‘Opposition’ Doesn’t Equal ‘Grassroots’

To the editor:

Amy Rose's recent article on Labor Notes’ website, National Writers Union Election Challenge: An Update” misrepresents the actions and will of the delegates at our most recent Delegates Assembly and demonstrates the kind of political posturing that has unfortunately characterized a faction within our union for the past couple of years. As it happens, Amy Rose did not attend the assembly.

The statement that the delegates "accepted" the Oversight Committee's (OC) ruling regarding alleged election violations is untrue. The majority of delegates, when presented with the video pivotal to the OC's findings, displayed reactions ranging from incredulity to ridicule to resentment at taking up the union's time with a clearly political report. The body "took note" of the OC report, accepted steps to improve elections procedures, and moved on.

This dead horse is being beaten by a self-proclaimed "grassroots" movement, which has in fact alienated much of the rank and file and stands in contrast to the kind of aggressive unionism represented by its favorite target, President Jonathan Tasini. I am not only a strong supporter of President Tasini but also a founding member of the New Directions reform movement within the UAW and no stranger to the notion of grassroots organizing or union democracy movements.

Far from representing a cry for democracy from NWU members, who elect most officers every year and the top four slots every other year, the negative campaign waged by Tasini opponents last year so alienated the rank and file that most want nothing to do with the internal politics of the union. As Rose rightly points out, the fear of further alienating the members sparked the move to coalition.

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Yes, Tasini and those of us elected with him differ in approach from the opposition. But the difference is not that we believe in top-down leadership, or that the opposition owns some righteous claim on the grassroots. In fact, in his tenure as president, Tasini has talked to more members and local activists than anyone in the opposition.

Scratch the surface of the attacks on him, and a philosophy of conciliatory unionism emerges. "Our job must be to educate writers, the publishing industry, and the public that it is in the best economic interests of us all for writers to be given the control over how their work will be used," said candidate Steve Simurda in his campaign to take the presidency from Tasini. In other words, if we just educate the publishers, they'll see the light and give us our due.

That is not the kind of unionism that saw us through the nine-year battle that brought victory at the Supreme Court in Tasini v. New York Times. It won't help us defeat the publishers as they try to ram all-rights contracts down our throats. It won't see us through our fight to gain collective bargaining rights for freelancers.

Families squabble. Union members disagree. That's the way of the world. But to automatically equate political attacks to a rank and file movement is dangerous. This is not about who believes in the rank and file, but who truly represents their interests. That's for the members to decide.

Marybeth Menaker is Vice-President of the National Writers Union