Category Archives: Organizing

What’s Behind the Teachers’ Strikes: The Labor-Movement Dynamic of Teacher Insurgencies

Source: Ellen David Friedman, Dollars and Sense, no. 336, May/June 2018

As we watch—rapt—the unexpected teacher insurgencies in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, and Colorado, we’re also grasping for understanding: Why is this stunning revolt occurring where unions are weak, where labor rights are thin, and where popular politics are considered to be on the right? To understand the insurgency, we need to look at economics, and at political economy specifically. But we especially need a labor-movement analysis.

A labor-movement analysis starts by understanding the political and economic conditions that shape the objective conditions of a particular group of workers (or labor market) at a given moment—prevailing wages, benefits, work processes, structures of employment, stability of work, market forces in the sector, etc. Then we look at how workers respond to those material factors and conditions: how they understand their interests, how they see their own power (or lack of it), how they understand the interests of the employers and what influences them, and how they develop tactics, strategies, and institutions to bring their power to bear against the power of employers. Finally, the self-directed activity of workers (including their ideas, ideologies, methods of organization, decision-making, and what actions they take) can be embedded in the larger context of other sectors of workers, other social movements, and historical labor movements. Such an analysis can help us interpret the teacher strike wave and, perhaps, gain insights that can help us rebuild capable, fighting unions….

Viewpoint: How to Talk with Nonunion Workers about ‘Right to Work’

Source: Shannon Duffy, Labor Notes, August 7, 2018

Two questions, three doors: thoughts in the closing days of the campaign to defeat “right to work.”

There’s been a lot of talk about the value of unions online and on doors this election season, and I’d like to address two questions that continue to be voiced.

The first question is why nonunion workers should vote to defeat right to work. Whenever it is raised, I often hear what is called the fair share argument. That’s the explanation where union defenders say, “What if you joined a country club or a homeowners association and you refused to pay their dues? How successful do you think you’d be trying to pull something like that? And can you honestly state that someone should have the right to do that?”

Let’s forget for a moment that it’s not a good idea to equate being in a union to being in a country club (it doesn’t exactly push back against that elitist tag that they always try to pin on us) or that substituting “homeowners association” for “country club” when talking to people on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder isn’t really any better. No matter how you slice it, it’s still those of us who have lecturing those who don’t have about why the system shouldn’t be changed, and that’s not exactly a winning strategy.

Now, I sure don’t want to knock anyone’s hard work—and if that argument is working for you on the doors, then God bless you, and keep doing what’s working. But it seems to me that we often miss opportunities to discuss how we can challenge existing power structures and create meaningful change. So indulge me for a moment….

Related:

Missouri Voters Overwhelmingly Reject ‘Right to Work’
Source: Chris Brooks, Alexandra Bradbury, Labor Notes, August 8, 2018

Unions in Missouri are declaring victory after voters shot down a Republican-backed “right-to-work” law by a hefty 2 to 1.

The final vote count was 937,241 against the legislation to 452,075 in favor. Missouri became the 28th state with a right-to-work law on the books in February 2017, when Republican Governor Eric Greitens signed the law at a ceremony in an abandoned factory.

In response, thousands of union members hit the streets to gather enough signatures to trigger a referendum vote that could repeal the law. Over the course of six months, activists gathered 310,567 signatures—more than three times the number needed. Right to work was put on hold until voters could decide….

Vermont’s Striking Nurses Want A Raise for Nonunion Workers Too

Source: Jonah Furman, Labor Notes, August 2, 2018

Especially for professional workers, when your main strike issue is pay, attracting public support can be a challenge.

Savvy employers paint union members as spoiled. They like to point out that you’re already making more than many of your nonunion neighbors.

Yet when 1,800 nurses and technical staff struck for better wages July 12-13 at the state’s second-largest employer, the University of Vermont Medical Center, the people of Burlington came out in force to back them up.

“We had policemen and firefighters and UPS drivers pulling over and shaking our hands” on the picket line, said neurology nurse Maggie Belensz. “We had pizza places dropping off dozens of pizzas, giving out free ice cream.”

And when a thousand people marched from the hospital through Burlington’s downtown, “we had standing ovations from people eating their dinners,” she said. “It was a moving experience.”

One reason for such wide support: these hospital workers aren’t just demanding a raise themselves. They’re also calling for a $15 minimum wage for their nonunion co-workers, such as those who answer the phones, mop the floors, cook the food, and help patients to the bathroom…..

Rebuilding Power in Open-Shop America: A Labor Notes Guide

Source: Labor Notes, July 2, 2018

….Janus is a serious blow—but we have good news. As plenty of unions in open-shop states and sectors can testify, it’s still possible to win campaigns and maintain high membership rates despite the legal hurdles. We talked to workers in schools, factories, buses, hospitals, oil refineries, grocery stores, post offices, and shipyards.

This guide reveals the principles and practical steps behind their successes. Here’s the punchline: the unions that build power in open-shop America will be the ones that fight hard on workplace issues their members care about, and where large numbers of rank-and-file members take on their own fights…..

Context
How We Got Here
Our Prescription
The Racist History of Right to Work
Who’s Next?
The Anti-Union Game Plan

Diagnostics
Exercise: The Open-Shop Stress Test
Quiz: Assess Your Danger Level
Jump-Starting a Weak Union from Below

Brass Tacks
1. Be Democratic
2. Fight the Boss
3. Turn Up the Heat
4. Ask People to Join
5. Count Noses
6. Don’t Go It Alone

Training to empower: A decade of the Retail Action Project

Source: Peter Ikeler, Giovanna Fullin, Journal of Labor and Society, Vol. 21 no. 2, June 2018
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Founded by a union in 2005, the Retail Action Project (RAP) has led multiple campaigns for workers’ rights, back wages and unionization in the heart of Manhattan’s retail district. It has also undertaken worker training and hiring efforts while cultivating a community of creative worker‐members. This combination of organizing, community building and attempted re‐skilling, along with its industrial rather than ethnic focus and operation within a leading center of postindustrial capitalism, make RAP unique among U.S. worker centers and potentially prefigurative of revitalized unionism. Our study examines the organization’s 12‐year history and draws out lessons for organizing young workers in an increasingly precarious economy. Although RAP has tried to both materially empower and socialize young workers to the labor movement, we find it has been more successful at the latter than the former and that its lessons may find application in other retail‐dense urban centers within and outside the United States.

In a Direct Challenge to Their Employers, Tech Workers Begin to Organize

Source: Sam Harnett, KQED, July 6, 2018

#TechWontBuildIt.

This was the theme of two unprecedented meetings earlier this week in San Francisco and Seattle. Tech workers, including engineers and programmers, gathered for a forum put on by the labor advocacy group Tech Workers Coalition.

The meeting in San Francisco was standing room only. More than 100 tech workers from both small companies and major corporations like Google and Facebook talked about how to organize, challenge their powerful employers and stop the companies they work for from creating products and services they find unethical. This meeting was the latest in what is becoming a rising wave of tech worker activism and protests…..

Related:
Why Tech Worker Dissent is Going Viral
Source: Itasha Tiku, Wired, June 29, 2018

Silicon Valley has a long and secretive history of building hardware and software for the military and law enforcement. In contrast, a recent wave of employee protests against some of those government contracts has been short, fast, and surprisingly public—tearing through corporate campuses, mailing lists, and message boards inside some of the world’s most powerful companies.

The revolt is part of a growing political awakening among some tech employees about the uses of the products they build. What began as concern inside Google about a Pentagon contract to tap the company’s artificial-intelligence smarts was catalyzed by outrage over Trump administration immigration policies. Now, it seems to be spreading quickly. ….

….. Silicon Valley’s recruiting pitch has long been: Work with us to change the world. Employees are encouraged to make their work life synonymous with their social identity, and many internalize those utopian ideals. “People who signed up to be tech heroes don’t want to be implicated in human rights abuses,” says a senior Google employee involved in the protest against Project Maven.

Tech workers may feel freer to challenge their employers in part because they have marketable skills at a time of great demand, says Nelson Lichtenstein, a history professor and director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at UC Santa Barbara. “Why don’t you find this among the people wiring the circuit boards together in China? Because there they are much more vulnerable,” he says. ….