Creating a Workers' Resistance Movement
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Organizing has fallen off the map in most conversations about labor’s future. Every day we shrink further and further. Every organizing drive is more difficult to win. What—if anything—is refreshing about our organizing?
My union, the Communications Workers, is organizing 10,000 passenger service workers at American Airlines. The airline is refusing to provide the National Mediation Board with an employee list, flat-out defying the law. And they’ve gotten a Bush-appointed judge to block the election, at least temporarily.
Nothing refreshing about that.
Almost a year since expiration, CWA doesn’t yet have a contract at Verizon, a company that continues to rake in mega-profits while demanding an end to worker pensions.
Nothing refreshing there.
In Wisconsin, the Koch brothers outspent us by $25 million and Scott Walker did not get recalled. They won. We lost. How the hell do we get out of bed in the morning?
I hesitate to use the term fascism because it is so historically loaded. Day to day, what we experience doesn’t feel like what we imagine fascism feels like. But corporate control of government—what we have now—is an end to democracy, and it may be that the F-word is becoming more appropriate.
What do people like us do when they are fighting fascism? They form a resistance movement. And that movement takes on small fights, and grows them, until they become big fights. A resistance movement fights whether or not it is winning at that moment. Its purpose is to resist for as long as it takes, against the odds, until things change.
Our enemy is corporate power. That power is too strong for us to take on the whole thing at once. We have to view our work—organizing work—as a means of resisting corporate control, with the belief that at some point a critical mass will exist and we’ll topple it.
Recasting ourselves as a resistance movement and thinking about our work that way will help us to maintain the energy, the will, and the optimism we need.
The CWA organizing in Brooklyn at the cable provider Cablevision was like that. We organized around worksite issues, but the drive itself was placed in the context of a corporate giant exploiting workers and consumers.
Our democratic worker committee embraced this frame and took it further, turning the organizing drive into an offshoot of the civil rights movement. The workers saw themselves like modern-day sanitation workers, recalling the Memphis strike of 1968 and declaring “I Am a Man” before the boss.
It was a joyous and affirming drive. The Cablevision workers took all of what the professional union-busters threw at them and won a high-profile victory, leading to many leads across Cablevision and its contractors.
Within months we were organizing at other Cablevision locations, where the company is so worried it gave out $9-an-hour raises. We hope to keep the momentum growing to take on this industry.
A resistance movement takes strategic risks. Resistance isn’t clean or collegiate. It isn’t done with briefs or grievances. It’s a stick in the eye.
A few days ago, a Cablevision contractor fired a worker who was openly organizing. At 6:30 a.m. the next day the workers went on strike. Two Cablevision suits showed up to tell the contractor not to concede to the workers’ demands that their co-worker be returned to work.
The workers were scared. The leadership of the union was scared, too. But they took the risk and stayed out. Twenty minutes after the bosses said they would shutter the business rather than give in, a boss came out to the picket line and said, “OK, you won.” Our guy was back to work.