Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Is 'Union'?

With the decline in the US of industries with traditional union strongholds and a rise in precarious, de-skilled, or informal workplaces (food service, retail, etc), worker organizing has had to adapt to a very different terrain within which to operate and succeed. In many ways, the messenger-courier industry counts among the most precarious industries (uncertainty of employment, high turnover, low labor standards, etc). So, just as at Starbucks and Jimmy John's, our forms of struggle have had to adapt to a new reality. The old approach of mainstream, "bread and butter" unions has lost traction and can't operate in this new workplace terrain. But new, adaptive forms of "unionism" have had unprecedented success, especially IWW campaigns in the courier industry and even at large chains like Starbucks.

This leads us to re-examine what "union" really is, in essence. Our work has been to form a practice that overcomes new obstacles to workers coming together, and to disprove the myth that we can't do shit to affect the day-to-day reality of working people. This article tackles these questions, drawing on the experience of IWW organizing, and proves that just as always, we workers still have the power to change our lives and make history.

This article will appear in the summer 2011 issue of the Dispatch, the IWW courier newsletter.