#StagehandView: Are You a Trade Unionist or an Industrial Unionist?

First off, I learned today that what I’m sure must be the thousands of you reading this blog haven’t had the ability to comment. I guess that explains why nobody’s chimed in to point out why I’m an idiot. Please accept my apologies for assuming you could comment and were merely choosing not to. The Newsletter Committee and the Communications Committee are currently working to make comments possible.

There’s got to be a joke in there: How many union committees does it take to add a widget to a WordPress site?

Sorry I don’t know the punch line yet. I guess we’ll all learn together.

Speaking of learning, it was a great meeting today that mostly moved along nicely and allowed everyone a chance to have their voices heard. I was rather proud of my local today … for the most part.

Except for this one thing.

I get that the IATSE is a trade union, I do. I also get that trade unions make up the deepest roots of the once mighty tree that is the American labor movement. Trade unionism should be honored. It has earned a spot  in the annals of history for all time as one of the great progressive social movements. We’ve all seen the bumper stickers about unions and weekends.

Unfortunately for us working stiffs, trade unionism’s not holding up so well here at the beginning of the 21st century. And it’s long, proud past does not make it any less obsolete. I mean, how many people do you know who work a single, forty hour a week day job with free insurance and a fully funded pension? I know, we’re stagehands, we always work weekends. But I think you see my point. American trade unionism has failed. Most of its gains have been lost. Case in point, a new (union represented) auto worker at Ford gets paid the same as his friend who works non-union at the Toyota plant across town.

Which is why sometimes can’t help myself and I stand up at union meetings (like I did today, you should have seen me, I was on fire) and rail against the well-intentioned trade unionists in our local who cling to what are essentially irrelevant (i.e. trade unionist) ideas about who should or should not be allowed to join our elite (ist) band of sisters and brothers. The only qualification for membership we need to concern ourselves with is whether or not a person is working in Austin as a stagehand. Their knowledge or stagecraft or unionism is irrelevant. Our doors should be flung wide to all who would enter. Any sort of litmus test that makes an Austin stagehand hesitate before joining local 205 hurts every stagehand in town, regardless of whether or not they have a card. Every time we sit on an application (for whatever reason), or do anything but respond to a membership inquiry with a hearty “Hell Yes,” it’s basically the same thing as sitting down at the negotiation table and telling our employers we want them to pay us less and abuse us more.

At this point in history, local 205 needs the unorganized stagehands of Austin a hell of a lot more than they need us.

We have to organize our jurisdiction. But first we have to reorganize ourselves. Just because the IATSE is trade union, that doesn’t mean this local can’t act like an industrial one.

So what the hell is an industrial union? An industrial union takes the stance that any divisions between workers hurt workers. That includes “craft” divisions. An industrial union works from the assumption that anybody who’s been hired to do the work should be in the union, no exceptions. And that’s the attitude the members of this local need to embrace if we ever want actual power.

I’m sure I’ll regret it when the comments get turned on. But let’s start the debate. If you’re in the trade union camp then please present your side of the case. I’ll publish it as long you’re not a dick about it.

Got even rantier than normal today, sorry. But the meetings get me all riled, sometimes.

To close on a happy note:

Welcome Jessica Dunbar to the union the next time you see her. She took her oath today and made us all stronger.

#StagehandView: White Privilege and Cannibal Capitalism

This week was supposed to be all about parliamentary etiquette. But you’re in luck because I had an exchange on Facebook the other day which I’m going to write about instead. It started when I posted an essay someone shared on the timeline of a friend. I recommend reading the article. It’s concise and talks about another, I’m guessing longer, piece on “white privilege” which I have not yet read. If you want to, here’s the link. If not, it basically does a pretty good job of parsing out the term white privilege into many of its perhaps lesser considered facets. In essence, the author makes the (I believe valid) point that white privilege exists in many aspects across all sectors of our society. It’s not just an economic term that deals with relative wealth.

White PrivilegeThat’s not to say relative wealth is not a huge part of white privilege, but it’s messier than that; there are no clearly drawn lines. For example, one type of white privilege the author noted was the fact that most white people in America get to choose whether or not to live and associate with other folks who look like them. That’s not as true for most blacks. Another way whites are privileged is how they are treated by banks, law enforcement, and the education system.

So that’s the basic set-up.

After I posted this link on my friend’s timeline, one of his FB friends ripped into it.

My friend’s friend attacked the entire idea of white privilege, rather than the nuanced critique of it found in the article. Given that he showed no evidence of having read the article, I chose not to engage in a FB “debate.” But I gathered from his comments that he’s a military recruiter who regularly interacts with very poor, very desperate white people. Given his day to day experiences, it’s not surprising that he views the term white privilege as just another wedge being used to keep the working class divided. And he’s right. Race identity has a long tradition of obfuscating class distinction, especially in the U.S.

Examples: Poor Southern whites mostly sided with their exploiters to die by the tens of thousands in defense of American slavery. Similarly, impoverished African Americans have been used as strike breakers against racist, if not whites-only,  unions since the end of the Civil War. And the use of ethnicity to divide the working class isn’t limited to black vs white. But that’s a whole other discussion.

So yeah, my friend’s friend has a point about white privilege being a touchy trope. But that shouldn’t put it outside the realm of discussability. And the concept should not be summarily rejected as a tool for viewing and discussing our culture. Especially not by working class people who are trying to at least slow down the cannibal capitalists who so adroitly manipulate white privilege to their advantage.

Read the article and decide for yourself. But I think white privilege is a complex bundle of ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. It’s more than a purely economic concept. And it does a disservice to working people to oversimplify it like my friend’s friend. To reduce it to its economic factors is to cede the argument before it’s even begun.Cannibal Capitalism

Human existence is about more than consuming and excreting. We are innovative and creative beings with needs and curiosities far beyond feeding and sheltering ourselves. Workers are more than bio-mechanical units of production. I get that our current iteration of Western Civilization is a realm where the fight for economic justice has forced its way to the top of our priority list. But that doesn’t make other, non-economic, factors unimportant. On the contrary. When working class thinkers and agitators bow to the pressures of expediency and disregard the non-economic, but still fundamental, realities of human life, we tacitly agree to their irrelevance. We grant the victory to the cannibal capitalists who have always maintained that the vast majority of humans are merely semi-disposable units of production. And that degrades the promise of all humanity.

#StagehandView: General Robert Rules Again!

I'm an idiotFirst off, huge correction to an old post. It’s, what, my fourth? And I’m already correcting and retracting. How’s that for establishing credibility? In the Stagehand View dated December 23, 2013, I missed a huge typo that changed the meaning of a very important sentence. Here’s what I wrote on the day I shamed myself:

“I get the sense they feel a union member who doesn’t come to meetings is sufficiently committed to the cause.”

Here’s what I meant to say:

“I get the sense they feel a union member who doesn’t come to meetings isn’t sufficiently committed to the cause.”

The latter sentence is how the post now reads. My apologies for what must have seemed liked, at best, a non-sequitur.

It’s funny how the human eye and brain conspire to show us what we expect to see of the world. I just checked the number of times I revised that December 23rd post: I saved twelve drafts. That means I read that sentence, with its huge mistake, at least a dozen times. And I’m a pretty decent editor! Except when it comes to my own writing.

Look at that! Already bumping up against two hundred words and not even a mention of Robert’s Rules of Order. I’m getting good at this, huh?

Today’s Lesson:Robert's Rules of Order 10th Ed.

I think I promised to start describing all the different motions. So that’s what you’re stuck with today.

Business is brought before an assembly by the motion of a member. A motion may itself bring its subject to the assembly’s attention, or the motion may follow upon the presentation of a report or other communication. (p. 26, lines 14-18)

The thing to keep in mind from this quote is that whoever wrote it had trouble expressing him or herself in a written medium. …

Seriously though, it doesn’t say anything about a motion “following upon” the protracted musings of one or more members. Motions start discussions at a meeting. And usually they take the form of “main motions.” To quote Robert, “The main motion sets a pattern from which all other motions are derived.” (p. 27, lines 1-2) Most of the motions anybody ever makes at a union meeting are main motions with the intention of getting the local to do something, anything. They didn’t get dubbed ‘motions’ because they’re intended to grind the meeting to a halt, despite what you may have personally witnessed.

All of this is not to say you can’t or shouldn’t ask questions. It’s every members’ responsibility to understand what the local’s doing. And when they don’t, they should ask questions until they do. There are even parliamentary guidelines dictating how this should be done. I’m not going to talk about a single one of them. You are more than welcome to learn them and let them be your guide. But I’ve never cared enough to bother learning them. I haven’t needed to. Local 205 is a pretty small deliberative assembly with a tradition of informality at its meetings that I think fits it well. Most of the time.

As my first quote of the day indicates, motions are often responses to reports “or other communication.” For example, the education committee could give a report at a meeting highlighting the fact that we have apprentices but no apprentice training program. They could present the case that this is, at the least, an unethical stance for a union local to maintain. In response to this, a member could make a motion to immediately promote all the local’s apprentices to journeymen because it’s unfair to sentence them to three year probations without offering them the means to attain full membership status. Or, even better, the committee itself could have ended its report with such a motion. This would have cut out the need for an individual member to make it or second it. (Since a committee  is made up of more than one person, it’s always assumed it seconds any motions it makes). Then folks could talk about it and hopefully vote on it.

After that enlightened motion passed, a member could follow up by making another one to amend our constitution to delete any mention of apprentices or apprenticeships. Of course, special rules would apply to this specialized motion. For example, it would have to be in writing and be read at three consecutive meetings before we could pass it. But we’d be well on the way to giving the new VP a blank canvass on which to paint the Local 205 education program.

How do you like my hypothetical example which I made up for purely educational purposes? No hidden agendas at work here, I assure you. Well, nothing hidden anyway.

But seriously, I hope this little exploration of the main motion has helped. Look for more on Robert’s Rules of Order next week. And who knows what else.


#StagehandView: General Robert in Motion

Broken NutcrackerHappy Monday! I hope your holiday season is going exactly according to plan. Mine’s been lovely, relaxing, and productive all at once. Another Ballet Austin Nutcracker has come and gone, and my bank account is deceptively full.

Robert's Rules of Order 10th Ed.But enough happiness and gratitude, let’s talk Robert’s Rules of Order. No more lollygagging.

Today we’re talking about the motion, the parliamentary engine that allows us to get stuff done in spite of ourselves. The use of motions to enact the wishes of the assembled membership keeps us from doing more than one thing at a time, which is a good thing. When we’ve got a motion on the floor we have to deal with it. Admittedly, there are times when it feels like we’re not working on one item at a time (or not working on anything at all), especially when we’re hip deep in the amendments and fine details of a main motion. That’s where a strong chairperson comes in. A good chair can not only navigate those intricacies, he or she can bring the membership along for the ride. Being a presiding officer is a tough job to do well. I remember spending crazy amounts of time reading Robert’s Rules when I was president. I wonder if it makes sense to send our next chief executive and VP to parliamentary procedure class? They offer them online.

But there I go lollygagging.

One Item at a TimeBack to motions. They help us by keeping us focused on only one item of business at a time. They’re hierarchical. Certain motions take precedent over others. Some motions are debatable, some require a second and some don’t. Their interactions can get complex. Though that depth of parliamentary knowledge rarely comes into play for organizations like Local 205. It’s important to keep something in mind when learning the basics of Robert’s Rules of Order: as Brother Charlie Haymes put it, “Everything you need to know about Robert’s Rules of Order is in the first quarter inch.” He had something pithy to say about the remaining inch and a half of the book as well. But I’m pretty sure I’ve already misquoted him so I’ll stop. Even Robert’s Rules, in its preface, councils the novice to concentrate on the first five chapters. For now, just remember this about motions: A motion begins discussion, not the other way around. Do not be fooled by the deplorable habits of this local. It’s bad form to stand up and blather on about some idea you might have. Use the motion forms that I applaud the E-board for supplying and make a motion. Assuming it’s seconded, then it’s open for discussion. Not before.

Getting back to the beginning of Robert’s Rules. It starts off by defining a “deliberative assembly,” then it goes on to define it some more. It gets very in-depth. But we know “deliberative assembly” means members in good standing at an official meeting, so we’ll skip that part. Up next Robert defines more terminology, this time it’s the “Rules of Order.” [I’m telling you this stuff is riveting. I can’t believe you haven’t read it already.] The Rules of Order are not the by-laws. Ours can be found appended to our by-laws. These are simply the rules we’ve all agreed to play by as members of Local 205. For example, did you know the following was one of rules we all swore to abide by when we joined:  “refreshment, other than cold water, shall not be allowed in the headquarters of this local while the meeting is in session?” I guess we ignore this one because we don’t have an HQ. Either way, I’m pretty sure I saw a couple of boxes of donuts at the last meeting.

Seems like it might be time to take a serious look at some of our standing rules and whether or not they really serve our interests. I, for one, am proudly pro-donut!Donuts

Again you’ve let me wander completely off topic. You’ve got to keep a tighter leash on me or we’ll never get through this.

Oh well, doesn’t matter. I just noticed I’m well over five hundred words, which means I can end this post. And since I’m really not feeling it today, I will.

I kind of want a donut.

#StagehandView: There Once Was a General Named Robert…who must have been seriously OCD

Notice the hashtag (#) in the title? I’ve been tweeting pictures of various “seldom seen” stagehand views. It’s at #StagehandView. Got cool backstage pics? Tweet them there. Just remember to respect everyone’s privacy and intellectual property. And, as always, don’t be a dick.

Enough personal promotion.

Robert's Rules of Order 10th Ed.Disclaimer: I’ll be referencing the 10th Edition of Robert’s Rules of Order for anything I write here about parliamentary procedure. That’s because I happen to own the 10th Edition of Robert’s Rules of Order. There’s an 11th edition that I chose not to go out and buy. My love for my local runs only so deep.

Second Disclaimer: You should never assume what I’m saying about Robert’s Rules is true. I won’t deliberately lie, but I’m no parliamentarian. I’m just a stagehand who bought a book. The little I know I picked up from high school student council. Since then I’ve just been looking stuff up because high school quickly got to be a very long time ago, and I forgot everything.

A Justification: For years now, I’ve been listening politely [no really, I have] to well intended unionists talk about the need to increase member participation. When they say this they mean more of us should go to meetings. And I agree with them that meetings are important. It’s just that I’ve also noticed a tiny bit of an implied critique in their righteous concerns. I get the sense they feel a union member who doesn’t come to meetings isn’t sufficiently committed to the cause. And you know what, maybe that’s true. But who cares? At this point, any level of commitment to the union cause – hell, even a benign mild interest will do – should be welcomed with uncritical gratitude. This is especially true for our local. We need the unorganized stagehands of Austin much more than they need us. But I digress.

A Conclusion: Even in the best case, local 205 meetings generally suck. When they’re not boring, they often turn nasty and mean. No wonder nobody comes.

Yeah, yeah, the president could do a much better job of actually running the meetings and making people stay on topic. But that’s only a small part of the equation. What often slows everything down is a much deeper and widespread ignorance of the rules we’re all supposed to follow make our little democracy work right. Most of the membership has no idea how to correctly make a motion, much less debate or vote on one. For a bunch of people who took oaths and continue to pay their money to be a part of this institution, we sure seem committed to hamstringing ourselves wherever we can.

TeachingI still hold out hope the next VP will rally our Education Committee and create a local 205 apprentice program. But the new Veep won’t take office until the end of February.  And even then, I’m not optimistic about the chances of a parliamentary procedure class being a top priority.

So I’m going to write about Robert’s Rules of Order here. Lucky you.

To quote Robert’s Principles Underlying Parliamentary Law,

“these rules are based on a regard for the rights

of the majority,

of the minority, especially a strong minority (greater than one third),

of individual members,

of absentees, and

of all these together.” (p XLVII)

Pay attention to the order of the above list. Look who’s on top: it’s the majority. See where individuals rank?

Here’s another way of thinking about why our predecessors chose to play by Robert’s Rules of Order:

“Parliamentary procedure enables the overall membership of an organization – expressing its general will through the assembly of its members – both to establish and empower an effective leadership as it wishes, and at the same time to retain exactly the degree of direct control over its affairs that it chooses to reserve to itself.” (p XLVII)

In other words, you’re part of a democracy. You exercise your power or you lose it. That’s just the way it works.

Ultimately, it is the majority taking part in the assembly who decide the general will, but only following upon the opportunity for a deliberative process of full and free discussion.” (p XLVII)

At least local 205 gets that last part right. We always have a “full and free discussion.”People Talking

Here’s why I’m boring you with this: All three quotes make it clear that the ultimate power always has and always will reside in a majority of the membership at a meeting. Officers and committees are nothing more than the deputies of the assembled membership.

And how do we delegate our power as a democratic assembly? Mostly, we make motions.

Now, I guess we all know what I’ll be yammering on about next Monday.

Feel free to comment on/question any of this. Just remember, don’t be a dick.

And Happy Holidays!

#StagehandView: So a union local walks into a bar… and other bad jokes

Stagehand View
My View on ALO’s Don Carlo

Welcome to my new labor blog. If you don’t know me, you can learn all you want at bradleypwilsonliterary.com. This is Stagehand View. I’m not really sure what it’s going to be beyond a source of information and commentary on all things worker-related for the stagehands of Austin, Texas (and anybody else who wants to read it).

A disclaimer: In no way do I speak for the other members of the IATSE Local 205 Newsletter Committee, any officer or member of IATSE Local 205, or anyone else for that matter. Anything and everything you read in Stagehand View is entirely my fault.

First up, big happenings at today’s regular meeting. Some really good things happened. Unfortunately, one really huge not-good thing happened.

The local elections got cancelled due to errors with the absentee ballots. Sounds like it was a matter of bad wording, bad packaging, and bad timing. Entire races were apparently omitted from the mail-out ballots, the ballot envelopes were printed with voter’s addresses and therefore not anonymous, and I guess some didn’t even get mailed out in time. Am I the only one hearing Nelson Muntz laugh right now?

I do give full credit to the e-board for their reaction to this fiasco, though. They made the right call in scrapping the whole mess and starting over rather than risking a tainted election.

Just do like me and think of it like it never happened because the election process will start over again with nominations in January. Yay.

Other than that doozie, I’m happy to say

IATSE Local 205 unanimously voted to  endorse Sarah Eckhardt for Travis County Judge in the 2014 Democratic Primary.

Full disclosure, I made the motion to endorse Eckhardt. I’m a big fan of hers, and I encourage you to watch the debate between her and her obviously underqualified opponent.

On another very good note, a big hearty welcome to Garrett Parker, the newest member of IATSE Local 205. Brother Parker took the oath today, and he should make a fine addition to our local.

And the last bit of meeting news I feel like reporting is this:

Our Stewards’ Council Chairman, Jim Ford, got a motion passed to help better ensure every member of this local gets a fair break if they ever find themselves in front of a review board. Thanks, Jim.

Hmmm, that’s it, I guess. Except to say I’m pretty sure Mikela’s going to be posting about today’s meeting, too. So look for her take some time soon.

I’m off to un-post the now obsolete candidate responses for the election that never happened. Once more, yay.