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strategy and tactics

How Black and White Alabama Coal Miners Organized in the Depths of Jim Crow

Beating the Climate Clock: Workers, citizens and state action in the UK

By Hillary Wainright - Transnational Institute, February 21, 2024

It’s April 2020. In the UK, the COVID-19 pandemic was at its height. Ventilators were running out. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was calling for ‘Our Great British Companies’ to come to the rescue and manufacture emergency supplies. Apart from existing producers of ventilators, there was little response. But at the Airbus factory in North Wales, the well-organised Unite branch representing over 4,000 workers, took matters into their own hands and, in a matter of weeks, led the conversion of the factory’s research and development facility into an assembly line producing components for up to 15,000 ventilators for the National Health Service (NHS).

‘Without the union’, commented the Unite convenor, Darren Reynolds, ‘it would have been chaos, lots of problems without any procedure to resolve them. We’ve built up a tried and tested organisation and established procedures for solving them’. He cites the all-important role of workers’ elected health and safety representatives in turning the Welsh government-funded Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (part of the Airbus site) into an adapted sterile environment. ‘Our 60 health and safety reps have been able to pre-empt the problems and solve them in advance’, he explains.

In this way, 500 Airbus workers, previously producing aircraft wings, turned their skills to producing ventilator parts, meeting social needs, securing jobs, and strengthening their union organisation in the process.

The organisation of the conversion process, the speed at which it was achieved, and the capacity of the workforce to collaborate to meet the challenge, were impressive. This was largely due to the role of the union branch and its shop stewards who organised the aircraft-turned-ventilator workers and their determination to extend collective bargaining beyond wages and conditions to change the product on which they worked. 

Moreover, in the context of a crisis in the supply of ventilators to meet the needs of COVID patients, and a call from a Conservative Prime Minister for companies to make them, management could hardly resist the union’s public-spirited efforts to find a solution. Finally, and especially significant for today’s climate emergency, this worker-led experience of successful industrial conversion also offers a glimpse of the potential role of workplace trade unions in moving from a high-carbon to low-carbon economy without job losses. At the very least, the experience points to the importance of a well-unionised workplace for the achieving such a transition.

Unions Must Go Beyond Calling for a Cease-Fire in Gaza

By Jeff Schuhrke - Jacobin, February 13, 2024

Four months into Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza that has killed over twenty-eight thousand Palestinians, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) — the US labor federation whose member unions represent 12.5 million workers — issued a statement on February 8 urging a negotiated cease-fire to end the violence.

The move came after over two hundred US unions and labor bodies — including national unions like the United Electrical Workers (UE), American Postal Workers Union (APWU), United Auto Workers (UAW), International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), National Nurses United (NNU), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Education Association (NEA), Communications Workers of America (CWA), and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) — had already made cease-fire calls of their own. Many unions, especially at the local level, have also expressed solidarity with the Palestinian liberation movement.

With the backing of the AFL-CIO and the nation’s two largest unions (NEA and SEIU), support for a cease-fire is now the mainstream position of the American labor movement. Given US labor officialdom’s history of providing substantial political and material aid to the state of Israel — along with its frequent partnering with US empire (which I examine in my forthcoming book, Blue Collar Empire) — this is a remarkable development highlighting the power of rank-and-file organizing to push union leaders on critical issues, and signaling the possibility of building a more internationalist labor movement.

Now, the task for rank-and-file members who successfully organized to get their unions to issue cease-fire statements increasingly is to translate that commitment into concrete action to stop what the International Court of Justice considers Israel’s plausible acts of genocide. Across the US labor movement, networks of pro-Palestine workers are continuing to organize to get their unions to cut economic ties with Israel, put pressure on political candidates and elected officials, and interrupt the flow of union-made weapons and research to the Israeli military.

How the Green New Deal from Below Integrates Diverse Constituencies

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2, 2024

Green New Deal initiatives at local, state, regional, and civil society levels around the country have drawn together diverse, sometimes isolated, or even conflicted constituencies around common programs for climate, jobs, and justice. How have they done so?

Transcript Follows:

Bargaining for the Common Good in Minnesota

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 30, 2024

“Bargaining for the Common Good” has become a crucial strategy for organized labor and a key means of forging broad coalitions for mutual support. For the past decade, unions and allies in Minnesota have developed powerful union and community alignments that have won victories at the bargaining table, in the community, and in the legislature.

In March, the union contracts are expiring for tens of thousands of Minnesota workers, and these allies are organizing in advance to align their demands and narratives.

You can watch a recorded webinar on “Minnesota Community and Labor Escalations” presenting an insider’s look at what it took to build this alignment over the last few decades, and what’s possible in this spring’s escalation. Speakers include Greg Nammacher, President of SEIU Local 26 Jennifer Arnold, Co-Director of Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia Veronica Mendez Moore, Co-Director of CTUL Marcia Howard, First Vice President of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Professionals JaNaé Bates, Director of Communications of ISAIAH Phillip Cryan, Executive Vice President, SEIU Healthcare MN & IA.

2023: The Year of Labor and Climate

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 30, 2024

According to the leading environmental publication Grist, “In 2023, organized labor became core to the climate movement.”

2023 was marked by symbiosis between the labor and climate movements. Workers across industries and geographies loudly declared that a world in which their safety and well-being are disregarded is even more dangerous to them and to others in a time of energy transition and climate crisis. After decades of hesitancy, several major unions recognized an urgent need to organize those who will do the hard work of decarbonizing the nation’s economy.”

The article by Katie Myers, Grist Climate Solutions Fellow, noted that, as public opinion and public policy have shifted in favor of organized labor, “calls for a just transition rattled union halls and corporate offices” as “organized labor enjoyed one of its most active years in recent memory” and “environmental organizations, long uncertain about where unions stood, found new allies.

The article describes numerous examples of union fights for climate protection. The reality of a warming world was a central concern for UPSAmazon, and airport workers who demanded protection from extreme heat. And the UAW made a just transition a key demand in their strike against the auto Big Three. At the same time, “Environmental organizations became vocally supportive of labor this year, with Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and others supporting the UAW’s calls for a just EV transition.”

The article quotes J. Mijin Cha, an environmental studies professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz and a co-author of the LNS report “Workers and Communities in Transition”: “The UAW strike showed the vision a lot of people have been looking for.”

For the full article: https://grist.org/labor/in-2023-organized-labor-became-core-to-the-climate-movement/

For the LNS report “Workers and Communities in Transition”: https://www.labor4sustainability.org/jtlp-2021/

What Workers Want Is a Function of What They Think They Can Get

By Benjamin Fong and Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 30, 2023

Workers in the Great Depression were beaten down but desperate for change. When a militant new labor federation, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, raised their sense of political possibility, they seized the opportunity and unionized en masse.

The following is an interview conducted for Organize the Unorganized: The Rise of the CIO, a Jacobin podcast series produced in collaboration with the Center for Work and Democracy.

Deep Organizing Against Genocide: Palestine and Rooted Social Movements

By staff - Black Rose, January 29, 2024

In this article several members of Black Rose / Rosa Negra offer reflections on their efforts to bring the fight for Palestinian liberation into their long term organizing efforts. Throughout, an emphasis is made on the distinction between temporary mobilization and an orientation toward sustained organizing in sites of everyday life—our workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods.

Introduction

More than 100 days into Israel’s genocidal assault on the people of Palestine and in turn some of the most vigorous anti-war mobilization in over a decade, so many of us who have been out in the streets have asked: What will it take to actually stop the US war machine? 

Reflecting on the 2003 protests against the invasion of Iraq, it’s clear it takes more than marching from point A to point Band even more than scattered direct actions like taking over highways, occupying politicians’ offices, or minor vandalism. Coming out into the streets, pouring our energy into actions, escalating to risk arrest, disrupting business as usual, and then feeling exhausted and defeated is a common cycle in the anti-war movement and in every struggle.

Many of us in Black Rose / Rosa Negra (BRRN) first came to the organization because we had grown tired of the cyclical nature of activism. We were reacting to crises just to end back up where we started, only with depleted morale and fewer resources. We wanted to find ways to gather and sustain momentum, retain historical memory, tend to the needs of movement participants, and build leverage to win fights in the here and nowall to the ends of pushing toward a revolutionary rupture. This is one reason why BRRN prioritizes rooted movement-building where we live, work, and study and thus seek to move away from a focus on single-issue campaigns and activist subcultures.

Admittedly, because we are still in the early stages of re-building fighting social movements, it can make mobilizing around emergencies like the genocide in Palestine slower. This is in part because we are organizing with heterogeneous groups of people and trying, for example, to bring our coworkers to actions, rather than to mobilize other radicals or activists. We believe that this approach will ultimately be more effective because we are building lasting organization in rooted sites of everyday struggle that can respond swiftly to future struggles as well. We seek to do the organizing work of bringing new people into social movements and the political work of bringing them toward organized anarchism, so that there will be more prepared militants down the line. We know that organized, rather than simply mobilized, political struggle is far more effective in challenging imperialism in moments of crisis.

Our approach often flies under the radar. For one, it prioritizes acting in broader social movement spaces as co-equal participants, rather than placing an emphasis on ensuring our brand as a political organization is visible on every call for mobilization or protest sign. While we also organize and participate in large marches and other actions, believing that they are necessary component of any social movement struggle, these are not the core of what we focus on. Because of the aforementioned lack of visibility, combined with how important we think this organizing model is for actually building power, we want to highlight some of the less visible work that our membership is engaged in around Palestine solidarity.

This is not to show how to do things “the right way”, but to show how in a variety of different contexts we can all do the basicand often very modest but necessarywork of building the foundations of movements so that we end up with more comrades, power, and solidarity than we started with. At the end of a lot of Palestine solidarity marches, the speakers make calls to go out and keep organizing because marches alone can’t stop Israel’s genocidal attackthis is objectively true, but it’s often unclear what that can look like, particularly for rank-and-file militants outside of the professionalized NGO and union bureaucracy systems. So what could these next steps look like? Here are some examples of what members of Black Rose / Rosa Negra have found success with.

Workers and the World Unite: Labor in an Ecosocialist Green New Deal

Workforce and Env Justice: Local Advocacy Sets the Standards for Community Choice energy agencies

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