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February 3, 2011 8:45 PM   Subscribe

In these hard economic times, the work of the Seattle Solidarity Network (SeaSol) has been very inspiring to me. SeaSol is "a volunteer network of working people who believe in standing up for our rights. Our goal is to support our fellow workers' strikes and struggles, build solidarity, and organize to deal with specific job, housing, and other problems caused by the greed of the rich and powerful." Or, in other words, SeaSol makes scumbag bosses and slimy landlords' lives miserable until they pay people what they owe! A few recent victories of note: winning $22,000 for an unjustly fired employee of a major developer, winning relocation money for tenants in a low-income housing building, inspiring these violent (but entertaining) actions of a local restaurant owner and a few months later, putting him out of business. posted by Repression Jones (36 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hmm, the videos make them out to look like a bunch of immature wanking punks.
posted by xmutex at 8:56 PM on February 3, 2011


Hmm, the videos make them out to look like a bunch of immature wanking punks.

The point was to drive off business from the restaurant. It apparently worked.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:59 PM on February 3, 2011


This is good.
posted by orthogonality at 9:01 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


If there's hope for the left in America, this sort of thing is it.

Of course that said they're probably going to get infiltrated by six different law enforcement agencies and prosecuted under RICO soon enough.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:06 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I just hope that they do some investigation in depth prior to mounting their attack efforts. It would be a shame if they turned on the heat without justification. Probably someone (in a Brietbart like manner) could be plotting a false op to discredit them. Best be wary. Good for them though.
posted by yesster at 9:19 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Of course that said they're probably going to get infiltrated by six different law enforcement agencies and prosecuted under RICO soon enough.

...said the, well, lets face it, the concrete. Why bother pointing out that they parrot their opposites, granite.
posted by Mblue at 9:20 PM on February 3, 2011


Uh, if either of these employees actually had a case, why not take it to small claims court or the Seattle EEOC field office? There are several legal aid options available in Seattle if you can't afford the $35-200 of filing fees that small claims can require.

I'm not saying that the workers in question weren't in the right (it's impossible to say from the links, unless you brought your class war goggles to Metafilter tonight). However, destroying small businesses on the say-so of a single former employee doesn't quite feel like justice to me. I guess it's more fun to play Wobbly than to do the hard work of helping your brethren navigate the court system though.
posted by xthlc at 9:22 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hmm, the videos make them out to look like a bunch of immature wanking punks.

I wish there were more solidarity among workers against workplace abuses and, well, a whole lot of things . . . the reprehensible way they are represented by people in Washington, the lack of decent wages and workplace rights in many parts of the country, unfair regressive taxes and so on.

But much more effective for me would have been a quiet demonstration, with protesters calmly providing information to passers-by and actually showing the sort of dignity which the restaurant owner clearly lacked. Would his reaction to these "immature wanking punks" have been much different if the worker had been lying? (I can imagine he'd have been even more pissed off.) Ultimately, while I support protest, these noisy, attention-grabbing demonstrations turn more people off than they inspire, they ultimately marginalize the issues with which they're concerned and pretty soon become ineffective, or even damaging.

During the war in Bosnia, the equivalents to these sorts of "protesters" (on local and national levels) let things derail into shouting and harassment and chaos and ended up making the situation seem like one where all sides were to blame. They prolonged everyone's suffering by making it convenient for international bodies to claim that it was all an unsolvable Byzantine mess. What eventually saved my city (Sarajevo) was that the majority of the people there exhibited astonishing class, despite the many reasons to shout and hate and go berserk. Ultimately, this just couldn't be ignored.

The point was to drive off business from the restaurant. It apparently worked.

Firebombing the restaurant would have worked as well, but no one sane would support that. This demonstration wasn't anything as awful as a firebombing, of course. But the fact that it worked doesn't really mean it was a good way to handle things.

I don't know, as yesster asks, whether they did some investigation or if they (as xthic ponders) tried means already in place. But the fact that they celebrate themselves in this video without providing that information makes me suspect that they were really just looking for a kind of fight. I doubt many here have as much justifiable cause to wish vigilante justice against those who wronged them me, nonetheless I still see it as a fool's approach.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:27 PM on February 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


inspiring these violent (but entertaining) actions of a local restaurant owner and a few months later, putting him out of business.

You know, for every violent (but entertaining) local restaurant owner that's put out of business, there are about 20 hard-working (but unemployed) former restaurant employees.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:28 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I worked in a bad plaće which must remain naneless, as I suspect the whole thing was a Mafia money-laundry.
Basically, at least in my town, Yakima the EEOC was useless. So were all other means of taking them to court. I was not the only worker screwed by that company, but getting even people with another source of income to do even the most peaceful job action proved impossible as they feared loseing their jobs.
I ended up finding a different job part time. That firm's office in my town suddenly shut down. I helped my better co-workers get on where I was.
I do wish EEOC had been more helpful. It would have been better for everyone.
While I agree that rowdy job actions can be alienating, some sort of job action is not a bad thing, just try for some dignity.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:55 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Laudable goals and it is difficult to navigate the court court system even in small claims matters. But violence? Seriously?
Pass.
posted by vapidave at 9:59 PM on February 3, 2011


thugz. Shortly you will see the Tea Party doing the same things to businesses that dont support their vision, businesses that arent anti-abortion, etc. just because they are aligned with your values doesnt mean it is a good trend. it is not.
posted by jcworth at 10:25 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


the videos make them out to look like a bunch of immature wanking punks.

What a ridiculous take. Same goes for the "thugz" comment. Watch the Pita Pit story, in which they say a manager withheld 20% of an employee's wages "for taxes" and then at tax time denied withholding any money. After a couple of protests the manager offered half the money, then all of it. It's a perfect protest, mature, calm in the face of threats to call the police against legit 1st Amendment activity, and ultimately completely successful.

Bravo. They look like ordinary folks, some younger than others, who are working together to try to stop unfair evictions, get stolen wages and generally tip the balance of power away from employers and landlords back toward the folks they've treated unfairly.

vapidave, the "violence" - a body shove, throwing signs and kicking cups - came from the business owner they were protesting. I think you misread that bit; I don't see any other violence in any of the videos.
posted by mediareport at 10:30 PM on February 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


Hmm, the videos make them out to look like a bunch of immature wanking punks.

Who cares? I honestly don't understand why people seem more concerned about decorum in politics as opposed to results. Being obnoxious can work to a certain extent.
posted by delmoi at 10:30 PM on February 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


Laudable goals and it is difficult to navigate the court court system even in small claims matters. But violence? Seriously?
Pass.


It was the bussiness owner who was violent.
posted by delmoi at 10:31 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love that they're doing these protests for relatively small amounts of money (~$400 in the Pita Pit case) that aren't small at all to the people affected. I can't imagine any other more effective way to get the shit done - and serve notice to the folks doing the stealing.
posted by mediareport at 10:34 PM on February 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Don't know how it is in Seattle, but in NYS non-payment of wages is a serious crime. From the AG website

Penalties: A first failure to pay agreed wages and fringe benefits in accordance with the requirements of the labor law is punishable as a misdemeanor. The maximum penalties include fines of up to $20,000 and imprisonment for up to one year for each violation, as well as payment of restitution. A second offense is punishable as a felony, with a maximum fine of $20,000 in addition to imprisonment and payment of restitution.

20k and one year for each violation!
posted by Ad hominem at 11:04 PM on February 3, 2011


delmoi, I'm concerned with civility in public discourse in addition to results. Breakdowns in civility are the first step towards breakdowns in order. A lack of civility reinforces an us-vs-them attitude; civility and calm can moderate, rather than radicalizing.

Some means aren't justified by their ends.
posted by Fraxas at 11:20 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


It all sounds really groovy from her side of the story, and when he was stressed out he definitely looked like the bad businessman shaking his fist at those meddling kids.

But from his side of the story? He lost his whole damned restaurant because one grumbling employee claimed (without evidence? was there no legal action?) not to have been paid part of one month's salary. That's quite a draconian settlement for a wage dispute.

Right or wrong, good or bad, you're going to pay up or go under if a large group of protesters hits your restaurant week after week after week.
posted by pracowity at 11:21 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I honestly don't understand why people seem more concerned about decorum in politics as opposed to results.
Favourited because the spirit's right, though I do think back on the high days of working class militancy back home when to be active and dedicated was widespread enough that the mores of the movement chimed with the broadest cross-section (we're seeing something like it in Egypt now, including being religious but not religiose) because they had that broad base. And of course, that in turn contributes greatly to achieving better and more lasting results (on preview, pace Fraxas, because means and ends are in accord). But at a time of a low ebb of political consciousness, I'm not going to knock people doing stuff if it's not completely counter-productive. That of course doesn't preclude sectarian bitching if I find out this disagree with me on some abstruse point of left dogma.
posted by Abiezer at 11:34 PM on February 3, 2011


It was the bussiness owner who was violent.

I watched the video (but only one other I confess) before I commented. I've probably been watching too much Egypt and am going to need a couple of days before I find violence that isn't agreed to by both parties entertaining (per the description above). But the first word I typed in my comment was "laudable", the first clause in my statement says that organizations like this are unfortunately necessary (I was responding to the "Wobbly" criticism) and underfunded.
I apologize for my lack or clarity. I'm sure we are on the same side here.
posted by vapidave at 11:38 PM on February 3, 2011


one grumbling employee claimed (without evidence? was there no legal action?) not to have been paid part of one month's salary

pracowity, the discussion at SeaSol's site mentions that Ciro was forced to pay the (I think state-level) department of Labor and Industries part of the worker's wages. I find it hard to believe that result would have happened "without evidence," even if SeaSol's videos don't bother to show us the paper documentation.

Also, this is for the "Just take them to small-claims court!" crowd, from the bottom of the 2nd page at the site:

Megan and Alan's old landlord wouldn't return their $1300 deposit. A small claims court judge ordered the landlord to return the money, but she - the owner of five properties and a Wells Fargo loan officer - still refused to give it back. Megan and Alan, both low income workers, couldn't afford to let her steal it. They joined SeaSol and prepared to fight for their money back.

On Monday April 5, Megan, Alan, and a small crowd of others marched into the lobby of the landlord's office at Wells Fargo Home Loans. The receptionist called the landlord, saying "There's a lot of people here to see you!". When she came out, Megan and Alan presented their written demand: all the money they were owed, within a week. The landlord took it, then scurried out of the office, exclaiming, "This is my place of business!"

A week went by and no check arrived, so we started preparing for further action against the landlord. Then, just before our next action, she sent her former tenants a text message: the check was in the mail. A couple days later, the check arrived in their mailbox, and it cleared.


The story of SeaSol not backing down in the face of an intimidation lawsuit from the developer Lorig is also worth reading. If anyone has links to thoughtful criticisms of specific SeaSol cases, I'd love to read those, too.
posted by mediareport at 11:40 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another one:

On Wednesday, September 23 2009, this fight ended. After multiple refusals, three days from our 14-day deadline, T.I.G. restaurant/bar in Pioneer Square gave in and paid Young the $500 in unpaid dishwashing wages that he'd been owed for months. Even a court order back in April hadn't been enough to make the boss pay, but direct action, with the promise of more, did the trick. Thanks to all who came out for the Sept 12th action.
posted by mediareport at 11:48 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm all for peaceful direct action, I think we could use more of it. As long as they aren't trying to in anyway threaten the business owners in an overtly physical way (and they have a well understood reason for being there). If it becomes theater and people abuse it, it will almost certainly draw the attention of some lawyers and/or the cops. I really like the idea of it as a labor union that's external to peoples actual job. That said, unions as thought of in the US carry a lot of baggage that I think most people don't want to see them pick up again
posted by doctor_negative at 12:07 AM on February 4, 2011


I think the fact that this type of action has even become necessary shows that a lot of people in America seriously need to have their heads examined. It also shows that there are actually real business owners who do behave exactly as many non-conservatives have said they do. I'm curious whether there ways to promote and support more groups like this around the country.

I do wonder just how much the activities of this group mirror similar labor protection groups from the past. I've read a few historical essays and other things about the West Virginia Coal Miners strikes, which at the time escalated to the point where people were shot by government hired agents. Things like that chill my blood, but things like that start small. Sadly, I think the fact that any action like this is necessary means that things have gotten bad enough that eventually they will escalate. I've been to small claims court over a minor amount of less than $500. Honestly, the time and effort it took to do so at the time cost me more than if I had just dropped the issue and eaten Ramen for a week or two. But the experience taught me that (at the time, in Richmond, VA), a) I couldn't afford a lawyer, they could, b) even though I "won", I ended up having to spend what I "won" on court fees and paying for time off from my very low paying job which meant having to arrange for someone else to cover my shifts so I could go to court. It's very much an injustice, since I had no recourse other than court and even then I lost more than the defendant. They didn't even have to show up in court, they just sent their lawyer.

Anyway. Interesting times.
posted by daq at 12:38 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Demanding your stolen wages from your evil restaurant boss is hardly the equivalent of working towards the salvation or destruction of a city in wartime. That's kind of a grotesque example actually.

And what's with you guys speaking out against these stalwart champions when you haven't even taken the time to read the posts? Are you bucking for a job at Fox? A Good Mefite is an Informed Mefite.
posted by artof.mulata at 2:36 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


delmoi, I'm concerned with civility in public discourse in addition to results. Breakdowns in civility are the first step towards breakdowns in order. A lack of civility reinforces an us-vs-them attitude; civility and calm can moderate, rather than radicalizing.

At the risk of having my words twisted ala Frances Fox Piven --- I'd like to point out that the "order" you're concerned about maintaining has been fashioned to allow abuses and provide few remedies to the abused. Seriously -- things are ordered in such a way as to eliminate polite channels that are effective for getting justice. For example, politely going to court and getting a judgment in your favor does not put the money in your hand. Still no justice. Showing up and being angry about it is considered "disorder" because it could be effective.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:30 AM on February 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Who cares? I honestly don't understand why people seem more concerned about decorum in politics as opposed to results. Being obnoxious can work to a certain extent.
posted by delmoi at 7:30 AM on February 4 [4 favorites +] [!]


The reason people often seem more concerned with decorum is because favouring decorum is an apparently neutral way to in fact benefit the rich and powerful, who never have to raise their voice to get what they want, and keep the status quo.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 4:59 AM on February 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


No, they don't look like immature wanking whatevers, or whatever non-substantive insult the first poster threw out, before disappearing.

And no, direct action by wage-earners against exploitative bosses is not "vigilante justice". That sounds like fear talking.

And no, this has nothing to do with "civility", whatever that is. In this context it appears to mean "don't speak up, and hope that someone else will solve your problems for you."

And no, the standard for judging whether this (direct action) is a commendable or useful tactic is not whether in every case the exploiter in question can be shown to a certainty to be "guilty". Sorry, reality and common sense are calling. "Hey, I know - let's all spend the next few weekends extorting $400 out of a local restaurant owner. That'll be a great way for us to make money, plus starting fights for no reason is just so gosh-darn fun."

And finally, no, the fact that someone I disagree with might use direct action is not, as a rule, a great reason for me not to use direct action. Certainly not in this case.

A dishwasher in Seattle has zero leverage and zero power in a struggle with an exploitative boss who decides to offset his low profits by not paying for work he's contracted to pay for. It's fantastic that people there have the self- and other-regard to band together to help each other out in a non-violent but effective way. More power to them.
posted by facetious at 6:04 AM on February 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you are more concerned about the civility of the approach than the details of the disagreement then your cart is before your horse, I think.

Shame should be a powerful tool and motivator. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using it.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:16 AM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've been the restaurant owner who couldn't pay his employees. The difference in my situation was that I was honest with my employees and treated them with respect. They were incredibly understanding the few times that cheques were late, because they knew I was trying my absolute best to do right by them.

I've also been the dish-pig who got stiffed for his wages and told that if I don't like it I can GTFO. I've seen the same thing done to students and immigrants in restaurants again and again. The "System" isn't designed for these workers and I've never seen it benefit them.

Shitty owners are everywhere, in every city, pulling this crap.

Somebody had to do something. If it means taking it to the street so be it.
posted by Dhertiiboi at 6:50 AM on February 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


one grumbling employee claimed (without evidence? was there no legal action?) not to have been paid part of one month's salary

For a waitress living in a major city, "part of one month's salary" (almost $500 in this case) could well be the difference between making rent and eviction. When we're talking about people who don't make very much to begin with, the effects are disproportionate to the absolute amount of money, as mediareport posted above.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:22 AM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know, for every violent (but entertaining) local restaurant owner that's put out of business, there are about 20 hard-working (but unemployed) former restaurant employees.

According to the waitress in that case, she "was the only server, bartender, hostess, food runner, and busser," so it doesn't sound like that's actually the case.

Also, this may not be what you're saying, but it sure sounds like you're suggesting that small business owners should be given a free pass as long as they pay more of their employees than they rip off. Personally, I would much rather that the restaurant be closed so that the space could be sold to someone else, perhaps a small business owner who believes in paying everyone on his or her staff.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:34 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying that the workers in question weren't in the right (it's impossible to say from the links, unless you brought your class war goggles to Metafilter tonight). However, destroying small businesses on the say-so of a single former employee doesn't quite feel like justice to me. I guess it's more fun to play Wobbly than to do the hard work of helping your brethren navigate the court system though.

Yet it is a lot more fun to "play Wobbly" than help people go through the court system. And in my experience, far more effective and affordable. Thanks to delmoi and mediareport for posting those relevant stories. And yes, I do have my class war goggles on, thanks.

But much more effective for me would have been a quiet demonstration, with protesters calmly providing information to passers-by and actually showing the sort of dignity which the restaurant owner clearly lacked. Would his reaction to these "immature wanking punks" have been much different if the worker had been lying? (I can imagine he'd have been even more pissed off.) Ultimately, while I support protest, these noisy, attention-grabbing demonstrations turn more people off than they inspire, they ultimately marginalize the issues with which they're concerned and pretty soon become ineffective, or even damaging.

That's actually how they started this fight, and start most fights, with quiet and non-confrontational informational leafletting. In this particular case, this restaurant owner responded with throwing hot water and cigarette butts at them and spitting on others. There were at least two, maybe three quieter type actions like this and they got no results. What did get results - turning away customers and hurting his wallet - was the noisy and attention-grabbing demonstrations.

Most SeaSol fights seem to start off pretty reasonably to me. The boss or landlord gets a letter stating the dispute and giving them two weeks to resolve it. They have plenty of time to respond and give their side of the story. If they don't, SeaSol starts off with small actions and only escalates to the noisy shenanigans when the politer stuff does not get results. Sometimes the politer stuff has gotten results very quickly, and sometimes I don't think it gets them very far. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, right?

You know, for every violent (but entertaining) local restaurant owner that's put out of business, there are about 20 hard-working (but unemployed) former restaurant employees.


That's a cute use of words. In this case, that I obviously do not expect you to know the details of, this man had new staff in every few weeks or so - just as the waitress in question stated in her article. One former employee is suing him for over $40,000 in stolen wages over a period of three years. Some of his workers told SeaSol that they were in their corner and appreciated them putting some heat on this guy - and for the substantial tip fund SeaSol collected for them. It's a shame that some (piss poor) employment opportunities went down the drain with this jerk's business, but he shouldn't have been running a restaurant in the first place. I also am unapologetically happy about the overall outcome, it's another win for SeaSol and can put other future unscrupulous bosses and landlords on notice about the strength of this group.

I'm curious whether there ways to promote and support more groups like this around the country.

There are a number of similar groups getting started all over the place!

Olympia Solidarity Network, Olympia, WA
Grit City Solidarity, Tacoma, WA
Santa Cruz Solidarity
San Diego Solidarity Network
Glasgow Solidarity Network, Scotland
Wellington Solidarity Network, New Zealand
Boston Solidarity Network
Cooperative Action Project, NYC

Rhode Island Solidarity and Equality
Mutual Aid Sheffield, UK
Iowa City Solidarity Network

Finally, for people's reasonable concerns over the validity of workers and tenants claims, for what it's worth, this is from a SeaSol FAQ:

Q: How do we know a tenant or worker is telling us the truth?

A:

➢ In our experience bosses, landlords, and people in authority generally are more likely to lie than ordinary workers and tenants. This is not because they are any less human, but because they are in positions of power that make it so much easier for them to get away with it.

➢ The bosses' and landlords' stories often change. This happened, for example, during the T.I.G. fight. After we delivered the demand letter, we were contacted by the boss, who said he did not owe any unpaid wages to Young. Then he said he didn't owe the full $500. Finally, he admitted he owed the full amount.

➢ When first meeting with workers/tenants about a conflict with their employer or landlord, we critically examine their story. During this meeting, the SeaSol members present can take as much time as necessary to listen, ask questions, and get a feel for the people we might begin working with. Often, the workers/tenants have some documentation about the situation surrounding their conflict. After the meeting, the SeaSol members present get together to discuss what they think of the possible new fight and their impressions of the workers'/tenants involved.

➢ We take time to decide whether to take on the fight, and allow for questions. SeaSol as an organization must vote to take on a new fight. This vote usually occurs after further discussion at one of our weekly meetings, when anyone present can ask for more information and express opinions or concerns.

➢ We give the boss/landlord time to respond. At the beginning of each fight, we deliver a demand letter that tells the boss or landlord what the problem is, how they can fix it, and how long they have before we will take further action. During this interim period before the pressure campaign begins, if the boss/landlord expresses any plausible denial of the facts, we investigate it. This rarely happens.

➢ We don't have a lot to offer con artists. It's impossible to have 100% irrefutable proof that what someone is saying is true, and some tenants and workers obviously can and do lie. Despite all our precautions, a real con artist could probably fool us. But what would be the point? An expert con artist would have much better and easier ways to make money than starting a small-scale direct action campaign with a bunch of poor people. We can rest assured that these serious crooks will probably stick to injuring themselves at Wal-Mart, and leave SeaSol to fight over real injustices.

posted by Repression Jones at 7:52 PM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Re mediareport's summaries, “Even a court order back in April hadn't been enough to make the boss pay”— I kind of feel like there's a step missing here. Failure to obey a court order is a crime in itself, isn't it? If you continue to work the system the state will continue to escalate, up to and including sending men with guns over to the boss's place to extract your back wages from him.

SeaSol may have been a faster or easier option, but I don't think it's the creditor's (employee's, tenant's) only option.
posted by hattifattener at 9:16 PM on February 4, 2011


It's certainly the option that makes the landlord or business owner sit up and go "WHAT THE FUCK?", though.
posted by mediareport at 6:13 AM on February 5, 2011


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