One Big Union – 2023 ACORN Edition

ACORN International Organizing UK Unions

            Shepley            Every year ACORN’s international organizers and some of our leaders come together in person in the late fall somewhere in Europe or the United Kingdom for that lot, as they say in England, and in the United States for the North American crew early in each new year, usually in the greater New Orleans area.  This year we were almost sixty strong returning to Shepley in West Yorkshire in northern England at the nexus between Sheffield, Leeds, and Manchester.  I may not like this place much, but I love the meeting.

The excitement and energy of the organizers when they get together is electric.  The noise level in the dining area and in the basement, as they all debrief and take a breath after a full day’s meetings, is at an ear-splitting decibel level.  As one of the more pathetic songs of my generation intoned, they’re “happy together.”  It’s an unlikely scene for this radically activist, streetwise crew.  Cliffe House, where we’re meeting, has high ceilings in some rooms, fancy molding, chandeliers, and floor to ceiling curtains.  Upstairs in the bathrooms there are leaden, stained-glass windows, as well as in the boardroom and along the stairways, featuring birds mostly.  I guess this was a mansion for someone at some time in the past, but a conference center now with heavy fire doors everywhere you go that thunder loudly, whenever they are closed throughout the night, when noticed most, and at all times in reality.  All of it works, thanks to an impressively organized UK crew that this year particularly has outdone themselves with a robust and diverse menu, room assignments for bedding and meeting, taped to each door, making everything come together like clockwork.

When the meeting starts and people come together for reports the first evening and for plenaries, workshops, staff and board meetings, from early in the morning to the fat of the night the next day, it’s business with a capital B.  We had guests in this meeting from emerging organizations in Sicily and the Netherlands.  They were blown away.  No surprise really, so was I!  Even when some countries and projects were reporting a hard year for staff with inflation, turnover, and post-pandemic recovery, the progress and victories shown through any clouds over the past months.   There were victories for tenants, from individual evictions to citywide and national reforms that populated the reports.  The workshops were a treasure chest of tips and tools to bring the work to a finer point and fuel more success.  New campaigns for workers in the US, India, and Cameroon were encouraging and inspiring.  Progress in communications and our emerging “Voice of the People” radio network were growing past our imagination.  Community campaigns on taxes, buses, bailiffs, lending, retrofits, pesticides, climate, and more were mind-boggling.  Leaders got together to make develop plans for developing hundreds more to follow in their footsteps.

Nothing is easy, but for all those working for change, a meeting like this puts the wind to our backs for a bit, and, frankly, I wish you all could have been there to see the progress in building one big union, community, labor, and more, ACORN edition 2023.