Live Blogging The AFL-CIO Convention (Part 1)

Organizing 2.0 is here at the AFL-CIO Convention in Los Angeles. We hope to cover some topics of interest to the broader labor movement and investigate some of our favorite topics. If you’re just getting started in all things AFL-CIO Convention, consider starting with Josh Eidelson at The Nation and Labor Notes’ collection of ten great articles. If you just want the short version, this might be it:

Unions are in decline. Past efforts to organize more workers did not reverse the trend. Have we reached the bottom of the trough? Is there enough pain to force enough labor leaders to think and act differently? AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is proposing new kinds of relationships with environmentalists, civil rights groups and others; but the devil is in the details, and we simply do not know how these initiatives will pan out.

Meanwhie the alt-labor sector is generating a lot of attention. Is the future of labor to be found in worker centers, community-labor alliances, fast-food workers, domestic workers and others traditionally outside the union movement? Will minority unionism or direct action unionism stage a comeback? We just don’t know, but increasingly, such efforts are being prioritized by various unions – especially SEIU (fast food) and UFCW (OUR Walmart).

This is what most of the ink spilled will be about. My own interests are a little less macro and meta, though it’s unclear if I can learn much about them at this convention.

  • The last big push for organizing (in the 90′s) has a spotty record. Even when large unions took the plunge and spent big in an effort to organize the unorganized, it just didn’t add up. The cost per new member was too high. At a time when organizing is prioritized (again), we should be asking: how and why will this be different? Do unions have new, proven and cost-effective organizing strategies and tactics waiting to be rolled out? Or are we in the verge of another experiment that might fail?
  • The average age of a union member continues to go up. The chances of a young worker belonging to a union are in decline. What does the ‘young worker movement’ mean for the vast majority of young workers unlikely to ever see the inside of a union hall?
  • Organizing has changed dramatically as a result of new communications technologies. But the tools of online organizing are only rarely well integrated with the tools of offline organizing. To a large extent, the changes that the new Digital Department seeks to implement across the labor movement are in their infancy. What is the state of this transition?
  • The vast majority of workers in America don’t belong to a union. To the extent that supporting the labor movement is an attractive political or social opportunity, unions have not been very good at creating them for non-union members. Working America is the largest ‘labor solidarity’ organization meant to address this need. But actually, there are many labor solidarity efforts built by and for individuals who want to play a role in the labor movement that does not correspond to their day job. What is the future of this sector? How is it perceived by labor leaders? Can we expect increased attention paid to groups like Jobs with Justice, 99 Pickets, Brandworkers and Occupy related efforts?

If you have questions – or answers – please add them below or tweet me @organize20.

Training: Digital Skills for Labor – Aug. 21

We’re pleased to be co-presenting a daylong training on online organizing aimed at people in the labor movement. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to hone your skills with more advanced trainings, we’ll have something for you.

All participants MUST register here. The language in this form focuses on affiliates of the New York City Central Labor Council, but we are welcoming colleagues from community organizing groups, unions and labor groups who aren’t part of the CLC, students, activists and others allied with the labor movement. Wondering if this training is really for you? Just ask by emailing us here.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 | 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM
New York City Central Labor Council
275 Seventh Avenue, 16th Floor
New York, NY 10001

This event is sponsored by the New York City Central Labor Council, the New York State AFL-CIO, the AFL-CIO, Organizing 2.0, the Consortium for Worker Education and the New York Paid Leave Coalition. Trainers hailing from the CLC, AFL-CIO and Organizing 2.0 will be on hand to give you a training tailored to labor’s needs. We’ll be teaching things like the Salsa email blast and petition system, social media skills for all levels, how to get buy-in for online organizing and what to look for in making a campaign website.

Registration is limited and expected to fill up rapidly. Register Today.

Knowledge Donors for Labor Fights

These days there are many new ways for people who are not members of a labor union to participate in the labor movement.
In addition to working with existing unions people can become members of Working America or join the OWS offshoot 99 Pickets.  If you work in the sector they represent you can join the Freelancers Union, OUR Walmart, Fast Food Forward or one of the many new worker centers like the Restaurant Opportunities Center. or Retail Action Project. Unions as well as these newer entities are all making calls for solidarity from the public in the form of petition signatures, help with picketing and demonstrations, boycotts, and help spreading the word on social media. But with rare exceptions, they do not have a structure for engaging with skilled volunteers – what many are calling knowledge donors.

Managing volunteers can be a challenge no matter what; but managing knowledge donors is a step beyond that. Organizations that have relied on groups of interchangeable supporters to show up at a certain time, perform an action, and then go home aren’t always able to handle individual volunteers with a specific skill. This can be complicated even more with tensions around volunteers who don’t represent your core constituency. What do you do with someone who isn’t even a member, might not come from the same community, and has a generational or class difference from the people they are trying to help? No wonder you won’t find many examples of knowledge donors in the labor world.

Organizing 2.0 is launching a new effort to recruit skilled volunteers who will be in service to labor and community organizing struggles. We’re looking specifically for digitally applicable skills, including social media proficiency, writing for the web, graphic design, online video, web development, trainers in digital tools and online advertising. These are the skill sets that (we observe) many union locals do not have. Even very large union locals are sometimes configured in such a way that staff are unable to run a real digital media campaign.

We have seen many cases where union locals go on strike — an action they have been preparing for for weeks or months — but don’t have a plan for social media outreach or any online communications. It’s only once the strike is imminent that they realize that they want additional support from the broader public and see the internet as a means for getting it and of putting pressure on the employer. However, the union local doesn’t have a plan for how to get that support or relationships with people who can help them. Sometimes they come to Organizing 2.0 for help at the last minute. We want to be able to do that at a larger scale. In particular, we want to help those who ‘don’t know who or how to ask.’

Our plan is to look for both knowledge donors and labor or community organizing fights that can benefit from them. By connecting and applying our knowledge and understanding of both labor and digital strategy, we can make a difference that is both meaningful and visible.

Of course, questions remain. Will we be able to recruit, train, manage and retain skilled volunteers? Will we find willing partners interested in their help? We think so but we’re not sure. As an organization run entirely by volunteers, everything we ever do has a certain question mark over it. But we do have a track record of training and engaging thousands of people at events over nearly four years. We’ve built an amazing Advisory Board (details coming soon!). And a great many of our peers working in the labor movement have offered encouragement and support for this new direction. Plus we’ve already done this on a micro scale for a few locals.

We can’t wait to find out. Meanwhile, everyone reading our post is encouraged to help us figure this out. Please – offer your suggestions and questions below, and sign up if you a)have skills and b)want to contribute them to help workers win labor fights.

The Future of the Left – A Conversation on Unity

This event is over! But it was great and you should have been there. This is what you missed:

Welcome to our event! We’re sitting at the livestream table at SEIU1199 near Times Square in New York City. The full description of the event is below the video feed.
Participate in the conversation via Twitter using the hashtag #futureleft

A conversation on left unityFuture of the Left

Chaired by Pat Fry – Left Labor Project

Opening remarks from Mark Solomon – Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. (Read the article that launched a thousand conversations.)

Responses by:

  • Bhaskar Sunkara, Editor – Jacobin Magazine
  • Libero Della Piana, Vice Chair – Communist Party USA
  • Maria Svart, National Director – Democratic Socialists of America
  • Eric Odell – Freedom Road Socialist Organization

After the conversation, join us for a reception with light food and beverages. We’d love to get to know you, and we hope to give you
the chance to meet and speak with other like-minded people!

Hosted by:

  • Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
  • Communist Party USA
  • Democratic Socialists of America
  • Freedom Road Socialist Organization

With participation and support from:
Jacobin Magazine | Left Labor Project | Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office | The Brecht Forum