Vision: How Organizing Is the Real Antidote to Fox News Propaganda
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Workers can't pay rent, pay the mortgage, get a credit card, find a job, buy clothes or schoolbooks for their kids or retire. They face increased divorce rates as family tensions rise, and they have lost their sense of dignity. They don't care about labor law reform, and they don't care about unions (at least in their current form). They are in despair, and unanswered despair quickly becomes either fertilizer for the fearmongers or the reason to not bother showing up at the polls. Either decision is a disaster likely to be repeated unless unions reset, and fast.
Rather than posting links to the websites of housing groups, how about starting direct worker-to-worker conversations about occupying mortgage company headquarters across the country until the banks stop foreclosing on their members' homes? Rather than suddenly calling for members to picket banks or take seemingly random militant actions, how about sitting down with union members and talking about what actions everyone can take to force solutions to the housing crisis—solutions such as making banks revalue mortgages to the actual value of homes and creating lines of credit so workers can move to places where they might find a job?
Unions need to start connecting with workers face-to-face through house parties and worksite and home visits to ask what's keeping them up at night. Then unions should plan direct actions with workers that respond to the issues facing them. How about taking over the offices of big credit-rating agencies and occupying them 24/7 by the thousands until they agree to erase all the bad credit heaped on anyone who has made a late mortgage payment because they lost their job or their hours were cut back? The housing crisis ties directly to the wage crisis, which ties directly to the jobs crisis. People in this country are screaming for a fight, but the only people offering one have been from the right wing. All these issues have been staring labor in the face for several years. Why hasn't any union turned the crisis facing workers into a crisis for capital and the political elite?
There are two main reasons for this failure, and union members need to declare an internal mini-MoveOn movement to confront them. First, to this day, when asked about the housing crisis, many unions essentially say, "That's someone else's problem. We only do workers' issues in the workplace." Given the crises in all aspects of workers' lives, that response is even more backward and shortsighted than the second reason unions have failed to do what they should be doing: union turf wars. Some of the best organizers have been teaching workers to fight one another instead of how to fight the bosses, let alone how to mount collective action against the broader political elite.
It's not too late. The housing crisis still looms large, and the coming attack on Social Security and other entitlement programs will offer plenty of room for unions to mobilize their base and organize the unorganized. But these efforts should be oriented around something other than forming a union.
Union organizers—paid staff and rank-and-file workers—should begin to take to the doors and begin to meet hundreds of thousands of workers and galvanize a movement to demand economic justice. If unions do this with unorganized workers and together they win campaigns, it's more likely these same workers will consider unionization to be a good option in their work life. With a ratio of one organizer for 1,000 organizing conversations in neighborhoods nationwide, just 2,000 union organizers could engage 2 million people—and that's plenty to create an untenable crisis that the elite will have to deal with.