Organizing the Unorganized

Jul 13, 2015

RESOLUTION:  Organizing the Unorganized, Build the Union 

Organizing is the lifeblood of our union. It is how workers build power. It is how we resist. We organize to win justice in our workplaces, to petition our government for redress, and to amplify our voices to be heard over media outlets owned and operated by our corporate adversaries. Organizing is the seminal act of trade unionism. It is where the struggle begins. It is our first mission.

We have made recent progress on the organizing front – progress hard won on tough terrain. With help from more than a few dozen rank-and-file volunteers we mounted campaigns that added new members in a a few chapters. We did new organizing outreach in a handful more.

Overall, our numbers were down from previous years, but our victories included important strategic advances for UE. For the first time in many years we established a new local union at a General Electric plant in Pennsylvania. In Charlotte, we scored a significant breakthrough with municipal workers in NC’s largest city. In the multi-union battle to win justice at Walmart a UE-inspired workers’ rights initiative prompted a strike that shuttered the company’s largest US warehouse outside Chicago.

However, our progress in organizing the unorganized was limited by an organizing climate icier than any in recent memory. We face an onslaught of antiunion legislation the likes of which working people have not seen in generations. Despite valiant protest efforts, corporate-controlled lawmakers in key industrial states have stolen workers’ rights in the public sector and passed right-to-work-for-less legislation affecting all workers. Right-wingers in the South are again combining attacks on civil rights with attacks on workers’ rights. In this environment, the portion of the US workforce represented by unions is at a historic low: 6.6 % in the private sector; 11.3% overall.

The combination of declining workers’ rights protections and continued high unemployment is delivering a powerful one-two punch to workers’ hopes, leaving many unwilling to take the risks associated with organizing. But organizing remains the best answer and the best hope, not only for fairness on the job but also for winning national economic policies, including strong, new workers’ rights protections, that can revive our economy.

The challenges we face make it even more important that UE continue to develop new methods and models of organizing. In recent years UE has blazed new trails for the labor movement through the use of innovative and militant tactics to counter the continuing erosion of workers’ rights. Plant occupations, strategic organizing strikes, the establishment of fully functioning premajority unions, and the use of civil disobedience to defend our rights have all been part of this work. Our pioneering efforts have also included our work to “Organize the South,” the least organized region of the country, a region where new investment is concentrating and manufacturing is expanding, and where we recently helped found the Southern Workers’ Assembly to encourage development of a broad, region-wide organizing strategy by US labor.

We will need more trailblazing, along with more new ideas and more new approaches, if we are to turn the tide for working people on the organizing front. The search for these new approaches should begin in our ranks and include local leaders and activists, especially UE young activists and rank-and-file volunteers who have been involved in our organizing struggles. It should also reach outside UE to involve key allies in labor and community groups who are willing to join the search.


  1. UE150 will organize across the industrial, service and public sectors of our nation’s economy, uniting workers from a wide range of occupations in the common pursuit of justice through the practice of democratic, rank-and-file unionism;
  2. UE150 will encourage our members will volunteer time to reach out to nonunion employees at sister shops and other workplaces linked to places of employment where workers are already members of UE, including in the GE chain, including in Mebane, NC, Wilmington, NC, Greenville, SC and elsewhere;
  3. UE150 will encourage chapters to deepen their efforts to increase our membership numbers at institutions that already have existing membership among state and municipal employees, including striving for 20% membership where possible;
  4. UE150 Division Council’s will discuss and support on a more regular basis internal organizing and financially support and encourage member to take time off to recruit members to their chapter and others within their division;
  5. UE150 Executive Board and Division councils will explore new organizing in the public sector, including possible starting a new campaign for payroll deduction in the City of Greensboro;
  6. UE150 will test new models and methods of organizing in all sectors, including alternative strategies for gaining recognition of the union as well as strategies for building premajority unions in workplaces where formal recognition cannot be achieved in the short term; we will make use of new technologies for data management and communications to strengthen our organizing; we will look for opportunities for joint organizing with other unions and workers’ centers and supporting Workers Schools; and we will revive past organizing methods, including recognition strikes and other militant organizing tactics, where appropriate;
  7. UE150 will convene special meetings of UE local leaders and activists to discuss the steepening challenge we face on the organizing front and ways to overcome it; and we will host other forums for UE staff and UE allies to also join this discussion of labor’s predicament;
  8. UE150 will involve its rank-and-file members in organizing whenever possible and will take the following steps to encourage more members to help organize the unorganized. This includes providing training and support for members who wish to become involved in organizing and will provide locals with materials suitable for reaching out to nonunion workers in their communities to find the next organizing campaign;
  9. UE150 will encourage our members to continue to volunteer with UE regions and locals of organizing blitzes and other special programs for which lost time and other costs are shared by the national and the region or local to make greater member participation possible;
  10. UE150 will encourage chapters to negotiate  and fight for better union leave provisions to enable more members to get time off the job to assist in building the union;
  11. UE150 will continue to support the successful UE Young Activist Program to find and prepare more of the activists and leaders needed for our union to survive and thrive in future years. Special emphasis will be placed on the role of young activists in organizing the unorganized and fighting for workers’ rights, and young activist trainings will be held at the regional level.

Submitted by Tameka Graham, on behalf of the Executive Board