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(en) US, Issue #1 The Perspectives of the NorthWest Anarchist Federation Autonomous Organizing Committees, Jered-The Firebrand Collective

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 11 Mar 2005 08:17:54 +0100 (CET)


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Every day we endure abuse. Whether it's the paycheck that barely
covers our rent, disciplining for doing a job in a way that makes sense
to us but does not fit into company policy, or straight-up not being
treated with respect, dignity at work is constantly denied. And our lives
revolve around work. We spent the better part of a quarter of our lives
at work, one third of our lives recovering from work and getting some
sleep, and the other fraction is spent worrying about work, money,
buying groceries, keeping the heat on and having good clothes for the
kids. Some where in there we are supposed to enjoy life, but most of
the time we're too tired to do that, so we zone out in front of the TV or
drink ourselves to sleep. The fact is, our lives are controlled by bosses
and politicians.

Most of the time it's more comfortable to just throw up our hands and
say fuck it, this is how it's always been, I'll just make the best of it. But
it seems to me this is a lousy way of living out a life (and we only have
one life to live). So what the hell are we supposed to do make our lives
better, to be able to afford our rent, buy healthy food, keep warm, and
go to the doctor if we're sick? I say we gotta fight back, we have to
demand dignity, respect, better wages, and a healthcare plan like
Canada 's that we can afford. It sounds like a vague solution to fight
back, but in this article I hope to demonstrate from experience and
discussion with others how we can fight back and win.

Often the easiest solution is to try and get a better job: hell, that's what
I just did and now I'm making a couple dollars more an hour. I got no
complaints about that. Yet, the same shit that pissed me off at my old
job is still going on at my new job. For example, at my new job we
don't get to take two ten minute breaks a day, we just work straight
through to lunch, and even then we only take a 15 to 20 minute lunch.
By the time I get off work, I'm so damned tired that all I want to do is
go home a sleep and just try and make it to the weekend. At my old
job, we didn't get breaks either. We were so understaffed due to high
turnover that everyone was expected to work overtime and, well, I
would go home tired and just try and make it through till the weekend.
It's the same shit, and at some point we're going to have to dig our
heels in and fight it.

I tried fighting back at my old job through the company grievance
procedure. I was given disciplinary action because I was put in a
situation by my supervisor when I was the only one at the job site and
a crisis developed and I had to choose between ensuring the safety of
someone from another person or leaving medications unattended (I
was a social worker in a group home for developmentally disable folks).
It was a damned if I do, damned if I don't type of situation and I got
written up for it. When I went through the company grievance
procedure, they told me the situation didn't merit me going through
the grievance procedure. I still got the disciplinary action. The point
being, company grievance procedures are set up by the boss and they
can say whatever the fuck they want and decide on the grievance
however they want. There's no way to fight back through a process set
up by the company. You are also alone when going through a
grievance procedure: it's you versus the company, and trust me, the
company's gunna win unless you go into the office with a
shotgun--and then you're just gunna go to jail (even though that
option seems really appealing at times).

So, how the hell are we supposed to fight back?! I don't claim to have
the best answer, but I do know from experience and from talking to
other labor activists that we must fight back collectively. We can't take
on our bosses alone cause we'll be fired or told to get back into line. In
the realm of collective action on the job, there are a couple of avenues
we can pursue to get the basic things we need in life and, potentially,
even more.

Flipping through the yellow pages, you can find a list of official unions
that will help ya organize you and your co-workers into a state
recognized and somewhat protected legal bargaining unit. If you do
this, depending on the union that applies to your line of work, you may
or may not win a collective bargaining contract that may or may not
better your wages, health insurance, grievance procedure for
discipline, and solidarity among your co-workers. I'm not going to
argue against forming a union at your work--hell, that's what I was
involved in for the last six months until I quit my job so I could get a
job that would hopefully get me into a building trades union. Call it a
career move rather than a stance on workplace organizing. The thing
about official unions is this: day to day you still get abused. You still
probably won't have a network of co-workers who will stand behind
you when you confront your boss about this or that issue that's pissing
you off. The other problem with reducing our efforts to working within
the official union realm is that we have to play by the rules of labor law,
and these are the boss's rules, not ours. Hell, the National Labor
Relations Board is so fucking right-wing that it's sickening.

Don't get pessimistic though: it's not a choice between having a union
or not having a union. It comes down to this: If we want to fight our
bosses and win we have to have a solid grouping of co-workers who
are creative and dedicated to watching each others backs. What I'm
proposing and what you probably are already doing in a less organized
way is a workplace committee of you and your co-workers. A
committee that fights to win, a group that disregards what anyone but
you and your co-workers want. I'm taking about fighting for your
interests on the job, both covertly and publicly, through coordinated
actions\u2014like everyone taking a 10 minute break without asking
the boss or everyone fudging their time cards by 15 minutes or
everyone supporting someone's refusal to take a dangerous position on
the job. And we can fight by organizing our own union and telling the
official union bureaucrats to either step in line behind us or to get lost.

A workplace committee can take on many forms. It can be everyone
getting together and going to the bar after work to plan a direct action
for the next day, like taking that ten minute break we deserve (not to
mention its required by law). It can become more formal and have an
official structure and develop campaigns around issues of pay, health
care, internal official union issues like democracy, and it can even plan
solidarity actions for the strikes of our fellow working class sisters and
brothers.

At my old job, if we had formed a workplace committee that fought for
everyday issues we faced at work we would have been able to win more
support for the union organizing effort we were undertaking. If my
co-workers had been able to feel a sense of power at work, a voice,
hope, instead of despair and futility about work-place issues, then the
next logical step would have been to form an official union while still
carrying out on-the-job direct actions. The way I see it, the best way to
take collective action at work and to win the dignity, respect, and
material gains we deserve is to form autonomous workplace
committees made up of co-workers and controlled by co-workers.

A lot of folks got the idea that you either join an official union or never
stand a chance at changing your life for the better. I don't see it that
way. It's not an either or type of decision. We can have our cake and
eat it too. If we organize workplace committees we stand a chance of
fighting back and winning. If we don't, we'll continue to be shat upon
by the bosses, union bosses, or both. In my next article on workplace
organizing I will talk about workplace committees past and present and
the potential role of workplace committees in the future.


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