The world of fundraising is an interesting one. No matter what, you need money to operate an organization, and some operations are big enough that they contract out to other companies to do their fundraising for them. A lot of time you see people on the streets with tablets and shirts that say “Planned Parenthood” or “ACLU” on them. But these canvassers don’t work for those organizations. They work for for-profit fundraising companies like Grassroots Campaigns Inc., or GCI.
An ACLU contract can bring in millions for GCI and it works like your typical “trickle down” scheme: it goes all to the top. The workers at the Seattle GCI office had enough of the same old, same old where they had no power in the workplace, so they decided to join the IWW.
GCI’s Progressive Veneer
GCI is a “progressive” company. They advertise their jobs as learning to do activism for important causes, and ACLU and others certainly do some important work, but at its core GCI is led by a group of Democratic Party centrists who have no principles whatsoever. If they stand for progressive change, here is what they offer:
- Low wages for idealistic young people, working them to the bone until they burnout
- Work in rain, sleet, or shine but don’t give them health coverage for when they get sick—fire them instead
- Make workers travel all over the city on their own dime—reimburse them sometimes, or maybe not
- Make workers wear dirty uniforms
- Have a union-busting lawyer as the company’s general counsel
The IWW Comes to Town
GCI workers started getting organized and taking out Red Cards (IWW memberships), and the Seattle branch of the IWW began to work with them. And they took action, too! After getting everyone to sign a petition for an office fridge the workers marched on the boss and made their demands clear—we want to be able to bring our lunches to the office! Management caved. This wouldn’t be the last time the company negotiated with the union and the union won. Not too long after this, their organizing committee began to collect union cards and within a couple months had the shop wrapped up. On February 13th, the workers at GCI filed for an National Labor Relations Board union election, but this was just a formality.
The union was already there. The union was already winning.
GCI tried to pull legal tricks on the members of the IWW’s General Office Workers Industrial Union #650. First they said they were going to challenge the bargaining unit. They said recruitment specialists shouldn’t be allowed to be in the union with canvassers. The union held firm and said “No Way!” to their attempts to trick us into dropping union members from the struggle. Eventually the company caved, again! When March 9th rolled around, the union won its election 15 – 2 and the company not only had to accept the union, but had a Unfair Labor Practice slapped on it for refusing to rehire a worker for their suspected union sympathies.
IWW 650 Job Branch Established
The basic unit of the IWW is the Job Branch. At GCI, the IWW has established a IU650 Job Branch where the workers themselves are able to effectively handle the issues that come up at work. The idea is simple: the workers meet monthly, pay dues to an elected union delegate, and elect a job committee to handle grievances. When an issue comes up, they take collective action to address it. Through this form of organization, the union keeps the company in check and has even been able push back against unjust disciplining.
The workers then entered into contract negotiations with GCI’s Seattle director. On April 9, the director signed a contract with the bargaining unit. On April 19, the GCI workers voted to ratify that contract. This was a huge win for the workers as they won all of their demands!
The IWW is a member-run union for all workers, a union dedicated to organizing on the job, in our industries, and in our communities. We want our workplaces run for the benefit of workers and communities rather than for a handful of bosses and executives. IWW members are organizing to win better conditions today and build a world with economic democracy tomorrow.