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Labor organizers

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  • Labor organizers

    I apologize in advance if I'm being too personal, but I am really intersted in what you do, Mikey_C. You certainly seem to have the political disposition for the job :)

    Is most of what you do grass-roots work or organizational work? (For instance.)
    I suspect that you do a lot of thankless stuff that is far less exciting and romantic than it may seem, but I'm interested to know a little, if you don't mind sharing. The primary reason I'm asking now is that I have a student who wants to do some work with unions here in the US, so I'm interested in offering some different perspectives.

    For the record, I think many others here have interesting jobs, as well. When my students ask me about them, I'll be back. :D

  • #2
    From what I read in some threads, in particular about Latin American matters, I too became curious about you, Mikey.
    Latin America was for long my main field of interest after several long stays and projects there - and out of agony about the murder of several wonderful people I knew. Liquidated by death squads ... tolerated by governments or even assigned to - as we suspect. If disclosing too much isn't in your interest, I'm sure one can exchange emails.
    Google ergo sum

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    • #3
      Thanks for the interest. I'm always happy to go on about trade unions - people don't always have to ask!

      I'm a workplace representative (although I like the old term "shop steward" best) for the public service union UNISON http://www.unison.org.uk/ - so I guess I'm about as "grass roots" as you can get. I have recently been elected as a part-time convenor - so from December 1 I shall be moving into the union office for half the week on secondment. My duties will be a mixture of organising / recruiting, negotiating with management and representing individual members in grievances and disciplinaries. We're a large local government branch, with about 6,000 members employed by Hampshire County Council (+ a few in voluntary organisations).

      I do have an interest in Latin America, although I must confess I have never been there. My partner was a Latin American Studies student at Portsmouth University when I met her, and had lived in Mexico for two years. We have friends from Peru, Colombia and Chile, and are active in the Colombia Solidarity Campaign http://www.colombiasolidarity.org.uk/ and Cuba Solidarity Campaign http://www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk/. I am a member of our region's International Relations Committee, and always try to promote these issues, although my main remit in the Branch is Equalities Officer.

      I'm not sure that trade unionism is necessarily very romantic or exciting, although I suppose it has its moments. Most of the time we're dealing with very pedantic, legalistic issues, interpretation of the rules, etc, and actually I have to spend far more time bothering about mundane matters such as car user allowances rather than Colombian death squads, because that's what members pay their subs for. But I am also very interested in helping individual people with their problems, which is what I do in my social services role as well, so there's a bit of an overlap. If people see you a good job on their behalf, they'll be far more willing to listen to you on other things.

      I'm actually studying on an undergraduate course called "Organisation of Work, Economics and Labour Law" which is specifically aimed at trade union activists, so I have an academic interest in the subject as well. I think its great that a younger person wants to get involved in the movement. Our biggest challenge is recruitment, and so many students are leaving school / college and going into jobs with no idea about trade unions and their value. The average UNISON member is in their mid 40s. Only 36% of British workers are covered by collective agreements, and I believe the figure is far less in the States, so there's plenty of work to be done. Your student deserves every encouragement, Doc!

      One thing I feel quite strongly now is that academics and trade unions have a great deal to gain from working together. Prior to Thatcher and Reagan, there was a sustained intellectual onslaught to promote neoliberal ideas in universities and college, and I think that unions were so complacent about their industrial strength, they never saw the danger of this. Now we are reaping the consequences. Perhaps the only good side effect is that unions are now recognising the need to be more intelligent in the type of demands they are making. As a consequence, public support is starting to grow again, but the problem is that people tend to see us as being too weak; not without reason, perhaps.
      \"...an ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the frail representative of Omnipotence in a place that is not home.\" James Branch Cabell

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      • #4
        Thanks Mikey_C!

        Good luck with that coursework. I hope you find ways to bridge the two worlds. I agree with you strongly about the labor movement and the academy having a great deal to learn from one another.

        I also agree with you about needing a youth movement within labor movements. I see that here in the US. I'm far from an old fogey, but I do see many people who are just happy to have a job. Period. Many think they deserve better but don't necessarily know how to make that happen. Organizing doesn't even come on their radar screen, because it is simply an antiquated and romanticized notion from 70's movies. I also think the US suffers from the idea that organization is only for blue-collar workers, which leads many service and professional workers to think that they shouldn't be a part of anything resembling a union (unless it is the American Medical Association or the Bar). Then there is the de-valuing of many of the once union jobs, which leads some younger people to deem only skilled craft unions "worthy" of their consideration. Sad.

        But the optimistic part is that there are people like you fighting the good fight. I appreciate your time.

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        • #5
          My father was sent to an African country in the 60's by the ILO (International Labour Org) and essentially helped pulling up the unions there. He was a lawyer specialised in adminstrative and labour legislation. Boy, did the feudal people hate him!
          I recently quit the media workers' union (which includes all jobs linked to media like postmen in TV stations and cinema projectionists) here, because I found it had grown too big. I doubt the interests of all can be fairly represented by such a big organisation. I remain interested, and of course, politically inclined towards them, but feel better thus.
          In Latin America the unions are very often those who bear the greatest burdon under state-terrorist conditions. Our western governments tend to ignore the appalling Human Rights' situation in several countries like Colombia by saying they are "democracies" (just because the head of state gets elected!). It is often too complicated to see through who is in league with whom (or rather - with which death squad or drug cartell) and business is good, regardless of how the workers are treated ... But because most unions are part of an international "web"
          their reports are usually very credible and form an important counterweight to interested-based assessments of foreign offices. The problem with texts of Unionists is, however, that they are often very "dry" and not inspiring, too complicated and that is often a tremendous handicap to reach other people. And maybe not only their texts ...?
          Google ergo sum

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