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News :: Human Rights : Labor : Organizing
Call for 'Stewards Army' opens door for new labor activism
13 Dec 2006
At a December 2 meeting of rank-and-file activists and stewards held in Braintree MA, CWA President Larry Cohen described a "vicious attack" by telecommunications employers on our standard of living, right to organize and ability to negotiate collective agreements. To rousing applause, Cohen said that for the labor movement to defend its members' wages and working conditions -- or that of workers more generally -- would require "creating an army of stewards."
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Members with Larry Cohen.JPG
The meeting brought together activists from fourteen CWA, IBEW, and Utility Workers local unions from throughout the Northeast to focus on the challenges of uniting workers in the rapidly evolving telecommunications, computer and broadcast TV industries. About 60 members, stewards and local officers attended the day-long Saturday meeting along with several AFL-CIO staff.

Cohen elaborated on CWA's commitment to the idea, "Our initial goal is to recruit 25,000 activists into the Stewards Army by July 2007, and then build our ranks to 50,000 by 2009. We will develop a special education and training program for members who sign up and we hope other unions will do likewise." As Chair of the AFL-CIO's Organizing Committee, Cohen has already prodded the AFL-CIO to put together a steward-based education and mobilization program for tens of thousands of local union activists.

"The Stewards Army will be on the front lines of every CWA effort, helping support strategic organizing and contract campaigns, and building political support for regaining workers' rights," said Cohen. "Members of the Stewards Army won't all be shop stewards in the traditional sense of handling grievances and enforcing contracts at the job site. It's really about 'stewardship' in a broader sense: stewardship to strengthen workers' bargaining and organizing rights and to fight for our other major goals — jobs, health care, and retirement security."

Cohen's call for a Stewards Army was well received at the Braintree strategy meeting. After all, with so many rank-and-file activists from different unions in attendance, it looked just like a meeting of such an army.

For union members frustrated by the labor movement's labyrinthian structures or bureaucratic officialdom, Cohen's official sanction for bottom-up organizing and a stewards' army opens up some exciting possibilities. Local labor activists will be able to use the AFL-CIO's education materials to organize training and recruitment sessions. Once a large number of new stewards have been enlisted, meetings of the Stewards Army could be convened by industry sector, region or around key issues like health care or jobs.

"As we train an army of new stewards on what is happening in the labor movement today, on the forces that reduce our power, on how earlier generations of stewards organized a movement from a similar starting point," Cohen concluded. "Then stewards, in turn, will be able to mobilize thousands of workers and their families to lead the fight for restoring our collective bargaining and organizing rights."

Photographs from the Dec. 2 IBEW, CWA, UWUA New England Organizing Strategy Meeting may be seen at
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