I’m going to assume anyone who actually shops today is someone I don’t want to know. But in any case, you should be following the Black Friday Wal-Mart strikes, the largest organized labor action in the history of the company. Josh Eidelson’s blog at The Nation is the best place for all the latest information.
On November 22, 1887, a group of white vigilantes crushed a Knights of Labor led strike of black sugar workers in the fields around Thibodaux, Louisiana. Fighting back against largest black social movement in the state since the end of Reconstruction, whites killed dozens and perhaps hundreds of black workers, seeking to take control of the racial hierarchy, state politics, and labor relations back from empowered African-Americans.
Slaves had made up the sugar workforce before 1865 and with the failure of Reconstruction to give blacks meaningful rights, the white plantation owners sought to reinstitute conditions as close to slavery as possible. The Louisiana Sugar Planters Association determined to keep wages as low as possible. Workers made about 60 to 65 cents a day, paid in company scrip that kept them dependent upon the white economic structure. But black workers never accepted white attempts to recreate dependence. They fought back in many ways, including by striking. Beginning in 1880, sugar workers engaged in some sort of protest each year over the conditions they faced.
By 1886, the determined struggle of the Louisiana workers attracted the Knights of Labor. Although the Knights would fall into decline after the Haymarket Riot, in 1886 it was at its height and the sugar workers welcomed its organizing expertise and national following. In a world where the American Federation of Labor, founded in that year of 1886, would explicitly exclude black workers (among a lot of others), the Knights being willing to cross racial boundaries is notable and important. Many of the Knights’ local assemblies were segregated, but sometimes they were integrated. With the Knights’ support, worker organizing increased rapidly. A planter wrote in 1886 that employees “are becoming more and more unmanageable. By degrees they are bringing the planter to their way of thinking in regard to how they should work and no telling at what moment there will be a serious move to compel the planter to comply with any request.”
Boarding House for Sugar Workers, Louisiana
Workers took serious actions as 1887 went on. As early as January, 15 workers went on strike. For instance, a striker named Adam Elles was arrested and charged with preventing Nelson Christian, a black Union veteran, from working. As the summer slid into fall and the harvest season approached, whites became increasingly fearful of mass action. Local newspapers began reminding readers of the horrors of black political action, tying that into larger paranoia of black-on-white violence that southern whites had connected to mobile and empowered black labor going back at least a century.
On October 19, the Knights local in Morgan City met to fashion its list of demands for regional sugar workers. This included a raise to $1.25 a day, biweekly payments, and cash pay instead of the company store scrip. Junius Bailey, a former slave who was now president of the Knights’ joint local executive board, sent a letter to the sugar planters that read, “should this demand be considered exorbitant by the sugar planters…we ask them to submit such information with reason therewith to this board not later than Saturday, Oct. 29 inst. or appoint a special committee to confer with this board on said date.” The sheer existence of such demands and such a letter were outrageous to a white elite who still considered enslavement the rightful status of its labor force.
At its height up to 10,000 workers were on strike, although there’s no way to actually know and the number may have been created for journalistic shock value. In response, Thibodaux whites organized the Peace and Order Committee. Led by Judge Taylor Beattie, an ex-Confederate, planter, and former member of the Knights of the White Camelia (a Louisiana white supremacist paramilitary organization similar to the KKK), the Peace and Order Committee declared martial law over Thibodaux’s black population. It also made blacks show a pass to stay in the city, a policy reminiscent of the slave passes that regulated black movement before 1865.
Over the next two weeks, tensions continued to rise. On November 22, the Peace and Order Committee closed the roads into Thibodaux and decided to end the labor uprising once and for all. Mary Pugh, owner of the Live Oak plantation said that unless this strike was repressed, “white people could live in this country no longer.” On the morning of the 22nd, the militia walked into town and just started killing black people. A couple of strikers fought back, wounding two militia members. But the militia went house to house, pulling out black people and executing them in cold blood. Black workers fled out of the city and the strike effectively ended.
The numbers of dead remain unknown. At least 35 were killed. But some have estimated that number could be as high as 300. That’s a big disparity. Counting numbers of dead black people or dead striker was not exactly a priority of Gilded Age America and so you see significant death toll disparities in cases like this. The aftermath was one of joy for the region’s white elite. The editor of the Thibodaux Star, who had been a member of the murderous militia, wrote of “negroes jumping over fences and making for the swamps at double quick time. We’ll bet five cents that our people never before saw so large a black-burying as they have seen this week.” Mary Pugh wrote, “I think this will settle the question of who is to rule, the nigger or the white man? For the next 50 years but it has been well done & I hope all trouble is ended.”
Even after the Thibodaux Massacre, the sugar workers continued to fight. The Knights of Labor proved useless in organizing in the wake of violence; like with Haymarket, this was not what Terence Powderly had planned for. But these workers were politically mobilized and in 1888, despite the repression, black voters outnumbered white voters. Segregation and Jim Crow was not just about political control. As the whites of Louisiana made very clear as they repealed black voting rights with maximum violence during the late 1880s and 1890s, this was about keeping labor under control–cheap, exploitable, and within the racial hierarchy.
I used Rebecca Scott’s Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery as the major reference for this piece. Check it out if interested.
This is the 45th post in this series. The rest are digested here.
Oh yeah, Happy Thanksgiving. Maybe give a few thanks to the workers who suffered and died over the years to make your lives better.
Seth Ackerman has a really strong article at Jacobin on the Hostess shut-down. Much of it has great value for showing just how rare it is for companies to ask workers to take pay cuts. The reason is simple–it would destroy worker morale and production. But Hostess did this and it helped destroy the company. But I think the real insight gets at why Hostess would do this and how people buy into this idea of competitiveness.
But the union got blamed instead, and that points to a fascinating aporia in neoliberalism. The competitiveness ideology keeps a double set of books. On the surface, it celebrates free individuals making voluntary agreements on a footing of formal equality. But look just a little deeper and it turns out to be a musty, medieval system of morality that venerates human hierarchy and inequality. If taken literally, an accusation of insufficient “competitiveness” would refer to a failure to buy or sell on the terms objectively demanded by the dispersed actors of the marketplace. But nine times out of ten, this literal meaning is just a facade for the real underlying meaning, which is all about policing the socially accepted rules concerning who is a worthy human being and who is not. Workers at an industrial bakery are losers. They need to take a pay cut — not so much to make the numbers add up (that’s a secondary consideration for all the commentators and columnists) but as a ritual affirmation of their debased social status. The refusal to take the cut was shocking and revolting — an act of lèse-majesté. It’s in that sense that the union was uncompetitive. The workers didn’t know their place.
So much of our ideology about workers is looking down on blue-collar labor. They aren’t educated so they deserve to be at the bottom. Plus I have a college degree and I have an unpaid internship. I am so lucky to get this “job” and I am so valuable with my bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan. So if I’m not getting paid, certainly those losers should be getting even less.
Got to give CNN a little credit. Their reporters are actually challenging power for once. First you have Anderson Cooper providing quality reporting from Gaza, along with engaging in some seriously awesome (and I’m guessing stress relieving) pushback against critics who want the American media to push Gilad Sharon’s Kill ‘em All line. Then you have Carol Costello challenging Wal-Mart VP of Communications David Tovar on the company’s terrible wages. Great exchange here:
COSTELLO: The wage gap in this country continues to grow ever wider. you know, we hear from economists all the time, we need a strong middle class to make our overall economy stronger. Is it Walmart’s responsibility to make sure that its employees can support a strong middle-class lifestyle?
TOVAR: We’re working hard every day to provide more opportunities for associates. [...]
COSTELLO: But if a lot of them are making $15,000 a year, you can’t live a strong middle-class lifestyle on that. You just can’t. [...]
TOVAR: Our average rate is about $12.40 an hour far a full time associate. We also offer comprehensive benefit packages as low as $17 a pay period, which is very affordable and we also pay quaterly bonuses, which is something that not a lot of retailers do…. And we know that they appreciate that, they also get a 10 percent discount card. So you have to factor in all of those things when you’re looking for how we’re helping associates.
That 10% discount card is really raising Wal-Mart workers out of poverty……
As you may have heard, the United Food and Commercial Workers have organized pickets in front of Wal-Mart on Black Friday. Wal-Mart is freaking out, actually filing NLRB charges against the UFCW on spurious grounds, but the real reason is to intimidate its workers. Josh Eidelson is covering the actions for The Nation and I encourage you to follow his reports. Unless Wal-Mart buys you off with a 10% discount card.
One of thousands of deaths on the job in the Pacific Northwest timber industry over the years. From West Coast and Puget Sound Lumberman June 1903.
A horrible accident occurred in the West & Slade mill, Aberdeen, Wash., on June 10. C.R. Wyman fell on a saw and his body was cut in two. The first that was known of the accident was the discovery of the body moving along on the conveyor which feeds the fires. He leaves a widow and child.
I have literally hundreds of examples of this sort of thing in my collection of logging papers. In that issue of the journal alone, 12 fatal accidents are reported and described in detail. Lest we forget, the past is the future our corporate overlords have planned for us.
At least there’s an app for it now. UNITE-HERE has developed an app allowing you to find a union hotel in the cities where you stay. For those of you who travel, this is an easy way to support union workers, collective bargaining, and fair pay and working conditions. Please take advantage.
On November 19, 1915, the state of Utah executed I.W.W. organizer Joe Hill for a murder he almost certainly did not commit. But he was an Wobbly and dispensable to society, especially in Utah, a starkly conservative western state outraged by the sheer existence of these radicals.
In 1914, a grocer named John Morrison was shot and killed in a Salt Lake robbery. The same night, Joe Hill went to the hospital with a gunshot wound. He refused to explain anything about why he was shot. Figuring they could easily dispose of both cases, the police pinned Morrison’s death on Hill and charged him with murder. It now seems that Hill was shot by a rival for a woman named Hilda Erickson who was a member of the family who rented Hill a room. Erickson confirmed her relationship with both men in a recently discovered letter. Out of honor, he refused to reveal anything about his injuries, even at the point of death.
Joe Hill was born Joel Hagglund in Sweden, immigrating to the United States in 1902 at the age of 23. This was a common fate for many young Scandinavian men during these years. Hill went to the West Coast. Like most committed Wobblies in the West, Hill drifted from job to job. We first know he was a member of the IWW when he wrote a letter to the Industrial Worker in 1910, identifying himself as working in Portland. By 1912, Hill was in San Diego where he participated in that city’s free speech fight. He flirted with the idea of going to Mexico to fight in the Mexican Revolution, but never did. He bemoaned the introduction of voting machines in California as a hopelessly bourgeoisie reform that would never change anything. In 1913, he moved to Utah, where he worked in copper mining and construction, agitating for revolution among his fellow workers and probably participating in two IWW strikes in Salt Lake that year. During these years, he composed many of the songs that became part of the IWW songbooks used to build solidarity among members and against the horrible conditions they faced in their lives.
By the time Hill was arrested in 1914, the Western forces of order saw the IWW as Enemy Number 1. The West was the Wobbly bread and butter. They had organized heavily in the region’s mining, timber, and agricultural camps and had engaged in free speech fights in cities across the West. Because they organized the region’s most despised workers with no apologies and no compromise, the forces of order–police, courts, politicians, newspapers, and business operators–saw them as scum to be eradicated. The sheer fact that Joe Hill was a Wobbly was enough to charge him with murder.
The Wobblies were excellent propagandists. Because they organized desperate workers with a flair for public attention and because those stories appealed to people interested in labor to the present, we remember certain highlights–Lawrence, Paterson, Joe Hill. But in my research in IWW newspapers, what I’ve seen is very little coverage of many of those events at the time. Lawrence was a small-fry thing in Wobbly news organs until the cops started beating women. Similarly, although we remember Joe Hill as the ultimate Wobbly today, it took awhile for the story of his arrest and trial to get the organization’s attention. There was little interest in his plight during the trial. The local press trumped up the charges, the trial was a farce in which Hill lacked legal counsel, police never found a gun. None of this mattered. Hill was convicted on June 26, 1914 and given the death sentence on July 8.
It was only at this point that Hill’s case came to the attention of the IWW. But when the Wobbly propagandists got their teeth into something, they did not let go. Very quickly the case became a national and international phenomenon. Not only did he become the latest class martyr for the IWW, but progressives and reformers saw his trial as a farce of justice. The Swedish Ambassador got involved in the case and asked President Woodrow Wilson to intercede. Wilson appealed to Utah Governor William Spry for clemency. Spry was not as rock-ribbed conservative as one might assume. Although a Mormon, he was a strong opponent of prohibition. But he would do nothing for Hill.
Hill was a true revolutionary though. He thought most “reform” efforts ridiculous distractions from the real task at hand. Hill saw himself of more value to the revolution as a dead martyr than a living organizer. Like John Brown before him, Hill played this role until the end. He wrote, with some false modesty, to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn bemoaning the amount of resources spent on someone as insignificant as himself. And there’s there’s his famous last telegram, send to Big Bill Haywood reading, “Good-bye Bill. I will die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize.”
He even wrote his last will to be sung:
My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide.
My kin don’t need to fuss and moan,
“Moss does not cling to a rolling stone.”
My body? Oh, if I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow,
My dust to where some flowers grow.
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and final Will.
Good Luck to All of you,
In some ways, Hill was right. He was more valuable as a martyr. Hill became the embodiment of IWW martyrdom; hardly the only person to give up his life to state violence and Wobbly repression, Hill’s self-image of martyrdom made him the person other Wobblies looked to for a model of strength and virtue, even as some pointed out his trial did not result from any workplace action. He also became the most famous Wobbly in public memory, perhaps even more than Big Bill Haywood. Had he lived, no one would know who he was. He was just another miner, another working-class person of the early 20th century American West who saw no hope in capitalism and longed for a more just system.
This is the 44th post in this series. The others are digested here.
Mike Elk has an outstanding report based upon leaked documents from Honeywell workers showing the company’s unionbusting strategy–use CEO Dave Cote’s connections with President Obama as cover:
The third section, on Government Relations (GR), reveals Honeywell’s hopes that its influence with the Obama administration can be leveraged to help combat union activity. Slide 18 of the confidential document states that Honeywell (HON) should “continue to grow positive relationships with elected officials, with federal agencies, focusing on local branches.” These relationships, the document explains, “can be directed at union activity, if needed.” The plan suggests that Honeywell’s Government Relations division can be used to “break up union cohesion across the country.” A picture of President Obama speaking at a Honeywell plant is included (see above), with a caption reading “HON has great relationships with Federal officials, focus is needed at the State and local levels.”
Indeed, President Obama and Honeywell CEO Dave E. Cote have a very close relationship. Cote visited with Obama at the White House this past Wednesday to push him to cut budget spending. Cote is considered one of Obama’s closest allies in the business community. In January of 2009, Cote introduced Obama’s stimulus package in a White House speech. Cote was subsequently appointed by Obama to serve on the Deficit Commission. President Obama even flew with Cote to India while a lockout at Honeywell’s Metropolis, Ill. uranium plant was ongoing. Cote returned the favor by giving heavily to the Democratic Party. In the 2010 election cycle when the Met, Honeywell was the top corporate PAC contributor to the Democratic Party.
Union activists believe that Honeywell’s federal ties have already enabled the company to call in government help when suppressing unions. In 2009, Honeywell threatened to use Marines to replace 500 United Steelworkers members in Blount Island, Fla. if the military contractors went out on strike. Honeywell had the military security clearances pulled on several of the union leaders, leading them to lose their jobs. In 2010, I exposed evidence that Honeywell cheated on qualification tests for scab replacement workers during the lockout at its Metropolis uranium facility; during the lag between my report and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission taking action, the scab replacement workers caused a number of accidents. In 2011, International Association of Machinists Lodge 778, employed as nuclear weapons workers at Honeywell’s Kansas City, accused the Department of Energy of abandoning its legal mandate by not stepping into to stop a concessionary contract Honeywell was pushing on the union.
Cote is close enough to Obama to be widely talked about as a potential Cabinet appointee. (Warning: link is from Politico and is fully of dumbness–Michelle Rhee for Secretary of Education!) Honeywell’s record on unions is terrible and certainly I’d be deeply disappointed (though not at all surprised) if Cote was placed in the Cabinet.
The bigger lessons of course are that labor should trust no politician and that it needs to remind the president that labor got him reelected. Active unionbusters should no role in a Democratic administration.
Driving around southern New England, you can’t hardly turn around without seeing some business or street or something named after Uncas. He was the leader of the Mohegan people in the seventeenth century and sided with the Puritans in their various wars with other Native Americans, including the devastating Pequot War of 1637 and King Philip’s War in 1676. Of course, the Mohegans didn’t really fare very well in this strategy and found themselves dispossessed like the rest of Native America.
As in the rest of the country, once the Indians weren’t any kind of a threat, people starting naming things after them. I thought of this today when I read this story about a store in San Francisco called Unionmade. Giving the impression of selling incredibly high-priced union produced products, it is in fact a marketing front for non-union made products.
That sums up the point well. If you want to have an attractively curated store that sells insanely overpriced clothes designed to mimic the clothes that poor people wore a century ago, fine. But calling your store “Unionmade” (and modeling your logo on the AFL-CIO’s) while not selling union made goods is just as asinine and insulting as calling your store “Americanmade” while selling things manufactured in China. It’s blatantly misleading. It’s fraudulent. It’s the fashion equivalent of a TV preacher using Jesus love for the poor as a selling point to line his own pockets. On the other hand, subjugating the meaning of a real, serious political issue that affects millions of people’s lives to the fact that you like the vibe of the sound of the name of it seems perfectly in character for a store that sells luxury-priced 1890s miners clothes to affluent people who will wear them while sitting inside their air-conditioned advertising agency office job.
We emailed Unionmade about this, and received the following response:
You are correct, though some of the brands we carry are union made, many are not. The unfortunate reality is that there are not many unions left in the garment industry and so the name was cultivated as a signifier of well-made and aesthetically timeless goods. There have been customers that take issue with the store’s name and we certainly understand and respect their opinion, though by and large the majority of our customers understand the use of the name as an overarching narrative of the store. This being that we strive to carry well-made items that will age well in regard to both wear from use and stylistically.
At this rate, your $1,085 Unionmade military jacket will last longer than unions will.
But hey, aren’t unions extinct? And now that they are like the dodo or Mohegans, we can market a romanticized image of them to sell things. Remember when things were well-made, people well-paid, and economies stable? Not really? Well, shell out a ton of money and you can claim to know.
The most important thing to for me to remember is that what I want is not necessarily what other people want. Thinking of what people want does not start with self; it starts with the Golden Rule. It comes from the heart. Basically, a person must love others. One must feel for others, before he thinks for them. Success will often elude the man ambitious for his own gain, and choose instead to bestow its rewards upon the man who finds the answer to the question, “How can I help others in what I do?” I believe that people often do not know themselves what they want, but they respond enthusiastically when some benefactors offers them the answer. The person who has this gift of knowing what other people want in life is like a Christmas card, continually wishing other success, happiness and a long life. A person who develops this eighth and ninth sense, is on the way to success. Really, the only people hard to understand are the dishonest and abnormal ones. Fortunately, most people are fundamentally sound, honest, and upright. Knowing what people want and providing it for them can bring the material rewards of this life and the biggest bonus of them all: true, eminent, satisfaction. This I believe: the most direct path to personal happiness is to make other people happy.
Hostess Brands — the maker of such iconic baked goods as Twinkies, Drake’s Devil Dogs and Wonder Bread — announced Friday that it is asking a federal bankruptcy court for permission to close its operations, blaming a strike by bakers protesting a new contract imposed on them.
The closing will result in Hostess’ nearly 18,500 workers losing their jobs as the company shuts 33 bakeries and 565 distribution centers nationwide, as well as 570 outlet stores. The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union represents around 5,000 Hostess employees.
“We deeply regret the necessity of today’s decision, but we do not have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike,” said CEO Gregory Rayburn in a statement.
Hostess will move to sell its assets to the highest bidder. That could mean new life for some of its most popular products, which could be scooped up at auction and attached to products from other companies.
A letter that Hostess sent to its network of stores that carry its product said it expects “there will be great interest in our brands.” But it said it could not give a time frame for when the sales would take place and its products would be available again.
But even if those brands are bought and restarted, the Hostess workers will not get their jobs back.
Of course, Hostess management had already claimed that the strike would be responsible for the closings of specific plants—when it had already planned to close plants even if the workers accepted the cuts and stayed at work. BCTGM President Frank Hurt says the workers understood who they were dealing with:
Our members know that the plans all along of the Wall Street investors currently in control of this company did not include the operation of Hostess Brands any longer than it takes to sell the company in whole—or in part—in a way that will maximize the profits of these vulture capitalists regardless of the impact on the workforce.
Workers were being asked to accept cuts, but top executives had gotten massive raises as Hostess was about to enter bankruptcy. Investments in the company’s future that had been promised as part of restructuring after the previous bankruptcy were never made. And as for the management, put in place by the private equity companies that now own Hostess, Hurt says:
Unfortunately however, for the past eight years management of the company has been in the hands of Wall Street investors, “restructuring experts”, third-tier managers from other non-baking food companies and currently a “liquidation specialist”. Six CEO’s in eight years, none of whom with any bread and cake baking industry experience, was the prescription for failure.
The Labor and Working-Class History Association has started a new blog called Labor Online. I was asked to be a contributing editor. Here’s my first post, on the United Mine Workers attacks on environmentalists and the Democratic Party and how workers allow companies to blind them to corporate malfeasance by buying into blaming environmentalists for job losses. In part:
As someone who grew up in the middle of the spotted owl crisis of the Pacific Northwest during the 1980s, I understand why the UMWA has sided with the bosses—its members are scared to death of losing their jobs. But climate change is also a labor issue. Natural disasters inordinately affect the poor. Studies have connected climate change and poverty to project higher rates of heat stroke, asthma, and other health problems among working-class people.
Many in labor support a vigorous fight against climate change. Perhaps they can serve as a bridge to environmental organizations. What must happen is more meaningful dialogue between the UMWA and environmentalists. The UMWA’s primary mission is to protect its members’ jobs. Without coal, what happens to thousands of families in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Pennsylvania? There’s no easy answer. But attacking the EPA is not going to bring union jobs back to Appalachia. Demonizing environmentalists only serves to alienate alliances with other progressives the UMWA and other unions need to fight for a better future
Jane McAlevey excerpts from her new book of her decade as an organizer struggling against both corporations doing terrible things and the strategies of the labor leaders themselves. McAlevey talks of organizing against a decertification election at a for-profit hospital chain in Las Vegas. Pretty evil company in a horrible industry. But even more interesting to me was her discussion of labor law and how SEIU and other unions stuck to the letter of the law in campaigns but had a much more expansive view of the law when attacking each other:
Luck further had it that Morgan’s father was a private investigator, and she asked him to do some PI-level background research on both Yessin and Salgado. The dirt he turned up on Salgado was a mother lode. Jose had been convicted of running guns. Lots of guns, the sort that could arm a drug gang. We could never have made up something like this guy’s arrest record. So that was the sort of operation Brent Yessin ran, infiltrating unions with convicted gunrunners. Here were all our fresh-out-of-college idealistic twentysomething organizers, plus nurses themselves who had become our organizers, illegally banned from a hospital where they admitted a convicted gunrunner, who had clearly been brought in to scare the workers. Blowing this jerk out of the water was going to be a pleasure.
We called the national communications team in DC to get advice on how best to break this news. My mistake: I forgot this would trigger a review by the SEIU legal department, which told us that we couldn’t use the information because we couldn’t say where we had obtained it. I was mentally kicking myself: I should have known better than to call D.C. Now that they had discussed it with me, I would be directly disobeying legal counsel if I broke the story. I could have acted first and talked to our lawyers second. I already had a reputation among them for this sort of thing, and I readily admit it was well founded. Lawyers, not surprisingly, get very caught up in the law. But the laws regulating unions in the country are pathetic, and the amount of attention that unions pay to them is one reason (among many) that the labor movement in this country is dying. It was legalized to death.
Don’t get me wrong here. The SEIU does have some excellent lawyers who are devoted to the labor movement. If some day I actually wind up in legal trouble I would be delighted to have a lawyer as good as them. The problem is that lawyers wake up each day and think about how labor leaders can get their work done inside a legal framework that is deadly to unions. I woke up every day and thought about how to disrupt that system. I respected and appreciated them—I just didn’t listen to them as often as they wanted.
Knowing when to listen to lawyers and when to ignore them is a key for an organizer. My own rule of thumb is this: If something I want to do might get me in trouble, I do it; if it might get the workers or staff in trouble, I don’t. Really good labor lawyers help people like me with militant impulses understand when to cut the crap. The very best also know that sometimes, ignoring them is part of the organizer’s job. When an action needs to be taken right away or the union will lose, you take it and resolve the legal issue later. We were fighting a decertification effort with enormous stakes. If we lost, UHS could kick the legs out from under a plan that had taken thousands of hours to assemble. If we won, we could create unprecedented standards for workers and patients in a right-to-work state, and a presidential swing state to boot. What drives me absolutely crazy is how so often over the recent history of the movement, labor leaders have followed the letter of the law when confronting the boss while throwing the book out the window when confronting each other.
Whole thing is very much worth a read.