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Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of Working America (and my wonderful former employer), reflects on her decades of organizing workers:
We often asked women whom they could turn to if they had a problem on the job. After a pause, a woman might answer, "NOW" (the National Organization for Women) or "9to5"; "I could call a government agency" or "my congressman." Some suggested calling a union. Most workers could identify an institution on their side, someone or something to back them up.

But over the decades, the answer to the question "Whom do you turn to if you have a problem on the job?" has changed. The scope has narrowed. "I might call my mother," I heard more frequently over time. Then, "I pray to God." Today, the typical working woman doesn’t even have God in her corner if she’s getting shafted at work. "I rely on myself" is the most likely answer. We went from a group for every cause and "Solidarity Forever" to "the feeble strength of one."

In a smart, thoughtful reflection of these years of often frustrating experience, Nussbaum explains how, in Working America, she's trying to create an organization that  builds on the strengths, but gets past the limitations of, organizing forms such as unions, Saul Alinsky-style community organizing, mass-membership groups such as AARP, and online activism such as MoveOn (or Daily Kos).

A fair day's wage

  • Volume seven of the unemployment stories Hamilton Nolan is collecting at Gawker has a nice little moment. A formerly unemployed person now working in staffing writes:
    I now do staffing for clerical and administrative positions in support of several Fortune 500 companies. It's horrible. I want to hire everyone, but I can't. However, I would like to maybe pass along a maybe hopeful message: when I am given sole hiring authority, which happens often, I always hire the long-term unemployed first. I nearly cracked after two months. I can't imagine what two+ years feel like. Even if it's just for shitty temp positions, I try to hire them first. They need the resume update, they need the money. When they let me hire who I please, I go in order of length of unemployment from longest to shortest.
  • Unsurprisingly, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka does not think much of the scab NFL referees. "Incompetent," actually, is one of the words he used. (And one he's not alone in using.)

    Tell Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL's owners to end the use of scabs and bring back the league's experienced officials.

  • Speaking of Trumka, he met with the CEO of Palermo's Pizza, where workers are striking after management refused to recognize their union, then went after workers' immigrant status and fired 75. Palermo's, which manufactures frozen pizza for stores including Costco, faces a boycott.
  • What are Chicago teachers saying about the approaching possibility of a strike?
    “How dare they tell us that poor kids aren’t worth the investment?” said middle school teacher Kimberly Bowsky. “I’m not going to stand for it. And if I have to get knocked down for it, that would be regrettable. But at this point what choice do I or anyone else have?”
  • Teachers, meanwhile, are being smeared by Rahm Emanuel ally and well-paid charter chain executive Juan Rangel.
  • A class-action lawsuit by workers at Walmart-contracted warehouses is helping shed light on a lot of things Walmart and its contractors are trying very hard to keep hidden. Warehouse workers are on a six-day, 50-mile journey from the warehouses to Los Angeles to draw attention to their working conditions.
  • An interview with Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

State and local legislation

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 09:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I remember (5+ / 0-)

    when Karen Nussbaum brought 925 into a national union as an SEIU Local. We tried to get something going among the 100,000 office workers around the SF Bay area.

    We had a majority of union workers who signed  union cards at a big SF Bank data processing branch.

    I was sent to leaflet at that Bank's Oakland  branch and the bank managers came out to force me off the public sidewalk.  But they weren't able to intimidate a big teamster as easy as they could threaten their clerical workers.

    Then Reagan got elected, we lost a strike at Blue Shield, the PATCO union got busted, the NLRB said we couldn't file for an election at only one part of the bank's operation,  and we never got so close again to a big clerical organizing campaign.

    Now all those workers have left is prayer.

  •  "The feeble strength of one" line (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Laura Clawson, chimpy, peptabysmal

    is still the best rebuttal to the whole ideology of "rugged individualism".  Unfortunately, those of us quoting it have been reduced to feeble ones and twos.  The 21st Century is going to be a very bleak time for working people, with the hegemony of capital unchallenged and apparently immune to challenge.

    Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

    by ActivistGuy on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 10:02:51 AM PDT

  •  It's discouraging to say we are (0+ / 0-)

    fighting a losing battle, I envision a very different future for my working daughter, that is why I'm encouraging her all the way thru med. school. But I do worry about all of us, it may end up in our own revolution later this century.

    Change is not an event, it is a process.....

    by lady blair on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 03:54:11 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for finally mentioning CTU (0+ / 0-)

    Granted, a strike of over 20k workers should be a full story, and a front page story, but at least this story of workers finally gets a message.

    It is frustrating because it feels like labor, without whom our country is doomed, are sometimes as provincial and self-isolating as any powerful group.

    I have literally heard that since occupations like teachers and nurses have degrees and are more "professional" they do not need unions. This comes, not from right to work wingers, but progressive labor insiders. It is hard not to make the connection that these are also female dominated professions.

    In this country, there are two classes. Those who trade a skill for a wage, and those who make a living from capital. I feel as if teachers are just as much labor as any pipefitter or mill worker or janitor or hotel housekeeper.

    If 20k Hilton housekeepers were going on strike, they'd get front page Kos support. If 20k cops were going on strike, they'd get front page Kos support. If 20k steelworkers or miners were striking, they'd get front page Kos support.

    CTU gets a paragraph in a larger post on a Kos sub-group. Where the hell is the support for CTU?

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