Some Lessons for Labor in Unite’s 100% Campaign

London     The last several years the treat at the end of the trail has been lunch with an old friend and comrade somewhere in London’s Chinatown where we catch up on labor union developments and organizing around the world.  Given developments in the USA where unions are contemplating losses of literally millions of members if the decision of the Supreme Court on agency fees goes backwards, as most widely expect, we mined deeply for good news and were rewarded with some deep veins.

One encouraging development continues to be airport worker organizing both in the US and, importantly since this is a global industry, around the world.  The organizing has significant leverage and vital tactical strength in the impact of potential worker action in forcing the hands of airlines, airport contractors, and their legions of subcontractors.  The recent backtracking by low-cost and fiercely anti-union, Ryanair, is a prime example when pilots upended their schedule.  There’s much work to be done though even there.  Flight attendants working the aisles are paid as little as thirty euros a flight!  That airline and many others are routinely breaking all manner of European Union minimum wage and labor standards requirements, so one of the challenges, just as in North America, will be getting real enforcement of the rules.  Work is being done there that seems promising.  This is an ugly secret of worker exploitation that can’t be sustained by the EU.  Another challenge, perhaps more difficult, is within the house of labor itself where the organizing, and eventual bargaining, means moving more than thirty different unions onto the same page.  The chief negotiator better have a bottle of aspirin ready at his fingertips!

Another bright spot we discussed, that surely has international impact, has been the success of the 100% campaign by the giant UK labor union, Unite, so USA unions take note.  The campaign has focused internally where Unite had collective agreements but didn’t have workplace strength in membership, so they set their organizing department at the task of focusing on internal organizing in order to fix this weakness.  Reportedly they have netted almost 100,000 members thus far, and it is now a badge of honor in the union and a minimum standard objective to achieve 100% membership density or darned close to it in every shop.  That’s wildly important and powerful.

As right to work becomes nationalized in the US for public sector workers, just as it has been in more than half the country for years, perhaps United Kingdom unions can teach US unions something that they have tried to ignore in the challenges faced by their southern locals for decades.  These are good lessons learned from hard work.

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ACORN Newcastle Busts Sex-for-Rent Predators

crowd pouring in

Newcastle     My whistle-stop tour of England and Scotland is finally winding down but doing so with a roar.  In Newcastle a great crowd, breaking fifty people, streamed into the “proper” cinema at the Side Gallery, grabbing samosas and drinking box wine before the screening of “The Organizer.”   As a special treat, I got to sit in on a leadership organizing committee meeting before the screening, allowing me to get a sense of what was really happening with Newcastle ACORN and to observe the leaders in action along with ACORN’s organizer, Tom Scott.

Newcastle showing in a proper theater, the Side Gallery

The first item on the agenda was proof positive that I have been traveling too long, because someone it had slipped by me that an action by ACORN Newcastle had been on the BBC just last week as I was coming into the country.  An agenda time entitled “BBC Sex for Rent,” immediately catches your eye!

setting up for signup and ticket checks

report on an upcoming action on a forced eviction …Tom Scott, ACORN organizer standing

The report from one of the leaders, who had acted as a “decoy,” surrounded by Tom and other members in a café, as reported on the video by BBC, indicated that a landlord showed up who had responded to a craigslist posting.  ACORN had been hearing about this problem and had a member post the need for a room in the soaring rental market and the fact that temporarily she was short of money.  There was no artifice in the landlord’s reply, since he had directly responded that he would furnish a room in exchange for “occasional sex.”  No misunderstanding such a reply!  When he realized he was also being filmed, he bolted, and then was convinced to come back, arguing lamely that it wasn’t so much sex, but “companionship” he was seeking, which has to count as one of the lamest lies by a landlord ever.  If he had wanted simply companionship, he could have replied in that vein and willingly offered a spare room to someone in need, rather than stating flatly the exchange for his generosity would be sleeping with him from time to time.

leadership organizing committee before the screening

setting up the food

            Other women at the leadership meeting shared their stories of looking for rent in various cities and being directly or subtly propositioned by landlords in the same way.  ACORN has opened up an issue that is likely a #MeToo moment for many women in our membership and constituency who seem easy prey when they were wishing, as Langston Hughes wrote, “that rent were heaven sent.”

full house with over 50 in Newcastle

I would bet many meetings would find women testifying about similar cases, and once our members started talking about landlords, employers and others would likely be on the list.  If predators with slightly more power can exploit women in big business and Hollywood, it boggles the mind and enrages the soul to thing how often this is part of the daily experience of women with less income and power.

Cheers to ACORN Newcastle for breaking this wide open!

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