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A hopeful message on International Workers’ Day

Dylan Brooks

[Ed note.  This was one of several talks given at a gathering to celebrate International Workers’ Day at Sylvester Park.  On hand with information and activities were folks from the Just Housing, Green Party, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, several interactions of socialists, along with organizers from the Olympia Assembly, the Olympia Chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, and the Olympia branch of the Industrial Workers of the World.  Music by the Citizens’ Band, really healthy refreshments and a new generation of little ones and good weather made for an enjoyable afternoon.  And on the sidewalk along Capitol Way, thirty black-clad police from various jurisdictions clocked overtime hours.]  

My name is Dylan and I am a Wobbly, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World for several years.

I was born in the mountains of Virginia and I have lived and been to many places in this country — and a few other countries, too.  I have had more jobs then I can remember.  I have worked in restaurants, fast food, retail, and grocery.  I grew up with my dad and mom working retail — before Walmart ran out all the other stores.

I grew up working sometimes with my dad in the store.  He traveled a lot; til, one day, after I was grown up, they sent him from Virginia to New Mexico to help open a store.  Except when he got there, they fired him. After 15 years. They made him drive all the way across the country and back just to fire him, because they got someone younger who they could pay less.

My dad was only able to get by; he was OK before that, but he couldn’t save money.  So when they fired him he didn’t have much. Too old to work and too young to get Social Security.

This affected me more than I knew at the time.

This is part of my father’s struggle.  Now it is part of my past.

Today on international workers day we remember the struggles from our own past and the pasts of others and hopefully we give each other the belief that we can keep fighting today for a better world tomorrow.

The politicians and others who think they know what’s best for us try to divide us.  By us I mean workers.  Whether we are black, brown, white, or any other color.  They have us hating each other because of where we come from or what god we believe in or don’t believe in.

But the bosses and owners don’t care where you come from or what language you speak – they will use you up until you break and then they will get someone else.

The problem isn’t that someone else is taking our jobs its that we, the workers, don’t control the jobs in the first place.

We think we live in a democracy – and whether that is true or not – it is true that we deserve to live in one.  Now when we go to work we leave our rights at the door.

It’s important to remember that all jobs are organized – it’s just that most of them are organized by the bosses.  We should seek to organize our jobs – our lives – so that they benefit all of us and not just a very few people.

How is it that we think we should live in a democracy and have rights, and yet be fine with having no rights, no say, at work?  Such a basic concept and yet somehow such a radical idea.  That we as workers are equal, we have rights that we fight for; rights that those who came before us fought for and in some cases died for.

I tell you now, though you may not believe it, that we have the power to change the world.  The power to control our own work.  This means that we, the workers, decide how our work is done.  Who better than  us?  We don’t need bosses telling us what to do.  This isn’t some ideology.  This is the plain truth.

We work every day, who better than us know how to do the work.  If there is a new person at the job, who really trains them?  The other workers!  More then not needing the bosses, we for sure, don’t need them taking our money.  We do all the work, whether it is building a house, cooking a burger, or answering phones.  And yet by some magic we get paid next to nothing and the owner makes all of our money.

We have a saying in the IWW.  Organize on the job, where you are robbed.  This is true.  This is why we call for the abolition of the wage system.  It’s not because we don’t want or need to make money, it’s because through the wage system, we are only given a portion of all the money that WE make!

One time I worked doing roofing.  It was a small crew and a small operation.  The contractor would set up the job and hire a few more people to work on it.  For each person that he hired he would get $20 an hour from the client, and from that he paid us $10.  This is a normal practice.

Every time you get a job somewhere they plan on making “x” amount of money out of you and that is not what they pay you.  Why else would bosses always tell us to hurry up, to work harder?  Because we are cutting into their profits.  The more we hurry up the more money they make off of us, the more they steal from us.

132 years ago workers fought for the 8 hour day.  They marched, they went on strike, they were arrested, and they were killed.  50 years ago, Black sanitation workers went on strike in Memphis.  They fought for respect, decent pay, better conditions, and to be treated like men.  Just over two months ago all the teachers in West Virginia struck the whole state!  They knew — and were told — that they did not have the “right” to strike, or even the right to bargain.  But they knew, as we all must learn, that rights of labor are not the gift of a benevolent government!  Rights always follow Power!

It may sound like a cliche but our strength comes from our solidarity.  When we act as one, it does not matter if “they” say we do not have the right to act. Our power creates our rights – and we have the power to control our work!  To not only better our conditions but to create those conditions.  It is we, the workers, who build, provide, serve, and feed the world.  It is beyond time that we got our due.  Our due is nothing short of total control of the conditions in which we work!

Eight days ago workers at a Burgerville in Portland won an NLRB election after more than 2 years of on-the-ground rank-and-file organizing. This made them members of the first fast food union in the country!

As we fight and struggle for better pay and better conditions, as teachers all across the country are doing, as the workers at Burgerville are doing, we must learn, as they are learning, that these victories are goal posts along the road to union power on the job! In that power lies the power to control our work.

Let us remember all that has come before us.  All those workers who have fought for the rights we enjoy today.  Let us remember that these rights come from those fights and must be defended still.  Let us remember that workers in the past did not fight and die for the 8-hour day just so we could have more time to have fun but so too we could use that time to  organize!

Let us remember and stand in solidarity with other workers today from teachers to fast food workers to farm workers!  Let us continue the struggle with them!  Let us remember all of this when we say—Happy International Workers’ Day!

Dylan Brooks is a member of Olympia IWW.


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