RIGHT OFF, I love the title. Edited by veteran union journalist Jane Slaughter and published by the American left-wing labour group, Labor Notes, A Troublemakerâe(TM)s Handbook is a must-have for anyone trying to do progressive work in a union or a workplace. It is a well organized, easily accessible guide to making trouble in almost every way you can think of.
No matter what you are trying to do, from organizing a union to challenging the labour leadership, including immigrant workers to confronting homophobia, shop-floor tactics to community-union solidarity, the handbook provides the reader with chapter and verse.
Every section has stories where union activists have succeeded and sometimes failed; step-by-step approaches to the tasks at hand; boxes throughout with special notes; action questions and further resources. Many chapters look back at history for what we can learn, but the book focuses on todayâe(TM)s workplace with its multi-cultural workforce, insecure working conditions and bureaucratized labour leadership.
The book is so up to date it includes a story about a transgendered worker fighting discrimination in his workplace. The chapter on fighting discrimination is one of the longest and has some excellent stories and ideas about combating sexism, racism and homophobia. The book also takes on current neo-liberal realities. It suggests and gives examples of contract campaigns as a way of putting more power into collective bargaining. One I particularly like is the 15-minutes strike.
In addition to traditional tactics, the book explores and assesses new strategies such as corporate campaigns to tarnish the image of the company in alliance with community groups; single-issue campaigns like the living-wage campaigns; and multi-issue coalitions.
The book does use some Canadian examples, the CAW Local 222 plant occupation in 1996 appears in its pages, but it is primarily an American book. In the sections on union-community solidarity work, no Canadian examples are used despite the long history of such coalitions in Canada.
Another extensive chapter tackles lean production and outsourcing. There are stories about nurses fighting deskilling, Miners resisting surveillance and public-sector workers fighting privatization and outsourcing.
The book doesnâe(TM)t just advocate creative approaches, it tells you how. âeoeThe great union organizer and troubadour Joe Hillâe is quoted as having âeoeonce observed that nobody walks around reciting a leaflet to themselves. Put your message into a song.âe Then it proceeds to teach us how to write a song and what to do when leaders are reluctant to see creative tactics for fear that workers will laugh at the union.
There are great ideas and observations like this one from labour cartoonists, Mike Konopacki and Gary Huck: âeoeBosses hate being caricatured. Theyâe(TM)re not like politicians, who, from time immemorial, have weathered the jabs of political cartoons. Bosses are used to being cloistered in their executive privileges. So when they become objects of derision, it drives them nuts. And workers love it.âe
Itâe(TM)s also wonderfully written and inspiring: âeoeOrganizing is an attitude. Itâe(TM)s the attitude that you and your co-workers together can do something to make things better. Itâe(TM)s the attitude that action is better than complaining.âe
But the real strength of the book are the many and varied workersâe(TM) voices explaining how they took on the boss, organized their co-workers, fought discrimination and built alliances with the community. Each chapter moves from those stories into easily accessible steps to dealing with the problems and barriers activists face every day.
While the book does give advice on challenging the union leadership on a number of levels from creative tactics, to running for office, it doesnâe(TM)t offer much a critique of the existing labour structures. Maybe Labor Notes is concerned that labour leaders won't distribute the book if it is too critical of the labour leadership but it is hard to motivate people to action without acknowledging the problems they will face are pretty systemic ones.
Nevertheless, reading about the myriad of actions of resistance that workers are organizing offers the reader hope for change, especially in the belly of that most terrifying beast, the United States of America.
With its focus on organizing ordinary people, the handbook is rich with ideas of how to turn despair into hope, complaints into action and protest into effective transformational action. Whether you use the book as a handy reference or read it from beginning to end to get ideas and inspirations, it is well worth the trouble.âe"Judy Rebick
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