[Marxism] When the Union Is the Boss

Yoshie Furuhashi critical.montages at gmail.com
Mon Jul 3 10:50:06 MDT 2006

Kevin Funk's essay on his experience with SEIU District 1199 raised
some hackles, so I added my Editor's Introduction to it (see below).

When the Union Is the Boss
by Kevin Funk

Editor's Introduction

It's no secret that there exists (1) a high turnover rate among
entry-level organizers, many of whom are (2) young college graduates,
rather than people recruited out of the communities that are
organizing targets -- the interrelated problems that Kevin Funk's
essay below illustrates.

Daisy Rooks' qualitative study (based on interviews with organizers),
"The Cowboy Mentality: Organizers and Occupational Commitment in the
New Labor Movement" (Labor Studies Journal 28.3, Fall 2003), argues
that organized labor is in denial about the toll that the dominant
culture of organizing, which she calls "the cowboy mentality," takes
on organizers and that "the cowboy mentality" contributes to a high
turnover rate and less than desirable levels of racial and gender
diversity among organizers.  What is "the cowboy mentality"?  Simply
put, " a set of assumptions about organizing being more than a job,
being superior to other forms of work in the labor movement, and being
best experienced with an intensity resembling a military boot camp"
(Rooks 33).  That's the set of assumptions that justify extreme
occupational demands such as long hours, extensive travel,
unpredictability, and so on.  Rooks demonstrates that "the cowboy
mentality," while appealing to some, alienates and exclude others and
that women and people of color, especially those who have
responsibility for families, are "most likely alienated by the cowboy

Can organized labor afford to continue to parachute young
college-educated organizers into communities for short-term intensive
campaigns here and there?  Would it not simply chew up the new
organizers and burn them up without building any enduring bases in
working-class suburbs?  Would it not be better to hire organizers and
recruit volunteer organizers out of communities to be organized, so
organizers with campaign experience will remain in the communities and
build on it after the end of a campaign, whether it ends in victory or
defeat?  That's one set of questions that Kevin Funk's essay should

The second set of questions, implicit in the essay, concerns why SEIU
isn't at the forefront of a single-payer health care campaign and
whether SEIU's approach to organizing care-giving workforce -- setting
up new government authorities that may facilitate organizing, without
touching the foundations of privatized health care in the United
States -- isn't at odds with the needs of the American working class
as a whole. -- Ed.

Full Text of Kevin's essay:


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