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The Power of the Strike - Jane McAlevey pt 8/8

A strike can force recognition of a union; a supermajority strike is powerful when bargaining; a strike with mass support can be a political weapon to change society. Jane McAlevey on the final segment of this episode of Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay. 

TRANSCRIPT

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay. This is theAnalysis.news and our show Reality Asserts Itself. Please don’t forget the donate button. Please sign up for our email list. Subscribe on YouTube. That’s, of course, if YouTube allows more subscriptions because it seems like they’re suppressing them, but that’s another story. Share from whatever podcast platform you might be listening on and so on. I’ll be back in just a few seconds with Jane McAlevey, the organizer’s organizer. 

So this is the final— I think I said this before. This is probably the final, at least for now, segment of my series of interviews with Jane McAlevey. We’re going to talk about the power of the strike. Jane is the author of several books, including No Shortcuts and Raising Expectations and Raising hell. If you haven’t watched the other segments, you should go back and start at part one, which is Jane’s biographical story, and then we get more into the organizing issues. As you may know, if you have watched the others, Jane organizes and teaches organizing to organizers, sometimes as many as 10,000 at a time. Thanks for joining us again, Jane.

Jane McAlevey

Always a pleasure to be able to sit down and talk to you for a little while.

Paul Jay

Thanks. If I understand correctly, the strike is very powerful, and maybe at the very least, there are three different ways to talk about it. One would be something you teased at the end of the last segment; in gaining recognition, striking is a legal and perhaps very good way to force recognition. The second is to strike as a weapon, in terms of bargaining over specific contracts and the fight with employers, but also there’s the role of the strike in the larger political society. For example, closing down the harbours over a political issue. So, start wherever you want to start, but maybe start where you left off on the role it could play in organizing.

Jane McAlevey

Yeah, I was going to say, I hope you remind me about what that point was because─ but you just did, which is perfect. So, you meant like a million miles from the last conversation each time, and that happens almost every day right now. So crazy out there. So yeah, the three ways that you just raised this strike, and I think they’re actually in good order, so we should take them one at a time. The first is what we call a recognition demand backed up by a supermajority strike. So again, this is U.S. labour law, but there’s a lot of talk, as we know, for a long time that it’s really hard to organize in the United States. There are a million excuses, in my opinion, by a lot of people who should just be doing organizing and aren’t. They’ve got an excuse a minute. Meanwhile, the country is burning down, so,─ or the planets burning down and democracy at the same time.

So, what people will say is the National Labour Relations Board and the process connected to the National Labour Relations Board are stacked against us. It’s terrible. It’s unfair. By the way, that is all true. If you listen to the other segments, you will have heard me saying how outrageous it is to try and help workers win a simple demand to form a union in the United States. It’s like you’d think you were, I don’t know, trying to rip off the biggest bank on Wall Street or something, which is what they think. This is what organized workers represent to Wall Street. It’s gone after their piggy banks. So, I guess it makes sense. They fight really hard.

So, there’s been a debate in the United States about one union, UNITE HERE, and I respect this position. It has taken the position for many years that they will only do what we call recognition campaigns. They’ve forsworn doing National Labour Relations Board elections as a general rule.

Paul Jay

Which union is that?

Jane McAlevey

The Hotel and Casino Workers Union and sort of Hospitality Workers Union. Really smart union. They’re one of the unions that continues to organize and win. They actually do massive strikes, and they win. So, we’re in the small camp of unions that are still organizing, striking, and winning really amazing standards. I mean, if you’re a house cleaner in Las Vegas on the strip, which is one of the many places that union represents workers, you have a better health care plan than the registered nurses who deliver the care.

Paul Jay

I made a film called Lost in Las Vegas, which people can find on the documentary section of the website. It’s this crazy thing where these two guys that do a Blues Brothers routine and I set up them interacting with different people in Vegas to decide whether they want to move there. One of them is the unionization story that you talk about. It’s kind of a quirky film, but, yeah, Vegas, for being the mecca of neoliberal crazy shit, is also one of the most organized places in the country.

Jane McAlevey

Well, it’s because the whole economy is the strip and tourism. So, you’ve got this great union, and I think of those jobs the way we think of what a great construction trades or manufacturing job was decades back. Why do they have great standards in 2021, and 2022? The kind of standards that a person can retire on and can raise a family on. Why? Because of what I just said. Because they are still using the power of strike. My book, No Shortcuts, analyzes those of us still doing supermajority strikes who have the capacity to keep winning the kind of quality of life that we think of associated with an older generation of kind of manufacturing jobs.

The issue is unionization or not unionization, and then the sub-issue is good union or not so good union. So, they’re a very good union and took a position many years ago, certainly in Vegas on the strip, where I had the chance to work alongside. I was running a different union, SEIU [Service Employees International Union], at the time, and I was sent in to do the unionization of the healthcare sector and the hospital sector, which were not very unionized at that point. So, I began to realize that they had come in from the Las Vegas strip to the position that the national relations process was too stacked against them and too unfair. And it kind of is.

Now, the strategy is for how to win them. I’m still a National Labour Relations Board-type person, and that’s because I’ve had the pleasure of continuing to win NLRB elections. Different sectors, different times, but I respect their position. So, what does this mean? The recognition demand to strike. It means that you still have to show a majority. Let me just start by saying you still need to present a majority of workers signing membership cards, saying they want to be part of the union. So, that is still part of what we call a recognition demand. You can go right to the CEO or the head of the corporation, and you can say we have a majority of workers in your facility who have signed union authorization cards. They would like to unionize, and we are requesting that you legally recognize the union today upon showing a majority of workers saying that they want the union.

So, it’s not a way around a majority. You know, the majority of workers want this, which is important to say but what’s really important is it’s really hard to do. You have to be able to run a majority strike to win a recognition demand because what’s the employer going to say? No, right. I mean, the vast majority of employers, when they’re confronted with, hey, would you like to have the union make an unfortunate decision to say no and then start the war. What UNITE HERE had done is said─ but what I would do in those moments. I was trained as a young organizer, which we covered earlier, to make the recognition demand with the majority of cards in the hand of the workers. If the boss says no, then we’re going to wind up, in my case, usually retreating to, okay, screw it. We’re going to take you on a National Labour Relations Board for an election and get this over with.

What other units have decided like, UNITE HERE is, it’s too complicated. In the case of Vegas moving tens of thousands because some of those casinos are massive. So, they understand all the ways the boss is going to trust the campaign, and they’re going fight it out until they get recognition from the employer and avoid the National Labour Relations Board.

So, what happened a week and a half ago or two weeks ago in California was a very large unit of workers resurrecting that idea. Seventeen thousand academic researchers in the University of California systems up and down the coast, 17,000 of them took the approach of demand and recognition. Now, a much softer target. The University of California is already heavily unionized. It’s in a blue state. It’s a much more union-friendly state, but 17,000 academic workers made a demand across all the campuses to join the union. To have another 17,000, that’s going to take our numbers─ since that’s also my employer. It’s going to take our numbers upwards of 50,000 or so. Don’t quote me on that yet, but it’s large, and 17,000 is a giant unit. That’s the kind of number we need to start rebalancing power. It’s like 15,000/10,000, like in a big old auto plant. Six thousand, 7,000 at a time.

So, they made the recognition demand of the employer of the University of California system, and the boss said no. The 17,000 workers said, alright, if that’s the way you want to play, and they took a strike vote. They actually got a majority. I would call it not a super, but like, 65 percent, I think, was the turnout. That begins my threshold for a definition of a supermajority. It’s better at 70, 75 or 80 percent, but 65 percent was enough as a turnout, and then it was in the high 90s to authorize an actual strike. So, if you’re looking at numbers, that’s a serious enough number. That employer took them seriously and realized that heading into the grading period. This was not done at a bad time. It was done at a smart time. A lot of the academic researchers─ these are students across the campus who do all the work at this point. They are doing the work of the University and then─ 

Paul Jay

For workers that are in an unorganized situation and want to get organized with this kind of method, one, do you need a union to work with, and two, does this have to be done in secret?

Jane McAlevey

Well, the recognition demand was most certainly not secret. 

Paul Jay

No, but the lead-up to it? 

Jane McAlevey

You know, I don’t think we ever get─ we always try and start campaigns what we call quietly. I’m not sure I’d use the word secret because I don’t believe in that, but we start quietly. The longer a not yet unionized workplace can get its work done before management is tripped into the campaign or knows about it, it’s a goal of organizing that you want to keep the campaign quiet for as long as you can. Depending on your approach, you might trigger management knowing it right away.

I mean, for those of us who still do something called door knocking, house calling we call it, where we knock on thousands of worker’s doors without being invited in a hard campaign just to show up and start having the conversation. I remember being a young organizer, our list wasn’t great, and I knocked on a door of a middle-level manager. Well, the campaign was outed pretty much right there, like, boom. So, you work very hard to keep a campaign as quiet as you can, but I assume, and I think winning organizers assume the boss knows we’re there, and the boss is going to know that we’re there. So, it’s more about the work─ boy, that’s going to be such a long discussion. We’ve got to get back to strikes because the strategy there is around─ from my view, I was conditioned, taught, and mentored not to actually move the membership cards until we already knew from earlier structure tests that we were going to be a majority. It’s the moving of the membership cards where you usually get tripped up, and the boss knows it because now you’ve got lots of workers passing authorization cards around. Managers see people working furtively in a break room, or they see them walking together to a cafe across the street or whatever it is. So, the actual movement of the, we’re going to authorize a union election kind of a card. We want to form a union. The way I was taught, we don’t move until we actually know that we’ve got the vast majority, a supermajority of what we call the organic leaders. Your listeners will have to go back and listen to earlier episodes to know what an organic leader means. In our training, my training, once we’ve identified the leaders, once we’ve gotten the majority of the informal organic leaders, the most trusted workers in each unit ready to roll, where we’ve built an organizing committee of those informal leaders in each area, that’s when we’re going to start to move the cards because we’re going to move them fast as hell because then you’re up against the boss. The boss is going to find out you want to get to a supermajority membership as fast as you can. That can happen when you take the time to correctly identify the leaders, then you work to recruit the leaders in each unit and in each shift, and then they form what’s called the OC, organizing committee. When they say we’re ready to go in all the big and small units, it’s time to move a petition or the union authorization cards.

Paul Jay

Will unions, if there is a strike for recognition, will unions pay strike pay? Will they support workers at this stage?

Jane McAlevey

Oh, you know, for a lot of unions right now, no. Not even at that stage. Not at all. I mean, If we get into it—

Paul Jay

What?

Jane McAlevey

Yeah, really. I mean, most strikes that I’ve actually been involved in, no one’s getting strike pay, or if they’re getting strike pay, they’re getting a couple hundred dollars a week, and that’s a reflection. It’s not true with 1199 New England, my home local that trained me. There’s a big, lovely strike fund that every worker pays into. Most unions in the United States don’t even have strike funds anymore, and that’s a fact. It’s a reflection both of the problem and the crisis. How the hell did we get here? So, the Teamsters [International Brotherhood of Teamsters] still have a huge strike fund. The United Auto Workers still have a huge─ the sort of legacy unions, some of them still have very large strike funds, though they’re probably getting depleted. A whole lot of unions, including some of the very biggest unions in the United States of America, don’t even and maybe never even had one. SEIU got rid of their strike fund.

Paul Jay

That’s crazy. You’re essentially telling the employers you’ll never strike, or you’ll never win one.

Jane McAlevey

I mean, anyway, that’s why I wrote No Shortcuts. I sort of analyze, in that book, this very dilemma. So, as an example, when I was running SEIU in Nevada, the first thing I did when I got there was─ very first. One of the very first things was to kick out a union buster, hold two, win against [inaudible 00:16:09]. There was chaos when I was first getting to Vegas. We had won a couple of really big campaigns using all the methods described in this interview and that we teach in the online courses. Probably within seven or eight months of being there, I don’t remember it exactly, I went to the executive board and said, so there’s never been a strike fund here? It’s been mostly a public sector union, so they didn’t think that they needed a strike fund. We were organizing every hospital in the private sector, which we would go on to have the highest union density in the United States of America at the end of that campaign. I said, well, the private sector workers have the right to strike. They’re going to need a strike fund. Why don’t we call it a strike in defence fund? And then the money coming from both sectors can be used, not just for a strike. If you’re in the public sector, it can be used to pick up people on buses, go to a huge action, or go after a county commissioner. And then we took it to a full membership vote. In the act of taking a member-wide referendum on whether or not to increase the per capita tax and how much money should go to the strike fund, it was in─ okay, I love doing those kinds of votes because it’s really about what kind of union do you want to have. That decision to move that referendum in the union was like opening up what’s one of the most meaningful, powerful, and beautiful conversations you can have, which is looking at workers and saying, what kind of union do you want to build? The one you built has never had a strike. Is it time for us to think about striking and the preparations for that? Heck, yes.

By the time we took the first strikes in Nevada, by the way, we hardly had a strike fund at all. We’d only been collecting it─ excuse me. We’d only been collecting it for a very brief period of time, but what happened was, because we had started it, because the ranking file members actually agreed to form and join the 1199 National Strike Fund. So, at SEIU, the strike fund that exists is still controlled by the 1199 locals. It was part of the merger agreement. There is a small set of unions inside this big national union who have and control the old inherited strike fund from the old union 1199 pre-merger.

We made a decision which wasn’t a front to the national union, I would learn later─ sorry. We made a decision to take a membership vote to have the members in Nevada join, which no one had done in a very long time, like, proactively deciding we’re going to join the strike fund. What that meant was we got an immediate commitment at the first strike of, like 15─ I forget what the amount was, but I blew it up on a big poster during the strike votes to show that even though we were just early investors in the strike fund, the 1199 healthcare workers around the country understood having Las Vegas hospitals, which is the highest profit hospitals in the for-profit system, unionized was going to be good for everyone. So, they were ready to give us a grant essentially from the strike fund. So, anyway, many unions don’t have them, and we only paid out, I think, it was 225 a week. You had to picket for that. We had a rule. You had to picket to get your strike pay. You can’t just like strike. It doesn’t mean you just go home and take a break. Strike means you’re on the picket line at your shift. You have to picket your shift, your normal shift if you’re striking.

Paul Jay

Okay, so, let’s go to─ you’ve told us in a previous segment the story of the Vegas organizing and the strike. Talk about what it takes to organize a winning strike in a large plant or hospital. Talk about another strike that you were involved with.

Jane McAlevey

Well, I mean, the first strike I was involved in was in New England, and it was the largest nursing home strike in the history of the United States of America. That was sort of where I learned, cut my teeth, and began to understand the new world I had entered in my early 30s. I think it was 78 nursing homes across two States at the time. A multistate coordinated campaign where we did have a strike fund and paid strike funds to those workers, and there were many strikes. The winning element to a strike is one, do you have the organic leaders identified and are you building the union? That’s always going to be number one. You simply cannot get to a supermajority strike without what we call the organic leaders. I’ve never gotten to a supermajority without the identified organic leaders. Those are those very key people. The informal, less respected people.

Paul Jay

Can I just interject for people that don’t have any experience with unions? If I understand that correctly, the alternative approach is it’s all the staff. You’ve got this paid staff. They do everything, and everyone else is supposed to say yes, and most people, by this point, hate most of the bloody staff anyway. What you’re talking about is quite a different participatory model.

Jane McAlevey

Yeah, deeply. It’s what I think of as just good organizing, and then I got to give it all these names to distinguish it from things that people call organizing that really aren’t organizing. That’s the dilemma. So, the fundamental is, are a supermajority of the workers going to walk off? In the United States, I wanted to find a supermajority for strike purposes, which I do in No Shortcuts as 90 percent or greater. I’ve never had success on any strike with anything less than that, and 100 percent is better. The Los Angeles teachers, when they went on strike, were 100 percent out. In Chicago, the Chicago teachers─ so, that was 34,000 out in Los Angeles, 100 percent. In Chicago, in their most recent strike, which was in 2019, right before the pandemic; they started the big strikes again in 2012. By their 2019 strike, which was an even more beautiful strike in some ways because they did it collaboratively with the SEIU Local Union in Chicago, which had the sort of cooks, cleaners, and bus drivers and not the teachers. It was like they finally built solidarity and actually went out together, which, hello, labour movement. That’s what we need to be doing, right? Like actual old-fashioned solidarity because it’s going to create more of a crisis. We learned in the West Virginia striking that part of what shut the West Virginia education system down was when the teachers went to the school bus drivers, and they understood the power analysis. It’s a rural state. If the bus drivers go out with us, they can open the schools all they want. Ain’t no kids getting to the school, and that’s a fact, which I’ve written about in the West Virginia teacher strike. They made it not the West Virginia teacher strike. They made it the West Virginia education strike.

In Chicago, back to that story in 2019, there was a moment that was almost funny where the news media─ very conservative in Chicago, whatever super conservative as it is. Most places are super anti-union. The local press was challenging whether or not, like, the boss was putting out that lots of people were crossing and coming to work. So, the media did, like, a retrospect later, trying to prove how many of these people were actually crossing the picket line and that they didn’t have that much support. I believe the number was 97 out of 29,000 people. After an extensive review by people whose interest it was to look like they had all these workers crossing were so humbled because it turned out like 90─ again, I might be off by a couple of numbers, but it was like less than 100 people out of almost 30,000 had ever crossed one day of the strike. And that was people who wanted to show that there were a lot of what we call scabs, people who aren’t crossing the picket line. They couldn’t find them. Do you know why? They’re not there.

So, the way you’re going to win a strike starts with, can you get those kinds of numbers to walk off the job together, and will they stay united off the job? That’s one. Second, have you done the unbelievably important spadework in the broader community? I mean, the strikes that I’ve been involved in are in the healthcare and education sector. They’re what I call the mission-driven sectors of the economy. Educators, as we know, are under the gun right now by the right-wing. I mean, educators and healthcare workers share that they’re in a very different relationship with the people who are using their services than an autoworker. I’m not saying that an autoworker has less connections to their community, but it’s a very different relationship to the production or the output. I always say, for health care workers and educators, where parents walk in, the families walking in, it’s like, we don’t all just walk in and be like, hey, that’s my car you’re making. You know, I don’t like the way that looks. In fact, I think that you missed a spot on the bottom of the car. Could you go back in and do that? Wait, let me show you a different way to do it. That’s literally what mission-driven workers are up against. The production process is the community, so, you damn well better have done very serious, real, deep, and meaningful. And that’s what we were talking about in the last show. That’s the whole-worker organizing, right. What is your approach to the broader community? Is it through staff calling up ministers last minute begging for support? Not going to work. Or is it a deep connection you’ve already established because the workers themselves are deeply connected to their community? That’s the approach to it, but in a kind of mission-driven scenario for a strike like healthcare workers, educators, child care workers, et cetera. Public sector workers and public service workers, you’ve got to have the public ready to stand with you.

Paul Jay

So, one of the things you’re saying then is if you’re going to strike, strike to win. If you’re saying to yourself, shit, that could take years. You’re saying, well, then take the years.

Jane McAlevey

Yeah, but no. Yeah, but it doesn’t take years. This is the thing about good organizing. It doesn’t take years, and this is something that I have to speak to all the time when I’m doing sort of training and public talks. In every campaign that I’ve had the pleasure of winning, the longest duration of time that I spent anywhere was in Vegas. Four years in the end, but the first year was kind of getting ready. The last year was sort of trying to get [Barack] Obama across the finish line. The early ’08, ’07 years before we realized audacity, hope, and whatever those things were, went out the window. Anyway, back in 2007, when the choices were always as they are not great, he certainly seemed like the best choice. So, a lot of the last year, Nevada had just become a swing state. It was the early caucus state. A lot of last year was consumed with that election because all eyes were on South Carolina and Nevada. They had never been considered early caucus States before. They got bumped up to bring in black people in South Carolina and Latinos in Nevada. A big political process in the U.S. to put─ then they realized, oh, Iowa and New Hampshire go first. The whitest, smallest States in America. Anyway, so 2007, that last year there was consumed with how do we actually turn Nevada blue? It had been voting for Republicans for 20 years. So, good organizing does not take forever. Good organizing can happen a hell of a lot more quickly.

The campaign in Philadelphia that we’ve talked about, at most two years from start to finish, to organize seven hospitals across the fifth largest city in the country. When you have a method─ now, I’m not saying it’s not ubiquitous. I mean, I’ve lost some campaigns along the way, but not a lot, to be honest. Really, not a lot and not a lot for a reason, which is we’re doggin’ in the methods and the methods work. If you’re up against a military junta and someone starts gunning you down with a machine gun─ okay, that’s a different discussion. If you’re talking about Canada, the United States, a whole bunch of countries all over the world⁠— let’s just stick with the United States⁠— these methods have proven, over and over and over, to work. They’re hard. You have to trust the workers. Let me just say it again. You have to trust the workers, the ordinary intelligence of workers, and then you have to have a method. It is not: go grab any card. It is: you start with that incredible discipline of we’ve got to first identify who are the most respected worker leaders. Many of them won’t want a union at first, so, step two, can we actually help them come to see that forming a union will be terrific. No matter what they’ve read in the mainstream media or heard on Fox News or wherever they’ve heard it.

That’s the education process with the organic leaders. If you’ve got a majority of wards, units, depending what you call them, shifts, because we’re looking at all of that. If you get to the point where you’ve got a supermajority of the real identified leaders, trusted leaders, whether they’re in a unionized shop or a not yet unionized shop, whether you’re building towards a recognition and unionization campaign or building towards a strike in a long time shop; if you’ve got a supermajority of the key leaders, the organic leader and they’re completely on board in helping make decisions and run the campaign, the chances that you’re going to win, and you do what we call structure tests that show you, oh, we’re only at 52 support today. Let’s do another one. Oh, now we’ve picked up six percent more points of thousands of workers in the unit. We’re doing endless structure tests, what we call structure tests.

Paul Jay

How do you do those? How do you find the [inaudible 00:29:31]?

Jane McAlevey

How do you what?

Paul Jay

How do you do a structure test?

Jane McAlevey

Did we cover that? Didn’t we talk about structure tests in an early segment?

Paul Jay

I don’t think we actually got into how you do one. These are more than focus groups, right?

Jane McAlevey

 Oh, God, focus groups, my ass.

Paul Jay

Oh, I’m sorry. We did talk about it. Okay. I’m going to give a note. Remind us quickly.

Jane McAlevey

Okay. I mean, a strike is a structure test. It’s just better not to be the first one. That’s the point. You do a lot of what we call structure tests, which are not public. Basically, you do them until you’ve got 90 percent or more unity and participation in the structure test. So, an early structure test in either a─ definitely in a non-union context where you’re trying to unionize. Let’s say the workers call and say, which is a common issue in every Amazon plant in America; it’s too damn hot in here in the summer. Let’s say that’s the big complaint. Workers are passing out in a hot factory because there’s no AC and no fans because they don’t give a crap. [Jeff] Bezos couldn’t care less if they dropped dead. Obviously, he just killed them in a tornado. He didn’t let them go home when a giant tornado came right at their factory. So, let’s say that what we hear from workers when we’re talking to them early in the campaign is that it’s really hot in the summer. Workers are passing out. Well, a smart approach is, hey, let’s put together a petition that says we demand air conditioners and fans, and we’re going to pass that petition. It doesn’t cost a penny. We’re going to go photocopy it at a Kinkos or fill-in-the-blank coffee shop down the road. We’re going to write space for their name, their signature, their phone number, if we’re smart because we want their cell phone, and we’re going to put out a maximum of three to four sentences. Oh, my God. The more Leftist someone is, the worse they are. They’re incapable of writing a short petition. Incapable. So, note to Leftists, you do not put every fact in your petition. You put two or three sentences. For all good people, these are two or three sentences long. Come to our training, and you’ll see them. Read my books, and you’ll see them. Maximum a couple of sentences, and it would say, hey, workers passed out last summer. Summer is approaching. We want to start─ we demand right now that there’s going to be good circulating air, and you start to move that petition.

Who do you hand it to? You hand it to the people that you think are the organic leaders, the informal leaders. It’s your first test of, are they the right people in their unit and their shift? And you know the answer to that because they come back with what? A majority of signatures from the workers in their area and, you know they’re a leader if they come back with a majority of workers and they get that done in a few days. You’re like, okay, check. We’ve got the right leader in that unit. If they come back, and the instructions are very clear, each leader does only their unit and only their shift, that’s what you’re trying to do to figure out, do you have the right person? Because you’ve got to literally have each unit and each shift covered to get to the kind of numbers I’m describing. This is what the L.A. teachers, the Chicago teachers, and 1199 taught me and everyone who still went─ and UNITE HERE. Everyone in the unions who are still winning and striking. Anyone who is winning and striking are doing the structure tests. 

Paul Jay

Alright, let’s go to the bigger picture conversation now. So, I said at the end of the last segment that unionization might be way down in the private sector. I think in the U.S., barely six percent in the private sector. Maybe ten or something, a little bit more if you include the public.

Jane McAlevey

Eleven in change when you add them all up, yeah.

Paul Jay

Yeah, but it’s very strategic where a lot of these unionized workers are: in ports, most of the airlines, telecommunications, truck drivers. I mean, it’s an extremely strategic and powerful six percent in the private sector and certainly critical areas of the public sector. So, when people look at⁠— Jesus, even when you elect some progressives to Congress, they just get totally swamped. The power of money in terms of the elections. So, not in any way minimizing the importance of having to fight on that front─ now, I’m quoting someone named Jane McAlevey because there’s real power in the power of the strike. So, talk about what that means in terms of society and how do you get to a situation where the power of the strike can be used in a more political way?

Jane McAlevey

Yeah, great. So urgent this topic. First, let me start with a sort of illustration of it going back to one State at a time and then I’m going to come to how we should have been all this year. We should have been striking the bejesus out of every single worker that we could, to put the kind of pressure on, so that what they call build back better or any passing labour law reform, voting rights reform in the United States, so that black and brown people can vote again. I mean, every major issue in this country, the United States, required more power than was put into trying to win legislation in 2021. There was very little won. Now, you’re going to hear a whole narrative saying about how much we won. I don’t give a rat’s ass. Compared to what was expected to be done this year; crumbs, frankly. Yes, we won this and that. It’s just the infrastructure bill. Great. Of course, we won that, what they now call the regular infrastructure bill. Of course, you can get the Republicans to vote for paving more roads and building a bridge in their State, for God’s sake. The point about the infrastructure bill originally was that it would do much more in the reconciliation process, and Congress would do much more.

So, when you trust behind-the-scenes negotiations where the deck is stacked against you, and you’ve got no outside strategy. I wrote a piece in July called Labor Needs and Outside Strategy, when it was clear, they were just doing insider baseball every day again. We got the result this December that we just got, which is workers were screwed. The issue is not just workers were screwed. I mean, that’s bad enough, but it’s setting up that we’re probably going to lose the 2022 elections in the United States. Setting up Trump or Trumpers returning to this country. So, there’s a lot at stake. The planet’s on fire. Literally, it’s burning down. We know that. We’ve got a short clock, and frankly, the small D, democracy, is fraying at the seams and about to get even more challenged. So, what’s at stake here seems pretty fundamental and pretty serious. We could and should have been figuring out how many places we could start creating the kind of chaos overlaid by key congressional districts and key U.S. Senate districts. Where are the places that we needed to start figuring out how to get some strikes going that could cause enough pressure to force the people for whom the Joe Manchin’s, the Krysten Sinemas, and everyone who’s in the way in the United States, whether they’re D’s [Democrats] or R’s [Republicans]? How could we put enough pressure on the corporations who are the ones telling those elected leaders not to hold the line against all things good?

Paul Jay

Can I give you an example?

Jane McAlevey

Yeah.

Paul Jay

If you go to the port of Baltimore, piles and piles, enormous mountains of coal for export. If the workers said, okay, Joe Manchin, your coal ain’t going nowhere until you are supporting such and such. Is that what you’re talking about?

Jane McAlevey

Well, yeah, but we’re so far from that. That wasn’t exactly what I was talking about. Yeah, that’d be great. That’s a vision I─ on the east coast port, sorry, that union is not doing that. I’m grounded in realism. Your example is real, but that one would be a particular challenge given what that union has been for a long time. So, the point is─ and that’s what people will do. Oh, well, they’ll never do that. The point is they will. Look at the John Deere workers. We just watched 10,000 workers defy their national union, go on strike in a supermajority strike, and stay on strike for greater demands than their own national union was willing to get for them. Two times in a row, 10,000 workers said no to that bad agreement. Get back in there and do better. That’s what we need to see happening all across the country. We need to force some of the national unions to start taking action that only the rank and file are going to force them to take. 

Going back to your example, I want to give two. So, in theory, your example is perfect. That’s exactly right. That was just a hard one because I know the reality of that possibility, but there are plenty of possibilities is the point. I’ve got a little bit probably too late and not relevant airing-wise, but I’ve got a piece coming out in a matter of days in the Nation where I sort of lay this case out. What’s it going to look like to create the kind of crisis that is going to force the hand of Congress because obviously, [Joe] Biden asking nicely and the progressive caucus being patient and asking nicely isn’t going to do it. So, what I understand from past fights is how are we going to get enough pressure on the political elite, the employer, and the corporations that are holding back. The Joe Manchin’s, the Sinemas, or whatever are taking their orders from corporations right now. So, how are we going to put the pressure on corporations so that they’re going to say, uncle, and they’re going to call. Not the progressive caucus, not Joe Biden. He needs to hear from the coal industry and the larger fossil fuel industry. That’s who’s going to tell him, time to change your vote. The heat is too great.

So, your example is absolutely correct illustratively, right. If the coal can’t go out and it’s not moving, they’re going to be in crisis and call, but there are a lot of examples of creating this kind of chaos. The pharmaceutical industry, in Sinema’s case. The fossil fuel industry. You have to start to do a power analysis to look at where those interests come together. 

Let’s say, as you just said, in Baltimore. Baltimore is not in the State of West Virginia; last I looked. So, how can we get influence on a Manchin from a different State where workers have strategic power? We’ve done that in hospital strikes and in other congressional fights multiple times. So, we have to look. Here’s a good example that I can talk about. I’m stumbling because there are examples that I can’t talk about, about things that are coming, but one that I can talk about is that there are over 100,000 grocery workers whose contracts expire this spring. Spring of 2022, 100,000, actually an excess of 100,000. I’m using a safe number, and they’re in a handful of locals up and down the west coast. So, from Seattle down to San Diego, there are going to be over 100,000 workers who have smart local union leaders who have lined up their contracts to expire at the same time in our biggest grocery chains, through the biggest grocery chains in the United States. What interesting result might it have when 100,000 plus workers shut down grocery stores at this moment in this country? And when the demand is, they’re not going to go back─ now, they’re not going to say this because you can’t do that. I’m not even suggesting they would, but I’m just saying when you have a walk-out of that scale and that size, and you begin to realize that, you can cause incredible chaos and power across the employer class.

The employer class is complete─ private equity. They’re all mixed up together. It’s like a shareholder of a Colts company is a shareholder of a grocery store company because they’re actually owned by some private equity venture capital guy at the top. I mean, the money is so intermixed at this point in this country. It’s amazing. So we need that level of strategic disruption in key markets, and I’m going to argue, even if it’s a mix of blue States and some red States. Some of the biggest education strikes, like West Virginia, were the red States. If we can begin to shut down sectors of the economy and create the kind of chaos, frankly, even in theory, shutting down all the schools can create a hell of a crisis, we’ve learned. We’ve learned it the hard way with the pandemic. Before the pandemic, we learned it through education strikes. This can create its own chaos and uncle.

In Los Angeles, they said to the Los Angeles teachers, you cannot bring up non-bargaining issues in the strike. That’s a legal technical thing. So, they said, okay, we won’t. There were legal charges put against them. They had demands around getting ICE immigration out of the public schools. They had big political demands in their strike and the lead-up to it. The employer said that’s not legal. Drop your demands. Eventually, the union leadership, who’s very smart, realized, okay, what the hell? We’ll drop the demands right now, and then once we’re out on a supermajority strike, we’ll bring them back. And that’s exactly what they did. We can play your game. We’ll drop them, and then we’re going to bring them back out. If we can get 34,000 people out and 75,000 members of the community marching with us every day, we’re going to have a rediscussion about what’s on the effing table. That’s what a supermajority strike does.

Suddenly, the entire power structure changes. So, what’s needed and what we haven’t seen in a long time⁠— we can’t get to a general strike; let me just start right there. People are like general-strike, and I’m like, Jesus. First, learn to strike a nursing home before you make that demand. The only people demanding general strikes are people who’ve never run a strike in their life. We’re far from a general strike. The United States has never actually had a full general strike ever. And guess what? We have won many historical, many congressional policy victories in this country on the back of a handful of seriously well run, what I call, mini general strikes in key labour markets. So, we need to have many general strikes. That’s what the 100,000 grocery workers are setting up in a handful of places right now, in key strategic places. And you start to analyze all the contracts that are expiring in the United States in 2022, which I have been doing for a little while, and you start to look at, where are those strikes or where could we get strikes going in 2022? You start to realize that there are a couple of many thousand opportunities with contracts expiring. I’m talking about a lot of contracts. Suppose you actually go into a war room and you make a map of where all the contracts are expiring in 2022. In that case, you look at the political challenges in this country and who’s in the way, then you start to look at who the financiers are, and who the related shareholders of the places where workers would go on strike are. Where do we need to create chaos? Where do we need to create political opportunity? Where do we need to strike and create chaos? Where we can versus where we can’t—the port in Baltimore, it’s not going to happen in the short term. We’d have to change the whole leadership there to do that.

Paul Jay

Okay, well, that’s actually my next question. So let’s say⁠—

Jane McAlevey

Let’s just finish on this one to say how we won the National Labour Relations Act, to begin with. We won the most important pieces of congressional legislation in the history of the United States on the back of workers challenging their national unions, going out on unsanctioned strikes in 1933 or 1934 to put pressure on some guy named FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt] way back then to do what he did. Now, I’m not saying we go back. No one wants to go back to 1933. For God’s sake, though, we’re pretty much there. The right-wing in the United States is pretty much getting us to 1933, last I looked. So, it’s going to take a similar approach of workers defying, in some cases, as the John Deere workers did their own national union recommendations. Still, they can’t do that unless they know how to organize to a supermajority level.

John Deere workers pulled it off. It was incredible. That’s the model going into 2022 of what we need to see because national unions, as we know, tend to be very risk-averse. They’ve got the smaller percentage of workers they quote-unquote represent─ words I don’t even enjoy, but the six percent number you mentioned a few minutes ago has led to decades of risk-aversion by national unions trying to protect and hold onto what they have. We are so past protecting and holding onto what you have. We are going to lose the United States of America by this time next year. I fear the kind of interview you and I might be doing. After November of 2022, if either the House or the Senate and the numbers I’m looking at suggests the Democrats will lose both the House and the Senate on the current─ 

Paul Jay

I have a series of interviews coming out with Tom [Thomas] Ferguson in the next week or two, and it’s all about a perfect storm⁠—

Jane McAlevey

It’s devastating. 

Paul Jay

⁠—that’s blowing. Yeah.

Jane McAlevey

It’s devastating, and the only thing that’s going to save us⁠— the only possibility of how to both affect November of 2022’s election in this country. Let’s say they take it, then we’re really down to supermajority strikes. If they take the final piece of political control of this country, they intend to take. They’ve got the Supreme Court locked. They believe if they take the House, they’re going to take the presidency because they’re going to seat illegitimate electors in 2024. I mean, it’s really, this is a slow-moving crush of democracy that we’re watching happen. It is not a surprise anymore. Trump tried it. That’s what’s coming out from the January 6th hearings. We literally know what they’re going to do, and yet unions are reluctant to encourage workers to go out on strike to save the entire damn country at this point.

Paul Jay

Well, it’s way beyond the country because it’s going to be an administration, a Congress, the Supreme Court of climate crisis deniers and climate science deniers. So, if there was ever even a glimmer of hope of not getting past one point five; we’re already past that. Not getting past two. We’re probably past that. To have an administration where you can’t even talk about climate science, and we’re in that direction. 

Okay, we’re getting near the end, so let me just pick up something you said. So, one thing that obstructs this process is clearly in too many unions, not all, but too many. There is a leadership that is so tied to the corporate Democrats. That is, strike, fight, real struggle aversive for workers in those unions. Is it the same issue? The methodology works. You know, get organized to take over your union.

Jane McAlevey

Yes. Simple answer, in our last few minutes. Yes, and I wrote a book called No Shortcuts for a reason. There isn’t a way around it. The John Deere workers just showed us the way. They literally just showed us the way.

Paul Jay

Well, how did that work? If they rejected a contract recommended by the union leadership, then who was doing all this organizing?

Jane McAlevey

There’s a legacy. There’s a legacy union there. The workers were angry in an auto plant, which is really different than a grocery store. I just want to paint how difficult organizing can be. When you’re working─ I call them a legacy shop in the sense that it’s old-fashioned. It feels to me like an old, well-organized shop with real shop stewards with deep relationships. Those workers have been in those plants together for generations. In the interviews with them, you would hear them say things like, well, we got a bigger raise offer in the second contract, but what we’re fighting for is to end the two-tier system. I work in the plant that my father worked in, that my mother worked in, and who will come after me in this plant will be my kid. So, these are those kinds of facilities. That’s really different from a grocery store where, Jesus, you’re going to work there for a few months, and you’re going to realize it’s crap pay, the pandemic, I’m going to get sick here, and you’re just going to quit. Do you know what I mean?

So, there’s a very big difference in a long-established shop and its ability to rank and file. They’ve got the relationships. They know their shop stewards. They had it on lockdown. The workers did amazing organizing. That was worker-led organizing but in an existing shop with real relationships that were durable for multiple decades, in some cases. They got together on their own and said, what do we think about this recommended agreement? The first time, a bunch of pissed-off workers organized their coworkers and said, show up to the ratification meeting. Let’s ask the people who negotiated this agreement what the heck they were doing when we told them what our big demand was, which was ending two-tier. Then they summarily voted down the agreement, and they called up the next one at the next local, and the next one at the next local, and they did old-fashioned organizing. This is my point about trusting workers. They’re actually really smart. That’s much harder to do when you don’t yet have an organized shop. That’s challenging, but I think looking at the John Deere workers as an incredible example and, by the way, Chicago teachers. I mean, we go right down the line—the L.A. [Los Angeles] Teachers.

I mean, every union that we’ve been talking about in this show are unions where a group of rank and file workers in the last decade got really pissed off about their conditions, challenged their union leadership, and took it over. Won elections, either rejected a contract, as in the case of Deere, or in the case of Los Angeles and Chicago, just took on the power structure, and they had to do what first? Organizing and structure tests.

To even know Chicago⁠— I outlined this in-depth in my book No Shortcuts. It’s like 35 rich pages of a bunch of progressive activists that don’t like what’s going on. Their schools are being closed on them. Conditions are horrible. They’re all community activists. The Mayor announced they’re going to─ Rahm Emanuel announced he’s going to close a bunch of schools. Black schools, of course. And all these progressive teachers are like, oh, my God. They go to a bunch of community meetings and say you guys got to help us. How can we help you stop closing the schools? I tell this whole story in the book. Literally, the community leaders are like, Jesus, take your goddamn union over. I mean, fix it. Where is the union in this fight over the Chicago schools? All of a sudden, the progressives were like, oh, it would be helpful if our union was opposing the closing of public schools. Do you know what I mean? So, bingo, but what did they not do? This is my parting shot before I have to run. What did they not do? They did not just throw a bunch of names on a slate and say, hey, let’s just run and see if we win. They did not do that. They did serious organizing. They began by doing things like the petitions I’m describing. They set up structure tests to understand if and when they decided to challenge their very large union’s leadership for office, they would have a fair shot of winning. That’s what I call organizing, and the rank and file did it.

Now, by the way, a bunch of smart people⁠— I mean, they took classes. They read books. This is fine, but that’s just like the John Deere workers. So, for all the workers who say we could never change our union, I’m sorry, there are too many examples of workers who have. There’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of energy, but the planet’s burning down, democracy is ending, and it’s time to fight like hell with us: strategy and method.

Paul Jay

Alright. So, if you want to learn the strategy and the method, Jane has invited everybody watching these interviews. Get 20 people together, and you can join the next session of classes or one of the ones in the future.

Jane McAlevey

Not just one. You’ve got to commit to all the classes, but yes.

Paul Jay

No, I mean, you get 20 people together, commit to all the classes, and it doesn’t matter. If I have it correctly, you could be in a workplace, unionized or not. You could be at a school, a high school or University. You could be in the community. You could be in a Church. If you want to get organizing and get organized, you can join Jane’s course. How do they do it? What do they─ let’s say, okay, I’ve got 20 people together, how do I let you know that?

Jane McAlevey

The easiest place for them to go as a reference is to my website, but they can also─ just because my name is attached to this video. There they will find how you sign up for the courses. We’ve just announced the next one, which starts on the 10th of May, so they’ve got time to go build the right team. Don’t just grab 20 people, by the way. Think really hard. Do you know what I mean? Like, literally, sit down with a couple of people and make a plan. Do you want to unionize your workplace? Oh, my God. That’s the most exciting folks coming into the course, or do you want to run for office and win? Whatever it is you want to do. Do you want to build to a strike? Do you want to save the planet? We have a ton of climate justice activists increasingly taking the courses, but don’t just grab. Think hard about what 20 people. Is it the workplace? Can I get a spread of departments? Who do I know in a different department? Who do I know in a different shift? Make a plan with a couple of people and start to make a bigger plan. You can show up with 100 people. You can show up with 400 people.

The UCU [University and College Union] is one of the big education unions in the United Kingdom. When they showed up to the course a year ago─ now, this is an organized union, but they realized, oh, hey, there are some great organizing techniques here. Let’s sign up. They signed up with just an excess of 500 people, and they had one facilitator for every 20 people out of the more than 500 people. By the way, they just had a hell of a round of strikes and won some. I’m not saying that we deserve credit at all. I’m just noting that even very well-established good unions who have sort of many withered in the last bunch of years are like, this is a great place to send the members to. But if you don’t have a union, if you have a union that you’re not very happy with because you want to make it better, if you’re a climate justice activist, get upwards of 20. Get 20, get 40, get 50. Get people who are serious about learning how to organize and sign up for the course.

Paul Jay

Well, I’m going to. Alright, thanks very much, Jane.

Jane McAlevey

It’s very nice to speak with you again.

Paul Jay

Good, and we’ll start another series in a few months when you finish your book.

Jane McAlevey

Thank you, Paul.

Paul Jay

Alright, and thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news. Subscribe, share, and all of that. Thanks again for joining us. 

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