May 022012

By Richard Becker

In November 2011, shortly after beginning a new career as a labor organizer with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), I received a call from an employee of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.  He wanted me to meet with some employees in the Division of Waste Management.  He said there would be about a half a dozen individuals who wanted to ask me some questions about organizing and what it would mean for them.  So I packed up my things, brought a few union cards and one sign-in sheet and made for the meeting place.

When I arrived I realized I had come gravely unprepared.  There weren’t just a handful of workers—there were close to one hundred of them packing our small meeting room.  They kept me busy for the next two hours with a whirlwind of questions, comments, concerns, and calls to action.  Workers poked and prodded each other to speak up, speak out, and get involved.  They shouted out ideas and suggestions, and signed up to help organize.  Leaving the meeting that day I felt flushed, exhilarated and, for the first time in months, like there was a real and tangible purpose to the work I was doing.

Baxter Leach and Cynthia Hart, past and present AFSCME Local 1733. Photo courtesy Richard Becker.

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Apr 042012

Our man in Amsterdam

By Michael Marchman

An inspiring and very promising movement is taking shape in the Netherlands. And it is one from which unions, workers, and students in the US and around the world might be able to learn. University students and faculty members, who are fighting cuts to higher education, have joined with blue-collar workers, specifically cleaners and caterers, who are in a heated battle with their employers over deteriorating wages and working conditions.

The movement is being built around a strike by the Dutch cleaners union, FNV Bondgenoten, which is now in its twelfth week. The cleaners provide contracted custodial services for large companies, such as the Dutch electronics giant Philips, and a range of public institutions, including government ministries, universities, Schiphol International Airport, and Dutch Railways. Continue reading »