This is a video of the speech Amanda Tattersall gave at the 10 year anniversary of the Grassroots Collaborative in Chicago in September 2010. It talks about the lessons that this coalition learned about how to build a powerful coalition, and looks at the story and legacy of the big box living wage campaign.
The event was sponsored by SA Unions and held in Imprints Bookstore in the centre of the city. Despite it being a cold night, there was a great crowd who turned up – a mix of union organisers, community organisation workers, academics and interested social change campaigners.
The bookshop was full, entertained during the night by the occasional excitable chants of passers by down the street.
Janet Giles of SA Unions opened the night, relaying her experience of strong coalitions – not only with the work of the Your Rights at Work campaign but a long standing coalition around Asbestos in Adelaide. That coalition followed one of the lessons in Power in Coalition – less is more – where a diverse but mutually interested group of lawyers, researchers, unions and community advocates have been coming together for years. They first built relationships to share their knowledge and perspectives on the asbestos issue, and now they are beginning to work jointly on specific outcomes like victims rights. Janet reflected that the relationship building phase of the coalition was key to its success – and so unlike the usual practice of unions which is to try to just organise the next rally!
John Speor from the Australian Institute for Social Research was next. He talked about his personal experience in coalitions from the 1980s and 1990s – particularly his work firstly against electricity privatisation and then the Coaliton for a Better Deal. That alliance was a diverse group of organisations – student groups, community organisations, migrant organisations and unions – coordinated by SA Unions. It too followed a key lesson from Power in Coalition, which is the importance of making positive agenda setting claims rather just running “no” coalitions. This coalition had plenty of success, including the fact that it was sustained for a long time – lasting around five years.
John also spoke about the need for new and better coalitions right now in South Australia – particularly given the major cuts to the public sector announced in yesterday’s state budget. It was an inspiring call, and after the speeches some initial discussions were had between those in the room about how this could happen.
I then spoke about some of the stories from Power in Coalition, including why I became interested in working in coalitions as a union organiser with a social movement background, and then telling the story of Chicago’s grassroots collaborative and its campaign for living wages for retail workers.
On Thursday September 9, the Metro Vancouver Allliance (MVA) along with Simon Fraser University hosted a launch for Power in Coalition at Simon Fraser University. It was a great crowd, with over 70 people attending in an overflowing room (with many having to take a seat on the stairs). Metro Vancouver Alliance is an emerging broad based coalition of religious organizations, unions and community organizations committed to building community power and improvements to the city of Vancouver.
The night consisted of a talk about the book, traversing the three case studies of public education in Sydney, health care in Toronto and living wages in Chicago. Then, short speeches about why alliances are important from from three representatives from the MVA – one from each of the different constituencies. There were dozens of engaged questions from a very diverse crowd – students, unionists, community activists, small business organizations and religious leaders.
Earlier that day I spent time with a group of labor leaders talking about the experience of setting up the Sydney Alliance and discussing lessons for their experience in Vancouver, and on the Friday I met with the team of leaders from MVA who planned their next steps for building their broad alliance in Vancouver.
On September 1, the Grassroots Collaborative celebrated its 10 year anniversary, and at that event the Collaborative launched Power in Coalition, which features a case study from this powerful labor-community coalition. I was at the launch and gave the following speech:
Chicago’s powerful coalition: 10 years of the grassroots collaborative
I want to take you all back five years to a warm Saturday morning in July 2005. Chicago Temple, a downtown church, was overflowing with more than a thousand low-income African American and Latino residents. Outside there were lines of empty school buses that had ferried in the crowd.
Inside, the church floor was a disorganized rainbow, defined by the dynamic strips of color created by different shades of t-shirts. A block of canary yellow on the right-hand side signified the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, a regal purple Service Employees International Union (SEIU) block of color marked the left of the hall. A red bunch of boisterous Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) community leaders were positioned at the front.
The noise was deafening. Voices across the hall were singing to the rhythm of hand clapping, ‘We’re fired up, we won’t take it no more; we’re fired up, we won’t take it no more.’ Some people were standing; others were waving their arms. It was electric.
As one speaker emphasized, ‘This is a gathering of the grassroots.’ You had turnout our your membership to take back your city.
This is the kind of power we are celebrating here tonight.
For the past 6 years I have traveled the English-speaking world looking at, and talking with, different labor-community coalitions – in the United Kingdom, across the United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Just about everywhere I go I share stories and lessons from the power and practices of the Grassroots Collaborative.
This journey produced a book about how to build powerful coalitions. And the work of the collaborative takes center stage as the US case study in that book.
Tonight is about celebrating the distinctive labor-community power that you have built. There were lessons that you learned and rules that you practiced.
When the common wisdom said that coalitions were powerful with lots of people – that bigger is better. You said no, and limited your participation to those who understood the discipline of building power.
When the standard practice was that you use coalitions for single-issue campaigns. You said no, and became a multi-issue coalition so you could build a long-term shift in political power in Chicago.
When everyone thought that coalitions were all about frenetic activity and campaigns. You said no, and focused first on building relationships before you started working on issues.
And, when others said working across community and labor can be hard. You said we know, but you understood that real social power and political change requires it – and so you made it work, and continue to make it work.
What a magnificent display of community power these strategies have delivered. They were exemplified by the 2005-6 big-box living wage campaign.
It was tough times in 2003 when Wal-Mart first came to town and started beating up on the progressive community. But thankfully, as the grassroots collaborative, you had build a space of trust between leaders which became a place for creative thinking. You were prepared to think politically about how to challenge corporate power. You turned a reactive campaign against Wal-Mart into the powerful moral claim of a living wage ordinance.
And your work was not rushed, but a steady disciplined build of power. You built a base of new relationships with labor and new relationships with churches. You then developed a fifty ward strategy to move your agenda, using postcards to identify voters and build a constituency of support. You shared what each of you do best – Action Now was in the field, labor walked the halls of city council, community organizations targeted key aldermen and your member leaders did the media.
Individual organizations on their own would not have been able to move a radical ordinance like this, but combined you were a formidable force for change.
The mix of labor and community power meant you rocked the Mayor, passed the ordinance, led to a threatened capital flight by mega-retailers, forced a veto, then some of your politically active partners then punished the hostile aldermen at the following council elections.
Your legacy was a new terrain in Chicago. Illinois’s minimum wage has been increased to the second highest in the country. And this year, Wal-Mart came to the table to negotiate wages and conditions with labor. This is an unprecedented win in this country –your work forced them recognize you.
You shifted the political climate in Chicago and you sustained your coalition while you did it
It is a pleasure to be with you at this ten year anniversary to celebrate the victories and the power you have built. And it has been a delight to write up your story for an international audience. You have harnessed many of the lessons of labor-community power that I have seen from across the world:
- less is more when building a long term coalition
- powerful coalitions set an agenda rather than react to others
- coalition power is about building your organizations and shifting the political climate as well as winning social change
You have inspired me. Having seen what you built I returned to Australia to initiate a long-term broad based coalition called the Sydney Alliance. We too are a multi-issue, handpicked coalition that is spending years building relationships and trust before working on issues. We don’t move to action till next year, but I do hope that at some point there may be a chance that we might work together as we continue to learn from each other.
I wish you well. Know that your legacy lives as it teaches others to build labor-community power and challenge the forces of reaction with a clear sighted vision for cities and communities that deliver opportunities, support and prosperity for residents and working people.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Natasha Lindor
First Internationally Comparative Study of Coalitions Between Unions and Community Organizations Published
Amanda Tattersall’s book, “Power in Coalition: Strategies for Strong Unions and Social Change”, now available from Cornell University Press
NEW YORK, Aug. 23, 2010 – Amanda Tattersall, an Australian organizer and labor scholar, provides a practical framework for what makes coalitions a key tool for union revitalization and social change in her new book, “Power in Coalition: Strategies for Strong Unions and Social Change”, published by Cornell University Press. As the first internationally comparative study of coalitions as a strategy for unions, community organizations and social change, this book contributes new, practical frameworks and insights that will help guide union and community organizers across the globe. It is now available for purchase online through Cornell University Press at www.cornellpress.cornell.edu and Amazon at www.amazon.com as well as several local U.S. book stores. Those in Australia and New Zealand can purchase the book through Allen & Unwin.
“This book arose out of my own experience in coalition building and community organizing,” says Tattersall. “We need strong and successful coalitions to empower the necessary community voice and response to issues such as climate change, health care, urban planning and transport. This book uncovers strategies for how coalitions can be an engine room for civic advocacy and social change, offering people real hope that working people can be powerful again.”
Three detailed case studies come from long term coalitions in three countries: public education in Sydney, living wages in Chicago and health care in Toronto. The lessons are grounded in real experience, creating practical strategies for challenging the political and economic climate.
Tattersall’s experience as both a community organizer and researcher translates into presenting strategies that will work well on the ground. Since writing the book, Tattersall has used its findings to organize, starting the Sydney Alliance, which now has 28 member organizations as partners. The Alliance is following the lessons documented in the book.
For more information, visit http://powerincoalition.com.
“Power in Coalition: Strategies for Strong Unions and Social Change,” which retails for $21.00 USD, is available at select U.S. retail locations as well as Allen & Unwin in Australia and New Zealand. It is also available for purchase online at www.cornellpress.cornell.edu and www.amazon.com.
About the Author
Amanda Tattersall is an Australian community organizer and a researcher with an international focus. She is currently the founder and director of the Sydney Alliance, a broad based coalition of unions, community organizations and religious organizations. In addition to having served as the president of the National Union of Students’ New South Wales (NSW) branch, Tattersall also founded Labor for Refugees and co-founded www.getup.org.au – an Australian web-based campaign organization with over 300,000 members. Having worked as a union organizer, Amanda is now an elected official: Deputy Assistant Secretary with Unions NSW, Sydney NSW’s central labor council representing 600,000 workers.
Tattersall completed a PhD on coalition unionism at the University of Sydney featuring case studies of coalitions from Sydney, Chicago and Toronto. She completed her research as a visiting fellow at Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School, living for two years in the United States and Canada.
In Australia, Power in Coalition launches in September 2010 published by Allen & Unwin. Launch details are:
Adelaide: Friday 17 September
Drinks from 6pm, and launch begins at 6:30 at Imprints Booksellers, 107 Hindley Street Adelaide. Sponsored by SA Unions. Speakers include Janet Giles, SA Unions & Associate Professor John Spoehr, Australian Institute for Social Research. RSVP: is essential due to limited space, email email@example.com
Perth: Monday 20 September
6pm to 7:30pm, 3rd Floor, State School Teacher’s Union of WA 150-152 Adelaide Terrace East Perth, sponsored by UnionsWA. RSVP: Shelley Watson at UnionsWA via firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 08 9328 7877
Melbourne: Wednesday 22 September
Drinks from 6pm, launch at 6:30, New International Bookshop, Trades Hall, 54 Victoria St Carlton South RSVP: email@example.com or phone (03) 9659-3511
Sydney: Thursday 23 September
Drinks from 6pm, launch at 7pm. Trades Hall Auditorium, 377 Sussex St Sydney. Speakers include Jack Mundey, Mark Lennon Unions NSW, Niall Reid moderator Uniting Church. MCs Charles Firth & Bec De Unamuno. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org or 9881 5999.
Brisbane: Monday 27 September
6pm start, 6:30 launch at Avid Reader, 193 Boundary St West End, sponsored by the Queensland Council of Unions. RSVP: email@example.com or 38463422
Canberra: Wednesday 29 September
5:30pm for 6pm start, The Lounge Bar, Lvl 3 Uni Pub, 17 London Circuit Canberra. Politics in the pub event sponsored by The Australia Institute & UnionsACT
Washington DC: Wed 25 August
Noon to 1:30, AFL-CIO Offices, Presidents Room First Floor, 815 16th St, NW Washington DC 2006
New York City: Fri 27 August
1pm, co-sponsored by Metro IAF & Civil Service Employees Association
Chicago: Wed 1 September
5:30pm – 7:30pm, sponsored by Grassroots Collaborative (celebrating their 10 year anniversary)
Grace Place, 637 South Dearborn Street, Chicago
Minnesota: Thursday 2 September
7 for 7:30pm, Common Good Bookstore, 165 Western Avenue North, Saint Paul, MN
Toronto: Tuesday 7 September
7 for 7:30, Paupers Pub, second floor lounge, corner of Bloor and Lippencott St (near Bathurst)
Vancouver: Thursday 9 September
7pm start, Room 7000, Harbour Centre Campus, Simon Fraser University, 515 West Hastings
Seattle: Saturday 11 September
1pm. Elliott Bay Bookshop, 1521 Tenth Avenue, Seattle WA 98122
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org