Short Update FAQ on the Sisters Camelot Struggle:
The Sisters Camelot Canvass Union (SCCU) of the IWW has released many statements and documents explaining their position on the conflict between the union and their managers, the Sisters Camelot Collective.
We encourage anyone interested in learning actual details to read these statements and documents at https://canvassunion.org/
However, as a result of the violent and apparently coordinated attack on a picket of the Sisters Camelot Bus, many similar questions have been raised again. While an attack on a picket defending worker rights at May Day – a holiday commemorating the struggles by immigrant workers in Chicago to obtain the 8-hour day – is appalling, we continue to receive questions and offers for intervention, indicating that either people are no longer reading our old FAQ document (https://canvassunion.org/2013/03/02/faq/), or that it may need to be updated.
Nothing in the following is intended to contradict any of the points on the SCCU page. The following points are entirely supplementary to those documents.
1. What’s the problem at Sisters’ Camelot?
Canvass Union workers self-organized against unfair working conditions, and for workplace democracy [improved pay was actually secondary] at Sisters Camelot. The workers approached the Twin Cities IWW, asking to join the union and become a campaign within the IWW. The IWW welcomed them, as we do any group of self-organized workers.The response of the Collective was to fire one worker and refuse any negotiations about the workers’ demands. The Collective then engaged in a vicious and protracted union-busting and smear campaign.
From the beginning to today, the Canvass Workers are waiting to hear whether the Collective has changed its mind and is willing to negotiate with organized workers.
2. Why pick on Sisters’ Camelot? Isn’t a non-profit that feeds hungry people on our side? Why not go organize at McDonald’s?
We’ve heard this one a lot. Nobody is ‘picking’ on Sisters Camelot. The canvassers endured sub-minimum wages while providing 95% of the operating budget of the operation. They were denied autonomy over their working conditions by their bosses, the Collective. They self-organized to improve those conditions, and later approached the IWW.
Workers everywhere, in all industries, in all locations, regardless of size, activity, industry, or ‘good intentions’ of their employers, have a right to organize. To imagine that some sectors should be protected from union organizing is a hard right-wing notion.
The vast majority of our campaigns have been against large and medium-sized capitalists. Nevertheless, the IWW is a union for all workers. The Sisters Camelot collective has acted identically to these large capitalist employers in the ways they have attempted to bust our union, from the nasty lawyers they use to the physical violence they coordinate and encourage. See here for more: http://goo.gl/UMBYFi
Workers at Sisters’ Camelot were actually organizing partly in order to improve the work of Sisters’ Camelot, which for some time now has been operating more like the private hobby of a few on the collective, instead of a reliable and socially useful program.
3. Are the workers willing to negotiate?
A constant smear of the workers is that they are unwilling to negotiate. This is untrue. The workers have insisted on their openness to negotiation since the beginning; the collective has never once agreed to negotiation or mediation. We are still waiting.
This is why new offers to mediate between the IWW and the Collective seem strange to us. We have always been willing to negotiate. The collective never has been. If people want negotiation or mediation to proceed, they should direct their efforts toward convincing the Collective members.
4. What right did the IWW have to picket the Sisters’ Camelot Bus at the Powderhorn Park May Day event?
Every right. Anytime an operation is struck, it is subject to a picket or strike action anytime and anywhere it attempts to continue normal operations. Sisters Camelot was not present in 2013. We approached Paul Robinson, HOBT May Day Coordinator, who assured us that “Sisters’ Camelot and HOBT have come to a mutual agreement again this year that the bus will not be in Powderhorn Park.”
On seeing the Sisters’ Camelot bus, a few workers organized a peaceful picket, and were immediately and aggressively harassed, by people pretending to not see them and go ‘through’ them, to verbal harassment. A few of the Sisters’ Collective major supporters – people not in the collective, but providing most of the energy in the campaign to destroy the workers – showed up and got on their phones. Shortly after, a large crowd of drunk and aggressive supporters of Sisters’ Camelot arrived, and began violently attacking the picket.
Some used children in strollers to push into the picketers, others held hands and danced between the picketers, physically entangling them. Finally, one picketers was harassed and grabbed and thrown off-balance, and put an attacker into a headlock as he fell. He went down and was attacked by several people, leaving him with cuts and abrasions to his face. The entire time, misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-working class language was the staple of the attackers. Anti-woman and queer slurs were constant, as were sneers that some of us may have to work for a living, or have the desire to improve the conditions of our work.
5. Isn’t this hurting the radical/liberal/leftist/activist community in (South) Minneapolis?
No. We feel the same pain that others feel when our relationships are strained, when we have arguments with friends or acquaintances, and when people we considered friends turn on us. This is not the same thing as ‘hurting our community.’ Instead, what we are experiencing is honesty, and clarification. It can be painful, but we hope that we can emerge from this conflict with a genuine community that stands behind a wide variety of important social causes, without sacrificing any of them to the others. Throwing workers under the bus is never okay.