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Apr 16, 2005

Tits and cooters, Mr Bond.

Hello! You probably have a job. If that job involves getting paid a wage by someone else, and you have coworkers, and you don't manage anyone else, you should organize your workplace.

What does that mean? Organizing a workplace means coming together with your coworkers collectively, rather than competing against each other for the few promotions and table scraps of haphazardly-awarded "merit" raises, and demanding that your boss treat you better, pay you better, or whatever else you want. As workers, you have the ultimate power in a workplace: the ability to either work or not work. Nothing happens without you, and bosses need to be reminded of this periodically.

A formally organized group of workers together is called a union. Jane McAlevey quotes the old-school union 1199 in defining it:


What is a union?

A collective effort by all employees who work for an employer

To stop the boss from doing what you don't want him to do. Discharge, unfair layoff, promotion, speed up, etc.

To make the boss do what you want him to do. More pay, vacation, holidays, health coverage, pensions, etc.

And, to be used in any other way the members see fit.
In a technical, legalistic sense, what workers are doing when they sign a union card is to say that instead of individually negotiating with their employer for pay and benefits, they want a certain organization- the union- to do it on their behalf. (Because, cmon, if you work for Amazon, are you really negotiating your pay and benefits? Or does Amazon just say "this is how it is, quit if you don't like it"?)

However, and this is an important point, unionizing is not the final goal or last step in organizing a workplace. It is a key stepping stone to achieving the actual result: getting the boss to do what you want them to do. It's about power: separately, as atomized individuals, workers have little they can do alone. As one collective entity, they can do practically whatever they want. But that power isn't magically created when you have a document that says "union;" you can take advantage of it any time coworkers come together. Think of the walkouts at Google, Riot, and other tech companies: they had real impact, even without a union.

If this sounds good to you and you're reading to get started, the best resource on the topic is the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee's PDF on organizing your workplace. It's basically all the concepts you'd learn in a real organizing class, all in one accessible, shareable, colorful document. Great stuff.


A rough outline of the organizing process, courtesy of UE:
  • form an organizing committee. This is a fancy way of saying "the people working there who are doing this organizing."
  • adopt an issues program: what do you want changed?
  • a majority of workers sign union cards.
  • boss says, "no way in hell am I voluntarily recognizing your union. We're doing an election."
  • win the election.
  • negotiate a contract (also called a collective bargaining agreement).
  • keep organizing! Keep making demands! Make the next contract even better!


FAQ / common "I'm skeptical of unions" talking points

Q. Aren't unions just a corrupt racket?

A. This is why I said that unionizing isn't the final step: it's a structure to help your organizing. Working together, talking to coworkers, making demands, these are things that have to happen before and after a union. If no one in a union gives a poo poo, then yes- that union will become decrepit and useless, possibly even corrupt! Unions are just groups of people, and just like any other group of people, they reflect the character of the people within them. There are lovely parent teacher organizations, lovely nonprofits, lovely community meetings... you get the idea. You have to participate in a union to make it do good things. (This is also why I hope current union members will participate ITT to help them get the most out of their union, and guide its direction toward good.)

Q. What good have unions ever done?

A. The eight-hour workday. The weekend. Pretty much every workplace safety law in the USA. The idea of the "middle class." The American dream.

Q. Okay, but that was all a long time ago. Are they still relevant now?

A. Most people, if you pay attention to the news at all, you can tell that some balance in society is massively hosed up, even if you can't articulate it. It just feels like we, the masses, should have more than we do. And we should! Check out what's happened to real wages compared to productivity (ie the stuff workers make with their time):

What happened? Well, workers had enough power that they demanded to get paid more for being more productive. Then, neoliberal economics hit workers like a truck starting in the mid-70s, and it's been completely stagnant ever since. It's not a coincidence that the golden era of the American economy, when it came to workers being able to afford poo poo, was when more people were in unions:

Politicians haven't done poo poo about this, so the rest of us have to, collectively. And the form of collective organization that we can use is the union.

Q. Why should I give some organization money? I go to work to earn, not to have it taken away! I can't afford that!

A. The money you pay to a union is because you already have a collective bargaining agreement, and what they've negotiated in that contract is much more than the money you're paying in dues. Remember that the union is you, the workers, and you have democratic control over what the union does with its money. What you're doing, as a collective action, is to hire people to assist you in those actions: in bargaining, in support from leadership, in training you, and (depending on the union) to pay it forward to other workers, organizing them to join you and make your union bigger and stronger.

Q. Can't some union boss just tell me to go on strike, and then I'm out of a job for that amount of time?

A. This is a common framing from bosses: acting like the union is a "third party," when in reality, as stated above, the union is you, the workers. No one is telling you to go on strike, you are choosing pragmatically to take certain actions to help you bargain for a better deal. Sometimes you gotta play hardball when the bosses play hardball. They think you're a bunch of cowards that won't really withhold your labor, and you have to prove them wrong. The decision of whether or not to strike is a difficult one, one that the union should discuss thoroughly before deciding either way, but a good union is a militant union, and a militant union means one that strikes.

Q. All this idealistic talk about unions sounds great, but here's the thing, kid: I'm in a union and they're a bunch of useless old farts who can barely operate an email client, let alone do all the poo poo you seem to think.

A. Well... go change it! A lot of long-running unions, it's true, become decrepit and less useful, with low engagement from their members. If you're in a union and this is the case, look in the mirror and there's the next fearless union leader at your workplace. Congrats! Go to those meetings. You'll probably be the first new person to show up more than once in the last decade. Bring your coworkers. Run for elected union positions. Become a union steward. Like any bureaucracy, unions can be a giant pain in the rear end, but they're still important and necessary, and it's up to you to make yours better.


Further reading:

Anything by Jane McAlevey:
  • her latest, A Collective Bargain, is an accessible "what's a union?" intro for those who've never read anything about unions.
  • her memoir, Raising Expectations and Raising Hell, is her experience of organizing nurses, fighting both lovely union bureaucracy and the bosses.
  • her most famous book, No Shortcuts, builds on her memoir to lay out a theory of the way to make good unions.

A History of America in Ten Strikes is my favorite labor history book. Accessible and fun.

Strike for America is a short book about taking over the decrepit Chicago Teachers Union and their massive, successful strike. Essential inspiration for anyone stuck in a poo poo union (should be required reading for every teacher in the country).

You've already read A People's History of the United States, right? Right???

Please ask any questions you have, whether it's about organizing your own workplace (be only as specific as you feel comfortable), unions in general, or how to work within your own union. Also feel free to just post your own stories about anything related.



Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?

Looking forward to see what fun we can have in this thread, I'm the union rep/steward at my retail workplace, and one of the toughest parts is beating "grind" culture out of people's heads and making them accept that taking sick days is something they're allowed to do(Denmark technically has no limit on sick days except that over three in a row, the workplace can demand a doctor's note). It tends to have a pretty stable evolution in their minds.

Stage One: "But taking sick days is lazy and unfair to my employer!"

Stage Two: "Okay, so it's not unfair to my employer, but it's unfair to my coworkers who have to work harder!"

Stage Three: "Hang on, the reason we're working on threadbare staffing and a single sick day makes things collapse is because my employer is a dogshit cheapskate. gently caress them. It's not my fault."

Oh, and, I'd recommend Eric Schlosser's "Reefer Madness" and "Fast Food Nation" if we're recommending literature that will make people upset at abusive capitalism.

Also also, just to add more "what have unions ever done for you?" in Denmark we have no national minimum wage, unions define the minimum wage for their specific sectors and are the source of 1/6th of the yearly paid days off you get, as well as pretty much all existing limits on how your employer can schedule your work, AND your protections against getting fired without warning.

PurpleXVI fucked around with this message at 09:02 on Sep 17, 2021

Jun 18, 2005

one of the more intellectual satire communities on the web

Thanks for the book recommendations, I'll check out Strike for America. I was considering giving that nursing memoir book to my MIL since she's in a healthcare union but it starts out with a story about Bush v Gore and my MIL is pretty dang conservative so I don't think that would go over well lol. She likes her union and is disenchanted with the antivaxxers at her church so I'm hoping she can be persuaded to see the light.

Apr 16, 2005

Tits and cooters, Mr Bond.

moana posted:

Thanks for the book recommendations, I'll check out Strike for America. I was considering giving that nursing memoir book to my MIL since she's in a healthcare union but it starts out with a story about Bush v Gore and my MIL is pretty dang conservative so I don't think that would go over well lol. She likes her union and is disenchanted with the antivaxxers at her church so I'm hoping she can be persuaded to see the light.

Raising Hell is definitely more of a union organizer talking about unions than it is a book specifically about nurses. I would get a PDF and clip the chapters in it specifically about organizing those hospitals.

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