Legendary IWW comes to life in Gainesville
Bill Edwards
September 1998

On Sunday afternoon, July 12, fifteen people turned out to help the IWW picket the McDonalds at NW 13th Street near the UF campus. Picketers were young men and women associated with the Civic Media Center. Elsie Allen, president of the regional AFL-CIO council, stopped by to offer the hand of solidarity. Matthew Marsh, council secretary-treasurer, carried a picket sign.

What was the picketing about? First, it was about the unlawful way McDonalds treats its employees when they try to join a union. The picketing on Sunday was part of a national "Picket McDonalds Day" action led by the IWW.

The company reportedly fired employees at its franchise in Macedonia, Ohio for joining the union. Brian Drapp and Jamal Nickens wrote "Go Union" on their foreheads and were immediately discharged. Workers walked out in protest. They were promptly replaced.

So what is the IWW? It's the Industrial Workers of the World. On June 27, Big Bill Haywood of the Western Federation of Miners gaveled the first IWW convention to order with a 2 by 4. The IWW was commonly known as the Wobblies. Critics said that IWW meant "I Wont Work." The union brought workers of whatever employment together in one big union. Membership peaked at about 100 thousand.

The Wobblies were militant, determined unionists communicating nationwide by telegraph with members hopping freight trains to join the latest IWW strike whterever it was. The Wobblies didn't get along with capitalists and they didn't get along well with the AFL trade unions either. Today we would say the IWW was out to kick butt. Members were fans of socialist Eugene Debbs, himself a Wobbly . The IWW would take on the establishment in whatever its guise.

The IWW won some strikes but lost more. It finally faded away as its leaders were systematically framed and jailed, and as the trade unions gained strength, but oldtimers kept the IWW office in Chicago regardless of hard times. And a few years ago young people started putting the IWW back together agian.

Here in Gainesville, IWW member Jason Adams organized the picketing at McDonalds. The union picketed for two hours, calling on the public, with some success, to boycott McDonalds until it pays attention to US labor law that is supposed to guarantee workers the right to join a union without management reprisal. Union leaders say the labor law, like the workers compensation law, has become more of hindrance than an aid to workers because of the lack of enfoercement and the great delay in procedures.

In St. Hubert, Quebec, the employees of a McDonalds there went public with their demands for a union in March of 1997. According to employees there, 80% of the workers favored a union, citing low and stagnant wages and unsafe working conditions. They were ultimately successful in bringing in a union, but soon after, the McDonalds closed. Adams thinks workers will finally have to call large scale, general strikes to get companies like McDonalds to come to the bargaining table. He points to the island-wide strike in Puerto Rico as a spontaneous action when workers all across industry struck to protest the sale of the Puerto Rico Telephone Company to private interests. The buyer has pledged to cut the number of jobs.

"The nature of government has always been to protect the interest of the employing class at the expense of the working class," Adams said. "We have many examples of this divide right here in Florida." "Today spontaneous strikes are occurring all around the country," Adams said, "even among non-union workers, and I expect an even greater militancy will develop as the big corporations and their captive governments continue to knock us out of work with NAFTA and other foreign trade sell outs."

Any worker can join the IWW. For details call 336-0367, or visit the website http://iww.org.

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