Labor has made some positive gains recently in organizing the working-class employees of the Silicon Valley. But what’s really interesting here is the aggressive attitude of labor:
The state’s labor movement has been “very good at being the opposite of Wisconsin,” Paulson said. Unions have traditionally been strong in Wisconsin, but over the past few years a state government has dealt a series of crushing blows to the labor movement, including passing a law restricting collective bargaining for public employees and a law that bans union shops. Labor in California has remained strong enough to make such attacks unlikely, but Paulson said he and others in the movement have tired of focusing so much on simply avoiding disaster.
“Over the last few years, some of us have just said, fuck that,” Paulson told Al Jazeera. “Let’s do what we want to do to fight for workers. And so the state federation of labor in particular decided that we are going to put our resources into organizing. Into real organizing, that is going to result in a collective bargaining agreement at some time or another, and people being in a labor union, and officially having a voice at work.”
The California Labor Federation selected three particular campaigns on which to combine resources: The SEIU-USWW drive to organize Silicon Valley security officers, as well as a UFCW-backed campaign to organize workers at Walmart and a similar Teamster-driven campaign at food processing plants in California’s Central Valley. Every union in the federation is expected to contribute something to those three campaigns, regardless of whether the campaigns have anything to do with their immediate interests, Paulson said.
“Even school employees, we’re going to send them to the Walmart campaign,” he said. “We’re going to send them to food processing and help the Teamsters out in Central Valley. All of us central labor councils, we’ll organize civil disobedience and actions outside of Google and Apple in order to reinforce organizing for security officers.”
After the security officers campaign began to pick up supporters and public attention, the labor movement started throwing itself behind other organizing drives in the Silicon Valley area, according to SEIU-USWW organizing director Sanjay Garla. The most prominent of those campaigns is the Teamsters’ effort to unionize shuttle drivers — but, Garla said, “there’s a lot of talk about how food-service workers are also part of this fight.”
“Everyone sat down and said, ‘How do we back up these security officers that are going up against these major giants?’” he said. “It was really about supporting the security officers, and it’s turning into something more.”
Cajoling all the unions into contributing something for organizing is a good idea and being aggressive is a great one. There can be good reasons to play defense, but labor also must press its advantages where possible. And if it isn’t possible in California, it isn’t possible anywhere.