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(en) ILS* Bulletin #1 (February 2004) - Anarchists Lead Successful Union Fight at Local Movie Theater - by North-Eastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC) USA & Canada

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sat, 20 Mar 2004 12:17:28 +0100 (CET)


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Boston has a rich history of anarchism and class warfare.
Unfortunately, at least until recently, the days of anarchist
influence within labor struggles was exactly that: a relic of the
past. The last time an anarchist had played an influential role in a
successful Boston-based labor struggle was in 1938, when Rose
Pesotta led a strike to organize over a thousand women
dressmakers. Since then, anarchism has been defined mainly as a
counter-culture or form of identity politics, with very little
relevancy to the everyday struggles of the working class in this city.

Earlier this year, a handful of us from NEFAC took our activity a
step beyond supporting the struggles of others, and set out to
organize our own workplace. For the first time in nearly seventy
years anarchist militants would be at the forefront of a class
struggle in the Boston area, successfully leading a campaign for
unionization using explicitly anarchist strategies, tactics, and
methods of organizing. Although we are humble to the fact that
our efforts fall far short of the scale and magnitude of Rose
Pesotta's work with the International Ladies Garment Workers
Union, we recognize that the success of the 'Pissed Off
Projectionists' to organize workers at the Somerville Theatre
represents an important turning point for class struggle anarchism
in our city.
With A Workplace Like This, Who Wouldn't Be Pissed?

The story of the 'Pissed Off Projectionists' began over a year ago
in Somerville, a traditionally blue-collar city just north of Boston.
At the time, there were only two projectionists working at the local
theater. Both were making minimum wage ($6.75/hr), receiving
no benefits, and consistently putting in 50-hour weeks. The
projection booths were dimly lit, poorly ventilated, and extremely
hot. Repeated pleas for equipment repairs, control over
scheduling, or even minimal pay raises were consistently ignored,
or else outright refused. To top things off, the boss had recently
instructed the manager to hire more projectionists and cut back
hours in an attempt to avoid overtime pay. Unfortunately for our
boss, as open positions began to be filled by personal
recommendations by one of the original projection workers,
almost half of the projectionists would now be revolutionary
anarcho-communists. With a solid core now in place, the process
of organizing would soon be in full swing.
Trade Unionism vs. Workplace Resistance Group: Bridging A
False Dichotomy

After spending months convincing our co-workers of the need to
organize, all but one of the seven projectionists signed cards for
union representation. We presented our demand for recognition on
April 30th along with a strike deadline of 6pm the next day (May
Day). In order to maximize the effectiveness of the campaign and
move beyond the limiting trade union structure, a few of us went a
step further and decided to organize ourselves into a workplace
resistance group ('Pissed Off Projectionists'), so as to better be
able to coordinate our activities as an explicitly radical pole. We
felt this to be necessary for a number of reasons:

1. Independence and Self-Activity
It is only through the revolutionary self-activity of the working
class that isolated class struggles can be generalized into a
genuinely anti-capitalist movement, and in order to achieve this
we must continue to build forms of self-organization that are able
to go beyond existing trade union structure. (How's that for some
dense theoretical reasoning?) On a more practical level, there will
be periods of class conflict where rank-and-file workers will need
to be prepared to fight not only the bosses in the workplace, but
also the union bureaucrats who seek to hold them back (and often
sell them out). Why wait for the inevitable to happen before
establishing alternative structures within the existing union body?
It is important for radical workers to band together in order to
effectively assert themselves among the rank-and-file, and create a
"dual power" relationship with the official union leadership.
2. Militancy
A workplace resistance group is not a legally recognized body,
has no financial assets, and is not accountable to anyone outside
of the workers directly involved in a given workplace. Slow-downs,
sabotage, sick-ins, non-cooperation, unsanctioned pickets,
anti-boss actions, and direct action against scabs should all be on
the table as possible tactics to be used during labor disputes, and it
is through workplace resistance groups that such tactics can be
carried out and applied to a larger strategy for developing workers'
autonomy.
3. Political Identity
Throughout the duration of our organizing campaign at the
Somerville Theatre it was important for us to be honest about our
political affiliations. We wanted to win using explicitly anarchist
tactics and strategies, and we wanted to do so in a tactful, yet very
public, way. Basic propaganda-through-example. However, we
had to use caution in how closely these affiliations were linked
directly to our union. This was another area where it was
important for us to be able to coordinate our activities
semi-autonomously.

What was interesting in our particular campaign was how easily
the lines between seemingly contradictory forms of organizing
became blurred and developed into a highly effective labor
strategy. Official representation from an AFL-CIO trade union
certainly gave our struggle a sense of legitimacy in the eyes of the
larger labor community, which was extremely important (ex:
unionized UPS drivers would not cross our picket line to make
deliveries). Also, we had access to legal protection that would
otherwise have been unavailable to us. Fighting it out in labor
court with our boss was hardly the road we wanted to take, but it
was definitely to our benefit to have a union lawyer able to file
'unfair labor practice' suits, challenge the legality of hiring
unlicensed scabs to run the projectors, and eventually negotiate a
fair contract on our behalf. This helped to keep our boss constantly
on the defensive and allowed us to sustain an aggressive fight and
keep the upper hand at all times.

While this was all taking place, those of us from the 'Pissed Off
Projectionists' were more or less left to ourselves and given a free
hand in running the day-to-day aspects of the campaign. We
organized our own pickets, rallies, leafleting and phone actions.
We developed our own support networks, distributed our own
propaganda, and maintained our own public relations. Towards
the end of the campaign, when negotiations began to break down,
because of the semi-autonomous nature of our organizing we were
able to step up the antagonism against our boss in a big way and
eventually pushed him to the point that he agreed to cave on
practically all the union's demands so long as he would be free of
the anarchist menace!
Solidarity is Our Greatest Weapon

One of the most inspiring aspects of this struggle has been the
wide support we have received from trade unionists, activist
groups and members of the surrounding community. Being
members of NEFAC, an anarchist federation that spans the
northeast of the US and Canada and has ties to the international
anarchist movement, also had its perks. On a regional level,
members were able to publicize our struggle in their respective
cities and unions, put together strike fund benefits, and most
importantly, offer strategic advice. Calls to the boss flooded in
from throughout the region (and some from halfway across the
globe!), and letters of solidarity arrived from a variety of North
American unions and internationally from anarcho syndicalist
comrades affiliated with the CNT-Vignoles (France) and FAU
(Germany), among others.

Locally, support from NEFAC was crucially important. In Boston,
and the surrounding areas, NEFAC is fairly strong with six
affiliated collectives and an overall membership of about two
dozen people. Additionally, comrades from another local anarchist
group called BAAM! (not affliated with NEFAC) were also very
supportive. Our union local is still scratching their heads trying to
figure out how we could maintain daily pickets and consistently
bring out 60-80 people for larger rallies and weekend demos!
Being on strike or locked-out for an extended period of time is
very draining, both financially and psychologically. It would have
been very difficult to maintain a strong and consistent fight from
our side without the backing of Boston's anarchist community.
Victory With a Price Tag

After striking for a week and being locked out for over ten weeks
we emerged victorious in our struggle for union recognition. The
boss agreed to voluntarily recognize the union, sign a two-year
contract, and pay full back wages to all locked-out employees.
Under the current contract, the starting wage for projectionists is
now in accordance with (and fixed to) the Somerville Living Wage
Ordinance (currently $9.55/hr), which is a 40% increase; all
full-time employees will be offered health benefits and vacation;
and most importantly, the Somerville Theatre is now a 'union
shop' for projectionists, which allows for more control over the
work environment by the workers themselves and preference for
hiring new employees in the hands of the union.

Although this was a clear victory, it was a victory that came at a
price. Through out the dispute at the Somerville Theatre, there
were many attempts by the boss's lawyer to 'red bait' certain
projectionists by publicizing the fact that some of us are
anarchists. It became clear that the management of the Somerville
Theatre did not want some of us to return to work specifically
because of our political beliefs. Rather than further stall the
contract negotiations, we agreed to voluntarily step aside and be
replaced by other union projectionists in order to ensure a speedy
resolution that would benefit all. In exchange we have been
provided the opportunity to work in other Boston-area theaters
where projectionists are organized through IATSE.

In the end it was not through the NLRB that we gained union
recognition, but through a sustained campaign of public pressure
and direct action. We were successful in utilizing tactics and
strategies such as economic strikes, informational pickets, and
publicity campaigns while simultaneously relying on the pressure
from the community (in the form of boycotts, rallies, and phone
actions) to win this struggle. We think we were successful in
proving that, as workers, our greatest strengths are in the refusal
of our labor and our ability to organize effective resistance that
goes beyond the workplace and into the community.

Despite, the small sacrifices we made, we hope that our struggle is
an inspiration to other workers, particularly younger workers just
beginning to understand their exploitation at the hands of their
bosses. Our struggle was won primarily through direct action and
community pressure. Although we did indeed file for an election
with the National Labor Relations Board, from the beginning of
our campaign we had no faith in State-mediation. We felt that the
whole NLRB process played into the hands of the bosses and
government bureaucrats, and effectively removed the class
struggle from off the streets and out of the hands of the workers
and confined it to the court rooms of the State.

Above all, we are proud to have been part of a struggle that once
again made anarchism relevant to Boston's working class.

========================================
Copied from ILS-SIL http://www.ils-sil.org - International Libertarian
Solidarity - Anarchist federation


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