The presence of five Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) members at a demonstration outside the Russell Street Wells Fargo last Thursday highlights a new partnership between unions on common-ground issues in the fight for workers’ rights.
The Wobblies, historically an unusual presence at politically charged protests, joined about 20 members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other groups in opposing Wells Fargo’s use of bailout money to lobby against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). The bill promises a fiscal spanking for employers currently receiving little more than a slap on the wrist when limiting employees’ rights to unionize.
“We don’t have to agree with SEIU on everything,” says Dave Jones, an area Wobbly. “But if they’re working on some sort of justice platform…I think we should show up.”
The debate is more complex on the national level. Democrats are divided on the EFCA, with George McGovern, for example, voicing opposition. The IWW straddles the fence, torn between increasing union strength and compromising the anti-lobbying policy that sets it apart from other unions.
“Because it’s a piece of legislation, it’s not something we get involved with,” says Chris Lytle, IWW general secretary treasurer.
The bill’s greatest support comes from SEIU. Lytle, who works at IWW headquarters in Ohio, says SEIU conducted a street-canvassing campaign in Cincinnati. The group hosted Thursday’s demonstration alongside Students for Economic and Social Justice.
“We’re all moving together to try to rebuild the working people in America,” says Bob Struckman, spokesman for SEIU’s Change that Works project.
Jones, a Hamilton fishing guide, is fairly new to the labor movement. He believes local Wobblies can support legislation that makes workers’ lives easier without sacrificing the union’s anti-capitalist analysis.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Jones says.
Mark Anderlik, Missoula Area Central Labor Council president, says unions have rallied locally around issues like the EFCA and healthcare reform to “build a movement.” This indicates a mounting awareness of issues outside individual union concerns.
“Everyone backing each other up; that’s where we have our strength,” Anderlik says. “That’s where the rubber meets the road.”