From Call Centers to Coal Mines: Swapping Stories at the Alabama Troublemakers School

People stand indoors behind a big Labor Notes banner. Most are wearing red shirts and have their fists in the air. Several farther back are holding up smaller red "Organize the South" banners.

Last weekend's Alabama Troublemakers School brought together 150 people, including line cooks, rocket scientists, call center workers, and coal miners, to sharpen their organizing skills and build solidarity. Photo: Mariah Parker

These remarks were delivered this week on the Valley Labor Report, Alabama’s only union talk radio show.

Before we go any deeper into the show, I wanted to take a couple minutes to reflect on last weekend’s successful Alabama Troublemakers School conducted by Labor Notes at the University of Montevallo.

Over 120 Southern working class activists gathered on Saturday, October 15, to sharpen their skills and build solidarity. The crowd was very diverse in terms of race, gender, age, industry, occupation, affiliation, and background.

There were seasoned union stewards with decades of experience, new organizers just starting the fight to build a union, and community activists seeking to strengthen their coalition with labor. There were folks from across the state and from North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia in attendance.


Numerous unions and organizations were represented, with the Communications Workers (CWA) and Raise Up the South in particular showing up in a big way. There were some familiar faces from the Professional and Technical Employees, Hometown Action, the Mine Workers, Retail and Department Store Union, Birmingham Democratic Socialists of America, Starbucks Workers United, United Campus Workers, and more.

In how many other spaces will you find worker-led discussion and workshops with participants ranging from line cooks to rocket scientists in the same room? Folks from call centers to coal mines were learning from each other and swapping stories. There’s something very powerful about that and I think it’s pretty damn cool.

Thank you Labor Notes for being willing to invest in the working people of Alabama and the South so that we can put the movement back into the Southern labor movement.



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And shout-out to all of the folks who served on the planning committee, the speakers and trainers, and everyone else who volunteered in any capacity to make this event a success. It was an honor to conduct a couple stewards workshops alongside a great brother from the CWA, Matt Fullone.


I know when we were in Chicago for the big Labor Notes Conference in June, those of us from Alabama were already scheming on how to bring Labor Notes back home. By July, Luis Feliz Leon and Courtney Smith from Labor Notes already pulled several of us together to form an organizing committee and begin the planning of this event. We all worked together to plan the content and organize the logistics. It was a collective effort and a collective success!

It was three or four years ago when Labor Notes last held an event in Alabama. Jacob, David, and I were three of maybe a dozen or so folks who were there. To have roughly 10 times the number of attendees at this year’s Troublemakers School, I believe, demonstrates the energy of the resurgent labor movement here in Alabama and across the South.

I hope that everyone who attended learned something useful and formed new connections to grow their network of allies. I can’t wait to see the lasting impact.

For those of you who couldn’t attend, be sure to check out last week’s episode of The Valley Labor Report where Jacob interviewed several of the workshop trainers. While it is not a replacement for having attended, it will give you an idea of what we learned and discussed on Saturday and hopefully advance your learning when it comes to the labor movement and organizing.

Thanks again, Labor Notes. I’m already looking forward to the next Troublemakers School we can bring to Alabama!

Adam Keller is a member of Stagehands (IATSE) Local 900 and a host of the Valley Labor Report.