Stewart Acuff

Nov 16

Unions and The Working Class

I leave this beautiful place today very happy with how the book and the message were received. As I learned long ago that union, community, and civil rights activists want to be challenged with a vision that matters. Hard though it may be, we want our lives, our work, our efforts to be tied to something much bigger than our individual lives, something that can change the quality of life for ourselves and our brothers and sisters.

Last night we had a great discussion meeting at the Ironworkers Hall with west coast organizing directors and union leaders about the social and economic climate we find ourselves in. I was very pleased and honored to have WILLIAM GOULD, chair of the National Labor Relations Board under President Bill Clinton there, and participating for the full meeting. After a brief analysis, we spent most of the meeting discussing what we should do given the huge challenges we face in America today.

We reached consensus on three broad areas of activity:
– That all union campaigns must relate to and resonate with non-union workers lest we seem to be just another interest group.
– That the labor movement has a role and a moral responsibility to return to its work of representing and speaking for the whole working class and tackling the biggest problems that affect us all, for example, historic levels of inequality. There are some fights that we must make and stick with because social change in America comes slowly with great effort over years and years.
– That every campaign, offensive or defensive, must demonstrate to and show average workers the power that is possible to achieve in collective or concerted action.

As we often do in such discussions, the question of racism came up and President Dan of the Ironworkers has a great story. He said his union had signed up some Chinese contractors and that some of his white members had resisted bringing in the Chinese workers, but that after a campaign and working together in common struggle the racism melted away – a great story for those of us who shy away from confronting racism.

My friend David Bacon made the point that work on a righteous immigration policy that treated immigrants as human beings and children of our same God had greatly helped President Obama win and the Democrats hold the House of Representatives.

We also agreed that while we cannot create social movement, we can create some of the elements that characterize social movements – allow and encourage spontaneous and creative action, broad consensus across the working class and middle class on social crises, worker action.

It has been a fantastic week for me here in the Bay Area. Folks have been more than receptive to the book and the vision. I encourage you to get and read the book and invite me to come to your city or area to talk about the big questions that confront America today.

ILWU Organizing Director Peter Olney and his family have been wonderful hosts. Thank God for the tie that binds us all.

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Stewart Acuff is the former organizing Director of the AFL-CIO. Acuff has also written two books: Playing Bigger Than You Are: A Life in Organizing, and Getting America Back to Work.

Playing Bigger Than You Are - A Life in OrganizingGet the e-book edition of Playing Bigger Than You Are by clicking here!

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