On Nov 9 and Nov 10, I participated in an IAF-organized seminar on the future of work in Phoenix, Arizona. The seminar was led by the MIT professor Paul Osterman, who delivered the material in an engaging and accessible way. The audience was geographically diverse, including representatives from California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Iowa, and British Columbia.
Despite an increase in low-wage jobs over the last decade and a hostile organizing environment (only 6.5% of private sector workers in the US are unionized), Osterman’s message was an optimistic one. He argued that unemployment will decline as baby-boomers continue to retire, and declining unemployment will give workers additional bargaining power, both in the United States and Canada. Since this trend is already becoming visible, Osterman advised that now would be a good time to lift health care assistants out of poverty, win living wage campaigns in our cities, and improve lives of residential construction workers who are often missclassified as independent contractors. In essence, it’s a good time to be an activist.
This was my first time to attend an IAF seminar. Knowing that an MIT professor would be lecturing, I went in with high expectations. Osterman certainly delivered; his presentations and ensuing discussions made my inner geek happy. What I did not expect was that the audience would consist solely of organizational leaders, many of whom were professional organizers. I had never before seen a room full of individuals who are ready at a moment’s notice to deliver a rational speech, act out an emotional anecdote, or make the room laugh. Was this lucid expressiveness an example of a highly refined social sensibility, or of a martial art? Whatever the answer might be, knowing that these people are out there, fighting for the common good, is both comforting and inspiring.
When not in lectures, seminar attendees would spontaneously meet with each other. These relational meetings made me friends. They also boosted my understanding of political and demographic complexities as they appear across a large chunk of the continent. Many of these discussions are still with me, as I think about opportunities facing Metro Vancouver Alliance, and my union, CUPE Local 23.