There are plenty of reasons why fast-food has been totally non-union up until now. High employee turnover make it difficult organize before workers move on. Part-time schedules mean that workers are often busy with other jobs as well. And perhaps most of all, the low-wage fast-food industry has union busting down to a science. All of this has made traditional unions wary of organizing drives at fast-food chains. It looks like a big investment with little chance of success.
And that's where the Wobblies come in. The IWW was formed over a century ago as a union for all working people. The union grew in the early 1900s by organizing where other unions would not: migrant workers, unskilled immigrants, nonwhites, and women. Industries that were ignored by other unions became hotbeds of Wobbly activism. The IWW was far, far ahead of its time. For example, Wobblies were winning free speech fights with civil disobedience across the American West 56 years before the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. Wobblies were organizing interracial unions in the Deep South 50 years before the Civil Rights Act.
So back to fast-food. The progressive movement and the middle class need a powerful labor movement as their foundation. A powerful labor movement will require unions in what are currently low-wage service sector jobs. These are the jobs that are increasing as a proportion of the overall economy, as heavily unionized manufacturing jobs continue to go overseas. Either we make the jobs of the new economy good ones, or we watch more and more Americans slip into poverty. Or as Jimmy John's Worker and IWW member Ayo Collins says,
"Service industry jobs are the future and our future needs to have quality jobs for working families with living wages, affordable healthcare, paid time off, consistent hours, and basic respect. It's time for change in America, we hope this will be a turning point for all workers."
So at a time when most progressive activists are focused on the upcoming midterm elections, let's not overlook what's happening in Minneapolis. And let's hope the Wobblies once again lead the way.
(This article was cross-posted at Daily Kos.)