Hands up, don’t ship

September 4, 2014

A Chicago-area Teamster talked to one of the UPS workers in Minneapolis who helped organize a workplace action to protest the police murder of Mike Brown.

THE EYES of the world were on Ferguson, Mo. following the shooting of unarmed Black teenager Mike Brown, as local law enforcement, armed to the teeth, attacked mostly Black protesters.

The scenes on the streets of Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, were of police ready to shoot down residents and their supporters, their weapons trained on the crowd. Tear gas, rubber bullets and armored vehicles were used to occupy Ferguson--almost exactly like the U.S. military occupying other towns around the world.

UPS workers at the Minneapolis hub were also watching what was happening in Ferguson, and they decided to find a way to protest it.

UPS WORKERS work in horrible conditions--in Chicago, they endure 130-degree heat loading trailers during a summer heat wave; in Minneapolis, they battle frigid conditions inside the hub during the winter. In both places, the work pace is brutal, with supervisors trying to force you to speed up.

Part-time workers receive poverty wages that start at only $10 an hour, just $2 more than what was the start pay in the early 1980s. Part-timers are only guaranteed three-and-a-half hours of work a day. The measly paycheck at the end of the week would be a joke if it wasn't so serious.

Minneapolis UPS workers take a stand in solidarity with protesters in Ferguson
Minneapolis UPS workers take a stand in solidarity with protesters in Ferguson

UPS executives must feel ecstatic after Teamster General President James Hoffa undemocratically forced the implementation of a concessionary national UPS contract after a valiant fight by mostly rank-and-file Teamsters in the Vote No campaign.

UPS made $4.5 billion in profit last year, and has projected a $5 billion profit this year. Yet these profits are made from the hard work of UPS Teamsters, and a great big chunk of it is made off the low-paid part-timers.

These are the workers the public rarely sees. They are the unloaders, the loaders and the sorters lifting thousands of packages, each weighing up to 150 pounds. The air is filled with dirt and dust that gives you black snot, even hours after you're off of work. The noise is deafening--and working in the back of a 53-foot trailer is a dark and usually lonely job.

This can easily become a soul-crushing place. Many, if not most, new workers quit almost immediately.

This hasn't deterred UPS workers in Minneapolis. Part-time inside hub workers aren't giving up in despair to management's ongoing offensive. Instead, they have had enough and are fighting back. Not only are they trying to fight the injustice at their hub over work conditions, but they also see the importance of organizing beyond the gray walls of their brown box hell.

WORKERS BELONGING to the Industrial Workers of the World started a work action at their hub on August 22 against UPS shipping packages from Minneapolis-based company Law Enforcement Targets, Inc.

This company makes targets for the firing range. The targets have representations of real-life human figures to help desensitize the officers when shooting actual victims. African American men are represented as targets. The racist cops, no doubt, have no problem blazing away at those targets. But to make sure that the police will have no problem quickly firing their weapons in the line of duty, even a pregnant woman and a "little boy with a real gun" are featured, with the titles "no more hesitation."

The workforce of the Minneapolis hub is roughly equally split between white workers and workers of color--mostly African American, with significant groups of Southeast Asian and East African workers. The multiracial workers united together to carry out this action, and the more other workers in the building found out about it, they too wanted to get involved.

Workers participating didn't advance Law Enforcement Targets, Inc. packages through the sort system. They also took pictures of themselves holding signs with the Twitter hashtag "#HandsUpDontShip"--a twist on "Hands up, don't shoot," the chant that has become the rallying cry of protests in solidarity with Mike Brown.

James Bond (not his real name), one of the workers who planned "Hands Up, Don't Ship," helps put out ScrewUPS, a four-page newsletter written for and by rank-and-file UPS workers. He said:

When we think of workers organizing, it's not just wages and conditions. All of the things we care about in life we should care about at work. People take political stands--this makes sense to people. This is important for workers at distribution centers. UPS management has an attitude of not asking what they are shipping. It doesn't matter. We should challenge that. This is why we wanted to be public about it. Workers should take a stance. We don't have to be a part of our own oppression.

The Minneapolis workers would like to spread these type of protests across the country. This action is ongoing.

For more information, e-mail [email protected].

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