I am a UPS Teamster and a Red Card Holder. I say this to let you know where I am coming from, though I do not speak on behalf of either union. The Teamsters have reached a Tentative Agreement with UPS, so a strike may not happen. Still, I have seen many people in IWW-affiliated spaces asking “what can we do to help the strike?” To speak bluntly: nothing. Nothing the IWW is currently capable of can make any meaningful difference if the IBT calls a strike at UPS. This is because the IWW does not have the power to make a difference on that scale. If you do not believe me, let me go through a few of the ways that you might think the IWW can help.
Many members of the IWW look at what NARA or their branches have and say, “That’s so much money!” and for an individual, it is. My branch’s bank account currently has more than half the amount of money I earn in a year. However, that seems like a lot because I am looking at the scale of an individual.
In order to receive our strike benefits, UPS Teamsters need to show up for picket lines. Let’s assume that all of my IBT union siblings do so. There are 340,000 UPS Teamsters. At a minimum strike payment of $200 per week, that would drain $68,000,000 from the strike fund every week. My branch’s entire bank account would last about 4 minutes at that rate. The entire NARA budget and bank account would be gone in less than 4 hours covering a strike at that scale.
What about bringing people to the strike lines? Showing up is important because it helps keep up morale – the most important thing in a strike. However, let’s talk about my hub.
I am not sure about the number of shifts. However, I know that I would need to be at the hub 5 hours a day, and the expectation is that there would be 24-hour picketing. So let’s assume 5 shifts. If everyone shows up so they get their benefits, there would be more people on the strike line at any given time than there are in the largest IWW branch in the country (with some variation for Fridays and Saturdays). There are 34 times as many UPS Teamsters as there are members of the IWW. There are 120 times as many members of the IBT as there are members of the IWW.
A common refrain among left-aligned groups when looking at labor struggles is that they know how to make the struggle work better. As a leftist who has been a peripheral part of higher-profile labor struggles, the arrogance is infuriating.
Are there issues with business unions? Yes. I believe that solidarity unionism is a more effective model. However, at the moment of a strike, the success of the action relies on unity. Sowing division and using the opportunity to draw people into your particular way of viewing the world can only cause damage.
How should we respond?
So where does this leave the IWW? If the union is unable to make a meaningful impact on this strike, we certainly are not doing well at our goal of “forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.” But I am not preaching doom, merely saying that we cannot get to our destination without first knowing where we are.
So what should you do to support UPS workers?
Communicate with locals
It is still worthwhile to show up and support strikes. Do not pretend that you know what is going on at the rank-and-file level. You do not. So, communicate with other unions’ locals. See what they need.
At the same time, realize that no branch of the IWW can do more than what a well-meaning church group could do.
Have a plan
Capitalism sucks. It grinds us down and makes us feel helpless. We often seek something we can do to feel like we actually have power. I am no exception to this. I have organizer delusions of grandeur. Someone (I don’t recall who) once said to me that many Wobbly organizers think of themselves as protagonists in a John Steinbeck novel. So I understand the impulse to want to do something big.
However, no individual can do something big. At the scale of businesses like UPS, the entire IWW might as well be one person. So take that desire to do something big, and think about what it actually requires. Take the first step towards that – which is usually finding someone who wants to take the next step with you. Do something today that actually makes our class able to do more tomorrow.
If you have not been to an OT101, your first priority should be that. Read Weakening the Dam in the meantime. Take steps towards organizing your own workplace. Make sure that they are the actual steps, and you don’t try to jump the gun and claim organization you do not have. If you don’t have a contact list or social map, start building one no later than tomorrow. Build worker militancy so that we will one day have the actual power to overthrow capitalism.
If you have read this, understand my points, and think, “but I want to act in solidarity,” I want to ask you – are you wanting to act in solidarity or are you trying to feel good? Genuine solidarity requires helping in the long run, which means building your ability to help. Solidarity is not moral self-gratification.
Contact the IWW today if you want to start organizing at your job.
If you are a member in good standing and wish to take the Organizer Training 101, please email the OTC. If you would like to request a group OT101 with your GMB, job branch, or coworkers, fill out this form.
Title art is by X364181.