Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The IWW, Fast Food, and a Lesson for Big Labor

The recent narrow loss suffered by employees of the Jimmy John's restaurants in Minnesota led me to consider the future of the labor movement.  The workers in this case were attempting to join the Industrial Workers of the World(IWW).  The IWW has a long, storied history of militant, rank and file unionism, but has been largely marginalized due to lack of membership for the last several decades.  However, the IWW appears to enjoying a bit of a renaissance due to the inaction of the mainstream labor movement when it comes to certain industries.

While the IWW still subscribes to the One Big Union philosophy, they seem to have discovered their niche in the fast food and service industry.  Their work with the Starbucks Union has yielded some positive results, and their near victory in Minneapolis should be a reminder to big labor that we shoot ourselves in the foot when we write off an entire section of the working class.

For years, big labor has shied away from organizing fast food and other restaurant staff.  Their reasoning behind this is that the bargaining unit is too small, and therefore is more susceptible to decertification.  They also don't want to invest the resources necessary for that small a yield in membership.  The reason I reject this line of thought is that while the initial investment is more than the net gain, it would set in motion the momentum to organize more of this ever growing section of our economy.

Think about it:  less than 1% of fast food employees in the Unites States are union members.  Now think about how many fast food workers there are in the area where you live.  While the turnover rate in the fast food world is fairly high, much of this can be attributed to the squalid working conditions the employees endure.  I worked several fast food places when I was younger, and I can tell you that the conditions were similar to Wal-Mart(yes, I worked there too).

We should support any labor organization that is willing to take on this industry whose employees are in desperate need of union representation.  You can also donate to the IWW here:

In Solidarity,


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