Building Our Union
The members run this union and with newly-received training, some members are prepared to build it, too.
In recent weeks, some 75 rank-and-file UE members attended five regional organizing schools which combined classroom instruction with practical experience in organizing the unorganized.
With each school linked to one or more organizing targets, union builders had opportunities to bring the UE message to the home of unorganized workers and participate in organizing meetings.
Their work is still producing results.
The graduates and staff of the well-attended
The next visit "tore my heart out, because of the safety issues," said Buterbaugh. The visited worker, who has received a raise of only 25 cents in four years, had lost partial use of his hand because of the inadequate safeguards and then received a warning because of the accident!
LOOKING FOR LEADERSHIP
On their second day of class, McGinns students analyzed leadership in the workplace and how to recognize and develop it, and learned the importance of developing a leadership committee during an organizing campaign. With this came a rating system to be applied to the contacts they made on home visits a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being actively pro-union, 5 being actively hostile.
Referring back to the maps drawn the day before, the student organizers indicated the location of both supervisors and leadership in their own workplaces.
The school considered the tough question ever-present in an organizing campaign: Will I get fired for supporting the union? McGinn pointed out that unorganized workers can be fired at any time; without a union, they have no protection. She and Kingsley explained that workers are fired, in violation of the law, for organizing, although the threat is greater than the actual practice. When workers are fired during a UE campaign, they said, the union backs them up.
Following this class (and those for the next two days), the rank-and-file organizers took off for hours of home visits, followed by an evening debriefing session.
The morning of the third day confronted students with an all-out consideration of the employer counter-offensive: captive audience meetings, one-on-one interrogations, dirty tricks, deceitful literature. Field Org. Keith Eveleth became a company president and McGinn a personnel manager for an eerily effective enactment of a captive meeting.
At the Erie school, Bryan Rice, Local 623 was overwhelmed by this discussion. "My shop was organized a while ago, I never went through the dirty tricks."
Little of this came as a surprise to Chris Falk, Local 697 whose shop came into UE less than a year ago. "We went through quite a few of the dirty tricks," he said. Having gone through a campaign was an asset for him and the school, Falk suggested. "On home visits, I knew what we were going to be asked."
Students were reminded that home visits are an opportunity to educate the unorganized, to respond to the company and to prepare the unorganized to respond to the lies and dirty tricks.
TRY THIS AT HOME
On the next to the last day, students discussed finding contacts and targets at home, surveying members for organizing contacts, follow-up with contacts and organizing volunteers for local organizing campaigns.
Students were asked to write themselves a letter outlining goals for the next several months; the letters would be mailed from the National office a month after the schools conclusion.
The class got down to the specifics of the organizing campaign linked to the school, analyzing the results of visits, rating contacts and departments and thoroughly previewing the agenda and goals of the following days meeting.
On the final day came the organizing meeting. UE rank and filers warmly encouraged the unorganized, drawing from their own shop experiences and information acquired in the school.
The schools in Iowa and Ohio followed the same curriculum as the other schools, although instructor Rachel Meyer carefully noted the differences between public and private sector organizing. "The steps in organizing are the same but the approach and timing are different," she told us.
Employees of the organizing targets in Iowa and Ohio received mailings from the union inviting them to a first organizing meeting; in their home visits, the student organizers worked to build attendance for those meetings.
Among the workers home-visited during the Erie school were those employed by Foamex, a manufacturer of foam for mattresses and carpets located in Corry, Pa. Many responded enthusiastically to the UE message delivered to their doorsteps by rank-and-file volunteers.
Before the school, there was no union activity at Foamex. Now there is. As the UE NEWS was readied for press, Field Org. Gornall reported that committees were being developed on all shifts. Graduates of the Erie school are attending weekly organizing committee meetings, and a "class reunion" scheduled for May 17 was expected to give added impetus to the growing campaign.
At the District Six council meeting on May 9, many delegates were delighted to see friends from Foamex made during home visits during the Erie school.
Campaigns are underway among public-sector workers who met with Ohio school participants.
Meanwhile, Bryan Rice is developing contacts at an unorganized shop in the Pittsburgh area. Elected local president since attending the school, Scott Buterbaugh has informed his members they can be expected to be asked for assistance in organizing. Buterbaugh has already recruited volunteers.
Local 751 sent three members to the school in Erie, three to the school in Delaware, Ohio. Rich Tarnaski, who attended the Ohio school, is working on developing contacts at two unorganized workplaces shops in the Niles area; another shop has been targeted as well. The Niles-Mahoning General Electric local is forming its an organizing committee, which will work with the local executive board and UE field staff.
The organizing schools gave participants the excitement, the information, the tools and the confidence and redoubled the commitment to build UE.
Thanks to the school, Mike Schwertz is certain he could take an organizing campaign further on his own. "I feel a lot more confident than when I arrived," said Local 264 Pres. Diane Brawn.
The school, said Peter Amaral, "was a big crash course about what UE does to organize on a national scale. And it wasnt just info crammed into you, but a chance to participate. Now Ive got the tools."
Rich Drylie thought the school "was one of the greatest things Ive seen since Ive been in UE," despite the long hours, and the disappointment of the occasional wrong address or hostile reception. "Sometimes we had doors slammed in our faces. But it was worthwhile. We were having a great time talking about UE."
Declared Chris Falk, "I hope we can help the organizers broaden the cause of UE, the only cause I know of thats worth this time and effort."
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