Solidarity Forever? Montpelier Workers Join the Wobblies | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Seven Days needs your financial support!

Solidarity Forever? Montpelier Workers Join the Wobblies 

Local Matters

MONTPELIER -- Union organizers these days have a mighty tough row to hoe. This summer has seen both the fracturing of the embattled AFL-CIO, and, on a local level, the restructuring of the innovative Montpelier Downtown Workers Union. After two years trying to organize Montpelier's service-sector employees into a single union, the group severed its connection with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (U.E.) and the nonprofit Vermont Workers Center.

The rechristened Montpelier Workers Union has instead affiliated itself with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a.k.a. the Wobblies. Founded by Socialists and anarchists in 1905, the IWW hopes to organize all workers into one big union. They have approximately 1200 members nationwide.

Why the switch? Organizers said high turnover in these low-paying jobs and opposition from local businesses drove the move. In fact, stewards Kristen Warner and Sean Damon, who appeared on the cover of Seven Days in an article about the union last summer, have relocated to Philadelphia. And business owners and their supporters were openly hostile to the effort. Last summer, Montpelier resident Sandra Nall called the organizers "bellicose union cowboys" intent on "driving a wedge into this community."

Even workers never embraced the union the way organizers had hoped they would. Warner's initial goal was to win five union contracts. The group ended up signing just two, at the Savoy and at Mountain Cafe. At-large membership from non-unionized shops hovered at around 50 employees.

Montpelier Workers Union steward David Van Duesen says that, because of the reorganization, the union must ask all of its original members to recommit. So far 75 percent of its members have signed IWW union cards. They'll have to renegotiate the two contracts, too.

But Van Duesen is putting a positive spin on realignment. "Our total membership base will likely surpass all previous numbers within the next 30 days," he predicts. "We also are expecting to win new contracts over the course of the coming year." He and fellow steward Diana Duke have said they'll continue to fight for job security, sick and vacation time and respect for Montpelier's service workers. Says Van Duesen, "This reaffiliation is a great opportunity to reinvent ourselves." Given current labor trends, it'll take nothing less.

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

More By This Author

About The Author

Cathy Resmer

Cathy Resmer

Deputy publisher Cathy Resmer is an organizer of the Vermont Tech Jam. She also oversees Seven Days' parenting publication, Kids VT, and created the Good Citizen Challenge, a youth civics initiative. Resmer began her career at Seven Days as a freelance writer in 2001. Hired as a staff writer in 2005, she became... more


Comments are closed.

Since 2014, Seven Days has allowed readers to comment on all stories posted on our website. While we’ve appreciated the suggestions and insights, the time has come to shut them down — at least temporarily.

While we champion free speech, facts are a matter of life and death during the coronavirus pandemic, and right now Seven Days is prioritizing the production of responsible journalism over moderating online debates between readers.

To criticize, correct or praise our reporting, please send us a letter to the editor. Or send us a tip. We’ll check it out and report the results.

Online comments may return when we have better tech tools for managing them. Thanks for reading.

Keep up with us Seven Days a week!

Sign up for our fun and informative

All content © 2022 Da Capo Publishing, Inc. 255 So. Champlain St. Ste. 5, Burlington, VT 05401

Advertising Policy  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us  |  About Us  |  Help
Website powered by Foundation