Will the “real” radicals please stand up?

Sisters' Camelot bus 

This whole Sisters’ Camelot disaster sure has been confusing. Since the beginning of March, the canvass workers, who are independent contractors raising donations for the non-profit, volunteer-run collective organization have been on strike. The canvasseres recently joined the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies.) In the week following the strike, Sisters’ Camelot agreed to four of the strikers’ demands, but also fired one of the striking organizers, Shuge Mississippi. (To get an idea of the emotional discussion that's been happening, check out Sisters' Camelot Facebook page and the union workers' Facebook page.) 

On the one hand, you have Sisters’ Camelot, one of the most hippy organizations I can think of in the Twin Cities. I mean, when they’re not traveling in their art bus to poor neighborhoods in the Twin Cities giving out food, they’re showing solidarity with various protests with bowls of soup, or stopping by MayDay Parade or Barebones. They’re all about sustainability, equity and justice. What’s more hippy than that?

On the other hand, you’ve got the striking canvassers, who accuse Sisters’ Camelot of taking on the big boss role, saying that they’re employing union-busting tactics like firing one of the striking organizers (more about that later.)

Then there’s a third group of anarchist/anti-authoritarian folks (including members of the RNC 8, jury resisters, etc.,) who weighed in with a community statement that agreed with some of the critiques leveled by the strikers but called for the two sides to work together within the current structure. They also stated that the collective members were right to fire Shuge Mississippi.

Meanwhile there have been other statements of support for the strikers, and the whole thing goes on with no apparent end in sight.

When I first wrote about this story, I was definitely planning on following up with it, but the wind got knocked out of my sails a little bit when I realized how much this seemed to be a personality conflict focused on one person. When I initially interviewed Shuge Mississippi, he strongly denied that the conflict all was about him, but that definitely seems to be the clear message from Sisters’ Camelot. He was once a member of the collective but that relationship ended unhappily a couple of years ago and the collective terminated his canvassing contract a couple of weeks ago. Statements from them and their supporters also claim he's the focus of the conflict. So far, Sisters’ Camelot hasn’t come forward with evidence or any statement about what actually happened in the past, and so I can’t really write about rumors and personality conflicts without more to go on. 

I was just going to let the story go, but then I got an email from Jaime Hokanson (one of the co-authors of the initial community statement), who suggested looking at this story from a historical perspective of “past progressive/radical institutions that have faced similar issues of strife.” Hokanson gave examples of the co-op wars of the 1970s (which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in a column about socially engaged art), where, as Hokanson put it “there was a clear case of people on the left spending a heck of a lot of energy attacking each other, involving quite a bit of secrecy and intimidation tactics), struggles with the Cedar Riverside People’s Center — apparently around union organizing — and FreeWheel Bike Co-op, which had a conflict in the 1980s around lesbian feminism resulting in pickets outside the store.

I wrote back that my mind totally went to the co-op wars when I first heard about the Sisters’ Camelot mess. While that wasn’t really a labor conflict, it was an example of people who seemingly should be on the same side fighting with each other to the point of warehouse takeovers. I think this current crisis asks of progressives and radicals some tough questions about how progressive organizations deal with contract labor in a fair and equitable way. At the same time, how can groups face these issues without tearing each other apart in the process? 

I think it might be helpful to have some old timer radicals weigh in — on the above examples, if they were around, or from similar experiences where groups that really should be on the same side just can’t seem to work out their differences.  So if that’s you, it would be great if you become part of the discussion, either in the comment section below or by shooting me an email. Sisters’ Camelot is too important an asset to the community to let it fall apart because of this crisis.

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Sheila Regan's picture
Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.

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Sorry, it's a useless comparison

In the '70s there was a group of Stalinists that tried to take over the Co-Ops because they thought that would be a way to organize the working class and foment revoltuion. That is true. It is also true that it was a fight amongst the "Left" in Minneapolis.

Other than the fact that current disagreement is also amongst pepole that consider themselves to be leftists, it's a completely useless analogy to the present situation. 

Oh boy!

Since you asked, I think it's probably about an inability to do nonviolent communication (NVC). I say that not because I know anything about this great organization other than they helped me once with a flat tire on a busy street (yes! I sent them a donation). But as a semi-old-time-hippie radical, I've found in every organization you see the principled workers who really get the idea of the commons and the cooperative, and then the ones who think they're there to help but they have a way of stepping on people's toes, such as questioning others' skill or right to implement plans/policies, or mildly insulting others... there are other type of situations too, such as not being trustworthy to meet goals (financial or timewise or other), boasting about doing something but not getting it done, the list goes on. To paraphrase Tolstoy, unhappy progressive orgs are all unhappy in the same way.

Can groups face these issues without tearing each other apart?

Doesn't look like it!

That's a big connection that I see.  It seem as though these groups are faced with choices each day about whether to escalate the situation and tactics they use or not.  I'm seeing primarily that they've made the decisions to escalate.  At some point, as in the co-op wars, the original relationships within and missions of the organizations are completely plowed over by the ego-hit of winning the next campaign or escalation, and everyone around them loses.

Just take a look at the facebook pages in question.  These people and their supporters aren't talking to eachother, they're talking at eachother.  I predict this will keep going nowhere, fast.  No-one is willing to give an inch or admit that they might have been wrong in any of their actions.  Thanks Camelot Collective and Canvassers, we all get to lose in this one.

This is not necessarily a

This is not necessarily a leftist thing. It's a small group thing. But, it's more pronounced in small progressive groups because there are ideas of the importance of consensus and the idea that someone could be a leader is an anathema.

Get together a small group of people with a goal and a lot of passion and at some point (often at about three years) the 'lets hold hands and sing around the campfire' idea will fall away and the result will be petty fighting, hurt feelings and taking sides. Sometimes, I think that the less that's at stake, the more likely this is to happen. It's really, really too bad.

By the way, it's hippie for the counterculture, not hippy.

Sisters' Camelot vs. North Country Co-op

I co-authored the original community statement (communitystatement.wordpress.com), but what might be more interesting is that (back in 2006 I think) I was one of a hand full of workers trying to unionize North Country Co-op. It was in the shadow of the Co-op's move from being managed by a worker collective to having a more hierarchical general manager structure. The workers voluntarily agreed to step down from a collective to a steering committee and then to an interim-general manager. This was part of an effort to save the Co-op financially with the expectation that the democracy would be reinstated as the store recovered. But, it never recovered and the workers kept bearing the brunt. We decided to look into unionizing as a way to take back some control and to make sure that we weren't continually taken advantage of. Mostly we just wanted respect and some hand in decision making.

After the Board of Directors continually refused to recognize our union we took it to the general membership of the Co-op. At the General Membership meeting the members voted to recognize the union. The workers were thrilled, but the next day the Board of Directors said they were nullifying the decision saying it was illegal because it wasn't in the best financial interest of the Co-op to have a unionized workforce and it was against the law for the members or the Board to make decisions that weren't in the best financial interest of the Co-op. North Country closed it's doors a few weeks later with no severance or inclusion in the process by the workers. To this day I still have anger around how the Board of Directors undermined the union and the desire of the Membership to have a union store.

So, if I was part of a union effort that I feel so strongly about why am I not fulling backing the IWW and the canvassers union? A few reasons. First, when we were unionizing the staff and North Country we looked into organizing with the IWW. We didn't want to organize with a big trade union like UFCW because we didn't feel like they could adapt for the specific nuance of our work place. Unfortunately, though we had more in common politically, we found the IWW equally rigid and unable to meet the needs of the workers in our shop. The canvassers may be running their own show, but the IWW's rigidity is causing them to advise the canvass workers in a fashion that is un-strategic (at best) given the specifics of this conflict and how it is clearly different from the IWW organizing at Jimmy Johns or Starbucks.

Secondly, a union was not actually our preferred organizing method. Most of us would have rather returned to some sort of collective management. We tried over and over again to express this to the Board of Directors and they dodged and stonewalled without engaging with our issues in any real way often saying that they couldn't because they were obligated by the law to do things differently. Things got more and more adversarial the more we tried and failed to get our grievances addressed.

There is an adversarial nature to most union organizing. It might not be inherent, but it is the only way I've ever see it. It is predicated on the idea that there are two groups who's interests are so divergent that they can't work together in a cooperative manner without exploitation. In most workplaces there is a power imbalance that makes the adversarial position necessary, but that is not the case at Sisters' Camelot. Not because the collective is so benevolent, but because anyone who is a part of the canvass, in fact, anyone in town, can go to a collective meeting and begin the process for having an equal voice in running the organization. The collective has only once asked someone not to join the collective in it's whole rich history. It is run by whoever cares enough to show up. Though not included in the union, it even has in it some canvassers past and present.

What needs to happen is for the collective and the canvassers to have a mediated conversation where they can talk about their experiences and concerns without making “demands” of each other. I have heard the Collective make sincere efforts to hear and respond to criticisms levied by the canvassers. I believe it is sincere, which is what separates it from “union busting” rhetoric. I have also heard the canvassers say that they see many Collective members as friends. Only by meeting face to face, listening to each others experiences, and creating a MUTUALY AGREEABLE path towards rebuilding trust and reconciliation can Sisters' be saved from going belly up with all workers dignity in tact.

Sister Camelot

This is a very tragic situation.   I fully agree with Garrett that  "What needs to happen is for the collective and the canvassers to have a mediated conversation where they can talk about their experiences and concerns without making “demands” of each other"  

I was at the epicenter of the so-called co-op wars and saw first hand how a once tight progressive community can tear itself apart when people talk past each other rather than with each other, when people come in with ideologies and preconcieved ideas that seem to be made of stone and try to  apply them to a situation where they will not fit without some modification.  

Failure of both sides to sit down and find common ground can have but one result--a serious setback for or demise of a truly great and needed institution in our community.  The winners will surely be the filthy rich and the losers will be the poor.   Although i am not close to the situation, i feel fairly certain that all ivolved agree on 99% of what needs to happen to keep Sisters Camelot strong, viable and useful.  With that in our minds, perhaps we can find some common ground on that pesky 1%.  Are these differencess worth destroying Sister Camelot?  Let each examine his/her feelings, positions and egos and ask themselves "What baggage am i bringing into this conversation?"  There is a win-win solution out there, the only thing that prevents us from finding it, is the baggage we all bring to the table.  

 

Collectives

I think a lot of the confusion here stems from the management at Sisters' being a collective. In Minneapolis we hear "collective" and we think hippy hippy hooray. A couple clarifications:

Sisters' has 7 collective members, 6 of which are paid.

Sisters' has 14 canvassers, who are considered independent contractors, who do not have the legal rights of say a minimum-wage Jimmy John's worker, and who are excluded from the collective.

The 7 collective members can hire, fire, discipline, schedule, and otherwise control the working lives of the 14 canvassers.

The 14 canvassers can not hire, fire, discipline, schedule, or otherwise control the working lives of 7 collective members.

This would be like if the bakers ran Hard Times and didn't allow the cooks or the barristas in the collective.

So the cooks and barristas organized and demanded a say in their working lives. In response, the bakers said, okay, you can have one cook in our collective. And we're firing the person we think is behind your organizing.

 

Actually, Mike, canvassers

Actually, Mike, canvassers are not excluded from the Sisters' Camelot collective. If the situation were indeed as you've portrayed it, i'd be on board with thw IWW's effort here. But it's not, which is one of the major reasons many of us who would often be on the union side of a conflict like this have positioned ourselves elsewhere.

As has been truthfully explained over and over, all canvassers already have the ability to join the collective, just like all other workers at Camelot. Unfortunately, this truth has repeatedly been obfuscated by claims that the requirements for collective membership make it "closed." Amongst the points i've heard canvassers and their fellow wobs complain about:

  • The process requires 8 hours of volunteer time per month; while that seems fair to me, the collective has already changed it in response to canvasser complaints, so that now they're allowed the option of just canvassing 12 paid shifts per month, instead.
  • Prospective collective members have to fulfill the requirements for 3 months before they can join the collective. This wait time is meant to establish reliability and investment on the part of prospective members before they are allowed joint decision-making power in the organization, and is in fact much shorter than the wait time required by other collectively-run workplaces in town, like the Hard Times (since you brought it up).
  • Any new member has to be approved by the entire collective. Well, yeah. Why shouldn't that be the case? It seems fair to say that workers with a long-term investment in their collectively-run workplace have the right to decide that an individual isn't the right fit for the situation, and to exercise that right in refusing someone membership. That said, Camelot has in fact never refused membership to someone who actually completed the requirements--perhaps to their own detriment, but no one can honestly argue that the collective has a history of abusing it's power in regards to regulating collective membership.
  • Erik Davis, below, claims there is a 'vast differential in control' between collective members and canvassers. This hyperbole is particularly undermined by the reality, which is that canvassers who aren't collective members have chosen not to be (i.e., rejected more control of their own workplace), and still could choose to be at any point. To be clear: whatever size the 'differential in control,' each and every canvassers already has the option of easily bridging it. Yet even if they choose not to join the collective, they still have the ever-present option of participating in weekly collective meetings or otherwise respectfully engaging collective members, to advocate for changes in workplace conditions; unfortunately, this strategy wasn't attempted before resorting to a strike one hour after presenting demands. That 'vast differential' starts to look pretty small when viewed in the real context of canvassers' existing agency in relation to the collective and their own workplace.

Having expectations of shared responsibility amongst workers who want shared decision-making power is not only standard in workplace democracies, but eminently reasonable. To argue that such expectations amount to exclusion and exploitation is, essentially, to argue against the necessary conditions for the sustainable operation of any collectively-run, consensus-based operation. And really, this is where it gets back to the historical cases posited for comparison: There seem to be some deep ideological issues in play here--questions about the fundamental legitimacy of alternative models of worker control, especially models that fall outside of the binary and adversarial model of organizing for workplace democracy that was developed for (and, hence, is only really effective in) standard capitalist places of employment.

I'd also like to point out that the repeated reference to the canvassers' status as independent contractors is misleading, as it suggests that they've been misclassified as such in order to better exploit them. In fact, all employees at Camelot are ICs, not just those who've chosen to unionize with the IWW. Further, the canvassers enjoy a level of choice not available to canvassers for other local organizations: they have no quotas to fill (i.e., they get a straight 40% cut of anything they bring in), and have no obligation to work beyond the hours they choose for themselves (they come when they want to, don't when they don't, and aren't penalized for their choices in that regard). This shouldn't undercut the reality that canvassing at Camelot can be hard and often thankless work. But to paint the canvass situation at Camelot as akin to that at other canvasses, or at minimum wage jobs like Jimmy John's, both dishonestly glosses over some significant and positive differences in the level of choice, agency and personal control that Camelot canvassers already have, as well as disrespectfully minimizing and obscuring the exploitation workers in those other workplaces experience.

For more truthful detail on the process for obtaining collective membership, as well as other aspects of this labor conflict, see Sisters' Camelot's thoughtful FAQ on the matter, here.

"But to paint the canvass

"But to paint the canvass situation at Camelot as akin to that at other canvasses, or at minimum wage jobs like Jimmy John's, both dishonestly glosses over some significant and positive differences in the level of choice, agency and personal control that Camelot canvassers already have, as well as disrespectfully minimizing and obscuring the exploitation workers in those other workplaces experience."

Luce, I don't know how you think these types of decisions are being made, but I'll fill you in: these types of things are made, in a room, by canvassers themselves, usually with a few other workers from places like Jimmy John's or other low-wage shitty jobs around to do support. Given this, you might consider how condescending it sounds for someone who neither works at JJs nor as a canvasser for SC to tell us all that we're not able to identify the conditions of our labor and how they affect us.

Ben, i'm obviously not privvy

Ben, i'm obviously not privvy to the decision-making for the union, but i can't imagine anyone in the room would argue that they hold the rights to speak about a 'universal experience' of food and retail workers. My comments are based on what i see and hear publicly, which includes quite a few misleading characterizations of the work situation at Camelot, and some false parallels being drawn to other low-wage workplaces. I worked in the food and retail industry myself for almost 10 years, until only a few years ago, and i find the parallels being drawn to be offensive and disingenuous based on that experience.

I don't think anyone would

I don't think anyone would claim to hold such a right to speak about any universal experience of food/retail work--what I'm saying is that when canvassers are putting out their own descriptions of their workplace, or when canvassers and Jimmy John's workers are finding commonalities between their workplaces (especially in regards to responses to unionization), to argue that it is wrong or disengenuous presupposes that you are more able to describe those workplaces than the workers themselves.

"Yet even if they choose not

"Yet even if they choose not to join the collective, they still have the ever-present option of participating in weekly collective meetings or otherwise respectfully engaging collective members, to advocate for changes in workplace conditions; unfortunately, this strategy wasn't attempted before resorting to a strike one hour after presenting demands."

This is highly disingenuous language--most of the issues of the canvass are things that have been brought up through the collective process before, to no avail, which lead to the current strategy. Moreover, the "hour after presenting demands" should be placed in context: this came several days after presenting the collective with a statement asking for negotiations, stating that the canvassers were prepared to strike, and on the day negotiations were slated to happen, after giving them an hour to begin discussing where to start with negotiations, the response was, "We will not negotiate with you." When canvassers tried to explain that this would trigger a strike, a collective member spoke over them, "excuse me, we already said we weren't negotiating with you" and told them to leave.

Principle

The enormous power differential between the Collective and the Canvas Workers is clearly what is at stake - reading their demands makes that extraordinarily clear: the vast majority of demands are about increasing their involvement and control over the conditions of their work, something few liberals would object to.

Mr. Garrett, above, gives a laudable and concrete history of his involvement with a workers' union drive which failed, and then stops with all specificity and reverts to metaphors when talking about the present. Supposedly everyone agrees on 99% of everything, and the one percent isn't worth fighting for. Except that all the canvass workers agree that it is worth fighting for, and I imagine would reject the metaphor.

The specifics are clear, and Mike (above) put it clearly: a vast differential in control.

As for Mr. Garrett's assertion that the Collective preferred a non-union style of organization: well, that's all well and good, but employers shouldn't be surprised that their workers disagree on what's best for them. The workers want a union. They have made a union. And the Collective has responded by busting the union.

Most of the smoke and noise on this issue is about personal connections being painfully tested and broken, not because of the facts of the matter. If the collective wants 'autonomy' for themselves, they need to want it for their workers as well.

Autonomy

Eric, for starters, I mentioned my experience at North Country Co-op to clarify that not everyone who is critical of the IWW thinks all “progressive” institutions are above reproach. While I think we are rightly proud of our history of worker democracies here in Minnesota, Mike Pudd'nhead, obscures the reality in saying that, “In Minneapolis we hear 'collective' and we think hippy hippy hooray.” Collectives should be held to a standard, but in this case the “enormous power differential” doesn't exist. As I stated above anyone in the community, including the canvassers or the entire IWW local, can go through the process and join the Collective.

I don't actually think the Sisters' Collective wants autonomy as it relates to the canvassers. The workers at Sisters have voluntarily chosen to associate and the collective is the mechanism by which they are organized. More importantly the collective is the mechanism by which they are accountable to each other. It's my perception that the Collective is welcoming the canvassers to the collective and Collective members want to work together with them. What the canvassers seem to be asking for is total autonomy with no accountability to the collective and no shared stake or responsibility in the overall wellbeing of the organization.

That said, the Collective has an open invitation out to the union to negotiate. I believe that if the canvassers could (even temporarily) set the road blocks aside and meet face to face with the Collective members they could work out a way the Canvassers could have their needs for more direct control met in a way that respected the work and commitment of their fellow workers in the Collective.

Lastly, just to clarify, when I said there was a preference for collective management over a union I was speaking of my experience as a worker at NCC not the current conflict. I don't know what the Sisters' Camelot Collective's or the Canvassers' position/preference is in this regard. I don't really care weather or not the canvassers are organized with the IWW. What I care about is everyone being treated fairly and with as little coercion as possible. There are ways that this can happen without the IWW and maybe ways it can happen with the IWW, but it involves all workers feeling agency and respected.

Garrett, This is a much

Garrett,

This is a much better statement than the statement you co-wrote from what many of us refer to as the "Autonomous Union Busting Collective."

Yes, there are multiple ways this strike can be resolved. If an agreement is reached that the canvassers are happy with that doesn't involve the IWW I'd be more than happy with that. I find it unlikely, but I would find it acceptable. It is, afterall, up to them.

However, in order for that to happen The Collective must negotiate with the union. They've chosen instead to fire one of the canvassers. That's the impasse that has be resolved before anything can move forward. 

Also, I'm still curious how an organization that's allegedly run by consensus was able to fire an employee over the objections of one of its collective members. I'm unaware of the practice of ignoring a member in a consensus decision because your mad at that person so you didn't invite them to a secret meeting.

How it works.

I'm glad you think this statement sounds better, though to be clear, I don't think it conflicts with the earlier statement which I stand by.

 

Sense you asked, the way consensus decisions are made is cooperatively by the people who are there. I have been a part of several collectives, some in the workplace and others in community projects, never have decisions not been made because I didn't show up to the meeting. The folks who attended, in my absence, made the best decision they could. The collective member you are speaking of was on sympathy strike and wasn't there to be a part of the decision. The work had to go on and decisions had to be made in his absence. Furthermore, the spirit of consensus is not that you just show up to block decisions that you don't like. Consensus means being actively engaged in the process of decision making and discussion until a decision everyone can live with is made. The striking collective member withdrew from that process and isn't owed a block. Lastly, I find this point to be the most disingenuous point made by the IWW. The IWW platform is mostly anti-consensus and critiques consensus as allowing for the tyranny of a minority through blocking power. It seems, however, that now the IWW is screaming for this collective member to have that tyrannical power. You're wrong about consensus and your wrong about the power the sympathy striking collective member should have over fellow collective members.

 

In terms of the impasse of ShugE, the fired worker, I believe that the Collective is able to hear and understand the concerns that the canvassers have around the firing and how it makes them feel attacked and unsafe. What I haven't heard is the IWW acknowledge that there are legitimate concerns raised by members of the collective regarding ShugE's behavior. Collective members shouldn't have to blanketly except the presence of an abusive personality and they shouldn't have to have the harm done to them, both as individuals and as an organization, made invisible just because their's a strike going on. This issue should be one that the Camelot workers all talk about together, but it shouldn't be predicated on demands.

accusations against shuge without proof is just that

there has yet to be one shred of evidence backing up these accusations against shuge...just your friends saying they don't like him.  sisters camelot cannot even prove that he was fired 4 years ago.

"The IWW platform is mostly

"The IWW platform is mostly anti-consensus and critiques consensus as allowing for the tyranny of a minority through blocking power. It seems, however, that now the IWW is screaming for this collective member to have that tyrannical power. You're wrong about consensus and your wrong about the power the sympathy striking collective member should have over fellow collective members."

You know what one of the great ironies about this is? The canvassers, by and large, use consensus as a basis for making decisions within their committee (they have adjusted for various decisions, but still use adapted processes). Your insistence that this is about an anti-consensus IWW platform is strengthening my feeling that what y'all are doing is, effectively, using this situation to fight some sort of proxy war over other issues. Unfortunately, the battleground in this case is the real world livelihoods of a good number of people, who don't really deserve to have their strike prolonged by your arguments about consensus or other issues.

The IWW does not useconsensus

The IWW does not useconsensus us at our business meetings, and there are individual IWW members that are not fans of consensus as a decision making process. However, that doesn't make the IWW "anti-consensus." Some of us actually like consensus, and in smaller committees it's often used, though more informally.

I'm more than willing to discuss whether consensus or "Rusty's Rules" are moredemocratic, but it's completely irrelevant  in this situation.

Three problems

Three problems with the Sisters' Camelot Collective's position:

1. The Sisters' Camelot folks may not "feel like employers," but they are.

Mr. Garrett, and others who have volunteered their time and labor to help bust a union, argue consistently that Collectives should have the right to organize how they want, without being 'forced' into an antagonistic situation with workers. Great. But they also made an autonomous choice to hire non-collective members who are not members of the collective. Those workers now get the same rights, and just because Collective members didn't 'see' themselves as bosses doesn't give them the right to fantasize that they weren't. They control working conditions and pay for labor. That's an employer. Lots of employers are nice people, and genuinely want to 'cooperate' with their employees. That doesn't magically transform them from bosses into workers, and doesn't change the fact that union-busting is union-busting no matter how badly if feels to be called out on it. With exception of the occasional liberal or lefty catch-phrase, Mr. Garrett and the other members of the union-busting group sound very much like any Libertarian American Small Business Owner: "Workers shouldn't ask *me* for change; I'm a *nice* guy!"

2. Sisters' Camelot Offer to Negotiate is Not Genuine.

Mr. Garrett suggests that the Collective has an 'open offer to negotiate.' This is a silly position to take, since it ignores the very clearly and repeatedly stated reason the Union is not *currently* willing to negotiate - the Collective fired a worker in retaliation for union activity. Until that worker is rehired, negotiations will not proceed. Yes yes they can say they fired him for other reasons, and just 'forgot' or 'made a mistake' to allow him to work for a very long time after they supposedly fired him, or wanted him fired, but how much sense does any of that make? None, since they fired that worker after union demands, and in the middle of an attempted negotiation.

3. Capitalism and employment are Coercive

Finally, Mr. Garrett suggests that things should be done cooperatively, and without coercion. That's all nice, except that he completely fails to recognize that capitalism is a coercive system, that it primarily coerces people at their workplaces (you know, where they work to make money for employers and where we have less control over our lives than our bosses do). Sisters' Camelot's Collective decided to be part of that system by employing folks. No problem there. But don't pee on our necks and tell us it's raining. When you employ people, you're a boss. Not recognizing your privilege as an employer is pretty much par for the course for this group, apparently.

A last word on Respect. I've heard many people on the SC Collective's side complain about their hurt feelings, and 'aggression.' Silly. As far as I can tell, their feelings are hurt because they've been called out for bad behavior, and are embarrassed but too proud and stubborn to do the right thing. They're sticking to their guns, even though they are pointed in the wrong direction. The only serious, public, disrespect I have seen has been from the Collective itself, which has had to retract nasty union-busting statements (with apologies for the nasty statement, but not for the union-busting).

This is indeed a struggle inside the broad liberal community of the Twin Cities. The capitalists laugh at stuff like this, when local celebrity liberals start imitating them. But what are we to do? Allow a great institution and service like Sisters' Camelot take the long, familiar road to liberal NGO irrelevance? Or push to improve Sisters' Camelot by ensuring workplace democracy? These workers love SC and want it to improve. The Collective, as far as I can tell, is moving in precisely the opposite direction.

You know, i don't think

You know, i don't think there's any real question on any side about whether or not Camelot is technically an employer, with obligations related to that status. Obviously, it is. And yes, we all live under the coercive system of Capitalism; that includes all workers at Camelot--paid, unpaid, those who have chosen to work through the collective structure, and those who have declined to. There's no fat cat in this situation; there's not even anyone making above a poverty wage, after all. And there's no individual or group of workers exercising managerial power that all Camelot workers don't already have the option of partaking in.

The question, obviously, is: could that power which is already available to all be better distributed through the binary framework of an IWW union that excludes some Camelot workers, or through improving the collective framework that currently makes room for all workers? Clearly, i lean towards the latter.

I believe the collective's issue with the 'boss'/'management' vs. 'worker' framing is deeper than what Prof. Davis suggests. It seems to be that, by design, the union framework as offered forces a binary onto the workplace that collective members don't want, and that hasn't previously existed. Historically there has always been crossover and interchange between the collective as an entity and the individuals who canvass, and there are no workers at Camelot who don't have the ability to join the body managing their workplace. Yet the canvasser's recent methods and list of demands suggest a general thrust in the direction of scrubbing away this interchange and formalizing an internal schism, instead. There have apparently been serious structural inadequacies thus far in making the collective function well for all affected workers, but formalizing this schism pursuant to their demands would effectively be a shift to a model where investment and power in Camelot is compartmentalized, and  some workers are formally restricted from accessing it, rather than a move towards developing a more functional, egalitarian and accessible collective.

What i hear you, Prof. Davis, and others saying is, "The collective is by design separate from and not open to canvassers, and so canvassers must assert their rights in opposition to it." But what current collective members seem to genuinely desire is a better-run collective workplace where all regular workers (not just canvassers, and not just everyone else) share investment in management of the full organization, through developing a better collective practice together. I don't see how this vision, where all workers share equal power and investment, isn't a valid form of 'workplace democracy.'

To say, "You're the boss, we refuse to join you, now negotiate with us on our terms," leaves little room for an approach to fixing those structural inadequacies in a manner that both effectively addresses issues current canvassers feel are important, and issues that other current workers--paid and unpaid (and yes, as a feminist, i value unpaid labor and appreciate that Camelot's structure seeks to value and include the voices of committed volunteers, as well)--feel are important, too.

And it's a shame that the needed face-to-face diaologue between canvassers and collective members hasn't happened. I know that the collective has proposed such a meeting, and i hope canvassers agree to it soon. I think the commenter above was spot on in naming the clear need for nonviolent communication in this conflict. An adversarial approach in this context only helps gain adversaries.

As far as respect goes, i don't think it's helpful to call the real and legitimate concerns, feelings and experiences of people who are peers and comrades in the community "silly."

Ok, let's start with a simple

Ok, let's start with a simple fact. Not everyone has the ability to donate 8 hours/month to Sisters' Camelot and attend collective meetings regularly in order to have additional say in their job. I'm not speaking about any individual canvasser, I don't know them, but that's an obvious truth. So, if someone doesn't have that ability the above proposed solution would deny them that input. Plus, the canvassers have stated that they've felt like second class citizens at Sisters Camelot - as the near universal decision to join the union clearly shows. (A collective member stating that he believes in unions for people with real jobs not people who "work twice a week for weed money" doesn't help  either).

The statement that the canvassers went on strike an hour after presenting their demands is partly true, but doesn't tell the whole truth. They went on strike only after SC refused to negotiate.

While it is true that the collective changed their tune the following Monday and offered to negotiate, they followed that up by firing one of the canvassers. That decision is the only thing preventing negotiations now.

So, yes. This can only be resolved through communication. Yes, there may have been other approaches the canvassers could have taken, but that doesn't change the simple undeniable face that shugE was only fired after the canvass made the decision to justify. The fact that so called anarchsits have tried to justify the firing of someone during an organizing campaign is bizarre.

And, hey - maybe there's a solution to this impasse that involves the canvassers haing more of a say in the running of the collective. Afterall, that is part of what they're asking for (at least from what I see in the demands). As soon as SC decides to stop employing classic union busting tactics and rhetoric the sooner negotiations can begin and we'll find out.

And Garrett - if you all felt that the IWW was too "rigid" for the organizing campaign at North Country - more power to you. I think workers have the right to choose who best represents their interests. In this case nearly all (or is it now all?) the canvassers joined the union. As I understand it, they asked for assistance from the IWW after deciding to organize. From what I've seen, they're the ones making the decisions. They're not being manipulated by Svengalis from the IWW who are advising them. They're making the decisions on their own. Are you saying they don't have the right to do that?

simple fact

Billy,

 

Just to clear up your assertion in proximity to where it was made, I'm going to quote what Elvin wrote below, “As long as I have your attention: The statement you quoted about " weed money" was NOT made by a collective member of Sisters' Camelot and was, in fact, immediately followed by a statement from a collective member rebutting it and making it very clear that is in no way how the collective feels.”

 

Moving on.

 

I have sympathy for the fact that not everyone can make extra time for things like volunteering and collective meetings. I think the Collective knows this too and that is why the Collective changed their policy to make it easier for canvassers to join. However, it is equally fair to expect people to set aside some time and energy to help understand the conditions of a workplace on a broader level before making major decisions about the organizations direction and structure. Instead of having Collective meetings the canvassers want to have union meetings and instead of excluding people from decisions because they can't put in the time to be a part of the Collective the canvassers want to exclude those same people from working at Camelot at all by having a closed union shop? Either you want to be a part of organizing your workplace or you don't and you either have the capacity or you don't. It's not fair to the workers in the collective to undermine their chosen mode of organizing. You can cooperatively try to change it to something that works better for everyone, but trying to delegitimize the collective as a democratic mechanism for worker control is, for all the reasons listed above, misguided and wrong.

 

Whether the canvassers came to the IWW for help or not is moot. The point is that things could have gone many different ways. Maybe the canvassers should have looked into more options. Maybe the IWW could have been more honest about not having a monopoly on class struggle. At the open house a canvasser multiple times defended what they were doing by saying “that's just how unions work.” My point is that not only can unions work differently, but there are ways to solve conflicts between fellow workers that don't even involve unions. If the canvassers think this is the only way to redress grievances in a meaningful way they are wrong and being on strike does not raise them above criticism. Similarly, knowing their workplace and being people worthy of respect doesn't mean they are experts in non-violent conflict resolution. I agree that the canvassers have the right to organize how they see fit as long as that doesn't infringe on the rights of their fellow workers in the Collective to do the same.

 

The Collective has admitted to having problems and having made mistakes, I think the canvassers admitting that they have made some too, and being willing to hear about and care about how that affected their fellow workers in the collective would go a long way towards rebuilding relations.

"Instead of having Collective

"Instead of having Collective meetings the canvassers want to have union meetings and instead of excluding people from decisions because they can't put in the time to be a part of the Collective the canvassers want to exclude those same people from working at Camelot at all by having a closed union shop?"

Whoa, this is way factually incorrect. They want the canvass to be a closed shop, not the entire operation of Sisters' Camelot. That's never been a demand of any kind. Everyone else at Sisters' Camelot would have their working conditions unaffected. This has been made clear at every point.

At any rate, my critique remains the same, which is, you should not have to be involved in every level of decision-making in order to have basic control over the conditions of your work. And your bolded text above, if extended to the ability to hire and fire others, or otherwise hold power over them, is deeply problematic.

Power Imbalance

So, tell me, if there's no power imbalance does that mean that if the canvassers all agree by consensus can they fire a collective member?

Afterall, it's certainly true that any collective member could decide to canvass...

Collective Requirements

Yes, Mr. Crimson, if the canvassers are willing to do the work they most certainly can fire a collective member. The collective actually has recently changed the requirements to allow for easier access to collective membership specifically for the canvassers. They have changed the 8 hours volunteer time to be 8 hours volunteer time or 12 canvass shifts/ month( which  most canvassers probably already do...). So, all they would have to do is show up to meetings and work something like 6 program shifts a year, plus their normal canvass shifts and they can fire at will!

As long as I have your attention: The statement you quoted about " weed money" was NOT made by a collective member of Sisters' Camelot and was, in fact, immediately followed by a statement from a collective member rebutting it and making it very clear that is in no way how the collective feels.

however, the weed money

however, the weed money comment was made by one of the co-authors of a community statement claiming to support "all Sisters' Camelot workers," which seems rather disingenuous in context.

I made the comment, and I apologized for it at that meeting.

I'm the one that made that comment, and I think it should pointed out
that later in the same meeting I acknowledged what I'd said was born out
of anger and directed at one individual, not the whole canvass, and I
apologized for it. I'm a former Camelot canvasser, collective member, and canvass director
with 5 years in the canvass trenches, and over 10 years experience within the organization.
I admit that my comment at that at meeting was unhelpful, but I do actually have as much or more
experience with the collective and the canvass there than most of the people weighing in
publicly on all of this. My contribution to the 'community statement' is based on that.

I understand that the

I understand that the collective has changed their rules now to make it (somewhat) easier for canvassers to join the collective. I don't believe that's what the canvassers are looking for but it certainly could be part of the solution. We'll find out if and when The Collecitve agrees to bargain in good faith. They have yet to show any sign of a desire to do that.

As to the "weed money" statement - thank you for correcting me. I'd seen that attributed to a Collective member, but knowing that's not correct is important.

I haven't chimed in here yet,

I haven't chimed in here yet, but I wanted to say thanks to Sheila and others for raising the issue of historical perspective -- and echo that I would love to hear the voices of old-timers who might have some wisdom to share.  The examples I gave in my email to Sheila didn't actually originate from me, and since then people have raised others, like Garrett's experiences at North Country Co-Op above.  There's got to be more; those of us in the younger generation should not resign ourselves to reinventing the wheel or repeating mistakes that we have the opportunity to learn from.

From personal conversations with people in different positions in this disagreement, it seems like almost everyone wants to be at the table in some way.  Saying that anyone's "refusing to negotiate" is rather misleading, in that regard.  People are working out the conditions for how to best move the conversation ahead.

From the moment the union decided to strike a mere one hour after presenting their demands, though, unproductive escalations have continued, mostly from the union and internet flamers, but certainly including the firing, as well, in my view.  This all has got to look rather silly from the point of view of other labor unions and worker cooperatives.  It's time for folks to set their egos on the back burner, drop the blame game and escalations, and talk to each other in the language of experiences, needs and desires rather than demands and battle.

 

this is still clearly union-busting

the workers formed a union.  the management refuses to negotiate the terms of the union's existence.  4 days later they fire a striking union member.  it does not matter what this person did 4 years ago, how horrible they are, or how justifyable it is to punish them...you do not do that to a striking worker in this situation, period.

this is simple.  this is union-busting.  none of your arguments against the union hold water unless you simply do not recognize workers rights to organize a union.

simple.

Who's talking?

Unless I am wrong about who some of the anonymous posters here are, I find it extremely poignant that none of this engaging conversation is coming from the collective members or the canvassers' union members. A lot of people in this town and community have a lot of intense feelings around this but the ones that  need to sit down and do the talking are not who I am hearing from. 

How about we round up the canvassers( in the union and not) and the whole collective and get them to just talk. Not a formal union negotiation, just a chat. No union representatives from the IWW or any of these collectivists or " community supporters" allowed in the room.We have had our say; let's let them have a turn.

 

Canvassers

What needs to happen is for "canvassing" to just fade into history.  With all the property crime that goes on,  people ringing on doorbells is simply not worthwhile. Many ways exist to donate online. Givemn.org is my favorite.  The development of this story just shows how something like this can spiral out of control.  It also shows how people invest their ego in political activity.  The very idea of striking against a charity is a sign of mental derangement.  The "contractor" isn't in a charitable enterprise. That is obvious. If people wanted to VOLUNTEER to canvass for the charity, that's one thing. But hiring a contractor seems inherently a mistake.  I hope Sisters Camelot has learned a lesson.  The capitalist model is a bad fit for helping the poor. I don't honestly see how it can ever work out.  Did Jesus or Moses or Gandhi or Buddha see the link between salaries and helping poor people?  Of course not.

Comments?

Where did all the old comments go on this article?  They were part of the historic record, please put them back up!