Recession: Time to Organize

In celebrating the spiffy, new look, Machete408 brings you this agitational piece writen by a leader in the national messenger industry organizing campaign of the IWW…. “Todo el poder al pueblo” -AW

Poderalpueblo.jpg picture by adam_freedom

Recession: Time to Organize


by Mykke Holcomb, IWW


We started this year in the middle of the hardest economic times we’ve seen in decades. The real estate bubble popped, followed by the dissolution of longstanding financial institutions, the subsequent doling-out of taxpayer money to bail them out, and THEN the gouging of a weakened U.S. workforce. Tens of thousands of workers are now jobless, and thousands more lining up behind them every week. All industries are feeling the pinch with this crisis.

In our precarious workforce, we now find ourselves on even shakier ground than before. With no net to fall back on, many are laying low to hold on to what they’ve got. Many workers who’ve been laid off have justified their bosses cutting them loose, naively assuming that their employers simply couldn’t afford to keep paying them. Most truckers know better. We know better than most how much money we generate for our bosses and the coporations, and how little we see of it. For example, as Citigroup sacked 30,000 of its workers, it would come as no surprise to us that just the year before, its CEO raked in $15,105,376 (1). As Sotheby’s so desperately sought to save $7 million to stay afloat by cutting a quarter of its U.S. workforce, we might have guessed that its CEO pocketed $10,341,357 in that same year (2). And of course we’re not shocked to find that Richard K. McClelland, Director and Chairman of the Board of courier industry giant Dynamex, took home $1,222,513 (3).

There is no good reason these lay-offs should be occurring. There is no good reason we should catch the brunt of a recession we did not create. We created the profits the bosses and companies are protecting when they fire us. Or when they cut our pay and benefits. Or when they give us less work. And then of course we’re expected to understand. The figures above should suffice to explain why usually our hardship is not necessary. But nonetheless, you may wonder what we can do about it. Working people have an inspiring history of struggle and victories, even in times of recession. In fact, in these tougher times it is all the more vital for us to be organized. To accept defeat now will only hurt us more later. In this historic time, we may find history has valuable lessons for us.

Our current recession has been compared to the onset of the Great Depression that began in the late 1920s. The Great Depression was a time of increased union activity and worker militance. When unemployment soared, rather than hunkering down and hoping for the best, workers stood their ground and fought back.

  During this time, Teamsters in Minneapolis had organized an industrial union of truckers where there had been almost no union presence before.  What union did exist was very small, divided by craft, and hindered by a dead-weight bureaucracy. This situation allowed the power to stay in the hands of the employers, and the prospect of making gains didn’t look good. But the rank-and-file organized and fought for representation of all workers in the industry. In 1934, when the bosses refused to recognize the union, they went on strike, and many of the city’s workers followed. For weeks the city was at a standstill, and what did function was at the strikers’ call. They allied with farmers, the unemployed and the local public to strengthen support, and so that the bosses couldn’t break the strike with scab labor. Decisions were made democratically, putting the rank-and-file in control of their own fight.

   After a pitched battle that lasted weeks, the truckers won. The victory was a turning point, not only for the truckers, but for the city’s workers in general. From then on labor had a strong voice where before it had nearly none (4).

   Around the same time in Detroit, IWW auto workers at the Hudson Motor Car Company were successfully using the sit-down strike to push their wages up. “‘Sit down and watch your pay go up’ was the message that rolled down the assembly line on strikers that had been fastened to pieces of work. The steady practiceof the sitdown raised wages 100% (from $.75 an hour to $1.50) in the middle of a depression.” (5)

   Today as then, as the economy recesses and bosses respond by threatening wages and jobs, many are taking the hint and standing their ground. The airline industry has been especially hot throughout the world recently, with more and more job actions fighting lay-offs and other grievances. IWW truckers are fighting back. Even Starbucks baristas are making gains!

Just this last December, UE workers at the Republic Doors and Windows factory in Chicago stood up and made history. The owners of the factory had been secretly moving operations out of state where they could employ cheaper, non-union workers. The factory’s 260 workers were given three days’ notice that it was closing. And the company’s primary lender, Bank of America, had just gotten $25 billion in bail-out money but refused to lend any longer, thus denying the workers what they were legally owed. Not only would they be out of a job right before Christmas, but they would not get the vacation pay they had earned, and would not receive the severance they were due.

So the workers stood together and sat down, in the first factory occupation in the US since the 1930s. They demanded their vacation pay and their severance, and that the bank fork over the money they owed. “You got bailed out, we got sold out” was the cry of the strikers as they took on a behemoth, and it resonated far and wide. Support poured in from all over the world. It electrified labor and inspired millions. Even the mainstream press could not ignore it, and politicians lined up for their photo-ops and speeches of support. After only six days, they won their demands.

Many workers are in a much stronger position to win than many of us think. We know that without us the economy would not function. Goods would be moved, students would not be educated, food would not be served. And we’ve seen how when folks in other industries got together and flexed their collective muscles, even in times of cutbacks and job scarcity, they’ve gotten results. Even our bosses, who compete with each other, are organized. They’ve organized throughout the industry–even internationally–to protect their interests. Why haven’t we?

If we don’t do something now, it may soon be too late. Stand up for yourself and your fellow workers everywhere. Now is the time to organize more than ever. And now is the time that we need a democratic and fighting union movement. Isn’t it time you joined the One Big Union?


(1), (2), and (3):
(4) Subterranean Fire by Sharon Smith. Haymarket Books 2006.
(5) IWW website:





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