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Working In These Times

Wednesday, Mar 3, 2010, 5:46 am

Troublemakers Go to ‘School’ in Boston

BY Rand Wilson, AFL-CIO Communications Coordinator

Jobs With Justice's Russ Davis (L), with Myles Calvey (IBEW), AJ Castilla (AFGE), and Fernando Lemus (UFCW) at the February 27 event in Boston.   (Photo by Rand Wilson)

BOSTON—More than 90 union members, students and community activists jammed the SEIU Local 888 union hall here on Saturday for a "Troublemakers School" sponsored by Massachusetts Jobs with Justice.

IBEW Local 2222 Business Manager Myles Calvey gave a rousing welcome to kick things off. "We're not going to get labor's problems solved in Washington or on Beacon Hill unless we take a page from the civil rights and gay rights movements," said Calvey, a former New England telecom strike leader.  "We've got to be a lot more aggressive so that politicians are forced to deal with our issues.  We've got make our problems, their problems!"

Calvey was followed by a panel of local organizers from the United Food and Commercial Workers' Angelica Laundry strike, Service Employees' Local 1199's Caritas hospital campaign and American Federation of Government Employee's Transportation Safety Officers organizing drive. Their presentations were followed by a wide-ranging discussion about organizing strategies and reports from other workplace struggles. (To learn more about these campaigns, go here, here and here.)

Participants at the February 27 event next attended one of seven workshops to share creative strategies and smart tactics for building their unions and fighting corporate greed. Workshops included:

  • "Building a stronger local union"
  • "Organizing in the face of weak labor laws"
  • "Winning contract campaigns"
  • "Fighting layoffs and outsourcing"
  • "Organizing immigrant workers"
  • "Political action for tough times"
  • "Understanding the economic crisis"

For more than a year, the Detroit-based labor newsletter Labor Notes has been sponsoring similar Troublemaker Schools around the country to help sharpen organizing skills and strengthen connections between activists at the local level.  After attending JWJ's event in Boston, Labor Notes Editor Mischa Gaus, an occasional contributor to this blog, said, "I really enjoyed the opportunity to see a solid cross-union group in action, ready to support each other not just in telecom, but in the Stop & Shop fight, the airport campaign, local political battles, etc."

Troublemaker School organizers hoped that the rank-and-file strategy sessions would encourage more activists to participate in local JWJ committees. JWJ staffers Jen Doe and Edwin Argueta wrapped up a closing session about the coalition's ongoing support for local, regional, and national campaigns for jobs, healthcare reform and workers' rights plus local anti-concession struggles. (More info about JWJ committees can be found here.)

There was widespread interest in building for the March 24 noon-time rally to "Make Wall Street Pay" at Bank of America's regional headquarters in Boston.  (More info about that here.) Many activists focused on a possible strike by grocery workers at Stop & Shop, a grocery store chain. If that occurs, UFCW members will need labor and community allies to bolster their local store's picket lines throughout the region.

Jobs with Justice Director Russ Davis was encouraged by the energy and enthusiasm activists brought to the meeting despite challenging circumstances. "I think everyone left with a renewed commitment to building a grassroots movement for workers' rights," Davis said. "We've got to work more closely together at the workplace and community level."

Pictures from the Troublemakers School Boston event can be viewed here.

Rand Wilson is communications coordinator at the AFL-CIO Organizing Dept.'s Center for Strategic Research. He has worked as a union organizer and labor communicator in the United States since the 1980s. For more information about Wilson, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rand_Wilson

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