Labor Research Review, Volume 1, Number 20 (1993)

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Labor Research Review, Volume 1, Number 20 (1993)

Building on Diversity: The New Unionism


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    Home-Made Organizing: CWA's Strategy in the South Relies on the Folks Who Live There
    Oppenheim, Lisa (1993-04-01)
    [Excerpt] The CWA's got some down-home organizing cooking down South. Unlike other organizing in the South where the workforce is either predominantly black or white, CWA's targeted workforce in the public sector is composed of black and white workers. The CWA is not new in the South: there are 160,000 CWA members in the region — nearly one quarter of the union's entire membership — 80% of whom are based in the private sector. How do you organize a local composed of black and white workers in the South? LRR Editor Lisa Oppenheim turned to Marilyn Haith, organizer for CWA's District 3 which is composed of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky, Florida, and Louisiana.
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    We Are Union Builders Too: Oregon Union Tackles Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation
    Montague, Ann (1993-04-01)
    [Excerpt] Most unionists agree that discrimination is a union issue. Unions have civil rights departments and push legislative agendas, but it's the stewards who are on the front lines every day defending workers against discrimination on the job. But what if the steward speaks or acts in ways which exhibit bigoted attitudes? What does this do to the stewards' overall effectiveness? How can the victim of discrimination be fully represented? How does the steward's behavior reflect upon the union?
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    LRR Focus: Childcare at the S.F. General Mail Facility: Sound Familiar?
    Numbers from the SFGMF Childcare Project Survey
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    "To Hell with you, Charlie": The UAW has a long history of confronting sexual harassment
    Housch Kwanza Collins, Linda (1993-04-01)
    [Excerpt] Possibly no union was better poised to meet the challenge of sexual harassment after Anita Hill's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee than the United Auto Workers. For half a century the UAW has addressed sexual discrimination on the job. This commitment, though wavering at times was sustained by the determined women who worked on the international staff, the strong women on the shop floor who battled second class citizenship, and the civil rights and women's movements that both pressured and supported the union's efforts. Thus, when the nation turned its attention to sexual harassment in 1991, the UAW was ready.
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    LRR Focus: "Do's and Don'ts for Members who are Closeted and Members who are Out."
    {Excerpt} DO confront homophobic jokes and attitudes wherever they strike. Closeted gays have very good hearing. If you let a comment or joke slip by within hearing range you can be assured that your credibility with that worker is destroyed.
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    LRR Voices:Organizing Immigrant Asian Workers
    Lai, Ho Nhu (1993-04-01)
    Ho Nhu Lai came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1975 and began work In a food processing plant. He was shop steward for UFCW Local 271 and is now an International Representative for the union's Western Region staff, Ho is also on the Board of Directors of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. He spoke to Labor Research Review on the importance of cultural understanding.
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    Organizing for Justice: ILGWU Returns to Social Unionism to Organize Immigrant Workers
    Hermanson, Jeff (1993-04-01)
    [Excerpt] Desperate situations bring forth desperate responses. But garment workers are demonstrating that when educated of their rights and assured of support, they are ready to struggle for justice, even when chances of success seem poor. The ILGWU currently faces many challenges: How do we organize an industry composed of thousands of tiny, subcontractors? How do we build on isolated collective actions to create a groundswell for change in the workers' communities that cannot be ignored? How do we restrict the flight of jobs from unionized communities to nonunion areas, within the U.S. and beyond its borders?
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    Environmental Justice = Social Justice: Southern Organizing Heralds New Movement
    Braden, Anne (1993-04-01)
    [Excerpt] In December 1992, more than 2500 people from the cities, small towns, and countryside of 14 Southern states gathered in New Orleans for a Southern Community-Labor Conference for Environmental Justice. In one sense, the conference was part of a new environmental movement, for that's the issue that fired it. But in another sense, this is a new social justice movement, for it has redefined the term "environmentalism" to include all of the life conditions of a community.
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    This World Called Miami: ACTWU Approaches Union-Building in a Multi-Cultural Framework
    Russo, Monica (1993-04-01)
    [Excerpt] In Miami, ACTWU has a local union which runs fine. We enjoy close to 100% membership in our shops—despite the fact that Florida is a "Right to Work" state—and we have a dedicated executive board. So, if it ain't broke then don't fix it, right? Wrong. While we might be running smoothly in terms of servicing our members, we are in no position to move into the future and organize any significant number of apparel workers.
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    Organizing Ourselves: Drywallers' Strike Holds Lessons for the Future of Labor Organizing
    De Paz, Jose (1993-04-01)
    [Excerpt] In October 1991, drywall hanger Jesus Gomez complained to the drywall contractor for whom he worked that his check was short $60 for the week. The contractor refused to pay up the difference — and he felt safe doing so. He'd conducted business this way for years and his predatory attitude told him these drywallers, (poor, immigrant, Mexican, often undocumented, and without a union to defend their interests,) were in no position to challenge the status quo. Besides, the economic recession and construction slump provided added insurance against worker discontent. Unfortunately for drywall contractors, Gomez was more than discontented. He was determined to do something about this state of affairs. Gomez began to speak with other drywallers at their homes and at worksites throughout southern California, slowly fashioning the complaints and frustration into collective strength and a plan of action. When the group became a few hundred strong, an ultimatum was issued to contractors: Either you agree to increases in piece rates and other conditions by June 1, 1992 or we will strike.
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    LRR Voices: Health & Safety for Unorganized, Immigrant Workers
    Tau Lee, Pam (1993-04-01)
    Pam Tau Lee is Labor Coordinator at the Labor Occupational Health Program at the University of California, Berkeley, and serves on the boards of the National Toxic Campaign Fund, National People of Color Environmental Summit, and the Chinese Progressive Association, She recently returned from Slovakia where she collaborated with environmentalists and worker representatives in setting up a participatory approach to health and safety research. LRR asked Lee to comment on the crucial role labor can play in the area of health and safety for unorganized, immigrant workers.
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    Multiculturism in Building the Union
    Sheinkman, Jack (1993-04-01)
    [Excerpt] The trade union movement has always been the strongest when it has built upon diversity and woven from that diversity a grand mosaic — embracing different cultures and traditions in the name of that one great notion of solidarity. Our strength has always been in our diversity and solidarity has always been our motto.
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    LRR Voices: Local 11 takes on L.A.
    Siegel, Lou (1993-04-01)
    [Excerpt] [Maria Elena] Durazo became a leader of an increasingly vocal and militant opposition within the local. A challenge to the incumbent officers took shape. Durazo's training and her close ties with Latino groups and the progressive elements in the Los Angeles labor movement made her a formidable candidate. Many of the activists who had energized the Farmworkers struggle of the previous decade came together again for her campaign. "We had learned how to organize immigrant workers around issues of class and justice," says Durazo. "We were doing that again."
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    Space and Opportunities: Developing New Leaders to Meet Labor's Future
    Needleman, Ruth (1993-04-01)
    [Excerpt] The "how to" guide for developing new leadership for the union movement, particularly women and people of color, does not exist. The need exists, however, and increasingly more unions and union leadership acknowledge the urgency of the task.
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    LRR Focus: "When You Stop Organizing, You Really Lose the Union"
    [Excerpt] An Interview with Larry Cohen, Organizing Director of the CWA.
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    For Our Children: Childcare Concerns Link Postal Workers Across the Racial Divide in San Fransisco
    Moy, Debbie (1993-04-01)
    [Excerpt] "Celebrating diversity" — it's the latest trend for justice-minded union and community activists. Management, too, is interested in diversity: note the steady stream of articles, books, and seminars for business executives on the subject. Even President Clinton stated his desire to create an administration that "looks like America." Listening to a union activist share her experiences of 20 years in the U.S. Postal Service is a good way to bring a dose of realism to the diversity hype. Karen Wing, a Chinese-American woman who is a shop steward and clerk in the San Francisco General Mail Facility, knows how very hard it is to build understanding and lasting unity among different nationalities. "More than anything else, unions and activists trying to implement diversity programs need to emphasize patience and perseverance," Wing says. This is especially true on the shop floor, where workers may not have the full power of the international or local union structures behind them. The question Wing faced in her local was "How do you organize in a diverse workplace when you are essentially 'on your own?'" The problems are enormous. As a shop steward, people often come to Wing with their complaints. Some pro-union black workers ask, "Why don't those Asians speak English? Are they talking about me? Look how they play up to management, they don't even care about the union." On the other hand, some Asian immigrant workers ask Wing, "How can you work in the union? I can't be a shop steward — my English isn't good enough. And those black people are always complaining about work." Handling remarks like these is not easy. How do you fight a management that deliberately stirs up racial antagonisms? How do you build a union responsive to a diverse workforce? For Wing, meeting these challenges on the shop floor begins with knowing the history and changes occurring within the workplace.
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    Racism on Every Side: Good Unionism Will Lead to Good Race Relations . . . Someday
    Williams, Jarvis (1993-04-01)
    [Excerpt] "This is not a black union, white union, red, brown, or green. This is a union of workers who, over the past 50 years or so, have struggled to make life a little easier for future members of this great union. These workers have had to put up with the likes of the Chicago Board of Education, the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District, and the Cook County Commissioners. And, we must be prepared to continue this struggle." As a black man, as a former union organizer in both the North and South, and now as a local President, I know about white racism. I know what to expect and I'm ready for it. But racism from every side — sometimes subtle, sometimes explicit — is more difficult to deal with. Sometimes you confront it directly, sometimes you have to ignore it. Sometimes you make a point and move on. Always, you agitate and organize.