VP Division 2

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Tug of War in the Workplace

The following is an excerpt from the book “A Troublemaker’s Handbook 2” How to fight back where you work and win! Published by Labornotes.org

Employers get it about the workplace–it’s where their profits come from. So they’re always trying to increase their power vs. ours. Today they are:
• Speeding up work, through new technologies that set our pace and the monitor us
• De-skilling our jobs by putting our brains in the machines or giving our skilled work to people outside of the bargaining unit
• Demanding longer hours and irregular schedules, in the name of flexibility
• Controlling the way we work more tightly, with lean production schemes. Telling us not just what to do but how to do it, every little step
• Changing jobs from lifetime to short-term, from full time to part time
• Outsourcing jobs, both inside the country and overseas, to places where working conditions are worse
• Sowing division in the workforce with “two-tier” contract–hiring new workers at much lower wages and benefits.

With these attacks, management undermines two sources of workers’ power:
1) The first is our job knowledge—we’re the ones who do the work, who are the experts about our jobs, who know what the patient needs or where to kick the machine to make it go. If work is standardized, computerized, robotized, it’s easier to outsource it–say to a call center across the country or across the world. Also when management harvests our knowledge and embeds it in software, we lose the skills that give us leverage. It’s harder to dissent, to make trouble.
2) The second source of power that’s undermined is OUR SOLIDARITY! Workers who are sped-up and monitored can’t socialize with each other; we can’t organize. We become electronically tethered to the work process but not to each other. And when we have a two-tiered contract, we’re voting for daily tension and resentment on the floor. If we tell younger workers that we’re not concerned about their future, why should they fight for decent pensions for others?

So employers want to set new ground rules for the next round of struggle. Two-tier, in particular, sets some very bad terms–if newer, younger union members are angry enough, the next battle could be over whether it’s worth having a union at all.

This section was written by Jane Slaughter
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Organizing is an attitude. It’s the attitude that you and your co-workers together can do something to make things better. It’s the attitude that action is better than complaining. It’s the attitude that all problems are just situations waiting for a solution. It’s the refusal to be discouraged–at least not for long. It’s the willingness to listen to others with respect, so that the plan you come up with reflects the good ideas of many people. If you have the attitude, you feel it is necessary to respond to unfairness. You are committed to building power with your co-workers, not just talking about it. You believe in collective action, even if you’re just starting to understand it.

What we as workers can do–whether we have a union or not–is to show respect for one another and ourselves. This is the FOUNDATION for powerful organizing. When you have self-respect, it means you won’t put up with bullying, intimidation, or exploitation. When you respect your co-workers, it means you value their experience and know they have something important to add to the plan for solving problems at work.

This section was written by Ellen David Friedman
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I’ve learned; Apathy is something you’re trained in, not something you’re born with. When people feel powerless those expressions can get communicated through apathy. Worker’s may tell you they don’t care about a particular issue or that they don’t want to get involved but what they really mean is they don’t know what to do to remedy the situation.

Giving members the skills to resolve their problems gives them a sense of power. This all starts by members reading and understanding their collective bargaining agreement and by asking questions about how things work in the Union process. As Union representatives we are charged with the duty of educating our members of how to deal with conflict in the workplace.

We must also understand that with any conflict whether between workers and management or workers’ themselves, there will be two parts; Emotion and the actual problem. We must learn to separate the two. Venting the emotion is the place to start. Once we get through the emotion and learn what the issue is, we can work on the problem using the grievance process if necessary.

Settling grievances, more often than not hinges on the Union’s ability to pressure management to settle. But remember; when management looks at the stewards across the table at a grievance meeting, they must CLEARLY understand that they are dealing with more than just two people. They are dealing with the entire Union. Management must go to the grievance meeting feeling some sense of urgency to settle so the grievance is not dragged out through all steps of the process.

It’s time to get back to some old-school tactics and embrace representation and actions on the job. This is the foundation that Unions were built upon. This can be achieved through either subtle and/or direct pressure coming from within the membership. For instance in most all contracts there are clauses that allow a group of individuals to file a grievance(s). Can you imagine an entire work-group presenting a grievance to the management team?

Union membership has declined drastically in the past several decades. Unions need to get back to some hard-core representation in the grievance process and this is accomplished by membership involvement. It may be that there is no immediate practical resolution of a particular grievance, but a grievance and particularly a group grievance, might be just what’s needed to build our union solidarity. Once members are ready and start taking an action such as group grievances they will be ready to do what it takes to fight, and win on bigger issues. Bargaining doesn’t stop once you have a new contract. It’s a continuous process…

In Solidarity,
Tony Boles
VP CWA 4900
Division 2