Category Archives: Community Organizing

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.


On the Doors in Dublin

Dublin      What a treat!  Intermixed with making the organizing plan for the year with some of the CATU officers, I got to be backup with a couple of the committee on the doors in the Mountjoy-Dorset neighborhood where the first group is being built.

The first thing I learned to great relief is that they had changed the name of the organization, wisely.  Some of the ACORN organizers in the UK had turned up their noses just a bit when they thought the “A” in CATU stood for “and.”  But, no, the name was no longer Community AND Tenants’ Union – Ireland, but Community Action Tenants’ Union.  Sounds better for one and puts action in the game, which is even better.

We stopped on a corner before hitting the doors on St. Ignatius Street, or at least what I thought was St. Ignatius Street, since there was also a St. Ignatius Lane, Road, and whatever in this sainted part of north Dublin near the city center.  The team wanted to do some role plays and work off some of the rust since they were just starting in earnest again on the doors with a regular schedule in place again.  These were veterans but, as my main teammate mentioned, it was different building an organization and laying the groundwork in the rap, than when she had canvassed for votes for the successful abortion referendum recently.  Listening was more important in digging for the issues and moving people towards membership, meetings, and actions.

There were some technical problems that underlined some of the advice I had given them about keeping the list, marking the doors, including the “not homes,” which they had not been doing in any systematic ways.  Noting comments on the doors would help others follow-up as well.  The problem came home clearly when we started at the bottom of the street and our other doorknocker started at the top.  We were early on the doors, before 4PM, so I expected a huge number of not homes, but the first door that answered was a responsive, older man, who almost immediately said he had already visited with us the past weekend and given his contact information.  Another half-dozen doors found us being briskly shooed away by another woman thanking us profusely for working to organize the neighborhood, but hurriedly moving us down the street.  I’d call her a “no.”

My team had some good visits.  We caught a woman and her mother on the street and she left the gate open to her complex letting us knock all the doors there.  Litter, crime along the canal, and the change in the complex to more rentals than mortgage holders all bothered her.  She was a “maybe” for the membership and only slightly better for the meeting.  She made me immediately for an American, not surprisingly.  One of her neighbors was similar and had a mugging with little action by the Garda, as they call the local police.  They gave him a cup of tea, and that was about it.

Our best door was at the end of a cul-de-sac.  A man and his two dogs answered, and he pulled us into the hallway and called his wife, who he thought would be interested.  Over the shoulder I could see a sign on the doorway to the hall that in huge letters said, F*CK YEAH, if you follow me.  We could tell these were our people.  We got a commitment to join and a “yes” for the meeting.

By the time we went in we had collectively done 56 doors, had about 10 visits, and 3 callbacks.  More importantly I could tell we could build a group here, especially if the doorknocking teams pressed harder and more tightly on the rap.  They will get it done.  There’s a month before the meeting that will launch the first ACORN group as CATU-Ireland builds towards its goal of three groups this year, and what I hope is 500 members

Ireland seems green and quick growing turf for ACORN.


Please enjoy 1. Nap Eyes – Mark Zuckerberg by JAGJAGUWAR

Thanks to WAMF.