A Busy Year for Labor Notes!

Labor Notes organized 14 Troublemakers Schools this year, including our first one ever in Lawrence, Kansas. Photo: Rose Welch

Labor Notes has been at it for 40 years. But 2019 will go down as one of our busiest and most productive yet.

In addition to putting out our monthly magazine, we crisscrossed the country joining picket lines, organizing Troublemakers Schools, and meeting with workers to help them chart a path forward in their unions and workplaces.

This year, we organized a record 14 Troublemakers Schools, starting with a packed house in Ithaca, New York, where the presidents of the striking Electrical Workers (UE) locals in Erie, Pennsylvania, were received with open arms. An Erie striker joined us at our school in Detroit the following week, as did Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, spoke on a closing panel about the Green New Deal along with General Motors workers from Flint, Michigan and Oshawa, Ontario. “We need to bring the Troublemakers School to Congress!” she posted on Facebook afterwards.

In Chicago, our school took place in the run-up to the fall strike by 32,000 teachers and school employees there; an entire workshop was devoted to planning strike support. Two local Amazon warehouse workers spoke about their organizing, including a successful petition for clean drinking water and a march on the boss in July to demand air conditioning and health insurance. A worker from Portillo’s spoke about the organizing by the restaurant chain’s predominantly immigrant workforce to force the employer to rescind mass firings due to Social Security “no match” letters.

As always, these schools provided spaces for workers from different workplaces, unions, and industries to rub shoulders and swap experiences and strategies—an all-too-rare opportunity in the labor movement. Labor Notes events continue to be one of the few places where you have a fast food worker sitting next to a union electrician, a teacher, and a UPS Teamster, all talking about fighting back against their employer’s latest schemes.

We took that experience with us to Taiwan, where we organized the first-ever Labor Notes Asia Regional Conference in August, attended by workers and organizers from 17 countries and co-sponsored by the International Labor Rights Forum. Highlights included Taiwanese flight attendants, fresh off a strike at EVA Air, and Burmese garment workers talking about a strike wave there. Participants also got to make their international solidarity concrete at a rally outside the headquarters of Foxconn, the notorious iPhone manufacturer. The rally was in support of Filipino immigrant workers in Japan, who were summarily dismissed from their jobs at a Foxconn subsidiary after the company relocated production to mainland China.

Around the world, we are finding more interest in the bottom-up, democratic approach of Labor Notes. We’re hoping to return to Asia next summer, and are exploring a Nordic Labor Notes Conference in spring 2021.

LONG HAUL NETWORKS

While we are always thrilled to do these one-off events, we know that it’s the connections fostered there, and the long-term networks that they might foster, that hold the real key to the labor movement’s revitalization.

The best of these networks remains the United Caucuses of Rank-and-File Educators (UCORE), a network of progressive teachers’ union caucuses, whose work Labor Notes continues to support. As teachers continue to fight back after two decades of demoralizing austerity and attacks on their profession, UCORE has provided a space for leaders of caucuses that have been at the forefront of transforming the Chicago Teachers Union and United Teachers Los Angeles to share their experiences with other teachers looking to jump-start their own unions. That’s helped nurture and sustain groups that are now winning the leadership of teachers’ unions from Denver to Baltimore.

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In the same spirit of exchanging experiences and collectively strategizing, we’ve helped create national networks of nurse and higher ed union activists.

We have also begun developing a network of Black union activists, through interest in the Race and Labor workshop offered at Troublemakers Schools this year. The workshop is aimed at helping participants think proactively about how to put racial justice as a central value in their unions, and how to confront racism in bargaining, organizing, and union culture.

At the upcoming Labor Notes Conference in April, you can expect to see an expanded Black Workers track of panels and workshops. (For more info, write to bianca[at]labornotes[dot]org.) Latino workers are also putting together a one-day pre-conference on Friday, April 17.

AT THE HEART

Across the country, we’re seeing more and more workers organizing to transform their unions, to take on the boss, and to fight hard for bold demands. After decades of retreat, it feels like a special moment, and Labor Notes is right at the heart of it.

That’s why, in addition to our ongoing reporting—including breaking the news about Volkswagen’s anti-union campaign in Chattanooga, Tennessee, this year—we continue to publish useful organizing resources like our “How to Strike and Win” guide. We hope that the material there will help union members rediscover how to use labor’s most powerful weapon.

It’s our supporters who make this work possible. Whether it’s helping organize Troublemakers Schools, telling people to check out our website and subscribe to this magazine, or putting us in touch with other union members looking for some help, you are the ones helping to sustain and grow this project.

Over 300 of you have now signed up as monthly donors. If you haven’t yet, sign up at labornotes.org/donate—you get a free T-shirt and a subscription to this magazine.

We’ve got lots more on the horizon in 2020 and beyond. For the next few months, we’ll be focused on organizing our national conference in Chicago, likely to be our biggest yet. You don’t want to miss it—it’s a huge dose of solidarity and inspiration, something we could all use. You can help by encouraging your union to send a group, and by pulling together a delegation from your local area. Organize a fundraiser to help local activists attend; if you need ideas for how to do that, let us know.

Happy New Year, and see you in Chicago in April!