http://labornotes.org/node/1290First thing you do: Go to Troublemakers School.
In case you missed it, the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday featured a story on a recent one-day seminar at Pasadena City College in southern California aimed at would-be labor activists. Similar seminars have taken place in San Diego, Oakland, Madison, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
According to the Labor Education and Research Project, the point of the "troublemaking" seminars is
to understand this economic crisis--it's not just "the business cycle," and the money is there--and help activists think through big-picture responses to big-picture problems--positive, feasible action on jobs, contracts, organizing, health care, and the environment.
The seminars also teach "tactics, skills, and strategies folks can use in their locals and workers centers right away: beating back concessions and employer attacks; defending immigrant members against raids; activating members on the shop floor and in the community."
But what's noteworthy about the Times' story -- apart from the obvious troublemaking stuff -- is how it attempts to reinforce the message that private and public-sector unions are essentially interchangeable. The sympathetic account notes the decline of private-sector unions -- "an endangered avocation in a country in which only 11.9% of employed wage and salary workers belonged to a union last year, down from 20% in 1983," according to the piece -- but doesn't mention that public-sector union membership is substantially higher and several orders of magnitude more powerful.
Leading the seminar was a long-time labor activist by the name of Paul Krehbiel, a believer so true that he was president of the staff union the Los Angeles chapter of the Service Employees International Union (one of the largest and most powerful public-employee unions in the Golden State).
To read the Times' article, you might think the entire organized labor project was an endangered species. Certainly for activists like Krehbiel -- who, in a Labor Notes interview, says he thinks SEIU has gone way too "corporate" -- unionism has lost much of the idealism and ideological purity it may have once had. But anyone who doubts the power of public sector unions in California particularly should keep an eye on labor's emerging political agenda for 2012 and 2014.
Study how SEIU and their compatriots in the California Teachers Association, the California Labor Federation, the California Federation of Teachers, the California School Employees Association, etc., skillfully won concessions in the recent state budget agreement, and you will receive a real masterclass in "troublemaking."