Organizing So People Can Organize Themselves
January 19, 2018 8:19 AM   Subscribe

“Worker centers—a catchall term for a broad array of local groups across the country—sprung up in the void left by the collapse of unions. They are a sort of one-stop shop of last resort for the problems of the working class. They organize campaigns for worker rights, wrangle with bad bosses, and more. And because worker centers have been at least somewhat effective in mitigating the horrors of life among the working poor, pro-business forces have long been anxious to undermine them.“ Walking The Floor of the Great Minnesota Activist Factory, Hamilton Nolan - Splinter.
posted by The Whelk (5 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
The idea that set CTUL apart from most do-gooder groups was one that still guides it today—namely, that its purpose is not to be a heavenly force bestowing charity from above, but instead one that trains workers to organize themselves. [...] In practice, it is one of the most radical philosophies possible, because it represents a considerable investment in turning regular people into trained organizers capable of multiplying the power of workers many times over. It is not a spigot of charity that can be turned off at a moment’s notice; it is a factory for the production of activists.

this is pretty much the stark divide that still separates white 'activists' from PoC-led groups in my city. groups like Indivisible or the Women's March self-organize in a vacuum here - they remain narrowly focused on establishment politics (ex Democrats, MoveOn, etc) and nominally aware of what all is going on in more radical, PoC-led organizing circles (ex BLM-Atlanta, SONG, etc). and a lot of it appears very much to be grounded in the community and demographics of its organizers - white, middle-class, highly educated white people who mean well but tsk away disruption that would ever happen without coordinating with local police departments (in spite of insistence by their PoC and queer members to not engage) and who seem to be completely uninterested in efforts to stymie immediate, pressing issues like bail bonds or decriminalization or anything else that doesn't get national media coverage

it's never, ever from a lack of reaching out - they've been reached out to plenty. I've personally done so on a number of occasions, I've seen friends and other organizers do it, and they always, always defer to their own comfort zones. and all the while they are learning, from each other, from establishment politicos, the tools for accruing political power, for organizing, for staging protests while ignoring this whole swathe of the population whose suffering is acute, who are literally dying in the streets from the cold because they couldn't be there to stop the city from shutting down the largest homeless shelter in the area while local business owners terrorize the homeless with literal fucking robots

if I could give any advice to people who want to get involved in organizing it is absolutely to avoid working with any group of people that are all white or middle-class or highly-educated, esp if they are not explicitly, directly accountable to PoC groups. and if none exist, push hard for an ethos of liberation, not charity - because charity keeps power nestled with those who already have it. and power never looks to give itself away or care about those who don't have it
posted by runt at 9:05 AM on January 19, 2018 [30 favorites]

I live very close to this space! One thing CTUL does really well is intersect with other activist/organizer groups, especially those active in the Latino community. There are always different groups using their space and working together (like renter's rights groups) who have either similar purposes or are trying to organize the same people. It's a very active office.

Thanks for linking to the piece, The Whelk.
posted by Emmy Rae at 12:14 PM on January 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hey, The Whelk, this was a really great read - and I would like to thank you generally for the series of great posts you've been making lately. I, personally, really need stories of good people doing good things effectively, and your posts have been one of my best sources for that these days. I sincerely appreciate it.

From the article:
all of them have had money stolen from their paychecks, simply because their bosses thought they couldn’t do anything about it. The shockingly endemic nature of wage theft alone is sufficient reason for worker centers to exist. The vast majority of what CTUL organizes for is not any sort of new or special protection—it is enforcement of rules that already exist. Rules that are brazenly ignored, and that the government does not have the resources or inclination to adequately police. The Minnesota Department of Labor had four people tasked with enforcing wage theft laws. For the entire state. That number only rose thanks to lobbying efforts by CTUL. Working people who are being robbed are politely asking that the laws against robbing them be enforced. This is what the Republican party and its allies would like to put to a stop.
I knew wage theft happens to restaurant employees sometimes, but I did not know it was so widespread. It is just appalling and outrageous that this is not one of the highest priorities for government. This is theft. This is crime. If you are tough on crime, you should be making this stop.

When I run the world, I will make citizen services - stopping wage theft, stopping consumer fraud, enforcing the law - a top priority.

However, I don't actually want to run the world. Guess it's time for some more calls to my state officials to make sure THEY make it a top priority.

Thanks again, The Whelk.
posted by kristi at 12:30 PM on January 19, 2018 [16 favorites]

Thanks again, The Whelk.

Hear, hear! (I just sent him a PM a couple of days ago saying the same. I'm hoping I'm not the only one.)

Also, the more I hear about Minnesota and their history with labor rights and things like atheism and being pro science and just generally nice and smart the more I wonder what it would be like to live there.
posted by loquacious at 1:00 PM on January 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is theft. This is crime.

That can't be right. Crime is committed by criminals. Criminals are bad people. Employers create jobs. That makes them good people. Good people can't be criminals, so employers not paying their employees can't possibly be a crime.

I have met people who really truly do understand the world around them in these terms.

Some of them are quite wealthy.
posted by flabdablet at 8:25 AM on January 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

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