Bangkok The Organizers’ Forum delegation had two great meetings with organizers and the job before them was stunning and prodigious. We had the opportunity to meet for several hours with five union organizers working to organize industrial plants along the eastern shore of Thailand. We also got lucky and our trip coincided with a training session for young organizers from Korea, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines where we were able to spend several hours sharing discussions about the state of community organizations. These were gifts!
The union organizers meet once a month to discuss their work. Rudy Porter of the Labor Solidarity Center estimated for us that these five in the last decade had probably organized 100,000 workers with 9600 being last year where they were keeping the pace. This is all the more remarkable since that level of production represents 20% of the total union membership in Thailand!
The model they described whether with giant auto conglomerates and supply plants or Chevron operations (the largest private employer in Thailand) was all conducted in total secrecy in home visits and snooker parlors where organizers could build the relationships strong enough to allow workers to weather the risk of likely terminations and blacklisting, if they were caught organizing a union before a majority had been reached. There was “card check” here, but the process was triggered by signatures demanding negotiations. If anything was premature, excuses for termination would fall as hard and quickly as the rain.
I asked if they ever used a “salting” program where organizers got a job inside and helped organize that way. They all laughed that they were too old. They weren’t of course, but what they were really saying was that workers were hired early and spit out used before 30.
They estimated that there were probably only 10 full-time professional union organizers in Thailand. We asked about expanding capacity, and the answer was “thank goodness” for the rank-and-file, which means that despite their success there is little help coming to finish the job or accelerate the work if the law changes to allow public sector unionization.
Our community organizer colleagues assembled by our long time partners and friends at LOCOA – Leaders and Organizers of Community Organizations of Asia and its coordinator, Fides Bagasso, allowed me to see some old friends and meet some new ones, and gave everyone an opportunity to learn about the depth of commitment and conviction that has been the tradition of community organizing in this part of the world for almost 40 years thanks to many heroes like Denis Murphy, Herb White, Rabial Mallick, and scores of others in individual countries.
The stories were moving, but over and over there was a footnote of nostalgia. Training and other programs that had existed before, but had been shut for lack of resources seemed to be an oft repeated theme. I asked about resource limitations for international work, and everyone nodded in agreement.
We have to figure out a way, because in this part of the world there is so much will!