Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ten Principles All Unions Should Be Built Upon

I found this list of precepts from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union(ILWU).  The ILWU is a militant, independent union that most unions could learn a few things from.  The ILWU honors every picket line, which I have written about before here. The ILWU has a long history of successful labor actions and an extremely active membership.  The following is a list of the ILWU's ten guiding principles.  The labor movement would do well to adopt them across the board.

A Union is built on its members. The  strength, understanding and unity of the membership can determine the union’s  course and its advancements. The members who work, who make up the union and pay  its dues can best determine their own destiny. If the facts are honestly  presented to the members in the ranks, they will best judge what should be done  and how it should be done. In brief, it is the membership of the union which is  the best judge of its own welfare; not the officers, not the employers, not the  politicians and the fair weather friends of labor. Above all, this approach is based on the conviction that given the truth and an  opportunity to determine their own course of action, the rank and file in 99  cases out of 100 will take the right path in their own interests and in the  interests of all the people.

 Labor unity is at all times the key for  a successful economic advancement. Anything that detracts from labor unity hurts  all labor. Any group of workers which decides to put itself above other workers  through craft unionism or through cozy deals at the expense of others will in  the long run gain but little and inevitably will lose both its substance and its  friends. No matter how difficult the going, a union must fight in every possible way to  advance the principle of labor unity.

 Workers are indivisible. There can be  no discrimination because of race, color, creed, national origin, religious or  political belief. Any division among the workers can help no one but the  employers. Discrimination of worker against worker is suicide. Discrimination is  a weapon of the boss. Its entire history is proof that it has served no other  purpose than to pit worker against worker to their own destruction.

“To help any worker in  distress” must be a daily guide in the life of every trade union and its  individual members. Labor solidarity means just that. Unions have to accept the fact  that the solidarity of labor stands above all else, including even the so-called  sanctity of the contract. We cannot adopt for ourselves the policies of union  leaders who insist that because they have a contract, their members are  compelled to perform work even behind a picket line. Every picket line must be respected as though it were our own.

Any union, if it is to fulfill its appointed task, must put aside all internal  differences and issues to combine for the common cause of advancing the welfare  of the membership. No union can successfully fulfill its purpose in life if it  allows itself to be distracted by any issue which causes division in its ranks  and undermines the unity which all labor must have in the face of the employer.

 The days are long gone when a union can consider dealing with single employers.  The powerful financial interests of the country are bound together in every  conceivable type of united organization to promote their own welfare and to  resist the demands of labor. Labor can no more win with the ancient weapons of  taking on a single employer in industry any more than it can hope to win through  the worn-out dream of withholding its skill until an employer sues for peace.  The employers of this country are part of a well-organized, carefully  coordinated, effective fighting machine. They can be met only on equal  terms, which requires industry-wide bargaining and the most extensive economic  strength of organized labor.

 Just as water flows to its lowest level, so do wages if the bulk of  the workers are left unorganized. The day of craft unionism – the aristocracy of  labor – was over when mass production methods were introduced. To organize the  unorganized must be a cardinal principle of any union worth its salt; and to  accomplish this is not merely in the interest of the unorganized, it is for the  benefit of the organized as well.

   The basic aspiration and desires of the workers throughout the world are the  same. Workers are workers the world over. International solidarity, particularly  to maritime workers, is essential to their protection and a guarantee of reserve  economic power in times of strife.

 A new type of unionism is called for which does not confine its ambitions and  demands only to wages. Conditions of work, security of employment and adequate  provisions for the workers and their families in times of need are of equal, if  not greater importance, than the hourly wage.

Jurisdictional warfare and jurisdictional raiding must be outlawed by labor  itself. Nothing can do as much damage to the ranks of labor and to the principle  of labor unity and solidarity as jurisdictional bickering and raiding among  unions. Both public support and strike victories and jeopardized by  jurisdictional warfare. This code for rank and file unionism is implemented by the membership’s  participation in organization, negotiations, strike machinery, contract  enforcement and every other aspect of union life. Thus, its discipline springs  out of participation, conviction and the right of the membership to decide its  own course of action. The above principles and steps to implement them, and an  informed and alert membership make the union what it is.

In Solidarity,


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What Is May Day?

This past week, workers from around the globe commemorated the 127th anniversary of the massacre at Haymarket Square, where four unarmed workers were shot and killed by police who were attempting to breakup a general strike.  Remembrance of this tragic event became known as International Workers' Day, or May Day. 

May Day is an official holiday in over 80 countries, but you rarely hear anything about May Day in the United States.  Why is that?  To be frank, the big labor federations in the United States have long been in bed with federal agencies that are controlled by anti-worker corporate interests, as well as participating in class-collaboration with corporations themselves.  It was in this spirit that the Knights of Labor went along with Grover Cleveland's endeavor to sweep the Haymarket Affair under the rug by creating Labor Day in September.

So just what were the workers fighting for with their general strike in Haymarket Square?  A little thing you might recognize called the eight hour work day.  Four innocent workers gave their lives to secure that right that is so often taken for granted.  Today, you can barely get workers to organize because people are afraid of losing their $9 an hour job, when we are able to work a normal work week because workers just like us were willing to sacrifice to make sure the next generation had better working conditions than they enjoyed.

So my question is, what are you willing to sacrifice for the workers of tomorrow?

Just a thought.

In Solidarity,


P.S. - Here are a few links if you are interested in learning more about the labor movement outside the United States:

Eric Lee from LabourStart has just published a book that will introduce you to the various labor federations from around the world.  You can find it here:

To see what a real labor federation looks like, check out the World Federation of Trade Unions.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Into The Hollers(working title) excerpt

Hey everyone,

The following is a rough draft excerpt from the book I'm working on that recounts my year as an organizer in West Virginia and Kentucky with SEIU/District 1199 WV/KY/OH.

This section talks about my first day on the job. All feedback would be helpful and encouraged.

Day One

Shit. I mumbled to myself as I sat up along the side of the bed in the darkness of my room at the Ramada Inn situated right off Interstate 64 in Huntington, WEst Virginia. Still groggy from my six hour drive through the mountains from Brunswick, Maryland the night before, I stumbled over to the window and drew the shades. The morning sky was dreary, and it was still raining. As the cars passed along the interstate, I joked to myself, "We'll, can't beat the view."

I got myself together and climbed into my 1999 Volvo station wagon - an unconventional vehicle choice for a union organizer. I soon discovered that most organizers drive either a small four cylinder car because of the amount of miles they drive, or an SUV. This is handy for hauling union supplies around, but it is useful mainly for dragging members to events.

The HR coordinator had informed me that rather than spending my first day filling out paperwork during a traditional orientation, I would be traveling in a three hour caravan from Huntington to Columbus, Ohio for a rally against Ohio Senate Bill 5. S.B. 5 proposed the elimination of collective bargaining rights for public sector employees. Aside from the general importance of showing solidarity with our union sisters and brothers, this would affect about 7,000 members of our Local, approximately a third of the total membership of our Local.

I was more than a little excited about the reality that I was now getting paid to attend a rally that I usually would have showed up to for free. I met with a few of our members at the union office across town, where we piled into a fifteen passenger van in preparation for our three hour journey. After a few minutes of pleasantries and being welcomed to the union, I struck up a conversation with a woman whom I thought was one of my members. After we shared a very in depth discussion on our respective philosophies regarding the labor movement, including a very frank assessment of the internal struggle going on in California with NUHW, I discovered that the woman I had been speaking to was in fact the Executive Vice-President of the entire Local.

As I sat internally kicking myself for being so open about my opinion regarding SEIU's undemocratic direction, Kathy assured me that they did things differently, and that due to 1199's merger agreement, they could never be placed under trusteeship. This time, I kept my trap shut on not sharing her opinion on this point. I decided to play it safe and stick to non-work related topics for the remainder of the trip.

When we arrived at the main office in Columbus, the building was overflowing with staff and members who were being herded onto charter buses that would ferry us downtown to the statehouse. There had been rumors that the governor would have the state police lock the doors, and sure enough, about five minutes after we gained access, we were informed that once we left the building, we would not be permitted to re-enter the facility. The building was filled to the brim with union members. I was struck by the diversity of the labor community I could see around me. There were truck drivers talking to librarians, firemen chanting with nurses, plumbers alongside prison guards. Every combination you could imagine was represented.

For the next several hours, we sang, chanted, and raised all sorts of hell while the Republican controlled Senate did their best to ignore us. There were visits from former governor Ted Strickland, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who were both greeted by cheers from the crowd. F

After returning to the union office, we made the drive back to Huntington. By the time I made it back to the hotel, it was around 10:30pm. I rolled into bed, thoroughly exhausted, but with a huge smile on my face. "This could be good," I thought to myself as I drifted off to sleep.

As I mentioned, this is a rough draft and I'm open to any feedback. More to come.

In Solidarity,