For centuries, the forces of Capital have lurched forward, indiscriminately consuming all that it can reach to fuel it’s hungering fires. However, these past two years have given pause to this inferno. COVID-19, for all the pain and death that it has caused, interrupted the ever-constant march and made it stumble; if only briefly. While the world has been slowly crawling back into “normalcy” following the peak of the pandemic, something unusual occured: The inexhaustible supply of bodies which Capital depended on has exhausted itself. People are not returning to work. This is hardly news; the employment crisis has continued on for a couple of months now. This could provide an opportunity to bring change— a chance to build a union for our workplace. Now, this is more easily said than done, but what is so important is that right now it CAN be done! For an example of how we could even achieve in our workplaces, look no further than the PNW Public Market and its owners: University Housing.
I work at the PNW Public Market, in Unthank hall. These establishments are all crewed by employees of University Housing: a semi-independent company who operates purely off the profits they generate. For all intents and purposes, University Housing is a private corporation. Student Employees who work in these establishments are paid just one dollar above the minimum wage— $13.75 an hour— and receive 10 days off per year for holidays, in addition to a small number of accrued vacation days. These conditions are common throughout much of the fast food industry, whose awful treatment of their employees is infamous.
The difficulty that University Housing (and many other establishments) has had getting people to return to work is our opportunity. Not only is every place where the company operates decorated with “we’re hiring” signs, and they have even begun to give out paltry cash incentives to current employees who manage to push others into getting hired. This is not an environment in which an organized union of workers can simply be fired or scabbed out of existence. So long as the employment crisis continues, we will have the advantage, and thus may work to create a Restaurant Workers Union.
The formation of a Restaurant Workers Union, so long as it remains egalitarian in practice and anticapitalist in principle, will allow for us to drastically improve the conditions under which we labor. An organization which allows any one of us to sit down at a bargaining table with the bosses and know that they have everyone at their back. We would be able to advocate for change without fear of being fired or laughed off. To our bosses, a single worker leaving is unfortunate but solvable. We can— as has occurred throughout this employment crisis— leave and refuse to come back unless our working conditions improve. This is the organizational power of a union: to be able to advocate for fundamental changes in our relationship with the owning class.
It is imperative that we act to improve our working conditions, not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of our fellow University Housing employees. A wage of $13.75 is not enough to support oneself under normal conditions, not even accounting for the massive financial burden of college living. All our pay does is provide a paper thin cushion which only provides the illusion of financial security. In addition, such poor wages do not provide any incentive for people to return to work. Why lose a good chunk of your week to wage labor which provides little in return? The bosses may attempt any number of schemes to try and get people to work, but without serious evidence that our jobs are any better than the alternatives, there is simply no reason for people to seek employment. Unionization, and the advancement of working conditions which it enables, can provide incentives to people who would otherwise write off this job as “just another fast food gig.” In addition, it will ensure that those of us who already work for University Housing can be sure that their work is both comfortable and well compensated.
The benefits of unionization are clear, and it would be wise of us to seize this historic opportunity. We need to take the steps necessary to ensure the realization of worker’s rights, because if we don’t, who will?