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With concerns over COVID safety, economic instability and a massive social upheaval over systemic racism and police violence it’s no surprise that Twin Cities workers are seeking a voice and power through union organizing.
In the service industry, hard hit by the pandemic, the union wave has been particularly strong. When workers at Tattersall Distillery in Northeast Minneapolis won a union representation election in late August, other service industry workers took notice. Tattersall workers had demonstrated for their union, faced down union-busting by their employer and stood strong when it came time to vote.
On September 2, one hundred fifty workers at Surly Brewing told their owner, Omar Ansari, they wanted him to voluntarily recognize their union. Two days later he announced he was closing the well known facility on November 2 and laying off all workers until further notice. Over 200 hundred workers and supporters showed up September 6 outside the beer garden to protest this blatant union-busting. Fearing a backlash from customers, Ansari met with Local 17 and worker reps and reached a deal on September 25 allowing for a neutral union election later in October.
Faced with a unified workforce and the possibility of negative customer reaction to union-busting, the owners of Stilheart and Lawless Distilleries opted for voluntary union recognition on Labor Day. Fair State Brewing followed suit on September 9. But voluntary recognition was not forthcoming at five Spyhouse Coffee shops. The company dug in its heels in late August and in response Spyhouse workers struck on September 19, shutting all shops down tight. Workers have filed for an NLRB election in the face of management intransigence.
DSA Labor Branch In the Midst
Since the summer, DSA members have become increasingly involved in this important organizing wave. Some, like Anders B, were on-the-floor leaders at Fair State Brewing. Others, like Geoff P and Sheigh F, have facilitated organizing as leaders of UNITE-HERE Local 17. DSA has also seen an influx of new members from the service industry, mostly young radicalizing workers interested in worker power and ways to fight race and gender inequity.
In mid-summer, Sheigh explained to DSA labor branch members that Local 17 was getting more calls from workers in the service industry asking for help with organizing than they could handle. We decided then to explore a Local 17/DSA partnership around union organizing. In September we launched a union training program for service industry workers who were interested in becoming volunteer organizers. At the end of this four-part series, we hope to have at least a dozen new worker organizers who can help steer this wave. In the meantime, we have formed a DSA service industry workers committee. It’s an exciting prospect to have DSA in the middle of the most successful union work in the Twin Cities.
Another sector where DSA members have been playing an increasing role is in educator unions. With the safe reopening question driving educator activity, DSA educators and school employees have been present at numerous demonstrations, held a well-attended Zoom event to discuss how to focus protest activity, and formed a DSA educators committee.
Our intention is to build a tendency and perhaps a caucus in our unions that seeks to make coalition with other school workers, parents, students and community. We want our unions to engage in bargaining for the common good, using the Chicago Teachers Union as an example. We want our unions to take on white supremacy and racism in our unions, schools and society as a whole. We believe educator unions need to use direct action such as strikes to win. Finally, we want our unions to have an independent political voice.
DSA members are also playing important roles in AFSCME, the United Food and Commercial Workers, Service Employees Union and Teamsters as well as organizing drives. DSA is moving more into the center of the workers movement. Socialism will never happen without a strong workers movement and the workers movement can’t reach its potential without a strong socialist presence.