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More Responses to ACORN Misinformation, April 24, 2001

Whether chosen, elected, or self-appointed, "Joe Slovo" has been near as anything ACORN's unofficial spin doctor. "He" claims to be a worker and not management, one who opposes the IWW, because "its tactics aren't correct", or "the workers desiring a union are "mediocre", or "the IWW has no support". For this reason, the IWW continues to respond, because whether intended or not, "Joe Slovo" shows that ACORN has a rationalization for every action they take and an answer for everything. Fortunately, they are usually wrong, and the IWW is more than happy to point this out. First Fellow Worker X352548 responds to his claim that the workers desiring a union are "mediocre":

Fellow Worker X352548 - Joe Slovo's Lies

Joe Slovo:

You need to stop repeating management lies about my performance as an ACORN worker without knowing any of the facts. I'll provide them for you. The last full month I worked at ACORN, I signed up more members than anyone else in the office including the lead organizer (I would send you the documented info but you won't tell anyone who you are). I had outstanding turnout at all of my OC meetings (approximately 10-12 at each meeting). I met quotas and even spent the entire weekend before I was fired working on mailings and turnout for the large meeting which I would have organized if I wasn't fired. If you really are an ACORN organizer then you know that these numbers are considered "successful" by ACORN management. You assert that I am an example of a "failing organizer who is unwilling to figure out how to be successful." If you still believe this is true, you need to extend the assertion to all ACORN organizers including yourself. We can certainly work from that premise and assume that the advice you give us on how to run this drive will be unhelpful.

I can tell a few things about you, though -- you look down upon people like myself who were born into working class families -- describing our world as "the American 3rd world, which is mostly hidden from view...[where] you have to deal with internalized racism, overt sexism, and the attitude of low-income people who are skeptical of everything, especially your fresh-faced earnestness to change the system." From your postings, it's clear that our world is indeed hidden from your earnest and fresh face. You sound like you think you are an angel coming to save the wretched from poverty. If this is your attitude, even your long hours and bad working conditions can not make you a martyr of the poor or even a good organizer.

You claim that I "disappeared for 3 days before the big meeting, without calling in." However, I called in on my sick days, and made sure my boss had the information he needed for the upcoming OC meeting (not the big meeting by the way). Clearly I broke no rules. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry ruled that my termination was unrelated to any "willful misconduct." It's odd that while you criticize me, you spend your time at work sending postings to this board -- essentially charging ACORN members for your anti-union activity.

Similarly, you fail to criticize ACORN management for using membership dues to fly ACORN employees from Philadelphia to Seattle to scab on locked-out Seattle workers. And you make no mention of the back pay that ACORN management will owe to workers in Seattle, Philadelphia and Dallas. Why the double standard?

And please stop with the silly lines: "I'm not opposed to a union, just not this union." That's what management says in every organizing drive. Ask any union organizer.

Furthermore stop calling organizing ACORN workers "leaders" -- as if a Wobbly organizer knocked on my door and asked me to lead a campaign against ACORN. To your surprise, we contacted the IWW and asked them to help us out. And they've done an excellent job so stop criticizing them.

Why do you refuse to use your real name? You are either management or you are kissing up to your boss who allows you to send anti-union messages during work time. How many of your co-workers are allowed to spend time sending email while at work? And what do you think would happen to you if this actually was pro union email? How can you expect to have an ounce of credibility without identifying yourself? (For some reason anti-union opponents rarely identify themselves in this campaign) For all we know you could be Jeff, Doug, or Wade.

So stop spreading management's lies and making up your own. If you were excited and interested in the union drive you would have contacted us when you found out about it privately and made suggestions. Instead you are making a miserably poor attempt to discredit this organizing drive that ACORN management is quickly losing.

"Joe Hill" - On Shop by Shop Organizing

(Joe Slovo says):

You say they had no choice if there were to avoid getting fired, I say that the whole premise of the organizing drive which took an office-by-office approach was flawed and had other tactics been used, this action wouldn't have been necessary and would have still won the goals of greater workplace democracy. Ya'll have side stepped this issue, while accusing my of sidestepping the issues of abstract ideas.

I'll address this, and I'll even treat it as if it were a sincere request, forgetting for now that you have consistently demonstrated that you hope management succeeds in busting the union.

OK, you say that organizing workers shop-by-shop is a flawed tactic. I'd be interested in hearing your experience with other tactics in similar circumstances. The fact is that when ACORN workers approached the IWW in Seattle, ACORN management had already begun a nation-wide union-busting campaign of captive meetings, threats and firings. Now, that's nothing new -- that's exactly what Amazon.com did when they found out about Washtech-CWA's organizing drive in Seattle.

That's why the general rule for an organizing drive is to keep the drive secret from the boss for as long as possible. You build up your strength, gathering information and bringing together the strongest pro-union workers, so that when the boss finds out, you can withstand his attack.

So, if the IWW were to try an all-at-once nationwide campaign that would necessitate approaching ACORN workers in every city without a single manager discovering the drive. Of course, given that ACORN's stated principles are very pro-union, and all of ACORN's management at least claims to be pro-union, it would be inevitable for at least one ACORN worker somewhere in the country making the mistake of approaching their "pro-union" manager and trying to get them on board. If the manager really is pro-union, as some are, they might not share the information with ACORN national management -- but the reality is that more likely than not they would tip off national management. And at that point, they would be informed that "a union is needed here" that ACORN workers aren't really workers, etc. And then the nationwide union-busting campaign would begin.

Now, what you are arguing is that even that that point, if a city had 100% of the workers wanting a union, the union should tell them, no, we won't support you in getting recognition locally as soon as possible, you have to wait until we organize everyone else nationally, and if any of you get fired of if your manager commits any other unfair labor practices, you can't go on strike or even publicly expose ACORN management. I'd be interested in hearing one example of a union organizing drive where the union did this and won. It's just not good tactics, never mind the fact that it would require the union overruling the decisions of the workers they are organizing.

This is the whole reason that NLRB has developed the single-facility presumption -- essentially, if workers at one facility of a multi-facility operation decide to organize, the NLRB presumes that the single-facility is an appropriate bargaining unit unless the employer can show that there are exceptional circumstances that require a multi-facility bargaining unit (generally things like more than one facility in one city, with workers routinely rotated between the different facilities, and with workers being centrally managed, since in such a situation, it would be impossible to say which workers work at which facility). You will find that employers hate the single-facility presumption and are actively trying to bribe politicians to legislate it away, for the very fact that organizing shop-by-shop works. Who knows, ACORN management might luck out and Bush might ram through legislation to do away with it -- he seems to be trying to gut workers' rights in every other way he can -- hardly a position to be proud of, though.

Of course, if you have a lot of union organizing experience and see things differently, feel free to explain your better strategy.

x344543 - Joe Slovo's Misinformation

Here's Joe's latest:

Jeez, Steve, thanks for the belittling tone. Here's how I know if people are mediocre: the dues chart is passed around in several offices as is a report on turnout. The organizers in the drive are almost all in the lower echelons of that report. It is based on numbers, which is how our organizing is constructed, and that is how we can tell if people are doing well or not.

These numbers don't necessarily mean what you think. To infer that lower numbers equal less capable organizers is an absurd reduction. Lower numbers could be indicators of many other things, such as: worse bosses, pro-union organizers dispatched to harder to organize neighborhoods, organizers with less experience, harder campaigns, different methods of organizing used in different cities, and so on. The fact is that in Seattle, all the organizers went on strike. If they were so mediocre, how come Seattle ACORN couldn't hire the better ones? Maybe the real reason why the numbers are so mediocre is that the working conditions there are so bad. As for the situation in Philadelphia, Gina has answered your claims quite adequately.

Which brings me to your point on how the IWW works. Which is very similar to how a local ACORN group works, except we employ professional organizers to ask the tough questions of the leaders and help them think through a campaign based on what they want to see accomplished. Your model of decision making allows the best arguer to organize people into making terrible decisions, which is what we've seen here. Why would it be antithetical to have someone who knows organizing to work with the people who want to organize their workplace? I would say that it is the union's responsibility to play that role. That's what most other unions do it, especially the ones that kick ass like the SEIU Justice for Janitors campaigns.

Now you're arguing that democratic decision making is a bad organizing model! I'm not going to even get into that thread of discussion because historically it's inaccurate. One of the strongest and most militant unions on the North American continent is the ILWU which adopts a model similar to the IWW. It is much stronger, has much better contracts, and much more militant workers than SEIU. ILWU isn't perfect either; in fact it is wracked with political factions, but at least the workers there have some power to make decisions that affect them. But you choose a very bad example in holding up SEIU 1877 as a paragon of an organizing model. In fact, SEIU 1877 is a perfect example of why democratic unions are better than top-down organizations run by "professionals".

Two examples: Workers at the Berkeley YMCA had a choice between IWW and SEIU 1877. They chose SEIU 1877 because it had more money than the IWW. The Local 1877 organizer was autocratic, forced the workers to use tactics they considered too tame, and ultimately abandoned the workers when the election went against them. When four of the workers were fired for union activity, SEIU didn't do anything to help them, because they didn't want to sanction a strike. All of the workers who had originally chosen SEIU 1877 regretted not choosing the IWW. The IWW did most of the work, but got no credit for this.

A second example: SEIU 1877 has been accused of political opportunism and political back stabbing. They muscled their way into the San Francisco janitors industry by taking over (or forcing out) an existing Janitor's Union, SEIU Local 87. Most of the janitors that I talked to were most unhappy with SEIU 1877. In any case, history is replete with examples of what happens when "professional;" leaders run the show. The Soviet Union is an example of what goes wrong when democracy is sacrificed for the sake of "efficiency". Yes, democracy can wind up allowing folks to make bad decisions, but that is one of the costs of freedom. Folks have to have the right to make decisions that affect themselves, even if they make bad ones. Making mistakes is how people learn. I'm sorry if that troubles you, but I would prefer Freedom to make mistakes, rather than have some expert choose everything for me. Furthermore, you know we don't have to point out that the experts are far from perfect. Look how badly the "experts" running ACORN have botched this campaign. Instead of recognizing the union and then negotiating, they choose to bust the union drive. This will no doubt cost ACORN much more money.

Turnover: Well I talked about that and you weren't listening. Also if some offices have nothing to organize, why try? Why not concentrate on those shops that seem relatively stable and build a cadre there? Their minority unionism victories can serve as training and retention models for struggling operations.

Of course we were listening. You said turnover is a result of the organizers being bad workers. I, and all other IWW members generally reject this as nonsense. Again, it's the same sort of anti-union propaganda used by most bosses. I can tell you, from personal experience, looking for a jobs sucks. I'm sure that if I got a job, even if I wasn't that skilled at it, I would try to stick it out, certainly longer than two weeks. Most ACORN workers don't last that long, it would seem. The likelihood is that they quit, because:

  • ACORN lies in their ads (or at best is misleading) about what the job requirements are;
  • Working 54-hour weeks for such crappy pay and working conditions is almost worse than being broke and unemployed seeking a job that pays better;
  • As has been shown, ACORN management usually ignores or even belittles workers who approach them with suggestions on how to improve working conditions.

Your suggestion that the union ignore the shops where the turnover is so high is exactly what we have done. I explained this to you personally. Your suggestion that the union focus on the locals where the workers are strongest is exactly what we are doing. You are now arguing for the very thing you argued against when you stated that the union should try and organize all shops at once. This would tend to suggest that you either privately admit that we are right and you are wrong, but are too set in your ways to openly admit it, or you are simply being disingenuous.

Your other arguments about why people stay in ACORN have some resonance, and that's one of the reasons why I think unionization could help. Which I said before. I, in fact called specifically for improved training and retention programs. Read my posting again.

Workers in Philadelphia and Seattle also called for these things. Management ignored them.

I'll grant you that ideally all workers should be union, but I'll also say that there needs to be a way to get rid of mediocre organizers, especially if they have proven over their training periods that they can't do the job to standards. (Which is another role for the union: making sure training is given fairly and equitably, not based on favoritism and that people who need more resources devoted to them can get them.) The members deserve better than mediocre and we can't build power with bad organizers. And we can't afford it either, especially not after a 33% salary hike.

When you argue that "we can't afford this", which "we" is this? ACORN has money as has been pointed out quite clearly in our literature. You can read the report on where ACORN gets their grant money. I don't buy this argument that offices are responsible for their own funding. The organization can change its policy easily to cover temporary shortfalls if they do indeed arise. In any case, ACORN has yet to address the issue of their opening up new offices when they cannot keep their existing offices staffed.

Anti nukes: This is a straw man argument and not at all relevant to ACORN. When you can prove this stuff about ACORN (which you can't because it doesn't exist), then I'll listen. In the meantime, if you have a problem with this group, then why not organize there? (This sounds a lot like stuff I've heard about California Peace Action.)

It's entirely relevant. It shows that just because someone is management in a "progressive" organization, that doesn't mean that they are immune from criticism or human failures, and a system of checks and balances is needed to keep them accountable. ACORN has shown this to be all too true. Doug Bloch and Wade Rathke have engaged in union busting activity. This is as bad as management in other organizations of similar types playing favorites with workers who kiss ass and in some cases give head. This sort of behavior, especially in an organization with supposedly progressive political pretensions is wrong and immoral. It reeks of cult like behavior. The IWW has offered to help workers at Peace Action, but, strange as this may sound, the turnover there is even more rapid than at ACORN. Finally, you seem to keep having trouble hearing this, but I'll say it again: The IWW didn't target workers at ACORN. ACORN workers came to us. If workers at Peace Action came to us, we'd help them too.

I think that unionization is not inevitable at ACORN. It will take a good strategy and inspired tactics, a knowledge of escalation, and a dedication to seeing that the organizers can win without also causing damage to the organization.

The IWW has done exactly that. And, as stated, the IWW has not caused damage to ACORN. ACORN management has caused damage to ACORN. None of this would have happened had ACORN management simply followed the law. If a union were unnecessary as you, and so many others have claimed, ACORN management could have accepted the results and negotiated a contract from the git-go. They could have opened up their books and proven that they didn't have any money. They could have shown, in good faith, that ACORN cannot function with 40-hour work-weeks. Instead, ACORN management has engaged in self-destructive behavior from the start. It has convinced a lot of people, including a great many ACORN members, that the IWW is right and you are wrong. The damage as not been caused by us. And the question still remains unanswered: What has ACORN to lose with a union? What are they trying to hide?