International Workers‘ Association’s videoconference on wage theft

On Sunday, 23rd March 2015, the Secretariat of the IWA organized a videoconference on wage theft. The aim was to share experiences from conflicts against bosses and this way help others to act more effectively. We used this form of presentation and discussion for the first time and the result is very positive. Members of organization from Europe and USA took part in the videoconference, concretely from ZSP (IWA Poland), Portland Solidarity Network, Seattle Solidarity Network, Solidarity Federation – Brighton (IWA UK), ARS (IWA Bulgaria), PA (IWA Slovakia), ASI (IWA Serbia) and MASA (Croatia). The topic was highly practical and the discussions helped perhaps the most the members from organization that do not have much experience in organizing conflicts.

Solidarity Federation

Comrades from Brighton focused on of their conflicts they had as the Brighton Hospitality Workers, which is a union initiative of SF in the sector. They explained how they proceed in the conflict. The noted that when they are in contact with the workers they always stress that the conflict requires involvement of said workers and explain that they are an anarchosyndicalist organization, but do not ask people to become members or have the same political views. A video was shown (you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KarZHesUi-k), which was part of their presentation also at the “Problems at Work?” conference in Bratislava in October 2014 (http://www.iwa-ait.org/content/international-conference-bratislava).

Portland Solidarity Network

Member of the Portland Solidarity Network elaborated on specific problems in the conflicts with bosses (for example, sometimes it is not easy to define the exact amount that the worker(s) would demand from the boss). He also pointed out at the importance of having a strategy from the beginning of the conflict, organizing a very effective first action and being able to further escalate the pressure on bosses. There is a big Latino community living in Portland, so the solidarity network has to consider also language and cultural peculiarities. Gentrification is another aspect that shapes the network and one of the significant issues the workers face is also gender-based oppression. The discussion after presentation was about campaign escalation and successful examples from the practice were mentioned. Another important topic was the threat of lawsuits from the bosses and how to build the campaign in a way that minimizes this threat (e.g. by working with proven information, facts...). Question on using labour inspection in the conflict was also raised, to which the comrade from Portland answered that they do not use it (although do not exclude as such), because the inspection acts too slow, the results do not help in getting the desired outcome and primarily the network does not want to rely on this state organization but on their own strength and direct action.

Seattle Solidarity Network

Comrade from “SeaSol” focused more on the topic of strategy and tactics. SeaSol had a lot of campaigns and they shows that either the conflict is easy and fast or very long (when the bosses are stubborn – they the comrade recommends to act in the following way: “When the bosses are stubborn, we have to be even more stubborn”). Sometimes the bosses act hard but this is just they way to hide that direct actions case them a lot of problems. SeaSol member also mentioned what to do when the bosses publicly lie and try to deny their responsibility. He talked about current struggle against a company in the construction sector where the workers are hired as contractors, which creates specific challenges. Also here the participants of the videoconference shared their experience from their actions in similar conflicts.

Union of syndicalists, Poland

One topic of this presentation was work abroad and the importance of combination of direct action, media pressure and having enough verified information in campaigns. As for the first, campaign against practices of OTTO Work Force was mentioned. As for the latter, several campaigns were mentioned including how the demands were met (sometimes even within one or two days). Member of the ZSP spoke critically about the tactics of starting the first action politely and then escalate. She said that the workers were polite before they contacted the union and the boss didn’t listen. When speaking about media, another comrade pointed out at the fact that the campaign has to be credible and work with evidence if the goal is to get the information to mass media. However, it is primarily important to build own media read by the workers.

Autonomous workers union

Presentation of the comrade from Bulgaria was about a conflict they currently have against one of the hotels in the Golden Sands resort, where the boss refuses to pay wages of the staff (in some case it is 2-3, but also 6 months wages). After they published an article about the hotel practices, they got a threatening call from the management telling them to stop with their activities because it is none of their business, that they will be sued etc., but the comrade organized the first picket anyway. Also in this case other comrades gave their ideas on how to act further and mentioned possibilities of international cooperation.

Discussion

The discussion that followed after the presentations was dominated by the topic of membership in the organization, which could be generalized into the question: “How to find an approach that leads to the situation when people whose conflict ends, stay in touch with the organization and help other workers in the future or join the organization?” there are different obstacles and the reality is that most of the workers gave different political awareness than us, don’t have experience with working in organizations and don’t imagine themselves very well what it entails (as the organizations are not only about organizing direct actions), they can have different personal commitments (family, work schedule etc.), they can’t com to all the meetings neither actions etc. on the other hand, it is important to explain that the organization is not a charity, however, the approach that we will help only those who become members was commented as inappropriate. The key thing for a starting organization is to have conflicts and succeed in them, not to necessarily have new members.

Further videoconferences

The first attempt very well and in the near future another international videoconference will take place dedicated to building of anarchosyndicalist organizations.

Michal Tulík,
Priama akcia - Bratislava

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