Labor Notes #469

For the first time in 15 years, 4,000 subcontracted hospital housekeepers and dietary workers in British Columbia have job security. They won that peace of mind by pulling off a series of escalating actions on the job.

Between 2002 and 2005 the provincial government, headed by the Liberal Party, fired 10,000 hospital support service workers—mostly women and people of color—and subcontracted their jobs to multinational corporations including Aramark, Compass, Sodexo, and Acciona.

Standing up to bosses is essential to being a steward. On the shop floor and in grievance meetings, you must defend the actions of members and contest those of management.

In many cases you should be able to make your points temperately, practicing “quiet diplomacy.” But occasions will undoubtedly arise when you will want to raise your voice, challenge a supervisor's credibility, or argue your case in other vigorous ways.

The Poor People's Campaign was born out of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, a clergy-led drive that beginning in 2013 united faith leaders, union members, LGBT activists, and immigrant rights advocates in mass marches and civil disobedience.

Their goals were broad because a right-wing state legislature was moving on all fronts to strip away rights—labor, voting, education, abortion, environmental, unemployment benefits—and the Governor was refusing to accept federal money to expand Medicaid.

The snows were still flying, but for unionists, spring came early this year. West Virginia’s teacher uprising burst onto the scene like rhododendrons opening: first one walkout, then another, and before you knew it a statewide strike was in full bloom.

The strikes were born at the grassroots, and that’s how they spread. Classroom teachers passed the word on Facebook, organized school votes, and rallied at the capital. Union leaders followed their members, but never took the reins.

It started with a few hundred West Virginia teachers and school employees pulling one-day walkouts. It became an unqualified victory in that state, which educators elsewhere were quick to emulate.

Teachers in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky are now striking, sicking out, rallying, and Facebooking to push officials to raise their salaries and defend their benefits.

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