Troublemakers take over Local 290 hall

“We need a revitalized labor movement that has the confidence of its members. Members are the union.” Jovanka Beckles, vice-mayor of Richmond, California — and a rank-and-file AFSCME member.

By Don McIntosh

Over 200 rank-and-file union activists were welcomed to United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 290 training center April 8 for Portland’s third biennial “Troublemakers School.”

The spirited gathering was a day of networking and panel presentations organized by the magazine Labor Notes to — as the publication’s masthead puts it — “put the movement back in the labor movement.”

“As a worker, the second you ask about your rights, they call you a troublemaker,” explained Labor Notes director Mark Brenner. “That’s why we call ourselves troublemakers.”

Occupy Public Office

The day’s keynote speaker was rank-and-file AFSCME member Jovanka Beckles, who is vice mayor of Richmond, California, thanks to a union-backed coalition known as the Richmond Progressive Alliance. Richmond is a racially diverse blue collar city of 100,000, best known in the Bay Area as the location of a Chevron refinery. Over the last decade, the Richmond Progressive Alliance has successfully challenged the city’s traditional power structure, electing slates of City Council candidates who refused corporate money, winning a rent control ballot measure, increasing taxes on Chevron, and experimenting with the power of eminent domain to rescue homeowners from underwater mortgages. All that came about because residents, with union support, got organized.

“Isn’t doing something better than sitting around watching cable news?” Beckles said.

[MORE: See more photos from the event here.]

AT THE LABOR NOTES TROUBLEMAKERS SCHOOL:

“Union is my life. I’m third generation. We’ve been raised a union family. I can’t imagine what other people go through where they don’t have their union backing them.” — Brenda Bridger, ILWU Local 4
“Union means workers being able to defend themselves, by organizing collectively. Because there’s a power differential between an individual worker and a boss.… Unless we are organized together, we are screwed.”
— Hyung Nam, Portland Association of Teachers
“ I am grateful that my predecessors before me organized the United Association, grateful that I have the ability to make a living wage, that I am a member of an organization that shares pride in what they do, and grateful that I have chance to be involved in my local union and make a change for the better.”
— Craig Spjut, UA Local 290

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