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The IWW Responds to 20 ACORN Claims

By Fellow Worker X352548, et. al. - April 18, 2001

ACORN Management has circulated a number of claims (and some outright myths) in response to the IWW's attempts to help ACORN workers organize a staff union in Philadelphia, Seattle, and other cities. IWW members, ACORN workers and members, the labor movement, and the general public have been presented with a number of claims from ACORN 's management and its apologists. Several of these have been made by Wade Rathke, Helene O'Brien, and Doug Bloch themselves! Here are some of the IWW's responses to these claims and myths:

Claim #1 - "Fellow Worker X352548 was fired for an unexcused absence."

FACT - Fellow Worker X352548 received a memo stating "You are terminated effective immediately." with no further explanation. Her pro-union co-worker was also fired. Unfair Labor Practices were filed with the National Labor Relations Board in both cases. Charges are pending. Fellow Worker X352548 is eligible for unemployment, further justifying the fact that her termination was not a result of her willful misconduct.

Claim #2 - "Seattle ACORN workers struck only 30 minutes after posting their demands."

This is true, but the claim is often made without any context. The Seattle workers requested union recognition from their boss and informed him that they were prepared to strike if he refused recognition. When he refused recognition, claiming that he needed to consult with his boss, Wade Rathke, the strikers agreed to return in a half an hour and call off the strike if he agreed to recognize the union. The strikers returned to his office several times that day and the following day inquiring whether he was ready to recognize the union. At one point, the boss even offered to sacrifice Washington ACORN membership for the battle over union recognition. Furthermore, Seattle ACORN workers knew of Philadelphia ACORN management's reaction (see Claim #1, above) to attempts to unionize which followed standard organizing procedures (i.e. the union collecting authorization cards and presenting the results of the authorization campaign to the boss in request for voluntary recognition). The actions of the Seattle ACORN workers did not happen in a political vacuum.

Claim #3 - "The workers' demands of 40 hours and partners are unreasonable."

The 40 hour work week is only unreasonable for the ACORN worker whose life is void of family and friends. Ten hour days and work every weekend make it nearly impossible for ACORN workers to spend quality time with family and friends. The ACORN worker with children sees them off to school in the morning and comes home from work to sleeping children. Weekend hours that the worker could be spending with his or her children are also spent at work. Of course the working conditions are much easier to handle for the young worker fresh out of college with no family to take care of or debt to pay. While the ACORN worker with debts and families struggle to balance work life and home life, young college grads can dedicate extra hours to work and quickly move to a management position. This excludes many people who live in the neighborhood from working in their own neighborhoods.

Claim #4 - "Seattle ACORN workers stole membership lists."

The member list is only way for workers to inform members about the union. Of course it's also the only way for ACORN management to contact members about the union. The workers knocked on the members doors and signed them up - not management. Workers are entitled to all they produce. Organizers produce membership lists and are entitled to these lists. When ACORN management talks to members about the union, we should ask, "Who is really stealing the lists?"

Claim #5 - "Strikers (in Seattle) broke someone's car windows."

And the day after the workers in Philly asked for union recognition one of the union supporters found an exacto-blade in the tire of her car. It is ridiculous and pretentious to assume that every hardship is somehow related to anti-union activity. The claim about the broken car-windows has never been verified with any documentable evidence, and was posted on the IWW Bulletin Board by an unreliable source.

Claim #6 - "ACORN doesn't have any money."

FACT - According to ACORN, they received at least $2.8 million (excluding NYC ACORN) in grants last year alone. ACORN's website claims: "The organization is now 80% self-sufficient, deriving its funds primarily from members' dues, raffles, ad sales, dinners, and other events." That puts ACORN's budget somewhere around $14 million dollars. Quite a bit of money for an organization that claims to be "poor." According to ACORN, there are 150 organizers on staff nationwide who make approximately $20,000/year. The grants almost cover the cost of staff. So where does the other $10 million dollars go each year? Furthermore, if ACORN doesn't have enough money to give workers timely and full paychecks, how can ACORN afford to open offices up across the country?

Claim #7 - "The IWW's actions will destroy ACORN."

ACORN has offered no explanation for this claim and no description of how this will happen. Workers want a voice, safe working conditions, reasonable hours, and timely paychecks. Which one of these will destroy ACORN. The workers' demands will destroy ACORN's exploitation of workers. The IWW has never expressed any interest in destroying ACORN. It would be absolutely counterproductive to both the IWW and ACORN for the IWW to try and destroy ACORN. So far, it is ACORN management that has engaged in self-destructive tendencies.

Claim #8 - "Strikers betrayed ACORN members and communities of color."

So far, no representative of any communities of color have declared this. Only ACORN management has made this claim (and so far all of those publicly supporting this claim, to the IWW's knowledge, have been white). Union supporters in both Seattle and Philadelphia include people of color. When workers tell ACORN members about their working conditions the members show astounding support. For example in Seattle dozens of members canceled their ACORN membership because of ACORN management's union busting. ACORN management betrays its own workers and members of color by going against the members' desire to have the union recognized.

Claim #9 - "Strikers are white, middle-class, college kids."

This is a deliberate half-truth. Both union supporters from Philly and strikers from Seattle included working class and African-American organizers as well as a member turned organizer from Seattle. And, if some of the strikers happen to be college students with middle-class backgrounds, so what! A worker is a worker is a worker, pure and simple. Many organizations similar to and including ACORN target "middle-class, college kids" specifically, hoping to prey on a sense of liberal guilt. The message ACORN spreads by making this claim is that exploitation is acceptable.

Claim #10 - "The IWW fooled or coerced ACORN members into supporting the strike."

This is what ACORN management calls organizing people. Workers gave members the information they needed to decide whether or not they supported the workers. Most chose to support the workers.

Claim #11 - "The IWW is losing the campaign."

The president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO honored the IWW picket in front of an ACORN event; the King County County Labor Council (located in Seattle) endorsed the striking workers; the international staff union of SEIU (the largest union in the country) gave a donation to the striking workers; the ex-boss of Philadelphia ACORN signed a letter of support for organizing ACORN workers; and the Wall Street Journal published an article about the organizingdrive on their front page. If this is a sign that the IWW is losing the campaign, what would happen if we were winning?

Claim #12 - "The IWW has no support in the labor movement."

Here is a partial list of the unions and organizations that have endorsed us:

1) Greater Seattle Area Local #28 APWU, AFL-CIO
2) Seattle Area SEIU Local #6, AFL-CIO
3) King County Labor Council, AFL-CIO
4) General Teamsters Local Union #174
5) The Seattle Chapter of the Labor Party
6) Outfront Labor Coalition
7) Seattle Jobs with Justice
8) Portland (Oregon) Jobs with Justice
9) Church Council of Greater Seattle
10) The Seattle Tenet's Union
11) Radical Women

The Pierce County Labor Council , AFL-CIO (located in Tacoma, Washington) is in the midst of voting on an endorsement, and will probably pass it.

Claim #13 - "The IWW 'Week of Solidarity' fizzled."

Solidarity was shown in ten cities across the US, making headlines in the Boston Herald and provoking responses from ACORN's top management. The IWW accomplished the goal of informing fellow ACORN workers about ACORN management's attempts to bust up unions. The IWW made no claim that the week of Solidarity would be more than it was, and managed to organize these actions despite the IWW Web Servers being knocked off the internet due to Northpoint going out of business that week.

(The IWW maintains its own internet server network. At the time of the strike, the primary IWW.ORG server operated in a rented office off of a commercial DSL line. We used Flashcom.Net which was affiliated with Northpoint. Like so many capitalist run enterprises, it eventually failed screwing over its customers in the process, including us. We have since upgraded to a secure colocational facility.)

Claim #14 - "The workers are not actually locked out."

The workers offered an unconditional return to work and were not allowed back after striking. If that is not a lockout, please explain what a lockout is.

Claim #15 - "The IWW is cannibalizing the left and attacking ACORN."

It's silly for ACORN management to claim that timely paychecks, walking in pairs, and a couple work free weekends a month will hurt the left. However spitting out another dozen burnt out ACORN workers each month who used to believe in the "left" is a fantastic way to cannibalize the left. ACORN workers organized in part to strengthen the organization that is made weak by the high turnover rate. Some ACORN offices cannot even manage to hire enough organizers to meet their professed minimum staff levels (this has happened recently in Oakland ACORN). Inside sources have suggested that ACORN plans to focus more energy into opening up new ACORN officers rather than strengthen the existing ones. This is a very questionable way to build the left.

Claim #16 - "The IWW is not a real union."

Wouldn't that be a convenient excuse! The fact is that the IWW represents real workers and has several contracted shops. The IWW isn't affiliated with the AFL-CIO, but is recognized (in the United States of America), by the NLRB as a legitimate union.

Why does ACORN argue that the IWW isn't a "real" union? Is that because the IWW doesn't wine and dine enough with politicians? Or is it because the union doesn't strike enough "deals" with bosses? Perhaps it's the IWW's democratic structure that makes it "unreal." Whatever the reason workers can be proud to organize with a union that refuses to fall into the same trap that so many AFL-CIO unions have fallen into.

Claim #17 - "ACORN is a revolutionary collective organization."

A collective with bosses? A collective where the workers are not members and neither workers nor members determine organizational policies? And if it is revolutionary to allow workers to be attacked while working and to deny them lunch breaks and paychecks then that's the wrong kind of revolution anyhow.

Claim #18 - "ACORN is a working class organization."

ACORN is an organization that advocates for its working class constituents while stepping on the heads of its own working class workers. Hiring working class workers doesn't make any organization or corporation working class until the workers have formed strong union, enabling them to oust the boss and take control of the organization.

Claim #19 - "ACORN workers know what they're getting into when they get jobs there."

Workers in Philadelphia were denied the so-called Staff Policy Manual after requesting copies several times. Maybe the "No lunch break unless you kiss up to your boss" policy, the "Selected workers will receive late and short paychecks" policy and "Be prepared to be attacked in the field" policies are clearly stated in his manual. Too bad no worker has ever seen the manual.

Claim #20 - "The IWW receives funding from the far-right."

This is an outright and deliberate lie. Helene O'brien, ACORN National Field Director told one ACORN member who was withholding his membership contribution in solidarity with the striking workers, "There are some in our organization that believe the radical right is funding the wobblies' entire effort". Of course, she didn't specifically identify who in ACORN believes this, and she offered no evidence to support this claim. The IWW receives its (extremely limited) funding almost entirely from membership dues, literature sales, or bequests from its members. None of the IWW members are affiliated with the right in any way. The IWW's entire yearly budget doesn't even exceed five-figures in US Dollars and is probably less than the average salary of most AFL-CIO union bureaucrats.