Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Take a cue from Obama and get organized

In honour of today’s inauguration of Barack Obama, I’d like to celebrate his past as an organizer. The new president of the United States made his mark by showing people that when they get together, they have more power and more chance to really change things.

It’s amazing to me that CNN repeatedly shows a short film, From MLK to Today, in which Obama points to the picket line as he traces the history of the civil rights movement. Images that at one time seemed almost heretical are now lauded because of Obama’s personal story.

We who work in the media should take this narrative to heart. If you’re working for a troubled company right now, your best hope is to work with your colleagues to find out what’s going on, get smart about it, and then make sure you’re part of the solution. Fast. Because – in the vast majority of cases – employees have the on-the-ground knowledge that a workable strategy needs.

And to be honest, it’s much better if you’re part of a certified union. Don’t have one? It’s not too late and you can call mine or another one. Just take it from Obama. It’s what organizing is all about.

“We employees are now the adults in the room,” Bernie Lunzer, president of The Newspaper Guild, is fond of saying. We tend to be in it for the long haul, unlike the owners. We are the ones that know what our audience or readers want. The business has been our career, not a step on the corporate ladder.

Can employees really save some of these companies? At a minimum, they can inject some new ideas that save money. But more importantly, employee interests can be completely over-run in a meltdown or bankruptcy proceeding unless there’s a union in place. Unions can ensure pensions are intact or, in the case of the Tribune Co., they can be on the creditor committee to speak up for employee assets. More on that in a future post.

In the meantime, let’s hear from you. Have you got any stories that illustrate people power on the job? Seems trite – but if you don’t have some functional group in place, you’re on your own in this troubled economic time.

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