Labor Notes conference 2018

On-the-ground report — workers itching for a fight

Conference attendees cheer during plenary session. PHOTO: Jonah Furman
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I was thrilled to represent Seattle-based Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity (OWLS) at the April Labor Notes conference. It offered an opportunity to meet hard-fighting working-class activists — to learn about their battles for justice and let them know about ours. In addition to being in OWLS, I’m a retired union carpenter and Freedom Socialist Party member. I’ve been on the front lines battling anti-worker bigots for years. It was exhilarating to be in Chicago around so many people committed to change.

A diverse “rainbow” of 3,000 activists attended over 200 workshops at this event titled “Organizing in Open Shop America.” The feeling was electric as listeners responded to grass-roots organizers talking about battles across the USA.

Two other OWLS members and my cousin joined me in promoting Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity. We handed out almost 400 informational packets. My goal was to engage with as many people as possible, and inform them of recent organizing campaigns and of OWLS’ Points of Solidarity. They include the need to champion the leadership of the most oppressed and urge Labor to break from both major political parties.

The power of collective action. Other opportunities to learn and interact came during the workshops. In the “Strikes” workshop I learned of the brave union miners in Idaho who have been picketing every entrance to the Hecla Lucky Friday Mine 24/7 for over a year. Their motto is “One Day Longer! One Day Stronger!” The strike, and bad press like Motley Fool recommending against buying Hecla stock, is buckling the mine owners’ resolve.

Josey Allgor, a leader in the communication workers strike against Verizon, discussed how she and her team of Wake Up Warriors went to hotels hosting the strike-breaking scabs. The warriors woke the scabs up early — very, very early. Tactics like this made that strike successful.

And West Virginia teacher Brandon Wolford stated that the governor and state legislators failed political calculus. Those knuckleheads forgot they were wrecking the lives of real people. Push people into a corner and they will come out swinging. That’s what the teachers and other education staffers did — and they ignited a nationwide school rebellion.

I took the opportunity during discussion to applaud the speakers for their grit and courage. I asked, “What do workers have to do now to go to the next level? Are other workers ready to strike in sympathy?” OWLS has successfully organized a secondary boycott so I know it works.

Taking on union busters. A representative from Washington Federation of State Employees Council 28 talked about efforts to fight the neo-conservative Freedom Foundation. These well-funded, right-wing con men use lies to attack and try to destroy public sector unions.

Council 28 worked hard to inform its members about the Foundation, making sure people understand the falsehoods spewed by the group. I got to speak about how OWLS has brought the fight against the Freedom Foundation to the streets. OWLS set up good old-fashioned pickets to put these bigots on notice that they’re not welcome in our community. At the Foundation’s last fundraiser, OWLS organized eighteen unions and plenty of community groups to protest. Hundreds of loud picketers jubilantly displayed their displeasure. This was a substantial lesson in cross union and group collaboration.

Overall, the weekend was great. My one disappointment was that Labor Notes didn’t call for a united national fightback campaign. This was a missed opportunity.

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