Note: taIWWan is posting excerpts from David Barry Temple's three historical novels.
In this scene from his second novel, Life's Progressive Movement, Johnny Emerson encounters the power of a clique at an IWW GMB meeting in this strange brew of home-grown unionism. It's a warning to grass-root organizing to beware of moles or let themselves get moldy.
The tedium of collective decision making was the main reason RylandGrossinger moved his Dante's Barista Union meetings to another time and place, yet he still made sure to make a grand late entrance at the monthly General Membership Branch meetings to see that nothing was going on behind his back.
Occasionally, at some monthly meetings, five baristas would show up to have their vote registered. It was getting so that when Johnny Emerson, Fergie, Crutch, and Covert saw them there, they knew it was to make a motion for something the the DBU needed, something they needed a majority of barista votes for, such as when they wanted to raid the GMB treasury and print flyers or have stocking hats purchased for themselves from General Headquarters.
With Grossinger usually making the motion, and another coffee jerk pumping up a hand to second the motion, the barista union always won a majority of votes, if only by a vote of five to four. If there was on the agenda a vote against DBU interests, Ryland alerted all his barista friends not to show up at the GMB meeting to stifle the five person quorum needed for a vote. Grossinger calculated correctly that there would be only four members without the baristas' presence. It was all very democratic, and deceitful. It became a morbid joke to Johnny and other fellow workers.
"Hey Fergie, remember that overhead projector we were talking about getting for our outreach event film presentations?" Johnny asked. "Well, I saw one on sale for a few thousand dollars."
"Point of order: Treasurer Davinsky, how much do we have left in the treasury?" Crutch chimed in.
"Three thousand eight hundred, not counting the five hundred lent to the fellow worker from Jersey to get his PETA girlfriend out of jail," Johnny Emerson replied. "Also, GHQ sent us a bill of four hundred fifty dollars for the thirty stocking hats the DBU received from them."
"What!? When did that happen?" Jack Covert snapped to attention as he raised his head from the back corner of the zine room.
"At the meeting last month; you don't remember?"
"Why are we paying for them? Shouldn't the DBU pay themselves?" Covert demanded, his thin voice cracking.
"I do believe the motion was for GMB to foot the bill as outreach for those who showed up at the demonstration at the Union Square shop," Crutch recalled, his hand raised accordingly to be recognized by the facilitator; himself.
"Your guess is as good as mine," Johnny Emerson replied as he wrote the minutes. After months of trying to persuade the baristas to refund the treasury, Johnny Emerson and GMB wrote it and the PETA girlfriend loan off as a loss.
"We had better buy that projector before all the funds are gone," said Fergie incredulously.
"We don't really need it," Johnny pointed out.
"Damn if they really needed those stocking hats, those bitches." Fergie wiped his nose and shook his head.
In the back of his mind, Johnny knew that including this business in the meeting minutes was a bad move so he censored it. Even though the original vote indicated the cost of the hats should be repaid, the barista clique would just come to a GMB meeting to vote not to return the funds.
No one in GHQ ever learned if the DBU ever raised their own funds. Occasionally, a check would come into the P.O. box Crutch monitored at the main post office earmarked for the barista organizing drive, but there were never any funds coming the other way. Even monthly dues weren't paid by the working group as, according to IWW regulations, they could keep them for their own cause. Peter Portobello, was the only barista who admitted that though he kept himself in good standing, delegate Ryland didn't bother to collect dues from others; he would speak with Rye at one of the special meetings.
A few months earlier, when the whole unionizing thing started percolating, Grossinger spilled the beans and told the GMB that he had filed for NLRB recognition of the DBU without consulting the others first. "The NLRB will protect us from being burned by management," he said in his defense. But it didn't prevent barista Bruno, the greenest bean of them all, from wearing his IWW pin proudly on his Dante cap, the part of the uniform above the brain, and getting into an argument with the manager in the cafe, getting fired when he refused to take the button off. Grossinger wasn't that naive. He handed management his cool mug.
Grossinger had his hands full convincing more baristas in his store to join the union; it became evident that, against the GMB's hind-sighted advice, only a minority had joined. Now, with the caffeine out of the brew, the Dante regional manager started packing the payroll with loyal baristas from other shops before NLRB capped the voting participants. The Dante's law firm got busy filing a motion claiming theirs were regional and one store alone couldn't be unionized.
When the court ruled that one store could indeed be unionized because its manager had the power to hire and fire independently, it didn't much matter because the DBU would have lost the vote, anyway. Grossinger thought it prudent, and it would make him look good, to postpone the election and claim a victory, anyway. The pro-bono defense he secured from a law firm he was hoping to get a position with would back him up.
When news broke in the corporate media, there was Ryland Grossinger in a captioned photo, in his Dante's uniform, looking up to the sky like a Greek hero, proudly displaying his hard fought right to wear the IWW button while on duty; a great victory. The Daily News and the Post were amused and printed it.
When it became evident that Grossinger would need the assistance of everyone in the GMB from that point on, freedom-riding activists joined in a meeting that was arranged at a pub ironically called The Union Bar; it was near the communal house some Wobs shared in the Bushwick neighborhood.
The GMB was exciting when fifteen people showed up at the meeting in the garden of the pub in the grumbling bowels of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that hummed with traffic above. Wobblies that hadn't been to meetings in months came anxious to decide on the next step. There were so many people that wanted to pay up dues so to be eligible to vote that the meeting was delayed to affix stamps in their Red Books. It was a right regular party, too, with beer and pizza paid for by the GMB.
The meeting was called to order, Grossinger facilitating. Crutch raised his hand first with an urgent question."Point of order: Why didn't y'all ask the branch before you went public?"
"Does it matter now?" one barista shot back, out of order. "What's done is done." To Johnny, the urgent barista sounded like a parent who had found that his teenage daughter's pregnancy test came back positive. There would be no abortion in this right to unionize life.
"We are organizing the first Dante's in the whole world!" foamed Grossinger to the applause and hoots of the other baristas. He then lowered his voice and addressed Crutch publicly but private-like:
"If you are going to be negative about this, we might have to ask you to leave the meeting." All eyes followed to see Crutch's reaction.
"I beg your pardon, fellow worker, but that is highly undemocratic," fumed Crutch.
"Be what it may, but we have had enough of your nay-saying," said Ryland to wagging heads around him. "We're going to have to ask you to step away from this meeting and wait outside."
"I will most certainly not," replied Crutch jumping to his feet with indignation.