me.
That incident was one of the best lessons I ever had several times over. I learned lessons I’d chew on for, apparently, the rest of my life: The relation between stardom and shyness, between changing the world and retaining your self, and between trusting your perceptions and remembering not to suppose anything until you’ve made sure the person about whom you’ve just supposed it is not a cartoon.   And I mean it, I’ve always been grateful because that dressing down has saved me all manner of grief, and not only in things about celebrity. The most important lesson, you see, was about recognizing a difference between loving something and liking something, even when that something is someone. A great teacher may or may not inspire great affection, and he or she may not even teach the best lessons deliberately. So it turned out that Pete and I were in many social and professional situations over the next 40 years without ever getting to know one another much and that isn’t surprising. Mainly because I didn’t learn my lesson all at once. Though I think I did learn, finally. I’ll tell you about it later.
I respected Pete Seeger so much that my teenage self forgave him writing “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine,” which to my ears was sheer bathos, and for deriding Bob Dylan’s beautiful electric music, which to my ears was the absolute poetry of a world in chaos.
One side of what he did was somewhat foreign to me. Years later my friend Jon Landau and I were talking about folk music one day, which inevitably came around to talking about Pete. Jon told me a story about Pete appearing at his left-wing summer camp or maybe it was Earl Robinson’s music school. I said  something I thought was appreciative and Jon stopped me cold. “You don’t understand,” he said. “He was Elvis.”
To me, he was more like a father figure or anyhow that’s the way I made sense of him after I understood that he had many metaphoric children and was glad of it, though not always of the way that they behaved, musically or socially. (Hmmm, that is like Elvis, isn’t it?) He could be amazingly contradictory—a sign of humanity not deity. In his 1972 anthology, The Compleat Folksinger, which collects among other things many of his columns for Sing Out!, Pete wrote about a tour of Czechoslovakia he made in 1964. He was especially thrilled to go to a particular club and hear the groups playing guitars, which happened to be electric.
Back home, Pete was not only immune to Beatlemania but hostile to folk-rock. Maybe it was because, as Pete said, he couldn’t hear the words due to the high volume but he should have known more about music than to use that to justify attacks on the songs themselves. I’m more inclined to think that he didn’t like “Maggie’s Farm” with the Butterfield Blues Band because of the loud absence of explicit social commentary and Pete’s acknowledged absence of feeling for post-war blues.
I am trying to reckon with the complexity of Pete Seeger as man and artist. It is not an easy road to travel, especially not today. But it never has been.
Ten years ago, more or less, there was a panel discussion at a Folk Alliance conference that wound up in a tangle when Nora Guthrie said that Pete had refused to allow Madonna to issue a recording of “If I Had a Hammer” because she’d changed the lyric to “If I had a hammer / I’d smash your fucking head in.” (I don’t know if that’s funny. Depends on how she sang it, doesn’t it?)
Another complex folk music elder, Chris Strachwitz of Arhoolie Records, also on the panel, thought that Nora was responsible for the rejection and scolded her for not asking Pete to make the decision, since he would surely have supported free speech. I was the moderator and tried to help out by asking Nora if what she meant was that she had communicated a decision made by Pete himself.  She said yes. Chris began to sputter, well past the point of coherence for few seconds, and finally a single sentence burst out: “WELL…well…well…then Pete’s not God anymore!”
He never was. He never needed to be. Like everybody else, Pete Seeger set examples good and bad. We might pause here to take notice that, though his feet were of clay, he had a remarkable ability to keep them shod. By which I mean, his transgressions may have been personal but they were very rarely public and he knew how to back down. In 1967 or so, he made a record using electric guitar—not played by him–and somewhat heavier beats. And then returned to doing what he did, as he should have.
Pete Seeger was such a prodigious talent, so young, that the godlike was expected of him. Born in 1919, the son of the ethnomusicologist Charles Seeger, he grew up in a left-wing household. It was the mandarin left wing: Like his father before him, Pete went to Harvard. He began his prominent performing career in 1940 on CBS Radio, alongside Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives and Josh White (the show was heard only in New York because the cast was integrated) and a year later was a founder of the first important left-wing folk group, The Almanac Singers, which defined protest singing. Pete Bowers, he called himself then—he had to, as his father was currently a government employee who had been blacklisted during World War I for espousing pacifism.
After the war, Pete formed the Weavers with Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman and Ronnie Gilbert. Their songs were not always topical, because McCarthyism had begun, but the political songs were always there and they had big hits. Thus “Kisses Sweeter than Wine,” though the Weavers also rearranged Lead Belly’s “Good Night Irene” into one of the most important hits of 1950. Seeger and Hayes were a formidable songwriting team.  Because of them,  the Weavers also produced some of the most enduring post-war protest songs, notably “If I Had a Hammer.” By 1953, they were blacklisted by broadcasters. “If you had seen us coming down the street,” Toshi Seeger, Pete’s wife, told me once, “you’d have crossed over to the other side of the block.” I looked dubious. “That’s exactly what people did,” she said.
Toshi, at least as formidable and complicated as her husband, allowed herself the bitterness Pete never expressed. They had a lot to be bitter about. After being smeared as a Red,  Pete became an unusually uncooperative witness before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in 1955. HUAC had caused the Hollywood Ten to be imprisoned for contempt of Congress in1950. The Ten lost for standing on the First Amendment as the basis for their refusal to testify. Since then, it had become the practice to stand on the Fifth—the non-incrimination clause–rather than freedom of speech and association. Pete returned to the fundamental issue: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.”
This was not god-like. It was human– stubborn, flouting all sound advice, courageous. It was also not quite as futile as it immediately seemed.  In 1957, he was charged with contempt of Congress. In 1961, Pete was tried, convicted and sentenced to a year in prison. In 1962, he won his appeal, a landmark case in ending the blacklist. But the consequences rolled on: The Weavers reformed in 1955, but mainly as a live act. They recorded for small labels but their music could not be broadcast. Nevertheless, they played the major role in popularizing “Wimoweh (The Lion Sleeps Tonight),” “Sixteen Tons” and “Kumbaya.”
Pete was never idle. In the Fifties, he wrote How to Play the 5 String Banjo, invented the Longneck Banjo (three additional frets made it longer than a bass guitar), popularized the 12 string guitar (he’d learned from Lead Belly), and created the brilliant “Goofing-Off Suite,” using classical themes by Bach, Beethoven, Stockhausen and Grieg alongside Berlin’s “Blue Skies” and a batch of folk tunes. When John Hammond at Columbia finally got him a major label record deal, one of the first results was “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” probably the most beautiful antiwar melody ever composed. Pete championed the burgeoning topical song movement in the best possible way: He crammed the songs into his albums and concerts. He also took up world music, not as a stylistic synthesis, but as a collection of pieces that taken on their own terms resonated with one another, from Africa (“Wimoweh”) to Cuba (“Guantanamera”), even Europe. It was Pete who suggested that SNCC needed a singing group, and it was Toshi and Pete who befriended and cared for Bernice Johnson Reagon when the SNCC Freedom Singers broke up. He made children’s albums and live albums and thematic albums and mere collections of songs. He was instrumental in starting the Newport Folk Festival. He was on the editorial committee of Sing Out!, the Rolling Stone of the folk revival. And he played a major role (if not the central one—that credit he always gave to Guy Carawan and rightly so) in adapting and popularizing the most important song of the twentieth century, “We Shall Overcome.”
Pete made a live album called We Shall Overcome, recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1963. It was extremely well-edited, I don’t know by whom. The running order of the album–13 songs of the 40 performed–has absolutely nothing to do with the order of the concert, but it’s  more focused, gets to the point more directly and clearly than the show did. Alas, the digital version is the whole thing. ( (It’s easy to make a playlist of the original running order—the original track listing is at the Wikipedia entry for the album.)
I heard the We Shall Overcome album at age 14, when I was the son of budding George Wallace supporters, living in an Up South town full of Ku Klux Klansmen and packs of freelance racists, and going to quietly but adamantly all-white schools. The headlines had been filled every day for the past year with Freedom Riders, pre-teens slaughtered by bombs placed in churches, nonviolent demonstrators attacked by dogs and high pressure hoses. And that was just in the South. Racial turmoil was a constant presence in southeastern Michigan, not just Detroit. The one true thing I was being told about this was that it meant the world, or a world, was coming to an end. The one set of contrary facts I held in my head was almost entirely musical, not the early songs of Bob Dylan but Motown and early soul music that insisted, obliquely but powerfully, that freedom meant everybody or it didn’t mean anything.
Buying We Shall Overcome was more the product of exploration than rebellion. What it inspired was rebellion’s necessary partner, conviction. Most important, the conviction that there really must be a better world, somewhere, and that it was open to the likes of myself. Pete Seeger’s version of a protest album offered a vision, and the core of that vision was not so much any particular songs but the gentle persuasiveness with which he introduced them, the passion with which he laid out their origin or history or contemporary relevance and the power with which he encouraged all present to sing them. What transformed We Shall Overcome from a powerful collection to something with deep historical significance was the presence of the SNCC Freedom Singers. They lent not so much authenticity as boldness and authority to “Oh Freedom,” “If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus,” and particularly “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.” They made struggling for equal rights seem like something even a blossoming but isolated teenager could do.
As Daniel Wolff pointed out to me the afternoon that we learned of Pete’s passing, he did this kind of teaching all the time. Seeger believed in singing, he believed it was good for you in all sorts of ways. He was, I recall, fond of reciting his father’s dictum that a country’s cultural health could best be ascertained by how many of its citizens sang and made music. I was just one among who knows how many—a number surely in the hundreds of thousands, maybe the tens of millions, over the sixty years or so that Pete performed—who had their lives turned if not upside down at least askew by the power of his conviction, by the contagion of his vision.
If nothing else, Pete Seeger made me understand how far behind enemy lines I was living—he showed me the road that had to be traveled, if I really wanted to live. He did this the same way that James Baldwin and Elvis Presley and John Coltrane did it: by example, and with the same generosity and the same sense that the world was packed with a load of insurmountable cruelty and that, nevertheless, the truth was that something better had managed to survive within it. Which meant, for each of us, a choice and a chance.
It may even be that Seeger, whose rectitude often communicated, at least to me, a whiff of the Puritanism he inherited, offered a more direct route to this not-at-all specious salvation of spirit and society than anybody else, and for the oddest reason: He thought smaller. He genuinely believed that one more singer, one more non-violent resister, one more example of gumption and love, one more song, one more guitar, was an important thing. And, this I am sure about, he genuinely believed that that was mainly what he, himself, was: One more.
That, and nothing more meek, was why Pete Seeger eschewed the celebrity path. (Ask yourself this: If Burl Ives could become a big star looking like that, what could the young Pete Seeger have become if he’d just given over a few names?) Pete could seem innocent but you’d be a fool to believe it. He paid the price and he had seen the bill coming, too.
If all you know about Pete Seeger is a protest singer, a rag-tag Red, a spinner of false hope, a doddering old man walking that hopeless line (but never by himself, you may have noticed), then you missed it. If all you know is the famous songs – most of which I haven’t even mentioned—you might even then not see it whole. Pete Seeger lived his life every day in the possession of what he envisioned.
There is one song that to me expresses this vision almost perfectly, maybe the greatest of all the lyrics he wrote and in the performance on his mini-box set, A Link in the Chain, possibly his greatest recorded vocal performance. It is called “O, Had I A Golden Thread.” It’s sweet in a way the hard boys, left and right, fear, as they ought to. “Far over the waters I’d reach my magic band / To every human being so they would understand.” He makes it true. He makes those who hear him want to make it truer.
Without such a vision, the folk process that we talk about (or used to, before the scene shifted to singer-songwriters meditating on their inner lives—alas, almost never about the banality of them—and the preening cultists they attracted) isn’t worth much. But there is another question, which is whether Pete’s vision of freedom carries forward, whether it stands, whether it can be nurtured and sustained.
I am sure it will be and my conviction came, perhaps predictably, on  the last night of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s magnificent Woody Guthrie tribute in 1996. Pete already wasn’t singing very much—Arlo led the night’s final song, which you knew was going to be “This Land Is Your Land” before you ever saw a ticket. But you didn’t know that the whole cast, including many of the conference’s speakers, would be on stage leading the singing.
It had been a night of triumphs: For Ani DiFranco and the Indigo Girls, for Dave Pirner and Jimmy LaFave, Billy Bragg and Jack Elliott, Bruce Springsteen and Pete too. But the most powerful triumph was that group sing—above all for the spirit still embedded in a potential national anthem yearning for a country to become worthy of it. It floored me and really, it seemed like the moment caught everyone. John Wesley Harding and I, old friends, walked into the communal dressing room afterward, arms around each other’s shoulders, tears in our eyes.  And there was Pete, with tears in his eyes.
I think it was the first time I’d ever truly seen him. He was pleased, I understood, not so much that the night had carried Woody and what he represented forth in such grand fashion. What I remember seeing in Pete Seeger’s  eyes was a sense of relief. He knew something that night—if I’m right—something important about not just Woody’s work, but his own. Which meant also the work of all the people he’d learned from, and all those  who’d taught them, from the slaves who came up with “O Freedom” to Mother Bloor writing the labor history Woody made into music. He knew that folks would try to carry it on, in both spirit and substance.
That linkage is the golden thread and its purpose now is weaving the garment of human survival, which was the explicit theme of Pete Seeger’s last few decades on the planet.  A rainbow design without which we cannot live. A design that shows us why and how to keep the most important thing that Pete Seeger represents alive.
We cannot experience the full measure of what it means to lose Pete Seeger until we realize that this burden is not his to carry, anymore. Now, it’s on you. And me.
Got any bags you need carried?
(Thanks to Craig Werner, Danny Alexander, Daniel Wolff and Lee Ballinger, without whom grief might have overwhelmed coherence.)

What Kinds of Workers Deserve a Union?

by x365097

The standard of living for US workers has been stagnating or in decline for the last four decades despite enormous leaps in productivity. Labor unions, organizing on the shop floor to shut down production to enforce workers’ demands, are a well-proven and direct method of closing the gap between what workers want and what they get from their bosses. Yet labor unions today count under 8% of private sector workers and under 40% of public sector workers in their membership. Furthermore, public opinion often turns against those workers who risk their jobs and reputations to try and start up unions in their workplaces, calling them undeserving and a host of other insults. Is there anything in the history of unionism that explains why we see these self-defeating and contradictory behaviors playing themselves out at a time when workers need more than ever to come together to fight for common goals?

Looking back a century or earlier to the rise of labor unions as major force in industrialized countries, we see that some of the biggest unions (AFL in particular in the US) made no bones about setting their priorities on organizing and protecting highly trained and socially privileged workers (native-born white males in particular) not only from capitalist factory owners, but also against supposed threats “from below” in the form of immigrant workers; female workers; workers of ethnic, religious and racial minorities, and other relatively underprivileged workers. The arguable goal of these unions was to create a well-paid, elite class of “deserving workers” who were able, as a unified group, to put their needs ahead of other workers’ needs, sometimes aligning their interests with the employing class in the process. When it suited them, these unions would break each others’ strikes and generally do whatever it took to obtain for themselves, as they said, what they considered to be “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” even if it meant hurting other, supposedly less deserving workers along the way.

That is not what we in the IWW would call a broad-spectrum working class solidarity, but a perverse kind of unionism fueled by reaction, racism, sexism, nativism, and other prejudices. Most of all, though, it’s a unionism that doesn’t get to the root of the problem facing all workers, whether or not we inhabit traditionally privileged racial, gender, and other statuses. That is that capitalism, in allowing a 1% to 10% of social members to control, own, and unduly influence industry, thereby directly or indirectly ruling over the other 90% to 99%, creates at a structural or institutional level a permanent underclass of people who have fewer opportunities and greater hardships no matter what they do.

By contrast, the IWW and our similarly radical forebears have fought — even when it was illegal, for instance, for black and white workers to belong to the same unions — to have a totally unified class of working people: skilled and unskilled, male and female, with no one left out. We did this because it is not only just in itself, but also because it is the only strategic or logical method of liberating workers from the capitalists’ domination of modern society. Either we all stand united and on equal footing in opposition to the controllers of industry on the basis of class alone, or we will be divided and conquered from within our ranks and defeated, as has happened over and over again. (The reaction from certain subsets of the white working class against racial equality and integration in the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example, was arguably an important part of how the capitalist class was able to regain a strengthened hand after decades of working class organization and upsurges to bring us the overtly anti-worker, neoliberal regimes of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and so on from the 1980s to today.)

In 2014, more than 60 years after McCarthyism and the institutionalized purging of radicals from within mainstream labor unions, more than 50 years after the near-collapse of the IWW that followed it, and more than 40 years after average US wages reached their high point, labor radicals still struggle to overcome pro-capitalist union ideologies and reverse the class defeats which have plagued workers for far too long. In current IWW organizing campaigns, whether it is around the Sisters’ Camelot Union in Minnesota, the Insomnia Cookies Union in Massachusetts, or any number of other active shop-floor struggles, we IWWs still hear criticism regularly from people who consider themselves to be progressive or otherwise left-of center in comments such as, “I support unions, but not for these people. They work part-time and don’t have job skills!” Or they will tell us, “If you want better wages, get out of the fast food industry and go back to school!” We also hear these sorts of remarks around other contemporary struggles going on in the broader “Fight for 15” movement at McDonald’s and other large, highly profitable franchise chains.

Comments like these betray almost superstitious beliefs not only in an upward social and economic mobility that always had a low ceiling for the majority and no longer, in large measure, even exists, but also in a labor division and class system that is based on the notion that some workers deserve to be treated and paid badly by their employers — and indeed that there should be two separate employing and working classes to begin with (rather than, say, a cooperative system of industry in which this dichotomy is transcended). To IWWs, all workers deserve a union, and we believe that until all workers do organize into One Big Union, we can expect to see continued inequalities between “undeserving” workers (or so it is rationalized) who are stuck with jobs comprised of 90% disempowering tasks and low compensation and “deserving” workers (or so it is rationalized) who get to do the better jobs that carry more prestige and never involve undervalued but necessary “dirty work” like picking up trash, flipping burgers, or changing diapers. But most of all, there will be a capitalist class above both types of workers, keeping most of the fruits of our labor as their own private property and letting us fight amongst ourselves for the leftovers. The IWW exists to end these injustices and form a democratic society in which industry is operated according to need as determined by workers ourselves. Are you with us?

Insomnia Cookies Workers’ Union — Strike & Organizing Campaign Fundraiser, 22 January 2014, 7 PM

In August, employees of Cambridge, MA’s Insomnia Cookies struck, and joined the IWW. They were fed up with lousy pay and conditions. Their demands included $15/hr, health care, and a union, and they were swiftly terminated. Ever since, workers have stayed strong and maintained their struggle, which has grown into an organizing drive at the boutique cookie business.

Insomnia pays rock-bottom wages, charges $1.35 for cookies that cost the company $.10 to make, and refuses to pay workers’ compensation. Bike delivery workers report that if they get hurt in traffic, the boss’ response is, “Why are you late?” In response to a series of protests against the company’s labor practices, Insomnia falsely reported picketers were blocking the sidewalk in front of the Cambridge store, giving Harvard and Cambridge cops an excuse to bring police violence, and phony charges of assaulting cops, down on a union member.

Undeterred, the workers and their allies are keeping up pressure on the company with continuing pickets of local stores. Students at Harvard, BU and elsewhere have called for a boycott of the company. The National Labor Relations Board issued a Complaint against Insomnia for illegally firing workers for union activity. Recently SEIU Local 509 donated $1,000 to the campaign, a magnificent act of solidarity.

You can help too! Please join Insomnia strikers and their supporters at the Strike & Organizing Campaign Fundraiser, Wednesday January 22, starting at 7 pm, at the Center for Marxist Education, 550 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge (2nd floor), steps from the Central Square MBTA stop. If you can’t come to the event, please consider making a donation to the Insomnia Cookies Workers’ Organizing Fund, which is fueling the union drive.

How Much Democracy Can Exist Under Capitalism?

by x365097

In the western countries, we hear constantly from the ruling class about the virtues of democracy. In the US in particular, political democracy and the right to vote for elected representatives is often portrayed as one of the most important rights a citizen can have. US workers have even fought, killed, and died, at the ruling class’ command, numerous wars “to make the world safe for democracy.”

Alongside powerful moneyed interests, though, how powerful can political democracy be, and how important is the average working class person’s vote, really? Will candidates without money really be able to run campaigns which are as effective as those of their wealthier opponents? And won’t the wealthy and the candidates whom they support just continue to look out for their own interests, which aren’t the same as ours, and even are often opposed to ours? In other words, absent some other change in society outside of the political system, won’t the political process still be dominated in significant ways by the anti-democratic principle of one-dollar-one-vote instead of one-person-one-vote?

What Is Capitalism?

Let’s begin by defining what we mean by “capitalism.” Capitalism is a system of economic activity and social organization in which relatively few wealthy people, no more than 10% or so of the overall population (capitalists), own and control access to the industrial infrastructure (workplaces, factories, shops, etc.) that makes modern production and a safer and more comfortable lifestyle possible (indoor plumbing, heat and AC, abundant food, rapid transportation, etc.). Meanwhile, the vast majority of relatively poor people, the other 90% (workers), own almost nothing of economic relevance but their labor, or their ability to perform work (whether that work is considered “highly skilled” or more menial).

Under capitalism, goods and services are generated when workers’ labor, consisting of blood, sweat, tears, intellect, and time, is sold to capitalists (usually by the hour). The catch about capitalism, though, is that legally, the goods and services created by the workers immediately become the property of the capitalist, who may control and use them — selling them at a profit, for instance — as he or she wishes, and the workers have no binding say at all about how the earnings are distributed, or in what directions production and development are shaped. “Let the market decide,” say the capitalists, which is easy for them because guess who controls it!

Although the capitalist must — according to minimum wage and similar laws, if you are lucky enough to live in a country which has them — return at least some portion of the proceeds to the workers, he or she will typically try to keep as much of the rest as possible for herself or himself. Indeed, capitalists must turn as much profit as possible to stay ahead of other capitalists, who are always trying to expand, to control more and more of the marketplace, and to reduce others to working for them (making them their wage slaves) instead of being their competitors. In this way, a permanent underclass of workers is created, while a ruling class of capitalists becomes empowered to live large and rule society — including its political system.

Political Rights and Economic Rights

Now, let’s reconsider how much democracy is currently in our lives. To start, we could loosely define democracy as the idea that the majority or a supermajority rules — because people can and should collectively rule our own lives and make their own decisions in all aspects of our lives. The capitalist ruling class wants to limit this idea as much as possible, keeping our voting options restricted only to candidates who are fundamentally as similar as possible, primarily in the most important idea that they all support the perpetuation of the capitalist economy, the capitalists’ ownership and control of the industrial infrastructure and the wealth that is generated from it. From fascists to progressives, this is what we find, though what differs is are the shades and types of charity that are mixed in. And while some charity is better than none, whether it is in the form of private, voluntary contributions, or government-mandated, redistributive taxation, it can never be considered a complete or root-level solution to the capitalist-worker tension (which stems from the capitalist ownership and control of the means of production, the equipment of industry).

So maybe the popular concept of democracy needs to be expanded more widely from being just a political idea to an economic one as well. As a citizen, you have some political rights (see above), but as a worker, what are your economic rights? Without a union which can fight for your class interests, starting on the shop floor, you have very few, and the few that you have, granted by the capitalist state itself, only came from peace treaties that the state had to sign to placate very strong labor unions in the past who struggled extremely militantly to win better standards for future generations of workers. As long as capitalism exists, those rights are always in jeopardy, and whether your boss is friendly or horrible, the basic rules still apply: the boss has the last say, always, and he or she can enforce it with a firing.

Democracy Begins at Work — and in Your Union

If radical democracy, a democracy which relieves us of the worker-capitalist tension, must come from outside of the political system, how exactly will it come? Considering that the anchor of anti-democratic interests is the capitalist workplace, this is where workers should start to gain the leverage we need to move from powerless, to a counter-power, to the ruling power — en masse, as a union. But the type of union organization we choose is important, as not all unions have the same methods and interests.

For example, many of the largest unions (unfortunately), such as the AFL, have not only long upheld capitalism explicitly, but they have also long been accused of being exclusive in their member selection practices and member treatment for the purpose of trying to create elite groups of privileged workers who, on the basis of ethnicity, race, gender, religion, and other affiliations, are able to maintain economic advantages over other, supposedly less deserving workers — and even scabbing against, or purposely breaking the strikes of, competing labor unions. Since one of the hallmarks of capitalist oppression is increasing and fomenting divisions among workers along racial, gender, and other lines (Nazi Germany and other fascist states being stark examples of this kind of attempt to replace class struggle with race struggle), we can say that this behavior is more in line with what we would expect from capitalists than what would best serve workers on the whole.

Additionally, the standard organizing model for such unions is a top-down approach in which workers pay sometimes fairly high dues to salaried union staffers who may or may not have an incentive to push for what the workers want, or even really to listen to them. Indeed, there have been numerous instances in modern history in which unionized workers had to strike against their union bosses’ orders to get what they needed, just as they had to strike against the capitalist bosses.

Organizing with the IWW

There are alternatives to the concessions-happy, capitalist business unions. Instead, imagine a member-run union without paid staff*, which makes almost all of its decisions by a direct vote of all the members, which charges dues amounting to less than 1% of its members’ wages, and whose intention it is to organize every worker in every industry everywhere for a common purpose, that purpose being to end war, pollution, economic inequality, capitalism. That union is the IWW, or the Industrial Workers of the World. We seek better conditions and pay in the short term, and the abolition of the wage system, or capitalism, when we have become strong and united enough to put an end to it. IWWs believe that workers don’t need bosses and that we can and deserve to inherit the world’s industrial systems in order to use them to provide for each others’ needs as we determine them to be. As a worker, the choice is yours, but it requires commitment. Are you with us?

*except for the general treasurer, an annually elected official who receives a small stipend for her or his year of service, and who loses her or his vote within the union for that year in exchange for the compensation.