We talked about the strikes by fast food workers here. Commenter VidaLoca is in Milwaukee and sent us this account:
I read your post yesterday with interest as my hometown — Milwaukee — is one of the national centers (with NYC, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis) for the movement to organize fast food and low-wage workers.
In Milwaukee, the strike yesterday was the second so far (the first was May 15). In no case has a worker lost their job. The second strike was bigger by a factor of about 50%, in terms both of restaurants struck and workers striking, than the previous action. The geographic reach was also expanded from the inner-city to the parts of the South side that did not see strikes last time.
I’d like to begin by correcting a statement made in an article you linked in your post: “These strikes … carry the flavor of Occupy Wall Street protests …”. The one thing that stands out in my memory about the Occupy movement was its strategic disorganization. This fast-food movement is in no way disorganized. It is in fact highly organized and highly disciplined. It is true that (like Occupy) it’s using a set of tactics that have not been tried in the labor movement in recent memory, but the tactics themselves are not new — they recall the tactics used by organizers of industrial unions in the ’30s and are based in the idea of a labor-community alliance to win a struggle that both benefits labor (the workers) and the community as whole. The tactic is applied in two ways:
1. Community rallies at selected locations on the day of the strike, calling on workers to walk off the job (the locations are of course selected on the basis of previous knowledge of workers inside who are planning to strike). The rallies travel from place to place on school buses, picking up workers and ralliers.
2. Community members walking the workers back the work the day AFTER the strike. Groups of 10-15 people accompany a striker back to their next work shift following the strike, to stand behind the worker and tell the store manager that they need to accept the worker back to work unconditionally and with no reprisals.
Here’s an example of how the second point worked: my friend and I just got home from doing one of the day-after walk-backs, with an employee of a restaurant on the southwest side of town. A group of a dozen of us reported to work with him at the start of his shift; we marched up to the counter, asked to see the manager, and when the manager arrived told him that he had to take the employee back unconditionally. All the other employees were staring at us as we did this. In this particular case it ended uneventfully as the manager was cool with the whole thing, so we got back on the van and returned to the strike office (in our case the manager was a company employee of a company store — so if all his workers get raises he gets a raise too, and he’s not making very much. At the individually owned franchise shops things can get more tense…). On our return we found the next shift of community volunteers arriving to walk back the next set of workers; our job was done so we left.
The importance of the community support tactic is that it is a huge force multiplier: the union can’t send staff people out in anywhere near these numbers so they don’t even try, they just facilitate. Community people — LOTS of community people — are behind this because they have friends and family that work in these places and because they recognize that the jobs are basically for shit: Milwaukee will remain stuck with a depressed economy as long as these jobs set the standard here (and they DO set the standard, the “real” jobs disappeared long ago). That brings in additional forces such as elected officials (yes, several of them showed up to help out this morning) and clergy folk. The people in the community all see what’s going on — and tell their friends and family that if they want to strike the union has their back, the community has their back, and the union is tied into the community. The other workers in the places see this too and they start to lose their fear of walking out as they see the tactic succeeding.
Of course it goes without saying that there’s no way this ends here; if you’d like I’ll keep you and Balloon Juice posted.
Hang in there, VidaLoca, because Mika Brzezinski says she’s coming out to join the strikers.