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More Responses to Joe Slovo

Posted by ACORN, "employee" Joe Slovo on 3/28/2001:

I am a current employee of ACORN and I am posting this without the knowledge or sanction of my supervisor or senior ACORN management. This is strictly on my own and represents my own views, no one else's.

Here are some questions I have about the current conflict between the IWW and ACORN.

First, why are all the people on strike employees with less than 6 months seniority? It would seem to me that a truly deeply felt unionization effort would include employees with longer tenures who have seen and felt management's responses to employee complaints over time.

Second, why did staff resort to striking so quickly? Striking is so drastic a move that it is often the tactic of last resort. My understanding of the IWW's efforts at ACORN is that practically the first thing that happened was a strike. Why weren't other workplace direct action tactics tried first?

Third, regarding the demands. One of the demands is for a 40 hour work week. I want to know how many hours a week the strikers are spending fighting this battle and how many hours the IWW organizers are spending helping the workers. Social justice isn't a 9-5 job. Ask any union organizer and they'll tell you that a 40 hour week is a fantasy.

Now, it seems the larger question is one of preventing organizer burnout and respecting the needs of employees for a social/family life outside of ACORN. And this is a very important question, one which could generate a lot of support for efforts to win, say, comp time or more vacation time.

The fact that the demand is framed as a 40-hour work week demand just shows how little respect the strikers really have for the work they do and the members they are doing it with and for. No organization that is serious about building a mass-based movement for social and economic justice is going to do it on a 9-5 schedule.

Fourth, if this is really about making ACORN a better place to work and build a career, why are the tactics being used the kinds of tactics that you would use against a multi-billion dollar corporation? This strikes me as the Vietnam-era "We had to destroy the village in order to save it" mentality. What really saddens me is the complete lack of respect the strikers have for the good work that ACORN does despite the internal problems. If they were serious about this they wouldn't be trying to destroy the local offices, which ultimately hurts the ACORN members more than anyone else.

Why is the IWW spending so much time and effort fighting to unionize an organization that struggles constantly to meet its financial obligations when their anti-capitalist ethos would seem to indicate that they would be going balls-to-the-wall to unionize places like banks, check-cashing outlets, fast food franchises, and drive-through oil-change places? Why is the IWW so intent on cannibalizing the left?

ACORN is not without serious management problems which hamper our ability to do the work we have set out for ourselves. I am not against unionization of ACORN as a concept or possibility. I believe that ACORN could use a balanced and fair system that allows for more employee redress of grievances. I believe that ACORN should figure out how to communicate much more effectively with its employees and offer better support and training. It should make a serious commitment to invest in its workers. I believe some of this is staring to happen, with the best example being the recent 33% salary increase for starting organizers. I believe that we have a long way to go to actually institutionalize this investment and that a union or organizing effort could help push this process forward.

But I have no faith in the IWW's attempts to improve working conditions or their ability to organize at ACORN. Their treatment of ACORN as an institutionally evil workplace and demonic employer indicates a serious lack of understanding and respect for the history and culture of the organization. The reckless tactics taken by ACORN's IWW members show a serious lack of strategic vision for a winning campaign here.

For God's sake, this is an organization built by organizers. You need to out-organize them to win. The steps taken so far would be embarrassing if they weren't so damaging. They serve as an indication to me that the people behind this drive don't really care about making ACORN a better place to work, they care about making a political point at the expense of ACORN's low and moderate income membership.

Response #5 - Posted by Anonymous on 4/5/2001, 7:06 am:

It seems to me that this person who questions the motivations of the disgruntled ACORN organizers is either a head organizer or one who is extremely sympathetic to the upper echelon's cause. I do not see how anyone would need to speculate on the validity of organizers wanting to work to create a workplace which instills the some of the very values which make up the premise of ACORN: Justice, equality, fairness. In reading to the article, by Mr. Slovo, it was made obvious to me that he was misinformed about many of the concerns he expressed.

First, he brings up the issue of seniority. Why is it that the only people striking are the ones who've been with ACORN six months or less, he asks. How does he know of this statistic so accurately? Did he take a survey? How does he know that every individual striking is a new employee? Also, when I read the inquiry about seniority, I immediately thought of the "Radical" caucus in New Orleans. I attended this caucus and there were people in the room undermining the progression of this new, "radical" caucus by constantly instigating the two kids hosting it, instigating the other members of the audience. They did this by asking how long had each of the organizers, asking questions or making comments in regards to the caucus, had been with ACORN. Most had been 6 months. or less. Later I found out from one of the lead speakers of the caucus that all of the people who'd been questioning the comments of the audience, and who'd essentially been preventing the caucus to progress in a productive manner were ALL lead organizers. And apparently, from what I was told, they do that sort of thing with every new caucus. For instance, when the Black Caucus began, the same thing occurred. When I was told this, it seemed to me that those in the higher pyramid of the ACORN hierarchy make attempts to infiltrate anything that may interfere with the ACORN agenda. In their minds they believe that the democratic act of unionizing will divide and/or cause insurgency within the organization.

Second, the concerned organizer felt that enough steps were not being taken to address the situation. Again, he is ill-informed. In Dallas, the organizers did not just go on strike. In fact, they talked it over with their head organizer, and at one point they had a ACORN union organizer with them negotiating the prospect of a union. The next day, the two were fired. Subsequently, they did not have a chance to negotiate further, like Mr. Slovo suggested, nor did they even have a chance to strike. Any talk about unionizing and you're gone.

Third, the gentleman talks about how these striking workers aren't dedicated to the cause. Personally, I think that anyone who accepts a job with ACORN has the dedication within them. Just by agreeing to take a job that pays less than minimum wage, over 54 hours a week (you know about all those phone calls for an action you spend well after 9 and go to work early to do), working at night in dangerous neighborhoods, let alone if you don't have a car and you're in a city with a not-so-great public transportation system, after spending 4 or more years and $20,000 or more dollars in college. Some of the organizers, accused by Mr. Slovo of not being truly dedicated to the cause, I personally witnessed sacrifice in Dallas, and give their all to the fight for social justice and ACORN. I watched as they worked well past their given hours, not getting paid, to make sy human. We can only work so much, live on so little, have so much support. Just because we are not Jesus, does not mean that we are not dedicated to the cause of social justice.

One last thing. In one the responses, an organizer mentions one of the important things that need to be reformed in ACORN. I think this is mentioned elsewhere within the ACORN Union responses. Anyway, there is the demand that ACORN is very upfront with its new or prospective employees about all of the responsibilities delegated to the organizer. Specifically, raising your own paychecks and how door-knocking and canvassing play a key role in producing paychecks. In addition to possible days without lunch breaks. I know personally for me, upon my recruitment, I had no concept of me having to be responsible for producing the money that would result in my being paid, on time or at all. Also, I always thought it was illegal to not have a 30 min. break for 8 hours of work. So, when I was not permitted a lunch at one point during my time at the ACORN in Dallas, I was shocked to think that anyone could get away with this given our progress in labor rights. It is very important that ACORN in its recruitment procedures, is very explicit and frank about the job itself. Especially, in how door-knocking and canvassing is directly related to you receiving a paycheck, how you some days may or may not get a lunch break, and of course not to question the way things are done within organizations structure.

In summation, why should ACORN organizers be denied the very thing we come to ACORN fight for? My roommate joked when Dallas was launching the living wage campaign, "You guys are fighting for people to get a living wage, when you all don't even receive a living wage". That's so true. I know what you all have to go through and encourage all of the strikers to keep the faith and the knowledge of what's right within you, as well as my sisters and brothers who've been laid off or quit as a result of this unfair and unfortunate circumstance.

"Get up, stand up! Stand up for your rights" -Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Response #6 - Posted by X352548 on 4/9/2001, 1:52 pm:

Dear Joe, I am one of the ACORN workers from Philadelphia who was fired for organizing a union. We set out to strengthen the organization and to improve our working conditions. We are perplexed and disturbed by ACORN management's reaction, which has been to fight us every step of the way.

You ask why so many ACORN workers who are organizing unions worked at ACORN for less than 6 months. I challenge you to find the non-management employees working at ACORN longer than 6 months. There are very few. Usually ACORN workers don't stick around for more than 6 months -- for some very obvious reasons. This is one of the reasons we decided to form a union. Inttle was sick and had no health insurance. We want health insurance activated on time. I was reprimanded for taking a lunch break during our organizing drive. We want guaranteed lunch breaks. My fellow workers in Dallas and Seattle received late and short paychecks. We want paychecks issued on time and paid in full. These are our demands. This is why we decided to form unions.

We contacted the IWW and began our struggle for a just workplace. In retaliation for our attempts to improve our working conditions and strengthen ACORN we have been laid off, fired, and locked out. We are the workers who are organizing ourselves. No IWW organizer is attempting to organize us against ourselves. They have aided us in our struggle. We are ACORN workers. We are the union.

Response #7 - Posted by Anonymous on 4/9/2001, 9:01 pm:

I am a union organizer, and recently, all of the organizers on our campaign organized our own staff union just as thousands of other union staff have across the country. We are currently in the process of negotiating our first contract. Also, I'd like to point out that SEIU, AFSCME, HERE, and tons of other unions have staff that are also unionized. It's not that crazy of an idea. A worker is a worker is a worker...

And all workers have the right to organize.