About 25 people met on Monday to discuss Jane McAlevey’s book No Shortcuts. There were organizers affiliated with a wide range of organizations, along with many WE and PFT members. McAlevy’s book told several stories of successful social movement labor organizing. Two stories that we found particularly instructive were the Chicago Teachers Union strike of 2012 and the Smithfield Foods contract campaign in North Carolina.
From the CTU Strike, there was some energy around the question: How can non-teachers and community members be brought into the organizing? McAlevey critiques Alinsky-style community organizing, yet strong community organizing is what contributed to the CTU win. Does Philadelphia have deep enough neighborhood community organizing to support a teacher strike? How can Philly move in this direction? It helped that everyone hated Rahm Emanuel in Chicago. If you wanted to stick it to Emanuel, you should support the teachers. We don’t have that kind of mayor.
We were also inspired by the successful Smithfield Foods strike against all odds in the South. It’s such an important story, one that needs to be told, but there’s a gag order so the story can’t be public. Workers NEED success stories in these times.
We discussed how relationships are crucial to organizing (as opposed to mobilizing), which includes honest conversations about how bad things are and honesty about the struggle ahead. Struggling together makes relationships and organizations stronger. And not just any struggle: class struggle, where workers are in a prolonged push-and-pull with owners. There may not be a win if you try, but there will definitely NOT be a win if you don’t try! Someone noted how there were several points in some of the labor organizing stories in which the union could have backed off or gone harder, and it was inspiring to see them make the choice take risks and go for it.
The philosophy of a democratic union is just different, and not something people are used to. In the current PFT, people don’t tend to feel a sense of their own power and agency, but there is lots of potential at the building-level. A well-run building committee can make a lot of difference. Where the traditional structures feel like an obstacle to progress, groups of teachers can start by gathering together around making their school better, making a series of small improvements together, and eventually decide to call that “union work.”
This post was written by: Dave Backer and Kathleen Riley
NOTE THE TIME CHANGE: We’ll be meeting Monday, July 31st from 7-8:30pm to talk about Direct Action by L.A. Kauffman. Join us at 441 W. Earlham Terrace 19144.