The Final Straw Radio is a terrestrial radio show and podcast started in 2009 featuring information by, for and about anarchists and other anti-authoritarians. The show airs weekly on Sundays from 2-3pm EST out of Asheville, NC, USA.
First, Matt from Rural Organizing And Resilience, or ROAR, in Madison County talks about efforts in the country to shift mutual aid efforts to address difficulties associated with the covid-19 pandemic. More on their project at ruralorganizing.wordpress.com.
And we also got to sit down with David Forbes, who is an independent journalist here in Asheville, about her work, some updates from here in the mountains, ways to think about journalism, and the online platform The Asheville Blade which she founded and helps maintain. To see more you can visit ashevilleblade.com, follow her on twitter @davidforbes, and donate to the Blade at patreon.com/avlblade!
Sean Swain Is Ill
Sean is currently suffering from a bacterial lung infection and not being offered adequate healthcare (nothing new for prison). If you are concerned for his health as the novel corona virus swells, consider visiting his support site to read more. Anyone reading this should feel free to contact Buckingham at (434) 983-4400 . Either Warden John Woodson or Assistant Warden Jeffrey Snoddy are there each day during normal business hours. Ask for one, and he’s not there, ask for the other. Feel free to fax this update to them, (434) 983-4017.
Final Straw 10th Anniversary
Still coming up, plague bedamned. We’ve been running the show for coming on 10 years and would love to hear your thoughts, memories, suggestions. This is an opportunity to share with us and share your ideas directly with other audience members. You can leave us or a signal voice-memo or a voicemail at +18285710161, or email a link to mp3 audio via wetransfer.com or another service, or you can share it with the googledrive for email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org!
Kijana Tashiri Askari, New Afrikan Black Revolutionary Prisoner
In this podcast special, a comrade spoke with Kijana Tashiri Askari, an imprisoned community organizer, prison abolitionist, and New Afrikan Black Revolutionary who helped to found the W.L. Nolen Mentorship Program. At one point in time the mentorship program had about 50 prisoners nationwide on its mailing list. The W.L. Nolen Mentorship Program, named after a central leader in the formation of the California Prisoner Liberation Movement, alongside George Jackson, during the 1960s and 70s. Kijana Tashiri spent over two decades in the Pelican Bay SHU and was instrumental in the development of the networks that sprung forth the first waves of California Prisoner Hunger Strikes. You can reach WLNMP at email@example.com or by mail through True Leap Press at
True Leap PressPO Box 408197 Chicago IL, 60640
You can also write to Kijana at:
Kijana Tashiri Askari s/n Marcus Harrison #H-54077CMF Vacaville – Wing #342P.O. Box 2000, Vacaville, CA 95696
Currently Kijana is facing dire conditions at Vacaville Medical Facility, a smaller prison across the road from CSP-Solano. Two weeks ago he was diagnosed with a heart blockage that requires immediate surgery, however because of the COVID-19 crisis, he was turned away from the hospital and sent back to the prison, where he remains. At the facility where he is imprisoned, there is relatively zero movement of prisoners happening, as everyone is being held in isolation. However, prisoners are not being allowed access to cleaning supplies, and it is a mixed bag in terms of guards taking the crisis serious, and those who are not. He, along with countless people locked up at this facility, are at severe risk if the virus spreads through the prison.
Freeworld and incarcerated supporters of Kijana’s have organized a phone zap, demanding the following things:
That the surgery be performed and necessary medical protocols are followed. Kijana needs a splint in his heart. This is a serious condition.
That the proper precautions for his physical safety are made during Kijana’s procedure. We demand that surgery is done in a sanitized and controlled area, to prevent contamination of this coronavirus.
That Kijana be given adequate medication in light of this blockage revelation, he is currently only taking Tylenol.
We demand his immediate release as his time locked up has been served 3-fold!
(This is key to his survival and a realistic demand, given that he is up for parole this year)
If you choose to call, email (1, 2), or write the governor’s office, we urge you to connect this to the broader struggle of releasing elders, immune-compromised, and those most vulnerable to the virus inside; thus:
That the governor of California grant mass clemency and systematic release of all elders, immune-compromised, and those most vulnerable to COVID-19.
Keep an eye out for posts with scripts and images for a phone zap for Kijana on our Twitter and Instagram, but even more so on the Twitter and Facebook for True Leap Press.
This week I am very excited to present an interview done with Aishah Shahidah Simmons, who is a writer, community organizer, prison abolitionist, and cultural worker who has done just an immense amount of work over the years to help disrupt and end the patterns of sexual abuse and assault within marginalized communities. In this interview we talk about a lot of things, her background and how she came to be doing the work she’s doing right now, how better to think about concepts like ‘accountability’, what doing this work has been like for her as an out lesbian woman, and about her book “Love WITH Accountability, Digging Up the Roots of Childhood Sexual Abuse” which was published in 2019 from AK Press.
This interview feels very important for me right now, because we are in a time of overturn, tumult, stress, and uncertainty, and I think that in order for us to really be able to knuckle down and go in this for the long haul it’ll be imperative for our radical communities to take solid care of ourselves and of each other. I hope you get as much out of hearing Aishah’s words as I did conducting and editing this interview.
Before we get started, as a content notice: we will be talking about some difficult topics in this interview. I will do my best to repeat this notice at regular intervals, but please do take care and treat yourself kindly (however that looks).
If you are interested in seeing more work from Aishah, visit our blogpost or scroll down to the show notes! We will post all the links in those places.
If you are interested in reading her book, Love WITH Accountability, AK Press is doing a limited time sale on all their books on their website. Visit akpress.org for more info.
To help support community bookstores at this time of greater economic precarity for such places, consider visiting our affiliates Firestorm Books, who are currently doing online sales from their brick and mortar location. More about how to order at firestorm.coop!
To keep up with Aishah, for updates on future projects and more:
Being Out Here For The Prisoners in NC / Mesh Networks
This week we feature two portions to this podcast bonus, two abolitionists in North Carolina talk about detention issues during and after Covid-19. Then Grant Gallo of Sudo Mesh talks about community mesh data networks and alternative infrastructure for autonomy.
First we’ll hear from two prison activists based in the Durham and Asheville, North Carolina about critical situations around incarceration in this state including but not limited to the Covid-19 outbreak. Jules is a member of Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross, a local abolitionist group that works around popular education around incarceration and anti-repression for movement work. Katie is an anarchist legal and anti-prison activist.
After that, you’ll hear Grant Gallow from Sudo Mesh talk about Peoples Open Network and Disaster Radio. We’ll hear about collaborative, community mesh network projects as peer-to-peer internet in general and about the idea behind Disaster Radio, a minimalist digital messaging system in case the cellphone, landline or power grid goes down in a dire circumstances. You can find out more at the website, disaster.radio
Join us for a film screening and discussion of the short documentary film “Condemned,” which tells the story of Bomani Shakur (or Keith Lamar) who is on death row for five murders he did not commit or play any part in during the 1993 Lucasville Prison uprising.
Bomani was recently scheduled for execution in November, 2023. His many advocates and loved ones called for a month of action in April to publicize the biased legal process that led to Bomani’s conviction, involving gross prosecutorial misconduct including failure to provide exculpatory evidence during discovery as required by law.
** A link will be posted in the facebook event on the day of the screening that people can click to join at the event start time! **
After the film we’ll hold a discussion including how people can support Bomani in continuing to fight for his life.
Doing For Selves: Open Source Supplies and Tenant Organizing
Welcome to a podcast special from The Final Straw. While William is was busy producing an episode featuring voices of medical professionals and activists inside and out of prison to talk about the impacts of covid-19 on incarcerated people for broadcast, I had a couple of conversations about work folks are doing on the outside that I’d like to share.
Sean Swain [00:08:06-00:15:12]
Hacking To Fight Covid-19
First, I spoke with Bill Slavin of Indie Lab, space in Virginia that is in the process of shifting it’s purpose since the epidemic became apparent from an broader scientific and educational maker space to work on the manufacturing and distribution of covid-19 related items in need such as testing kits, medical grade oxygen, ventilators and 3d printed n95 quality masks for medical professionals to fill public health needs. Bill talks generally about the ways that community and scientists can come together through mutual aid to deal with this crisis left by the inaction of the government on so many levels. They are also crowd-sourcing fundraising for scaling up their production and facilities and there’s a link in our show notes on that. The platform that Bill talks about in the chat is known as Just One Giant Lab, or JOGL. Consider this an invitation for makers to get involved.
Organizing With Your Neighbors For Homes and Dignity
Then, I talked to Julian of Tenants United of Hyde Park and Woodlawn in Chicago. What with all of the talk about rent strikes in the face of such huge leaps in unemployment during the spread of covid-19 and accompanying economic collapse, I thought it’d be helpful to have this chat to help spur on these conversations of how we seize power back into our hands while we’re being strangled by quarantine and hopefully afterwards. You can learn more about the group Julian works with at TenantsUnitedHPWL.Org. Philadelphia Tenants Union and Los Angeles Tenants Union were both mentioned and will be linked in the show notes, alongside a reminder that the national Autonomous Tenants Union Network (ATUN) is being organized and folks can reach out to Philly TU or LA TU via email to get onto their organizing zoom calls. Finally, if you’re in the Chicago area and need a lawyer for housing, check out Lawyers Committee For Better Housing online at lcbh.org. Julian also mentioned squatting of homes in southern CA owned by the state, here’s a link to an article.
WNC Mutual Aid Projects
Linked in our show notes is also a googledoc that Cindy Milstein and others are helping to keep updated that lists many mutual aid projects that have sprung up all over concerning the exacerbation of capitalism by the covid-19 crisis, as well as a similar page up from ItsGoingDown.Org
If you’re in so-called Western NC and want to get involved, the project Asheville Survival Project has a presence on fedbook and is soliciting donations of food and sanitary goods for distribution to indigent, bipoc, elder and immune compromised folks in the community. We’ll link some social media posts on the subject that list our donation sites around Asheville in the show notes and you can venmo donations to @AVLsurvival.
And check our show notes for an invitation to call the NC Department of Public Safety and Governor’s offices to demand the release of NC prisoners susceptible to infection and possible death of Corona Virus in the NC system due to improper care. Wherever you are listening, consider getting together with others and calling jails, prison agencies and the executive branches to demand similarly the release of AT THE VERY LEAST the aged, infirm, folks in pre-trial detention, upcoming release or who are held because they can’t pay bail.
North Carolina Corrections Department-Prison Division
My name is ________, and I am a North Carolina resident deeply concerned about the safety of the states’s incarcerated people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Incarcerated people have a unique vulnerability to disease due to their crowded, unsanitary living conditions and lack of access to adequate medical care. For humanitarian reasons as well as reasons of public health, we call for the immediate release of all people in the North Carolina prison system. We also urge that you stop the intake of new prisoners during the pandemic. The cost of failing to take these steps will be paid for in human lives, and we refuse to abandon our neighbors and loved ones to die in lockup.
Even while the world burns, our 10th anniversary still approaches and we’re still soliciting messages from you, our listenership. Not sure what to say, likely you have a LOT of time on your hands, so go back through our archives and dive in. If you want a deep dive, visit our website where you can find hundreds of hours of interviews and music. If you want to drop us a line, check out the link in the show notes, or you can leave a voicemail or signal voice memo at +18285710161, you can share an audio file with the google drive associated with the email firstname.lastname@example.org or send a link to a cloud stored audio filed to that email address. Tell us and listeners what you’ve appreciated and or where you’d like us to go with this project.
If you appreciate the work that we do here at TFS, you can also help us out by making a donation if you have extra cash rustling around. The link on our site called Donate/Merch will show you tons of ways. If, like most of us, money is super tight at the moment, no prob, we struggle together. You can share our show with other folks to get these voices out there and more folks in the conversation. And if you REALLY like us and have a community radio station nearby who you’d be excited to have us air on for free, get in touch with us and we’ll help. The page on our site entitled Radio Broadcasting has lots of info for radio stations and how to let them know you want us on the airwaves. Thanks!
. … . ..
From Monument To Masses – Sharpshooter – The Impossible Leap In One Hundred Simple Steps
COVID-19 and the Prison System: 5 Voices from the Front Lines of Resistance
Today we have a show about COVID-19, specifically how the pandemic is being handled in prisons and detention. This show includes a lot of voices, and we structured it that way in order to both include as many perspectives as we could and also to take some of the expectation that interviewees speak to us for an extended period; everyone who is working on this is very busy and we wanted to respect that.
In this show you’ll hear from:
– Rebekah Entralgo who works with the non profit Freedom for Immigrants,
– Finn, a healthcare worker and member of Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR) working in an outbreak epicenter here in North Carolina,
– Elijah Prioleau who is incarcerated at Waupun Correctional in Wisconsin, where there is a COVID-19 outbreak and they are currently on lockdown,
– and JM and Nikkita of (among other groups) COVID-19 Mutual Aid in Seattle, which is at the outbreak epicenter in the Pacific Northwest.
Because I couldn’t include everything that each person said in full, and frankly that was the hardest part about editing, I’m making a page on our collection at archive.org which will include each interview in full. Just give me until tomorrow to get that up, cause my eyes are starting to cross from all the radio related screen time!
Many thanks go out to everyone who was interviewed, and a special thanks to Ben Turk and the folks at Forum for Understanding Prisons who passed along his phone call with Elijah. More about them, their updates, and lists of demands can be seen at prisonforum.org
. … . ..
To write to Elijah at Waupun Correctional, address letters to:
Leon Elijah Prioleau 420053
Waupun Correctional Institution
PO Box 531
Waupun, WI 53963-0351
To get plugged into mutual aid efforts in Asheville, you can follow the Asheville Survival Project on Facebook, and if you are interested in donating to these efforts in our town the venmo is @AVLsurvival.
List of people and projects that I’m aware of who are boosting prisoner’s voices right now:
Kite Line Radio, which has a Coronavirus call in line for people who are both impacted by incarceration and by Coronavirus, that is 765-343-6236
As corona virus spreads, the failures of capitalist states becomes even clearer and many people are forced to take some breaks from participating in the economy in the way they did before, we’d like to offer some audio we’ve been sitting on. The good folks at the radical bookstore and community space, Burning Books in Buffalo, New York, has given us a small trove of audios from presentations by authors, activists, visionaries and revolutionaries they’ve hosted over the last 7 years or so. We hope that you’ll take away some good perspectives from these luminaries, on struggle, on change, on shifting terrain and on the revolutionary solidarity impulse that they communicate. These are scary times we are living in, but we want to remind you that sometimes in scary times people bring out their best to the fore because we are stronger together.
Get involved in local efforts to organize in your area by visiting this IGD post and searching down the page for the regional mutual aid groups you can plug into.
In this podcast special series, we’re sharing a presentation by the author, historian and activist, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz on September 17th, 2015, speaking about her book ‘An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States’. From the website, reddirtsite.com:
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma, the daughter of a tenant farmer and part-Indian mother. She has been active in the international indigenous movement for more than four decades, and she is known for her lifelong commitment to national and international social justice issues. After receiving her Ph.D. in history at the University of California at Los Angeles, she taught in the newly established Native American Studies Program at California State University, Hayward, and helped found the Departments of Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies.
The audio cuts off rather suddenly after just about an hour due to recording device, sadly, so we lose Dr. Dunbar-Ortiz part way through a sentence. We’ll have more information at the end of this about where you can find more of her writings.
If you are thinking of purchasing any of her titles, we suggest that you check out getting them from a local bookstore rather than Amazon. And while quarantine is ongoing, if you prefer to order online from Burning Books, they are offering free shipping in the US on orders more than $25 (as of this recording on March 18th, 2020) from their website, burningbooks.com. Feel free, also, to support our local venue and regular supporter of our site, as well, Firestorm.Coop, which sells titles online as well.
This week on The Final Straw, we’re presenting two conversations. The first was a chat with workers from the local, plant-based protein company ‘No Evil Foods’. The company has been getting flack for using social justice imagery while working to undermine unionization efforts at it’s factory here in Asheville, NC. The workers talk about strategies they took in organizing attempts and experiences they had with disinformation about collective bargaining from the management and the union-busting consultants in their employ. In order to protect the anonymity of the workers, we’ve replaced their voices with our own. See our show notes for a script of the chat.
Although not affiliated with the unionizing effort, the fedbook page for Asheville Solidarity Network hosts some of the flyers in support of workers unionizing No Evil Foods and Mission Hospital. It’s also acting as a hub for posts about mutual aid responses to the Covid-19 and the Corona virus crises in the Asheville Area. For more resources in different places around solidarity and mutual aid in this intense time, visit ItsGoingDown.org.
To see a few pictures of the propaganda distributed to No Evil Foods workers, check our show notes. Here are also a couple of links to flyers against the union busting found on social media (1, 2) as well as a post about a Zapatista school complaining of misrepresentation by No Evil Foods in their marketing and a collection of links including audio recorded from one of the forced anti-union meetings.
PLANning for Anti-Pipeline Action
After that, you’ll hear a conversation with Garrett, an anarchist involved in Pipeline Legal Action Network, based in so-called Minnesota. PLAN has recently published a legal workbook for people planning around resisting pipeline infrastructure expansion, in particular with the Line 3 pipeline. The guide also brings together a lot of other useful resources for any crew or affinity group and is available for free at PlanLine3.com alongside a lot of other material.
Share Your Words For Our 10 Year Anniversary Show
Basically, we’re opening up the lines to hear what you have to say to us. Send us a message about the show, any memories you have, what you’d like to see or how it has affected you. Instructions for signal voice messages, voicemails or sending us mp3’s can be found here.
New Free Community Meals in Asheville
On Sundays at 4pm near 644 Haywood, just around the corner from Firestorm Books, a project calling itself Hot Potatoes is offering free, hot meals from reclaimed and donated ingredients to the community as well as free produce when available.
Grand Jury Resistance
Grand Jury resistors Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond have been ordered released from the Arlington, VA jail where they’ve been held while refusing to participate in Federal Grand Juries concerning Wikileaks and the attempted extradition of Julian Assange. This came days after Chelsea self-harm or suicide in her cell under the stress of nearly a year in prison and after only about a year after being released from an military prison. Amazingly, although the government was imposing a fine of a thousand dollars for each day of her incarceration for refusal, within a few days of her release the fines a crowd source fundraiser paid off the remaining $267,000 in fees she was facing upon release. Jeremy Hammond, meanwhile, is being transferred back to Federal prison where he will resume the last few months of his incarceration. His time was put on hold during his resistance of the grand jury. More on his Jeremy’s case and how to write him a letter of support can be found at FreeJeremy.net and more about Chelsea is up at ReleaseChelsea.com.
Prisoner Corona Virus Hotline
Starting Monday, IWOC and Fight Toxic Prisons chapters will be opening a hotline that prisoners in the so-called US can call into to report outbreaks, denial of adequate medical care and other circumstances related to Corona Virus. To allow for the calls to be free for prisoners, fundraising is happening now. You can learn more at bit.ly/covid19prison
Update on Eric King
Anarchist and antifascist prisoner Eric King is fighting a possible 20 year charge added to his remaining time. In recent disclosures he talks about his targeting by prison staff at FCI Englewood, who threatened him and his family during visiting time, including consciously sitting his partner and their two kids near to the sex offenders during visitation, rather than in the separate family section. In his statement to the court, Eric says that when he attempted to use the prisons own complaint mechanisms he was further targeted for assault and harassment by staff, including continued harassment about his family, threats that fall under the protections afforded by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, interferences with his ability to communicate with his family and his lawyers, removal of his personal and legal items and more. You can read the whole thing up at SupportEricKing.org, where you can also find the fundraiser for his legal defense to fight this 20 year hit he might face. The fundraiser is also up at fundrazr.com/e1cKo1. You can also find our interview from last year with Eric at our website.
Month in solidarity with Bomani Shakur
Finally, for the month of April, 2020, the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement and others will be trying to focus attention on the Lucasville Uprising death row case of Bomani Shakur, aka Keith Lamar. He’s been held for almost 18 years for charges related to the uprising and has been denied the ability to effectively challenge his death sentence even though the state recognizes that it withheld potentially exculpatory evidence in his initial conviction. You can learn more about his case and how to get involved in the month of action for Bomani at revolutionaryabolition.org , more about his case at KeithLamar.org and our past interview with Bomani at our website.
TFSR: Would you care to introduce yourselves for the purposes of this conversation and what your relationship with No Evil Foods in Asheville is?
No Evil Foods Workers: All of us work in the production area of No Evil Foods. This means that we are directly responsible for measuring and mixing the ingredients, running the mixes through the machines, cooking the mixes into the product, cooling the product, portioning the product, and boxing the product so it can be shipped out.
TFSR: Can you talk about the situation? What were the working conditions like at No Evil Foods when active talk of unionization started, how was response from workers?
No Evil Foods Workers: Active talk of unionization began at least as early as the summer of 2019. At that time, one of the shift supervisors on second shift was spearheading the campaign, and was very vocal and open about it. He had even apparently gone directly to management asking them to recognize the union. At that time, employees had no health care, and there was no shift differential for second shift. Those were two major concerns that were eventually addressed, but the biggest reason for desiring a union was simply for the production team to have a seat at the table when it came to future changes. The company is going through a huge growth period right now, and the production employees that make up the vast majority of the workforce are caught up in the undertow, so to speak. In response to the initial unionization campaign, management gave a speech about how they felt unions weren’t right for the company. Mere weeks later, they changed the production schedule from a four-day work week to a five-day work week with monthly mandatory Saturdays. Dozens of production team workers quit in response, and the unionization campaign seemed forgotten. However, reps from the union reached out to workers who had signed cards, and slowly we began to seek out more signatures and discuss the ongoing need for representation. The response from workers varied of course, but there was no hostile conversation about it among employees before the union busting tactics started. Some weren’t sure what a union actually did and the protection it offers. Others had only heard negative things. But the more it was discussed between production workers, the more we felt as though we had a decent chance of bringing everyone together for this cause. The open dialogue was almost always positive, and many employees were excited and curious about the possibility of being able to have a greater say in their working conditions, pay, benefits, etc.
TFSR: How did No Evil Foods respond to talk of workers organizing themselves or joining a union. Who did they hire to bust the effort and what has that looked like? What union were you working with?
No Evil Foods Workers: We really have no way to know for sure when management found out that we were attempting to unionize, but we have theorized that it was probably around December-January. It’s likely that their first attempt to deter a “need” for a union was to find out what we wanted and attempt to give it to us. In January, they gave night shift a pay differential, they made sure night shift was getting out on time and not staying late – as had been the trend. They even added an employee award program to give us each a free gift. This was the start of what would be a serious manipulation campaign.
When management was officially informed that we had filed with the NLRB, the first poster we were handed was about union cards. The word “dues” was mentioned nearly 10 times. “Union authorization cards are LEGAL documents” it reads. “Do not sign a union card unless you are willing to accept all the possible consequences of unionization…” (“Consequences of unionization”) “Union representatives are salesmen…” “Collective bargaining involves give and take, and is a risk…” Ironically, this flyer started out by assuring us that No Evil just wanted to give us all the “facts” to help us make an “informed” decision. This theme of wanting us to make an “informed” decision was a consistent talking point throughout the entire campaign, even though what they were actually doing was trying to drastically misinform us.
It didn’t stop there.
On top of the flyers, the main response by management was to bring us into captive audience meetings. These meetings were mandatory and involved each shift being corralled into dimly lit rooms and subjected to various power point presentations about unions. The topics varied, but the information was always slanted, with a lean towards either being anti-union or being neutral – never positive. One meeting went over the legalities of the union constitution, which felt like an attempt to just confuse everyone with an hour’s worth of legal lingo. Another meeting was about the UFCW and how much those at the top make. (Curiously, nothing was mentioned about how much those at the top of the No Evil food chain make.) Another meeting was all about collective bargaining. Demonstrating just how biased these meetings were, an employee at the collective bargaining meeting asked if there were any benefits and the speaker had nothing positive to say. The very last of these meetings was about the investors of No Evil and how the owners (Mike and Sadrah) “can’t control” what they might do in response to a union. This was the meeting that essentially scared the piss out of everyone, and many of us believe that this was the meeting that really tipped the scale. People walked out of that meeting truly fearing that they would lose their jobs and the warehouse might shut down if the majority of eligible voters voted ‘yes’.
Essentially, either by design or by coincidence, these meetings were all designed to play on very specific fears of the workers. Fears about sexual harassment and how the union might make it harder to get rid of stalkers. Fears about not understanding the union constitution and its legalities. Fears about collective bargaining. (“You may get more, you may get less.”) Fears about job security and how the warehouse might close down if we end up moving forward with unionizing because the investors might not like it.
To answer the question about who they hired, the lawyers names are Leigh E. Tyson and Jonathan Martin, both from the firm Constangy Brooks, Smith, and Prophete.
From their website:
“We can help you realistically assess the employee-relations atmosphere in your workplace environment. And we can help you build and foster the kind of workplace environment in which a union is irrelevant. We know it doesn’t always pay to be the proverbial bull in the china shop. Even as we advise management on union organizing drives and decertification efforts, we have maintained professional relationships with the unions. We are not known as “union busters” – nor do we want to be. The firm has particular strength in collective bargaining and negotiation experience. We take pride in knowing the subtle differences, like when to be tough – and we can be extremely tough – and knowing when a non-adversarial approach is in the best interests of clients.”
They’re not “union busters” and yet coincidentally, they specialize in “union avoidance campaigns”.
To answer the other question about which union, it was the United Food and Commercial Worker’s Union, aka, the UFCW. This was Local 1208, based out of Tar Heel, NC.
TFSR: Can you talk about some of the rumors management and the lawyers have been fostering about unions, including the weaponizing of fears of sexual harassment at the workplace?
No Evil Foods Workers: One of the very first rumors was about drug testing – specifically, about the union coming in and drug testing everyone. No Evil does a fairly noble thing and hires felons. It also doesn’t drug test. So between those two things, the fact that a rumor was started about the union deciding to randomly drug test everyone (which would not happen unless we voted for it to happen or the company pushed for it to happen) could be a coincidence – or it could be evidence of management playing on the fears of its workers.
TFSR: So, management offered to get No Evil Foods living wage certified. What does that mean? How does that measure to the cost of living index for Asheville and is there a significant difference with what a union might help with?
No Evil Foods Workers: No Evil Foods is determined to be “living wage certified” by Just Economics (a regional membership organization based in Asheville that has a voluntary certification process to determine if an employer pays what is considered a “living wage” in the area). When you look into the requirements to be living wage certified according to Just Economics, it’s very interesting what that actually means. The way this is determined is through what’s called the “Universal Living Wage Formula”. To be brief, it is based on the idea that one employee, who works 40 hours a week, should not have to spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing. While No Evil Foods pays better than most places in the area, anyone who has or currently lives paycheck to paycheck can tell you that this formula does not account for utility bills, expensive emergencies, monthly payments for necessities like a car or phone, or childcare. It’s not to say that No Evil Foods isn’t taking a step in the right direction in this regard, but it would be naive to assume their “living wage certification” accurately reflects the living cost of their lowest paid employees.
A union could have drastically changed the lives of all Production workers at No Evil. The mere opportunity to get a say in wages and benefits is something that EVERY workplace should strive to achieve. While the idea of using a formula that assumes everyone fits into the same box when it comes to living expenses isn’t a bad place to start, no arbitrary certification program or employer knows what their paycheck to paycheck employees truly need to be paid in order to thrive in today’s economy.
TFSR: This push to counter or bust unionization among the workers at No Evil Foods seems to fly in the face of the ethical image they push as not only a producer of vegan, alternative proteins and their leftist imagery. How does that feel and how have you seen this conversation happening?
No Evil Foods Workers: Being vegan means something different to everyone, but at its core definition, it should be about maximum harm reduction to all living beings – animal or human. Even the No Evil Foods mission statement reads:
“No Evil exists to empower people to make positive changes for themselves, the environment, and the welfare of animals through awesome food. Do No Evil is the crux of what we do and the center from which all good emanates. We’re family founded, majority women-led, human centered, and purpose-powered, and we’re determined to bring people closer to the origins of their food while addressing issues like food insecurity, economic justice, and climate change. At The Axis, No Evil Foods’ homebase, we cut through the noise, speak our truth, and attempt to change the world one bite at a time.”
Empowering people should include empowering their workers – and empowering their workers should be about more than monthly team meetings and a suggestion box where we leave mere suggestions. The truest way they can live up to their mission statement (and it’s still not too late to do the right thing) would be to empower their workers and allow them to unionize. It would mean allowing their workers to have a collective voice in day-to-day decisions. Back that mission statement up with radical actions to prove it.
No Evil Foods Workers: A common business model in Asheville these days, at least among breweries, seems to be to build a brand and sell it off to a bigger company once it’s out of debt and expanded. There’s been speculation about why the ownership / management might push so hard back on attempts to structurally raise standards for the workers at No Evil Foods because of a fear of spooking the investors. Speculating, does that seem like a possibility in this case and how would leveraging for working conditions differ between a locally owned versus larger employer?
A: It’s absolutely a possibility. Leveraging with employers whether they be a small, family owned company or a massive corporation will never be a simple task if the position of management is to put the bottom line above all else. Historically though, large corporations are notorious advocates for nothing but profit at the expense of their employees. Having a solidified contract in place at this stage would protect us from this if in fact this is their plan for the future. It’s worth noting that at one of the captive audience meetings we were told by Mike (one of the two owners):
“It’s a very real risk that having a union at No Evil Foods would greatly impact our ability to continue raising capital, which risks the survival of our business. To be frank, I had one of our current investors say this week, ‘I’ve seen hundreds of companies come across my desk, and I have never seen an investment in a unionized startup, especially not at this stage. If I was looking at this business for the first time, I would run the other way.'”
Why did he say this? Because if this speculation about the inevitable selling of No Evil Foods is true – if a large corporation were to buy them out – this large corporation would have to listen to it’s employees who already have a solidified contract of employment that directly benefits the workers.
TFSR: Word on the street is that workers are talking union at the local healthcare system called Mission, which is a huge employer around here and was recently purchased. What would you say to your coworkers at No Evil Foods or workers at Mission or elsewhere who might be considering a struggle for a workplace union?
No Evil Foods Workers: Do a Google search for the Union Busting Playbook and inoculate your coworkers to the tactics and talking points that they will inevitably be subjected to. Maintain solidarity with your coworkers and constantly find new ways to draw more people into the “organizing committee” – or the primary core of people responsible for the drive. Organize casual get-togethers outside of work. Strong bonds between workers are the best defense against any nonsense management decides to pull. Be resilient, be calm, and do your research. Know the ins-and-outs of the union and be able to answer questions people will inevitably have. Be ready to be yelled at. Be ready to be threatened. Be ready to be manipulated and gaslit. There is no bar too low that management won’t stoop to in order to get people to turn away from unionization, as many of us found out. Communicate to coworkers that your struggle to organize your workplace has far reaching effects for workers in the region. You aren’t just empowering yourself, you are taking part in a historical struggle that’s been waged for years; you’re fighting for our collective future.
And one more piece of advice to current/future organizers: Record your captive audience meetings!!!
It’s a safeguard, and exposing these union busters and showing the public how all of these talking points and strategies are the same in so many ways is incredibly important.
TFSR: Will you continue working and struggling at No Evil Foods even after this vote against a union? Why?
No Evil Food Workers: We said this many times during the campaign, but this is not the worst job we’ve had. There are some really awful places out there to work and while this one definitely has its problems, it’s not among the worst. Unfortunately, this was often used against us as an argument by management – i.e., “Even union organizers have said themselves that this isn’t a bad place to work, so why do we need a union?” They didn’t really understand why we wanted a union. North Carolina being Right to Work was one of them. (In the month since the election concluded, four people were fired.) It’s also fair to say that about 98% of production workers haven’t been there for more than a year, a telltale sign of a company where job security isn’t really something prominent. On top of that, management often makes decisions rather willy-nilly; the top-down approach creates a lot of problems. Yes, there are ways for us to “suggest” different ways of doing things, but suggestions are suggestions, and management always has the option to ignore us. Collective bargaining would have given us a voice that couldn’t be ignored, and management proved by hiring “union avoidance consultants” that they’re not really interested in taking what we have to say seriously.
So to answer the question, yes, I think a lot of us will stay there and continue fighting for this. But I also think that for many of us (including some “no” votes who are slowly coming around and realizing they were misled) there’s not a day we walk into work and don’t expect to be fired for something trivial.
Management has fallen back into the same patterns that brought the union in to begin with. The firings only prove that we don’t have job security. The random, day-to-day changes in new policies and procedures only prove that we need collective bargaining and ultimately a union.
For a company that markets itself like No Evil Foods does, union busting shouldn’t be the kind of problem that it was during our campaign. Either the company takes off the mask and stops pretending to be revolutionaries who care about their workers, or they step up, do the right thing, and help their workers form a union.
May of 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the weekly anarchist podcast and show, The Final Straw Radio. Over that time, we’ve produced approaching 500 hours of audio, spent countless hours researching and editing and thinking about the project. And anyone with us for this ride will have seen it change and shift as the producers have, and as the culture around anarchy has as well.
In many past years, our early May TFSR birthday episode has featured introspection on the format of anarchist audio and video production by projects we appreciate. Last year, you heard the two main people behind the show, William and Bursts, talk about the project and what we hoped might come of it, what we enjoy and what stresses us out. It was fun for us to step out of the normal role of inquisitor and become the subject of the chat.
As our 10th birthday approaches we thought we might try something else novel. We’d like to invite listeners to record voice memo’s about what The Final Straw has meant to them, what they’d like to see from it, any moments that stand out and the like. We won’t promise to air everything, but we’ll happily share a lot of what we get from y’all.
You can leave us or a signal voice-memo or a voicemail at +18285710161, or email a link to mp3 audio via wetransfer.com or another service, or you can share it with the googledrive for email@example.com !
We’ll be taking submissions between March 11st and May 1st. Thanks!
This week on The Final Straw, we’ll hear a conversation from a few month back with Anthony Rayson and Mike Plosky, who have run the South Chicago Anarchist Black Cross Zine Distro since 1998. They send zines to prisoners, publish the writings and art of politicized prisoners as a project of public education, and help advocate and support prisoners organizing for their own education and liberation. You can find a full catalogue of zines at DePaul University library’s zine special collection. Donations can be made to their GoFundMe, and you can request catalogues and titles or just contact them at:
South Chicago ABC Zine Distro
PO Box 721
Homewood, IL 60430
We’ll also hear Sean Swain, who in many ways was brought to anarchism and had his books, cartoons and zines published by South Chicago ABC Zine Distro chat with Tony and Mike. More of Sean’s work, as always, at https://seanswain.org. We’re also joined in the conversation by Casey Goonan, an editor of True Leap Press which also does similar work to SC ABC Zine Distro. More of True Leap’s work, including their catalogue at https://trueleappress.com.If you’re listening to the podcast and want a more concise edition of an hour, check out our archive.org post linked in the show notes.Some of the prisoners and activists mentioned in the interview include:Sean SwainCoyote AcaboTalib RashidLeigh SavageAnastasia SmithKevin Rashid JohnsonTodd Hyung Rae TarselliRussell Maroon ShoatzTony Hunnicutt