My partner and I went to the State Employees Trade Council-United (SETC) meeting last week. We went representing students and organizers of the March 4th Movement. Our hope was to unite students and workers together on March 4th and continue to build links between people who on campus see each other but rarely interact.
The meeting had about 50 stewards, chief stewards and organizers around the state. Although this union is small in number it represents a power of the university. These workers build the buildings, plumbing, electricity and physically maintain the union. They are skilled workers and see themselves as a power. We were allowed to speak for about 10 minutes. The first thing I noticed was 90% of the members present are men and white. It was hard not to feel a little out of place at first as a younger Black woman. But that quickly went away. The warmth we experienced was unreal! The meeting started off with a memorium for their member Patrick O'Conner who passed away this past October. His two sons were there and were presented with a plaque. The SETC Chief consultant Patrick Hallahan spoke about how the member's sons were raised with union consciousness and that they will carry on the legacy of their father. It was moving, like a family that carries on its traditions with heart and compassion.
My partner and I were then given the mic to speak. This is different from other union meetings we have attended. Sometimes we have to fight for the right to speak. Others we are told only to " stand and wave" at the members. The SETC members welcomed us to the floor. Brother Patrick introduced us saying, "this is what I have been telling you about brothers and sisters, how we need to unite with the student fight." Art and I explained about the March 4th movement. How we hope to shut down the university and that this is not just about students. I read a part of the song Solidarity Forever including, " for the union makes us strong". My comrade talked about the history of March 4th and what the No Cuts Coalition at CSULA is doing to unite students and workers. We talked about Student Worker Unity Week and how during this week we hope to outreach to workers and make the connection between rising tuition and layoffs. We also presented the AFSCME 444 resolution and called for the SETC to adopt it. There were a few questions from the floor. One was about a strike. they mentioned how they could not violate the contract to strike. We stated that eventually that they may have to violate the contract and that the resolution calls for support of a strike and does not violate the contract.
One brother made a joke and asked me if, "I dated older men". It threw me off a little but the President banged on the gabble and called for order. This did not however stop several other brothers from asking the same question at lunch. After we left the stage Patrick then went into a history of the labor movement. He said, listen in the 1930's Ford said there would never be a union in his shop. Then when people would get upset you know what they would do?". Then Patrick sat down on the stage. Patrick said, " Look brothers and sisters this fight is going to have to unite with the students. They are willing to sit-down just like for Ford workers did. Just like Dr. King did at the lunch halls. I think we have to do the same to fight back against these cuts and layoffs." A lively discussion ensued and some members talked about how they could shut the university down just by cutting off the air conditioning and plugging the toilets. People also talked about informational picketing. " Hell we're the building trades!" one member said.
At lunch a brother was already done at the grill. We had a choice of carne asada and grilled chicken. The members asked us to sit a chat with them. they talked about student workers. They said, " why does the union want to hire students for union staff and not the members?" I said, "Its simple: the students don't know whats going on at the workplace and so it is easier to get them to do what you want without them questioning. Many of them just want to help workers but don't know how to fight." Another brother said, "yeah, some of our union guys have gotten laid-off and then the university hires a student and pays them non-union".
We exchanged information with these workers and we were invited to speak at their area meetings. A brother came up to me later and said, "You know we want to organize with the students. The faculty think we are stupid. Many of them just want to have their classrooms under control. We want to be around the students because they are the ones who want to fight." Although there are so many faculty that have shown a lot of bravery and willingness to stick their necks on the line, I think an important link to be made is not only with students and workers but with trades workers and faculty. Layoffs are layoffs no matter if you have a degree or are certified.
Today the member came to a UCLA Fights Back meeting. He and I talked a bit about the union and I announced the meeting the SETC invited us to. The Brother got up and said, " listen, I like your flyer and I will give it to our members, there needs to be something on it about workers." He said the AFSME resolution did not pass but that he supported it, he said the leadership voted it down but may pass another tamer one. He also said that the word Strike and Day of Action would not violate the contract if the union in particular didn't call for it. The LA March 4th committee has been invited to speak at their next meeting. I hope that we bring the fire and energy of March 4th from Flint '36 to LA '10. SHUT IT DOWN.
Come to the LA March 4th meetings! Every Saturday until March 4th at the UTLA Building 3303 Wilshire Blvd room 812 @1pm. Contact us at LaMarch4@gmail.com