The annual Labor Notes conference was a flurry of people, ideas and joy. It was held in Chicago this month and featured speakers like Sean O’Brien, president of Teamsters; Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union; and Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
Thousands of people packed into the hotel to learn more about how to organize and build solidarity. The excitement, anger, happiness and determination — the common emotions of organizing — were palpable. Here are a few things I learned from the sessions I attended:
Labor Notes Conference Key Takeaways
We need to meet people where they are, not drag them to where we want. Let’s face it: we’re the fanatics. Everyone else we meet are probably not. In one of Joe Fahey’s sessions, he urged organizers not to try to move people from A to Z. Instead, try to get them from A to D. Listen and find out what they are interested in. Bond over sports, movies or whatever else they like. Once they see you as a friend, they’ll listen to you about organizing and maybe even show up when you ask.
It’s not an accident. The system was designed this way on purpose, according to the Debt Collective, a debtors’ union seeking to end debt. When talking about austerity in education, the speakers explained how our country has shifted from a tax economy to a debt economy. They also pointed out how student loans became more common around the same time as large student protests on campuses.
The boss (or landlord) should be thinking about us all the time. Research is important, but it’s about more than getting information. It’s about showing the boss, landlord or politician that they need to be worried. If they feel that we are always watching and digging deeper, they’ll lose the fight first.
Everything is organizing. We already know this, but it’s important to remember. Everything we do together, in solidarity, is organizing. Those potlucks? Organizing. Research sessions? Organizing. Flyer-making? Organizing.
We need to push further. Perhaps the most inspiring point, in my opinion, was one made by a member of the Chicago Teachers Union. The union pushed beyond the typical walls of a labor contract for items like affordable housing for their students. This is a trend that should not die. We can use bargaining as a method to improve our society as a whole. We shouldn’t box ourselves in because of “management rights” and “scope of bargaining.”
Read more about the Labor Notes and the conference here.