PO Box 1293, Olympia Wa, 98507 Organize@OlympiaIWW.com (564) 225-2472

Speech given by a member of Just Housing at the 2019 International Workers’ Day event in Olympia.

Good evening everyone, happy International Workers Day! I’m Uncle Jamie from Just housing, I’m a homeless advocate and a homeless person.

And I can tell you from experience that it can be difficult to find work when you’re homeless. Employers are, well lets say their hesitant. They have a lot of questions. Legitimate questions.

“Is this person suffering from substances abuse or mental health problems? Can this person maintain their appearance and hygiene properly? How reliable is this person? What if they get swept or arrested and I have to find someone to cover their shift?”

These are all legitimate questions but they also make for very high barriers for employment when your unhoused.

But the thing is though a lot of us do work. Studies have shown that between 22 and 25%, depending on the study, of unhoused people, are technically employed full time.

And between 40 and 60% are intermittently employed, seasonal work, day labor, gig jobs.

So whatever the exact numbers are – that is a significant portion of our population that is gainfully employed and working. But here’s the thing according to another study statistically in this country – in order to afford a modest two bedroom apartment, one needs to be working at, get this, 21.21 an hour.

And so places that are only one bedroom or studios, competition for them is fierce. And a lot of us unhoused people we have spotty rental histories. So for a lot of us, even if we are bringing in a weekly income rent is simply out of reach for us.

So think about that for second. Maybe the person that checks your groceries out, or blended your latte, went home that night to a shelter, or a car, or a tent.

So while we are here today in solidarity celebrating working people around the world please lets not forget those working people whose gainful employment cannot cover the rent.

If you would like to learn more about just housing we are available at justhousingolympia.org and we are also on Facebook.

Olympia IWW endorses Just Housing Letter

To the City of Olympia staff and Council Members, 

We ask that you take the follow actions:

  1. End the forcible removal of homeless encampments on public property 
  2. Develop and adopt more just, compassionate, and effective policies related to responding to encampments, like a Shelter-in-Place model. This might include specific actions like:
  • Creating transparent policies and accountability processes that ensure adequate time, support and legal and appropriate alternatives are provided if a person needs to move.
  • Including encampment residents in the process of developing said policies.
  • Adopting said policies in keeping with humane principles as outlined in City resolution M – 1942 and The Charter for Compassion. 
  • Partnering with service providers, advocacy groups and faith communities who are supporting existing camps. 
  • Promoting health and safety with garbage service, handwashing stations, and public restrooms at existing camps 
  • Developing and supporting self-governance among the residents of the camps, and seeking to engage camp residents as an essential part of the solution to this challenge, rather than viewing them/us as the problem.
  • Engaging treatment providers to partner with and provide outreach to the residents of camps. 
  • Supporting the development of a regular stakeholders group meeting that invites all interested citizens, organizations, and businesses to guide the effort. 

The goal is to develop a continuum of options created by the whole community that is sustainable.  As stakeholders in this effort we wish to end the sweeps of camps that only creates more misery and suffering and erodes public confidence and partnership. We believe these are essential steps needed to ensure that all residents of our community have safe, legal, and appropriate places to live.


History of International Workers’ Day

On May 4th, 1886, one hundred and thirty-two years ago, the event took place in Haymarket Square in Chicago that started what is called the Haymarket affair and ultimately lead to the creation of International Workers Day. The event itself was a rally, or what at the time was called a meeting or open air meeting, that was in support of the eight-hour day. This struggle had been going on for years and was reaching a fevered pitch with a general strike which had been called for May 1st, in which hundreds of thousands of workers across the United States when out on strike. After the events of May 4th, where towards the end of the rally a bomb exploded causing the police to fire into the crowd. Several people on both sides were killed. In the coming days seven people, all avowed anarchists, were arrested. Some of them were not even at the rally at all and most of them were not there when the bomb exploded. However, after the trial two were given life in prison, one had committed suicide while in jail, and four of them were executed. The trail and execution shocked the world.

“The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today.”
– August Spies just before he was hanged

For two years leading up to May 4th, 1886, workers had been struggling for the eight-hour day. In October of 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions had set May 1st, 1886, as the date by which the eight-hour work day would become standard.  All of labor, as well as the socialists and anarchists, had come to support and be involved in the struggle for the eight-hour day.

Read More

Displacement in the name of safety

After a long pause in enforcement against camping, the City of Olympia is resuming the practice of sweeping encampments on public property, particularly those which are most visible and near downtown. The city originally halted its practice of sweeps in September, after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that it is unconstitutional to criminalize people for performing life sustaining activities, like sleeping and resting, on public property when they have no other legal alternatives (Martin vs Boise). When enforcement against camping in public was first paused, homeless advocates had questioned whether the city was pausing the sweeps in order to genuinely pursue more just and compassionate alternatives or simply to use the time to find a way for the city to return to “business as usual,” without exposing themselves to the same legal risk.

Actions like the creation of the first mitigation site and the finalizing of the tiny home village on Plum Street, provided some reassurance that the
city was committed to pursuing the former. Further, the city council remained consistent in their public commitment to finding legal alternatives for encampment residents before carrying out sweeps, even in the midst of receiving enormous pressure from many in the community to clear the camps downtown. However, recent events have again raised serious questions about the commitment to this more just and compassionate response to encampments. On January 29th and 30th, the City of Olympia executed the sweeps of the B Avenue and 7th and Jefferson homeless encampments.

The city justified the removal of the B Avenue encampment by claiming that a nearby construction project would be endangering the safety of the residents. The reason given for the removal of the 7th and Jefferson encampment was “to mitigate ongoing health and safety concerns.” Now, the city has announced its intention to sweep the remainder of the encampment in the Billy Frank Jr. Apartment parking lot after months of reassuring service providers and encampment residents that the camp would not be swept until after the creation of a second mitigation site. As with the removals of B Avenue and 7th & Jefferson encampments, the justification is based on mitigating public health and safety concerns.

Governments invoking various codes, ordinances, or laws pertaining to safety and public health to justify the removal of poor and marginalized residents from urban cores has been commonplace in history. During the mid-twentieth century about 1 million city residents across the U.S were displaced in slum clearances and urban renewal schemes after working class neighborhoods and communities of color were labeled as “blighted.” Additionally, during the time of the great depression, here in Olympia, a large informal community of unemployed, poor, and elderly people was erected on the edge of what would later become Capitol Lake. Known as Little Hollywood, the community was part of the wider Hooverville encampment movement that erupted amidst the Great Depression, both protesting federal economic policies and directly housing those in need.

In the late 1930s, the city government began condemning the dwellings, unit by unit, subsequently evicting residents and burning the structures, in the name of public health and safety. The striking similarities between the B Avenue and 7th/Jefferson evictions and evictions of the past is testament to how little progress has been made regarding the systemic treatment of poor people by governing bodies and institutions. That the highly vague rationale for camp removals could be applied so liberally to any other encampment in Olympia, is particularly concerning.

There is good cause to believe that the city carrying out sweeps in the name of public safety, is an attempt to resume “business-as-usual” sweeps, while skirting the implications of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determination. In other words, to resume sweeps without being required to ensure that all encampment residents have legal and accessible alternative places to go to. For, while the court’s determination, made it clear that it is unconstitutional for people to be criminalized for sleeping in public spaces when they have no legal alternatives, the court’s decision is not as clear if the pretext for a sweep is health and safety concerns, which could apply to virtually any camp.

This may be why recent notices of sweeps are titled as “Notice of Area Clean-up” instead of “Notice of Trespass” and why they avoid any language alluding to the threat of trespass, citation, or other forms of criminalization for those who do not leave the encampment by the given deadline. At this point, the City of Olympia, has declined to explain or clarify their reasons for changing the language used to justify sweeps, why they are resuming sweeps after such a long pause, whether or not people can expect sweeps to continue without alternative places for people to go, or how they see their interpretation of Martin vs Boise justifying these actions and decisions.

Workers Strike in Bangladesh

On January 6th, thousands of workers in Bangladesh went on strike against low wages in garment factories. The “ready-made” garment industry in Bangladesh supplies major retailers around the world, such as Walmart, H&M, and Tesco. According to Aljazeera 52 factories were shut down due to the strike. Last year they made apparel worth about $30 billion. Millions of Bangladeshi workers work in about 4,500 textile factories. The minimum monthly wage is around $96 a month. This was increased in September of 2018 from around $50 a month. The increase went in to effect in December. However, when workers were paid in January they found they had been paid less. On January 13th the police attacked the workers. Firing water canons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and attacking them with batons. The workers barricaded the highway. At least one worker was killed and more then 50 were injured. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) threatened to lock the workers out if they did not return to work on the 14th. Workers began returning to work towards the end of week after government assurances that the discrepancy in pay would be made up. However, hundreds of workers upon returning to work found they had been fired. Notices were hanging on factory gates informing them of their dismissal along with photos of their faces. Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, who worked as a child laborer in textile factories, said: “The workers that got fired know the law and their rights. In many cases they were union leaders in their respective factories. These workers are picked intentionally so there is no voice left in a factory to fight against retaliation and form a union.” According to a report from Fair Wear Foundation, a worker was beaten up on orders of management and threatened with murder. The woman said she was also robbed of her severance pay. The factory initially denied the allegations but later fired the manager and paid the woman in compensation. The garment industry in Bangladesh still lives under the shadow of the 2012 Dhaka fire. Where at least 117 people died in the factory fire and over 200 were injured. Workers were unable to escape because of inadequate fire escapes and exits which were locked in order to keep workers from leaving during the work day.

Announcing the Little Big Union!

Workers at Little Big Burger know that our safety, well-being, and voices are important. Every single day we serve customers, cook food, bus tables, and wash dishes. We have formed the Little Big Union to ensure Little Big Burger is truly inclusive of our collective voice as workers.

Portland, Oregon is ground zero for fast food organizing. We love this city and call the Pacific Northwest our home. However, rent and the cost of living have continued to increase while our wages have not. Now, it is increasingly difficult to live in the neighborhoods we serve. This is why we are proud to stand in solidarity with the Burgerville Workers Union, as members of the Industrial Workers of the World, in the fight to make food service an honest, dignified, and dependable job.

Little Big Burger is no longer a small business, they were acquired by North Carolina-based multinational corporation Chanticleer Holdings in 2015. Us workers and our families depend on this job for our livelihood, and we hope those who prepare the food, serve the guests, and create the environment that has built Little Big Burger stand to grow with our company. Workers continue to struggle by stretching our paychecks month to month, surviving off minimum wage, unreliable tips, and inconsistent schedules released often a day or two before we work. We are proud of the hard work we provide Little Big Burger, which is why we demand:

  • $5 raises
  • Fair and consistent scheduling
  • Safe and Healthy workplaces
  • Respectful and professional conduct from management
  • Benefits like child care, paid parental leave, quality healthcare, food boxes, bus passes, parking passes, and shift beers
  • Paid sick leave and vacation time
  • Worker autonomy to refuse service to abusive/dangerous customers
  • Holiday pay
  • Transparent hiring and firing policies
  • Sanctuary workplaces

Upon recognizing LBU, Little Big Burger stands to become the second fast food company in the history of the United States to enter into a collective bargaining relationship with a union. We believe that Little Big Burger deserves that distinction.

We are your neighbors, your friends, your classmates, your family, and we are just scraping by like so many other low paid workers.

We are the ones who make the food, now it’s time that we eat too!

Check out there website here!

Check out there Facebook page here!

Education Workers are Fighting Around the World!

Teachers continue to organize and struggle. In the United States in the past two months we have seen headlines for teachers striking from Los Angles and Denver to West Virginia and Virginia. Teachers in West Virginia seem to have shaken something loose with their state wide strike this past year.
In the face of legal obstacles and the general repression of labor in general teachers fought back and won. Public sector workers, in West Virginia, do not have the legal right to collectively bargain. It is important to note that the places that have the least legal options for labor seem to have the most radical and invigorating movements. This is not to say that places like West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, simply need to change their laws and all will be well. It is rather that places that have more legal mechanism in place, such as Washington state, labor is more easily subsumed into the formalist processes where we have a disadvantage.

Read More