First National Meeting of Worker Centers Discusses Strategies, Vision

October 2003

Labor Notes hosted a first-of-its kind Worker Center Conference on September 11, a day before the beginning of our Troublemaking in Troubled Times conference. Representatives from 25 worker centers-community-based groups organizing for labor rights-gathered to discuss their organizing vision, strategies, campaigns, funding issues, and challenges.

The mood seemed to be a glad “start of recognition” and a burgeoning sense of solidarity.


Jon Liss, director of the Tenants’ and Workers’ Support Committee in Alexandria, Virginia, said his co-worker, Mulugeta Yimer, left the conference inspired: “He was feeling beaten up. Finding out that others were facing and fighting the same things around the country helped. He’s been calling other organizers saying he’s fired up and ready to go!”

The meeting was open only to worker center members, and this led to open discussion. One participant explained, “It was good to have a space where we could not worry about what we were saying. Usually, when you are talking about your relationship with unions, you have to be more careful.”


Participants agreed that their conversations must continue. They want to talk about:

• How do you focus on organizing while people have pressing life concerns, like legal problems, the threat of eviction, and hunger?

• How do you get workers involved so they don’t think the center’s elected board will do all the work?

• How do you develop a sense of identity among an ethnically diverse membership?

• Are we committed enough to build some unity instead of hoarding our discoveries of what works to use as special nuggets for grant proposals?

• How do you incorporate a vision into organizing?



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• How do you structure your organizing so it combines with the power of unions?

The meeting was charged, the breakout discussions were intense. Labor Notes will keep you posted.