Organizing Tips from Bulgarian Enviros and Justice for All

Sofia     Organizing is somewhere on the spectrum between craft, trade, and art, so to keep even, much less ahead, of developments in the work, it’s important to pick up tips and examine the “nuts and bolts” wherever you can.  Conversations and observations in Bulgaria were providing me a laundry list of lessons.

On a lunch break I was able to observe a demonstration in front of the Environment building in Sofia of between 150 and 200 protesting an attempted development of a ski resort in the mountains and calling for the government to Save Pirin.  The organizers had fabricated a large sign as the focus of the protest which was quite elaborately constructed, partially on the site, where the pieces were assembled, but individual protestors were allowed their own creativity.  One had made a hand puppet, which drew a lot of attention, clapping in unison with the crowd’s chants as a rooster with a Save Pirin sign.  Another was in a green getup that ridiculed the rich developer who was taking a loan from his own bank to finance the project.  Either the signs were homemade or didn’t exist.

 

I was fascinated as well by the sound system.  I can remember our own routine of borrowing a shopping cart and a car battery to hook up a speaker and microphone for marches and demonstrations.  Here I found a modification of high tech sophistication, complete with its own portable generator, portable hand microphones, giant speakers on stands, and enough gear that I thought any minute we might be broadcasting a local radio show, all of which had been approved by police permit, which was equally surprising.  Quite impressive.

Later in the afternoon, I spent a fascinating couple of hours with Atanas Sharkov, who was not only a tech and app developer, including for the very popular, Taxistars, used by independent drivers to compete with Uber, but also a sparkplug behind Justice for All, a coalition that has been trying to reform the judicial system.  Tactically, they had tried to introduce a referendum to get Parliament to allow a vote on their issue.  The requirements were relatively low, only 5000 valid signatures, but Parliament had the power to decide whether to accept the referenda proposals, which led to easy rejection.

 

We talked a lot about lists, which are part of the lifeblood of organizing drives.  Organizers were not allowed to retain a list of their signature signers or at least all of the information, but obviously they were able to keep a list of their petition circulators which potentially afforded a pool of volunteer organizers to deepen their national base, I felt.  They mainly organized through a Facebook page where they now had 40,000 likes, almost 5000 added in the last 4 months, so a very vibrant tool.  Since Atanas knew his way around the tech side, I was able to get quick affirmative answers on whether or not he had excelled the list and data matched to phone, email, and address records that could fuel an effort to build organizing committees around the country.  Additionally, he was knowledgeable and skilled in the area of predictive and autodialers that could also be invaluable for direct communication to support the  organizing.

Justice for All has the capability to embrace all of these tools to create a mass organization, if they were to decide to take the natural next step and go from social media to street work.  Posting is fine, but doorknocking is calling their names.

This was exciting!

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Wanted: A Non-Commercial Company and Boss Guide for Workers

New Orleans  Talking to organizers in Europe in recent weeks, it was interesting to hear that prospects for new warehouse distribution center operations by Amazon have triggered waves of social media comment, protest, and, of course, interest in what the jobs mean, what they pay, and how to deal with the reputation of the company to its rank-and-file warehouse crew.  To organizers this is the scent in the air that could bring them running at the potential of organizing the workforce from the ground up.  Who knows.  Easier said and done, even across the pond.

After batting around various ideas about how to use social media in prospecting for organizing leads and identifying organizing targets, I ended up reading a long piece in The New Yorker that largely focused on a website and app operation called Glassdoor, based in the US but with a footprint in Europe as well.  Glassdoor and its different, but similar, competitors like Vault, JobVent, and F**kedCompany among others, allow people to comment on and evaluate their employers and bosses the same way that popular sites like Yelp allow restaurant customers to rate and rank restaurants and their dining experience.

The article and much about it praised the transparency that such sites allowed employees and in the spirit of the moment some advocates thought it could help expose situations involving sexual harassment and even abuse by offering such a forum.  The article wasn’t just a fan letter though, pointing out repeatedly the conflicts of interest commercial sites like Glassdoor have by essentially allowing companies for a pricey fee to take over their Glassdoor website and soften the critique.  The problem of company encouraged and sponsored reviews that poured sugar in the coffee to distort any criticism also poisoned the transparency and more high-minded mission statement of Glassdoor.  At same time they claimed that personnel departments paid attention to comments and often were asked to comment in job interviews about negative comments on Glassdoor.

All of which got me thinking that it would be wonderful if there were a “real” site that was noncommercial and worker-run and oriented, rather than commercial and corporate infected, so that workers could share information and find out the whole story on their companies, inside and out.  There’s still every evidence despite contradictory impacts that transparency in pay tends to resolve inequities.  The requirements for salary publications in the United Kingdom have certainly had impact, including the resignation of a noted BBC reporter when she found she was paid way less than her co-host.

We need something like a Wikipedia for Workers, if you follow my argument here.  Sure, this would help organizers, and I wish it would help unions, though I doubt that they would have the interest or capacity to alter their model sufficiently to take advantage of the information and interest.  The real beneficiaries would be workers gaining the information and the ability to use it to self-organize and stand up for themselves and each other in their workplaces and force competition and equity in their industries.

That’s my phone ringing.  Someone needs to answer the call!

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