Portland Rising launched its “Why Unions Matter” campaign in Fall 2016, with the goal of talking to students in local high schools, colleges, and universities about the importance of unions. The campaign was highlighted in a Northwest Labor Press article (3/24/2017): Today’s lesson: Unions matter.
The Reason For The Campaign
We believe a campaign to highlight the importance of unions is especially needed in the current period, one which has been marked by aggressive right-wing attempts to weaken if not actually destroy unions in order to roll back the gains that they have won for their members and the broader community. One consequence of these attempts is that high school, college, and university students face a post-graduation world shaped by diminishing employment opportunities, ever more precarious working conditions, deteriorating social services, and growing social divisions.
We believe one critical counter to these trends is a strong organized trade union movement. Unfortunately, few students have direct experience with or knowledge about how unions operate, the nature and reasons for the right-wing offensive against them, and the benefits that unions can provide to their members and the broader community. This campaign aims to help overcome this situation by giving students an opportunity to learn more about why unions matter.
We network with teachers to inform them about our campaign and request an opportunity to speak to their students. When we get an invitation we send a two-person team to the class. The first person talks about their own workplace and union experiences. We want students to hear directly from workers why people choose to join a union and what it has meant for them and others. So far, we have speaking commitments from unionized public school teachers, graduate teaching assistants, health care workers, bookstore workers, and hotel and restaurant workers. The second person is from Portland Rising and talks more generally about worker struggles in Portland and beyond, and the importance of unions as one way for working people to defend their rights and promote community interests.
We then take questions and pass out JwJ pledge cards which call on the signer to commit to come out for five actions/solidarity rallies over the next year. This allow us to alert interested students to on-going local labor struggles and gives them a way to become more active on labor issues if they desire. All are also invited to attend Portland Rising meetings, which take place the second Wednesday of every month, from 5:30 to 7 pm, at the Jobs with Justice office.
Finally, we also maintain a Why Unions Matter campaign library that includes selective studies on the economic contributions of unions to workers and their communities, worker testimonies on the benefits of unionization, and union and community organizing experiences in resisting anti-union attacks.
We are always interested in hearing from teachers who would like to schedule classroom visits and in expanding our pool of union speakers, so if you have an appropriate class or a good story to share please contact us, or even better come to one of our meetings (see above) and get to know us and learn more about our work.