Tag: Organizing

How The UAW Lost Chattanooga.

(This was a joint post, written with Cato Uticensis, which is the pseudonym of a union organizer working in the South. He likes barbecue, bourbon, cigars, and labor politics. He can be found on Twitter at @Cato_of_Utica.)

“Neutrality should mean ‘we’re not going to fuck with your shit’ not ‘we’re not going to fuck with your shit as long as you use the outhouse’” –Brett Banditelli

There is no question that the United Auto Workers’ (UAW) failure to organize at the Volkswagen (VW) plant in Chattanooga, TN is significant. It is the first time UAW has brought a strategic campaign targeting the so-called “transplant” automakers to a National Labor Relations Board ballot since it lost to Nissan in 2001.* Secondly, it is the UAW’s first new campaign in the South since that crushing loss. Thirdly, this election was touted as a new model by both VW executives and UAW leadership, seeking to create a “works council” at the plant in Tennessee similar to ones in existence at every other VW plant. More on that last point later.

How to Win Elections and Fix Bad Policies: A Leftist Blueprint for Remaking the Democratic Party

(This was a joint post, written with Cato Uticensis, which is the pseudonym of a union organizer working in the South. He likes barbecue, bourbon, cigars, and labor politics. He can be found on Twitter at @Cato_of_Utica.)

The status quo in the Democratic party is an unholy mess. This is true at all levels of the party, but especially so in the South, where most state parties are in an unacceptable state of disarray. Our nation is at a juncture where leftist politics and policy have started to re-enter the realm of the feasible. Certain progressive dream policies like Medicare for All and raising the minimum wage are now actively debated and discussed after the failures of pro-corporate policies have become manifest. And yet, the dysfunctional nature of the Democratic state parties in the South risks the best chance since the demise of the postwar consensus and the rise of neoliberalism to fundamentally move this country’s politics to the left.

The Organizing Cadre: On The Training of Organizers for a new Operation Dixie

(This was a joint post, written with Cato Uticensis, which is the pseudonym of a union organizer working in the South. He likes barbecue, bourbon, cigars, and labor politics. He can be found on Twitter at @Cato_of_Utica.)

The organizer has to play many roles on any campaign: manager, scheduler, healer, therapist, evangelist, and so much more. It is a job that stretches the limits of what seems possible for one human being to do, yet thousands of people wake up everyday and serve as the floor general or lieutenant for their party, their union, or their individual cause. When it comes to the labor movement, the organizer plays a key role in all aspects of growth. They are integral in bringing together enough workers to vote for the formation of a union, assisting in contract negotiation by pulling together a contract campaign, and then ongoing in some states to keep density on the shop floor up. Without dedicated organizers, the labor movement would be nowhere near as strong as it is today, if it even existed at all.

As such, when a primary criticism of our last piece seemed to be that the lack of sufficient lead organizers to supervise the effort and the difficulty of getting hundreds of organizers up to speed for a operation of this size could make it infeasible, it was a criticism that we had to take seriously. The current training system can be described as an artisanal one: it trains excellent organizers in comparatively small quantities. For a new Operation Dixie to be successful, however, the labor movement must have the ability to raise a battalion of organizers in a relatively short period of time. The implementation of organizing cadres is an optimal solution to this potential issue facing a large-scale labor organizing operation in the South.

A Call for a Second Operation Dixie

(This was a joint post, written with Cato Uticensis, which is the pseudonym of a union organizer working in the South. He likes barbecue, bourbon, cigars, and labor politics. He can be found on Twitter at @Cato_of_Utica.)

There are no fortresses for labor; no metaphorical stone walls that we can shelter ourselves behind to try and ride out the onslaught. MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, said that we must “Organize the South or Die,” and she is absolutely correct. The fact of the matter is that without a deliberate, concerted effort to organize in the states of the old Confederacy, there will not be a labor movement worth speaking of within the next ten years, and all the gains for working people that brave men and women fought and bled and died for over the past century will be clawed back by rapacious corporate oligarchs bent on societal domination.

The notion that this is a crisis is massively underselling the problems facing labor, both organized and unorganized, right now. The destruction of PATCO, the air traffic controllers union, in 1981 was a crisis. The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement through a unified Democratic federal government in 1993 was a crisis. The recent “Civil Wars in American Labor” between the Service Employees International Union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers, and UNITE HERE were a crisis. What the union movement faces right now is not a crisis, it is nothing less than a threat to the existence of unions in their present form, and with that comes a threat to the very basic minimums all workers in the United States can rely upon.

As we discussed in our previous piece, there is a cultural void in the South when it comes to labor. What we didn’t do is go into detail on why that is. There is a long and ignoble tradition in the South of active repression of workers organizing. Much of this tradition was exercised against the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the largest unionization drive in the South to date: Operation Dixie.

Hot, Diverse, and Lonely: How the Outside’s ignorance hurts Southern progressivism.

This is a blog post done jointly by Douglas and Sarah.

For Southern progressives, this has been a thrilling week. The main reason for that was the citizens’ defeat of Senate Bill 5 in the Texas State Senate. For those of you who live under what has to be a fairly comfortable rock, the Republicans that dominate Texas state government sought to push through a piece of legislation that would effectively shutter most of the abortion clinics in the state. Anyone who has been to Texas knows at least one thing: it is really big. The distance from Booker, in the Panhandle, to Brownsville in South Texas is 827 miles; from El Paso in the west to Orange in the east in 856 miles. Given that there are already communities in the Texas Panhandle or the colonias in Presidio County that require a 200+ mile drive to the nearest abortion clinic (and that is if you need an abortion early in the pregnancy; it can be over 300 miles if you need an abortion later in your term), it would severely curtail access to reproductive healthcare for Texas’ poorest women.

Texas women knew this, and they did not sit back quietly while their rights were legislated away. They organized, they rallied, and they made their voices heard throughout the entire process. The first notable action was the “citizen’s filibuster”, where hundreds of women filled the State Capitol and testified against this bill for over 10 hours. When that process was shut down, the State House voted to pass on the legislation to the State Senate. When it became clear that the Senate vote would be the last stand for Texas women, State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) stated her intention to filibuster the bill. Women and progressive activists filled the Capitol, while Sen. Davis gave it her all for over 13 hours. When the Republican presiding officer ended the filibuster on very dubious technicalities, other Democratic state senators stood in the gap, using parliamentary procedure to point out that the Republican majority was essentially trying to subvert democratic processes by ignoring certain senators, and abusing the parliamentary procedure. That is when the other hero of the night, State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte (D-San Antonio, who attended a funeral for her father earlier that day), did a mic drop for the ages:

“At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”

The rest was history. The crowd outside burst into a spontaneous roar that took up the remaining time left in the special session. While the Republicans attempted to say that the final bill was passed before midnight (even going to the extent of changing the times of the bill passage in the official ledger), the large social media presence surrounding the proceedings called them on their shenanigans. Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had to do something that so few Republicans in the South ever have to do: admit defeatThey were not gracious about it, of course, but the victory over them was in hand.

A great moment! Something worth celebrating! Surely, this rare victory for Southern progressivism was being lauded in real time by the major networks and news outlets, right?!

You would be wrong. Progressive struggles in the South are often fought in the shadows, and nowhere has that been made more plain than in the aftermath of the recently completed special session of the Texas legislature.

A Fortress with No Soldiers: The limited effectiveness of “fortress unionism” in the South.

In the summer edition of the journal Democracy, Richard Yeselson writes about the pall that restrictive labor law has cast over the labor movement. Yeselson takes us through a very thorough history of the construction of current labor laws, from the first right-to-work laws in the states through the Taft-Hartley Act, as well as the post-World War II labor unrest and progressive coalition building that provoked the ire of conservatives and business alike. It is a very compelling retelling of history; one of the best I have seen in an article about labor in a while.

He then goes into the cost of running comprehensive campaigns that seek to organize large numbers of unorganized workers. He makes the argument that, in addition to such campaigns being prohibitively expensive, the American workforce is so large and diversified that even large organizing successes will not make much of an impact in labor density. Furthermore, he suggests that labor growth occurs in spurts, and from the ground up, making the formulation of “a campaign in a union office in Washington” ultimately pointless.

After laying out all of these challenges, he suggests a way forward for labor unions in the 21st century. He calls this path forward “fortress unionism.” It entails:

  1. Defend the remaining high-density regions, sectors, and companies.
  2. Strengthen existing union locals.
  3. Ask one key question about organizing drives: Will they increase the density or power of existing strongholds?
  4. Sustain coalition work with other progressive organizations.
  5. Invest heavily in alt-labor organizations, especially Working America.
  6. And then . . . wait (for workers to demand a collective solution to issues at the workplace).

As someone whose primary concern is the growth of Southern labor, this strategy is . . . disconcerting.

Doing Yoga on the South Lawn

          After two semesters of courses and teaching composition classes, I am finally returning to regularly going to yoga classes. I’m finally returning to doing both yoga and meditation on my own. In these moments I am able to slow down my world, listen to my breath, and focus on what my body is saying to me. After I end my sessions, I return to the world with a renewed, focused mental clarity. I then start thinking on how the lessons I learn in these sessions relate to other aspects of my life, especially with regard to progressive work in the South. I feel like so many progressive folks I have seen, especially while living in Alabama, feel worn down and seem defeated, despite working their damn hardest at times. I wonder, though, what would happen if we started doing more internal reflection, focusing on our local progressive groups’ heartbeats, breaths, intentional inner thoughts.