One Big Union: Industrial Workers of the World Opens Chapter in Greensboro

Bryan Dooley, Senior Writer

Unpaid workers, organized protest, and a victory — all in a couple day’s work for the Greensboro chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies.

The IWW is an organization that is unionizing workers as a way to achieve better working conditions in the workplace and organizing unions to work together in order to be more affective in achieving a more equal working environment.

IWW poster from 1915. Image from http://www.kued.org.

“The IWW believes in organizing across trade lines, so that workers can stand together when action is necessary,” explained Yahya Alazrak, ‘12, former president of community senate and IWW member, in an email interview.  “We use a variety of tactics. Some of them are direct action, striking, picketing and confronting managers.”

Sometimes the IWW uses legal means, but mostly the local organizations are autonomous as long as they stay within the general ideology. They recently supported workers at Jimmy Johns to receive better sick leave.

According to the IWW website, the organization was founded in 1905 as a member-run union to improve working conditions and worker’s rights in industries and communities.  The IWW remains dedicated to that mission today.

“Growing up, I knew I wanted to be part of something dedicated to helping out the working class,” said junior Dallas Kesler in an email interview.  “I knew of all the good things labor unions have done for workers who were being mistreated by their employers.  Since probably about my junior year in high school I had been interested in joining the IWW but there wasn’t a branch anywhere close to where I lived. Last year, I heard some people were trying to establish a Greensboro chapter and I jumped at the opportunity to join.”

The Greensboro IWW branch, formed in the fall of 2011, has already succeeded by using direct methods to secure back pay owed employees at Sessions, a coffee shop and bar in Greensboro.

“The workers themselves began by approaching the boss directly, insisting that he pay the wages they were owed,” Eric Fink, a law professor at Elon University and an IWW member, said in an email interview. “They followed up with a written demand. When he still didn’t pay, the IWW branch staged an informational picket outside the shop.”

Fink continued, “The aim of the picket was not to deter customers from patronizing the shop, but to inform them of the employer’s unfair conduct, and urge customers to join in demanding  that the workers be paid.”

According to the Wobblies Facebook page, the two Sessions employees were paid in full. To most Wobblie members, Sessions’s action demonstrates the organization’s continued usefulness.

“Government agencies like the (U.S.) Department of Labor, and the North Carolina Department of Labor can play a useful role in enforcing the existing laws regulating the workplace and protecting employees from unfair treatment,” Fink stated.  “In a sense, labor unions are very much in keeping with the American tradition of self-reliance and collective action through voluntary associations.”

According to Alazrak, government organizations tend to be big and slow and sometimes favor those with privilege, and unions have the advantage of being smaller and more energetic and favor the workers. The success at Sessions demonstrates that point.

Alazrak put it simply: “Direct action got the goods!”

Anyone interested in contacting and/or getting involved with the
Greensboro Wobblies can visit their website at https://gsoiww.org/ or
their Facebook page.

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