By Harry Kelber | January 15, 2007

Third in a series of six articles

There are many reasons why unions fail to win organizing campaigns or why they abort them soon after launching or why many of them rarely get off the drawing board. These failures explain why unions are especially reluctant to target corporations that employ thousands of workers in multiple plants and facilities throughout the United States.

Unions do not have enough competent organizers to take on major corporations. Far too many of them are inadequately trained and are no match against the high-priced lawyers and management "consultants" that employers hire to defeat them.

Also, organizers often do not have enough support staff to respond effectively to the many contingencies that arise during a campaign. Successful organizing requires a staff that possesses a variety of skills, almost all of which are put to the test in any large-scale recruiting effort.

But the most serious defect in most organizing campaigns is that very little effort is spent in involving the union members in the campaign. Organizing is treated as a separate activity, carried on almost exclusively by staff people, largely in isolation from the membership.

Let’s face up to the grim truth: if we can’t get masses of union members to be active participants in recruiting new members, we’re never going to become a bigger and stronger labor movement. Our situation is so critical that it will require all of us — union officials as well as union members — to take extraordinary measures to fulfill our responsibilities to America’s working families.

How Do We Get Union Members Involved in Organizing?

If you’re trying to build an army of volunteer organizers, the best place to look for recruits is in local unions and the workplaces they control. There are at least 10,000 local unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win, whose members are worried about their jobs and economic future.

While there is broad agreement that organizing millions of new members is the key to rebuilding a bigger and stronger labor movement, our national leaders have failed to come up with a practical plan to accomplish it We’re offering hardly any resistance to the forces that our dragging us down to irrelevance.

To fill the vacuum and overcome the inertia in the labor movement, the creation of an "Army of Volunteer Organizers" offers frustrated union members an opportunity to participate in a modernized organizing program that can challenge the nation’s anti-union corporations.

Volunteer organizers will have the right to choose any of the activities listed below, each of which has an essential role in a well-planned, long-range organizing program: They will work in teams with like-minded unionists and have a voice in determining how to proceed:

  1. Survey: It is important to gather a list of non-union companies in your area, with detailed information about their operation, which should be periodically updated.
  2. Research. Check company behavior on taxes, health violations, standing in the community; attitude toward employees; strikes, past labor problems, etc.
  3. Contacts: Check around to find names and phone numbers of employees in various non-union enterprises. Include this information in computer data base.
  4. House Calls: Visit workers at home or job site to talk up the union. Keep record of interview with each person. Include in data base.
  5. Community Affairs: Get to know media people, politicians, other union leaders, influential heads of community organizations.
  6. Publicity: Prepare press releases; radio spots, etc.
  7. Web Site: Maintain an up-to-date site.
  8. Speakers: Appear at various meetings to give union side of the story,
  9. Leaflet Distribution:
  10. Picket Duty: If organizing campaign requires picketing
  11. Coalition Support: Get other groups to support the campaign.
  12. Photography: Campaign may need photos to dramatize activity.
  13. SWAT Teams: Campaign takes reactive steps when workers are fired for pro-union activity
  14. Strategy Planning: A select leadership group elected by volunteer organizers on the basis of performance.

Union members who signs up as volunteer organizers will each receive a four-page brochure that describes in detail the particular role-playing activity they have chosen.

At some point, the volunteers from each local will meet to elect a regional council of their leaders, who will work with the Central Labor Council in their area to provide staffing and resources for organizing campaigns.

There are more than 500 CLCs covering just about every city and county. Through a network of CLCs, it will be possible to target non-union corporations that have multiple plants in various states.

Our next article will deal with the development of a new corps of top organizers with the ability to orchestrate all aspects of a campaign that can produce union victories.

A Reminder:

(To become a member of the Committee of 100 that will build the Democratic Army of Volunteer Organizers, send an e-mail to:, giving your name, address, phone number; international and local union and what union position you hold.)

Article 3 of ‘Building an Army of Volunteer Organizers’ will be posted here on Friday, January 19, 2007.

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