Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Workers Helping Workers

Imagine the idea of workers helping themselves outside of the conventional definition of "union" and mostly free from the chains of federal labor-relations laws. What? How is that possible? Well, it's due to the fact they are not bound by any collective bargaining which only restricts "direct action". Now how insane is that?! Why, that sounds like the definition of the "used-to-be-unions". Back when they were powered by the people, working together through grassroots initiatives! Just sounds entirely too simple to be possible doesn't it? How do workers gain power within the workplace? By not being part of organized labor's restricted action due to their corporate compromises, that's how! How ludicrous that sounds!

This article in New Standard News entitled ‘Worker Centers’ Pick Up Where Unions, Govt. Leave Off, takes a look at how people will solidify when they are confronted by injustices that seemingly fall through the cracks of the "organized labor" and "corporate/labor law" structures. People are resilient when not encumbered by our numbing political and organized labor bureaucracies.

According to a study done by EPI on Worker Centers, the number of worker centers have grown from a handful to over 120 in just over ten years time. As organized labor continues to become neutered by their corporate cousins, who is to say these worker centers and their form of direct action, outside the existing negotiated demise of organized labor, isn't the most effective alternative to our existing dilema. Or at least, this appears to be one working alternative the people might consider. The fact that these worker centers are unconventional in respect to organizing workers is a plus in my opinion. We know the current system we are in is dying due to self-serving interests of the system itself. We've seen how effective our organized labor structure can be by looking at the support it offered in the TWU strike in New York. Organized My Ass!! It should be renamed dis-organized labor IMHO!
According to Amy Sugimori, staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project, which provides legal assistance to worker centers, the grassroots orientation of the organizations enables them to "focus at a scale -- and with a level of attention to communities, and issues, and groups -- that unions might not be able to."

These worker centers are offering support, providing services, creating networks, and most importantly, giving hope to people who have been overlooked, (either by stupidity or maliciously), by organized labor and our government. For more information, Alexis Buss did an excellent series of articles on Organizing Without Majority Bargaining Unit Status.
If unionism is to become a movement again, we need to break out of the current model, one that has come to rely on a recipe increasingly difficult to prepare: a majority of workers vote a union in, a contract is bargained. We need to return to the sort of rank-and-file on-the-job agitating that won the 8hour day and built unions as a vital force. One way to do this, is what has become known now as "minority unionism."

These worker centers are redefining the issues and changing the way the low-wage communities understand the problems which face them, while offering the people possibilities for changing their future. "Their power, the power of people we ordinarily consider powerless, derives from the patterns of interdependence that constitute social life, and from the leverage embedded in interdependent relations." - Cloward-Piven -

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