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We in the union movement have lots going on at Yearly Kos this year, and want to tell you about just two of the workshops we’re organizing or taking part in.

 
  • Bread, Blogs and Roses. Friday, Aug. 3. 1-2:15 p.m.
  • Working America: Slugging it Out with the Christian Right for the Hearts and Minds of the Working Class. Friday, Aug. 3. 10:30-11:30 a.m.

Bread, Blogs and Roses

“Give Us Bread, Not Roses,” long has been a clarion call for those of us in labor. The phrase is associated with the 1912 textile strike in Lawrence, Mass., that united dozens of immigrant communities under the leadership of the Industrial Workers of the World. Led largely by women, the strike resulted in pay increases, time-and-a-quarter pay for overtime and a promise of no discrimination against strikers. (The image of the strike at left, by famous labor artist Ralph Fasanella, now hangs proudly in our lobby at the AFL-CIO building in Washington, D.C.)

As the century unfolded, it became clear that woman and man can’t live by bread alone. Or, as Emma Goldman famously said:

If I can’t dance, I don’t want a part of your revolution.

In the 21st century, we recognize that to the mix of bread and roses (and dancing), we must add blogs—and everything blogging represents: Connecting with the netroots to build solidarity for our mutual fights against corporate greed and anti-humanitarian politicians. Getting out our message unfiltered by the biases and distortions of mainstream media. And, not the least—having a good time doing so.

The workers’ rights organization, American Rights at Work, is hosting the Bread, Blogs and Roses workshop, which we’re billing as a frank discussion on unions and the fight for workers’ rights and how this fight connects to the broader battles in which the netroots is engaged.

Long-time activist and blogger Nancy Scola, whom we sponsored earlier this year to blog about the Employee Free Choice Act campaign, will talk about her experiences at union organizing campaigns, including one at Resurrection Health Care in Chicago, where health care workers have sought for four years to form a union with AFSCME. (Management has viciously opposed the workers’ efforts, and I’ve written about it in detail here.) Scola was fairly new to the world of workers’ forming unions, and we agreed she would write about the issues involved however she saw them—not how we in the union movment would like them portrayed. After spending several days talking with employees at Resurrection about their working conditions and the low pay and few benefits they receive for their often grueling jobs, Scola described on MyDD that it was impossible not to take sides on the issue of Employee Free Choice.

From where I’m standing, the union movement is a fairly remarkable human experiment. In America alone, millions of people have harnessed the collective strengths of their co-workers to give them all better lives. Amazing, really. But when we got into the human experiment this big, we had to have known that nothing is going to work out perfectly. Especially when we’re dealing with the economic lives of millions of human animals, there’s something “wrong” that can be pointed out with every step taken.

Scola will be joined in the workshop by a worker from Resurrection, and the dynamic director of American Rights at Work, Mary Beth Maxwell.

We in the labor movement have been privileged by the dedication of Jane Hamsher and the entire FDL family, who provide a weekly space for us on Firedoglake because they see the importance of incorporating workers’ issues into the broad progressive agenda of the netroots. We hope to build on this foundation throughout the netroots and find ways to mutually support our common goals.

Stop by Bread, Blogs and Roses and let’s join forces!

Slugging it Out with the Christian Right

Is it possible to turn card-carrying members of the National Rifle Association who identify with the Christian right into voters who cast ballots for populist candidates like Sens. Sherrod Brown and Robert Casey?

Working America answers with a resounding YES! Not because the organization is a bunch of hopeless idealists, but because they have done it—again and again and again.

Working America, a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, was created in 2003 to harness the power of workers who don’t have a union on the job, and now includes nearly 2 million members. Since it launched, Working America has reached out to communities in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. Each evening, canvassers go door to door, meeting individually with residents and discussing with them issues like the need to raise the minimum wage, protect overtime pay and ensure affordable health care.

During the 2006 elections, Working America canvassers made 2,225 live door contacts per day in key swing congressional districts (CDs), and engaged its members about why pocketbook issues ought to take precedence at the ballot box over such socially divisive issues as abortion or gay marriage.

The canvassers are young, committed and enthusiastic, like Greg White, who talked with Bill McFadden in Beaver County, Pa. McFadden was so impressed by White’s sincerity and knowledge of the issues that he called Working America’s office and told a staff person he was:

…a registered Republican, that the 2nd Amendment was his No. 1 issue, but that his conversation with Greg actually made him rethink who he wanted to vote for in both the [Bob] Casey and [Jason] Altmire races. He said nobody else ever came to his door before to talk about these issues, and he was so impressed by what we were doing and how we were doing it, that he just had to let us know. He said, “I’m not a huggin’ kind a man, but I wanted to give that guy a hug by the time we were done talking,” and that he wouldn’t mind having somebody like Greg for his neighbor.

These contacts get results. In Ohio’s CD 6 primary in May 2006, a last-minute push by Working America’s 78 canvassers helped propel a write-in victory for Democrat Charlie Wilson—and Wilson’s write-in votes surpassed the total for Ted Strickland (now the Democratic governor) for the same seat in 2002. Also in spring 2006, Working America recruited 7,500 new members in Pennsylvania’s CD 19 tripled the labor program’s reach and electing a Democrat in that district for the first time in 100 years.

There’s a big online component to this work as well, and Max Toth, online strategy guru at Working America, will be at the workshop to describe the organization’s e-mail outreach, online activism and online member services, including the free Ask a Lawyer program and the annual Bad Boss Contest. Karen Nussbaum, Working America director, and Tahir Duckett, who recently came to Working America after directing Democratic National Committee fundraising canvass efforts in Atlanta, also will be on the panel.

Find out more about how we’re moving toward a progressive America by organizing working people to make a difference in their communities every day—and help give us tips as well—at Slugging it Out with the Christian Right.

More next week on what we’ll be doing at Yearly Kos.

In the meantime, I can’t wait to see everyone at Yearly Kos and meet all the great people here who have supported us over these past months.