New Tactics Emerge in Campaign to Pass the Employee Free Choice Act

06/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Stewart Acuff Utility Workers Union of America, Chief of Staff & Assistant to President

The AFL-CIO has again intensified its national grassroots campaign to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, adopting tactics and new strategies more familiar in social movements than in traditional legislative fights.

Unlike almost all recent legislative fights, the AFL-CIO has greatly relied on real, very close to the ground grassroots and rank-and-file activity to generate personal communication with policy makers - phone calls, handwritten letters, face-to-face meetings.

But in this Memorial Day recess, the AFL-CIO has turned up the intensity with tactics developed in other nonviolent social movements - most notably the modern southern civil rights movement.

As I write this, activists in Missoula, Montana are on a 24-hour vigil bearing witness to the need for Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester to actively support and vote for the Employee Free Choice Act.

In Louisiana and Arkansas - Baton Rouge and Little Rock - hundreds of activists marched to demand their senators and House members support the Employee Free Choice Act. Those marches included African-American and white clergy, community activists, civil rights leaders, environmentalists, students, Democratic Party leaders, and of course union leaders and rank-and-file activists.

The AFL-CIO held five vigils in Arkansas and three vigils in Indiana, military veterans in Alaska calling for Senator Murkowski's support, a rally and candlelight vigil in Maine. Altogether, the AFL-CIO organized 200 public events this recess week.

On Thursday night at 6:00 PM we concluded a 26-hour vigil in Little Rock. The vigil began Wednesday at 4:00 PM with 50 AFL-CIO activists and allies delivering 2,000 handwritten letters to the Little Rock office of Senator Blanche Lincoln. The letters included 300 from small business owners.

We continued the vigil with a prayer, Bible reading and testimony service at First Presbyterian Church in Little Rock.

We then settled in for the night with union activists, young Democrats, community organizers and faith leaders.

The day and night vigil taken directly from the civil rights movement turned up our campaign intensity and urgency and passion. And it allowed us to reflect more deeply on the absolute necessity to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

At 4:00 PM on Thursday afternoon, we moved the vigil back to Senator Lincoln's office to begin a march to the Arkansas State Capitol.

The rally to end the vigil at the Capitol was opened by an Episcopal priest, closed by an African-American minister, emceed by a leader from the Steelworkers, featured a leader from the NEA, two student activists, legendary ACORN leader Johnnie Pugh, a very passionate small business owner, a worker from the United Food and Commercial Workers who had been an anti-union activist but after enjoying the benefits of collective bargaining and union representation is now an outspoken union activist and advocate.

I keynoted the Little Rock statehouse rally after which we all enjoyed the southern progressive rally picnic of fried chicken and biscuits.