Category Archives: Organizing

Labor Organizing in Right-to-Work States Is Numbers Game

Source: Chris Opfer and Jasmine Ye Han, Daily Labor Report, August 15, 2017

A total of 28 states have passed right-to-work laws, which ban unions from charging representation and administrative fees to workers who are part of a collective bargaining unit but choose not to join the union. The spread of those restrictions has squeezed labor resources, forcing some organizers to be pickier about which workforces they try to unionize. Unions filed fewer than one-third as many election petitions in right-to-work states than in the rest of the country in 2016, according to Bloomberg BNA’s analysis of labor voting data. Although their success rate (52 percent) in those elections was slightly higher in right-to-work states, the reduction in overall petitions means fewer workplaces are likely to be unionized in states with forced fee bans on the books.

Negotiating Civil Resistance

Source: Anthony Wanis-St and John and Noah Rosen, United States Institute of Peace, 2017

From the summary:
Reviewing the literature on negotiation and civil resistance, this report examines the current divide between the two and digs deeper to identify the fundamental convergences. It builds on these findings to illustrate why negotiations and negotiation concepts are essential to the success of civil resistance campaigns. Using historical examples, it then examines the dynamics of negotiation in the context of these strategic domains.

– Nonviolent uprisings and protest movements can help channel popular discontent into positive political and social change.
– Negotiation can enable opposition movements to more effectively press for such change.
– Despite enormous complementarities, civil resistance activists and negotiation scholar-practitioners have tended to develop separate communities of practice and divergent theories.
– Rights advocates often focus on ends; the conflict resolution community emphasizes processes and methods.
– Demands of a movement can be structured to make either pragmatic, incremental gains toward justice or peace, or far-reaching, transformative changes to restructure a system.
– Movement leaders need to recognize the three key purposes of a demand: collectivizing, dramatizing, and generating momentum.
– Direct action campaigns should increase the social power of a movement by mobilizing key populations and establishing the moral high ground of the movement vis-à-vis the target regime.
– Effective direct action has a clear target, whether a policy or a regime.
– Broad-based participation that moves beyond demonstration and becomes transgressive shows the opponent that obedience and compliance cannot be taken for granted.
– The leverage nonviolent movements have depends on the quality and strength of the negotiated agreements within the coalition and with the regime. Such negotiations are far from a mere formality: the process of unpacking an old regime and rebuilding a functional, harmonious society is usually a process, rarely a definitive end-state.
– Rather than marking the formal end of a civil resistance campaign, negotiation is essential to successfully initiating, expanding, and sustaining it.
– Despite clear and important cleavages and divergence between the negotiation and conflict resolution field, on the one hand, and the civil resistance field, on the other, their convergence is promising.

Labor’s Bill of Rights

Source: Shaun Richman, The Century Foundation, July 18, 2017

….What You Should Know
• Less than 10 percent of Americans currently hold union membership (compared to over one-third of the workforce in the 1950s).
• Lack of worker representation has resulted in today’s stunning income inequality, wage stagnation, continued wage discrimination against women, tens of millions of Americans working for sub-poverty-level wages, and widespread gaps in basic health, retirement, and family leave benefits.
• Pro-union labor law reform has been largely unachievable since the 1935 passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)—which Congress has instead twice amended to severely restrict workers’ rights, such as their ability to engage in solidarity activism.
• Currently, labor rights are technically rooted in Congress’ authority to regulate interstate commerce. In reality, labor law regulates fundamental constitutional rights. By considering impact on commerce before fundamental civil rights, labor law frequently violates workers’ constitutional rights.

Simply put, unions are hampered by rules that would never be applied to corporations, or to any other form of political activism…..

….This report will outline the below ten rights which, together, constitute Labor’s Bill of Rights:
• The Right to Free Speech
• The Right to Self Defense and Mutual Aid
• The Right to Strike
• The Right to Organize Free from Unreasonable Search and Seizure
• The Freedom From Taking Away Union Fees
• The Right to Not Be Locked Out for Exercising Labor Rights
• The Right to a Job
• Freedom from Cruel and Unusual Regulation
• The Right to Make Demands and Bargain Freely
• Powers Not Exercised by Unions Are Reserved to Workers Who Act in Concert….

Organizing in Red America

Source: Dissent Magazine, Summer 2017

Articles include:
Left in the Middle
Michael Kazin

….The good news is that a left does exist in Red America—and, amid the failures of the Trump administration, appears to be growing. Its adherents may share, in whole or in part, the cultural proclivities of the more numerous conservatives who live there. But they are arguing and organizing for many of the same demands as are their counterparts in places like New York City and Los Angeles; they are also busy defending the same people at risk from Trump and his allies in Congress and their own states. In this special section of Dissent, you will learn about some of those activists and a few of the politicians who share their goals…..

Working Too Hard for Too Little: An Interview with Senator Sherrod Brown
Michael Kazin

….This spring, the senator issued a lengthy document, “Working Too Hard for Too Little: A Plan for Restoring the Value of Work in America,” which lays out a set of innovative ideas about how to raise wages, make jobs more secure, and compel employers to adhere to decent standards on the job. In late April, Michael Kazin interviewed the senator in his office on Capitol Hill…..

Mississippi Autoworkers Mobilize
Michelle Chen

The workers at the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, had high hopes when the state-of-the-art factory complex moved in fourteen years ago to a small, majority black town where more than a quarter of residents live in poverty and decent jobs are scarce. …. After fourteen years at the plant, he says, “People are hurting inside of my factory.” His fellow coworkers have been concerned by what they see as increasingly unstable working conditions and general deterioration in benefits and safety protections. A few years ago they campaigned to organize with the United Auto Workers (UAW). Since then, he says, the workers have faced growing hostility from management for seeking to unionize, which only confirms its disrespect for a community that’s invested decades of public funding and faith in Nissan’s promise of stable manufacturing careers. ….

Birmingham’s Fight For a Living Wage
Scott Douglas

The election of Donald Trump has turned our attention to the politics of white working-class people, particularly in the states that voted for him last fall. But progressives should not ignore the activism of the black working class in many of those same red states. ….

The Next Operation Dixie
Sarah Jaffe

The election of Donald Trump has led to a lot of soul-searching on the left. In particular, the narrative since the election has focused on Trump’s appeal to working people, and whether this reflects an inherent racism among the so-called “white working class” or a failure of liberals and the left to speak to their economic concerns.

While the divide between “red” and “blue” states is often overstated (just ask the Republican governors of Massachusetts and Illinois), the Deep South has always lagged behind in union organizing. The failure of the CIO’s “Operation Dixie” in the late 1940s and concerted campaigns to divide black workers from white workers in law and on the shop floor left southern workers with fewer rights, lower wages, and, without unions to press their case, with less political representation. Yet there have always been exceptions, unions and organizations that have fought against great odds to build power for workers in the South, and with the accession of Trump, they can offer us advice for how to move forward when workers’ rights are under attack and racism being fomented from the highest levels of government. Dissent’s Sarah Jaffe spoke with three labor organizers from the South about their experiences and what can be learned from their successes….

Standing With Immigrants in Nebraska
Julie Greene

…. Many states have been transformed by immigration in recent decades, but some are better prepared than others to cope with the crisis. Take my home state of Nebraska. A solidly red state that has not voted for a Democratic presidential nominee in more than half a century, Nebraska has nonetheless seen the flowering of a pro-immigrant political culture. Over the past six years, activists across the state built a coalition that has made it possible to confront the harsh words and actions of the Trump administration head on. Examining what they did and how they did it can offer lessons for activists beyond the Great Plains. ….

Bringing Power to the People: The Unlikely Case for Utility Populism
Kate Aronoff

One glaring omission in the postmortem handwringing about the 2016 election is the fact that most poor people in America—of all races and genders—simply didn’t vote. They were prevented from doing so by a number of structural barriers—voting restrictions, second and third jobs, far-flung polling locations—as well as a lack of excitement about two parties they saw as having abandoned them.

Enter: twenty-first-century electric cooperatives, a perhaps unlikely player in the contest for power between progressives and conservatives in the heart of so-called Trump country in rural America.

If there’s one thing poor, rural communities tend to have in common, it’s where they get their power—not political power, but actual electricity. Over 900 rural electric cooperatives (RECs)—owned and operated by their members—stretch through forty-seven states, serving 42 million ratepayers and 11 percent of the country’s demand for electricity. They also serve 93 percent of the country’s “persistent poverty counties,” 85 percent of which lie in non-metropolitan areas. REC service areas encompass everything from isolated farm homes to mountain hollers to small cities, with the highest concentrations in the South, the Midwest, and the Great Plains. And they might just offer an opportunity to curb the right and the climate crisis alike…..

How We’re Surviving Right to Work: Letter Carriers Keep Numbers up with Shop Floor Action

Source: Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, June 28, 2017

Postal unions, like all federal employee unions, are open shop. That means workers can get the benefits of union representation while opting out of paying dues.

Yet the postal unions generally maintain high rates of voluntary union membership—and Letter Carriers Branch 82 in Portland, Oregon, does even better than most. From 90 percent membership five years ago, it has “slowly up-ticked,” says Organizing Chair Willie Groshell, to around 95 percent of the 1,200 represented carriers.

How did they raise that number so high? It’s mostly the work of volunteers like Groshell, who delivers the mail full-time. (Three top officers make up the branch’s full-time staff.)

Most new hires sign up right away at orientation, where the branch vice president spends up to two hours with them—the union has this right guaranteed in its contract—talking through the union’s history and what to expect. One perk is getting immediate access to the union’s uniform closet, since the Postal Service won’t provide a uniform allowance until your probation is up…..

Repressing Radicalism

Source: Chip Gibbons, Jacobin, June 15, 2017

The Espionage Act turns 100 today. It helped destroy the Socialist Party of America and quashes free speech to this day. …. A century later, as socialist politics gain favor again in the United States, it’s important to remember the role that brute repression played in the SP’s downfall — and the continued threat the Espionage Act poses to democratic freedoms today. ….

Osmotic Mobilization and Union Support during the Long Protest Wave, 1960–1995

Source: John-Paul Ferguson, Thomas Dudley, Sarah A. Soule, Administrative Science Quarterly, OnlineFirst, Published June 8, 2017
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
To examine whether and how social movements that target private firms are influenced by larger protest cycles, we theorize about osmotic mobilization—social movement spillover that crosses the boundary of the firm—and how it should vary with the ideological overlap of the relevant actors and the opportunity structure that potential activists face inside the firm. We test our hypotheses by examining the relationship between levels of protest in U.S. cities around issues like Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, and the women’s movement and subsequent support for labor-union organizing in those cities. Combining nationally representative data on more than 20,000 protest events from 1960 to 1995 with data on more than 150,000 union organizing drives held from 1965 to 1999, we find that greater levels of protest activity are associated with greater union support, that spillover accrued disproportionately to unions with more progressive track records on issues like Civil Rights, and that these effects were disproportionately large in the wake of mobilization around employment-related causes and shrank in the wake of conservative political reaction that limited room for maneuver among the external protesters, the labor movement, or both. Our research helps to specify the channels through which external pressures affect firm outcomes.

How to Orient New Members to the Union

Source: Heather Roe, Labor Notes, June 9, 2017

….At the hospital where I work as a nurse, union orientations for new hires are done on-site, something we have negotiated in our contract. I have found it works best in two simple steps: a group orientation, followed by a personal, one-on-one conversation.

An early orientation helps in a few ways:
– It makes sure everyone hears about the union right away.
– It gives us the chance to frame our own message to nurses, rather than letting the employer describe the union.
– It helps us keep track of who has signed up to become a member.

At our local, we are typically seeing these potential members within the first two weeks of their employment. In right-to-work setting, which we’ll face after our contract expires in 2018, these orientations are vital to our future.

I find that the single most important task is to meet people where they are. Everyone comes to the table with a different idea of what a union is and isn’t. Don’t just throw a member application at them. Take some time to listen to them and then build their understanding from a positive place…..