Having the hard conversations: Interview with Jane McAlevey

My interview with Jane McAlevey has been published at Jacobin. The podcast is available here. Due to a lot of upheaval in my personal life (moving and a new job), there was no podcast last week and this will have to do in lieu. Normal podcasting resumes next week!

Michal Rozworski: You’ve argued that organized labor today doesn’t face an external crisis of circumstances, but a crisis of strategy. Things are bad, but for instance if we look back at the ’30s or earlier, working and living conditions weren’t rosy but we still saw huge mobilizations and stronger movement than we have today. If we have a crisis of strategy, what are we missing? What strategies will work today?

Jane McAlevey: It’s an important question, and I should clarify a little bit. There are external factors; I don’t want to dismiss that. The changing nature of capitalism has made things very difficult, so have trade agreements and globalization. As a self-criticism, I think I sometimes come off completely dismissive of external conditions. I mean to put an emphasis on what we control.

I’m fine to talk about globalization till the cows come home. We know it’s there; we know it’s a problem. The question is, what are we doing about it?

I want to focus on a debate that we can actually change. If we do change our strategy, I think we can win again. The reason I pound so much on internal movement failure is because it’s in the movement’s control. We’re not going to change the direction of global trade tomorrow. What we can do tomorrow is sit up as a movement and decide we’ve got the wrong strategies.

There has been this recognition in the last twenty years or so, in the USA in particular, that we have a crisis. The conditions are very difficult, the employer offensive is very difficult. The problem is that the way the US labor movement took the decision to look for additional leverage was to walk away from workers in the workplace and develop these very sophisticated, heavily staffed campaigns — staffed by, no offense, very educated white men who were given written tests in the application process on reading financial spreadsheets. And this was to hire people to think strategically in the labor movement. To me, this summed it all up. The question wasn’t: do you know how to talk to a worker?

The development of the corporate campaign has been a colossal disaster. It’s an evolution in some ways of taking agency away from workers at every level inside the labor movement. The key strategic pivot we have to make is having a ton of faith in the capacities of ordinary rank-and-file workers and in the ordinary intelligence of workers. We have to prioritize our strategy on teaching, skilling up, and training tens of thousands of workers how to fight.

Organizing isn’t rocket science, but it is a serious skill and a craft. We have to build an army of people in the field who can actually contend with capital on the local level. Not talking to workers and having a strategy that fundamentally avoided workers for several decades is what we need to change and what we can change. (more…)

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Jane McAlevey on organizing to win today

I’m very happy to have an extended interview with Jane McAlevey this week. Jane is a well-known US labour organizer and author. During the 2000s, she worked for the SEIU, organizing mostly service and care workers. Much of her work was in right-to-work states, places where the labour movement has had limited success in new organizing. Her work led to strong unions that engaged workers, brought hundreds of workers out to regular bargaining sessions among other innovative tactics and helped fight and win political and community campaigns.

Raising Expectations and Raising Hell is Jane’s account of her time as an organizer and a repository of ideas for organizers. She’s is now a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard and is just about done her second book, which goes further into her thinking on organizing today. I caught up with her after she gave a speech at Unifor’s national organizing conference; here’s to hoping Canada’s labour movement can learn some of the lessons her work offers!

Fair-Contract-blog

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The case for a $15 minimum wage the NDP should make

Of all of the NDP’s campaign promises so far, one of the simplest has gotten the most press: the $15 minimum wage for workers in federally regulated sectors. This campaign plank should be an easy sell for the NDP, yet Conservative and Liberal attacks have managed to undermine it. The way it’s been presented has left it open to attack, but this needn’t be so. (more…)

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CLC Convention 2014 fall-out

 

This week’s convention of the Canadian Labour Congress was more eventful than it has been in some time. There was a change of leadership and an energy palpable even from afar via social media. Of course, four days of convention does not a labour movement make and so today I’ve gathered together three guests to sum up what the convention means in the context of broader labour trends, for young worker and for grassroots organizing.

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The Temporary Foreign Worker Program and labour solidarity

Yesterday, I took a look at the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and how it helps enforce labour discipline on all workers, and low-wage workers in particular. Today, I want to explore the migration side of the migrant worker equation. The context of migration not only makes it easier for employers to exploit TFWs, it also serves to obscure the common core of labour solidarity that should be at the basis of responses to the greater labour discipline that the TFWP enables.

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