Hiring Preferences

Person Holding Hire Me Sign in CrowdLondon     Talking with organizers in France and England about hiring and recruiting organizers exposes some interesting paradoxes and time lapses.

In France,  the preferred field to plow was often the university and post-university demographic. The recruits, when identified, would usually be asked to start as volunteers with perhaps just expenses paid. They used a similar system even with their sister organization in their global work. In both cases, sometimes the first stints could lead to paid staff positions. With the French tradition of labor laws and multi-year contracts, the organization with great frankness and transparency about its own situation, offered what they somewhat euphemistically referred to as a “moral” contract, guaranteeing one full-year of pay and a second year of work through eligibility and provision of the public benefit and unemployment payment system.

So much of this was reminiscent of the early years of ACORN, where at one time we had staff positions dedicated to combing the campuses for potential hires and in newer projects like our expansions into labor organizing, staff would often go on-and-off unemployment regularly while we struggled to stabilize the work and the resources. In France,  I often have to pull myself back from over identifying my old days with their “new” days, since so many of the problems, situations, and decisions are so similar.

In England, where a large number of the staff has experience in the Big Society community organizing program, of course new recruits are regularly solicited from that pool. In Birmingham,  where are moving in a different direction the referrals are coming from what labor economists call “job networks,” people who know people.

When asked at one point about where I preferred to hire, I found myself answering that my choices tended towards men and women with life and work experience, whether political or not, rather than students. No doubt this comes from my own experience and perhaps increased bias towards hiring diverse, constituency organizers with strengths and skills that will endure over the long term rather than hoping to convert talented high flyers into marathon runners. I remember being told a rule of thumb when starting in the work that people could easily hire five years older or younger, but not outside that range usually. Sometimes that’s true, I suppose, but in some ways that’s another way of saying that people tend to hire people like themselves. It actually takes some discipline and distance to be open to hiring in a way that looks for gold in all of the hills, but we likely have to work harder to do just that if we want to sustain our organizations over generations. It keeps the work more exciting and innovative at the same time, which is a nice dividend.

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Got to Root for the Pope, because He’s Rooting for Us!

pope-francis-povertyNew Orleans    I don’t know if Pope Francis sees himself as a community organizer or not, but if he doesn’t, I’m pretty sure he’s vying for a position as head cheerleader, and I swear I can see him waving an ACORN banner in the stands.   John Russo, professor emeritus from Youngstown State and co-director of a center on workers there, sent me a link and a suggestion to check out a speech the Pope made in the Vatican in October to participants in a World Meeting of Popular Movements.   My respect for John is towards the top of my list, but in all honesty, reading a speech by the Pope is about at the bottom of my list.

I was wrong for that.  Reading about the Pope saddling up and riding in to address the European Parliament and essentially kicking their butt from here to tomorrow got me thinking that if he’s willing to stand that tall to the big whoops of Europe, what might he have really said when he was talking to people committed to building movements of change.  The short answer:  a mouthful!  Sit back, because here it comes right at you.

There’s no sugar coating either.  First he takes a well-deserved shot at NGO’s, saying,

Neither are they [the poor] waiting with folded arms for the aid of NGOs, welfare plans or solutions that never come or, if they do come, they arrive in such a way that they go in one direction, either to anesthetize or to domesticate.

Then he’s clear about the role of what he calls the “empire of money” and the role of solidarity:

…destructive effects of the empire of money: forced displacements, painful emigrations, the traffic of persons, drugs, war, violence and all those realities that many of you suffer and that we are all called to transform. Solidarity, understood in its deepest sense, is a way of making history, and this is what the Popular Movements do.

As an organizer, if you ever need a pick-me-up, rather than another cup of coffee, you might want to take some props from the Pope, as he names us out for praise,

…you have your feet in the mud and your hands in the flesh. You have the odor of neighborhood, of people, of struggle! We want your voice to be heard that, in general, is little heard. Perhaps because it annoys, perhaps because your cry bothers, perhaps because there is fear of the change you call for…

All of that is just Pope Francis’ warm-up, then he lets rip with the fire…

The scandal of poverty cannot be addressed promoting strategies of containment that only tranquilize and convert the poor into domesticated and inoffensive beings. How sad it is to see that, behind alleged altruistic works, the other is reduced to passivity, is denied. Or, worse still, businesses and personal ambitions are hiding: Jesus would call them hypocrites. How lovely is a change when we see peoples in movement, especially their poorest members and young people. Then the wind of promise is felt that revives the hope of a better world. My desire is that this wind be transformed into a whirlwind of hope.

Bam!  Then here comes his one-two-three punch:

The other dimension of the now global process is hunger. When financial speculation conditions the price of foods, treating them like any merchandise, millions of people suffer and die of hunger. On the other hand, tons of food are thrown away. This is a real scandal.  Hunger is criminal; nourishment is an inalienable right.

Second, roof. I said it and I repeat it: a house for every family. We must never forget that Jesus was born in a stable, because there was no room in the place; that his family had to leave their home and flee to Egypt, persecuted by Herod. Today there are so many homeless families, either because they have never had a home or because they have lost it for different reasons. Family and dwelling go in hand. But, moreover, to be a home a roof must have a community dimension, and it is in fact in the neighborhood where the great family of humanity begins to be built, from the most immediate, from coexistence with one’s neighbors. Today we live in huge cities that are modern, proud, and even vain. Cities that offer innumerable pleasures and wellbeing for a happy minority. However, a roof is denied to thousands of our neighbors and brothers, including children, and they are called, elegantly, “persons in a street situation.” It is curious how in the world of injustices, euphemisms abound. A person, a segregated person, a person put aside, a person suffering poverty, hunger, is a person in a street situation: an elegant word, no? You must always look – though I might be mistaken in regard to some — but in general, behind a euphemism there is a crime.

Third, work. There is no worse material poverty – I must stress it – there is no worse material poverty than one that does not allow for earning one’s bread and deprives one of the dignity of work. Youth unemployment, informality, and the lack of labor rights are not inevitable; they are the result of a previous social option, of an economic system that puts profit above man; if the profit is economic, to put it above humanity or above man, is the effect of a disposable culture that considers the human being in himself as a consumer good, which can be used and then discarded.

And, then in closing he pretty clearly tells all of us working with organizations and movements to build power for change and justice to get on the job!

The Popular Movements express the urgent need to revitalize our democracies, so often kidnapped by innumerable factors. It is impossible to imagine a future for society without the active participation of the great majorities and that protagonism exceeds the logical proceedings of formal democracy. The prospect of a world of lasting peace and justice calls us to overcome paternalistic welfarism; it calls us to create new ways of participation that include the Popular Movements and animate local, national and international government structures with that torrent of moral energy that arises from the incorporation of the excluded in the building of a common destiny.

Amen!

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HUD Section 3: An Organizing Opportunity for Winning Jobs in Our Neighborhoods

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 4.11.42 PMNew Orleans     Within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 3 is nothing new after 45 years of enactment, but it remains a powerful weapon for creating employment in low income communities that is more often left in the holster than used effectively.  Simply put, Section 3 requires HUD contractors to give what we used to call “first preference” to qualified residents when making new hiring decisions.  This is not a set aside for businesses like most of the programs, but an individually driven hiring program.  That is, if workers in the community know about it, if anyone in HUD or the local housing authorities are paying attention to it, and likely if there is an actual organization in the low income community kicking both of their buns to make sure Section 3 is not a dead letter but a real job creator.

            I was reminded of the power and promise of Section 3 and the too often pathetic performance by an article in Shelterforce by Katy Reckdahl that spoke of “lifting the fog on Section 3.”  Reading the article it was clear that it was less a “fog” than a problem of indifferent and nonexistent follow through and enforcement by those responsible or as she wrote, “…agency administrators spoke in a chorus on one point:  No Section 3 jobs program will work without stringent monitoring.”

            Hello?

            And, let’s be clear, the monitoring at every level sucks.  Before 2006, HUD only got 4% of the required Section 3 reports from local and state governments and housing agencies.  Now the figure is up to 25%, but that’s still a failing grade everywhere.  Worst, most should get both F’s and Incompletes, because 80% of the reports according to HUD testimony to Congress indicated that they “failed to meet the minimum goals and did not include valid explanations for this failure….”

            The loopholes Swiss cheese the program as well.  Though required to hire low income workers for 30% of the new hires, there are no requirements that their work will equal 30% of the hours billed on the job, so some contractors “churn” the jobs by hiring a crowd of workers for short term, even one day stints, as laborers to make the numbers required at the lowest wages they can skate by with.  Training also is defined as “to the greatest extent feasible,” providing another loophole, which some smarter agencies have abandoned to prevent contractors from shrugging off the requirement by saying no one could make muster.

            All of which makes Section 3 tailor made for community organizations trying to deliver jobs to their members when there are large and small construction projects happening in housing projects.  It’s a straight up fight where everything is on our side and it’s possible to negotiate not only jobs but the tools to make sure members get the jobs from record inspection to hiring observations to even union cooperation in helping populate apprenticeship programs that are often searching for applicants.  The targets are dirty, the meetings are public, and there are jobs waiting to be won, if we’re willing to get back in the saddle and ride hard on these outfits.

 

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Unions Building Community Organizations in Britain

public_1919045cLondon    In an interesting development several large labor unions, including Unison and Unite, are building what they call community organizing programs in recognition of the increasing importance of communities in building their programs. 

In the case of Unite, the country’s largest labor union with more than 2 million members, organizers meeting with me in London told me that see their emerging program as critical in filling the gaps in some of the deindustrialized areas of England where they once were dominant. A significant union commitment of close to a million dollars has staffed community organizing coordinators in all of the union’s districts and has added several dozen organizers to the program along with creating partnerships with community centers and others to deepen their outreach.  For Unison, a largely public sector union, the main emphasis has been in the Birmingham area where they have a partnership with Citizens, the formation expanding from London Citizens in recent years around the country.  London Citizens, drawing heavily from the faith-based institution model closely identified with the Alinsky-influenced Industrial Areas Foundation in the USA, in this project has increasingly made the union its main partner there.

In a lengthy conversation with the community organizing department at Unite, it was fascinating to hear their ambitions and commitment in figuring out how to develop a community membership with a fifty-pence per week membership “subscription,” which is around $3.30 per month.  There was clarity that they wanted these community members, and eventually the groups formed when a 50 member threshold was reached, to be able to support the labor union when it had struggles, and in that vein they shared several stories of picket line support that had already emerged in some fights.  There was also a deep trade union commitment to providing robust services for this membership in the same way that they heavily serviced their existing bargaining units.  They were still working out various organizing models though and trying to calibrate the issues involved in building power through these groups on community issues as well as their position on the necessary levels of autonomy and, eventually, sustainability, all of which are hard issues for any organization.

Nonetheless at this point their target constituencies are the unemployed, retired, and others in their areas and much of their literature reads along the lines of the AFL-CIO’s Union Privilege program and various US-union “associate membership” programs or perhaps even the AFL-CIO’s Working America program.  Recruitment is directly to Unite as a community member of the union and though the literature and program is aggressive in talking about campaigning on issues that are deeply important to the public due to austerity cuts in the country, like the “bedroom tax” raising the rents on social or public housing tenants and the council or local government tax support in reducing benefits, when ticking off the “reasons to join” the list though is largely benefits and service from debt counseling to legal advice to job training skills.  

The pilots are promising and serious.  Doubtlessly, part of the push by labor is also political.  The alienation from the existing government led by the Conservatives and the disaffection with the neo-liberal policies of “New Labour” under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, have left labor in the United Kingdom looking to unite with others to also find common political cause to protect and advance their members, and the community can’t be overlooked.  All of this is worth watching.

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Immigration Arrests: A Sign of Tactical Shift or Desperation

o-IMMIGRATION-ACTIVISTS-ARRESTED-facebookLittle Rock  More than forty representatives of unions, community groups, and pro-immigration reform advocates were arrested for civil disobedience in Washington, D.C. for street blocking in traffic.   Those arrested included major advocates like Gustavo Torres of Casa de Maryland and Petra Falcon of Arizona, as well as leaders of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, UFW, CWA, Center for Community Change, US Action, and others in the immigration reform coalition.  After more than four years where the dominant strategy has been “inside the beltway” pressure on Congress for immigration reform, is a move to civil disobedience a sign of a significant tactical and even strategic shift or an expression of desperation with the stalling and stalemate in the House of Representatives?

            The one thing that can be clear is that symbolic civil disobedience along these lines might be intended to put pressure on the White House, but would not put any pressure on the far right wing of the House, which is where the problem seems stuck.  Furthermore, because this was a “leadership” tactic in DC, it also probably does not signal a fundamental shift in strategy or tactics by reform advocates.  There still seems to be a consensus to accept something even gnarlier in a bill that might emerge from the House after the summer recess, and hope for the best in a conference between the Senate and House.

            But, maybe it is time for such a shift?   Over the last several years the most significant victory for reform advocates has been by the DREAMers and was absolutely accomplished by brave tactics by victims of terrible governmental policy willing to risk deportation in order to win a future.  The strength of the DREAMers’ tactics and strategies also were locally-based in communities and states around the country, rather than in Washington.  This was not an advocacy play, but a legitimate movement by participants, and it moved the needle from the White House to Congress.  A similar shift in the immigration effort from reform in Congress to the tactics and strategy more typical of a civil and human rights movement might be enough to change the playing field and political calculus sufficiently to finally open up space for more legitimate political change, rather than this climate of “negotiating with ourselves” for whatever might be available.

            At one level these arrests were simply a rock thrown at the window of Congress as they broke for summer recess, hoping Speaker Boehner, Congressman Paul Ryan, and other so-called leaders over there would get the message that advocates are united.  Unfortunately, they think they already have a louder message from their backbenchers, and until there is more movement in the streets and workplaces around the country from the twelve million who need reform most desperately, we all have to fear that we are not likely to win what we need this round or this way.

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Non-Standard Workers are the New Informal Workforce in Japan

informal workers

New Orleans   Casual, temporary, irregular (Korea), part-time, and informal are all terms of art in different countries describing everywhere essentially the same global workforce phenomena in the race to the bottom for public and corporate employers sweating labor from workers on a come-as-you-are, no benefits, we-will-call-you-whenever-we-need-you basis.  We learned from hours of intensive dialogue with a delegation of labor researchers from Tokyo visiting with ACORN International, Local 100 United Labor Union, and A Community Voice representatives yesterday in the Fair Grinds Coffeehouse Common Space and later in our offices in the 9th Ward, that in Japan this growing phenomena translates to “non-standard” workers, as opposed to regular workers who are referred to as “standard” workers.  In the cutbacks to the public sector, most of the new hires are now non-standard workers who work largely part-time hours with no benefits confronting long traditions of more secure conditions for Japanese workers.

A delegation headed by Dr. Ken Yamazaki, a senior researcher at the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, and including graduate students, other researchers, Professor Koshi Endo from Meiji University, and Professor Tsutsui Miki from Hosei University, all from the Toyko area visited with us most of the day, and it was an education for everyone involved.  Our friends from Japan were trying to better understand community organizing models and methodologies and how such organizations, for which there seem to be no ready equivalents in Japan, are also essential in building community-and-labor based organizing strategies.  The corporation-based labor union and labor relations system in Japan creates strongly corporatist organizing and representation philosophies which seem to have made responding to new, non-standard and more informal work situations and practices, especially difficult adaptations.  Union membership is over 10,000,000 (compared to over 12,000,000 in USA) and density is closer to 20%, which is much more robust than the USA, but nonetheless declining and presenting an impending crisis according to most of the comments made by the delegation.  We talked a lot about our “majority unionism” strategy and whether or not such a strategy might work in Japan, but this was one of many impossible to answer questions.

In 2009 a delegation had visited from Japan that was interested and involved in living wage campaigns.   We learned that the national minimum wage is closer to $9.00 than our $7.25, and that there have been isolated regional “living wage” successes at establishing levels over the national minimum, but these efforts were foundering in legal problems.  There was a lot of interest in “community benefit agreements,” the “transactional” rather than “transformative” relationships between labor and community partnerships, and other issues that kept the conversation flying!

Our friends from Japan, when asked about the UAW fears that Nissan would covert the workforce in Canton, Mississippi (yesterday’s blog) to a temporary or non-standard crew, thought it unlikely.  They discounted the possibility because they saw no signs of Nissan doing any such thing in Japan despite some of these other trends in the country.

Ken and Miki had been involved in a book and research involving community organizing and its history so were especially interested in a decade by decade history of community organizing in the United States, which took all of us down memory lane.  We learned that Saul Alinsky had also detoured through Japan on his Far East tour that touched with lasting impact on our friends in Manila and Seoul, but disappointingly Ken still had not been able to find any legacy of his visit in Japan.  Saul may have been simply changing planes in 1971 or so during the visit or been a tourist for a day, all of which would have been understandable to all of us as well.

workers looking for jobs in Japan

 

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