Inspiring, energizing, dynamic. These were the words used by the union representatives to qualify Jane McAlevey’s presentation, an organizer, author and researcher on the issues of unionism at the University of California. Having been at the heart of many union campaigns in the United States over the past 20 years, Ms. McAlevey shared her experiences, observations and reflections on union action.
First, she wanted to remind everyone that individualism is the source of many problems facing unions, and all of society for that matter: The planet is governed by selfish individuals, who only think about their own profit. To maintain this system in place, they do not hesitate to pit workers one against the other, and encourage individual thinking, to the detriment of collective action. It is this vision of the world which weakens the health network and contributes to the deterioration of working conditions. Therefore, it is up to the unions to turn this around.
Throughout her presentation, Ms. McAlevey recalled the importance for society to be able to count on a strong trade union movement and she presented the four essential conditions:
- Be united;
- There must be high participation of its members;
- We must be able to count on a strong, healthy structure;
- We must be able to demonstrate to the employer that the majority are behind this.
She particularly emphasized the importance of flushing out leaders and getting them to endorse the union’s work. Whatever one may think, leaders are everywhere, on every floor and in every department of an institution. However, not all agree with union action.
Activists must be able to identify these leaders, reach out to them, listen to them, build relationships, and see how their concerns can relate to those of the union. This is the only way to ensure that the majority of members are involved.
Working in the health network is no small task. It is very time-consuming, and the employer knows that the employees are far too absorbed by their heavy workload to demand better conditions, which is why strong, organized unions and members united behind them are needed.