A Reassertion of PU’s Boycott of SPD

In response to the release of SPD’s original email to us, we publicly stated that we saw no reason to alter course. This is still the case. While we feel the need to reassert our position in light of SPD’s more recent statement, this will be our last response for the foreseeable future.

In Poets Union’s original boycott statement, we advanced no new demands on SPD. We simply synthesized and amplified demands and information already offered to the public by presses, workers, and whistleblowers. Further, this is not a call for mass boycott: a clear-eyed reading of our original statement shows that we have announced to the public our internal decision to engage in a boycott ourselves. And this is just factually true: we have not been and will not be buying books from SPD. Additionally, many who have never heard of Poets Union — including publishers, bookstores, and individuals — have boycotted already: at least thirty-six presses have left SPD, and some bookstores have boycotted as well. However, unlike presses and bookstores, we are more convenient for SPD to push back on because — representing only a small number of individual buyers — we aren’t really a source of money for them. Ultimately, leaving it to staff (comprised primarily of managers and directors) to push back against Poets Union helps SPD do PR, and it relieves the ED and Board of doing that work themselves.

Also, as we’ve asserted elsewhere, we are not boycotting in anyone’s name but our own. Damaged Book Worker is not a member of Poets Union; nor are any former or current SPD workers. Moreover, PU’s statements have been written and published solely by members, referencing when necessary the public testimonies of former and current workers. Additionally, not everyone who speaks up in support of the boycott and DBW online is a member of PU. In fact, many who offered such support on social media are not affiliated with our organization. If you want to know who we are, and you want to know where we stand as an org, simply read our website. 

Ultimately, it is entirely within Poets Union’s right to choose to boycott a company that does not align with our values, has perpetuated exploitation and harm, and has yet to demonstrate a substantial change. Further, we do not believe supporting current workers and emphasizing their majority should come at the expense of those workers who have been discarded and whose demands for justice continue to be disregarded. Not only has SPD apparently disregarded the urgent statement from seven former and current workers, but the current worker who came forward to PU has been entirely excluded from all of SPD’s recent statements. Our boycott continues to be in solidarity with these erased voices.

Also, as stated previously, and supported with documentation, the individual purchases that our boycott focuses on make up a mere 5% of SPD sales, and we would be lucky to get a fifth of that (thus leaving >99% of sales untouched). The idea that our boycott poses a serious threat to SPD seems very dubious and functions more as an intimidation tactic. If justified public outcry against SPD is killing SPD, then it is up to SPD board and ED to take concrete steps to fix this. Pressuring staff to speak out and asking Poets Union to change its position achieves nothing toward these ends.

Other claims that the boycott weakens the workers’ bargaining position are countered by the fact that there appears to be no bargaining going on. Workplace mediation is not the same as a labor negotiation, and we have seen no evidence of demands made by workers or of efforts to unionize. Were workers pushing for benefits or higher pay, and our boycott was seriously cutting into SPD’s bottom line, then yes, calling off the boycott would make sense. But this is not what is happening.   

And again, the only staff member who is not a cis man entrusted PU with her testimony, and we credit her claims and seek to honor them by not backing down on our stance. We believe it would be a betrayal of her and her courage for us to pull the boycott in light of what has gone on since she went public. And by this same principle, we are working to honor the others who have trusted us. 

Poets Union did not cause this problem. In light of all available public information, our org voted to boycott in order to (hopefully) prevent SPD from sweeping things under the rug and going back to “normal.” And of course, the last few weeks for SPD have been abnormal by comparison, and to that extent the boycott is having the desired effect. However, we are very wary of the drive to “listen to the workers” now that so many workers have been pushed out that SPD has been left with a majority of managers and directors. And again, the sole woman on staff is being disregarded in this conversation. Her testimony is serious, but like DBW’s article, it is not accounted for in the public statements from SPD. 

We hope that SPD is serious about its desire to change its workplace. We also hope the Board and ED will allow this to occur. But as of this moment, we have not been reassured by the way SPD reached out to us (e.g. “back channels”), by the motivation and content of their messaging, or by the repeated disregard for previous whistleblowers and worker demands. We will not be swayed by vague pro-worker rhetoric when the matters at issue here are still highly questionable, and we will definitely not be swayed when those who have trusted us and turned to us for support continue to oppose what SPD is doing. 

Again, we do not intend to continue this public back and forth with SPD. However, we will continue to monitor the situation, maintain the boycott, and speak out when necessary.

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