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(en) US, Madison, Wisc.: IWW targets Downtown workers

Date Tue, 25 Apr 2006 10:07:49 +0300

Bartenders, servers, baristas and others who work Downtown could soon be
carrying more than your food or drinks. They may also be carrying union cards.
Local organizers for the Industrial Workers of the World union hope
to sign up some of the over 4,000 Downtown Madison employees, many of them students
who work part time in small businesses - a notoriously difficult group to unionize.
"(Downtown has) a very good concentration of similar kinds of workplaces and ones
that are generally ignored by other unions because of the small size and the transient
nature of the workers," said Amy Mondloch, an IWW member and lead organizer of the campaign.
But this wouldn't be a typical union, where labor leaders try to get a
majority of the employees in a workplace to sign up and form a union.

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Instead, IWW wants to establish the Madison Downtown Workers
Union, a "non- majority union" where workers from all types of
businesses, from stores to restaurants, form an association of
workers, rather than a bargaining group.

"Workers from workplace to workplace can use direct action to
support one another more than using a contract," Mondloch
explained. If workers at one business had grievances, they could
send word out to union members to encourage pickets, boycotts or

IWW, known as the Wobblies, was founded in 1905 as a radical
alternative to more conventional labor unions of the time. IWW
reached its peak in the early 1920s after successfully organizing
thousands of industrial workers in dozens of strikes. Worldwide
membership has dropped to 2,000, but the organization has
experienced a resurgence in the last 10 years.

With 70 members, the Madison group has been active for the last 30
years working mostly as a support group in strikes and labor
disputes. This campaign will be the largest attempted by the group,
said Mondloch, who has volunteered with IWW through the Tyson
workers and Teaching Assistants Association strikes.

"(IWW is) using a very interesting approach. There have been
attempts in the past, going back to the '30s, to organize this way,"
said David Newby, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.
"They're organizing workers that many people say can't be

IWW will stage a public kickoff for the campaign on Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at the Madison Center for Creative and Cultural Arts, 306 W.
Dayton St. The novelty of IWW's approach makes it difficult to
determine what kind of success they may have, said South Central
Federation of Labor President Jim Cavanaugh.

Attempts to organize smaller but similar groups of workers in
Montpelier, Vt., and Philadelphia are the only recent examples of
this method.

Mondloch said the union plans to work with Downtown businesses
as much as possible. It plans to help small businesses form a
cooperative of sorts that could provide health insurance to employees
at a reduced cost.

Susan Schmitz, president of Downtown Madison Inc., wouldn't
comment on the campaign or the impact it may have on businesses.

"Hopefully they can get a foothold," Newby said. "It could be a
path-breaking campaign."

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