Union Organizing

I have attended my first union meeting. An organizing drive at my work place is changing everything, including the degree of education of the workers. Interestingly, the company is doing much of the education, and it is not all inaccurate. It's just that where it ends up has a particular bias. (I am reminded of Harvey's amending the policy proposal about RCers taking a stand against pseudo-thinking. He amended it to taking a stand against pseudo-thinking that masquerades as real thinking and against real thinking that contains pseudo-thinking -- like a TV ad that talks about the importance of caring for our children but ends up encouraging people to purchase some psychiatric medication.)

The following is a letter I wrote to a co-worker about the organizing drive.

"Dear A -- ,

"It's useful to be hearing your thoughts and thinking with you about this. I think it takes lots of talking and being listened to to sort it out.

"Because I do Co-Counseling (some people would call it peer counseling, but it has much more of a social-change focus), I am listened to, and listen to someone else, about four times a week, while we think through things that are confusing or challenging. I don't see how people can keep thinking clearly unless they do this. It would be great if you and I could spend some regular time outside of work, in person or by phone or e-mail, digesting all that is happening so that we can keep an accurate viewpoint and ditch1 some of our discouragement, disappointments, fears, and confusions.

"Your activities sound good to me -- figuring out how to get in there with different people, which requires different ways, depending on how well you know them. I don't think people will feel 'duped' or manipulated by you, and I think you can be as visible as you see fit.

"It appears that the union doesn't know how to organize. They were going to let people leave that meeting without even knowing when the next meeting was. One should always leave people with something to do and knowing what will happen next.

"They should start forming groups by facility. In my department we don't necessarily even know each other. We need to meet face-to-face, and talk and listen to each other -- hear about the talking we've been doing with the people we know; assess who is with us, who is against us, who is in the middle; and come up with a plan. The union needs to train us in organizing. They spent most of that meeting talking at us about why we should be in a union, when they should have spent a good part of it assuming we were interested (because we were there) and saying, 'Here is what we need to do between now and the next meeting, and here is how to go about it. Any questions?'

"My conclusion is that we in our department should organize and, if necessary, train ourselves, and not wait for the union to do it. Then we can come back to the union and say, 'This is what we have done, and this is what we need from you. Are you prepared to give it?'

"There is still the question: Is this a serious organizing drive, or are they just testing the waters to see what will emerge? We could ask them that. When it comes to establishing bargaining units, the union is going to go with whatever facility gets the most cards signed and leave the rest swinging in the breeze.2 We have to be prepared for that in our department and have our organizing in place for when the union pulls out, if it does. To succeed there needs to be a group of workers who are in this for the long haul.3 The organizing doesn't stop after the union gets in.

"At X -- , where my friend works, the main job is to organize the already-union workforce around a forward-moving program. Members there have been complacent during the boom years. Now, with de-regulation, they are taking big hits and don't understand why and are only beginning to organize against them.

"We in our department need to meet. Even if we only get ten cards signed, we will have a better idea of our situation and where we want to go from here. Even if the drive never gets farther off the ground than it already is, it has been hugely significant for the points it has raised and the education of the workers. It has permanently changed our workplace and has ended, for the moment, the company's complacency about its plans to add to its profits. (One wonders if the company is beefing up4 the bottom line5 to sweeten the pot6 for an eventual sale.)

"The educating and organizing don't have to stop. After the communists were driven out of the unions in this country, the unions "lived fat and happy" on the post-war economic boom, mainly by being bargaining agents for the workers in heavy manufacturing, where there were big bucks.7 They stopped organizing and educating workers (the role the communists had played) and lost the international picture and the economic theory that make it all make sense.

"With the Reagan era8 and its open attack on unions, and the subsequent globalization, deregulation, privatization, and free trade, unions have paid a price for their lack of education and organizing, and all non-union workers have suffered, too.

"In order to have a union we have to educate. We are trying to undo eight decades of brainwashing about the economy and the role of unions. I think people are ready for it.

"Unions are beginning to realize that it is organize or die. They are being forced to recognize again the role of international capitalism in degrading workers' conditions and helping those at the top get rich. You can see this at our company. It is clear even to people who are against the union. This is what we need to talk about. Unions have to 're-tool' in order to get up to speed here. The local electrical workers never even had an organizer until deregulation. Now they realize it is either organize or take big losses. They are not really prepared for this, but they must do it anyway."

Later

After a good session on my discouragement that everyone was falling back asleep after the initial surge of energy, I came into work after two days off to find I had missed one hell of a meeting. It was sort of good that I missed it, because I got to hear the story about ten times, just by asking people, "So what went on?"

I learned that the company had rolled out9 a re-organization of jobs and pay brackets in my facility and that people were way upset.10 Some had walked out of the meeting, and one soft-spoken woman, who had worked for the company for twenty-one years, gave an impassioned speech. She had been nearly in tears, and received cheers and applause. I went over to her first thing, thanked her for speaking up, and asked how it was the day after. She was proud, and her eyes filled with tears again.

So things are all riled up,11 and everyone's talking.

What is there to learn here? Well, don't give up! As Harvey said, the internal contradictions of capitalism are working in our favor. I mentioned to a friend that the company is the best organizer of this union. She agreed. Our supervisor even said that at the meeting!

Things happen, intelligence advances, in unpredictable ways. Most people have apparently decided that the union is not for them, but it has still had a profound effect on the way they are thinking. I think many of them will be against the union until exactly that moment when they vote for it. Things change in people's minds in ways they are not even aware of. Chaos works to our advantage.

Talking and listening are powerful tools to change people's thinking and move things forward. Our worst enemy is our own discouragement and our coming to the wrong conclusion about what the possibilities are or how well we have done. There is always something possible. The oppressive society paints a picture that belittles or covers over our accomplishments and the reality of the situation. We need to have a strong independent view of our own that includes hope and possibility.

It is exciting to be able to see beyond the way things sometimes appear and have "the longer view."

I read Nelson Mandela's autobiography last year, and I think of his twenty-seven years in prison and how he and his fellow prisoners were directing the course of their nation's history from what most people would consider the most hopeless of positions.

The question that presents itself to me is: "What can we get away with?" Probably a lot, is my guess.

D --
USA


1 Ditch means discard.
2 Leave the rest swinging in the breeze means ignore the rest.
3 For the long haul means for the full duration of the struggle.
4 Beefing up means adding to.
5 The bottom line means the profit margin.
6 To sweeten the pot means to make things more appealing.
7 Where there were big bucks means where there was lots of money.
8 The Reagan era is the years during which Ronald Reagan was president of the United States: 1981 to 1989.
9 Rolled out means presented.
10 Way upset means very upset.
11 Things are all riled up means everyone is angry.

 


Last modified: 2017-05-06 23:35:41-07