Friday, June 8, 2012

Success Story from Twin Cities

Check out this 24-hour success story from the Twin Cities. Reposted from The Organizer: blog of the Twin Cities Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)

Striking Back at Bosses: Solidarity Networks and Sexual Assault
by Juan Conatz
In the IWW, we sometimes have to deal with two different problems: How do we approach situations where we have left our job (but still have a problem with our employer) and how do we deal with harassment and assault in the workplace?
Wobblies in Seattle have taken on the first question. Wanting to build organizing skills and fight back against bosses and landlords in their area, they started the Seattle Solidarity Network (‘SeaSol’).
SeaSol is a network of volunteers, open to workers both employed and unemployed, that takes on workplace and housing fights through a strategy of escalation of tactics. For instance, a tenant is denied their security deposit. Attempts to contact the landlord are ignored or delayed. SeaSol will march in with 30 people and hand the landlord a demand letter telling them to give the renter their deposit in a certain amount of time or else. If the landlord doesn’t give in, pickets will follow, and so on.
Harassment and assault in the workplace is something that has been less thought about by union organizers or the left in general, even less than the fights SeaSol typically takes on. Some of us in the union have briefly addressed sexual harassment on shopfloor, but it’s still an ongoing conversation. Seemingly not talked about at all is the issue of assault, sexual or otherwise. During the 1990s (the latest period with statistics I could easily find), there was an average of 35,000 incidents of workplace sexual assault each year.
What should be our response when this happens? What can our response be? In the following situation, these two problems intersected, and Wobblies came up with a way to address it.
In October, a fellow worker was working as a bike delivery person at a local restaurant in Minneapolis. It was only his third week on the job and as was apparently the custom with new employees, the manager invited him out for drinks. At the bar, the manager continued to buy the Fellow Worker drinks for a while, until a certain point, the manager placed him in a cab bound for the manager’s apartment.
They took a cab back to the manager’s apartment, where he turned on music and made some drinks. At some point, the manager brought over and stuck under the nose of the FW a jar of some chemical. At this point the manager sexually assaulted the FW. The FW managed to leave the apartment before it went any further.
Understandably, after this experience, he did not feel comfortable working at this restaurant or with this manager anymore, and so stopped going to work. A couple of days later, after depositing his last check, it bounced, resulting in overdraft fees and charges.
This story, so far, is not unique, sadly. Wage theft and sexual harassment are widespread in the workforce and even sexual assault is not uncommon. All three go chronically unreported and when reported, penalties for the perpetrators often range from a slap on the wrist to no consequences at all. Direct action on these issues seem even more rare. However, this fellow worker refused to let this slide.
He met up with some of his former co-workers and IWW members from the Twin Cities branch and they decided they was going to march on the manager, demanding the money from the bounced check, reimbursement for the overdraft fees, and two weeks severance pay (including tips). The next day, he and around 15 Wobblies carefully planned a march on the boss, then walked into the restaurant and executed it and delivered a letter with the demands, noting that they needed to be met within 24 hours.
After some back and forth through text messages, in which the manager asked the FW to come pick up the check “without all those people” (this request was refused), the demands were met in less than 24 hours. The FW received a check for around $400.
This situation, while inspiring because of its end result, brings up very important questions for our union. How do we deal with wage theft, sexual harassment and sexual assault? What does a collective response to an often individualized, “personal” situation look like? This isn’t an isolated case. Much of our class shares these experiences. These are discussions I don’t have the answers to, but this story may reveal some insight into dealing with the various forms of oppression we face in our experience as waged workers.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Update on Julie and James

Several months ago, Modesto Solidarity started working with Julie. Julie was subletting a property in Denair. She was illegally locked out by her landlords, who were in turn renting the property from Valley Oak Property Management. For more specifics, click here. We had a great turnout for the demand delivery in late September. To make a long story short, Julie's landlords ended up calling the police as we left, and they detained about half the group for questioning. They then proceeded to let everyone go, only to pull over and eventually impound one of our cars as we left. Thanks to a strong show of solidarity from each other and friends in Seattle Solidarity Network, we quickly had the car out of impound.

The demand delivery was followed up with a short but intensive flyering campaign targeting the neighborhood surrounding Julie's landlords. The next week, a picket was held outside of Valley Oak's office in Modesto. It was supposedly Valley Oak who had initially told Julie's landlords to kick her out. While Julie has not yet received the money she has demanded (for withheld deposits and rent paid for the time she was locked out), she has not been made to pay the more egregious bills which her landlords claim she owes them. Julie is currently pursuing her fight through legal channels, and we wish her all the best. We have since heard that her landlords were made to terminate their lease with Valley Oak, because of the controversy surrounding Julie's Case and the involvement of Modesto Solidarity.

In Riverbank, James is still occupying his home. His landlord, Brian Kelley is currently attempting to get a restraining order, which would require James to stay 20 yards away from his own home. To be clear, this is just one example of the nefarious ways that local slumlords attempt to circumvent the eviction process in muscling out their tenants. James sends his thanks to those that have helped him out so far, and would appreciate donations of food and toiletries especially.

There are a few actions coming up this week for those interested in supporting James and getting involved. Among them, James will be fighting the above-mentioned restraining order in court. The hearing will be at 8:30 AM in Department 22, located at 801 10th St, on the sixth floor of the City Towers Building (otherwise known as the Merrill Lynch building). We will be holding a demonstration outside the building starting at 8 AM. For more information, give us a call or send us an email.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Home Occupied in Riverbank Against Illegal Lockout

Since Tuesday, November 22nd, James Dawes has occupied his home of five years in Riverbank, CA (north of Modesto) after being illegally locked out by his landlord, Brian Kelly, owner of the Denair Lumber Co. and several other rental properties. James has been battling cancer for years and must receive regular chemotherapy treatments. In recent months, his condition has severely worsened, and he has thus fallen several months behind on rent. In October, James offered to begin making up for unpaid rent but Kelly refused and said that he'd rather board the place up. Kelly is trying to sell the vacant building that his apartment is attached to - standing in his way is James.

A series of lock-outs began in October of this year, with Kelly locking James out and James re-entering his home six times. Over the course of these lock-outs, James has been denied access to shelter, his bathroom and his medicine. During the most recent lock-out, Kelly took all of James' things: furniture, electronics, personal items, food, bedding, toiletries, medicine, etc. Local sheriffs who arrived on the scene after James had re-entered the home told Kelly that, in fact, they could not remove James because Kelly had evicted him illegally.

James outside his home.
James is occupying his home to demand that the intimidation, illegal lockouts, and theft of his personal property by Brian Kelly stop at once. The day after James's most recent re-entry into his home, Kelly reportedly drove by and said, "Don't fuck with me, you have no idea how much money I have."  James wants his stolen property returned or to be compensated for it. He wants Kelly to remove the boards he put up in James' windows, and un-weld the windows he welded. If Kelly can in good faith meet these demands, James would be willing to enter into a regular tenant agreement once again.

On Friday, November 25th, members of Modesto Solidarity Network gathered at James' home, bringing supplies, making repairs, and sharing food.  A banner was raised above his door that reads "Stop Illegal Lockouts, Brian Kelly is a Slumlord."  Flyers were also distributed in the neighborhood, detailing the situation and asking for solidarity.

Illegal lockouts are a rampant problem in this area; they occur when landlords forcibly lock tenants out of their homes and deny them access to their property. Under California law, landlords must provide a written notice of eviction which can be fought in court. Many landlords opt instead to use brute force, intimidation, or physical and verbal threats, kicking tenants out into the streets and taking their property from inside. For the elderly and those with medical needs, this can be deadly. Legal options for fighting illegal lockouts take time and money, and can be unsuccessful. By acting directly, we can meet our needs by fighting back. By occupying his home and taking a stand against what has been done to him, James' struggle is an inspiration for all those who have been, are, or could be in a similar situation.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

This Thursday: Demand Delivery for Julie!

Last week Julie was evicted without notice from her home in Denair, and has been locked out since. Both her security deposit and a separate pet deposit are being withheld. In addition, Julie has been presented with an egregiously exorbitant repair and cleaning bill. We are demanding her landlords return her deposits, pro-rate her rent for the month of September, and that the bogus repair bill be dropped. We will be meeting in Modesto at 6:30 pm, at the Turlock DMV at E. Monte Vista and N. Olive at 7:00, and moving on to our delivery location in Turlock. Please come out and support! The more people present the more powerful we are as a group. Please repost!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Modesto Solidarity Fliers Up Around Town

As many of you know, Modesto Solidarity fliers have been making their way around town now for a couple months, but now you can print them out on your very own! Complete with tear-off contact slips, these fliers are perfect for your workplace, your neighborhood, or the neighborhood of an abusive boss or landlord's office! Pass them out to friends by hand, or post them up by staple and tape!

The 8.5x11" printable PDF is available at:

Video from EXIT Realty Picket

The following is video from the EXIT Realty Demand Delivery and later Picket with Michele on June 15th and 16th, 2011.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Picket Ends in Keys Surrendered; For Now.

Today, Thursday, June 16th 2011, members of Modesto Solidarity picketed at the offices of John Hertle & EXIT Realty at 901 McHenry in Modesto. We did this to support Michele, one of our members, who had been illegally locked out of her apartment for over a week. Within minutes, we noticed a video camera filming us from inside, and several associates of John's came to ask us what was going on. We gave them a flier and told them that, as our previous demand letter had stated, we were there to demand Michele be given keys and safe access to her apartment.

About fifteen minutes after this, John Hertle came out livid, demanding "who's the guy in charge here?!" After a brief confrontation in which we explained that no one was in charge, and we were all there to support Michele, he "invited" Michele in to talk. Several of us accompanied her, and after some deliberation an agreement was reached which ended in Michele being given the keys to her apartment.

While the situation is still developing, and we are not yet claiming victory, at this point Michele is finally back in her apartment.