Here's How Arizona Teachers Organized Their First-Ever Statewide Strike
How did teachers build their co-workers’ support to demand more school funding, culminating in the first statewide teacher strike in Arizona’s history? What they did is a great example of a classic organizing strategy: the escalating campaign.
The best campaigns build the union and shift the balance of power through actions that are public, participatory, confrontational, and escalate over time.
Secret #32: Turn Up the Heat
Help Put the Movement Back in the Labor Movement
Become a Labor Notes Monthly Sustaining Donor
Monthly donors receive a free "Fight the Boss, Build the Union" T-shirt and a subscription to our magazine. Donate Now. »
Why an escalating campaign? Organizers should always be thinking more than one step ahead, and it’s usually best not to bring out your big guns right away. Instead, you want to start with an easy activity that gets lots of people to participate.
If the first action doesn’t win your demand, you can try something a little harder that pushes the boss a bit more. Gradually increase the intensity of actions, making sure not to leave people behind by escalating too quickly.
A few reasons it’s wise to escalate gradually:
- Take the high road. By starting small, you show you are reasonable and credible. You did try asking politely.
- It builds your group. If you start off with low-intensity actions, members who have never said “boo” to the boss before will be more likely to participate. As your actions get more intense, make sure not to leave people behind.
- Strength in numbers. If you leap straight into high-intensity actions only a few people participate, it’s easy for your employer to single them out. If you start smaller and build, you can achieve greater participation.
- Each action has a greater impact than the action before. As your actions get more and more intense, managers begin to understand that you mean business. You also keep them guessing.
- Don’t play your aces too soon. If you do your worst first, there’s nowhere for your campaign to go but down. It’s more effective when managers can tell there’s a lot more to come—and there’s still time to save themselves a headache by giving in.
Secret #37: Count Noses
At any given moment, your group’s power depends on how many people you can move to action. So you should assess, reassess, and re-reassess your support by tracking participation in each union activity.
Arizona teachers found several opportunities to tally their support in the course of their escalating campaign:
- Site liaisons tracked how many people attended the walk-ins.
- At the pre-walkout rally, teachers distributed printed rally chant cards that included a website link. Participants were asked to log in during the rally and fill out the form to show their support for the demands.
- At the vote, site liaisons distributed paper ballots to their co-workers, counted up the vote results, and called in their totals. Of those who voted, 78 favored walking out.
The points above are adapted from Secrets of a Successful Organizer. For more resources on escalating campaigns, visit labornotes.org/secrets.