Sorting Out ACORN and Labor

ACORN International Community Organizations International Labor Organizing

Bergerie de Villareaux       We dedicated an afternoon of workshops and full plenary sessions in the meeting of ACORN’s global organizing staff to explicating more fully for everyone the variety and depth of our efforts and partnerships in organizing informal and service workers.  Certainly, this is the heart of our organizing and support for the ACORN unions and projects in India, and, luckily, for the first time two of our office directors had been able to get visas and attend the meeting.  Others came to understand the history of our efforts since 1980 with our sister organization, the United Labor Unions, as well as other fledgling efforts in Lyon, France, and alliances in the United Kingdom and Peru.  Our longtime comrades from the Netherlands, Lieke Smits and Ron Mayer, now both in critical organizing positions within the one-million member FNV, also attended and shared with us their strategy and work using digital organizing techniques and organizing essential, or indispensable, as they are called in Holland, workers.

Our sister organization and affiliate, ReAct Transnational, based in Lyon, but working to support ACORN in Cameroon, as well as supporting a variety of labor-based campaigns and individual union and global federation efforts, was also center stage.  Correctly, the ReAct coordinator, Marielle Bencheboune, had sought to use the meeting to integrate and coordinate the work of ReAct globally, especially in Europe, with the work being done by ACORN and its affiliates, country by country.  Meetings with the country directors and senior organizers made this issue a central topic as well.  The emerging recognition of the power and sweep of Amazon and its business model, now vying to replace Walmart, our longtime nemesis, as the number one concern for workers had made the topic more fundamental as well.

The crux of the debate was both strategic and tactical, but relied on important, but illusive, reckonings.  Various affiliates reported long histories of trainings and contracts with unions for this and that on a tactical level that is often transactional.  Many saw unions as primary financial supporters as well, especially in Canada and Peru.  Others saw our value proposition to be our experience in organizing workplaces directly (home care, Walmart, school workers) at scale in US and globally or through contracts, as strategic partners on a more transformative level.  Each country’s experience is distinct, while Marielle and ReAct are willing and able to translate and support the work globally, how should this be coordinated and bring value to the local country organizations and project as well?  Increasingly, our strongest suit has been organizing informal workers where there is interest, but there are few equivalences among institutional labor or attention and investment, globally or nationally.  The very thinness of many union organizing programs and capacity is also delimiting in building labor-community alliances.

Progress was made, but the question is both important and challenging, so much discussion and work remains to be done to develop consensus on a seamless plan to advance all interests forward.