The Canvassers' Union (p5): The Fund Busts the Unions

This series is an expansion of my reporting inIn These Times magazine (August 18th, "Do You Have a Minute For...?") about two offices of the Fund for Public Interest Research that voted to unionize and were subsequently shut down.
As I noted in the first post, the Fund is perhaps the single largest employer of progressive activists in the country - through the entire PIRG/Fund world, thousands of would-be progressive leaders pass every year.

Part Two of the series introduced the Los Angeles door canvassers who "broke the Fund/PIRG model" by staying with their jobs for the long-term.
Part Three traced the path that led them to petition and vote for a union.
Part Four introduced the Los Angeles Telephone Outreach Project employees, who raise the "real money" in the Fund/PIRG model, and who followed the callers' lead toward a union.

This post is about how each of these unions died before being born.

I realize that this issue is not quite at the top of MyDD readers' must-read lists, perhaps because it is about a group of people who are not in the media, not in office or fighting for office, and not online. But think of it this way: if the blogosphere is the intelligentsia of the nascent progressive movement, these fundraisers are its toiling proletariat. Vital, but nearly invisible; in dire need of empowerment. This issue might not be as glamorous as setting the progressive agenda for the next two years, but it shapes the generation of our activists and affects the health of our grassroots for the decades to come...

There's more...

The Canvassers Union (p4): the Calling Room

Last summer, I reported on the saga of two Los Angeles offices of the Fund for Public Interest Research ("the Fund") that voted to unionize and were subsequently shut down -- In These Times magazine published the story (August 18th, "Do You Have a Minute For...?") and I expanded upon it here (P1, P2, P3). Then someotherthingshappened, and the second half of "The Canvassers Union" was delayed.

But, now we're back! I will finish the story this week, with one post a day.

As I noted in the first post of the series, the Fund/PIRG network is perhaps the single largest employer of young progressive activists in the country. The FFPIRG model of activism has recently been the subject of deep criticism, under the charge that it is "strangling progressive politics in America." I realize that this issue is not quite at the top of MyDD readers' must-read lists, perhaps because it is about a group of people who are not in the media, not in office or fighting for office, and not online. But think of it this way: if the blogosphere is the intelligentsia of the nascent progressive movement, these fundraisers are its toiling proletariat. Vital, but nearly invisible; in dire need of empowerment. This issue might not be as glamorous as setting the agenda for the next two years, but it shapes the generation of our activists and affects the health of our grassroots for the decades to come...

 -/-

Los Angeles has been problematic for the Fund for Public Interest Research.

With its wealthy, green communities and temperate climate, Los Angeles attracted a group of Fund canvassers who lasted from summer to winter and back--unlike most other cities in which the Fund runs canvass offices, where staff turnover in the course of year is almost total. These canvassers became friends; they learned their jobs inside and out; they also opted not to take higher positions in the Fund, for which they would have to work 80-hour weeks and ultimately be transferred out of the city. They just wanted to canvass. (See the second post in this series for this story in full.) And soon enough, for the second time in three years, the Fund's L.A. canvassers decided that they wanted to form a union. (See the third post in this series for that story in full.)

For the Fund, this was a problem--and this time, the problem had another problem, a much bigger problem, stacked right on top.

There's more...

The Canvassers' Union (pt3): The Long Road to Union

This series is an expansion of my reporting inIn These Times magazine (August 18th, "Do You Have a Minute For...?") about two offices of the Fund for Public Interest Research that voted to unionize and were subsequently shut down. As I noted in the first post, the Fund is perhaps the single largest employer of progressive activists in the country - in the entire PIRG/Fund world, thousands of would-be progressive leaders pass through every year. There is a new book that argues that this mode of activism is "strangling progressive politics in America." Think of it this way: if the blogosphere is the nascent progressive movement's intelligentsia, these canvassers are its toiling, near-invisible laborers - this might not be as glamorous as the ouster of a wayward Democratic Party leader, but it is just as central to our cause...

The Fund for Public Interest Research launched its first nationwide street canvass in the summer of 2001. It was a campaign for Greenpeace.

"The Los Angeles Greenpeace fundraising office was among the highest grossing and most efficient ... offices in the country. [Its directors] had received high-ranking reviews and praise by both superiors and staff." But in January of 2002, that office was closed down.

There's more...

The Canvassers' Union (pt2): How Los Angeles Broke the PIRG/Fund Model

This series is an expansion of my reporting inIn These Times magazine (August 18th, "Do You Have a Minute For...?") about two offices of the Fund for Public Interest Research that voted to unionize and were subsequently shut down. The topic is perhaps a little earthy for these blogs, which focus largely on issues of electoral strategy and national news; but as I noted in this series' first post, the Fund is perhaps the single largest employer of progressive activists in the country - in the entire PIRG/Fund world, thousands of would-be progressive leaders pass through every year. A new book is being published that argues this mode of activism is "strangling progressive politics in America." Think of it this way: if the blogosphere is the nascent progressive movement's intelligentsia, these canvassers are its toiling, near-invisible laborers - this might not be as glamorous as the ouster of a wayward Democratic Party leader, but it is just as central to our cause...

Let's start with the weather.

Famously temperate, Los Angeles enjoys the kind of brisk winters through which a committed progressive person could spend each night knocking on doors, asking to speak with residents about a subject of pressing public interest. In the rest of the country, most canvass offices will ramp down or close entirely during the winter months. But in L.A., an office might retain its most committed canvassers year-round, as they nightly comb the wide, wealthy liberal, subtropical city.

This could help explain why, in the past four years, the Fund has shut down three of its L.A. offices.

It certainly helps explain how Christian Miller, one of the primary stewards in the 2005 L.A. door canvassers' union drive, could have kept at canvassing for a full four years.

There's more...

Long Arm of the Wal

Apparently, Wal-Mart has discontinued its policy of aggressively pursuing prosecution of those who steal even the cheapest of goods from the store.  Now, you have to steal things worth at least $25 before the long arm of the Wal sets about trying to shut you down for good the way they would, say, a unionized store.



Some of Wal-Mart's critics are pointing to this new leniency on Wal-Mart's part - a policy which matches what most of the industry was doing anyway - as another example of what's wrong with the store.  Seems to me there's a better example of what's wrong with Wal-Mart: the fact that until a few months ago, it was aggressively pursuing the prosecution of people who shoplifted socks.


There's more...

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