Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"It Won't Work" Ch. 8 Excerpt: The New NYC Wobblies

     This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. 

"Swordfish," Jack called into the intercom when someone asked who was there.
      "Swordfish?" Emerson asked. “Why not Afghanistan Banana Stand?”
      "Why not?" When the man answered their bell with a ubiquitous "who is it?" they could have said anything they wanted. It was his choice to buzz them in or not. His was the War Resisters League office in the Muste building, the 'peace' building as it was known, on Lafayette Place a few blocks down from Tower Records. Jack had looked them up on his computer and contacted them to let them know they were coming. Maybe it was a password after all, “Swordfish.” Still, if they said they were the police, Mitch Rabbinivik would have let them upstairs just the same; they had nothing to hide or flush down the toilet.
      Emerson and Jack went up the dirty flight of stairs and found the studio of W.R.L. from the wall near the intercom in the dirty dim hallway. They walked past in curiosity to see what the next office was. The last door down the hall was the largest Muste Building meeting room, Someone had handwritten I.W.W. on a scrap of blank white paper and taped it onto the wood door under an engraved commemorative metal plaque. It tweaked their interest, a dozen windows from floor to ceiling, wrapped around the building's corner. 
    They heard the door opened down the hall. The boys turned and milled back sideways past Mitch's outstretched hand and into the room, eyeing as they did the posters randomly placed on narrow office walls to the left and right, pamphlets, papers, and a large open window at its end. The War Resisters Office. The website made it seem grander than it really was. Two desks side by side, Steve’s on the left, Mitch's on the right, each against the wall but the men's backs. 
      "This is the War Resisters League?"
      "This is it."
      "Only you two?" 
      "Well, we do have some help every now and then but, basically, we are it."
      "You are the ones who send out those e-mails?"
      "That's what we do," said Steve Stacks while opening and closing a draw looking for something which he didn't locate.
      "And print that newspaper you sent us?" asked Emerson incredulously.
      "We printed it and we sent it," said Steve, proudly almost.
      "All by us," said Mitch raising a bushy black Groucho Marx eyebrow.
      "You really need some help, don’t you?"
      "Are you offering?"
      "What do you need to be done?"
      "Well there is next month's newsletter. You could start there.” Mitch reached over and grabbed an open box of a thousand white business envelopes. “If you want to help, you can take that yellow paper with this white one, fold them together like this, and put them into these envelopes; okay?"
      "Sure." Emerson and Jack took seats, actually not seats but places to sit on; cardboard boxes and an old swivel chair.
      "What are your names? You didn't say."
      Emerson spoke. "I'm Emerson Davinsky and this is Jack Covert."
      "It's a pleasure to meet you." He shook their hands. Mitch followed.
      "What brought you here?"
      "We want to help, that’s all. We heard about you at a demonstration and wanted to help."
      "That's great. What school?"
      "Norman Thomas High School, Midtown."
      "So you're both teachers?"
      “Does the I.W.W. really meet here?” asked Emerson.
      “Sure when they make it,” Steve replied reaching into his shelf and handing Jack a brochure, a small piece of white paper with a gear shaft in the middle announcing the Industrial Workers of the World New York City General Membership Branch meeting for the following Saturday.
      “I thought the IWW was defunct.”
      “No, they’re still around,” replied Mitch shrugging his shoulders at the thought.
      “When I was a teen I used to love Phil Ochs and he mentioned the Industrial Workers of the World in a song called “Joe Hill” but that was about years ago.”
      “Yep, they’re still around,” replied Steve incredulously.
      On the way home Jack and Emerson discussed the IWW. They each had some homework to do.
      A few days later it was decided by each to join up together. 

     Four people were present at that first meeting Emerson joined; he and Jack made six. The leader, it seemed, was some cranky shabbily dressed schlep who went by the name Red Zinger. He was sincerely happy to meet the new members but didn’t know how to really show it. When asked what the IWW did he could only repeat what they had done in the past. Apparently they had just gone through some turmoil in the branch and someone left or was booted out.
      At that first meeting, the first agenda item was that they needed to relocate because someone in some other group in the Peace Building was too lazy to wake up Sunday morning to get there and open the door for them. It was Adonis, May, and Richard Tempo who mentioned ABC No Rio as a new spot. They had been to the communal house before. Within a few months, the NYC GMB was meeting in the Zine room of the ramshackle tenement on Rivington Street on the Lower Eastside.

      The branch mutated; there had been a split. Emerson and Jack were  in. Zinger made room for the new Fellow Workers and they worked out a general meeting procedure from some Wobbly literature they had from GHQ.
      Emerson didn't care but Zinger was happy to learn there was one woman in the group. The only females he saw at ABC No Rio were in the kitchen cooking for a group named Food Not Bombs and none came to IWW meetings. They were cute young darlings, with an air of natural womanhood and suffragette pride; real people. But there were no women in the GMB until they met Sadie, rowdy and dear Sister Worker Sadie Strumbeck.
      Not long after Sadie returned, as was clear by Zinger and Adonis’ familiarity, a new recruit came up the rickety stairs into the Zine room through the creaky off-hinged door and introduced himself formally.
      “May I introduce myself my Fellow Workers; I am Eupheus Crutch from Macon, Georgia. This is the IWW, isn’t it?” For a moment Jack and Emerson looked at each other thinking of telling him otherwise until FW Crutch took a seat, unbuckled his regal timeworn leather satchel and removed an old red book. “We are the mighty union and I am to directly do so,” he crowed. With his Southern accent, blond hair and goatee, and be speckled face with red cheeks, Emerson called him “The Colonel” and the name stuck. “Y’all call me what you may, but do not associate me with that Fascist capitalist chicken dealer, you hear?” They all heard and laughed, anyway.
By the time Skuzzy joined the general membership branch, everyone was ready for some comic relief. The older tall members knew that from Skuzzy's height and young age, he would be the embodiment of entertainment, yet Skuzzy, well aware of his diminutive height, was insulated from criticism having been that height his entire life; he knew how to deflect criticism and prejudice. He was an Industrial Worker of the World, however large or small he was, and he was there, like the others, to fight for the right to organize unions. Since he didn't have an occupation, like most of the general membership branch, the union he would organize would be someone else’s. 
      Eupheus Crutch made sure Skuzzy was put right about the procedures of a meeting and Skuzzy participated like the rest, except for Jack Covert, busy as ever, outside looking in.
The first project Skuzzy undertook was to safeguard the collection of Industrial Worker news monthlies in cardboard boxes on the lopsided shelves of the room in which they met, a room that was called a ‘zine room’ by virtue of those and other cardboard boxes, filled mostly with unbound stapled chap books, manifestos, and zines. Yes, zines was what was in the library that the Workers of the World who lived in New York would be the protector of, and Skuzzy would be the point person to safeguard those zines of Industrial Worker origin. 
      "We should take them with us," said Skuzzy, addressing the third item in the order of business, the motion behind a motion to pay Mr. Hollander yearly instead of monthly fees for use of the room; deciding at each meeting was how they would donate to him that month for using the zine room. "Maybe if we give him a fee for the year, he can do something about those radiators." Skuzzy believed.
      "Those radiators didn't work last winter either," said Red Zinger, the historian and longest member. "We asked about it last year. It doesn't help."
      "Well then maybe we should have a rent strike and refuse to pay at all; that may put some sense into him," said Colonial Crutch, seriously, but out of order by his own definition, throwing personal opinion into a factual matter.
      "The whole building is falling apart," came Jack Covert’s words from the back of the rectangular room, somewhere between boxes of assorted wires and disused hard drives." His first priority is making sure the staircase doesn't fall down."
      "Is that a fact!?"
      "You saw! I am afraid to walk up anymore."
      "Order in the room: Crutch, Covert; Skuzzy has the floor," said this month’s facilitator, The Carpenter. Emerson took notes as quickly as he could; rather easily since most of what was being said was out of order and not for the minutes to be written about.
      "Point of order: how much do we pay Hollander now?"
      "Zinger? Do you know?"
      "We’ve given him twenty dollars a month the last few months; I wasn't here before then."
      "It was $10 a month; $2.00 a person and we had ten people attending, then, the meeting size dwindled to five when Sadie Strumbeck flew off somewhere."
      "She's been working on that island near Riverhead with toxic samples."
      "Is that what she's doing?"
      "How’s that?"
      "I call the meeting to order! Skuzzy, repeat your motion?"
      "I move that we pay Mr. Hollander $100 for a year’s use of this room." 
      After it was voted down, one hand one vote; simple majority, and Skuzzy didn't get his way, he went on to the third item on the agenda which was also his; the one about adding to the zine collection of Industrial Worker newspapers. That motion did pass and Skuzzy was appointed the point person to go upstairs to Hollander's office, with Emerson, to see what could be done about adding zines and creating a new box for them.
That was easy. Mr. Hollander agreed, since it was magazines from their organization and he didn't know how they'd gotten there in the first place; that was a volunteer’s responsibility, he didn't remember which one or when it was last attended to. That was easy to find out, too. Skuzzy opened the box, the one that said 1976-1982 and found each monthly issue in proper order. He took the next box off the shelf with no label, opened it, and found issues from 1992-1995. That was in order, too. Four more boxes were opened and investigated. It was during the course of the meeting, which suited everyone just fine since it kept Skuzzy busy and mostly away from the discussion. Skuzzy had a tendency to talk more than needed, like Gabby in the Al Zukof cartoons; he wouldn't stop yapping.  
      "Sorry to interrupt, but do we have any new issues here?"
      "Skuzzy, can that wait for later? We're finishing up."
      "Yeah. Sure. Later."
      The Industrial Worker magazines never did leave the zine room at ABC No Rio - half of the third agenda item's motion, but at least it could stay there and have issues added to it, putting it up to date. Maynard Carpenter would provide a box "that may not match the others" but that was okay and no one minded.   
Eupheus Crutch excused himself and had to leave early. It was okay; the votes were in and a quorum was no longer needed, then everyone realized that Jack Covert was still there, the fifth man, and they could still vote if they wanted to, but it wouldn’t be fair to Crutch and he’d be annoyed. The meeting was ended. Emerson read back the notes. Crutch stayed until he was finished, just in case Emerson left out some important points. Satisfied, the minutes were to be written, typed up, and put on the e-mail list-serve for approval before sending out to every member in the branch, whether they had been to the meeting or not, whether anyone even knew who they were or not, but Red Zinger knew who was who and they should all get a copy. The meeting was adjourned. Skuzzy was welcomed again, and didn't miss another meeting after that.
The positive vibrations and possibilities kept mounting as Emerson and the others were reshaping the New York City General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World. The group hadn’t been this strong in years, since the 70’s in fact, when it caught the upsurge from the anti-Vietnam War movement and environmentalists. Judy Bari, one of the organizers of the “Earth First!” Campaigns against logging redwood forests in Northern California was a Wobbly hero in the ‘80’s who had survived a pipe bombing attack but had just passed away from breast cancer. But in New York City, the IWW lingered until Emerson, Zinger, Jack, Sadie, Adonis, May, and Red brought it back to life with Skuzzy and Colonel Crutch in tow.
“Rusty’s Rules,” a simplified version of Roberts’ Rules was borrowed from the Portland, OR GMB and employed to define and focus the NYC GMB meetings; Colonel Crutch made sure of that. Communication between the Wobbly branches around the United States, Great Britain, and Australia were social and personable thanks to the advent of the World Wide Web.
Emerson was proud to be part of a labor union that had done more to ignite the spirit of American workers than any other union in the history of the nation. The IWW was to American Workers what the Russian October Revolution and the Chinese May 4th Movements were to workers there. Never had there been so much focus and attention put into fighting the class war against the bosses in the Industrial Revolution. Even after the United States government clampdown on revolutionary unionism with the Palmer Raids of 1919 took its toll, the IWW managed to live on and helped organize loggers in the Northwest and longshoremen on the East Coast.
If the IWW had not be decimated by the time the Great Depression hit the capitalist world in 1929, the industrial union would have been there, ripe and ready, to create the new world out of the shell of the old instead of Franklin Roosevelt hijacking the socialist agenda to create the WSA to rescue the ruling class of a sorely needed redistribution of wealth. Hell, if the workers were stronger when Wilson forced them to be slaughters with Europeans in the ‘war to end all wars,’ World War I would never have happened and six hundred thousand workers wouldn’t have been slaughtered to fight the rich men’s war.
There would have been a strong resentment to the scapegoating and red-baiting of Franco in Spain, Adolph Hitler and the other Fascist states. World War II might not have happened if the workers were united in strength.
      Emerson was sure that as the United States slipped further into anti-worker neo-liberalism in the 1990’s, the workers livelihoods could be saved before it was too late. Emerson in the Industrial Workers of the World of the 21st century were just beginning to flex their muscles and organize workers into unions. There was a way to go before a critical mass needed for non-violent revolution was reached but he and the other Wobbly activists believed that with agitation, education, and organization, the ultimate goal of abolishing the wage system could become reality. There would be nothing that wouldn’t neutralize the government-corporate media propaganda machine. There was a feeling of beginning in the right direction, the way it should go to help down-sized workers wrestle themselves from the exploitative designs of the ruling class.

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