Monday, April 29, 2013

Tears, Democracy, & Progress

This time last week I was anxiously awaiting the official start of my Union's Convention in Pittsburgh. I had already spent two days with many of my Union sisters in brothers in pre-meetings and in social settings - we had packed a lot into the 48 hours of Saturday and Sunday, but I really had no idea of all that still was to come or how moving this year's Convention would be for me.

We were only minutes into CWA's 74th Convention before I was overcome with emotion. It was only the invocation but there was no holding back the tears as I heard THOSE words. I had seen that photo of Martin Richard, the Boston Marathon victim who had made the "No more hurting people. Peace." sign, so many times over the past week that it was etched in my brain. With images from the Boston Marathon playing in my mind, I once again thought of my friends who were there and then of the half marathon finish line I would be crossing in DC in less than a week (the line in fact that I crossed this morning, to the tune of a 7 minute personal record and with a large crowd which included my own 2 year old son cheering us on). No More Hurting People. Peace. It was a plea for the next 48 hours, for the next week and for all the work that we do. It was a truly poetic way to begin what was the most meaningful CWA Convention I have yet to take part in.

CWA Convention 2013
I have been an organizer with CWA for 13 years. In that time I have written papers with other organizers and engaged in countless roundtable discussions about the need to increase resources for organizing. While the years have brought some changes, up until now all of those discussions and papers had led to very little fundamental change and had continued to leave us with an inadequate bench of resources to deal with the organizing challenges ahead of us. Thanks to several Local leaders from District 1 and the bold vision of our Union's Defense Fund Oversight Committee, this year brought change that will truly revolutionize the way we are able to organize and build movements in our communities. I can't describe the emotions that welled up inside me as I listened to Kevin Sheil, President of Local 1103 deliver the following words on our Convention floor with a long line of supportive delegates behind him at the mic:

"If we acknowledge that the Union—and the entire labor movement—are facing the greatest challenges in our history, then it's clear that for CWA’s future and our future, foresight, new thinking, and a bold approach are required.  This is not the time for superficial or incremental change.  If we are to leave this union in a better place for the next generation, then we must go big and bold while we can.  We can only do that by growing our union through organizing and movement building.  We must focus like a laser on growing our union.   We need to give ourselves the tools to take us into the future.   We have no choice but to evolve into a more flexible union for the greater good.  In order for us to shape our future, we must give our union the space to become more effective, efficient and responsive.  At the end of the day it will take sacrifice and a willingness to endure some hardship, but it must be done.  If we have the courage, we have an opportunity to alter the trajectory of our union.  Today is a great day to start…"

Approval of this proposal was not automatic. There was an attempt from the floor to water it down and to delay action for two more years until the next Convention. Instead, delegates boldly rallied behind fighting back against corporate interests by making a commitment to unorganized workers and I couldn't be more proud. (For details on this proposal check out CWA's link here.) Once again, I cried - this time happy tears as my sisters and brothers voted to move our Union forward by leaps and bounds.

Later that afternoon delegates considered a controversial proposal regarding the creation of a telecom VP to oversee bargaining. There was spirited debate and, in the end, a roll call vote of all delegates to determine the final outcome. The whole process was a reminder to me of one of the greatest strengths of our Union - a unifying spirit of union democracy. Even when members disagree on particular issues, on the appropriate path for fighting back against the boss or the best way to structure our movement for the future, there is a commitment to the process of internal union democracy and that is a powerful thing. Seeing delegates line up to speak, engage in a lively debate on the floor, and in the end swipe their badges representing their delegate voting strength to determine a final tally on an issue - all makes me proud to be CWA.

I have to admit that by the time Tuesday morning rolled around, it was still hard for me to believe that delegates had already committed what would amount to millions of dollars to organizing and movement building. That morning I tweeted: Still pinching myself over millions of dollars dedicated to organizing by delegates to the #cwaunion2013 convention yesterday. Long overdue.

But there was so much more to come.

From our Flight Attendants we heard the welcome news that TSA had just delayed implementation on its knives on planes policy. I'm sure I don't have to explain to the readers of my blog the stupidity of this policy nor the obvious emotion attached to asking Flight Attendants to tolerate the re-introduction of knives back into the cabins of airplanes - especially when it has become known that the impetus behind the policy change is none other than knife companies and lobbyists. The announcement of the delayed implementation was met with much excitement by the delegates and guests at our Convention, and I once again found my eyes welling up as I thought of the many FAs who I now call friends for whom this fight is very personal. We were reminded, of course, that this was nothing more than a temporary reprieve, certainly a result of our pressure campaign, but by no means the end of the No Knives on Planes campaign. There is no set timetable on the delay (meaning the TSA could move forward with implementation at any time) so it was inspiring to see so many delegates take action with postcards and luggage stickers in support ( for more info). I even brought home some stickers for us to use on our own trip to DC this past weekend - my little guy LOVED them!
My little guy with his No Knives on Planes sticker
while we were in DC this past weekend.
The Civil Rights and Equity Committee had presented their report on Monday afternoon. It included a discussion of our nation's gun laws, a call for comprehensive immigration reform, and a moving story that gave us a glimpse into the heartbreaking realities of LGBT inequality even within our own unionized workplaces. Delegates not only adopted the report of the Civil Rights and Equity Committee, but on Tuesday passed resolutions in support of comprehensive immigration reform and in support of efforts to remove health insurance exclusions that prevent transgender individuals from accessing care. The resolution on transgender healthcare passed unanimously and once again I couldn't hold back the tears of joy that this was my Union. 

The original resolution on immigration reform contained a reference to securing all of our nation's borders and a passionate motion was made from the floor to amend the resolution to eliminate this bullet point.  It was agreed by delegates that this was not our issue for reform and the final resolution was passed without it. Amen.

(For a summary of these and other resolutions acted on at this CWA Convention click here.)

I was moved by the thoughtful and activist nature of the many delegates I encountered at this Convention. CWA is full of inspired and inspiring people who want to make a difference in their workplaces and their communities. That alone was a huge encouragement.

There was someone very obviously missing from this Convention though and when his smiling face came up on the Memorials screen I made no effort to hold back my tears. I was surrounded by Local officers about to receive awards for organizing and other organizers in the Union who had worked with them. This was where Seth would have been - with this community of organizers and organizing Locals. I thought back to the countless organizing strategy conversations we had over the years, the many laughs we had shared, and the way he inspired so many of CWA's organizers and activists. And then, something amazing happened. An overwhelming sense of peace came over me - he would have been so proud of us this year. The delegates to this Convention did some pretty progressive things, not the least of which was committing more resources towards organizing than ever before.  I think this smiling photo of Seth looking out over this Convention was fitting. We honored him not only during our Memorials, but by moving our Union forward in the struggle to organize and to support working people everywhere who are fighting for improvements.
Photo by @KenCWA
I think it's fitting to close this post by looking back to something I wrote on my blog right after Seth passed in July. I re-read that post as I was writing this one and was struck by this part especially:

"As I think back over this weekend, I am still sad, but I am also thankful to Seth for the moving example of what it means to live and love and... plant trees. It's a reminder to me that everything we do is building a certain type of life in a certain world. It's up to us to choose each day to make each of those the best they can be." 

1 comment:

  1. Great wrap-up of convention.

    Seth's memorial was heart breaking, but healing. He would have been proud of CWA and the organizers - especially U of Akron.