How-To: Picket Line Visits

strikes Unionist

Show up in a group to support strikers and build solidarity. Real advice from real people who really show up.  

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Unions picket for a variety of reasons—everything from informing the public about unsafe working conditions to striking. When a union that’s not your own puts up a picket line, you may wonder how to best lend support.

Often, picketing unions look to the labor family, and the public, for financial, emotional and political support. They may contact allies directly, or requests may come through a central labor body, or both. Everything from a “honk to support” to tweets with the strike-specific hashtag can help.

Extending solidarity to picketing workers is important. Finding and circulating information about the locations and the hashtags may be all you can do— and just that much definitely matters. In addition, though, here are some approaches to supporting another union’s picket that can also build your own union.

1. Join the picket line as a group. If there’s  a picket line near your workplace, you can schedule your co-workers in pairs or groups, wearing your union’s t-shirts, and give your members a shared experience. For example, AFT Local 2334 chapter chair Luke Elliott- Negri coordinated his members’ support of the CWA and IBEW strike against Verizon earlier this year. (AFT Local 2334 represents faculty and staff at the City University of New York, and “chapter chair” is the term they use for stewards.) Elliott-Negri’s chapter “adopted” a picket location near their offices—a decision they made as a group—and then picketed regularly two days a week; dozens of Local 2334 members participated.

2. Be creative and have fun! Highlighting your occupation while at a picket line is a great way to contribute and raise spirits. For example, union nurses in scrubs did health screenings for picketers. At one strike, the Air Line Pilots Association turned up in their uniforms, and saluted the strikers before joining the line. Any occasion for a picket is serious, but picket lines can also be seriously fun. Union musicians might come to play and get people dancing. Many unions are known for their particular chants, and tweaking them for the audience can get a smile or a chuckle from strikers.

Any occasion for a picket is serious, but picket lines can also be seriously fun

3. Amplify your support with coordinated social media. Tweet, post on Facebook and send to your local’s newsletter or website pictures of yourself or your group supporting other unions’ actions. SEIU Healthcare Minnesota posted a picture of steward Dave Young, who worked the night shift and stopped home only to change his clothes and water his garden before heading to a picket line of Minnesota Nurses Association members, out for a one-week strike this summer. “A lot of my friends ‘liked’ my Facebook posts and commented things like, ‘Way to go Dave, I’m proud of you’,” he said, which both made him feel good and gave him an opportunity to “deflect to the cause—I’m out here for a reason!” He added that, as a steward, he feels it was important to be visible, as an example to his coworkers.

4. If there’s a strike fund, collect and give in a way that builds conversation and relationships. Collecting donations during a break or shift change can give you a chance to talk with your co-workers about their thoughts on the strike and how the issue(s) at stake may (or may not) relate to your own issues with management.

5. Get a new perspective—and think and talk about any lessons from the conflict that might apply to your own situation, despite the difference in circumstances. AFT’s Elliott-Negri commented that, “As a public sector union we think a lot about the state and funding from the state, and how that relates to local University management. Getting out there and supporting folks in the private sector gave us a different perspective. In my network, commitment to [the workers] increased as the Verizon strike went on, and that’s a lesson to be drawn for us in our union and more broadly.” He noted the importance of educating the public and the customers about what’s at stake for working people before and during a big action like a strike.

6. Be moved by the power of solidarity and of workers in struggle together. “I was so inspired!” Elliott-Negri said. “It was a successful strike that engaged tens of thousands of workers and a broader swath of average, everyday people. I bumped into friends who aren’t labor folks. I think it had a real impact on the Northeast in general and I hadn’t been a part of anything that big and broad-based before.” “There’s an overwhelming sense of solidarity,” Young said. “A lot of people remember how great the unity on the picket line feels. You meet a lot of cool people there. It’s a powerful thing. And it builds.

—Dania Rajendra. The writer is co-director of Union Communication Services.

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