Category Archives: Organizing

The Historical Roots of American Domestic Worker Organizing Run Deep

Source: Jake Blumgart, In These Times, Working in These Times blog, September 21, 2015

Domestic workers and their advocates have been making an increasing number of headlines since 2010, when New York became the first state to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Guaranteeing overtime and time off, such legislation has spread to four other states and is being fought for in many more. But organizing around domestic work has been ongoing since at least the 1930s, an often forgotten corner of the labor movement. …

Latino Workers and Unions: A Strategic Partnership for America’s Progress

Source: Hector E. Sanchez, Victor Baten, Marcela Barrientos, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), 2015

This report will examine the unique partnership the labor movement and the Latino community can achieve together. Unions are in desperate need of new membership while Latinos need the protection and wages a union job can provide them. This mutually beneficial partnership can curb the negative conditions Latino workers face while saving a movement that has changed the American workforce. …..

The Right to Strike

Source: Ari Paul, Jacobin, September 18, 2015

“Right-to-work” is coming to the public sector. The key to survival is social movement unionism. ….. If anything, the fear Friedrichs inspires could force unions to do the type of everyday, internal organizing that dissidents and reform activists often complain doesn’t happen. While this could distract from other efforts, it could also drive unions to reconnect with their membership — actually improving their chances of surviving in the long term. In addition, some argue it’s too fatalistic to equate right-to-work with union decline, because a well-organized union could still thrive. Union membership in Indiana has remained steady despite right-to-work legislation passed in 2012 (although a failure to reach good contracts in the years to come could spark a mass exodus). Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which primarily represents Las Vegas casino workers, maintains a 90 percent density rate in a right-to-work state because of its on-the-ground organizing. The obvious counterexample to this is Wisconsin, where union membership has plummeted since going right-to-work. But there’s an obvious explanation: public unions there can’t collectively bargain. For unions who can demonstrate dues money makes it possible to fight and win, it’s a much easier sell. …..

The Challenge of Protest in Our Time: Micah White on Social Change Movements, Theories of Revolution, and Moving on from Occupy Wall Street

Source: Justin Campbell, Los Angeles Review of Books, September 17, 2015

….Micah White, along with the cofounder of Adbusters Kalle Lasn, began one of the most powerful social movements of the 21st century with an email — calling all who were concerned about our current political state to combine the tactics of the Tahrir Square uprisings with the Spanish anti-austerity general assemblies and bring their voices in order that they might occupy Wall Street. The name stuck, and soon, the entire world was watching as encampments popped up all over, demonstrating that citizens of all governments were tired of their voices going unheard.  Since then, activists have been asking what effective social movements look like and how social change comes about in a post-Occupy world. This is something Micah has been hard at work thinking about, ever since police in riot gear drove protesters out of public parks all over the world at the end of the Occupy Wall Street protests. As we see new movements come on the scene, like Black Lives Matter, we must continue to ask: What can we learn from the past to avoid the same mistakes that ultimately prevented previous movements from achieving their revolutionary potential…..

“We Need to Have a Meeting”: Public Housing Demolition and Collective Agency in Atlanta, Georgia

Source: Danya E. Keene, Housing Policy Debate, Published online: August 7, 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The last two decades have witnessed widespread demolition of public housing and a large-scale relocation of public housing residents. Much of the current literature has examined the impact of demolition on relocated residents, focusing primarily on individual outcomes such as employment, housing quality, and health. This article examines the potential collective consequences of relocation by using data from 40 in-depth interviews conducted with relocated public housing residents in Atlanta, Georgia, to examine experiences of civic engagement and tenant activism before and after relocation. Participants describe frequent experiences of civic engagement and tenant activism in their public housing communities prior to demolition and also discuss how these collective actions often translated into meaningful gains for their communities. Participants also describe challenges associated with reestablishing these sources of collective agency in their new, post demolition, private-market rental communities where opportunities for civic engagement and tenant activism were perceived to be limited, where stigma was a barrier to social interaction, and where they experienced significant residential instability.

The labour of learning: overcoming the obstacles facing union-worker centre collaborations

Source: Gabriel Hetland, Work Employment & Society, Published online before print September 3, 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
In the USA, the UK and elsewhere, community unionism appears a potentially fruitful strategy for organizing the growing numbers of workers holding precarious employment. In the USA there is increasing interest in a form of community unionism that may gain traction in the UK: union-worker centre collaborations. Unions and worker centres have struggled to collaborate, however, because of their structural, cultural and ideological differences. This article examines a rare case of successful union-worker centre collaboration, asking why this collaboration emerged, what challenges it has faced, and why it has succeeded. Data show this collaboration emerged due to organizational crises, linked to broader economic changes, and individual learning following semi-successful organizing campaigns. The collaboration overcame challenges stemming from the differences between unions and worker centres through intra- and inter-organizational learning. Two conditions facilitated this outcome: bridge builders and state support for unionization. This case is used to explore broader questions about union revitalization.

A Future for Workers: A Contribution From Black Labor

Source: Black Labor Collaborative, July 2015

A new 35-page white paper, “A Future for Workers: A Contribution From Black Labor,” was released this week by the Black Labor Collaborative, a group of influential African American leaders from major labor organizations who offer a progressive critique and agenda to frame discussions about the direction of the American labor movement. This is a seismic development, because it is the first time representatives of 2.1 million black trade unionists have published a comprehensive outlook on organized labor.

The BLC report lands the same week that the AFL-CIO’s Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice held its first meeting. It also comes amid an explosion of protests and activism in black communities and among low-wage black workers across the nation, demanding racial justice as well as economic justice. For example:
• For the past 50 years, the unemployment rate for African American workers has been at least double that of their white counterparts.
• At its lowest point, when white male median earnings dropped to $37,000 in 1981, it was still higher than the peak median earnings of $34,118 that black men reached in 2006 — 25 years later.

In an executive summary that accompanies the report, the BLC calls for a “transformed labor movement,” noting that “the foe we face, in the political Right and global capitalism, demands a transformed and energized labor movement that can fight back with more than slogans of solidarity. No tinkering around the edges! A transformed movement must be authentically inclusive because diversity carries the strongest seeds of change, of untapped creativity.”….

Executive Summary

Organizing Is the Key to Surviving Friedrichs

Source: Samantha Winslow, Labor Notes, July 30, 2015

When news broke that the Supreme Court would hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, headlines instantly projected the worst, calling it “The Supreme Court Case That Could Decimate American Public Sector Unionism,” “An Existential Threat,” and even “The End of Public-Employee Unions?”

Hyperbole aside, a decision that makes the whole public sector “right to work” could be devastating. But it won’t make unions powerless.

After all, public sector workers didn’t always have legal protection to unionize, bargain, or strike, much less enforce agency shop. Not too far back in history, they won those rights—by organizing without them…..

“A Sense of Possibility and a Belief in Collective Power”: A Labor Strategy Talk with Karen Nussbaum

Source: Lane Windham, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 12 no. 3, September 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Historian and former union organizer Lane Windham sits down with longtime labor activist and leader Karen Nussbaum to discuss the promises and challenges in today’s worker’s movement through the lens of Nussbaum’s own life. In 1973, Nussbaum cofounded 9to5, a groundbreaking women office workers’ group, and now directs Working America, a community-based AFL-CIO group for working people who do not have a union, founded in 2003. Windham paints Nussbaum as a foremother of contemporary “alt-labor,” labor groups like Working America that are not based in traditional collective bargaining. Nussbaum and her 9to5 cofounders rode the momentum of the women’s movement in the 1970s just as workers’ organizations today build from the immigration, sustainable food, and global justice movements. Highlights of the article include Nussbaum’s motivations for founding Working America, her thoughts on labor’s future, and a discussion of strategies necessary for a potent new workers’ movement.

The Legitimacy of Protest: Explaining White Southerners’ Attitudes Toward the Civil Rights Movement

Source: Kenneth T. Andrews, Kraig Beyerlein, Tuneka Tucker Farnum, Social Forces, First published online: August 17, 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Activists seek attention for their causes and want to win sympathy from the broader public. Why do some citizens but not others approve when activists use protest tactics? This is a crucial but poorly understood aspect of social movements. While most prior research has focused on the personal determinants of attitudes toward movements, we argue that proximity to protest may cultivate positive views about a movement. Individuals living near centers of movement activity may become more favorable to protest because they become more sympathetic to the demands of activists. We investigate public support about protest tactics among white Southerners during the early stages of the civil rights movement. To do so, we employ a representative survey conducted in 1961 with nearly 700 white adults living in the South. These survey data are combined with contextual data measuring local protest, political behavior, and civic organizations. Most scholars have focused on the ways that civil rights activity propelled white counter-mobilization, but protest also won sympathy from a small subset of white Southerners, thereby fracturing the dominant consensus in support of Jim Crow segregation. We also find that local racial political context matters: individuals living in counties with weaker support for segregationist politics, where white moderates were active, and outside the Deep South were generally more favorable. At the individual level, our strongest findings indicate that sit-in support was more likely from those with greater educational attainment, less frequent church attendance, and exposure to discussions about race relations from the pulpit.