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From the September - October issue of Union Democracy Review #152
in national Cinematographers local:
In April officer elections
Local 600, IATSE, the insurgent Coalition
for a Democratic Union routed the incumbent slate, winning every contested
position, including five of the seven national officers. Yes, national
officers. Local 600 is a 5,600-member national local whose jurisdiction
runs across the entire United States.
In 1996, in the spirit of
consolidation and centralization that sweeps through the labor movement,
three separate IATSE locals were merged by International President Thomas
Short into one to form Local 600. For administrative convenience, the
local maintains three regional offices - Eastern, Central, and Western.
A large national executive board, of 65 members, meets twice annually.
In past years there has been only a single yearly membership meeting.
Under these conditions, real power is in the hands of the national officers
This is precisely the kind
of consolidation that is undermining union democracy, making it extraordinarily
difficult to mount an effective independent caucus, providing an impregnable
base for any authoritarian officials, and creating a sense among the rank
and file that the union belongs to the officers. Consolidation is especially
pronounced in the construction trades, but it is affecting other sectors
The Local 600 insurgent
coalition overcame the obstacles and swept out those in power. Their experience
is a lesson in the possibilities of democracy even as the labor movement
concentrates its forces to meet a concentrated employer adversary. Two
simple factors made possible this example of union democracy in action:
For one thing, even though
this union is national in scope, the IATSE structure clearly defines Local
600 as a local, and federal law requires locals to elect officers by direct
membership secret ballot; so that, despite the centralized form of organization,
final decision remains in the hands of the membership. (In this, the fate
of Local 600 differs from that of many construction locals that are in
effect dissolved into bodies that masquerade as "regional councils"
allowing internationals to take the power of decision away from the members
and turn it over to easily manipulated delegates. See page 11 for more
For another thing, candidates
for office were easily able to reach the entire membership through the
internet, including the 30% who voted in this election. Local 600 represents
cinematographers, directors of photography, camera operators, visual effects
and animation personnel - all people who are familiar with modern electronic
technology and who expect their union will make it available to all members.
This was a truly internet election, one of the few we are aware of in
which candidates were permitted to use the union's official email list.
Rights built into a favorable
structure do not, by themselves, translate into robust democracy. They
must be utilized. In this case, the Local 600 challengers addressed the
issues that were worrying members. They called for a vigorous union campaign
to win public support against outsourcing of jobs, against runaway production
to countries offering tax incentives, for use of trade sanctions against
foreign subsidies to competitors. And they had the public support of highly
respected figures in the industry, like cinematographer Haskell Wexler
(Matewan, Bound for Glory, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), Academy Award
winner, who ran for VP on their ticket. But, without the right of members
to decide and the ability to reach that membership, nothing would have
Events in Local 600 are an illustration of union democracy in action. They encourage departure from the path advocated by those unions which insist that democracy and consolidation of forces are incompatible. The Carpenters union, for example, wipes out the right of members to decide by concentrating all power in the hands of authoritarian heads of regional councils. The Service Employees union merges locals into huge entities with sprawling jurisdictions that ignore the requirements of democratic participation. Local 600 demonstrates that it is possible for a union to centralize its forces and remain democratic. With the will, there is a way.
Twelve tips for an internet election campaign, based on the CDU experience (thanks to Scott Kaye):
1. Secure a domain name
(for example www.CDU600.org or www.UNITE600.org) early and get a website
of your own up as soon as you can and/or it's politically advantageous
to do so.
2. Have one of the core group members take on the job of webmaster.
3. Keep to the issues and have the website focus on facts, information, and statements. It's not about pretty pictures or fancy graphic design--it's about the issues of substance to working men & women.
4. Assign one core group member the role of email "constructor/facilitator." Only the webmaster and the "constructor/facilitator" should have the capability of sending emails through the list that you have painstakingly generated. Once a document is approved, the c/f should format it in HTML, add a footer with a graphic or two, and then send it out.
5. Keep the group accountable. All public communications--mass emails, paper mailings and website content (though less so)-should be approved by a majority of the group. In CDU, the primary author sent out to the core group, the core group returned their marked-up versions directly to the primary author, who incorporated the acceptable changes and then sent the new version back out; repeating this process until the document was approved.
6. Send regular bulletins to your list. The CDU core group sent regular bulletins to about 20% of the membership. Bulletins should have a consistent format: a clear title, a short message, and links to more information on the CDU website.
7. Post all campaign emails on the website. CDU used two categories: "Setting the Record Straight" and "Election Issues and Updates." Both pages grew as the campaign progressed and each new email was added.
8. Hyperlinks! Place hyperlinks to your website in the mass emails. Our logo always carried a link to our home page. Candidate names should link to their statements on the website. Particular articles on the website mentioned in an email should be linked to the page on the site.
9. Send "teaser" emails, with a link to a full, detailed article on the same subject on the website. Don't overwhelm the reader with the full story, but use the email to get the gist out. This requires coordination with the webmaster to post the article on the website before sending the email--in case a recipient clicks on the link right away.
10. Use the union's official email list. Because the CDU list was still incomplete, they sent periodic mass emails to the union's official email list (not part of the directory) at a cost of $125 for each mailing. (Note: union members have the same right to post to union email lists as they do to send mailings to the union's official membership list.)
11. Create downloadable PDF voting guides that list your candidates, and clarify the voting procedures and rules.
12. Link to the other side. CDU's links to articles on the Unite 600 website demonstrated confidence in their positions and openness to debate.
For the CDU website:
on the internet and union democracy:
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