Posts tagged Wal-Mart

¡Chipotle, escucha: estamos en la lucha!

Fellow workers,

Here is what Coalition of Immokalee Workers organizer Lucas Benitez had to say at a press conference celebrating the C.I.W.’s remarkable victory in the Burger King penny-per-pound passthrough campaign:

Dr. Martin Luther King said it best when he said, The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Social responsibility in this country’s food industry is inevitable, and though the exploitation of Florida’s farmworkers remains unconscionable today, company by company we are building a path toward justice. The next steps are up to those companies that stand before us in the road ahead.

There are companies — like Chipotle in the restaurant world and Whole Foods in the grocery industry — that already make claims to social responsibility yet, when it comes to tomatoes, fall far short of their lofty claims. It is time, now, that those companies live out the true meaning of their marketers’ words.

And there are companies — like Subway and WalMart — that, by the sheer volume of their purchases, profit like few others from the pernicious poverty of workers in Florida’s fields. They, too, must step up now. After eight years of this campaign — and the very public commitment of the three largest fast-food companies in the world to the principles of Fair Food — they can no longer claim ignorance of the problem nor can they say that the solution is not possible.

So to all of you who have marched with us, organized petition drives with us, prayed with us, and struggled with us, today is a day to celebrate this hard-fought victory. Tomorrow, with renewed energy and purpose, we begin our work again to make respect for fundamental human rights in Florida’s tomato fields truly universal.

— Lucas Benitez, quoted in Coalition of Immokalee Workers Breaking News (2008-06-09): The Road Ahead in the Campaign for Fair Food!

The C.I.W. and the Student-Farmworker Alliance are taking the fight to Chipotle, a corporation supposedly priding itself on food with integrity, with whom they have repeatedly tried to meet for negotiations, but who responded by claiming that they would investigate (ah, investigation; cf. suggestions #3 and #6), and, in the meantime, would suspend buying from Florida growers (!), rather than simply taking direct action, as they easily could, to raise Florida tomato-pickers piece rate by passing through the extra penny per pound. In April, C.I.W. and SFA organized protests at Chipotle headquarters in Denver. The C.I.W. has released a one page letter that you can print and deliver to the manager of your local Chipotle restaurants. I’m not a fan of the complaints of being excluded from the normal regime of federal labor regulation on wages, conditions, and organizing; the denial of that bureaucratic crutch and shackle is precisely what has freed the C.I.W. to use the kind of fight-to-win tactics that they are using, and to win the impressive victories that they have won. Other than that regrettable cap-doffing to the State labor bureaucracy, however, it’s clear, to the point, and offers a quick and easy opportunity for you (yes, you) to get involved in the beginnings of what’s sure to emerge as another creative, powerful, and ultimately victorious bottom-up, decentralized campaign of agitation and radical labor solidarity. Here’s the text of the letter:

Dear Chipotle Manager,

Chipotle Mexican Grill has been presented with the opportunity to foster real social responsibility in its tomato supply chain by working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization of farmworkers that has been internationally recognized for its work defending basic human rights. Instead, Chipotle claims to have suspended purchases of Florida tomatoes while it unilaterally investigates already well-documented human rights abuses in Florida’s fields.

The supposed need for an investigation of the human rights crisis in Florida’s fields today is mystifying. According to readily available Department of Labor statistics, tomato pickers in Florida face deplorable conditions, including:

  • Sub-poverty wages — Tomato pickers make, on average, $10,000/year;
  • No raise in nearly 30 years — Pickers are paid virtually the same per bucket piece rate (roughly 45 cents per 32 lb. bucket) today as they were in 1980. At today’s rate, workers have to pick nearly 2.5 TONS of tomatoes just to earn minimum wage for a typical 10-hr day;
  • Denial of fundamental labor rights — Farmworkers in Florida have no right to overtime pay, even when working 60-70 hour weeks, and no right to organize or bargain collectively.

Even worse, numerous modern-day slavery rings, in which workers are held against their will and forced to work through violence or threats of violence, continue to operate in the fields. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has assisted the Department of Justice in uncovering, investigating, and successfully prosecuting 5 such cases — involving more than 1,000 workers — since 1997.

The three largest fast-food companies in the world have recognized these dehumanizing conditions and moved to address them, giving workers new hope for meaningful reform in the nation’s agricultural industry. In 2005, after a 4-year national consumer boycott, Yum Brands (parent company of Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut and others) reached an historic agreement with the CIW to directly improve wages and working conditions in its tomato suppliers’ operations by paying a penny more per pound for its tomatoes and working with the CIW to implement an enforceable code of conduct to protect farmworkers’ rights. McDonald’s and Burger King followed suit in 2007 and 2008, respectively, reaching agreements with the CIW that met and expanded upon the Yum! Brands accord. All three fast-food leaders have recognized the fact that their high volume purchases of tomatoes give them the leverage they need to demand more humane working conditions in their suppliers’ fields.

Chipotle however, has remained indifferent to the deplorable conditions faced by workers in its tomato supply chain. Nearly two years have passed since Chipotle launched its investigation and many questions now beg to be answered. Where are the results of Chipotle’s inquiry into Florida’s farm labor conditions? Where has Chipotle been purchasing tomatoes in the meantime, and how do workers fare in those fields? Is Chipotle actually supplying its East Coast restaurants with tomatoes from Mexico (the only other viable option to Florida tomatoes during nearly half the year), despite the immense increase in the cost and carbon footprint of Chipotle’s food that would result from such a decision? Or is Chipotle still in fact purchasing Florida tomatoes, despite its claims to have suspended purchases from Florida? Are transparency and human rights not a part of Chipotle’s definition of Integrity?

Please contact Chipotle Corporate Headquarters in Denver and let them know that you and your customers want them to join with Yum, McDonald’s and Burger King as leaders in true corporate social responsibility by:

  • Paying a penny more per pound for the tomatoes that Chipotle purchases and ensuring that this increase is passed along to tomato pickers in the form of increased wages; and

  • Working with the CIW to implement an enforceable code of conduct to ensure fair and safe working conditions for farmworkers in Chipotle’s tomato supply chain.

Thank you.

— Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Dear Chipotle Manager

Print yourself out a copy and deliver it to your local Chipotle to explain why this issue will affect your burrito-purchasing decisions in the future.

More action alerts and a flyer about Chipotle that you can hang locally are promised soon. Keep an eye out for it: this should get interesting, and there’s likely to be a lot more to come.

Victory to the farmworkers!

See also:

The Protection Racket

Last weekend, Jeff Tucker put out a really good article on LewRockwell.com, on the State’s so-called criminal justice system, and its sanctimonious claims to protect us, especially the poor and oppressed. He writes:

If you think about it, it is inherently implausible that the state could be an effective administrator of justice, for which there is a supply and demand like any other good. Shortages, inefficiencies, arbitrariness, and underlying chaos all around are going to be inherent in the attempt.

Because we are dealing here with the meting out of coercion, we can add that inhumane treatment and outright cruelty are also likely to be an inherent part of the system.

Even so, nothing had prepared me for what I witnessed in the courtroom the other day. …

… I got an education. It turns out that in a courtroom packed with criminals, not even one of the people who appeared before the judge was a danger to society. Nearly all were in for victimless crimes. The two who had perpetrated actual crimes – petty theft from Wal-Mart and the local mall – could have easily been dealt with without involving the state. So far as I could tell, the place could have been emptied out completely and our little community would have been no worse off, and massive human suffering could have been avoided.

But that’s not the way it works. These people, overwhelming black and poor but dressed very nicely in the hope of impressing the master, found themselves entangled in the web and thereby elicited the glare and killer instinct of the spider. How painful it was to watch and not be able to do anything about it.

The machine continued to operate. The judge hardly looked up, not even to notice how much these nice but exceedingly poor people dressed in an attempt to impress him. They and their lives meant nothing. It was all about keeping the machine working.

Finally 11am rolls around. The court had already raised for itself about $20,000, from my calculation. The judge says that there will be a short recess before he hears the not-guilty cases, mine among them. He will then assign public defenders to those whose income is low enough and then schedule jury hearings.

In other words, I would have to wait and then return at some later date.

My kids, who came with me, persuaded me that this was hopeless and ridiculous and very costly. I should declare my guilt and pay the $200 and be free. They didn’t want their Dad entangled anymore in this system. This is what I did, and I was free to go and join the multitudes who put up with this system of blackmail and money extraction every hour and know better than to attempt to use the system to challenge it.

Most people in my position would have never gone to court, and thereby they will never have seen just how cruel this system is for the poor, for minorities, and for everyone who gets tangled up in this web of coercion and legalized plunder.

But now I understand something more fully that I once only understood abstractly. I see how utterly ridiculous it is to think that the state can be the right means to help those who are poor or living at the margins of society. The state is their enemy, as it is for everyone else.

— Jeffrey Tucker, LewRockwell.com (2007-12-15): How the Justice System Works

Read the whole thing.

Enclosure comes to Los Angeles

The news from Los Angeles is that everything old is new again.

The 14-year effort to establish an urban farm in the heart of South Los Angeles came to an end today when authorities evicted the farmers, as well as some celebrities who were supporting them by keeping vigil on the land.

The eviction occurred during a frenzied day both at the farm site and at City Hall as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other city leaders negotiated with the landowner through the morning, failing to reach a deal to save the farm even though the mayor said they had come up with the owner’s $16-million asking price

… About 50 deputies arrived at the property about 5 a.m. and used bolt cutters to remove locks and gain access to the 14-acre property near 41st and Alameda streets. At least a dozen people had remained inside the farm, some chained under trees and others locking hands around 55-gallon drums filled with concrete. At least 40 people were arrested at the site.

… After the 1992 riots, the city leased the land to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which began the community garden. In 2003, the city sold the land back to Horowitz for about $5 million.

… The site has a contentious history. The city acquired the land from Horowitz through eminent domain in the 1980s for a planned trash incinerator, but the project was stopped by neighborhood opposition.

After the 1992 riots, the city leased the land to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which began the community garden. In 2003, the city sold the land back to Horowitz for about $5 million.

But the farmers did not leave. In the last three years, and particularly in recent weeks, the farmers have pleaded to stay despite Horowitz’s plans to sell the land for development.

— Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times (2006-06-13): Farmers, Celebrities Evicted From Urban Plot

The Times’s story has a major defect: it seriously distorts the history of the title to the lot, and dramatically overstates Ralph Horowitz’s personal claim to the land prior to the 1985 eminent domain seizure. The New Standard’s History of the South Central Farm has a much more accurate and detailed rundown of the site’s history, and the shady means that Horowitz used to get the city to entitle him to the land. The precis is that, some twenty years ago the city government stole some land from a group of private owners. Ralph Horowitz was a partner in a real estate investment firm that owned about 80% of the land that was stolen. The city government planned to use the land for a garbage incinerator, but abandoned the plan, in the face of neighborhood opposition, in 1987. The lot remained abandoned for seven more years, when working folks from the neighborhood set up on the unused land, established gardens and cultivated the land in the lot. Some 350 families in South Central L.A., many of them Hispanic immigrants, now grow their own food on the land. Seven years later, in 2001, Ralph Horowitz went to court to try to force the city to sell the land to him — all of it, apparently, not just whatever share had belonged to him personally when the city government took the land. After two years of legal fighting, the city government cut a closed-door deal with Horowitz, declaring him the absentee landlord in return for a $5 million pay-off. Horowitz planned to force the farmers off of his land, so he could develop it by tearing down the farms they had spent the past decade cultivating and putting up a warehouse on the seized land for — guess who? — good old Wal-Mart. After another three years of court fights, he has just called in the city goons to force the farmers off their land once and for all.

Here’s the Times, giving us the neo-mercantilist view of the proceedings:

Undeveloped land

Some in the community support him, arguing that the area would benefit from the jobs that would come if the land were developed.

Thanks to this textbook example of weasel-wording, we can’t single out the some in the community for the derision they so richly deserve. But we can, at least, single out the L.A. Times for uncritically repeating the idiot notion that farmland that’s been cultivated for a decade and a half hasn’t been developed, and for declining to mention whether the 350 families who grow their own food in their own garden are keen on sacrificing their own primary food source for the sake of jobs to benefit the area.

Meanwhile, the editorialists at the Times, apparently gunning for a mention in Kevin Carson’s Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, defended the shredding of property rights in favor of Horowitz’s government-granted property entitlement. We are told that Horowitz’s actions will not qualify him for a humanitarian of the year award. But it’s still his land, and that means he can sell it to whomever he chooses. If it were his, then of course he could use it as he sees fit, or sell it as he sees fit, or, if he wants to, sit on it and twiddle his thumbs all day. But by what right does the lot belong to him? Because he bought it from the city government? But the city government cannot sell what it does not own; and how by what right did it belong to them? Because they stole it, fair and square?

Or is it because he used to own the land, before the city stole it from him? Well, he didn’t own it, actually — not all of it. He owned a share in the 80% of the land that belonged to his and his partners’ investment company, but his prior ownership gives him no personal claim at all to his partners’ share of the 80% of the land, let alone to the 20% of the land that did not belong to their company. And whatever share of the land did rightfully belong to him no longer does. Horowitz may very well have a legitimate claim against the city government for stealing land which belonged partly to him. Eminent domain is theft, and Horowitz was one of the victims. But the city government cannot pay off that debt by selling back the land out from under the people who have been occupying and cultivating the land for more than a decade. The Times, for its part, derides the fact that The main argument of the protesters seems to be that because the farmers have been squatting for more than a decade on property they don’t own, they have earned the right to stay there permanently. But property they don’t own could mean either of two things. Squatting on property that somebody else owns gets you no rights to the property. But squatting on property that nobody owns certainly does; how else should people gain ownership over unclaimed and abandoned lands? What gives farmers the right to stay on their farms is not the fact that they’re squatting on someone else’s land; it’s that, by squatting on an abandoned lot, they became the rightful owners — the city and Horowitz’s piratical agreements over how to divvy up the booty notwithstanding.

So it goes — another robber baron manages to destroy whatever good things working folks in South Central L.A. have managed to build for themselves, and pays a few million to hire the city’s goons to enforce it. The gardens that folks have spent 14 years tilling and growing are torn up in front of their eyes so that a politically-connected real estate developer can put up another warehouse on their land, all in the name of development and jobs for the area. Meanwhile hucksters pretending to defend property rights come out for the armed defense of arbitrary fiefdoms granted by the city government, and against the rights of the politically dispossessed to homestead abandoned land and enjoy the fruits of their own labor. And a few years down the road, when the jobs and the development have come and gone and changed not much of anything, the privileged hand-wringers will go on wringing their hands and wondering why those people in South Central L.A. are so badly off, and the progressives and Libertarian Dems among them will wonder why can’t the government please do something to help those poor, benighted folks out? Or, as brownfemipower puts it:

But most of all, I am outraged that all the fucking ignorant white folks of the world will continue to look down on people of color and their urban communities with disgust and superiority—and ask so innocently, How can those people live like that? Like that, of course being typical nigger/spic/gook behavior like trash on the streets, piss in the elevators, burned out houses, etc etc etc. When every damn thing you ever cared about and took care of is brutally ripped from your fingers and you are told to say thank you for that brutal comandeering WHY THE FUCK IN HOLY HELL ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO KEEP CARING, KEEP TRUSTING, KEEP WORKING TO MAKE THINGS BEAUTIFUL?????

WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO LOVE? WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO TAKE CARE OF WHEN WE KNOW THAT EVERY THING WE LOVE, EVERYTHING WE TOUCH, EVERYTHING WE EAT AND BREATH, IS OWNED BY SOMEBODY ELSE WHO CAN TAKE IT AWAY FROM US AT ANY TIME WITH THE VIOLENT HELP OF THE STATE?

— brownfemipower, Women of Color Blog (2006-06-13): L.A. community garden lost to capitalism

The South Central Farmers have contact information, in case you’d like to let Ralph Horowitz and the L.A. city government know what you think of their recent renewal of the Enclosure Movement. You can also make a tax-deductible donation to the Farmers’ efforts to ransom the farm back from Horowitz; if they can’t raise enough to meet Horowitz’s asking price, your donation will be returned to you.

Further reading:

Constitutive means (or: community-building bullshit)

(Link thanks to Anil Dash 2006-02-03.)

Here’s Tim Redmond, of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, on why he’s cheesed off about the ever-expanding Craigslist:

A little background. Mr. Newmark, whom everyone calls Craig, has created a system of online advertising that has pretty much wiped out traditional daily newspaper classified ads in many of the 115 US markets where he now operates. He’s also hurt the alternative press, although the damage to the dailies is deeper. Some say Craig has single-handedly destroyed thousands of newspaper jobs.

Frankly, that’s a little silly: The guy figured out how to do something that the newspapers weren’t doing, and they were way too late in responding, and he got their money, and that’s how capitalism works.

But Craig still annoys me, and here’s why:

Over and over in his brief speech, he talked about building community. He acted as if Craigslist was some sort of nonprofit with lofty goals and he a humble servant of the people who wants only to help improve human communications.

The problem with that is simple: When Craig comes to town (and he’s coming to just about every town in the nation soon), the existing community institutions — say, the locally owned weekly newspaper — have a very hard time competing. In many ways, he’s like a Wal-Mart — yeah, landlords get cheaper real estate ads, and consumers find some bargains, but the money all goes out of town. And he puts nothing back into the community: He doesn’t, for example, hire reporters or serve as a community watchdog.

Here’s the question I asked him:

How, exactly, does a San Francisco outfit moving into, say, Burlington, Vt. and threatening to eviscerate the local alternative newspaper, help build community? If he’s such an altruist, why does he have to keep expanding like a typical predatory chain? We all get the need for online ads and community sites now; why not let the folks in Burlington (or wherever) build their own? Why not (gasp) help them, instead of using his clout to hurt them?

— Tim Redmond, San Francisco Bay Guardian (2006-02-01): Editor’s Notes

So, to keep the score straight, let’s keep in mind that helping people to find a job in town, or helping people who have something to sell get in touch with other people in their town willing to buy it, doesn’t count as putting anything back into the community. Also, be sure to remember that getting the word out about shows, fundraisers, parties, or other events going on in town doesn’t count as building community, and neither does helping people to meet other people in town with common interests, jobs, hobbies, or passions. Real community, after all, is defined by its ability to keep professional editorialists like Tim Redmond employed, and by whether or not they print and distribute an alternative newsweekly tabloid, like the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Next week: where will we find jobs for all the candle-makers?

Rad Money w/ John Brill

One of Mikhaela Reid’s latest cartoons, besides being grimly funny, makes an excellent point about the financial-advice industry: it offers sensible advice for people who have the time, money, security, and leisure to take advantage of it, but nothing beyond moralistic hectoring for those who don’t. (Not that this is the fault of, say, Suze Orman; it’s the fault of the way that comfortable members of the middle and upper classes use the ideas they get from the financial advice industry as another way to bully people who make less than they do.) As Mikhaela glosses it on her website,

I am of course, referencing financial-advice programs like the Suze Orman Show and CNBC’s Mad Money w/ Jim Cramer (a popular show described by Businessweek as Louis Rukeyser meets televangelism meets Pee-wee’s Playhouse). Not that Suze Orman doesn’t have sound financial advice, because she does—budget, save, invest, take realistic vacations, etc. (Jim Cramer, on the other hand, just strikes me as off his rocker, telling people to invest in crazy random stocks, but hey, what do I know?)

All of that is all very well for middle-class people (although maybe not as well as it could be when you think about college tuition and other skyrocketing costs). But there’s only so much people can do personally when they’re in really, truly horrible money situations and the social safety net has been pulled out from under them (see How Tax Cuts for the Rich Can Help You!).

With cuts to federal student aid, health-care programs, child-care programs, retirement programs, etc., the burden falls more and more on individuals. We hear more and more about individual responsibility to save for health-care, for retirement, for college. But you know what? When you make barely enough to feed your family, that’s a goddamned cruel joke. Expecting people who can hardly pay their rent in the moment to put away for the future is just bizarre. The math just doesn’t add up. There’s only so far you can squeeze a penny.

And these same jerks in the Bush Administration and Congress who are cutting the social safety net (didn’t they learn ANYTHING about poverty from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?) are happy to spend billions on the Pentagon, which then uses the money that could have gone to education and sound investments in the future of our country to bomb the crap out of innocent civilians in Iraq.

— Mikhaela’s News Blog (2006-01-15): New Cartoon: $AD MONEY! w/ Susie Poorman!

All of that’s true, of course. And well taken. But of course it leaves open the question: now what do we do about it?

One option that’s always available is to despair and do nothing. This seems, in fact, to be one of the most popular plans among professional-class Progressives who don’t actually need to worry about these issues in their everyday lives. Actually, that’s not a bad plan for them to follow; I’d be quite happy if all the Progressives out there kept doing nothing, given what happened the last time Progressives got enthusiastic and active. But not everyone has that luxury, so let’s move on.

Another option is that you could get back into the lists and fight to recover the alleged government protections that have been lost: more social welfare programs, more regulations demanding that bosses give such-and-such benefits or such-and-such a wage to workers, repeal of free trade agreements, nationalized medicine, or whatever your bag is. But besides having any number of moral and economic objections to these ideas, I also just think that this is unworkable advice for people who don’t have the money, time, security, or leisure to get involved in politics. If the kind of advice that Suzy Orman has to offer isn’t going to get you very far in personal finance when you’re living on the minimum wage, it’s not going to get you very far in politics either, because politicians respond to political pull, and rich people have more resources for buying political pull than you do. The welfare programs that you do get out of a strategy like this typically amount to little more than the bait on the steel trap of social control (government schooling, to take one obvious example; the government-sponsored dead-end employment agency known as TANF to take another). And what politicians give, they can easily take away, as recent experience shows. The labor regulations that you get, when you get anything at all, are no less easily taken away, and also usually amount to yet another silver cord to bind workers to the bosses. (These days a lot is made of the fact that boss-provided medical coverage and pensions are in a state of crisis. That’s true. It might help demonstrate why the tax and regulatory structure that encouraged workers to depend on the bosses for their pensions and medical insurance was a bad idea to begin with.)

So, fellow workers, here’s my financial planning advice for you. Planning, investing, and saving is as important for folks working at or near the minimum wage as it is for the comfortable and the wealthy, but a different situation means different strategies. My suggestion is that you invest in membership dues for a fighting union, plan on firing your boss, and save yourself from depending on the milder sentiments of corporate or government bureaucrats for your money, your raise, your benefits, or your retirement. Let’s call it the John Brill Working-Class Rad Money Plan.

Like any other financial planning advice program, this one needs some Real Life Success Stories. Need a raise? Immokalee farm-workers joined a fighting union, and that’s what it got them. Need more money and a better benefits package? New York transit workers joined a fighting union, and that’s what they got.

But that’s not all, either. Here’s a couple of new stories. Neal Rysdahl joined a fighting union, and here’s what it did for him:

On January 14, 2005, members of the Chicago General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union (IWW) called for an informational picket to boycott the Ideal Hand Car Wash in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood after the managers and owners of the business refused to pay Neal Rysdahl, a longtime member of the IWW, the $227.50 he was owed for over 45 hours of work he preformed for them.

The highly visible protest began at 8 AM, with a small but dedicated group of picketers banging bucket drums, shaking noisemakers, passing out leaflets, and carrying signs reading, Ideal Car Wash Cheats Workers, and An Injury to One is an Injury to All! Notably, one picketer dressed in a clown costume held a sign reading, Ideal Bosses Are Bozos! to mock the clown Ideal usually uses to attract customers.

Humboldt Park Food Not Bombs showed up to serve bread, pastry, hummus, and coffee, and joined in the picket. I knew this was an important picket to support because it was an opportunity to make a real difference in someone’s life through direct action, said Robert Clack, a member of Humboldt Park Food Not Bombs.

The picket effectively shut down business at the car wash for the morning, as most drivers who intended to patronize Ideal drove away after talking with picketers or seeing signs blasting the business for unfair labor practices.

After only three hours of picketing, Eduardo Eddie Amanero, a manager of the car wash, agreed to pay Rysdahl in full, in cash, on the spot, in order to bring an end to the picket.

The point of all this is, if you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us, said Patrick Brenner, a members of the National Executive Board of the IWW. We stick up for our members.

… When asked what he was going to do with his back wages, Rysdahl said, I’m going to catch up on some debts. And, of course, I’m going to pay all of the back dues I owe to the IWW!

— Industrial Workers of the World (2006-01-15): Direct Action Gets the Goods! - IWW Chicago Victory for Unpaid Worker

And it’s important to remember that the success of the Brill Plan doesn’t depend on filling out the right set of forms. Of course a formalized union structure can help, but it isn’t necessary. The Brill Plan works from the bottom up; it begins when you get to know your fellow workers and agree to stand by each other. With no formal union and no government recognition, Wal-Mart employees in Florida still made a fighting union of their own, and here’s what it did for them:

In central Florida, Wal-Mart workers are fighting and sometimes winning campaigns using collective action to solve both shop floor and larger industry-wide problems.

In one rural Florida town, over 20 percent of workers in the local Wal-Mart had their hours cut. In response, workers went into their community with a petition to reinstate the workers’ lost hours, and collected 390 signatures in three days. Their hours were returned.

In South St. Petersburg, a popular third-shift employee was accused of theft and fired. The next day, half the day shift quit in protest. In another store, 20 workers marched on management after a 70-year-old workplace leader had her schedule changed. Her schedule was returned within days.

Several workers rode their bikes to work even though Wal-Mart didn’t provide a bike rack. With some co-workers, they demanded management buy a bike rack. When management refused, they bought a rack with their own money and demanded that management install it. Management gave in, and donated the cost of the rack to a local charity.

These actions were initiated and led by members of the Wal-Mart Workers Association (WWA), a growing group of 300 current and former Wal-Mart workers in over 40 stores.

This is a protest movement of Wal-Mart workers uniting to make their lives better at work and in their communities, said Rick Smith, WWA organizer and Florida director of the Wal-Mart Association for Reform Now (WARN), a coalition of labor, community, homeowner, and anti-poverty groups. It’s about Wal-Mart workers sticking together, honoring their work, arranging carpools, and providing child care for each other.

Non-majority unions such as the WWA don’t wait for a court to license workers’ use of collective action. They harness that anger and ingenuity to both win day-to-day victories and launch longer-term pressure campaigns. The strategy has roots in industries in which union recognition is rare: retail chain workers, state workers, and computer programmers and manufacturers.

We have the right to organization, regardless of what the boss or the state do, said Smith.

Infoshop News (2006-01-03): Even Without a Union, Florida Wal-Mart Workers Use Collective Action to Enforce Rights

There’s only so far you can squeeze a penny, but a fighting union means more dollars to squeeze or spend as you see fit. The Brill Plan works. When workers stand together, workers win. So if you’re working for a living and barely scraping by, the best financial advice that I can offer is: stop being sad and start getting rad.