Viewpoint: Where's Plan B?

I want to re-occupy Wall Street, not only with amazing young folks but with laid-off construction workers. I long to discuss the sudden uprising of a David-and-Goliath democracy movement against corporate power and money. Photo: Unity at Verizon.

In this piece, Hetty Rosenstein confides why she spent months dreading a talk she'd agreed to deliver to a labor-management conference. Last weekend she finally gave the talk, to rave reviews from the union side. You can watch it here. -Eds.

I’ve been asked to participate in a panel on “What has happened to New Jersey public sector collective bargaining?” at a legal conference, and I’ve been agonizing over it for months.

I am used to speaking in front of groups. I am not intimidated by the fact that the rest of the people on the panel are lawyers. I certainly understand the subject matter.

In many ways, I should view it as an opportunity to speak about the real issue—that public sector collective bargaining is a reflection of the relative power and leverage of rulers and their workers (they actually call us servants!), and that it doesn’t have to do with lawyers or arbitrators or the legal scope of negotiations except as a reflection of that power struggle.

Strangely, the prospect of being on this panel put me into a four-month rage that I must admit is entirely disproportionate to the circumstances.

I found myself screaming at one of my best friends that this conference is what’s wrong with the labor movement, and that we should instead be trying to turn it into a worker tribunal where the “neutrals” are sentenced to 20 years in a re-education camp and the management reps are sentenced to hanging.

I don’t believe that. Really. I don’t. What the hell is wrong with me?

CHANGE THE SUBJECT

And then I got it. I really don’t want to talk about what’s happening to collective bargaining. I want to talk about something else. I wish I were invited to talk about a workers’ resistance movement.

Best-Selling Book

Secrets of a successful organizer

A step-by-step guide to building power on the job. Buy Now. »

I want to talk about something that marshals the rage we ought to be seeing among young folks who are getting out of college burdened with debt and no prospect of jobs. I want to re-occupy Wall Street, not only with amazing young folks but with laid-off construction workers. Oh, how I long to discuss the sudden uprising of a David-and-Goliath democracy movement against corporate power and money.

What I want to really talk about is something that most definitely can’t be revealed in a room full of management lawyers. I want to discuss… Plan B.

Because, brothers and sisters, Plan A is not working. Plan A+ isn’t working. Plan A has left us with 7 percent of the private sector organized, corporations are people, war and death, a climate apocalypse, a celebration of the 1%, ridiculous Democrats, and a deep well of anger—which in my case manifests itself as misdirected rage at a perfectly reasonable conference.

I have discussed this in a more uplifting way at times, and without question I will get back to my usual delusional optimism shortly.

But, for the next couple of weeks, as I search for 15 minutes worth of words that will change the course of collective bargaining history, I am longing and raging for a different direction. Plan B.

Hetty Rosenstein is New Jersey state director for the Communications Workers.

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #422, May 2014. Don't miss an issue, subscribe today.