Elements & Strategies Needed to Organize a Labor Union
A Scientific Approach
THE UNION ORGANIZER
-- from Unionization
Attempts in Small Enterprises
By Morton Gitelman, Asst.
Prof. of Law,
University of Denver
The Organizer is the Key to success in a union's
Qualities of a Good Organizer:
-- A good salesman: his ability would probably insure
success in any other line of selling endeavor
-- Ability to adapt to different situations
-- Sincere, dedicated to principles of trade unionism
-- Ability to covey enthusiasm to unorganized workers
-- Level of competence and proficiency varies
-- Interested in Quality rather than Quantity of
-- Devotes a great deal of time to develop the
confidence and understanding of key individuals with leadership
-- Adaptable sufficiently to vary his organizing
methods to suit the situation with which he is confronted.
1) Obtain information on company or industry as
much as possible:
-- physical nature of the plant
-- the product of the company
-- sales, profits, return on investment
-- nature of ownership
-- personal data about company executives
-- methods of distributing product
-- labor history of the company and industry
-- identity of the major competitors
-- existence of company sponsored athletic and social
-- credit unions and publications
Note: This information is also useful for collective
bargaining. The organizer gathers and files as much information as
possible before launching the unionization attempt and continues to
accumulate information during the course of the campaign
2) Obtain information on Work Force
-- ratio of male to female
-- ratio of urban to rural to suburban employees
-- racial composition
Note 1: This information is used in planning the
types of appeals and literature which will be most effective
--a complete list of employees and their addresses
Note 2: A complete employee roster would enable the
organizer to contact each employee by mail and home visitations -- one
maybe able to purchase one from a payroll clerk or someone similarly
Note 3: The organizer should conscientiously and
methodically gather bits and pieces of information wherever and whenever
Note 4: Some organizers, however, pay little
attention to this phase of organizing, preferring to 'play by ear'
during the attempt to unionize -- thus engage in much wasted motion and
errors -- in sharp contrast, the better organizer knows exactly what he
is going to do at each stage of the attempt and rarely makes mistakes
3) The Organizing Committee
-- Organizer plans and directs the union's campaign,
but the actual work of organizing is done by employees
-- Early in the unionization attempt the organizer
selects and trains a plant organizing committee
-- Organizer tries to obtain a cross-section of the
entire plant: each department when possible should be represented on the
committee, as well as female employees, racial groups, and nationality
-- Every individual of the committee must be a key
individual, a leader -- thus sometimes an organizer sacrifices full
representation where he is unable to secure a leader from a particular
--The function of the organizing committee is to
contact every worker and sell the union.
-- Such tasks as distributing literature and making
home visits are part of the committee's job: an employee pays more
attention to and has greater faith in a fellow worker than the
organizer, the stranger.
-- During the organization drive, the committee is in
the forefront and the organizer is more or less in the background
providing the committee with ideas and organizing material
-- Organizer should be selective in undertaking home
visits and, like any good salesman, he directs his home calls at likely
* * * *
(Region 4, 1961)
By John W. Livingston,
A.J. Eberhardy, and Oliver W. Singleton
Qualities of an Organizer:
-- Has personality that reflects a strong belief in
-- A sense of dedication to the trade union movement
-- An understand what trade unionism is about
-- Adaptable: knows how to become one of the group
without feeling superior or out of place
-- Likes people
-- Cultivates an ability to meet workers and their
-- Good conversationalist, capable of engaging
workers in interesting conversation
-- Good listener
-- Avoids heated or rambling arguments
-- Employs great patience
-- Neatly dressed but not overdressed
-- A willingness to sweat, if long hours and hard
work cause him to sweat
-- Knows how to plan out a campaign
* * * *
Planning an Organizing Campaign: A
1) Locate the plant, its entrances, how many floors,
starting time, quitting time, service rendered or goods manufactured,
transportation facilities near the plant, nearby eating and drinking
establishments, and other physical factors.
2) Determine if there has been any previous
organizational effort or labor history:
a) If so, did the union lose, and why?
b) If previously organized, what happened to the
c) Were union efforts to organize properly timed?
d) If a strike was involved, when, why and what was
e) If a union lost an NLRB election, what kind of
anti-union campaign did management wage?
3) Is the plant part of a chain or is it locally
owned. Is it individually owned, is it a partnership, or is it a
4) What is the exact number of employees in the unit
to be organized? In most election losses, there are more employees than
the organizer estimated.
5) What are the economic conditions and political
atmosphere within the area? What are the economic condition of the
employers? of the workers?
6) What conditions within the plant will benefit
organization or provide organizational advantages, such as insecurity
among the workers, resentment of working conditions and shift
arrangements, lack of clear-cut promotional policies, complaints on
holidays or holiday pay, the lack of or dissatisfaction with a health
and welfare plan, or other matters of unrest or concern to workers, as
wages and job classifications.
7) What sources are available from which to secure a
mailing list of the employees in the unit?
8) Make a reasonably accurate analysis of Race
(percentage of white and colored), Gender (percentage of male and
female), Age Level (over and under 40 years), predominant Religious
9) Are nearby plants organized? By whom? Will they
10) Are there AFL-CIO friends in the community? Who
are they? What do they do? Where do they live? Will they help?
11) What is the reputation of the national union
within the community?
* * * *
Launching the Organizing Campaign
1) After the research, a decision to go ahead or not
must be made. If the campaign goes forward, all efforts now depend on
imagination, self-reliance, and experience in human contact.
2) Seek out potential leadership in the plant which
will aid in the organizing drive.
Note a: In most plants key individuals maintain a
greater leadership influence within the group than others. They have
personalities which draw people; they readily speak up and sometimes
inspire confidence; they mix well and represent the popular tendencies
within the group and their advice is respected and considered
dependable. These persons must be sought out. -- This job represents
perhaps the greatest test of your skill as an organizer.
Note b: In seeking potential leadership for an
in-plant committee, the Organizer should be concerned primarily with
quality rather than the number who comprise the committee. After the
committee is formed, the Organizer must give a great deal of attention
to developing the confidence and understanding of these persons. -- The
real job of organizing will take place inside the plant and by these
people. Consequently, they must be given day to day leadership by the
3) Get detailed information concerning immediate
problems and group grievances within the plant.
4) When the In-Plant Committee is functioning, the
Organizer should have them supply
a) number of departments and the operation of each;
b) distribution of male and female employees by
departments and the number of employees in each department;
c) job classifications, labor grades, and wage rates;
d) how complaints or grievances are handled in
the shop, the nature of these complaints and grievances, and how
seniority is observed;
e) hours of work and premium pay rates for
overtime, Saturday, Sunday, and holidays;
f) number of paid holidays, paid vacation
schedules, sick leave, and rest periods;
g) flagrant violations of health and safety
regulations (e.g. lighting, toilets, heating, etc.;
h) benefits and costs of health and welfare plan;
i) attitudes of foremen and supervisors to
employees, names of unpopular foremen or supervisors, list of
arbitrary actions on part of supervisors which are resented by
employees or an individual employee.
5) With potential leadership selected, work without
too much fanfare in the building of a hard functioning core of union
support within the plant. Membership of In-Plant Committee should be
formed up and represent a cross-section of leadership by departments --
female and male and race representation.
Before an all-out campaign is launched, there should
be several Meetings held with this Organizing Committee. It is important
that the Committee understands the general patterns of the campaign and
their stake in the campaign, and the Calculated Risks involved through
their participation (discharge for union activities, etc.)
6) Refrain from making wild promises of what
"the union" can do for them. The ability of the union to
perform is dependent on the kind of support it receives from the workers
If they are prepared to fight for a fair shake the
union can help and is indispensable. At this point the work previously
done by you will prove extremely beneficial.
Draw on the material collected with respect to
practical job problems and you can compare their wages, working
conditions and practices in organized plants of that industry.
If they ask questions and you do not know the answer,
it is a mistake to try to cover up through vague generalities. The only
response is that you do not know the answer to that particular question
and will get the answer to that particular question and will get the
answer as soon as possible -- and be sure you do.
7) Begin making Home Calls as an assist to your
8) Some good points on an organizer's conduct in
making Home Calls:
a) Call at a convenient hour and not after 10 pm,
unless by a prior appointment.
b) First impressions are lasting ones. Introduce
yourself, state your purpose for calling and don't push or be overly
aggressive but be positive, polite, and friendly.
c) Yours is a call on the family; and if the wife
is present, don't exclude her. Get acquainted with the children, if
they are around. In fact, establish a friendly relationship with the
d) Do not "hog" the conversation.
Conversation is a two-way street and if you let the other fellow
talk, he may talk himself into unionization. If he wants to talk
baseball, bowling, or the Congo crisis, go along with him; but, in
finality, guide the conversation in the general direction of your
e) Avoid arguments. This is a testing of your
"personality tools." Namely, do you like people? Are you
adaptable? Do you have patience?
f) Don't be easily discouraged. If unable to
convince your prospect on the first evening, angle for an invitation
to return at a later date.
g) As soon as you say good night, make notes of
your impression of the contact. Don't trust your memory on this
9) Be prepared to discuss a wide variety of subjects
when making house calls, if you expect to be successful. The average
worker is sophisticated. He/she maybe better informed than you and might
begin to doubt your ability to represent workers. This should cause you
to examine your own reading habits.
10) No activity is more important than making House
Calls among the workers whose support you seek, bearing in mind that
their evaluation of the union will likely be conditioned on their
evaluation of you as an individual. And to accomplish any of this, you
must be organized yourself to the point that you can conduct a planned
campaign and not one that drifts along on a hit or miss basis.
* * * *
SPECIAL REPORT: The
"Scientific" Approach to Organizing
A 1965 Seminar
given by former Assistant
Director Ed Haines
to AFL-CIO's Lithographers & Photoengravers
A. Analyze the Target
1) A thorough Survey of the organizing target
includes a) hours, b) working conditions c) what it produces, d) who are
customers, e) history of plant management, f) community attitudes
towards unions, g) presence of other unions, g) AFL-CIO state and city
councils or regional offices, h) rulings of the regional NLRB i)
financial and manpower resources of the local planning the drive
2) Evaluate the community: a) check law enforcement
methods and attitudes (e.g. would you get arrested for passing out
handbills), b) check the attitudes of the newspapers, local clergy, and
politicians, c) check jurisdictional concerns
B. Approach the Prospect
1) Once contact is made with a recruit, play it cool. At this
state the organizer is not out to
convince the worker of anything. He's out to evaluate
a) attitude toward unions, b) his desires, c)
knowledge of his department benefits, working conditions,
interchangeability of workforce, d) personal information
2) With collected information, make a
"diagram" of the plant
3) Once a "key" contact is made, he can
be used to reach others in the plant and help make a
"scientific" determination of the union's strength or lack
4) Signed cards can be a trap. They must be
checked department by department
5) Organizer should brush up on how to prepare a leaflet
6) Organizer should provide a handbook for
7) Organizer should use audiovisual material on
the local union to encourage in-plant committee
8) Advertise wages and working conditions in a
publication with wide circulation
9) Mail thousands of copies of contracts to
workers in non-union shops
10) Develop a record-keeping system: a) includes
names of members (or friends) in non-union shops; file records on
nonunion people who have approached the union; b) interview each
person and make record of their working conditions, type of
equipment, wage rates, names of other in shop, and a resume of
background and experience
* * * *
The Role of the Local
Union and the Volunteer
-- Address by John W.
Department of Organization,
Los Angeles-Orange Counties Organizing Committee
The oldest and most constant challenge which, year
after year, faces American unions in their struggle to fulfill their
role in our society . . . It's the problem of growth . . . the problem
of ORGANIZING THE ORGANIZED.
Just what do we mean when we talk about organizing
the unorganized? Who are these unorganized? Where are they? How many of
them are there? Who is supposed to be doing the organizing--and how and
When we talk about organizing the unorganized we are
talking about some 30 million working man and women who work in the same
kinds of jobs that present union members hold. They are the potential
members still outside the union ranks.
We are talking about 30 million Americans--in the
most prosperous nation in the world--many of them living below the
accepted minimum standard defined by the federal government. We are
talking about 30 million Americans--in a democratic society--without any
effective voice as to their wages, their hours of employment, their
working conditions, or job protection.
Last September, when the legal minimum hourly wage
become $1.25 two and one half million workers moved up to that figure.
And there are millions in uncovered employment still receiving less than
that basic minimum wage.
About half of these 30 million are in white collar
occupations -- office workers -- sales personnel -- technicians -- and
professionals. The other half is made up of service employees and blue
collar employees, those who have traditionally composed the great bulk
of union membership.
Where are these 30 million unorganized workers
located, geographically? All over the country. No section of the nation
is fully organized. No city in the United States is completely a
"union city." Wherever you find concentrations of workers, you
find the unorganized, as well as those in unions.
In the Los Angeles metropolitan area, for example,
just as a conservative estimate, there are at least 3/4 of a million
unorganized workers, about equal the present number in the AFL-CIO.
Where are those 30 million unorganized workers located in terms of
The largest groups are:
8 million government workers;
5 million service workers;
4.5 million retail and wholesale employees
1.5 million finance, insurance, and real estate
3.5 million nonproduction workers in manufacturing
4 million production employees in manufacturing
These unorganized groups are expanding rapidly, at
the very time the fields we have organized best are shrinking. Since
1955, the year of the AFL-CIO merger, unorganized groups have grown by
more than 4 million, while employment in well-organized industries has
fallen off about 2 million.
Now, when we talk about "organizing the
unorganized!" we are talking about action -- about activity. Who is
supposed to be doing this organizing of the unorganized?
Most international unions affiliated with AFL-CIO
have organizers on their staff. Many international unions have regional
set-ups or district councils, that maintain organizers. Some local
unions have an organizing staff. A few state and local AFL-CIO bodies
have organizers. AFL-CIO, as a federation, has organizers -- some 150.
Let's put all these together, and assume that they
are organizing full time. Let's add to them the additional organizers
that have been assigned by international unions to special coordinated
organizing drives -- some conducted by AFL-CIO, some by AFL-CIO
departments, some by AFL-CIO and central bodies.
Whatever the grand total may be--it isn't enough. I
isn't enough to do the job.
Since the merger AFL-CIO and affiliates have brought
at least 2 million new persons under collective bargaining coverage
through organizing. And yet, AFL-CIO membership is about the same while
the union eligible work force has increased by some 4 million.
Automation is continuing to take its toll.
The latest figures released by the California state
labor department show the union membership in California at an all time
high as of July 1963, with the net increase in fiscal year 1963 coming
close to 24,000 members. This represents a 1.4 per cent increase. All
concerned are to be congratulated. It is apparent that the efforts put
forth through the Los Angeles-Orange Counties organizing program
contributed, at least a little, to that result.
Let's keep in mind, however, that during the same
period wage and salary employment in this state was increasing by 3.6
per cent. So even here, where organizing activity has been at a higher
level, in terms of the potential we;re running behind.
The obvious question is how do we go about beefing up
our organizing efforts?
Should the international unions add to their
organizing staffs? Suggestions to this effect have been made at every
convention and at AFL-CIO Executive Council and General Board meetings.
And some have enlarged--but not enough.
But even if the internationals doubled their present
organizing staff, it is doubtful whether we'd have enough manpower to do
the job that has to be done.
Should the central bodies step up their organizing
interest? We've constantly encouraged that. Our AFL-CIO
organizing staff for several years has been working
with the central bodies helping them to establish, renew, or make more
effective, organizing committees. Some of the central bodies are firmly
committed to a role of organizing-Los Angeles in particular.
But even if all the central bodies intensified their
efforts, there is grave doubt whether all our organizing needs would be
It's hard to bring fresh approaches to such a
perpetual problem, particularly when it is one that has become almost
like the weather, where everyone talks about it but too few do anything
Our main purpose today is to try to reach a sizeable
group of those who have not been doing too much about this problem and
make them see what they can do and why they are necessary so that,
hopefully, we can have that much more manpower and energy joined in this
In short, we need to talk about the importance of
local unions, local union leaders and local members joining in the
campaign of unionizing unorganized workers. There are many people in
this field today who are convinced that the greatest single factor
necessary to day to get ourselves off of dead center and bridge the gap
between the organized and the unorganized is LOCAL UNION PARTICIPATION.
The Labor Movement, as we know it, has, in the period
of its growth covering the past thirty years, already undergone two
definite stages in its organizational development. Today we are in the
THIRD STAGE and we must start by recognizing that stage and see how it
developed and is different from the other two stages.
* * *
* * * *
THE THREE STAGES OF ORGANIZING:
The first stage of our rapid growth was triggered by
a depression accompanied by a Roosevelt New Deal Administration which
passed laws on the books to give workers the right to organize and at
the same time provided them the governmental machinery to bring about
unionization. In this stage the role of the full-time representative was
relatively small. WE ORGANIZED OURSELVES. Our assets were a history of
management stupidity and economic hardship that literally drove us into
unionism. It was a real do-it- yourself operation. The experienced
organizer was usually a local union guy who had gained his experience
organizing his own plant. He would jump in a car with two or three of
his buddies after work and drive 30 or 40 miles to another shop to help
others into the union. That was the FIRST STAGE.
This was followed by an organizational stage where
virtually all of the organization was done by the full-time organizer or
representative. The climate was still good for unionizing. Management
hadn't smoothed out the wrinkles in their anti-union programs. The new
Deal and Fair Deal were still in operation. And so for several years we
had what we call the "Organizer' doing most all of the union
organizing. Accompanying this period was, of course, a 'letting down' on
the part of the 'volunteer' organizer. After all, he'd done his part. He
was paying dues which were paying salaries for full-time organizers.
It's a stage in our organizational responsibilities
which calls for the best kind of combination between the most effective
elements of the first stage and the second stage. It is the job of the
paid organizer and the volunteer . . . the international representative
and the local representative, working together to get the job done.
* * *
* * * *
Management has made a science of fighting unions in
the organizational arena. No more do they depend upon fly-by-night
schemes. They hire the best of psychologists out of the universities to
develop programs designed to douse with cold water any desire for
unionization the minute the first spark is discovered. . . .
The 'kept press' makes sure that unionism is
presented as a 'boat-rocking proposition and the boss is quick to
reinforce this with 'fear letters' to the home whenever the idea of
unionism threatens His was of life . . . .
Not the least effective in the management's
anti-union campaign is the characterization of union organizers as 'outsiders', 'hired
hands', 'dues hungry professionals' and even 'commission men' who are
paid in relationship to the members they sign up.
You know, we live in an Age of Suspicion where being
cynical is often very popular. It's gotten so that it's sort of natural
to look for hidden motives behind that anyone else proposes. Some people
have called it the age of the 'fast buck' where no one suggests a course
of action without having a selfish reason. . . .
The New Worker
Working people today with heavy credit
responsibilities and time payments weighing them down are discouraged
from doing anything that might "rock the boat."
State of Unionism
Today we have able, trained organizers. We have labor
writers who can hold their own with any of the wordsmiths in the
business. We have research people and economists who can get the facts
and figures we need and put them in terms that make sense to working
Volunteer Program Tasks:
1) Distribute leaflets and verbally express the
benefits of belonging to a union
2) Pass on information that he picks up from his
wife, his neighbor, his brother-in-law or from a conversation he
overheard at the bar on his way home from work.
3) Give some time to making contacts for the union
4) From his own experience, tell the in-plant
committee the importance of having such a committee.
* * *
* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
By Michele Alexander
Contrary to the
rosy picture of race embodied in Barack
Obama's political success and Oprah
Winfrey's financial success, legal
scholar Alexander argues vigorously and
persuasively that [w]e have not ended
racial caste in America; we have merely
redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial
segregation has been replaced by mass
incarceration as a system of social
control (More African Americans are
under correctional control today... than
were enslaved in 1850). Alexander
reviews American racial history from the
colonies to the Clinton administration,
delineating its transformation into the
war on drugs. She offers an acute
analysis of the effect of this mass
incarceration upon former inmates who
will be discriminated against, legally,
for the rest of their lives, denied
employment, housing, education, and
public benefits. Most provocatively, she
reveals how both the move toward
colorblindness and affirmative action
may blur our vision of injustice: most
Americans know and don't know the truth
about mass incarceration—but her
carefully researched, deeply engaging,
and thoroughly readable book should
* * * *
Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a
collection of fourteen essays by scholars and
creative writers from Africa and the Americas.
Called one of two significant critical works on
Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late
1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of
Carter G. Woodson and
Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as
well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations
were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early
essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish
medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an
historical context for understanding 20th-century
creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone
writers, such as Cuban
Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist,
Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the
significance of Negritude in Latin America. This
collaborative text set the tone for later
conferences in which writers and scholars worked
together to promote, disseminate, and critique the
literature of Spanish-speaking people of African
descent. . . .
Cited by a
literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the
field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which
most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
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Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
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31 March 2012