Review of Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance

by Joe Burns

LoW fcover pf5

Many times in discussing labor issues the tendency is to focus on policy issues or major events far removed from the workplace. In Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance, a couple dozen workers from the US, Canada and Great Britain, loosely affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, seek to turn the conversation in a different direction—to tell stories of work and the workplace. Sometimes they talk about workplace struggles and resistance; sometimes they talk about their jobs and work. There is something refreshing about this approach.

The book contains over thirty chapters with stories ranging from a warehouse worker’s fight against speedup to a clerical worker’s struggle to make her liberal boss at small non-profit understand her class privilege to a liquor store worker’s organizing against sexual harassment. Some of the stories are about organizing campaigns, such as Starbuck workers, others are about personal battles with victories as small as getting workers to celebrate each other’s birthdays over the boss’ objection. All, however, are up close and personal and share a common perspective that talking about time spent at work is important.

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Berkeley Ecology Center battles their workers over the “oldest existing IWW contract in the known universe”

by Marc Norton

Brothers and sisters from the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) put in a lot of legwork on the Hotel Frank picket line, so it was only natural that I responded to their call to join an IWW picket line at the Berkeley Ecology Center last Thursday, January 10.  The Ecology Center brags on its website that they “provide good, green-collar jobs.”  Try telling that to the thirty workers and supporters who were on the picket line last Thursday.

The IWW has had a contract with the Ecology Center since 1989, but it looks like it might be a fight when that contract expires on February 1.  The San Francisco Bay Area Branch of the IWW may not have the clout of the venerable AFL-CIO, but they ain’t pushovers either.  According to Bruce Valde, the Branch Secretary, the Ecology Center contract is the “oldest existing IWW contract in the known universe.”

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Immigrant Workers Prevail in Workplace Justice Campaign at Brooklyn Hummus Producer

Brandworkers

Large settlement and code of conduct represent biggest victory yet in Focus on the Food Chain campaign to improve New York City’s food processing and distribution sector

New York, NY- After enduring a withering worker-led campaign, Flaum Appetizing, a prominent producer and distributor of hummus and other kosher food products, has accepted a global settlement which will return $577,000 in unpaid wages and other compensation to workers and subject the Brooklyn-based factory to a binding code of conduct protecting workplace rights. The victory comes after the workers’ group, Focus on the Food Chain, in partnership with Orthodox social justice organization, Uri L’Tzedek, persuaded over 120 grocery store locations in New York City to stop selling Flaum products, including its Sonny & Joe’s hummus, until workers’ rights were respected. The win is the biggest yet for Focus on the Food Chain, a joint effort of Brandworkers and the NYC Industrial Workers of the World, dedicated to creating good jobs and a sustainable food system in New York City’s food processing and distribution sector.

“More than anything, I want fellow workers in the food factories and warehouses to know that there is real power in coming together and struggling together,” said Maria Corona, a Focus on the Food Chain member and Flaum worker who had been illegally fired. “We won the respect we deserve and you can too.”

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Labor Board Ruling in Favor of Jimmy John’s Workers–A Big Win for Labor

by Eric M. Fink

In a win for labor, an NLRB Administrative Law Judge has ruled that management at a Minneapolis Jimmy John’s franchisee committed multiple unfair labor practices against workers involved in a union organizing effort. The judge ordered the company to reinstate and pay full back wages to six workers who were illegally fired, and to rescind written warnings that were illegally issued to three other workers.

The illegal firings and warnings came in the wake of a campaign by the Industrial Workers of World to organize workers at 10 Jimmy John’s stores operated by the francishee, MikLin Enterprises. In a representation election conducted by the NLRB in October 2010, employees narrowly voted against IWW representation by an 85-87 margin. However, after the IWW filed objections and unfair labor practice charges based on the employer’s pre-election conduct, the union and the company agreed to a settlement under which the IWW may seek a rerun election.

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Cry for “Bread & Roses” Still Resonates 100 Years After the Lawrence Strike:

by Steve Early

Textile strikers confront Massachusetts militiamen in 1912.

One hundred years ago this week, thousands of angry textile workers abandoned their looms and poured into the frigid streets of Lawrence, Massachusetts.  Like Occupy Wall Street in our own gilded age, this unexpected grassroots protest cast a dramatic spotlight on the problem of social and economic inequality. In all of American labor history, there are few better examples of the synergy between radical activism and indigenous militancy.

The work stoppage now celebrated as the “Bread and Roses Strike” was triggered, ironically, by a Progressive-era reform that backfired.  Well-meaning state legislators had just reduced the maximum allowable working hours for women and children from 56 to 54 hours per week. When this reduction went into effect, workers quickly discovered that their pay had been cut proportionately, and their jobs speeded up by the American Woolen Company and other firms.
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Organizing on Wobbly Ground: Learning from ‘Solidarity Unionism at Starbucks’

By Adam Kadar

The decline of unions does not mean the end of the labor movement. Indeed, the last few years have seen a proliferation of new kinds of worker organizations and workers’ rights campaigns. Some of the most exciting of late have been conducted by community-based groups (rather than workplace-based unions), such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and those part of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
In Solidarity Unionism at Starbucks, a recent pamphlet published by PM Press, Daniel Gross and Staughton Lynd highlight an increasingly important feature of today’s labor movement—nonunion workers using direct action strategies protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)—while examining the Industrial Workers of the World’s (IWW)’s ongoing efforts to organize Starbucks.

During the last decade, Chicago-based IWW has seen a resurgence of organizing activity and visibility. That’s in part because the 106-year-old international union, which once had 100,000 members but is now only a fraction of that size, formed the Starbucks Workers Union (SWU) in 2004 in New York City. It was the coffee chain’s first union, and it has since expanded.
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