Bring Hooker Back, Redux

I received great feedback, both positive and negative, about my last post. Both the content, and the wisdom of posting it. I especially value the discussions I had with some members of the Local Executive Board (made up of officers and Lead Stewards). Challenging me, listening to my concerns, and responding with their knowledge, these are all the things a Lead Steward should be doing with Local members. All affirmed that they would be asking for the Local bylaws and closely examining the IMO ill-advised decision to sell the members’ union hall while there are full-time officers on the union’s payroll. This robust discussion is a good thing for the membership.

I feel that, by using my voice, I have voiced an important concern to those I call sister and brother in my CWA Local 4034. Doing so created opportunities to ask questions of leadership, uncovering several concerns during two general membership meetings regarding Local officer pay, procedures, expenses and even falling representation levels in the field, despite having full-time officers. These are things that can be fixed by participation of both members and Executive Board, and the reinforcement that our leaders should lead, not rule.

However, I have paid a price to exercise my voice.

Dis-Membered

About a week ago, when I reached out to the Local president about not selling our union hall, I was told by him that I am not a Local member now; listed as “Dismissed/Inactive,” with no rights or privileges. No explanation or other detail was provided. On followup, I was informed without explanation by the Local president that he “must object” to my attendance at any general membership meetings, let alone the upcoming Lansing meeting.

I dispute this with every fiber of my being. I decided “objection” was a wishy-washy boss-talk for, “You can come but I really wish you wouldn’t,” and went to the Lansing general membership meeting to use my voice. In order to silence me, the Local president had the executive vice-president call the police on me, in front of my wife, friends and members whom I had served, and with whom I had served, for years.

In 2017, the Local president informed me that “the Local” could no longer retain me as a steward of Local 4034; this meant also that I could no longer serve in my various other “official” CWA capacities with the International. I duly resigned those positions, but not my membership. I made clear to him that being a member of the Local for whom I and my family had fought and sacrificed was important to me. I asked him to have the Secretary/Treasurer set up a dues structure for me at that time.

This was my right both under the CWA Constitution and the Local bylaws. It was also necessary in my view for me to continue serving CWA entities as a consultant who is also a CWA member in good standing. Similar to how those pesky financial guys are usually CWA members and this gains them courtesies, such as meeting potential clients at the union hall.

The Local president has not responded to my question concerning how, when, why this happened, yet. I hope to resolve this as a misunderstanding. I want my membership restored, not because I want to run for office, but because I want to vote on who makes these decisions.

CWA 4034: Talk To Your Lead Steward, And Each Other, About Not Selling The Grand Rapids Hall

I regret that I must speak against the decision by my Local 4034 officers to sell the Grand Rapids union hall and offices. In my years of unioning and absent a financial emergency, I have never seen a Local dispose of the members’ hall “because taxes and maybe a new roof soon” and “nobody hardly shows up anyway.” (As stated by the Local officers at the January 7 Grand Rapids meeting.) At the same meeting, Local president and Secretary/Treasurer assured the members that there was no financial emergency. 

Selling any Labor Hall for those BS reasons is bad enough; obviously rent includes the landlord’s taxes and every place needs a roof replaced normally. Selling ours is a goddamned disgrace. Unions work for years, as ours did, to build a place where its members can gather to freely discuss the issues they hold in common. CWA Local 4034 members long ago voted to voluntarily increase our dues by 45 minutes per month to, first; build our mighty union hall; and then, to build our mighty Local. Mighty enough, fierce enough that when management drove past our hall and saw the parking lot full they knew, and I mean they were certain, that hell was coming the next day from Local 4034. Our parking lot was full because our leaders came and encouraged us to come together at our Hall.

Our Grand Rapids Hall is actually named the Suzanne C. Wilson Labor Hall. Sue Wilson was a CWA Local 4034 Vice-President who worked tirelessly to not only build our Hall, but our Local as well. She is only known on Google now by these words, once they are published. But, as long as we have our hall there is an engraved plaque on the wall of the entryway that memorializes her. First thing you see. That woman, that unionist, died too soon of an aneurysm doing union work for her sisters and brothers and our union cared enough about that, and her, and our Labor Hall that we named it after her. I learned this from past 4034 officers Kim and Jay Egan, who told of her dedication many times; always with a tear in their eye because they were there working with her when she passed, working for the members. That is the Hall I learned my craft in.

When challenged on the need for the sale, the president supposed that he could “..limp it along for the next four years without a new roof or a new parking lot and then hand it off to the next guy..” This cavalier attitude towards the members’ property is a problem. It’s almost like normal upkeep is being put off to preserve full-time officers. The members deserve to have the hall that they paid for, and continue to pay for, where their leadership is installed so they can drop in during business hours and hold their leadership accountable. The Grand Rapids Hall, like our Lansing Hall, is paid for and generates income and is capable of continuing to do so. It only needs to be stewarded properly by the Local officers. Local 4034 officers are full-time; this must be sufficient to balance and maintain all assets or full-time officers must become part-time officers so that the Local can retain permanent assets such as property.

What will happen to the money from the sale?

At the Grand Rapids meeting, it was disclosed that the Hall might be worth $600k-800k. Then, the Local president would need to rent offices and a union hall in Grand Rapids to replace the offices and the union hall that we owned free and clear. The money would presumably go towards “representation.” But, there was not a real answer to that. (I’ve been getting calls; that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

Do the members get a say?

Well..no. Not according to the Prez. He says he makes the call and if you don’t like it you can come take his job. When pressed at the Grand Rapids membership meeting by my Wifey, though, he admitted that the Executive Board, made up of the elected lead stewards, can over-rule him. So, I guess that’s our say: You need to get your lead steward to make your wishes clear to the officers before the next time they meet, on February 1st.

Do not be this member. This is important.

Setup Your Rat-proof Goon-squad

cwa-scabby-the-ratHow the hell do you set up your “grass-roots, organic, from the people, blah-blah” job actions safely and securely? Especially when union leadership is bound by a hostile NLRB to not lead “intermittent strikes?” No need to reinvent the wheel; use the tools that the most up-to-date revolutionaries are using.

Build The Network

For a successful job action, all that is needed is an idea; and a way to securely communicate that idea to like-minded employees who will take action on the idea. Ideally, this communication happens in a fast enough fashion that both takes management by surprise and protects the union from accusations of unlawful intermittent striking.

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Maybe call it a..network?By Hcberkowitz – Own work, CC BY 3.0, Link

Building a structure like the one illustrated is a fairly easy and secure way to build your activist network. Using face-to-face communication and building on personal relationships, like-minded activists are recruited to join groups that have trust built-in thanks to those personal relationships (this is why craft-meetings are important for building unity – we care more about people with whom we intentionally meet). This reduces the chances of “rats” or “moles” appearing within a group. And, if one does, the damage can be limited due to the cellular structure of the network.

Secure The Network

The most secure way to pass messages for job actions is by using Signal. Signal is a free messaging app for iPhone and Android that provides end-to-end encryption for messages and calls. Signal does not collect any metadata regarding who you are messaging: the service only retains your phone number and the last time you accessed the app. Importantly, activists who use Signal can create messages that “self-destruct” from the sender’s and the recipient’s device anywhere from five seconds to one week after opening. It supports chat, SMS, video and voice calls and, most importantly, secure, encrypted group chats. Best of all it’s free.

For Hard-charging Locals

  • Because Signal is linked to a device with a phone number, any Local officer or staff who wants to be a part of the “goon-squad” network should get a a new phone number or SIM card on which to use Signal.
    • Local officers and staff should always be “surprised” by “spontaneous grass-roots organic bottom-up job-actions”
  • Just thinking out loud, but a case of “burners” would outfit an entire executive-board with secure communications that they could then use to build out the Local network – securely – through face-to-face recruiting. This is called “using cutouts” to protect the local from accusations of “unlawful intermittent strikes”
  • Job actions can be started at the press of a button or texting a simple message, like maybe “Blue Flu”, or “Grievance Strike at noon” etc; which then disappears from everyone’s devices five seconds after they read it.
  • It is not against the law or the contract for a local union to teach its members how to conduct secure member-to-member communications for purposes of bargaining!
    • Members should be educated and recruited by their coworkers to join a network
    • Employees not in networks should be invited to job actions face-to-face; if trustworthy and participatory then they should be invited to networks
    • Membership in a network is legal and contractual and may be acknowledged with a button, perhaps..

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