Notes from the shop floor.

Notes from the shop floor.

Brace B. is a founding member of Red Star San Francisco, an Anchor Brewing employee, and an organizer for the Anchor Union campaign. Lizzie M., another Red Star San Francisco member, called him to ask a few questions about the project…

This interview was originally published in our newsletter in February 2019. Sign up to receive more pieces like this as soon as they're written.

LM: Hey Brace, how’s it going?

BB: It’s been a long day…

LM: Can you share some background for the audience about this union campaign you’re a part of?

BB: Absolutely. A couple of us are members of DSA and we got to talking and realized we needed some changes at the place we work. It’s called Anchor Brewing. We make beer. And it’s pretty popular in San Francisco and I guess the West Coast. So, we went to DSA, and specifically to a member of Red Star, E., and made our organizing committee, and he hooked us up with a bunch of training and really taught us how to get started and put the foundation down. We got to work really hard, for like the next four months, and then we were put in touch with the ILWU, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

LM: So what’s the feeling on the shop floor right now?

BB: Very nervous, but good. When we announced we had been organizing this for like a year, and we put up a pretty strong foundation before we went public. And we were able to do it without any of the bosses finding out about it. Almost total secrecy, including my friends. So we did a really big blitz using a lot of DSA and ILWU resources and we kind of got them on the back foot. We got some pretty firm ground. As of the day before yesterday they announced that the company is going to start fighting back in the factory.

LM: Can you describe some of the people who have been part of the unionization effort? Have they been in a union before? How did they come to this?

BB: There are about eight of us and as far as I know none of us have been in unions before. It’s a pretty eclectic mix of people. We’ve got people who have worked there for almost a decade and people who have worked there, like me, I’m the newest, I’ve been there like a year. We have people in every part of the factory and the bar next door. It’s a lot of people who are brand new to not only union organizing but to any organizing whatsoever. It’s really something to see.

LM: When you say eight people, do you mean the organizing core?

BB: This is the organizing core. We are the people who meet every week. We try to add more people to it -- we’ve probably had ten or eleven overall who have been a part of it -- but some people have quit the factory and stuff like that. It’s like, the steering committee.

LM: How does the management feel about all of this?

BB: You can imagine they’re not very excited. We think it’s a little funny, seeing as how every other plant the company owns as far as we know is union… we’re a little confused as to why they wouldn’t approve of something like that for us. We’re just hoping they see the light of day.

LM: What are ya’ll’s biggest grievances with the company?

BB: For me it’s pay. I get paid $16.50 an hour and I’ve only technically had a raise. They bumped me up when they bumped the starting pay up. I get kept under 29 hours a week because at 30 they would have to pay benefits. For the other guys it’s similar stuff. And our grievance isn’t like “I want more money just to have more money”, it’s like “I want more money because I have to pay rent because I want to live in San Francisco.” Most guys in the organizing committee do not live in San Francisco, because we can’t afford it, and we think that’s a damn shame.

LM: How does this campaign tie into your larger perspective of changing the world, as a Marxist?

BB: As people know -- I’m sure anyone reading this will know -- class consciousness in America has always been lower than in other developed countries. And class consciousness in the 21st century is probably the lowest it’s ever been. Getting a worker in a trade union, and especially having a worker start a trade union, is one of the only avenues to organically have people understand the class system in America and capitalist society. And we’re joining a left-wing union. I’m not lecturing these guys about Karl Marx or anything -- I’m doing it for the same reasons they’re doing it -- but it’s really something to see people understand how we’re being exploited.

LM: So what’s next for you all?

BB: We have an election coming up on March 6th and the other is on March 8th (there are two bargaining units) and we plan on working really hard 24 hours a day until those elections to make sure that our base comes out, that everybody votes, and that we have a strong footing to fight for a good contract, because the fight’s not going to be over when we get the union. The fight’s never going to be over, but the big fight is coming with the contract.

LM: Can you explain a little bit about the election process? Like, what’s the election process for, who’s holding it?

BB: We dropped cards earlier in the month, which means that we signed cards authorizing the International Longshore and Warehouse Union to represent us. All that means is that we get to call for an election. You’re supposed to legally get 30% and we had over twice that amount. We had an overwhelming majority of the factory signed on. We’re hoping we can retain those voters, the workers who originally expressed interest in the union. We turned those cards into the NLRB, the National Labor Relations Board, and they’re going to supervise an election on the 6th of May. We need 50% plus one.

LM: How can people and get plugged in, especially if they’re not in San Francisco, like if they’re somewhere else on the West Coast, or somewhere else in the United States?

BB: So our ask right now is really simple. We’re running a positive campaign as long as we can. We’re asking people to take a picture, maybe if they’re drinking Anchor Steam, doing a little muscle person fucking thing with their arm [editor’s note: 💪] and [post it on social media] using the hashtags #anchorunion and #anchoredinsf. The company has seen these and they are tripping. We had a pretty huge action at the bar that Anchor Steam owns: we had about 150 workers, longshoremen, people in different unions, and DSA members. We wanted to show them that our support comes from everywhere. It’s been working, we’re doing well so far. And you can sign the petition we have.

LM: Anything else you want to mention before I let you go?

BB: I think if, as DSA, we’re looking for socialists outside the usual activist circles, I think the people we really need to make inroads with are the longshoremen. Not to use them or anything, but they have something that no other union has: power and a message. We really need to give them our support.

LM: They also have a pretty amazing history, right?

BB: They started after the 1934 dock-workers’ strike, where they shut down every dock on the West Coast, and then a four-day general strike led by them in San Francisco where they had a running gun battle with the police when the police murdered two longshoremen, which is why they don’t allow police anywhere on longshore property or anywhere on their work sites. They’ll leave if they have cops there.

LM: Whoa -- I had no idea about that.

BB: Yeah. It’s fucking cool. 🚩

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