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(en) US, Philadelphia Workers Build Solidarity Union - By Jon Bekken - Industrial Worker*, April 2005.

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 19 Apr 2005 12:43:41 +0200 (CEST)

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The IWW-affiliated South Street Workers Union is organizing retail
and food service workers along Philadelphia's South Street corridor,
implementing a model of solidarity unionism focused on helping
workers create their own shop floor and district-wide organizations to
confront low wages, poor working conditions, and the lack of workplace rights.
Since the union began organizing in August 2003, the South Street Workers Union
has organized health, tax and workers' rights clinics; social events; a
district-wide grievance committee that has helped workers claim unpaid wages
and develop strategies to improve working conditions; and organized a campaign
against proposed mass transit fare increases and service cutbacks.

Seventy union members and supporters marched down South Street
February 27, demanding support for mass transportation funding --
culminating a two-week campaign in which they approached
business owners along the strip asking them to sign a letter to the
legislature demanding adequate transit funding.

The SEPTA system faced a $49 million budget shortfall, which it
planned to meet by raising cash fares from $2 to $2.50 (on the way to
$3), and slashing night and weekend service.

The cuts and fare hikes were averted the next day when the governor
diverted highway funds to cover operating expenses through June.

Marchers stopped at five of the seven South Street businesses that
had refused to sign the letter, gaining two more signatures to bring
the total to 99. The march ended with a short rally where the letters
were delivered to State Rep. Babette Josephs, who told the crowd that
as the only member of the legislature who didnÕt own a car, she
recognized the importance of mass transit.

"If we saw this kind of protest in every shopping district," she added,
"the legislature would find a way to solve the transit crisis."

South Street workers depend on mass transit, delegate Andrew
Rothman noted, adding that proposed fare increases "would be
devastating to people who are living at or below the poverty line."
Marchers echoed that sentiment, chanting "Raise our wages, not the

The march was covered by three television stations and in the
Philadelphia Inquirer.

The South Street Workers Union's next event is a tax clinic, where
accountants will be on hand to help workers prepare tax returns and
claim the earned income credit many are entitled to because of their
low earnings.

Most South Street workers earn little more than minimum wage (and
some not even that). Although the corridor -- which includes a mix
of chain stores and locally owned businesses ranging from small
boutiques to large, multi-level stores -- is one of Philadelphia's
busiest shopping district, its wages are sometimes lower than those
paid in other parts of the city.

One owner monitors workers from her home with surveillance
cameras. Another operates a 2,000-square-foot store with just one
worker per shift. What these businesses have in common is low
wages, benefits that run the gamut from inadequate to non-existent,
and high turnover as workers jump from one crappy job to another.

The union was formed to help change these conditions, and currently
has members at eight stores along the corridor. It has helped workers
at a national franchise outlet end management's practice of
demanding unpaid clean-up time, and defended workers threatened
with losing their jobs. Several members also traveled to Brooklyn to
build relations with workers involved in a similar campaign among
immigrant workers there.
* journal of the IWW - antiauthoritarian
anticapitalist direct action syndicate.

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