“We Are All Workers” — stories of struggle at the University of Washington

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-JOMO

 

We are all workers cover

“We are All Workers” is a zine produced by Democracy Insurgent as part of our campaign to fight the impacts of budget cuts and privatization at the University of Washington, Seattle. We are a group animated by principles of anti-racism, anti-imperialism, third world feminism, queer liberation and workers power. Our members are workers, students and unemployed workers. The push toward privatization has resulted in speed up, extra work and sweatshop conditions for workers on campus, hefty tuition hikes for current students, and reduced accessibility to the university for working class students and students of color. All these drastic attacks have been rationalized under the banner of “economic crisis” and inevitable budget cuts. However, it is a mystery why the University president continues to live in a UW student-sponsored mansion and makes about 1 million a year. It is clear that these budget cuts are an attempt to restructure the university and privatize education — this was already in the works for a long time, and the economic crisis provided the best legitimation for it.

This zine is the product of many ideas bubbling in the group over the summer. Some of us in DI were inspired by the Johnson Forrest Tendency, JFT, which produced the piece, “The American Worker.” “The American Worker,” a collaboration between Phil Singer and Grace Lee Boggs under the pen names of Paul Romano and Ria Stone, succeeds in “recognizing and recording” the workplace dynamics that Romano experienced as an auto worker in Detroit during the late 1940s. What is unique about the pamphlet, is that it captures both the rage and frustration that workers feel on the job, as well as the creative solutions that they come up with, that show glimpses of how a workplace free from managerial harassment and control, could function. These vignettes of everyday resistance and creation are best captured by a rank and file worker observing and participating in the informal workgroups and cultures inside the workplace. The pamphlet also highlights how work conditions, even more so than wages, is the key issue that brings workers together. Speed up, extra work, are working conditions that hit the nail on the head: Who controls your working environment and conditions? Who can push you to work faster, harder? Who do you need to fight to work better? In “American Worker,” Romano gives a vibrant and exciting portrayal of how these questions are fundamental to the workers, and how it is eventually workers self activity and power on the shop floor that can change these conditions.

Last September, when some of us walked the picket lines with the Boeing workers in Everett who were then on strike, workers told us how they would do a noisy medley at a specific time every lunch break leading up to the strike, banging on whatever was around them. The noisy clammers that echoed through the entire factory (Boeing’s biggest in the world) were like war songs, echoing solidarity, and power. We were inspired and excited to learn about this, and wondered, what else is happening?

We didnt have to go far. In April this year, as we began organizing around budget cuts at UW, initially as part of the Anti-Budget Cuts Coalition, two custodians came to our meetings to publicize the abuse and cuts they were facing from management.

The same narrative: workers were losing their jobs, there was speed up and extra work, workers were laid off on the pretext of helping the University save money, while not a dime was cut from the top administrators.

During many late night break time meetings, the author of “The Last Man Standing” (an entry in the zine) and his co-workers told us stories of how they chased management out of their building — creating a liberated zone for themselves. They looked out for one another, and relied on each other’s skills to get their job done more efficiently, more effectively, without a micromanaging supervisor or manager breathing down their necks. This structure survived for over 5 years, but was broken up when co-workers were transferred arbitrarily with the excuse of the budget cuts. Management knows, that isolation is the best way to beat down a warrior.

The custodians didnt stop. The informal workgroups that had been cultivated over decades became the glue that brought people across ethnicities, race and language together. The UW custodians are predominantly Filipino, East African, Latino and South Korean. Together with the workers, we organized two big rallies on May 28th and June 11th, that eventually won us some demands. Whereas before only 8 out of 85 positions were to be kept from the swingshift, after the rallies, management conceded and kept 50 positions.

But it isn’t over, and it isn’t enough. No one group of workers can stick their heads out on their own and expect to win. We try to reflect this sentiment in Democracy Insurgent. We organize with workers, students and unemployed folks. No one can go at it alone. We want everything.

In the end, “We are All Workers” is tied to the fighting mission and purpose of Democracy Insurgent. We want to fight against this economic crisis that saves the best for the richest, while those of us at the bottom get the sludge. We want good, healthy, safe jobs, not sweatshops. We want well-paying jobs and education, not prisons. We want anti-racist, anti-colonial curriculums, not the CIA on campus.

You can read more about us on our blog, or visit our new website (work in progress!)

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