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Concrete Examples of Non Labour Relations Board Unions: Part II

By the Admin Staff - Recomposition, October 8, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

This is the second part of a series of concrete examples and very brief summaries of organizations that have some component of direct action and a form of collective bargaining that operate outside the labour relations framework. The following are IWW projects that had aspects of Labour Relations Board campaigns to them but were essentially not oriented towards the LRB. You will also notice that these examples are American. One key difference in the American context is the presence of a longer and richer history of what is called “minority unionism” that is unions that seek to build majorities from minorities but are capable of acting as a part of the workforce that doesn’t always represent a majority pro-union group as verified by card check or a board election.

2. Corridor Campaigns: 

a). Montpelier Downtown Workers Union
Corridor campaigns were a popular model for IWW branches to experiment with in the early to mid 2000’s. This campaign started as a corridor campaign under the United Electrical Workers Union. An independent union with a history of Communist leadership. They were based on having small committees in small shops spread out over a geographic area with a similar constellation of businesses, usually retail corridors.

This campaign started under the sponsorship of a workers centre run by the UE and ran for a few years. One of the more innovative elements of this campaign was the grievance committee combined with stewards that were assigned to a geographic area. Non members were told of the presence of a stewards in their area and if they had problems to go the member of the MDWU who would help them resolve problems. They also had a grievance committee that would pool resources to tackle bigger tougher problems.

Eventually the UE tried to push it to sign more contracts, as the campaign was failing they signed on with the IWW but it continued it’s decline and folded.

Advantages: Multiple committees in multiple shops. Geographic stewards, grievance committee. Had a clear way to address smaller concerns that didn’t warrant mass industrial action but weren’t simply individual gripes either.

Disadvantages: Pressure from business union sponsor to go for contracts. Small shops prone to high turnover, going public in small shops allows the boss to charm neutrals and organise anti union elements easily.

b). South Street Workers Union
South Street was a campaign in a retail corridor in Philadelphia started by the IWW branch there. It had multiple committees in multiple small shops. They agitated around workplace issues as well as workers issues off the job including a campaign around transit fares. The campaign lasted a number of years and built up the branch but eventually folded.

Advantages: Maintained a function organisation between small multiple shops over a few years. Agitated around issues in the community and mobilised the community around non workplace demands as well as making some small gains in shops.

Disadvantages: High turnover wore the campaign down.

3. The IWW and Bike Couriers:

There is very little documentation that is easy to track down and I have a few articles I intend to put online but the Bike Courier campaigns of the early 2000s had a tremendous influence on the development of Direct Unionism or Solidarity Unionism. The key organisers in these campaigns had a huge impact on the IWW and played a central role in the transition from being mostly a radical labour history club to a small fighting union with a different program from the rest of the labour movement. The longest running and most high profile campaign was in Chicago where the IWW maintained a presence in the courier industry for ten years. They had committees spanning multiple shops and won grievances against employers as well as mounting campaigns against building management companies to make their buildings more accessible to the couriers that served their tenants.

There were also bike courier committees in Portland, New York, Boston and San Francisco to name a few others.

Advantages: Extremely flexible organisations, took on issues on and off the job. Well developed conception of non contractual unionism. Multiple campaigns in multiple shops in Chicago. Also very structured and formal in Portland and Chicago, clear meeting agendas, rules of order and elected officers.

Disadvantages: Never broke out of the bike courier sub culture in a meaningful way. Very oriented towards a largely young and urban counter culture workforce.