So we had our screening for the Wisconsin Film Fest last Sunday and it was a fantastic experience! WiFF director Ben Reiser, and all the WiFF staff and volunteers could not have been more gracious and helpful. We had a great audience turn-out and Q and A after the film.
I mentioned two books at the Q and A that I want to share here. The first is a Labor Notes book, How to Jumpstart Your Union. The book tells the story of how the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) revamped the Chicago Teachers Union and staged a successful strike action in 2012. They did it primarily by transforming their union from a “service” union (you pay your dues and the union officials provide the service of negotiating your contract – little involvement by rank and file members) to an “organizing” union – where everyone is involved in union activities to some degree.
What really impressed me was that CTU Prez Karen Lewis refused to settle that strike until all the teachers had a chance to read the contract and vote on it! THAT is democracy in a union – and democracy fosters solidarity.
It’s a great book – well-written, a slim volume, easy-to-read in a couple of evenings. I highly recommend it.
Here is a link to CTU Prez Karen Lewis on Democracy Now in 2012 describing how they did it.
The other book I mentioned in our Q and A following our screening at the WiFF was Joe Burns’ Strike Back. Like How to Jumpstart Your Union, Strike Back is a slim, well-written, easy-to-read volume you can finish in a couple of evenings. Burns packs a lot of interesting labor history in the book. His central thesis is that we need to bring back work stoppages of various kinds – work-to-rule, blue flu, and full-fledged strikes to “reignite public sector unionism.”
Another important idea Burns develops is that public sector unions, in particular, need to foster alliances with people in the community that they serve. When public sector unions were on the rise in the 1960s and early 1970s, they often did this. So social workers might advocate not only for their own pay and working conditions, but also for the clients that they served. In turn, those clients would support the workers when they had a work stoppage. More recently, the CTU under Karen Lewis also did this – for example, working with community groups trying to stop school closures. And when the CTU went on strike, the community had their backs.
Burns is a labor lawyer and ably refutes objections to public sector unions in clear language lay people can follow. I can’t recommend Burns’ work highly enough!