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BK Magazine BK Currents
Posted by Wade Rathke.
Wade Rathke is the founder of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) – a nationwide activist network engaged in community organizing.
Frankfurt The latest word from insiders and lobbyists in Austin is that for the minute the bill to block all payroll deductions for public employees is bottled up in committee.Of course it could change in an instant. The latest word from Baton Rouge has two bills that might have been primarily directed at teachers but seem to include all public employees steaming ahead towards potential passage. The rightwing, Republican assault on unions is in full flower. Where right-to-work bills are not flourishing, either statewide or county by county in Kentucky or almost city by city in Illinois, and blocking all payroll deductions are not in vogue with Republican controlled legislatures, eliminating prevailing wages is also on the docket in a handful of states as well.
These issues matter. Sure some can pay by bank draft, and that’s how all of our Texas and Arkansas members in Local 100 United Labor Unions are now being enrolled along with their payroll deduction, but it’s still harder, which is the point of the legislation after all.
I’m in route to Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad on my annual visit to India to spend time on the ground with ACORN’s organizers. We have a lot to celebrate in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Our union of hawkers and other street sellers now has enrolled 35,000 members, 29000 of those in the last year. It takes the breath away and speaks to the immense talent and hard work of Suresh Kadashan, ACORN’s organizer there.
The problem for this visit though is how to more successfully solve the problem of collecting dues from our members so that we can grow to the next level and deepen the organization. We are organizing informal workers without employers, so there is no possibility of any payroll deduction, because there is no payroll. Our members live by their labor on a daily basis. Our dues rate is deliberately set low, less than a dollar per month, but the trick is how to collect it from members in scores of markets and hundreds of streets in a half dozen cities in several states.
The organizing was done by hard working committees at the each market fanning out and enrolling the members with the organizer bouncing from place to place, training, coordinating, advising, and always moving the organization forward. Practically speaking though the organizer cannot be the dues collector; there’s not enough time or space for one person to be routed to 35,000 every month. As fast as the organization has grown since my last visit a year ago, there’s also not enough trust, market-to-market, baked into individual leaders to convince the members to cough up their hard earned rupees for dues, nor in the main are there bank accounts that might be drafted on the daily exchanges of hawkers in their all-cash business. Construction trades for a century or more used hiring halls to control the flow of labor and handle dues collection, monitor work sites, and create jobs, but informal work needs no hiring hall. It’s a job that requires hustling and with hawkers it’s largely stationery. In fact our biggest campaigns revolve around protecting market locations and viability.
If it’s not hard enough to organize unions in the first place and get to scale and density in the second place so the union has real power, now we have the problem of sustainability. We have our work cut out for us!
My Liftin’ Days Are Done ( Boilermakers Lament ) by Rusty Rivets