New Book Offers Training Manual for Winning Social Change

by Steve Early

shawbook_2Randy Shaw’s Activist Handbookis a book with legs. First published in the early 1990s, it has now been updated as a guide to “winning social change” in the new millennium. If you’re a long distance runner in any U.S. social movement–or trying to figure out how to become one–this is the training manual for you and your team.

The appearance of a second edition from University of California Press has given the Bay Area author and community organizer a chance to expand upon the case studies he utilized in the initial edition, adding sections about protest activity not yet stirring two decades ago. The eclectic mix of older and new material makes the information and advice that Shaw dispenses even more useful to organizers of all types. His latest Handbook examines “new strategies, tactics, issues, and grassroots campaigns, and revisits whether activists have learned from past mistakes.”

The ground covered includes fights for better housing and tenant rights, neighborhood preservation and safer cities, affordable higher education, fair treatment of immigrants and AIDS victims, “sweat-free” manufacturing, gay and lesbian rights. The author also analyzes, in very ecumenical fashion, many different arenas for political work, including state and local ballot initiatives, legislative lobbying, running for office, direct action, litigation, and media campaigns.

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Trampling Out The Vintage?

Cesar Chavez and Duane Campbell -1972

Trampling Out the Vintage ?

by Duane Campbell

A  dissident’s view of the rise and the fall of the United Farm Workers union.

Frank Bardacke’s Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers. (2011, Verso). is the view of a well- informed observer  who  worked in the lettuce fields near Salinas for six seasons,  then spent  another 25 years  teaching English to  farm workers  in the Watsonville, Cal.  area. His views on the growth and decline of the United Farm Workers union – some of which I do not share–  offer  important points of history and reflection  for unionists today, particularly those working with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Trampling Out the Vintage, provides several insights not previously developed in well informed books on the UFW  including  important  differences between grape workers and  workers in row crops such as lettuce; the length of time workers were in the UFW,  the more settled family nature of grape workers, the strength of each  type of ranch committees,  the leadership of ranch crews  ( and thus the potential differences in creating democratic accountability), and the differing histories of worker militancy in  different  crops.  The author correctly argues that each of these led to somewhat different organizing environment in building the  union. He also details problems of administrative mismanagement in the hiring halls in the grape areas and alleged  mismanagement of organizing within the union sponsored health care insurance and clinic systems .

Based upon his own experiences and the histories of workers   in the Salinas valley, Bardacke  makes the case  that farm workers- not Cesar Chavez – created the union.  They built their union on a long history of previous collective work stoppages and strikes.  The union was created on the ground in Delano,  Salinas, Watsonville, and surrounding towns- not in the union headquarters of  La Paz.  The author reveals his strong viewpoint in the  title apparently referring  to Chavez “Trampling out the Vintage” where a union had  been created.  Continue reading

Labor Occupies Wall Street, But Democrats Go in Reverse

by Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw
As the grassroots campaign against Wall Street grows, Democratic politicians are moving in the opposite direction. President Obama has secured the House Republican support necessary to pass three trade bills strongly opposed by organized labor and most Democrats. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who like Obama was elected with huge labor funding and ground support, took a particularly hard public line against the state’s second largest public employee union for voting down a concessionary contract; Cuomo seeks to avoid charges that he is “too beholden” to labor unions. And then we have California’s Governor Jerry Brown. After being hailed at a recent labor event as the virtual second coming of Joe Hill, Brown vetoed a bill to facilitate the unionization of low-paid childcare workers. He also vetoed a measure that would have given San Franciscans the right to fund public services by voting to raise their own taxes. With “allies” like these, no wonder labor unions decline while Wall Street’s power grows.Amidst growing protests against Wall Street, leading Democrats remain more concerned with being viewed as “standing up to labor” rather than as boosting labor’s clout.

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It is a problem of leadership. Really ? A response to Shaw

Duane Campbell

by Duane Campbell

While I enjoy, and often learn from Randy Shaw’s pieces on Talking Union, his Labor Day analysis below  is light and over simplified. First he claims that there is a lack of prospects for change in Labor. Then he summarizes how he feels younger people see labor, without evidence . I thank Randy for making his statements and opening a debate.  Let the debate begin.

Randy criticizes labor leaders in general for their hanging on to their leadership positions and not working for change and renewal. Fine. I agree about some leaders, but not all.  See, for example the essay below (and the video) by Leo Gerard of the USW.  Not all leaders are failing .  It is important to be specific rather than blame all .   To understand this criticism of some leaders  you must recognize the role of the 54 independent unions in the AFL-CIO federation and those out of the federation. They are independent. They each have their own leadership. It is a loose federation. So far, members have chosen to keep it that way. There are reasons why some unions choose to be independent. Just look at the Carpenters and how they have joined and left various federations. This highly independent nature was a part of the conflict that established Change to Win. Notice that the CTW has not been particularly successful this year.

So, if you wanted to end the role of a old, white, entrenched leadership, you would probably need to reform the nature of the AFL-CIO federation. This is not particularly a case of lack of leadership. Who do you expect to change this? Much more of this issue is dealt with in the book, Solidarity Divided: The Crisis of Organized Labor and a new path Toward Social Justice by Bill Fletcher and Fernando Gapasin. Continue reading

Labor Needs a New Generation of Leadership

by Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw

The United States labor movement has declined for decades, but what separates Labor Day 2011 from the past is the lack of prospects for change. The once bright hopes for major federal labor law reform that accompanied Obama’s election are dead, and now labor sees it as a major victory just to keep collective bargaining and a functioning National Labor Relations Board.

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Obama’s Choice of Charlotte a Slap in Face to Organized Labor

by Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw

In choosing Charlotte, North Carolina to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention, President Obama selected a city with no unionized hotels, a non-union convention center, and the least union membership of the four options. Last October, UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm wrote a letter to the Democratic National Committee, stating that Charlotte’s non-union hotels made it an unacceptable choice. Candidate Obama pledged to join UNITE HERE’s picket line at Chicago’s Congress Hotel if elected President – a promise he made no attempt to fulfill – but as President has increasingly courted corporate interests while ignoring labor’s needs. While some attribute Obama’s decision to the importance of North Carolina and neighboring Virginia in the 2012 presidential race, another factor could also be at play. UNITE HERE has been waging the most aggressive union campaign ever against the Hyatt Hotel chain, owned by the Chicago-based Pritzker family. Penny Pritzker was the national finance chair of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. If Obama wanted to ensure ongoing Pritzker and corporate loyalty in 2012, choosing a city opposed by UNITE HERE and that only has non-union hotels sends a powerful message.

As most labor union leaders continue to publicly praise President Obama, it’s clear with each passing week that Obama feels he can actively court corporate America while taking labor support for granted. The President’s choice of non-union Charlotte is the latest example, as even the conservative Red State blog observed that Obama likely chose Charlotte “precisely because it is union-free.” Continue reading

Randy Shaw Book Talk in NYC October 21

Randy Shaw

Join Randy Shaw, one of the nation’s leading reporters on labor and social change struggles, as he discusses his  book Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century and the ongoing prospects for progressive change.

On Thursday, October 21, 2010 at 6:30 pm, Shaw will give a presentation at the auditorium at 25 Broadway, 7th fl, New York.

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