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Throw off Your Chains – The Wobblies are Here!

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I used to shop there on a regular basis when I lived in the neighborhood, but never realized that mini-grocery FreshPlus here in Austin was involved in rampant worker exploitation and oppression. Here I thought it was just an eclectic food store that appealed mostly to Hyde Park yuppies, but it turns out that it’s actually a seething cesspit of corporate greed and wage slavery. When my daughter was in the Girl Scouts we used to sell cookies in front of FreshPlus every Spring, and somehow I never noticed the grim aura of doom and how the workers there were bowed under the chains of capitalist enslavement.

Thankfully the light of freedom has come to the exclusive neighborhood of Hyde Park and the workers of FreshPlus have thrown off their chains – and incidentally the burden of a regular paycheck – thanks to the support of the Industrial Workers of the World. I bet you didn’t realize the IWW still existed, but they’re going strong here in Austin. They’re the international anarcho-syndicalist union which became famous as the “wobblies” in the 1930s when they staged massive work slowdowns and factory sabotage campaigns and chanted their classic slogan:

    “An Injury to one is an injury to all.
    The hours are long and the pay is small.
    So take your time and fuck them all.”

The modern Wobblies basically believe in worker-initiated involuntary collectivism, the bizarre idea that employees should shut down the businesses they work for until management is fired and the workers are allowed to take over the business and run it as an egalitarian collective. Building on their success at actually implementing this idea at local Austin recycling venture Ecology Action – which never had any real management anyway – they’re trying to spread the word of ‘One Big Union’ throughout the area.

So far the FreshPlus uprising is their other big success. Objecting to the low pay at FreshPlus – $6 per hour, which is somewhat below typical part-time, unskilled grocery worker pay in Austin – oppressed member of the proletariat Ryan Hastings began to solicit other workers at FreshPlus to form an IWW sponsored union and demand higher wages. He and co-worker Nellie Moore started distributing IWW literature on their breaks and lunches, not just to other workers but to anyone who came into or walked by the store. Not surprisingly, the store manager found this somewhat irritating. Even in ultra liberal Hyde Park, people don’t like being constantly assailed by union agitators. It’s amusing the first time, but after a while the charm of retro activism pales when it interferes with your shopping. Hastings and Moore were warned repeatedly to stop soliciting on store property, and ultimately both were fired when they refused to comply.

Strangely the manager of FreshPlus and his corporate overlords weren’t receptive to the idea of quitting their jobs and letting employees turn the store into a collective. Apparently that isn’t part of their business model, which bizarrely puts the emphasis on making money and turning a profit rather than egalitarian collectivism. The Wobblies are now going after FreshPlus with the National Labor Relations Board which is basically ignoring them, because businesses do have the right to stop employees from soliciting customers on store premises. Nothing wrong with talking to other workers about unionizing, but harassing customers is a faux pas.

This fracas has generated some real entertainment value for people who live in Hyde Park, most of whom are dilettante socialist college professors and sympathize with the Wobblies. There have been pickets with chanting and sign waving plus a couple of marches on the store with a big IWW banner. It’s like a little neighborhood throwback to the good old days of the ’60s – reassuring for aging hippies, but essentially non-threatening.

As for Hastings and Moore, champions of workers rights, they remain unemployed, but ennobled by their sacrifice. FreshPlus had no problem filling their jobs with other hungry proletarian students who now bow under the yoke and chains of corporate oppression.

When, oh when, will part-time college students be able to work in the food industries for above minimum wage without being victimized by capitalist management pigs? But when there are no bosses and we all work in collective harmony, won’t we all be bosses by default?

Dave

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