Radio — A union for panhandlers, buskers, and other folks on the street

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On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, I speak with Andrew Nellis. He is involved in the Street Labourers of Windsor (SLOW), a union for panhandlers, buskers, scrappers, security guards, and anyone else who makes all or part of their income by working on the street.

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It is certainly not universally embraced, particularly in parts of the institutionalized core of the mainstream labour movement, but it has become more and more a piece of left commonsense that the future of worker struggles absolutely must involve, and even prioritize, organization and mobilization of workers variously described as low-wage, low-skill, low-status, precarious, or otherwise marginalized. Whether that takes the form of workers’ centres, non-traditional organizing by traditional unions, migrant workers’ groups, community-based minimum wage campaigns, or other sorts of creative organizational forms to bring workers together, it is one of the liveliest areas of social movement activity in North America these days.

Yet even among people who adhere to this particular piece of left commonsense, it might take some convincing to get them on board with the idea that the workers at the heart of today’s show are in fact workers, and that the organization that is organizing them does indeed qualify as a union. Andrew Nellis, though, is quite certain that they are, and that it does. The Street Labourers of Windsor is an affiliate of the Industrial Workers of the World in Windsor, Ontario. Nellis is the caretaker of SLOW’s new union hall, and he has been using his earlier experience as an organizer with the panhandler’s union in Ottawa as a resource for SLOW’s core organizers. He speaks with me about the details of what it means to build a fighting organization among street workers, about the trajectory of SLOW to date, about their new union hall and fundraising campaign, and about their plans for building the union in 2016.

To learn more about SLOW and to donate to the fundraising drive to make their new union hall a useful and vibrant community space, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit its website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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