Verizon Strike Shows Effectiveness of Strike Tactic

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11 May 2016, Everett MA: Picketing the Verizon Wireless store.  Photo: Rand Wilson

11 May 2016, Everett MA: Picketing the Verizon Wireless store. Photo: Rand Wilson

On April 13, 39,000 union members struck to defeat company proposals that would have wiped out their job protections, security, pension and health care. The two Verizon unions, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) had been working under an expired contract since August of 2015.

The company, although incredibly profitable ($39 billion in profit over the last three years) wanted deep cutbacks and concessions such as:
• Higher employee costs for health care;
• Reduced retirement benefits;
• Outsourcing of 5,000 jobs;
• Right to force workers to travel out of state for work;
• Company unilateral scheduling power.

Verizon workers are some of the most militant workers in the United States. Negotiations for the last contract in 2011 resulted in a two-week strike. This strike lasted 49 days.

“This was our fifth strike at Verizon [and its predecessor telecom companies] in 30 years,” said Matt Lyons, a Splice Service Technician with 29 years of service who is Chief Steward at IBEW Local 2222. “We’ve won every single strike because of our numbers and experience: we know what we are doing.”

The strike was fueled by anger at the company demands and the arrogance of a CEO, Lowell McAdams, whose annual compensation is $18 million — 208 times that of an average Verizon line worker at $86,000.

Over those 30 years, the Verizon workforce has been greatly reduced due to new technology and outsourcing. However, in some ways the remaining workforce is stronger and now more essential than ever to the company.

“We actively disrupted business at Verizon Wireless stores up and down the East Coast and in California,” said Lyons. “It impacted the wireless side of their business which is their most profitable. I work in wire line special services with large corporate accounts. They were having a lot of trouble finding managers or scabs who could do my work.”

Union members have strong preservation of work language and make sure that managers don’t do bargaining unit work. “That left us in a strong position. They don’t really know how to do our jobs'” added Lyons.

Lyons and other Verizon strikers picketed aggressively at hotels and motels housing replacement workers. Some evicted the scabs after union pressure.

Lyons believes that getting Thomas Perez, the United States Secretary of Labor involved helped expedite a settlement (HERE and HERE). On May 24, Perez and the two unions announced that a tentative agreement (subject to ratification by the membership) had been reached.

The unions succeeded in beating back all but the increased cost sharing in health care. The tentative deal includes unionization for workers at several Verizon stores in Brooklyn, NY and one in Everett, Massachusetts. The company also agreed to hire 1,300 new call center workers.

Solid strikes like this one are still an effective strategy for defeating corporate greed if waged with total solidarity and strategic smarts.

“We achieved a crucial first contract at the Verizon Wireless stores,” said Lyons. “Now it’s up to us to leverage our strength in the landline side of the business and build on that victory to organize the rest of the stores. It won’t be easy but the wireless side of the business is where all the future growth will be.”

“We couldn’t have won without the strong support of the rest of the labor movement and the communities where we live and work,” concluded Lyons. “Solidarity has become our lifestyle. Hopefully it spreads.”

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This piece originally in Italian appeared in Lavoro e Societa’ a newsletter of the CGIL – Confederazione Generale Italiana dei Lavoratori

About the author

Peter Olney

Peter Olney is retired Organizing Director of the ILWU. He has been a labor organizer for 40 years in Massachusetts and California. He has worked for multiple unions before landing at the ILWU in 1997. For three years he was the Associate Director of the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California. View all posts by Peter Olney →

Rand Wilson

Rand Wilson has worked as a union organizer and labor communicator for more than twenty five years and is  currently an organizer with SEIU Local 888 in Boston. Wilson was the founding director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice.  Active in electoral politics, he ran for state Auditor in a campaign to win cross-endorsement (or fusion) voting reform and establish a Massachusetts Working Families Party.  He is President of the Center for Labor Education and Research, and is on the board of directors of the ICA Group, the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund and the Center for the Study of Public Policy. View all posts by Rand Wilson →

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Alabama Rising

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Some "Raise Up for $15" workers and family unwind after rally outside Birmingham City Hall.  Photo: Joe Keffer

Some “Raise Up for $15” workers and family unwind after rally outside Birmingham City Hall. Photo: Joe Keffer

On June 6th, North Carolina NAACP President and Moral Monday architect, the Reverend Doctor William Barber, captivated a racially and ethnically mixed crowd, approaching 1000, at Birmingham Alabama’s New Pilgrim Baptist Church. Reverend Barber called for a revolution of values similar to those of the Civil Rights days. He admonished, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

Alabama is one of the most anti-worker states in the country but the combination of a fight to increase minimum wages, a lawsuit, and the commitment to work in upcoming elections signals the kind of commitment called for by Reverend Barber and the possibility of a turnaround.

Alabama’s Well Deserved Anti-Union/Anti-Worker Reputation

Since 2010, the Republicans have held the governorship and a super majority in both state legislative branches. Alabamians have suffered greatly. The State has the fourth lowest median household income in the country: nearly 20% of residents live below the poverty line and the state’s unemployment rate – 6.1%.

The industry publication, 24/7 Wall Street, reports that Alabama is among the five worst run states. Controversy runs rampant among elected officals as the Republican governor, Speaker of the House, and State Supreme Court Chief Justice have been involved in scandals, convicted of crimes, or removed from office. The wrongdoing could go much deeper.

But the glitz of the scandals and corruption should not divert us from the legislative majority’s callous disregard for worker’s well being.

Alabama is one of only five states that refuses to enact a minimum wage law; defaulting to the federal minimum rate of $7.25. This low wage threshold plays a big role in the State’s poverty and misery.

Alabama is also staunchly a “right to work” state and recently incorporated the law into the State Constitution. The Economic Policy Institute and others say the law’s real goal is to undermine unions, and only provides a “right to work” for less. AFL-CIO research documents that the average worker in “Right to Work” states make $5,971 less in wages, have fewer or no health benefits, and the risk of workplace death is 45% higher. “Right to Work” states have much higher poverty rates.

And Alabama politicians don’t pull any punches when it comes to unions. In the middle of a recent union organizing drive, Republican Governor Bentley claimed that the state had to keep unions out and wages low in order to create a business friendly environment. Understandably, Golden Dragon workers (HERE and HERE) in Wilcox County ignored Bentley’s advice and voted to join the Steelworker’s union.

Birmingham Takes The Lead

Birmingham is 74% African-American and 47% of its children live in poverty. In August, 2015, seven of nine Birmingham City Council members and the Mayor supported a local ordinance that made Birmingham the first city in the Deep South to adopt a $10.10 minimum wage increase. Pegged to the consumer price index, it included raises for tip workers and strong enforcement language. It was to become effective in March 2016. It gave other big Alabama cities the resolve to move forward with similar ordinances.

When the legislature reconvened in 2016, it took Alabama Republican lawmakers a little over a week to squash Birmingham’s local efforts. The hasty legislative action allowed for virtually no public notice or input. The law passed prevents local jurisdictions from enacting any labor ordinances that impact workers. Within two hours, the governor signed the law into effect.

As a result, 42,000 Birmingham low-wage workers lost hourly increases of up to $2.85. In total, several hundred thousand workers statewide lost out.

Workers Fight Back

Rally in Mountain Brook, one of the wealthiest cities in the country and home to David Faulkner, attorney legislator and the point person for the state anti-minimum wage legislation.  Photo Joe Keffer

Rally in Mountain Brook, one of the wealthiest cities in the country and home to David Faulkner, attorney legislator and the point person for the state anti-minimum wage legislation. Photo Joe Keffer

The Greater Birmingham Ministries (GBM) led the coordination for Reverend Barber’s event. The NAACP, GBM and individual plaintiffs have sued. They allege that the state, in its haste, failed to adhere to mandatory procedural protections, equal rights and other violations.

Lawsuits can pay big dividends but litigation is traditionally slow and tends to substitute the judiciary for community involvement and on-the-ground organizing. To avoid this trap, workers have launched an aggressive campaign to gain not only a higher minimum wage but also fight for: voting rights, Medicaid expansion, immigrant and LGBT rights, prison and pay-day lending reform.

A public outcry followed the state’s intrusion into local control. With an effective media strategy, the story picked up coverage locally, nationally and even internationally.

Education leads to activism. From the beginning, “Raise Up For $15 Alabama” put a human face on their campaign as it pressed for $15 and a union. The National Employment Law Project provided invaluable legal and research assistance. Rallies have been held and more are planned.

As we head into a general election year, Jim Price, Co-Chair of “Move to Amend Tuscaloosa”, a group dedicated to election and campaign finance reform, says that communities need to get involved in electoral politics. “More so than ever before, the well-being of our communities, state and country depend on it.” says Price.

For questions, comments or to get involved, call: Alabama Coalition for Economic Justice at 334-587-0507

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Workers

By

1988: Steelworker in a plant north of Islambad, Pakistan.

1988: Steelworker in a plant north of Islambad, Pakistan.

1991: Miners on their way to work.  South Africa

1991: Miners on their way to work. South Africa

L: Worker in a Windsor, Canada auto casting plant. 1983.  R: Striking South African miner. 1991

L: Worker in a Windsor, Canada auto casting plant. 1983. R: Striking South African miner. 1991

Auto parts worker. Tijuana, Mexico. 1984

Auto parts worker. Tijuana, Mexico. 1984

RP  Pak

Dancer.  Manila, Philippines. 1987

Dancer. Manila, Philippines. 1987

Sugar cane cutter.  Negros, Philippines 1987

Sugar cane cutter. Negros, Philippines 1987

Street tailor. Port au Prince, Haiti, 1987

Street tailor. Port au Prince, Haiti, 1987

L: Cement workers rehabbing sidewalk.  London, England 2005.  R: Dockworkers. Manila, Philippines. 1987

L: Cement workers rehabbing sidewalk. London, England 2005. R: Dockworkers. Manila, Philippines. 1987

Servers. Dhaka, Bangladesh 1988

Servers. Dhaka, Bangladesh 1988

L: Butchers. Jo'burg, South Africa 1991  R: Butcher. Paris, France 2016

L: Butchers. Jo’burg, South Africa 1991 R: Butcher. Paris, France 2016

Server. London, England 2016

Server. London, England 2016

Autoworker. South Africa 1991

Autoworker. South Africa 1991

All were taken various assignments. All copyright Robert Gumpert

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Walk On, Walk On: Obituary: BARBARA WEARNE by Phillip Wearne (Son)

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“Keeping walking! That’s it! Keep walking, BarBara!” my mother remembered her father calling as she edged her way, arms outstretched, down the two walls of the hall dragging the unyielding deadweight of the leather and steel calipers on her legs. Walk she did. Indeed, she ran, marched, swum, cycled, surfed, sailed and scuba dived all over the world for a very full 89 years.

BarBara Wearne, a 36-year resident of Instow, died peacefully, quickly but very unexpectedly in her own armchair in her own house on December 3rd 2015. Her last words as she sat down to “take a bit of a rest” and read the paper were: “I feel like I’ve climbed a very steep hill.” She had. It was a perfect epitaph – and true to form — her very own.

BarBara overcame the worst effects of polio as a child in the 1930s. Without her determination and the skill of some unorthodox surgery she might have been in a wheelchair or in calipers for life. The experience totally moulded her character and philosophy. She remained committed to the underdog, the disabled, the poor and the marginalized. And she worked tirelessly for what she saw as the obvious antidotes to their condition: greater equality, more justice, real human rights and meaningful sustainability.

She was active on and angry with the state of the world to the very end. She braved the driving rain to join the climate change protest march in Bideford four days before her death and died with an appeal for donations of clothing and equipment for refugees reaching the Greek islands on her front gate.

Born in 1926, BarBara left school in 1942 to work for the Library Association, evacuated from London to her home town Launceston in Cornwall. When the first blitz was over, they returned, with BarBara now an employee and, at 18 she enlisted, becoming an air raid warden. She vividly recalled typing leaflets for the Labour Party’s 1945 election landslide in south London and went onto qualify as a primary school teacher with a speciality in, somewhat incredibly, Physical Education.

She became a primary school teacher in Mevagissey, Cornwall, where in 1952, she met my father, the local priest and a former Far East Prisoner of War (FEPOW). By the early 1960s, they had four children, Phillip, Jane, Sue and Liz and had settled in Hills View, Braunton. Her life was totally transformed however when Edwin “Ted” Wearne was diagnosed with a brain tumor, dying a protracted death, punctuated by long hospital stays and painful treatment, in June 1966.

Winning the struggle to keep her family together over the next 15 years, whilst teaching full time, paying a mortgage, and caring for four children, the youngest of whom was barely two at the time of my father’s death, was probably an even greater feat than overcoming polio. This was an age when married women working, let alone mothers and widows “abandoning” their children to do so, was considered dangerously subversive.

She never forgot the solidarity, support and sense of those who rallied round to support her right to work – and make that possible. She always said that we would not have survived as a family and perhaps as individuals without Braunton’s Iris Sandercock, “Cock-Cock” to us children. Cook, childminder, cleaner, second mother, agony aunt, there was nothing Iris Sandercock was not to our family for so many years.

With all her children in higher education or careers, BarBara took early retirement in 1981 and began a third life, one of travel, fundraising, campaigning and political and health service activism. South and Central America, East and Central Africa, everywhere in Asia from Japan to Turkey were the locations of her 25 years of winter backpacking adventures. But she always returned for spring and summer, relishing the surfing, sailing and swimming she loved in North Devon.

The highlights of her travels? Oh, so many.

Lecturing John Paul II in Belize on his treatment of the radical Catholic priests in the Sandinista government in 1983; being detained with Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar (Burma) in 1995; raising £4787 for leprosy treatment by cycling more than 500 miles around Malawi at the age of 70; visiting the AIDS belt of Central Africa to show villagers a film I had made with them in 2000. Finally, in 2005 and 2006, we enjoyed two trips to Japan and South East Asia in an effort to piece together my father’s wartime story, so little of which he had revealed to her while alive.

In recent years, many in Instow will remember her best for village hall fund-raisers for the victims of the Haiti (2010) and Nepal (2015) earthquakes. Her growing and eventually profound deafness spawned another vigorous campaign – for digital hearing aids on the NHS and much greater awareness of the social exclusion of those with hearing impairment.

BarBara’s four grandchildren, Thomas, Elliot, Lottie and Asa were always being encouraged to follow her example and in their music, sports, travel, theatre production and above all voluntary work. At the time of her death, the eldest Thomas, and his wife Mohua, were following in her footsteps in Asia. BarBara relished reliving her adventures through their travel blog in her last weeks.

“Aren’t we lucky? We’re going into our 89th year,” an old schoolfriend wrote to her in a birthday card in 2014. “Aren’t we lucky! Aren’t I lucky!” she would repeat to me throughout her last year. Yes, you were, mum. But you not only knew it, you understood it, never forgot it and determined to do as much as you could for those who were not so lucky.

You knew and understood that the exhausted refugee swimming ashore in Greece, the polio victim unable to walk in Sierra Leone, the young Indian mother murdered for forming a weaving co-operative in Guatemala, could have been you — or any one of us. I know, those who knew you well will know, that you will not rest in peace unless many more of us match your commitment to those you always understood could so easily have been you in a wheelchair longing to walk, run, cycle and swim the world.

BarBara Wearne donated her body to medical science in the hope that a new generation of surgeons might achieve for others what those of the 1930s had done for her. So no funeral. A memorial service will take place at St. Peter’s Church Fremington, North Devon at 11.30 am on Saturday June 25th. In death, as in life, all welcome.

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Edior’s Note: Phillip Wearne and I meet when the London Sunday Times Magazine sent us as a writer-photographer team to Haiti to do a couple of stories: Mother Teressa’s “death house” and the election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. We have been friends ever since. Phillip is a Journalist: tenuous, curious, loves fieldwork, the chase and has the distrust/disrespect of authority needed to do the job well.

On one of my many trips to London I had the fortunate pleasure to meet his mom. She would have been a great Journalist. She was an inspiration to all who came in contact.

These are, to say the least, interesting and difficult times but reading about BarBara Wearne gives hope and joy. This obit ran originally in the local Parish News.

Reato Regionale Toscano- Getting Busted Tuscany Style

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On our month-long trip to Florence, Italy my husband and I bought the CARTA ATAF&Linea Pass-the local regional transit ticket with ten rides on each CARTA to get us on as many trains or buses within the limits of Firenze. Being a walkable city, we barely used the CARTA the first three weeks. Like the MUNI Pass in San Francisco, CA., the CARTA is a money saver as 10 rides costs 10 Euros at 90 minutes per ride versus 1.2 Euros for a single ride. Also, like the Muni Pass the CARTA is very easy to use: one places the CARTA over a CARTA reader on a bus or train which beeps and registers VALIDO and, as they say in Italia, Ecco, ready to go!

Allora (so) one afternoon I took a solo trip on the train from the Alamanni-Stazione to Nenni Torregalli, which is 9 stops, or approximately 20 minutes one way to Scandicci where my Italian-speaking husband and I had been the night before to look at a CoOp shopping center. To safely return by daylight I hopped back on a return train repeating the swiping ritual of the CARTA and hearing the familiar “beep” and settled-in for the picturesque ride through the outskirts of Firenze and the town of Scandicci. I was momentarily distracted by a man and woman who entered the train with me and sat chatting in a language that I could not make out. Not being conversant in Italian I was hoping they were speaking Spanish and were travelers like me so we might have a casual exchange. Needless to say, by three weeks, I was hungry for spontaneous and casual conversation of my own making. But I didn’t get to figure out what they were speaking.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a Train Officer walking the length of the train asking passengers for their tickets to check for validity. The only difference I noticed between the Italian and San Francisco train experience was that there was only one Italian officer where in San Francisco there are always two, if not three on a train working together, and the Italian officer didn’t wear a revolver or stungun.

Finally the Train Officer got to the end of the train where I and the couple were sitting and their tickets were fine. But when he checked my CARTA Pass in his hand-held ticket reader he said “senza credito.” After demonstrating to him that the reader read my CARTA “valido” he said “no, “senza credito.” I told him that I didn’t speak Italiano and tried to explain in Spanish and pantomime how I had boarded the train, but he only asked me for “documenti” and “vivenda”- passport and where did I live in Firenze. After I provided him with both he proceeded to write me an “infrazione” a fine for $55 Euros, that I could pay on the spot, or “il ufficio”- I opted to pay in some elusive ATAF ufficio as he handed me my pink copy before he departed at the next stop.

I shrugged my shoulders in disbelief as the couple in front of me looked on compassionately- apparently they didn’t speak enough Italian to vouch for me. After hearing my story and feeling the Euro shock my husband had a good laugh and said “just another adventure; next we go to the ATAF ufficio for the real fun!”

IMG_1308b

Within a couple of days we are at the main office of the ATAF in Firenze. We decided in advance that my husband would not participate in the discussion because he knows enough Italian to get us into more trouble, and I would only speak to clarify or if specifically asked a question. Since I did what I was supposed to, that is pay my fair share when boarding the train, our goal was to have the $55 Euro fine cancelled. Our local friends of over 45 years Marinella and Franco explained my situation to an ATAF bureaucrat in the ATAF lobby. The woman administrator from the ATAF was pleasant enough but she wasn’t willing to consider the possibility that I did nothing to warrant the CARTA infraction.

Back and forth Marinella and Franco went, each becoming more agitated and outraged, but restrained as they confronted the ATAF administrator raising their voices, raising their arms, moving each other out of the other’s way to get ‘in the face’ of the administrator and emphasize their specific point- pure Italian theatre! In the meantime, the ATAF administrator coolly dismissed all facts, including that there were still two rides left on my CARTA, that the Officers Ticket Reader could have malfunctioned, or that I the passenger could have been right all along. To add insult to injury, the ATAF administrator told us that even though the CARTA reader read VALIDO and Beeped when I swiped it, I should have known to double-check to make sure it was correct!! Incredulously Marinella and Franco said, “even as Italians we would NEVER double-check if the Reader said it was Valido- how is anybody supposed to know that, there are no signs, that is ridiculous!”

In the end, under unofficial protest to the ATAF administrator, I paid the “multa” rather than risk being told at Customs before returning home there was a police record for failure to pay an ATAF fine.

Minutes later over remarkable cannoli’s and cafe lattes, I said to Marinella, Franco and Peter “its like contraception, I did what I was supposed to do but got caught anyway!” Marinella translated this to Franco who jokingly pantomimed blowing up a reliable condom, then as if betrayed by the condom, with arms extended, eyebrows arched and lips pursing, he is asking “what happened?!”… Viva Italia!!

About the author

Christina Perez

Christina is a wife, mom, daughter, sister, tia, friend, marathon runner, dancer, keeper of secrets, public servant and more. She has written numerous short stories, songs, poems and missives for herself, for friends, for decades, for fun, for coping and for love. Words, thoughts, moments, in writing- all a mystery to be explored. View all posts by Christina Perez →

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Posted in Mic check |

Lotta di Classe o Lotta di Generazione?!*

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Firenze 7 Maggio 2016

IMG_1286

Italy has been a point of reference for me because of the historic strength of its labor federations. When I lived here in 1971-72 (here and here) the unions were at the apex of their power and central to all discussions of radical societal change. That power has declined but the percentage of workers in unions remains at 37.2% of the entire workforce. This is more than three times the “density” of US unions at a paltry 11%. The Italian number is more impressive if one takes into account that membership in the various labor federations is a matter of personal choice not a “term and condition of employment” as it is for most US union members. The percent of Italian workers covered by collective negotiations is 80%! This means that the great majority of Italian workers are covered by contracts negotiated by unions that they don’t even have to belong to.

The Italian union federations and political parties (more on the “parties” in a future installment) have been under great pressure to loosen the terms of employment to make it easier for employers to hire and fire. They have also acceded to “two tier” employment contracts as have their American manufacturing counterparts like the UAW. For the generation of those born prior to the January 1, 1970 pensions will be 90% of their last earnings as long as they have 18 years of work credit. For those under 40 today the pension will only be 36% of salary.

This retirement income disparity is enormous. The annual earnings gap across generations is also enormous: a 24 year old worker makes on average 19,217 Euros per year vs. a 55 year old worker’s 31,873 Euros. No wonder that the discourse in the “dailies”, “I Giornali” is all about the generation gap and not the class struggle. The former Prime Minister of Italy Mario Monti was quoted as asserting that the youth of Italy born in the 70’s and 80’s were a lost generation and that Italy could only hope to limit the damage to them and provide better for subsequent generations. Our friend Enrico, born in the 80’s, hipped me to an article on a blog called “Medium Italy” written by Maurizo Pittau and entitled, “The Lost Generation of the 70’s and 80’s“. Pittau says young Italians of his generation have only two choices: Accommodate a corrupt system and work precariously or leave the country. He has chosen the latter as have many young Italians. Youth unemployment is 35% nationally and over 50% in the historically underdeveloped South.

Pittau cites a figure of 8 million workers in the precariat: the underemployed, temps, self- employed. Of that number he calculates that 4 million are the in the black market economy. The discussion of the precariat and the verification of the numbers is as my friend Nicola put it, a “Tower of Babel”, lots of numbers and lots of definitions and lots of confusion. This is certainly true in the United States where whole industries are characterized as “precarious” with no reference to solid research and numbers. The best figures I could find for Italy and employment on a web site called ItaliaOra.org indicates the following:

Italian population: 62, 375, 215
Total Italian workforce: 24,820,424
Precariat: 3,488,940
Unemployed: 3,267,950

The precariat then represents 14% of the total workforce. This is a growing number and a preoccupation of the labor federations who see their power slipping as enrollment declines and the younger generation is increasingly skeptical of trade unionism and the two tier deals that impact their cohort.

“Common sense” has it that unions are antiquated self-serving protection rackets for the older generations with fixed employment contracts and generous pensions. However one respondent to Pittau’s blog, Daniele Dellafiore, said that he thought there was a “third way” to deal with the challenges to the “lost generations”. Rather than accommodate the injustices or flee the country, he has chosen to stay and changes things. Stay tuned as my discussion with CGIL (Confederazione Generale Italiana dei Lavoratori) leaders and activists will hopefully paint a picture of what staying and changing things looks like here in Italy.

La lotta continua….

*Class Struggle or Generational Struggle?!

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In response to my post entitled Class Struggle or Generational Struggle, Nicola wrote:

Firenze 9 Maggio 2016

Dear Peter,

Generational conflict or class struggle? There are four fundamental points:

1. On the crisis of the unions caused by their membership losses in key sectors of the economy and the excessive power of the associations of the pensioners, an article in La Repubblica of August 19, 2015 by Matteo Pucciarelli details how profound the change in the composition of the unions is. (Olney summary: Pucciarelli writes about an extensive report prepared by the CGIL, Itay’s largest and historically Communist led union federation. The report includes many details but the fundamental and startling fact is that in the period from the end of 2014 until August of 2015 the federation lost 723,969 members. This is a 13% loss in a year from a total of 5.6 million members. This membership is voluntary unlike most membership in the United States. The largest losses in membership come in growth sectors of the economy like retail. The other stunning fact is that over half the membership of the CGIL are pensioners, therefore the political weight of the retired plays an outsize role in determining the future of the union with respect to the newly employed. For readers of Italians here is a link to the article in La Repubblica: )

2. The “dualism” in labor rights between workers who work in enterprises with more or less than 15 employees means a diversity in pay and rights.

3. Union policy that punishes the young. The newly hired cannot enjoy the same rights with respect to salary, holidays, job protections and least of all to pensions even though they do the identical job of more senior workers. I emphasize that I am not talking about the plethora of numbers in contract precarious work invented in the last twenty years, nor those covered under IVA (Imposta sul Valore Aggiunto – Tax on Value Added) the fiscal management of those “professionisti” who work not for a salary but for a fee. There is no fixed deduction on a salary (which they don’t have) but they pay IVA on the total compensation received in the fiscal year (a total often very high but varying from year to year). Given they are compensated with a fee their employment can end at any time.In fact these workers work for an enterprise but are paid less than employees doing the same work.

4. The pensions are a symbol of how slow the unions have been to take into account the changes in the labor market (and the general political situation); until the reform of 1995 it was possible to retire with 35 years of service regardless of your age. In other words someone who went to work at 14 years old after finishing minimum mandatory schooling could retire at 50 years old. After the reform two scenarios exist to activate the pension:

a. One needs 35 years or more of service and an age of at least 57 or;

b. 40 years of service independent of age.

These conditions were not sustainable in the long run because of increasing life expectancy. Salary and regulatory concessions were made primarily by governments of the left but also by the Alema government which tried to make reforms that were blocked.

Nicola

Italia: McDonald’s and Starbucks??

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We had not been to Italy in almost 30 years and to our delight we found the neighborhood quality of life to be strong and vibrant: people walking everywhere with whole families, children crying in the street unashamed and unrestrained by their always-doting parents. Our neighbors freely introduce themselves to us and tell us their life histories in the hood. The world moves on bikes and Vespas. Whole families on rusty old bikes. Stores remain specialized: Panificio (baked goods), Ortolano (Greens etc.) Macelleria (Meats) etc. Life in our neighborhood of San Frediano remains sane and engaging.

San Francisco, CA.  17 March 08.  sidewalk comments.  Political comments

But change is there too. My wife and I arrived in Florence on the train on Sunday evening and emerged from the station in the Piazza across from the church of Santa Maria Novella. While the lettering was discreet and there were no billboards, a whole block was taken up by a Burger King and a McDonald’s. 29 years ago on our last visit Burger King and a McDonald’s were not in Florence. In fact this is the 30th anniversary of the arrival of the first McDonald’s in Rome, Italy. That opening in Piazza di Spagna was met with a citywide mobilization. A protest in May of 1986 featured Italian politicians and intellectuals carrying signs with giant blowups of Clint Eastwood with the inscription, “You should be Our Mayor”. This was a reference to the fact that Eastwood as Mayor of sleepy and upscale Carmel in Monterey County, California, had moved to outlaw fast food joints as a rude incursion on the quality of life in the quaint resort town. Today there are 530 McDonalds’s restaurants in Italy and 270 McCafes serving 700,000 patrons per day. That is a significant number, but France has over 1300 outlets.

The new and perhaps deeper cultural challenge to the Italian way is the prospect that this year a Starbucks will open in Italy. Rome and Milan are slated to have the first outlets of the Seattle based coffee giant this year. What may seem amazing is that while Starbucks is ubiquitous in much of the rest of the world and is certainly everywhere in France, 39 in Paris alone, to date there has been no Italian market penetration.

Howard Schultz’s original inspiration for his cafes was the Italian cafe, which is more than a dispensary of coffee and pastries, but a neighborhood center and community-meeting place for small talk, big ideas and catching up. Schultz’s first outlets were called “Il Giornale” (the Daily) a reference to the Italian word for daily newspapers. In many corners of the United States and the world, Starbucks have become the centers of neighborhood life that their Italian counterparts are.

The cafe society is alive and well in Italy. Furthermore the bars also are licensed by the state to sell tobacco and vapor products, bus tickets and postage stamps. Will Italian youth flock to Starbucks and plug in their laptops and iPads for work and play? If they don’t and Italians reject Starbucks, is the model and brand severely damaged with consequences worldwide?

We have a whole month here to figure out the complexities of Italian politics and cultural interactions in dispatches to come. For now though life is good in Italia. Ciao a tutti!

______________________________◊◊◊______________________________

About the author

Peter Olney

Peter Olney is retired Organizing Director of the ILWU. He has been a labor organizer for 40 years in Massachusetts and California. He has worked for multiple unions before landing at the ILWU in 1997. For three years he was the Associate Director of the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California. View all posts by Peter Olney →

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Do You Like the Union? Yes!

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Part 2 – The Few

Microsoft Word - Document26

I couldn’t even think about doing another line. We’d just finished a mass picket that made it clear to the Parc 55 we wanted recognition and a good contract. But another group of hotel workers was under attack and I was going to join the first string at an after-hours chant-fest on their behalf. I had to concentrate – If I didn’t soar, I might crash and burn.

We’d been a thousand people at the earlier picket, dancing and chanting on the polluted, profiteering street, reverbing our anger to the executive suites high above.

“I think they heard us.”, I said to Chito as we walked up Mason.

“I’m signing the contract as we speak”, he replied, miming signing the deal we wanted.

“Let’s hope”.

“Yeah, well you can lead next time”, said Clare, “I can barely move”.

“Go home. We can cover”, I told her.

“I signed up for tonight”, she said. “I’d rather get it done”.

Tired as we were, we had another hotel to picket. Its owner, A. Cal Rossi had declared bankruptcy and wanted to stiff our members, denying them their benefits and refusing any severance pay.

We couldn’t drag people up from the just completed gigantic action. They needed to go home, to recover. The staff would have to take care of it, joining the Donatello workers in front of their hotel on Post.

“Cuantos tenemos?”, I asked Chito. “Sufficiente”, he said. “Enough.”

The neighborhood changed as we moved up the hill, leaving behind the convention hotels and raw Market Street scene. Up we moved, from Class A to B territory, up to where the air is cleaner and the sidewalks more genteel, through higher and higher cost boutique hotels. Below us lay the giant properties of Union Square, to the side the teeming streets of the Tenderloin, ahead the heights of Nob Hill. Partway up, waited ten Donatello workers, fresh and ready to roll.

“Who stays here?” I asked. “It’s Class B+, the affluent business traveler”, said Clare. “They overspent on the renovation, but they’re fine other than that. The bankruptcy is just a tactic to reorder their debts.”

“They’re offering the workers nothing”, said Chito. “It’s like they never worked here.”

We rounded the corner of Mason and Post, greeted the workers and caught our breaths.

As we waited for the picket to begin, the rest of our crew arrived from the Parc, half-finished fast-food in hand. They stuffed it down as the start-time arrived two more hours and we would be done for the day.

I looked around at my fellow staffers and chant-leaders. This was the best of the best, in a union that always had a picket line going, that had been given an award for its creative protests.

“Let’s go”, said Chito, the lead this time. “These folks deserve something for their years of service.”

We dug deep and dove in, circling in front of the hotel’s entry, wielding again our most effective tool. From field hollers through Civil Rights marches to the unions – we took the call-and-response tradition and ran with it.

What do we want?
Justice!
When do we want it?
Now!

From deep down, Clare pulled out first one chant, then another, cutting through her exhaustion as the Donatello workers buoyed her up with their response, buoyed us all up, starting slow, the simple ones again:

San Francisco should beware
Donatello is unfair.

Finding our second wind:

San Francisco should beware
Donatello is unfair!

Passing on the horn to the other first-stringers, morphing into something like the blues, a bit of jazz, the spirit of improvisation creeping in across our tired bones:

A. Cal, A. Cal Rossi
Why are you so mean and bossy?

A. Cal, A. Cal Rossi,
Why are you so mean and bossy?

Liberated from the need to keep it simple, to forge unison chanting from a thousand people, able to soar now, riffing, improvising, pushing past fatigue to make it really interesting.

And difficult to emulate.

Clare handed the bullhorn over to O’Connor. He had come from the UFW, schooled in calling the workers to come out of the fields, over the shoulders of the sheriff’s deputies, dodging their billy clubs in the 106 degree heat:

Huelga! Huelga!

Famous for his slashing, up-and-down use of the union flag, hollering at larynx-damaging levels:

A. Cal, A. Cal Rossi (flag up)
Why (downthrust) are you so mean and bossy?

A. Cal, A. Cal Rossi (flag up)
Why (downthrust) are you so mean and bossy?

Fifteen minutes later, O’Connor handed it off to Charlie, our rock-and-roll organizer, who channeled Elvis:

A. Cal, uh, A. Cal Rossi
Why so mean and b, b, bossy?

The Donatello workers enjoying this part of the show, brought some of the king to the line, arms up, fingers pointing in time to the hotel:

Why so mean and b, b, bossy?

His turn done, Charlie passed the horn to Casey, newly elected union president, who had organized with the transport workers in Ireland. His chants had that out-from-under-the-British-boot-heel sardonic edge, as if it was a real question:

A. Cal, A. Cal Rossi,
Why are you so mean and bossy?

From Casey to Lisa, queen of the San Francisco homegirl, alto chant. She called as if she was A. Cal’s mother, his older sister, and she was not pleased with his behavior:

A. Cal, A. Cal Rossi,
Why are you so mean and bosssssy?

Security was not happy, the guests coming and going were not happy, and we were pretty sure A. Cal was having trouble digesting his dinner high above in his penthouse suite. We soldiered on.

From Lisa to the incomparable Alphonso, rank-and-file activist to field rep, king of the soul chant, the Motown-inflected vibe:

A. Cal, A. Cal Rossi,
Why so mean and why so bossy?

Hey Cal, hey Cal Rossi,
Why so mean and why so bossyyy?

On into the San Francisco night, the traffic headed downtown lightening, the foot-traffic quieting, our powerful, block-encompassing dome of sound capturing those still stumbling back from their after-meeting parties to their upscale digs:

A. Cal, A. Cal Rossi…

Bouncing off the mid-height buildings into the rooms-for rent of the Donatello:

“Shut up! Keep it down!”, a guest shouted, tossing ice at us from the tenth
floor, which we blocked with our picket signs.

“Shut it!”

At which point we knew it was working, we were driving the guests crazy and the business away.

Why so very mean and bossy?

The two hours of chant-jamming passed surprisingly quickly, until it was my turn to lead, my first at an after-hours performance alongside Local 2’s veteranos. I took the horn:

A. Cal, A. Cal Rossi,
Why are you so mean and bossy?

Warming to it, gathering steam:

A. Cal, A. Cal Rossi,
Why so mean and why so bossy?

Finding the third wind at the end of the long day, supported by the workers and my more experienced peers, overcoming doubt, digging deep, where the barrier between ego and id gives way, and a riff bubbled up, transforming into a whole new chant:

He’s a mean guy in a bowtie,
A. Cal Rossi, hunh!
He’s a mean guy in a bowtie,
A. Cal Rossi, hunh!

Running with it:

He’s a mean, mean guy in a mean, mean tie,
A. Cal Rossi, hunh!

He’s a greedy guy in a greedy tie,
A. Cal Rossi, hunh!

We were rolling now, staff and members, responding in a jazz groove, improvising to the end of a very long day.

Handling the bullhorn like an electric guitar:

He’s a bad bad, bad guy in a bad, bad tie,
A. Cal Rossi, hunh.

He’s a greedy guy in a greedy tie,
A. Cal Rossi, hunh

Dancing, Chuck Berrying, exorcising Rossi’s nastiness, sending his greedy spirit away.

High on our repetitive, rhythmic meditation, I realized – this was our afterhours club where musicians go after all the other clubs close to challenge each other, to take it higher – call-and-response like the Dead and Dark Star, Coltrane and My Favorite Things…

We were breaking new ground:

He’s a nasty guy in a nasty tie,
A. Cal Rossie, hunh.
An empty guy in an empty tie,
A. Cal Rossie, hunh.

“Shields!”

He’s a mean guy in a…

“Shields”, shouted Chito again. “It’s time to wrap.”

Startled out of my reverie, I saw Chito signaling me – we had a court order to stop at nine.

Soon, the late-night hum of the city would reassert itself, with the
Donatello workers and my colleagues giving me high-fives, letting me know I had been found worthy (Yes!).

Before that happened, though, we needed to send one more boycott driving blast the hotel’s way, leaving an echo of our presence that would carry through to our next late-night engagement on their doorstep:

A. Cal, A. Cal Rossi,
Why are you so mean and bossy?
He’s a mean guy, in a bowtie,
A. Cal Rossi, hunh!!!

_______________________________◊◊◊_______________________________

Do You Like the Union? Yes!

By

Part 1 – The Many

Microsoft Word - Hotel Workers Strike San Francisco Hyatt Hotels

“Shields – take your end of the line around the corner onto Ellis.”
“What about the chanting?”
“Everyone on a bullhorn will do the call. The monitors will do the response”.

Clare was right. As the room cleaners hit the picket line, we had to keep moving or risk arrest.

Chito and I dove in halfway through the three hundred people on the right side of the main entrance to the hotel. We directed half of them to follow us around the corner.

“Swing around Chito down there”, I yelled to the workers, “and back around the sign at this end”.

The people we left behind gradually formed into a new oval, while our group of a hundred and fifty chanting hotel workers formed a new section of the line on Ellis Street.

I took my position on the corner, watching our lead chanter Alphonso, now fifty yards to my left and Chito, our chant responder, around the corner on the right.

What do we want?
Contract!

“Alphonso!”, Clare shouted, “Make sure everyone can see you. We need to keep the chanting together.”

Alphonso pivoted as he did the calls, so we on the bullhorns to his left and right could see him.

When do we want it?
Now!

What do we want?
Contract!

When do we want it?
Now!

We had succeeded, the turnout was enormous. But to win, we needed strong, unified mass chanting to project our power, the workers’ power, up to the executive suites of the hotel. That was getting harder to do with every additional hundred people that hit the line.

What do we want?
Contract!

When do we want it?
Now!

I could see Alphonso, pivoting as Clare had instructed, but I was too far away now to hear him. By the time his sound reached me, he was already a couple of syllables ahead. This made it hard for Chito and me to keep our folks chanting in time with the main line around the corner.

Our power was dissipating as we moved out of sync:
What do we want?
What do we want?
Contract!
Contract!

When do we
When do we……
want it?…
…want it?…

Now!
Now!

It hadn’t started this way. An hour ago, we had been tight – a lean, mean fifty person-chanting machine. Besides adding another nine hundred fifty people to the line, where did we go astray?

“Have you no shame? Check out now! Scab!”

For two years, the Parc’s workers had been fighting for the right to bargain for good pay and a voice on the job. Thus far, no deal.

So for the past week, we’d been preparing the next in our series of actions designed to move the campaign along. We made picket signs and chant sheets, did last-minute turnout calls and cafeteria visits and solidified our labor-community support. We let everyone know we were taking it to the next level.

Early the morning of the action, we assigned staff and members their tasks and loaded everything onto the pickup truck.

“Shields, you and Chito will be in charge of the upper line”, said Clare, lead organizer for the action. “You’ll chant-lead and Chito will lead the responses and oversee the sign-ins. We may have as many as a thousand people.”

“What happens if there’s too many for the front of the hotel?”, I asked.

“We’ll wrap around the corner and activate backup chanters. Chito?”

“We should be good. Send me the Latina room cleaners. I’ll make sure they know what’s happening”, he responded.

Okay, but a thousand people? Holy shit.

Rolling up to the hotel, we set up the truck, placed the signs in strategic piles along what would become the expanding line, rechecked the bullhorns, positioned our monitors, passed out the sign-in cards, checked in with the police, and started a small line with the early bird arrivals.

We ran through our chant repertory:

What do we want?
Contract…

Do you like the union?
Yes!…

Se ve, se siente,
La union esta presente.

Primed and prepared, we waited.

As the day shift ended in the hotels, the workers arrived. With each new group of ten or twenty, we lengthened both sections of the picket line further down the sidewalk from the hotel’s main entrance.

In the middle, at the entrance, we leafleted customers as they entered or left the hotel, hollering at them to stay someplace else:

“Have you no shame? Check out now! Scab!”

We weren’t committing civil disobedience today, so we couldn’t block them. We needed sound to power the boycott. If done right, our audio uproar would drive away millions of dollars in bookings.

In the early stages of the action, with fewer numbers, we did more complex chants.

“Union conga!”, shouted Alphonso.

Do you like the union?
Yes! (thrusting our picket signs up)
Do you like the union?
Yes! (signs up)

Do you like the bosses?
No! (signs down)
Do you like the bosses?
No! (signs down)

Union-bashing’s got to go!

Tightly knit, choreographed, we danced down the line. But then, wave after wave of maids poured in from the downtown hotels, joined by cooks, food servers, bussers, bartenders and bellmen. Soon came the other unions – the sign and display workers, the teachers, the carpenters, the long shore and health workers, then the church and community people, the politicians and the North-of- Hollywood movie stars.

We had to simplify.

All this in a concrete canyon in downtown San Francisco, a kaleidoscope of rush-hour traffic, clanging fire engines, people rushing for BART, the guy with the “Twelve Galaxies” sign who was at every protest in the city, the usual assembly of hurting, hollering street folks and the looming, hulking presence of a corporate hotel that had dared open nonunion, in our town.

To be heard, our wall of sound had to absorb every noise thrown at us from the rush hour city and turn it against the hotel. That meant tighter, synchronized chanting by larger and larger numbers of people.

We’d had it down, up to a point – two, three, four hundred people on the
expanding line. At five hundred, we were spread out farther than we were used to. Clare feverishly adjusted monitors, chant leaders, responders, leafletters.

“More chant sheets!”, shouted Chito.

At eight hundred, we began to wobble out of unison.

Do you like the bosses?
Do you like…
No!
No…

Union bashing’s…
bashing’s…
Got to…
Got to…

Go…
Go…

Now the half-way house guys hit the line, another hundred-fifty, beefed up from years pumping iron in the joint.

“Here are the sheets”, Clare shouted to Chito. “Tomenlos”, Chito said to the Latina room cleaners. “Mabuhay”, I heard the Filipinas shout, “Tuánjié”, from the Chinese.

We were reaching flood tide.

A shuttle bus pulled up in front of the hotel, in the middle of our two gigantic, main sections of line. As the passengers disembarked the leafletters thrust their flyers at them over the blocking arms of hotel security, “Check out now!”, they shouted, check out now!” Some on the line joined them, others continued as before:

Check out now!
What do we want?
Check out now!
Contract!
Check out…
When do we want it…
…now!
…..now!

It was call-and-response chaos.

The guests fled into the hotel. Management screamed. “Back off”, said the cops.

We were teetering on the edge.

“Get back together!”, shouted Clare.

I’m chanting with my whole body now, struggling to get us in sync.

What do we want?
What do we want?

Pushing the sound back together:

Contract!
Contract!

Driving it like an offensive lineman:

When do we want it?
When do we want it?

Until finally:

Now!!!

We’d done it. The cops back off – a thousand people are chanting as one.
They can hear us in tour-planning offices around the world.

Then, something unusual starts to happen. Flowing up the sides of the hotel and the buildings across the street, the thundering storm of unison chanting begins to generate something else, something other-worldly, a layer of under and overtones that reverberates in all directions and up into the sky.

What do we want?
Contract, act, act…
When do we want it?
Now, ow, ow, ow!…

I heard something like this once, in my avant-garde theater days on the East Coast, when some experimental music guy who’d studied Tibetan Buddhist chanting claimed he could sing three notes at the same time. Apparently, so could we. We reached the level of triple-toned, mass-chanting, high-picket-line art.

We’d created a transcendent symphony of sound that said, “These streets belong to us and you better give us a damn contract.”

Contract now, ow, ow…!
Contract now, ow, ow…!
Contract now, ow, ow…!

At the peak of our multidimensional, transformational chant-fest, we stopped. It was six, and people had other things to do.

A committee member said a few words, as did a worker from another hotel, a member of the Board of Supervisors and then San Francisco’s fighting labor priest.

Speeches done, we turned towards the hotel. Leading a group a thousand strong, Alphonso called out,

“Let’s tell them what they already know”

We’ll be back, ck, ck , ck!….
We’ll be back, ck, ck , ck!!….
We’ll be back, ck, ck , ck!!!….
We’ll be back, ck, ck , ck, ck!!!!….

Until we won.

After today, I knew we would.

_______________________________◊◊◊_______________________________

The Need for a More Radical Solidarity in the Labor Movement based on Spirituality, Mindfulness, and Self-Care

By

“Until we are able to love and take care of ourselves, we cannot be of much help to others.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist living in France)

We live in challenging times for the labor movement. The corporate right-wing agenda to destroy unions in this country is more apparent than ever with the wave of legislation to convert states to “right to work” and the current Supreme Court case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. On the other side of the spectrum, labor advocates and their allies are fighting back. We have witnessed significant impactful victories with the “Fight for 15 Campaign” and the passage of $15 minimum wage and wage theft enforcement policies in many cities and states. Moreover, after years of avoiding confrontation, the U.S. labor movement is reasserting itself. From the ports of Los Angeles to the car plants of Detroit, unions are demanding payback for sacrifices they say helped revive the economy, and the level of workers going on strike or engaging in labor stoppage increased last year.

With the continuing attacks and threats against the labor movement, and the recent upsurge in workers mobilizing and taking to the streets, we are facing a major challenge from within. It is the struggle for sustainability and a more healthy labor activism to continue the good fight. A common thread frequently runs throughout our work. It’s a kind of martyr’s code that measures a person’s commitment to justice by the willingness to sacrifice personal time, health and relationships. Many of us who work in the labor movement often work on organizing campaigns with short timelines, with little resources, and moving on all pistons at a grueling 24-7 pace. This extreme pace can consume the important things in life that contribute to a person’s personal well-being. During most of my over thirty years working for immigrant and workers’ rights, I lost touch with myself and my work-life balance on many occasions. Work took control of my life. Everything that contributed to my well-being became secondary to the work. I caught myself believing that my physical and mental exhaustion were indicative of my commitment to the work for justice, and that sacrificing my health for the sake of helping others was a badge of honor. The result was a series of periodic episodes of burnout where I lost both the physical and mental capacity to continue the work. This stage led to an empty feeling where what I was working towards began to lose complete meaning. My most recent burnout three years ago culminated in my hospitalization. I realized that I needed to change my lifestyle as an activist for the sake of my health and well-being. During a period of intense self-reflection and meditation, I reached deep into my spiritual faith and connected with the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi to guide me. The outcome of this period of burnout and deep reflection was my book, Living Peace: Connecting Your Spirituality with Your Work for Justice.

In Living Peace, I argue that the work of activism is a form of spirituality in and of itself. As labor activists, we have the foundation of spirituality within us from which we can approach the work together and rebuild the labor movement from within. Each of us is an instrumental creative part of the universal being of labor activism and worker justice, and there is no one single role that rises above the others. The spiritual framework that we need to strengthen the labor movement as we move forward will rely on 1) our interconnectedness with each other, and 2) our embrace of a labor activism through compassion and humility.

The interconnectedness between all of us in the labor movement should become an indispensable part of our work. This is so especially where we find ourselves dispersed in so many different strategies and campaigns, and often disconnected from each other. St. Francis of Assisi, the peace activist of the Middle Ages from whom I derive my spirituality, would spend long hours with each of his brothers that formed the first band of followers of his teachings. He lived and practiced daily the heart-to-heart connections with them. Similarly, in the labor movement, we are all interwoven – ourselves, our lives, the workers we represent and what we are striving to accomplish. Francis had the capacity to go deep into someone’s heart and share the joy and sadness of that person. As labor activists, we too have the potential to connect through our hearts and let that connection be the driving force that enables us to struggle together, to strategize together, and to win together. In reaching such a potential of human relationship, we will create the spiritual binding force from which we can move forward with a collective strategy. This is true solidarity in action within the labor movement – our interconnectedness with one other. It is labor solidarity reaching a radical level.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master, poet, scholar, and human rights activist, in his Fourth Mindfulness Training, Loving Speech and Deep Listening, states that we must be “determined not to spread news that [we] do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord.” He goes on to state that we must “make daily efforts, in [our] speaking and listening, to nourish [our] capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in [our] consciousness.”

We must learn to engage in active listening with our heart, which will then enable us to speak through compassion or mindful speech, and not anger, frustration or fear. Active listening without passing judgment, is a gift that we can give to each other to enhance our work in the labor movement. When we are really heard, and the other understands our meaning and emotions, we feel valued and respected, a condition necessary for strengthening our movement. There is a no more precious gift, to give or receive, than to listen to the words of another. This process of active listening and loving speech will enable us to be mindful of and respect the dignity within each one of us. There is really no meaning in a task or activity unless there is a deep inter-connection with our spirituality and with one another in our struggle for worker justice.

IMG_5897

The second principle we must embrace is a model of compassion and humility. To be humbled, it is said, strengthens a generous spirit. Like the principles of non-violence, humility in social justice work is not submission or a state of passiveness; rather, it is a powerful force for change. Francis understood that the biggest threat to humility was the power of human pride and ego. For him, humility in its highest form (holy or spiritual humility) always puts pride and ego to shame. Francis saw humility as the only way to prevent our ego from poisoning our pride. In this way, humility is a form of “self-activism” where we, as labor activists, take proactive steps to ensure that we act for the act itself, and not to feed our selfish desires or be puffed up by the praises of others. Just as Francis preached a way of life through the principle of humility, we too must approach our work in the same way. What does this mean? It means that we must exercise humility through acts of compassion and selflessness as we carry out our tasks in our everyday work – in a campaign, in a picket line, a protest, giving a presentation or workshop, house visits, worker assemblies, visiting policy makers, etc. In whatever activity we engage in as part of our work as labor activists, we must always do it through the principle of humility that Francis teaches us. After all, true leadership is about knowing when to step back so that others can step forward.

Of course it takes courage to radically change direction towards a more sustainable and healthy movement for worker justice. But as labor activists, we owe nothing less to the millions of working families impacted by the economic injustices that we fight against every day. If we can truly support one another and open our hearts, we can connect and create a “radical solidarity.” Labor activists and their allies working for justice must embrace a “radical solidarity” that encompasses a deepening of self-care and community care to build a healthy movement for change. They need to be able to advocate for themselves when the symptoms of burnout and stress begin to overwhelm them. We must take the courageous step forward to dismantle the “martyr syndrome” that is so entrenched in the labor movement. There are many ways to make a more healthy labor activism a reality. For example, we can integrate healthy diets and exercise into our daily activist work. We can create spaces within our workplaces for reflection, check-ins and talking circles to address burnout. We can connect with our spiritual faith or mindfulness practice to guide us towards a balance of self-care and healthy activism. There is no “one shoe size fits all” approach. The important thing is that we decide to move forward in this direction.

The major threats and challenges that the labor movement faces today create opportunities for us to strengthen ourselves. Let us embrace a new approach to moving forward together. Let us create a spiritual framework of humility, compassion and respect that will provide for a more cohesive collective strategy, healthy and sustainable activism, and a stronger movement as we continue the good fight for worker justice. Finally, a passage from Living Peace taught to me by St. Francis captures the essence of how to move forward together next year in the good fight: “When surrounded by a thousand dangers, let us not lose heart, except to make room for one another in our hearts.”

_______________________________◊◊◊_______________________________

For more information on Victor Narro’s book, Living Peace: Connecting Your Spirituality with Your Work for Justice, go here. To order a copy of Living Peace or its Spanish translation, Paz en Acción, go here. He can also be found on Twitter at @narrovictor.

About the author

Victor Narro

Victor Narro is Project Director for the UCLA Labor Center and Lecturer in Law at UCLA Law School. For more information on his book, Living Peace: Connecting Your Spirituality with Your Work for Justice, go to https://www.facebook.com/ConnectingSpirituality. He can also be found on Twitter at @narrovictor. To order a copy of Living Peace or its Spanish translation, Paz en Acción, go to http://www.labor.ucla.edu View all posts by Victor Narro →

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