As we emerge from the pandemic, we pledge to make Local 802 stronger than before. One key to our growth as a union is member education and training. As part of our #802Strong series, we invited members to apply for a special training called Raising Our Voice to leverage more of our members’ collective power.
Local 802 is currently attempting to transform its membership’s understanding of unionism and re-establish itself as a true organizing union. Our members worked with organizer Alex Tindal Wiesendanger over six evenings to help create a core understanding of solidarity, unionism, the organizing process and how musicians can win change among a broader set of the membership.
Each session involved active participation exercises, role plays and small group work, including the following:
SESSION #1: “What is a Union? What is Power?” At its core the struggle that most mature unions and workers working under mature contracts suffer from is a fundamental lack of understanding of the basics of what a union is, how to understand power, and what that means for rank and file workers. This session focused on building this understanding through interactive activities and Socratic dialog.
SESSION #2: “Understanding Leverage and Power.” Workers, and especially musicians, do not believe they can win changes in their working conditions because they fail to understand their leverage and where they can exert power as a collective entity. Through role reversal and “do-over exercises,” we unpacked this misunderstanding and demonstrate a new way to address workplace issues
SESSION #3: “Obstacles and Advantages.” Musicians face unique obstacles to their organizing, specifically the individualistic nature of their careers and the disjointed nature of the gig economy. However, there are tactics and skills that can overcome these obstacles as demonstrated by examples of musician organizing as well as workers in similar fields with similar struggles. Moreover, musicians often fail to recognize the unique advantages that their work provides for organizing. This session focused on building a shared understanding of overcoming obstacles as well as group work to discover the advantages that members never knew they had.
SESSION #4: “Talking Union.” How do we actually engage fellow musicians in collective struggle? What are the strategies and structures of conversations that work? This session, with intensive small group and “fishbowl work,” focused on honing the art of organizing conversations with our colleagues — members and non-members alike — and identifying the pitfalls that often short-circuit these conversations.
SESSION #5: “The Path to Victory.” Getting from Point A to Point Z is not random. Decades of organizing victories and defeats have taught us a very clear set of steps and touchpoints that protect organizing workers and lead to victories. To overcome fear and ensure the best chance of success, members need to learn this process and the key checkpoints on the way to a victory.
SESSION #6: “ABC: Always Be Collectivizing.” In our final session, we focused on how members can actualize their learning and begin to build a shared commitment to becoming an organizing union that grows through winning new collective agreements and empowering members to take action.
Local 802 members Andy Blanco, Jeffrey Iriving and Joanna Maurer participated in the series and share their perspectives below on what they learned and how they believe it can push Local 802 forward into new ways of thinking and new actions.
If you want to participate in future workshops or training, send an e-mail to Communications Director Mikael Elsila to put your name on a list of activist musicians who are interested in building Local 802’s collective power through organizing.
These sessions have been valuable on so many different levels. Beyond developing a clear understanding of the organizing process and learning more effective ways to speak to colleagues about our union, I came away from this training with a stronger sense of responsibility and ownership over the work our union does. I no longer think of “the union” as an entity, separate from its members, solely responsible for negotiating contracts, fixing problems, etc. We, the members, truly are the union. If we feel that our union should do something about a particular issue or problem, it is our responsibility as members to be part of the solution. An active membership is essential to building and maintaining a powerful union that can achieve the goals that its members want.
I hope that more members of our union have an opportunity to learn about how to grow Local 802’s power and leverage through active participation. An understanding of the organizing process and how to effectively speak about our union to non-members is an important skill for all members to have, including our union’s leadership, if we want to get more work under contract and grow our membership. In addition, this training revealed how our union can benefit from having a strong organizing department that works with all our bargaining units on how to use our collective power during contract negotiations and grievances. As we emerge from the pandemic, the knowledge and skills learned from this training session are essential to building a stronger union.
Alex’s workshop really helped me clarify and synthesize some of the things I’ve been learning piecemeal through my experiences in various union activities, particularly my work on the committee of the Associate Musicians of the Metropolitan Opera and the recent organizing of DCINY. The biggest takeaway for me — and something all of us need to ponder and take to heart — is that our union is us. It’s not an outside entity whose responsibility it is to get us higher pay, better benefits or protect us from employer injustices simply because we pay dues. For those things to happen, we need to see Local 802 as our own and only through our collective sustained involvement can we harness the power needed — organized people and organized money — to affect the changes that we seek.
Be open. Be present. Be brave. Embrace discomfort. These are core tenets that Alex Tindal Wiesendanger encouraged our group of 20 to embrace each Monday evening. We listened, we shared, we learned, and ultimately came away with real tools to help us better connect with colleagues in order to identify workplace issues, leverage our power, and build solidarity within our union.
We learned that our union is stronger when our mindset shifts from “What does the union do for me?” to “This is our union and we have power.” We have the power to get our employers to listen, to improve contracts, to bring new work under contract, and to respond to our members’ needs.
Getting more of our members versed in the principles of organizing will help us identify leaders and enable us to act quickly when issues arise, large or small. These sessions have helped me recognize the power we have as musicians in new and different ways that are so important as we navigate the persisting pandemic and back-to-work issues.