Category Archives: Organizing

A New Year, A New Decade

San Juan     2020, nice round numbers with a good solid sound. A new year.  A new decade.  We always hope for the best and settle for the rest.

Living in the United States, after three years of Trump-time, we’re just glad to have made it in one piece, though much the worse for wear.  No wars really ended, but, thankfully, despite all of the bluffs, threats, and tweets, no new ones started, at least so far, except for the tariff wars, whatever that might have wrought.

For many in America, this is the year they have been waiting for, because it’s election year.  On both sides, it’s a time of decision and for settling scores.  Will the resistance prevail, and once again out poll Trump with the surging power of their forces?  Or, will Trump and his band erase their embarrassment of illegitimacy, having lost the popular vote despite winning the election, and succeed in turning back the clock in this rerun and emerging victorious once again despite the odds?  There is fear and loathing around the election on all sides, as gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson would term it.

The round numbers of 2020 also mark a time of anniversaries

ACORN in June will pass fifty years as an organization from its beginning as an idea of building a multi-issued, multi-racial, direct action community organization in Little Rock, Arkansas to its present formation as a multi-national federation of community and labor organizations in more than fifteen countries with several hundred thousand members around the world.  I always said I wanted to make it with ACORN fifty years.  What now?  Sixty? More? Or, less?  What have we learned?  Where are we going?  What new dreams will integrate with the old mission to shape the future?

The quarterly journal that we edit and publish, Social Policy, in each issue of 2020 will celebrate fifty years as well with more than fifteen under our stewardship.  How will we mark these decades in each of the coming issues?

Local 100 will have forty years under its belt, twenty-five as a affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, and four on the front end and eleven on the backend, adding up to fifteen as an independent part of the United Labor Unions in a time that has been hard for working people.  If it’s appropriate to celebrate survival, we will so with vigor.

On a personal note that seems both wonderful, and, frankly, miraculous, mi companera, the love of my life, and I will have lived together for forty years when the calendar hits March of this year.  We just passed thirty years in the same house.  We plan on many more!

We can make lots of resolutions each year and note how many of them are the same as last year, but the truth is that each year if we work as hard as we’re able, love each other as much as possible, and breathe in every minute as fully as it ticks off the time, then it will be another good year.

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Warehouse and Distribution Work, Tough Times at the Choke Points

New Orleans        In the modern economy, warehouse, distribution, and logistical work has become critical for both big box stores, e-commerce, and transportation systems moving goods between all of these nodes and customers.  Some 1.2 million workers are directly employed in this sector now according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Fifteen years ago, when we were running an organizing campaign around Walmart with its workers, we tried to both encourage unionization among warehouse workers and prevent construction of new warehouses to pressure the company.  They had more than twenty different types of warehouses depending on the goods and locations.  Now Amazon in its dominance of e-commerce has millions of square feet of warehouse space.  UPS, FedEx, and don’t forget the US Postal Service have massive computer driven and robot staffed distribution operations to link those systems with transportation by air and land.  Walmart and Amazon trucks are also everywhere.

Organizers have long theorized that these warehouse and distribution centers are choke-points in the economy that might offer leverage to workers organizing.  Reading case studies on these efforts in Choke Points:  Logistic Workers Disrupting the Global Supply Chain, edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Emmanuel Ness, it was hard to feel encouraged despite the valiant efforts of workers in a number of countries, victories have been hard to win and even harder to sustain.  All of this despite the well-reported abysmal condition of the workforce in these locations both here and abroad.

Talking to Mostafa Henaway, the lead organizer of the Immigrant Workers Centre in Montreal on Wade’s World, about the recent report their organization had done on the condition of workers in this industry there, reinforced the difficult situation of these workers.  This is a significant employer in Quebec.  Dollarama, the Walmart-wannabe there, has six warehouses with 20,000 workers.  One of the common issues throughout North America is the number of temporary workers in these facilities frequently surpasses the complement of regular employees.  The IWC estimates there are 63,000 temporary workers in Montreal area in warehouses with a disproportionate number of refugee workers in the equivalent of the HI-B program in the US, except that the employer has more control including holding the visa, making advocacy and organizing even more difficult for such precarious workers.  Sectoral bargaining is allowed in many occupations that can assure minimum wages and the payment of health and social security benefits, and IWC sees this as the best policy solution. The IWC report has gotten wide publicity and is featured in the coming issue of the journal Social Policy, so they are hoping that momentum will build for reform.

In the US, the Imperial Valley of California outside of Los Angeles has been ground zero for the last fifteen years for warehouse and distribution development and worker organizing.  The Warehouse Workers Center has become the key advocacy organization, emerging from the organizing efforts developed by the Change to Win Federation and SEIU, and has faced the same challenges.  Nonetheless, there’s too much kindling to prevent workers getting fired up and making something happen as this sector continues to grow in our economy.

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