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Blacks, Unions, & Organizing in the South, 1956-1996

A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY

Compiled by Rudolph Lewis

 

 

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 organizational drive.

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 contacts

-- Devotes a great deal of time to develop the confidence and understanding of key individuals with leadership abilities

-- Adaptable sufficiently to vary his organizing methods to suit the situation with which he is confronted.

PRE-ORGANIZING PLANNING:

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 events

-- 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 situated

Note 3: The organizer should conscientiously and methodically gather bits and pieces of information wherever and whenever he can

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 groups

-- 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 department

--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 prospects.

*   *   *   *   * 

Thoughts on Organizing

(Region 4, 1961)

By John W. Livingston, Franz Daniel,

A.J. Eberhardy, and Oliver W. Singleton

 

Qualities of an Organizer:

-- Has personality that reflects a strong belief in trade unionism

-- 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 families

-- 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 Research Checklist

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 union?

c) Were union efforts to organize properly timed?

d) If a strike was involved, when, why and what was the effect?

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 corporation?

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 affiliations.

9) Are nearby plants organized? By whom? Will they assist?

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 Organizer-in-Charge.

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 involved.

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 In-Plant Committee.

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 entire family.

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 purpose.

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 important matter.

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 him:        

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 of it

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 in-plant committee

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

*   *   *   *   *   

ORGANIZING

The Role of the Local Union and the Volunteer

-- Address by John W. Livingston, Director,

Department of Organization, 1964

Reproduced by

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 why?

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 employment areas?

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 workers

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 met.

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 about it.

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 effort.

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:

FIRST STAGE

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.

SECOND 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.

THIRD STAGE

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.

*   *   *   *   *   *  *

Employer Techniques

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.

Changing Times

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 people.

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.

*   *   *   *   *

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*   *   *   *   *

The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

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 change that.—Publishers Weekly

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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

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, and scholar 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'."

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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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 Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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