Content Warning for violence that may disturb some readers
A big reason why an individual joins the IWW is to make their workplace not only better for themselves but their fellow workers. While all workplaces need a union in place to protect its workers, some need it more then others. A year ago I worked for a moving company and witnessed an attempted murder. Not only did management simply brush off the incident as ‘boys will be boys” but they forced us to go to the worksite immediately after. No justified day off to process what had happened and no paid counseling. To say the workplace was toxic would be an extreme understatement.
It would seem a place like this would have early warning signs. But surprisingly, I got the complete opposite vibe when I began working there. I had to do an 8-hour long training day where I watched instruction videos from the aughts. I also had to sign a 20-page document that outlined how there is zero tolerance for drugs, violence, and harassment. The interviewing manager was extremely professional in his interview with me.
An inclination that I could tell something was wrong occurred when a coworker had said the shop lead had beat up the company owner’s son because he had threatened the manager’s family. I definitely thought that was an alarming statement, but it was at a social event and they had consumed large amounts of alcohol. Booze and male pride tends to lead to exaggerating “such and such got their ass kicked so bad.” I thought it was more likely he got pushed a little. There’s a good chance when you threaten a dude’s family he will get very pissed off. I personally feel there should be no physical contact with someone unless they prove an immediate threat to oneself or others. But given the reason behind it, I uncomfortably brushed it off as relatively insignificant.
Now it is time to go into more detail about the attempted murder. It was like any other day. We were moving stuff out of the trucks to make room for the day’s job. Suddenly, I hear yelling. It was my manager and coworker arguing over the placement of items on the shop floor. Not long after they broke into a fist fight with coworkers jumping in to try and pull them off of each other. Before that could happen the coworker broke away and left. The shop lead who had garden shears threw them at him. Before they could hit him a female worker stepped in front at the wrong time and got them stuck in her head all the way. She was screaming “pull them out!” Luckily before anyone did another worker yelled not to do it, and though traumatized, she ultimately survived.
I was in shock, but before I could really process it everyone went back to work. Being the good worker I was, I did the same. I thought maybe I should have quit at that exact moment. But I did not because I felt like I needed a six-month employment period to fill my employment gap in my resume, regardless of the cost to my mental health. The following day was a bring-breakfast-to-work-day (it had been scheduled before the stabbing occurred). After we ate, the company owner said how proud he was of us for “remaining professional and getting the job done.” To my disbelief, he did not go on to say there would be therapy paid by the company. Nor did he say that there would be a conflict resolution program to prevent this from happening again.
In conclusion, the whole point of a person joining the IWW is to make a work environment a much better place to be. Personal experience has shown that a union could potentially mean life or death for a worker. If my moving company had a union, a conflict de-escalation program may have meant an innocent woman could have kept a piece of her skull. So fellow workers reading this, continue your mission unionizing! Failure could mean death.
Editor’s Note: The fact that the boss thought that a “bring-breakfast-to-work” party was an appropriate way to start the day after a traumatizing event speaks volumes. I think that this could have been a way to agitate people, validate very real concerns, and beginning organizing efforts. It is infuriating that such workplace violence happened and was completely preventable.
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.