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(en) US, Vermont, Workers Of Montpelier Unite! by Green Mountain Aanarchist Collective

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://nefac.northernhacking.org)
Date Sat, 17 Jan 2004 23:40:11 +0100 (CET)


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Email: greencollective (at) chek.com - links and pictures on web site
While Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean pays
lipservice to the struggles of working people around the
country, workers are taking matters into their own hands in
the capitol of Vermont. In the city where Mr. Dean once
reigned as governor, retail and service workers are busy
organizing a citywide union that would unite workers in
restaurants and retail operations and build working class
power on the job and in the community.
The United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of
America (UE) in collaboration with The Vermont Workers'
Center have, for months, dilligently worked to bring the city's
unorganized workers into a union that woulde represent
cooks alongside cashiers, servers together with movie
theater concesion stand clerks and bartenders next to coffee
house workers. The organizing drive seeks to gain union
representation in every single shop in this small capitol city
of 8000.

Rank and file workers in well over a dozen downtown shops
have come together in an organizing comittee to bring the
Montpelier Downtown Workers' Union into existence. To
date a majority of workers at J Morgan's Steakhouse, La
Pizzeria, State Street Market, Charlie O's, Karma Imports
and the Savoy Theatre have signed up with the union. These
workers have demanded that their employers recognize the
union and sign a contract that entitles the workers to a fair
grievance procedure, a fifty cent an hour raise, and a "just
cause" standard for disciplne and firing.

Recognizing that National Labor Relations Board elections
are just another tool in the hands of the boss, organizers
have refused to file for elections. The elections which often
take months to occurr, give management ample time to
create an atmosphere of intimidation and fear at the
workplace. Instead of allowing for employers to stack the
elections, organizers have decided upon an approach where
Montpelier Downtown Workers' Union will ask for voluntary
recognition in shops where a majority of workers have
signed up with the union. If they refuse to recognize the
union, a concerted campaign of action and pressure will
convince the boss otherwise.

In an interview with Catamount Tavern News (a publication
of The Green Mountain Anarchist Collective), Vermont
Workers' Center Director James Haslam laid down the facts,
"The bosses and employers are well organized. They have
the Chamber of Comerce and the Downtown Business
Organization. With this in mind the workers need their own
organization. When workers form a union, they are able to
have the space to get together to figure out how to address
issues which affect them. In Montpelier, they are starting to
not only discuss specific workplace issues of fairness and
equitable treatment, but also things that transcend these
specifics, like healthcare, parking for workers and affordable
housing."

Of the six aformentioned shops where workers have
demanded union recognition only one, The Savoy (an
independent movie theater and video shop), has so far
voluntarily recognized the union and signed a contract. It's
clear that the unionization of the entire city of Montpelier
will not be won without a struggle.

At J Morgan's, an upscale restaurant which employs over 40
people, management has gone great length to combat the
efforts of their workers to win union representation. The
Bashara family, owners of J Morgan's and about half a dozen
other Central Vermont businesses, have intimidated and
harrased workers, threatening them with dismissaif they
joined the union, offering bribes of meals and pay increases
if they opposed the union drive, and coercing them to reveal
the names of union organizers and prospective members.
They have fired at least one server to date, Val Tofani , for
her unwavering pro-union stance and have awarded
pro-union employees with the worst shifts and hours in an
effort to break their morale. In addition, they have aquired
the legal services of a notorious union busting firm based in
Burlington, Galagher and Flynn, which specializes in "union
avoidance."

The actions of the Bashara family and J Morgan's
management are not unique in their intent, but rather are a
reflection of the attitude many downtown business owners
and the area's upper middle class in general. Owners of
businesses who were considering recognizing the union,
recieved phone calls from peers who told them, "Don't you
dare sign that contract." Workers at several area cafes were
told they couldn't speak to a union organizer while on the
clock, even if they weren't talking about the union. After the
anouncment of the citywide organizing drive the mayor of
Montpelier, Chuck Karparis, immediately chimed in with a
few condescending comments on the matter. "I think a
citywide union is totally unnecessary for this community," he
said. "Yet again, we're drawn into something that is being
proposed that will absolutely have a negative effect on
businesses downtown."

WORKERS FIGHT BACK!


While some workers have responded to the backlash with
silence or apathy, many of the workers of downtown
Montpelier have stepped up to the union bashing activities of
bosses and politicians with solidarity and determination. In
response to Mayor Karparis' attempt to whip up fear and
resentment towards Montpelier Downtown Workers' Union,
rank and file workers circulated letter in responsea to his
comments that was eventualy published in a local paper.

On November 12th, over fifty workers and community
members, held a candlelight vigil in front of J Morgan's
demanding the Bashara family to recognize the union and
give Val Tofani her job back. One week later over thirty
individuals participated in a clandestine "coffee-in" to turn
up the heat on management a little. Union supporters filled
up nearly all the tables of J Morgan's during the friday dinner
rush and ordered nothing but coffee for almost two hours.
One waitress, not known for her pro-union stance, later
remarked that it was one of her best night in tips ever.

Over a two week period downtown workers and volunteers
with The Vermont Workers' Center knocked on doors and
made their way around downtown, collecting over 700
signatures in support of the union drive. One canvaser and
member of the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective, spent
an afternoon talking to folks in the working class
neighborhood of Barre Street about the unionization effort.
When all was said and done only three people declined to
sign the petition. Recently the Vermont Workers' Center
took out a full page ad in the local weekly paper, The Bridge,
listing the over 700 signatures in support of the union.

On December 6th, a day of worker justice prevailed amidst a
blizzard that shut down much of the Northeast. Over 200
rank and file workers, union organizers and activists made
their way to a statewide labor conference and later
participated in a fierce rally against the boss aggression of J
Morgan's management. Under cover of heavy snow
demonstrators screamed out, "Working class under attack,
what do we do? Act up, fight back." With a few anti-union J
Morgan's workers in the background three J Morgan's
employees and other downtown workers spoke out in favor
of the union.

After the rally around fifty folks continued on for a round fun
solidarity activities. Union supporters and members had a
pizza party at La Pizzeria to send a message to the boss,
that were not going anywhere and he might as well recognize
the union, because it'll be better for his business in the long
run. Afterwards the crowd made their way to the local
working class bar of Charlie O's for union happy hour (OK,
so it was actually 2 in the afternoon, but happy hour starts
early when theres a blizzard on). There workers and
supporters drank beer and whiskey to warm up and got into a
couple spirited debates with folks on the bar stools who
were in some way opposed to the downtown union effort.
Afterwards some union supporters went to the Savoy for
union movie night (or to pay off the fines on their rental
accounts), while others continued to get their drink on into
the early hours of the morning. All in all, it was a beautiful
day of cameraderie and struggle, with amazing energy and
turnout amidst the first truly big storm of the season.

The following wednesday a busload of fifty folks got on the
bus for Boston to take the struggle for a downtown union to
another level. A rally had been sponsored in Boston by the
AFL-CIO against the NLRB and their workplace election
scam. There around 7,000 trade unionists rallied for "card
check recognition" which would eliminate NLRB elections in
favor of a system by which unions would be recognized if
over 50% of a workplace signed union cards. From the
Montpelier Downtown Workers' Union, Val Tofani gave a
moving and emotional speech ffrom the stage at the rally. It
was the first time to our knowledge that she had spoke in
front of a crowd let alone a crowd of thousands and she
provided a moving example to all Montpelier Downtown
Workers. Instead of being pressured into silence and
submission by the union busting at J Morgan's she is
determined to take the struggle further, even doing things
that would normaly scare the crap out of most of us like
speaking in front of thousands of people.

Througout the holiday season, we've kept up the pressure.
During the height of the holiday shoping spree, a feisty group
of carolers belted out a unique assortment of class struggle
themed Christmas carols in front and inside J Morgan's, to
the dismay of management. However management found
that rable rousing carolers were to be the least of their
worries when none other than Santa Claus showed up a few
days before Christmas. Old Saint Nick made an appearence
during a busy lunch rush to give the Bashara Corporation,
"The Grinch of The Year Award" and to drop off a gift
wraped package of coal. The manager on duty was infuriated
and physicaly acosted Santa while informing Father
Christmas that he would "drop him" outside. Santa then went
on to give out candy to all the good workers and small
business owners who are supportive of the union. We
always suspected that Santa dressed in red and black for a
reason!

THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES...

While many inspiring (and amusing) actions have taken
place in support of the union, the road to success is ,by no
means, free of obstacles. This winter will be a decisive time
for the city's working class to move the project forward.
Much work remains to be done to build the organizing
committee into a more solid group, to cut through the
atmosphere of intimidation and fear that some area bosses
have worked hard to create and to to sign up new workers
and shops with the union.

To these ends, The Green Mountain Anarchist Collective
(Vermont-NEFAC), has thrown our lot into the struggle. We
published a leaflet titled, Union + Town Meeting =
Democracy: A Statement From The Green Mountain
Anarchist Collective , and distributed hundreds of copies
around Central Vermont. As a collective, we individualy play
different roles to support the struggle, organize and agitate.
Some of us volunteer with the Vermont Workers' Center
while one of us is a rank and file member of the union and
another is a mother of two outspoken downtown union
workers. We have no illusions as to the centrality of our
importance in the organizing drive. Rather than seeing
ourselves as some sort of self-apointed vanguard we just
see ourselves as a group of people who can coordinate
needed support work and organizing efforts while advocating
for the anarcho-communist ideals of direct democracy and
socialism. As both anarchists and life long members of the
working class we understand that it will be the working
class itself who forwards its own struggle for liberation. Our
role is simply to act as agitators, educators and organizers
towards those ends.

On the horizon there are several exciting possible
developments. Recently UE has filed a slew of unfair labor
practices charges against the Bashara corporation and J
Morgan's steakhouse. An NLRB agent has come to
Monpelier to investigate the charges and within the next
week we hope that they will make a ruling penalizing
management for their union busting activities. As well, with
the first shop, The Savoy, signing the union contract, we
hope to see a few others follow suit now that they don't have
to stand out as the first business to sign the contact. With
an organizing drive this ambitious in a city that is this small
you never know what will happen next! Keep your eyes
posted to the NEFAC newswire for new devlopments and
exciting news about the struggle to build working class
power in the Green Mountains of Vermont.

SOME RELATED ARTICLES:

Class Struggle In The Green Mountains: The Vermont
Workers' Center By Lady (GMAC)

Union + Town Meeting= Democracy: A Statement From The
Green Mountain Anarchist Collective

Montpelier Downtown Workers Organize Union(Burlington
Free Press)

Workers At 5 Businesses Eye Union Drive(Times Argus)
See also:
http://nefac.northernhacking.org/newswire/display/913/index.php

http://www.ainfos.ca/04/jan/ainfos00029.html
(en) US, Montpelier, Vermont, Union + Town Meeting = Democracy
Workers of Montpelier Step Forward - History Calls! by GMAC



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