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Wobblies Picket ACORN Office in Brooklyn (by x351222)

March 20, 2001.

On Wednesday, March 14th, the Industrial Workers of the World - New York City (IWW-NYC) picketed outside the national office of ACORN in downtown Brooklyn. Wobblies were picketing in solidarity with IWW members in Philadelphia and Seattle who work for ACORN. Workers in both cities want ACORN management to recognize the union as a bargaining agent.

In Philadelphia some workers who tried to organize the union were harassed and others fired in management's effort to bust the union drive. A complaint has been filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

In Seattle the ACORN workers unanimously voted to unionize with the IWW. Because of ACORN management's refusal to recognize the union, they are entering the third week of a strike.

On Wednesday evening, the IWW-NYC handed out copies of To-Gather, a newsletter of the ACORN wobblies, and they voiced their demands that ACORN management:

  • Recognize the Industrial Workers of the World as the collective bargaining agent for ACORN workers in Seattle and Philadelphia;
  • Reinstate fired organizers with back pay times five, as demanded by ACORN's own People's Platform;
  • End union-busting activity in all ACORN offices, including firings, captive meetings with management, and the use of scabs;
  • Declare to all ACORN workers in all ACORN offices that ACORN recognize and honor their right to organize with a labor union of their own choosing, and that ACORN management immediately recognize any union that receives authorization cards from a majority of non-management workers in any ACORN office without requiring an election;
  • Fully comply with the ACORN People's Platform in its relations with all ACORN employees whether organized in a union or not.

ACORN worker's demands include a forty hour work week, safe working conditions, timely payment of salaries, and guaranteed lunch breaks.

The action began with a sort of prologue by two Fellow Workers from IU 620 who leafletted for a half-hour or so about three p.m.. Your correspondent arrived at five-thirty to check out the scene and found nothing stirring. I went for coffee and came back at six to find a friendly police officer watching over the corner where ACORN's building is situated. I imagine somebody who got my message on the DAN-Labor list about the schedule either works for ACORN or talked to somebody there, so they knew we'd be starting up again at six. At any rate, the officer got bored and left after a couple of hours, having once half-heartedly asked us not to block the door (which we weren't doing anyway).

Several people going in and out of the building (which also houses a Medicaid office, the Working Families Party office, and some other organizations) expressed interest in our cause. One, a union delegate, took some leaflets and "To-Gather" newsletters, promising to make copies and distribute them inside the building in coming days. Several ACORN workers and volunteers took literature from us, and a few engaged us in conversation. One volunteer took a great interest in what we had to say, expressed surprise at ACORN management's union-busting activities, and promised to question the leadership about it.

A professional-looking, middle-aged woman, about five-four with short brown hair, came out, and I asked her if she worked for ACORN. She smiled with smug contempt and said, "I do," then walked briskly on, pointedly refusing to take a flier. She returned a short while later with a cell phone in her hand and chatted with Officer Friendly for a moment before going back in. Management, we all agreed.

A few ACORN workers seemed receptive to our message, which was simply that ACORN should live up to its own stated principles; but more often they told us we were dividing the Left and ought to put our energies elsewhere. The prevailing view in that office seems to be that they are working for a cause and should be prepared to sacrifice. One remarked, "In Philly they want to go into low-income areas on the buddy system. That's ridiculous. The people who live in those neighborhoods don't get to go there on the buddy system." In other words, nobody should be safe if the people they're trying to help are unsafe. I suppose that ACORN worker would feel even more virtuous if she were lucky enough to get raped or shot some night on one of her solo trips into the ghetto.

Another management type came out to inform us condescendingly that it was too bad we were so badly misinformed about the facts. She told us Fellow Worker X352548 had been fired for calling in sick three days in a row and "abandoning the people she was working with". Woe to the ACORN worker who's sick for more than two days! She also denied that the workers in Seattle had been locked out: "They all have keys to the office!" she said. She apparently had not been informed that those keys went to a vacant office, Seattle management having moved their scab operation to another location.

Our object in this action was to get the attention of ACORN's national leadership, and to inform ACORN workers here of what management was up to in Philadelphia and Seattle. We seem to have accomplished those ends pretty well. At the very least, we rattled the bosses enough to make them call in police protection. What the workers at New York ACORN will do when they see their bosses behaving like US Grade A bosses, rather than like liberal crusaders for the downtrodden, remains to be seen.