It's Back to School Season . . . Troublemakers School!

By Kerry Luckett

Our nation is at war!  A labor war!

On every front, working people face obstacles—if it’s not high health insurance costs, it’s reduced staffing with larger workloads.  If it’s not low wages, it’s reduced safety regulations and workplace resources.  Yet workers, in all industries, fields, and occupations, are the ones holding up this house, with very little support themselves.

That’s why it’s time for all of us workers to go back to school and strategize our tactics on various labor fronts.

Last Saturday, August 24th, at CTU’s meeting hall, I co-facilitated the Contract Campaigns from the Bottom Up workshop for Labor Notes’ Troublemakers School.  Representing Cook County College Teachers Union Local 1600, I engaged in a vibrant discussion of contract campaigns with three facilitating partners and a large room of sisters and brothers from various unions.  We held an open conversation about how to successfully contract campaign for unionized workers.

Among the facilitators was Linda Perales of Chicago Teachers Union, anticipating a possible strike this September, Dave Bert of Teamsters Local 705, who fought for UPS’s contract wins, and Erin O’Callaghan of UIC Graduate Employees Organization, coming off the heels of their March contract victory.  We each shared our contract campaign stories and, together, answered audience questions, addressed union concerns, and provided strategies to organize around those concerns. 

In our sharing of and learning from each other’s struggles, we came away with a succinct, clear model:

  1. Get your house in order: In other words, bring your union members together, lay out the issues, start a commitment/recommitment campaign.  You need the numbers!

  2. Meet with the bosses: Nothing happens without talking with the bosses, the rich people in charge of our work.  It helps to gauge how they respond to your demands.

  3. Lather, rinse, repeat: As you move through this process, there will be tension and harangues, but you will be in a better position to bargain on behalf of your union.

  4. Gather all your data and use them: Information is king…or queen.  You cannot fight without facts on your side; use those facts to teach and inform fellow members and all media outlets.  Get your people and all allies involved.

Should negotiations reach a head and communication cease, as it did the case of my union, then your union is on its way towards a strike authorization vote.  Striking (or at least threatening to) puts pressure on your bosses to take your demands seriously and even concede to them.  After all, can they run their operations without all of you?  If so, for how long?

We talked about all of these matters that Saturday, but I noticed something new in the Labor Movement.  More and more young people are joining the Movement.  That means more seasoned generations are needed to pass down their wisdom and keep the momentum up.  And as a younger workforce attempts to organize unorganized labor, I am invigorated to keep fighting for all workers to have the equity we deserve. 

Happy Labor Day!

In Solidarity Forever!