By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
The Industrial Workers of the World formed in 1905 amid labor struggles for minimum wage, sick pay and eliminating child labor. Rather than attempting to organize one specialized field of labor the IWW formed one big union where everyone works together. With the same mindset the IWW crossed lines of trade, race and gender to bring everyone together for mutual benefit. IWW organizers point out that by extending their hand to all; the benefits to an individual best reach the greater community.
In Phoenix and around the United States the IWW continues to strive for better conditions. The IWW goal of workplaces run for the benefit of workers and communities rather than for a handful of bosses and executives is more important than ever in the light of outsourced jobs, the increasing pay gap between executives and employees and government rewards for corporate leaders like bailouts.
Workers need to have a say in the conditions they deal with every day but often don’t feel they have any power. When asked to work with dangerous equipment and chemicals or facing grievances in the workplace due to race or gender it’s important to realize others care about this. Instead of workers suffering alone, with little hope of a fix, the IWW tries to find ways to bring people together and make solutions happen. These changes benefit both current and future employees. Often similar workplaces are affected by these changes as the best workers will gravitate to the best employer. Workers will look for employers who not just provide the highest wage but the safest workplace and one who they are sure will treat them with basic respect.
The One Big Union approach is important in preventing an employer from pitting one set of workers against another set of workers in the same industry. When competing for benefits like healthcare, fair wages, or sick time it’s important to stand together. If one group of employees sees benefits decrease its often going to affect another down the line in a domino progression. The IWW member run approach seeks to prevent the corruption charges many traditional union structures face when a shop steward might be in line for a raise or promotion in exchange for a contract that hurts employees.
Many employees are led to believe it is illegal to talk about union organizing. The IWW encourages workers to learn their rights. They point out you have a legal right to organize to improve your working conditions. Companies have often waged union busting drives. In response IWW offers a range of organizer trainings for workers who want to learn how to organize in their industry.
The IWW has a long track record of success. In 2004, an IWW union organized in a New York City Starbucks; this spread into Chicago and seems to be responsible for workers getting Martin Luther King Day holiday pay. In another campaign, the IWW organized short haul truck drivers in Stockton, California walked off their jobs and went on strike and nearly all demands were met. The City of Berkeley recycling is picked up, sorted, processed and sent out all through two different IWW organized enterprises. In New York City, the IWW has been organizing immigrant foodstuffs workers since 2005. The workers at these warehouses made gains such as receiving minimum wage and being paid overtime.
The IWW has been very active recently in supporting the Occupy movement, which has highlighted the growing wealth divide between the average worker and upper management, and joining with workers to support union rights at Walmart. Phoenix IWW organizer Dan Hulsey at the recent Black Friday Walmart protest noted “We stand in solidarity with all working class people who are fed up with the disrespect from employers… who are ready to confront their employers- the companies that prosper so much from the work they do; who underappreciate the employees without whom there’d be no company, no profit. We stand with those who are ready to confront the ills of an economic structure that sets up the need for a working class to exploit…”
Meet members of the Phoenix IWW Saturday February 2nd 6pm at Aside of Heart in Phoenix. They will hold a public discussion ranging from IWW history, current labor campaigns and how best to protect yourself on the job when trying to resolve conflicts.