Category Archives: ACORN International

A Top-ish Down Twist on a Bottom-up Campaign

New Orleans       At the Year End – Year Begin meeting of our principal North American organizers with ACORN and Local 100 United Labor Unions at NO-MAC at the Rathke Residence in New Orleans, we continued to push out the discussion on ways to expand our mass-based organizing past the inevitable ceilings of staff-size.  There were many interesting suggestions and evaluations of our work against this increasingly important measure.

Orell Fitzsimmons, Local 100’s Texas state director and longtime field director, was paired with Toney Orr, Arkansas state director and newly appointed field director, to lead a workshop on “How We Can Spur More Organizing without Organizers” in a swansong performance as the clock winds down on his last days as a regular staff member before his retirement after more than thirty-years.   Orell once again discussed the successful campaign the union had conducted over several years in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) to move the wages up for custodial and food service staff. We’ve been able to go from $8 per hour to $10 per hour to $12 and now near $14 per hour.  Workers and our members who have led the campaign are obviously ecstatic.  In this workshop, Orell took the discussion in a surprising, but logical, direction once he laid it out.

Wage compression is a key concept in understanding wage policy for union organizers and negotiators, and really for anyone who works or manages workers.  The best way to understand it is to recognize the obvious that when senior workers see junior workers right on their tail in terms of wages, the there’s a wage compression problem.  There’s no space in terms of wage differential that explains why one worker is rank-and-file and another is supposedly a supervisor or mini-management.  As the Houston Local 100 organizers visited the almost 300 schools in HISD and talked to workers in the cafeterias, they also talked to plant operators and cafeteria managers who on the chain of command are somewhere between lead-workers and full-bore managers.  They don’t have the ability to hire and fire, but they do supervise work and write people up.  At the same time, they are still “on the tools” and do the work.  The problem at HISD is that even as we won the raises for the workers, the plant operators and food service managers were stuck at roughly $14 per hour as well creating a huge wage compression opportunity for the union.

Fitzsimmons argued in this workshop that having the union campaign for these lead workers and mini-management to get a raise now as well would not only benefit them and provide the union with hundreds of new members, but provide other benefits.  On one level creating more wage differential for those workers would help our current membership push for a higher level as well.  On the critical level of building the organization, running a campaign and delivering for these sometimes-supervisors would also allow us to push them to organize and enroll their workers.  As workplace leaders they would be excellent at signing up members, and on this workshop, that was the point.  The union could expand its membership past its organizers using the campaign and mobilizing these supervisors, who we normal eschew.

It might be a semi-top approach that is not common for the union, but working through a bottom-up campaign, would benefit all the workers and teach us more lessons about how to get the most out of our members, regardless of the size of our staff.

We’re going to miss Orell Fitzsimmons on our team.


Internet Radio is Booming in Dublin

Little Rock      In Dublin, Ireland, ACORN’s affiliate, CATU-Ireland, shares offices in a progressive, community co-working space with a bunch of different organizations and artists in a building near the Mountjoy neighborhood called Jigsaw.  The name captures the sense of bringing a number of different groups – pieces – in the city together.  Meetings are held downstairs.  There was a rave the Saturday night before I arrived that went all hours.  We share space with the Dublin Tenant Action Group and next door was a small space with D.D.R. marked on the front window.

D.D.R.  stands for Dublin Digital Radio, an internet radio station that started only two or three years ago and has made their studio in Jigsaw.  Different kinds of music and hosts have found a home there quickly.  I talked to Rachel Kiersey at some length for Wade’s World. She and her son are on the board of the Community Action Tenants Union and their family had put me up the first night I was in Dublin on an estate about forty kilometers outside of the city, bordering the Irish Sea.  She acts as the scheduler for D.D.R., so it gave me an opportunity to learn more about how such internet-streaming only stations were getting on.

We’re very interested for many reasons.   Of course, all of our stations stream on the internet, so we know how powerful that can be.  Importantly, we are trying to move mountains, almost literally, but more accurately find the tallest building that might work in the giant Korogocho megaslum in Nairobi, so we can stream at KOCH-FM, which we are now co-managing as a small “voice of the people” station in this area where we have been organizing ACORN for most of a decade.   AM/FM, the Affiliated Media Foundation Movement, is also supporting a joint application for an internet station operating in Uganda with our application before the commissioners now.  We’re hoping that could also be a prelude to a terrestrial station.  The challenging question is whether it will work and be sustainable.

Certainly, the experience in Dublin with D.D.R. seems to be a big resounding, yes.  They are just off of a 20,000-euro crowd funding campaign to move and build out a new studio in larger space, and their support exceeded their goals.  They have more than one-hundred “residents,” which is what they are calling their hosts or DJs.  Their website is gorgeous!

Rachel was unsure about their listenership precisely.  They are using a program that makes analytics difficult, and expensive it seemed to me, but the support from hosts and listeners, as evidenced by the fundraiser, seems strong.  They have found a big opening on the dial for alternative music, partially it seems because the noncommercial side of radio is decidedly not community radio, if I understood her correctly.  Furthermore, such local, community stations that exist are also commercial.  Clearly that helps pay the bills, but it’s different from the US experience by a long shot.

Radio is still powerful everywhere.  We just submitted our renewal application for WAMF in New Orleans, next week we will do so for WDSV in Greenville, and KABF is coming up this spring.  The AM/FM board has its annual meeting in coming days in New Orleans.

Let’s make hundreds of these flowers bloom to create voices – and power — for the people!