2013 SCFL Scholarship Winners

2013 SCFL Scholarship Winners

i Jul 8th No Comments by

The South Central Federation of Labor has awarded four $1,000 scholarships by lottery drawing to the sons and daughters of area union members. In addition, SCFL’s Dodge County Chapter has award two $500 scholarships. Here are the winners!

Winner #1 – Abigail Schuster is a 2013 graduate from Watertown High School who will be studying biology at Tennessee Wesleyan College. Abigail’s father, Chad Schuster, is employed at MATC and is a member of AFT Local 243.

Winner #2 – Kelli Klement is a 2010 grad from McFarland High School who plans to study Nursing at UW Madison. Kelli’s mother, Kathryn Klement, is a member of PERSA Local 4999.

Winner #3 – Marty Blocker is a 2012 graduate from Waukon High School who plans to study business at Viterbo University. Marty’s father, David Blocker, is employed with the Madison Fire Department and a member of IAFF Local 311.

Winner #4 – Tristen Johnson is a 2013 graduate of Beloit Memorial High School and plans to attend the University of Minnesota this fall. Tristen’s father, Troy Johnson, is a member of IBEW Local 965. (more…)

Taylor Urges Labor Unions to Take Risks

i Feb 25th No Comments by

ULN sat down with Don Taylor, Assistant Professor at the UW Extension’s School for Workers, for a wide-ranging interview on the state of the union movement. 

“There was a time when being in a union was illegal.” Don Taylor from the School for Workers was talking about the ups and downs of the labor movement.

Plenty of downs have hit US workers in the past few years. Taylor rattled off a litany of other states and what they tried, and often succeeded in making illegal: Nebraska tried to abolish its state labor board; Massachusetts made health care non-negotiable for municipal employees; Indiana and Michigan passed anti-labor right-to-work laws and only a governor’s veto stopped it in New Hampshire; collective bargaining limits were overturned by referendum in Ohio; Tennessee tried to make it a felony to be on a picket line; the list goes on and on.

Wisconsin’s situation has been well documented. In the past year Wisconsin lost more union members than any other state in the nation, going from 13.3% to 11.2% of unionized workers. When asked if that was the intent of Act 10, which severely restricted collective bargaining for public workers, Taylor declined to speculate, but said, “That’s certainly its effect.”

The front-page story in Union Labor News in December warned about the likelihood of right-to-work coming to Wisconsin.  Taylor pointed out that the governor and legislative leaders are saying it is not on their agenda this session.  He says it is plausible that they wish to focus on other priorities, rather than introduce contentious legislation that could eclipse their other goals.  With a very slow economy to fix, Wisconsin legislators might not want to “kick that dog again,” said Taylor, noting that 2011 was not healthy for the state “no matter which side you’re on.”

On the other hand, he said, governors in Michigan and Indiana both downplayed right-to-work prior to passing it.   “Ultimately, all we can say is that anything is possible.”

Taylor said that the labor movement has been down before, citing the 1920s as one of those low points. Similar to our era, there were large numbers of workers then who were not unionized and unions had insufficient interest and tools to organize them. In the twenties that meant manufacturing and assembly workers. In our era it’s the big box stores and other low-paid, disrespected service workers.

Taylor argues that unions still work out of a model developed in the 1930s and that old reality is being negated. “History has always shown that workers will resist,” said Taylor. He believes a new labor reality will develop from something that’s happening now. Perhaps the occupy movement, the push for immigrant rights or even from Walmart warehouses.

Because we are now in a world economy, developing new labor structures has been a slow and uncertain process—and organized labor is far behind the business world, Taylor believes.  “When corporate goals are impeded by the laws of any country, multinationals seek to eliminate or supersede those laws.   A huge part of the current ‘free trade’ agenda is to create a global framework in which multinational corporations can operate without regard for the laws and customs of individual nations.”

While some US unions do participate in international activities, they are not nearly as coordinated as the business interests who have worked together across the planet to find ways to defeat, defund, and depress the labor movement.

While Taylor suggests increased labor cooperation internationally is important, he believes unions have to work at the other end too—getting its own house in order at the grassroots level.

“Any innovation is a good idea,” he said, encouraging unions to take a close look at their structures and processes. Specifically, he suggested four things unions could do to turn their fortunes around.

1. Embrace member education. Establish a clear goal of power at the workplace level, then develop a deeper understanding among a wider range of people about how to do it. Since education is the primary mission of the School for Workers, that is one place to start (see sidebar).

2. Take risks. Look at yourself critically and be willing to innovate.

3. Emphasize democracy and participation. Does every worker have a home in your union?

4. Frame your issues. Develop your own language and communications based around fair values.

Things learned from Don Taylor at the School for Workers.

Do you know…?

  • It’s not legal to fire strikers in Wisconsin. Truly. Of course, it is legal to permanently replace them.
  • There’s only one newspaper in the US that has a labor reporter, the New York Times. Most major papers used to have them.
  • Any other group can call for a secondary boycott (example: boycotting a store that sells Palermo pizzas), but if a union calls for one, it’s illegal.
  • Strikes, as most of us know them, are about withholding labor. Historically they had a second goal: stopping production. Kind of explains a lot of the violent history of the labor movement, doesn’t it?
  • Chicken or egg? When labor unions represented over 30% of the workforce, they were much more popular with the American public. Today, with unionization down to about 11%, less than half of the public has a positive view of unions according to recent Gallup polls.
  • The School for Workers is the oldest, continuously-operating, university-based labor education program in the country. The mission is to empower working people and labor organizations through a comprehensive program of lifelong adult learning opportunities.

The Right’s Orwellian Weapon of Words

i Aug 20th No Comments by

Brian Austin

By Brian Austin

Over the past year, I have thought often of George Orwell’s novel 1984. Certain aspects of Orwell’s dystopian vision of the future have lingered with me since I first read his 1949 novel as a high school student, more years ago than I care to discuss. One of the parts of the book that made a lasting impression on me, far before my political consciousness fully emerged, was the use of doublespeak, language that deliberately distorts or reverses the meaning of words.

In Orwell’s novel, the government of Oceania was comprised of four ministries: the Ministry of Peace, which supported Oceania’s perpetual state of war, the Ministry of Truth, which was responsible for the complete rewriting of history to support the goals of the regime, the Ministry of Plenty, which was responsible for the severe rationing of basic necessities while claiming to be raising the standard of living, and the Ministry of Love, whose agents sought to identify and crush any form of dissidence against the government. In the nation of Oceania, war was peace, freedom was slavery, and ignorance was strength. Orwell’s novel highlighted the power of propaganda when combined with the fear produced by a totalitarian state.

I have become intensely interested in this subject with renewed enthusiasm in the past few years while watching the corporate takeover of our political system. That interest has peaked over the past 16 months while witnessing the attack in Wisconsin on workers, women, the poor, and the environment at the hands of our government.

We have seen a disturbing phenomenon over the past decade regarding the use of Orwellian-type doublespeak in the corporate takeover of America. In particular, the Republican Party has been absolutely masterful in utilizing language in a way that doesn’t merely change the meaning of words, but changes peoples’ perception of the very policies and conditions that affect their dailylives. Doublespeakhasbeenahuge factor in convincing people to vote against their own interests.

Enter Luntz

Over the past few years, as the GOP has become more and more extreme in its ideology and policy, an entire vocabulary of phrases has been intentionally concocted in the halls of right wing think tanks and spread with disciplined commitment by Republican politicians. These precise messages have been crafted by men like Frank Luntz, a GOP pollster andstrategist. Luntzhasbeenabsolutely instrumental in helping to create the language of today’s GOP. Luntz truly understands the power of language, as evidencedbythisexcerptfroman article he wrote in 2011 for the Huffington Post:

“Words matter. The most powerful words have helped launch social movements and cultural revolutions. The most effective words have instigated great change in public policy. The right words at the right time can literally change history.”

Luntz is a master of the use of language to redefine truth: He taught the GOP to use the phrase “death tax” instead of “estate tax,” the phrase “deep sea energy exploration” instead of “off-shore drilling,” and “economic freedom” instead of “capitalism.” And while his skills as a wordsmith are undeniable, his ethics are far more questionable. He has been censured by both the American Association for Public Opinion research and the National Council on Public Polls for suspect polling methods and results. He remains, however, extremely influential in the messaging of the Republican Party.

“Right to work,” for example, was a phrase concocted by the GOP and corporate lobbying groups to describe union-busting legislation that is sweeping Republican-controlled statehouses across the nation. “Right to work” has nothing to do with worker’s rights, unless you count the right of selfish workers to freeload benefits on the backs of dues-paying members.

[pullquote align="right" textalign="left" width="30%"] “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” –  George Orwell, 1984[/pullquote]Next, we have the term “job creators.” No GOP press conference in the past few years would be complete without this term.  “Jobcreators” is GOP code for rich people, and, yes, it is a term manufactured by none other than Frank Luntz. The problem, as people like Luntz discovered, is that struggling Americans don’t like hearing about rich people, particularly when it is in the context of tax breaks and outsourced labor on the backs of working people. In order to make gluttonous tax breaks for the wealthy palatable to the American people, the GOP redefined the wealthy as “job creators,” and parroted the phrase incessantly to the national media. If college kids used the phrase as a drinking game during a John Boehner speech, everyone playing would be grossly intoxicated at the conclusion of his remarks.

The creation of the phrase “job creators” is pure genius, because it taps right in to the core self-interest that currently motivates the majority of Americans. By calling the rich “job creators,” it delivers to people an implied warning that their future success, and their employment, is inextricably tied to the success of wealthy, so the masses better leave them alone. In reality, the middle and working class in this country are the job creators, because they drive our predominantly consumer-based economy. Henry Ford understood this when he took the unprecedented action of paying his workers a substantial wage of five dollars per day. Yet we see how powerful the phrase has been for the GOP in successfully promoting tax policies that favor the rich to a degree that would have made Ronald Reagan blush.

Freedom for What?

Another term that has been utterly distorted and savaged by the GOP is “Freedom.” Freedom used to mean something wonderful in America. In 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt talked about his idea of freedom in his State of the Union address to the American public. Roosevelt told the nation that freedom was something that was achieved when the needs of all Americans were met, not just the needs of the wealthy. Roosevelt’s speech is well worth the read. It inspires me and renews my commitment to fight to restore the true values of this nation.

This notion of freedom, by the way, was once not limited to Democratic politicians.  Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a vision of freedom that bears zero resemblance to the vision of the current Republican party.  I have no doubt that this great man would have been defeated in a Tea Party primary if he ran today.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

***

“Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice.”

Today, the word freedom in GOP-speak means something far different, so different that it makes it almost impossible for me to reconcile that this is the party of Lincoln. It is the freedom of corporations to treat workers like chattel, pollute our environment, injure our citizens without fear of lawsuit, and move our industry overseas. It is the freedom of financial institutions to extract the wealth from our nation, collapse our economy through unbridled greed, and receive bail outs when the house of cards falls. It is the freedom of religious zealots to impose their beliefs on a secular society, to deny groups of people civil rights, to hurt others in God’s name, and to interpret scripture in a way thoroughly inconsistent with Judeo-Christian values. It is the freedom of employers to deny health care to cancer patients, as was just espoused by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson.

Earned Benefits or ‘Entitlements’

To my readers on the left, I am asking each and every one of you to commit to joining me in pushing back against the very language that is used to further the immoral agenda of today’s corporate right wing. Words can literally change history. Words can create greatness, but they can also devastate, particularly when used to deceive a populace, and we should never underestimate this power. Start tuning your ear to the GOP corporate doublespeak, and tirelessly challenge those who utilize it, particularly in the media. Don’t passively accept language that was created in the recesses of think tanks with the intent to deceive our nation. That language becomes reality when it is allowed to flourish. Instead, create your own terms that reflect the truth of the corporate domination of the GOP. Instead of “right to work,” call it “anti-worker legislation.” Instead of “job creators,” how about “Un-American tax dodgers”? Instead of “freedom from regulation,” call it “corporate lawlessness.” Use whatever terms you want, but stop legitimizing doublespeak through your silent acceptance.

To my readers in the center, all I ask of you is to start to question these terms when you hear them. Ask yourself if they reflect reality, or are merely being used to create a false reality. Make your own decision based on facts, and if you conclude I am right, I hope you feel compelled to help change the national vocabulary.

To the corporate right and your elected minions that control this nation, all I say to you is that you use this language at your own peril. Once the American people realize they have been deceived, they won’t be happy or charitable or kind. People just don’t like to be suckered, and you aren’t as charismatic as PT Barnum. Furthermore, understand that you are using a parlor trick of language that has a rich tradition in the most brutal regimes in the world’s history, all of which ultimately saw their own demise.

Finally, to the media, you have a responsibility to use language that was not created for the sole purpose of deceiving the public you are supposed to serve. I recognize that much of our media is controlled by corporate influences, and as such, the use of this language may be intentional. But for those journalists who use these terms out of convenience or sloth, you need to engage in some serious soul searching. By reporting on things such as Walker’s “reforms,” you are making an inherent value judgment that you are passing on to your consumers, and that value judgment is based upon artfully crafted lies. The public deserves better.

I will end as I began, with a quote:

“By the skillful and sustained use of propaganda, one can make a people see even heaven as hell or an extremely wretched life as paradise.”  – Adolph Hitler, 1943

The power of words.

Brian Austin is a City of Madison police detective and member of the SWAT team as well as board member for his union. He is a founding member of “Cops for Labor,” and during the Wisconsin Uprising he worked long shifts on duty around the Capitol and joined the protest as soon as his shift ended. Austin blogs at cops4labor.blogspot.com.

‘Stewards Toolbox’ Filled with Practical Advise

i Jul 25th No Comments by

By Ron Blascoe

“Don’t give me a bunch of theory. Give me practical advice, from people who’ve been there.”

If that’s your sentiment, you’ve been waiting for The Steward’s Toolbox: Skills and Strategies for Winning at Work,” the latest book from our friends at Labor Notes.

The blurb on the cover says: “The Steward’s Toolbox brings labor activists practical advice to succeed at the day to day of building an active, democratic union. Full of concrete examples, it’s written by shop floor leaders committed to strengthening our movement from the grassroots. Their lessons will help you inspire members, make new allies and kick-start your union.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Here’s a sampling of some of the 56 (that’s 56!) chapters:

“Handling Insubordination Grievances: Employees have the right to question and argue with the boss within limits,” is written by David Cohen, a retired representative for the United Electrical Workers Union. It covers when and how people can get away with talking back to their supervisor and how a good steward can win more insubordination discipline cases than they ever thought possible.

Or how about “Winning the P.R. War in a Contract Campaign,” by Randy Robinson, from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which built on the experience of their south-of-the- border brothers and sisters at UPS to get the union’s message out in the corporate- owned media.

In “Understanding and Defending Past Practice,” Cohen thinks outside the box on how unions can defend some “informal understandings” that are not spelled out in the union Contract.

And there are three chapters that talk specifically about how activists can organize, and unions can thrive, without dues check-off. This is a particularly relevant topic for those dozens of public sector unions in our area that lost dues deductions as a result of Governor Scott Walker’s Act 10 last year.

In “Surviving Without Check-Off,” Tom Smith, an organizer from a CWA local in open-shop Tennessee, has a message for workers in Wisconsin: “while having dues check-off helps, not having it isn’t fatal.” In fact, the CWA has 1,200 higher education members in eight cities across the state, all organized in “non-majority” unions without formal collective bargaining rights. Smith goes through the how-to’s of the difficult, but essential job.

A recurring theme throughout the chapters is how to turn what seems to be individual’s problem on the job into union-led campaigns that mobilize rank and file and build the union.

Ellen David Friedman, an organizer with the Vermont NEA, talks about how to turn an individual member’s gripe into a solidarity-building cause. In her example, a member comes to her steward with a problem. After collecting the preliminary information, the steward asks, “Anyone else in the same situation?” And, before long, coworkers discover that their suffering isn’t their individual problem anymore, but that it’s a common problem, with a common solution that can be addressed by collective action.

The goal, Friedman writes, isn’t just to help workers resolve workplace problems, but to help them build collective self-confidence and power.

The best steward you know can find something here to improve their work as a steward, organizer or local leader. Better yet, I’d suggest your local buy a stack of these books for your Steward’s Council and have a series of discussion sessions as people go through the chapters. Collective learning, like collective action, gets the goods.

Oh, you don’t have an active Steward’s Council? Well, check out Paul Krehbiel contributions. He is an SEIU organizer in Los Angeles and writes about how to organize an effective Stewards Council and, in another entry, how to use the Council to mobilize the ranks to take bold action in support of rights on the job.

This is good stuff, and well worth the modest $15 price tag. Our friends at Labor Notes aren’t making money on this one. Rather, they’re building on their long record of bringing useful information to rank and file activists.

The Steward’s Tool Box is available from Labor Notes at www.labornotes.org.

SCFL Passes Labor Ed Rez

i Jul 25th No Comments by

Saying that the labor movement’s focus on electoral politics, while yielding occasional success at the ballot box, has not translated into success for America’s working people, a resolution passed by SCFL delegates at their August 16 meeting went on to state: “If workers are to have any control over their lives, they must take control directly, educated and confident in the means to do so and united in their cause.”

SCFL delegates called on the labor movement at all levels to invest in labor education and organizing an amount equivalent to no less than 30 percent of the funds expended on electoral politics, so that workers may learn to take direct actions in their own defense and advance the interests of the labor movement at large. Read the full resolution here.

Unions Need to Invest in Mass Participatory Education

i Jul 9th 3 Comments by

Bill Fletcher

By Bill Fletcher and Jane McAlevey – Before Wisconsinites voted down the attempt to recall Governor Scott Walker, and certainly since, principled progressives inside and outside of unions have disagreed on whether or not the campaign should have happened. In fact, between the two of us, we don’t fully agree about whether or not the recall was the correct tactic. But with the defeat in the rear view mirror, two clear lessons can be drawn from Wisconsin: unions need to reinvest in mass participatory education—sometimes called internal organizing in union lingo; and, unions need to stop focusing on “collective bargaining” and actually kick down the walls separating workplace and non-workplace issues by going all-out on the broader agenda of the working class and the poor.

Once you get past the reports that Walker outspent the Wisconsin workers by 7:1, the next most startling fact is that 38 percent of union households voted to keep the anti-worker Governor. That’s slightly more than one third, and had the pro-recall forces held the union households, Walker would no longer be Governor. With major media outlets drubbing us with the 38 percent number, the liberal political elite seem stuck on a rhetorical question: why do poor people and workers vote against their material self-interest? Actually, in our own experience, the poor and working class don’t vote against their self-interest—but there’s a precondition: we have to create the space for ordinary people to better understand what their self-interest is, and how it connects with hundreds of millions in the US and globally.

Participatory What?

Participatory education can best be carried out within unions through an on-going organizing program. We know from years of experimenting that adults learn best through taking direct action. Actions themselves are often transformative. And how to calibrate the learning and action dialectical is the work of good organizers—paid and unpaid. But today’s unions have all but abandoned organizers, educators, organizing and radical, participatory education. Why?

First off, many union leaders, despite their rhetoric, do not believe in the critical importance of worker education. Instead they believe in “PowerPoint.” They invest truckloads of money into pollsters who perfect their quick and fancy presentations with graphics which all too often aim to dazzle rather than educate. They believe that worker education cannot be quantified and does not necessarily translate into a specific, tangible outcome, thereby making it worthless.

A second reason for the anemic internal education is the legacy of the Cold War and McCarthyism. “Big Picture” education that truly examines the roots of the current economic crisis and the nearly forty year decline in the living standards of the average US worker leads to a fundamental critique of capitalism. This conclusion scares many leaders who fear being red-baited, or may even harbor a fantasy that that they will at some point be re-invited to the ruling circles of the USA.

A third reason is that an educated and empowered membership can be unpredictable. They may start asking questions that many leaders wish to avoid. They may start suggesting different directions. And, horror of horrors, they may actually run for office in the unions themselves.

Jane McElevey

Everybody’s an Organizer

The second big lesson from Wisconsin is that we can’t do it alone. While the attack by Walker was a frontal assault on women, people of color, workers, the poor and more, unions all too often kept the focus on collective bargaining. When unions allowed the battle in Wisconsin to go from mass collective rage over the excesses of the One Percent to a battle for union rights, it was all but game over. Criticism of Democratic candidate Barrett’s refusal to go along with labor’s messaging on collective bargaining is beside the point—in our opinion, the campaign was lost before the May primary. Reassured by polls showing a majority of Americans (61 percent) support the “right” to collective bargaining, union leaders failed to anticipate the power of a barrage of wedge messages about over-paid government bureaucrats, taxes, union bosses, the unfairness of why public sector workers get pensions and so-called private sector ones don’t and much more. Walker had the apparatus of the state and he had bought the media—he essentially turned Wisconsin into one big captive audience meeting, subjecting Wisconsites to the kind of unbearable pressure that workers in private sector union elections are all too familiar with. We don’t poll in elections where workers are going to vote as to whether or not to form a union because we understand polling is useless in a hotly contested, deeply polarized fight.

In union elections, the sophisticated union busters want to ratchet the tension up so high that everyone associates the new tension in their life with this thing called “the union.” And the boss drives a message that if the union goes away, everything will go back to normal. And normal, which wasn’t OK before the campaign, suddenly sounds good because the venom and hate feel much worse. To have any chance of beating these kinds of campaigns, the campaign can’t be about “collective bargaining” or “the union.” It has to be about a bigger fight for dignity and economic justice that can deeply appeal to a much wider audience.

[pullquote align="right" textalign="left" width="30%"]This isn’t rocket science, it doesn’t require pollsters or power point—it requires thousands of meaningful conversations with tens of thousands of people. It requires rebuilding our organizing muscle.[/pullquote]It is true there’s been an uptick of unions declaring the importance of building allies and “working with the community,” but still the community is too often treated as if it’s a separate species from “the workers.” The workers are the community, and yet union leaders act like ‘the community’ is some foreign land that requires visas, formal paid ambassadors and a Rosetta Stone language learning kit. The reason most labor leaders don’t understand the community is because they stopped trying to understand their members and the unorganized workers who live side by side in every union member’s house. The way back to winning big majorities of Americans to the cause of labor is for labor to take up the causes of the majority. This isn’t rocket science, it doesn’t require pollsters or power point—it requires thousands of meaningful conversations with tens of thousands of people. It requires rebuilding our organizing muscle.

But the phrases, “organizing doesn’t work, it’s too slow,” or the variant, “organizing doesn’t work, it’s too expensive,” have become like a mantra in union headquarters (and the offices of foundations). And yet for our entire adult lives, almost every time we have seen workers and poor people given the opportunity to stand up and fight back, they did.

What about the recall? Wisconsin was a wicked short timeline—unions and their supporters were trying to overcome forty years of no real education or organizing among the rank and file. The recall failure has led to an open season on unions, but this isn’t just a problem with unions. Multiple institutions have failed workers for decades, starting with the Democratic Party. And if that’s not enough, there’s our public school system—including universities and legions of intellectuals—that fail to teach students how to understand the actual power structure in our country or what unions are or have done. And, corporate owned media that have long distorted the real story of unions.

Deep Organizing and the Undecideds

The reason that unions themselves, not front groups, need to take up the key issues facing their base when they aren’t at work is because this model of community work helps to develop even more worker leaders—it provides an ongoing action-learning program for the members when their contract has been settled. And, pedagogically, it helps the members to better understand all the forces keeping them down. “The boss” becomes the economic and political system rather than simply the swing shift supervisor or the foreman or the CEO.

There are plenty of important structural issues that the rank and file could be engaging, including the on-going housing, credit, climate, public transportation, and child care crises. And there’s the matter of bringing the worker’s sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters home from unwinnable wars of aggression. The very best way for unions to build real alliances with non-union groups is via their own members—the very people who make up “the community.” If unions expanded their issue work by engaging their own rank and file, we could develop even more skilled leaders, not simply ‘worker faces’ for a press conference. The organizing-education model assists people in creating better lives for themselves, rather than relying on paid professionals to do the work for them. And the results are that we build mini social movements, not special interest groups.

Organizing is incredibly hard work. And it’s messy work. And the liberal elite, including most union leaders, are constantly investing in everything but deep organizing. The real reason we lost in Wisconsin is the same reason that progressives have been on a four decade decline in the US: it’s because of a deep and long-term turn away from organizing and education and towards something that more resembles mobilizing. Organizing expands our base by keeping our energy and resources focused on the undecideds, and on developing the organic leaders in our workplaces and communities so that they become part of an expanding pool of unpaid organizers. Mobilizing focuses on the people who are already with us and replaces organic leadership development with paid staff. That and the split between “labor” and “social movements” account for the failure of progressive politics, the loss in Wisconsin, the ever shrinking public sphere, and the unabashed rule of the worst kinds of corporate greed.

The work we are describing isn’t an election 2012 program, it’s not a 12 month program; it must happen every day, every month and every year. It’s ongoing. Workers are every bit courageous enough and smart enough, but they experience a lifetime of being told they are not worthy, not smart, and not deserving. In other words, sit down, shut up and listen. Unions have to challenge this paradigm, not reinforce it. When conservatives suffered their own strategic defeat and lost the election in 1964—by much larger margins than the recall in Wisconsin—they didn’t say, “well, no point trying.” They instead built for the long haul and in 1980 it paid off with Reagan.

And with the Supreme Court edging eerily close to a ruling that will make all of America governed by “Right-to-Work” laws, unions have to start acting like they are already operating in a “right-to-work” environment. The education-organizing program outlined here is the very same program unions will need to survive let alone thrive under the current Roberts Court. The sooner unions stop acting like a special interest and start behaving like a social movement; the closer we will be to making lasting, positive change.


Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He was a co-founder of both the Center for Labor Renewal and the Black Radical Congress. He is the co-author of “Solidarity Divided” (University of California Press, 2008). Jane McAlevey, a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center, spent two decades as an organizer in the labor and environmental justice movements. (This article originally published as Lessons from Wisconsin in a blog post online at The Nation, June 26, 2012)

New Resource: Effective Strike and Lockout Assistance

i Jul 7th No Comments by

(AFL-CIO) – No one wants a strike or lockout.  But when the struggle for workplace justice forces workers to vote to strike, or to be locked out by management, the union community must see that the personal and family needs of workers are met.

The Strong on and Beyond the Picket Line: Organizing an Effective Strike and Lockout Assistance Program will help state labor federations, central labor councils and local unions assess preparedness for a strike or lockout.  Download a copy now.

New Union Mentoring Guide Helps Build Future Leaders

i Jul 7th No Comments by

Mike Hall, AFL-CIO – The Next Generation: A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders, just released by the Berger-Marks Foundation and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), provides hands-on advice and concrete tools for unions and other organizations to develop and implement mentoring programs for members and staff.  Download the Mentoring Handbook here.

IWPR Study Director Cynthia Hess, Ph.D., wrote the handbook with funding provided by the Berger-Marks Foundation. The handbook includes step-by-step guidance, as well as sample surveys and other tools, which can be used to ensure a successful mentoring program. Hess drew on the experiences of several union leaders who have participated in or led mentoring and leadership development programs.

“Mentoring can help unions diversify their leadership,” Hess writes in her introduction.

This handbook examines the positive aspects of mentoring and provides a resource for expanding mentoring to take into account the diversity of the labor movement.

Linda Foley, president of the Berger-Marks Foundation, writes in the manual’s foreword:

Systematic access to good advice and non-judgmental evaluation by other activists and leaders is essential for the development of future activist leaders. In today’s complex and difficult economic environment, we can’t leave tomorrow’s leadership to chance.

“The Next Generation: A Handbook for Mentoring Future Union Leaders” is available in print from the Berger-Marks Foundation or as a download here. Contact the foundation at bergermarks@gmail.com for more information about obtaining single or multiple copies.