On June 16th nearly the entire staff on shift at Seward Co-op’s Franklin Ave. store walked out for a 9 minute work stoppage to mourn the murder of George Floyd and to stand in solidarity with the #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd protests erupting around the world. Nine minutes is the length of time George Floyd suffocated under MPD officer Derek Chauvin’s knee. This was an effort led entirely by rank and file workers. With our action we also hoped to encourage the Seward Co-op to announce its support for dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department and called on the leadership of UFCW Local 663 (our union) to demand Bob Kroll’s immediate resignation.
I was a part of the core group who organized the work stoppage. We were inspired by a very similar action planned by workers at the Wedge Co-op a couple weeks before ours. As soon as we heard about the Wedge action, we knew we wanted to plan something at Seward. We were excited about the idea of using our power as workers to act in solidarity with the uprising happening in Minneapolis and to call on our store management and union leadership to take bolder steps in addressing systemic white supremacy, particularly the way in which it manifests within the Minneapolis Police Department. We also hoped that our action would play a small role in helping push the labor movement (and our union) to be more militantly anti-racist and to see anti-racist struggle as interconnected to the struggle against economic exploitation.
We started having conversations about the action with our co-workers on the shop floor a week before the action. Almost everyone responded really positively to the idea. One strategy for spreading the word that I found very helpful (and first learned in an IWW Organizer Training 101) was to connect with folks who had significant social capital and trust among their coworkers in their departments and ask them to help us spread the word. It is much more likely that people will listen to, and act with, someone they’ve worked closely with than an eager “organizer” from a different department running around trying to talk to literally everyone.
On the day of the action, we were blown away when nearly everyone on shift walked out with us. I chatted with some workers afterward who we hadn’t been able to reach out to about the stoppage beforehand, but still decided to walk out on the fly. I’m pretty sure there were several workers who we did not connect with beforehand but chose to walk. I think one possible reason for this is that the uprising in Minneapolis has created a sense of urgency and opened up many folks’ imaginations and interest in breaking social norms to fight for social and racial justice. In a lot of ways, the status quo has cracked. To me this shows that in historic and tumultuous moments like these, when people are given an invitation (even without all the 1 to 1’s and follow-up conversations that are typically the bread and butter of workplace organizing) many will act. Embedded in the Minneapolis uprising there is a lesson and an invitation for the labor movement to act in solidarity with popular revolts, to bring more people into the struggle for liberation in the workplace, and to be more militantly anti-racist – to truly embody the reality that an injury to one is an injury to all.
– Joe K.