Starting on Friday, August 22nd, IWW workers at a UPS sorting facility in Minneapolis began organizing against their and their coworkers’ labor supporting the ongoing police violence against the population of Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man. In a series of actions aimed at a local company shipping questionable shooting-range targets to law enforcement agencies nationwide, workers stood up to the idea that they should have to support racism, brutality, or murder in order to make ends meet. This action was organized in conjunction with, and under the banner of Screw Ups, a rank-and-file newsletter published by IWW workers at the facility for the past year.
Shortly after the murder of Michael Brown and the deployment of militarized police and national guardsmen to Ferguson, IWW workers and in-shop allies began researching Law Enforcement Targets, Inc, a company based in Blaine, Minnesota, which produces shooting range targets and holds hundreds of contracts with police departments, federal agencies, and military branches across the country. The company has held at least 10 contracts with federal agencies in Missouri, and far more with county and local police departments and other agencies. They sell product lines like “Urban Street Violence,” featuring photos of stereotypical “thugs,” and previously were forced to withdraw a line of targets called “No More Hesitation,” featuring pictures of gun-wielding children, pregnant women, mothers, and elderly people, all as if to say that you should consider everyone you see as a threat to be gunned down. Their products are shipped through the UPS sorting facility in Minneapolis every day.
After discovering what products L.E.T. shipped, and who to, a group of workers decided they would not be silent about the connection between their work and murders such as Mike Brown’s. Some removed targets from trailers that would deliver them to law enforcement agencies, while others stood in solidarity and decided not to ferry these packages to their intended trailers. Those who were uncomfortable or unable to directly engage in these actions posed with a sign reading “#handsupdontship” in order to speak out. Actions like this took place in various work areas across the building, and were taken by people with a variety of job positions. The following Monday, several workers continued the action, setting more targets aside for the second consecutive shift. This small group included both workers of color and white workers, both IWW members and not. It was agreed that this protest would be publicized online through the Screw Ups newsletter.
For just over two years, the IWW has actively been organizing workers committees within the UPS hub in Minneapolis. One of the main outgrowths of this campaign has been the publication of Screw Ups, a regular newsletter published by IWW workers in the hub that is handed out by allies outside the building to workers on their way to clock in. This newsletter has consistently raised issues of management harassment, speed-ups, sexual harassment and sexism, racial discrimination on the shop floor, and more, while soliciting contributions from other workers via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. It has educated workers about their rights on the job and called out the exploitation of workers by both UPS and the Teamsters union, which is happy to collect dues from the half of UPS’ workers working in sorting hubs, while forcing concessionary contracts onto this rank-and-file which only preserve poverty wages and sweatshop conditions for those of us who allow UPS a multi-billion dollar company.
However, the newsletter has only been one part of the IWW activity at the hub. IWW Workers and others have frequently confronted management on issues of safety, harassment, and more through collective actions. CB, an IWW organizer, noted, “We all know that conditions at our work are unsafe. We all know that we work too hard for too little pay. We know that the Teamsters either can’t or won’t do anything to fix these issues. And we know that we’re going to have to fight to change things.”
The IWW has always refused to restrict itself to issues of wages and conditions, and has encouraged workers to fight against exploitation and oppression both on the shop floor and off it. Unlike other unions and workers’ organizations which see things such as police brutality as “outside issues,” the IWW has a long history of fighting against the ways that workers are forced to uphold systems of oppression. “The rules say you have to do what you’re told at work. Doesn’t matter what you’re shipping, what horrible things are being done with them, UPS doesn’t care, so you don’t care,” said J.B., another IWW worker, “luckily, breaking the rules is what the IWW does best.”
He further added, “We don’t want to take the place of the Teamsters here. What we want is for workers to have an organization that can fight for—and win—meaningful, concretes improvements in our work and in our lives. We need an organization that isn’t afraid to stand behind workers when we confront management and isn’t interested in some long, drawn out bureaucracy. If they want to keep doing that, good for them. That’s their game, but it’s not ours.”
IWW workers at the Minneapolis hub have stated that they are committed to continuing to organize with their coworkers in order to directly fight against management abuses and other issues workers face. They are also working with UPS workers in other hubs to help them form similar committees and organizations, and are happy to talk to anyone interested in doing so. They urge any interested UPS worker to email the committee at email@example.com, and add, “don’t wait, organize!”
Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks and Jimmy Johns workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people. It is a member-run union for all workers, dedicated to organizing on the job, in our industries and in our communities. IWW members are organizing to win better conditions today and build a world with economic democracy tomorrow.