By Henry DeGroot
A Successful First Year
The Labor Guild is proud to celebrate the founding year of the Labor Guild Youth Caucus! The caucus was formed at the start of 2018 to accommodate young workers at the Labor School who were meeting informally to discuss current events, learn about the experiences of workers in other unions, and better understand the issues facing Millennials in the labor movement. So far the initiative has helped to connect young workers from various Boston-area union locals, has challenged its members to think beyond the confines of their own union, and has brought young workers out to the picket lines of on-going labor disputes in the Bay State. And the Youth Caucus is just getting warmed up!
The Youth Caucus, also known as the Young Workers’ Caucus, meets for an hour before the start of Monday evening classes. Members take turns facilitating the meetings, with agendas that prioritize hearing about the organizing challenges young workers have faced over the previous week, discussing current events and ongoing labor disputes, and managing the business of the caucus.
Rob Ramos, with Pipefitters Local 537, has been attending Labor Guild school for three semesters. Although he is the 11th member of his family to join the Pipefitters union, he feels that it was only after joining the Youth Caucus that he came to understand unions outside of the building trades. He expressed the importance of being able to learn from others stories.
“Listening is the most important thing that you can do. You can have the brightest ideas and you can be a shining star, but if you don’t listen to the problems of other people, you’re never going to be able to solve any problem. You can’t do [union organizing] yourself, so you need to be able to listen and to be able to communicate with fellow members, and fellow young workers.”
Through his participation, Rob has increased his understanding of the threats unions in the public sector are facing, and how his local can contribute to the labor movement as a whole.
Challenges Facing Millennial Workers
A common topic of discussion are the challenges specific to Millennials in the labor movement. Patrick Cullen, a member of MBTA Inspectors Union Local 600, posited that as young workers, “we face enormous challenges. Economically, the way the system is set up with the gig economy, and the way the labor laws are heading… …and the challenge is even more enormous in the political climate” But although Patrick sees declining membership as another major threat, he also pointed out the growing enthusiasm for unions among young people.
For Marcus Taylor, an MBTA driver with Carmen’s Local 589, the biggest challenge with organizing young workers is that most lack basic knowledge about unions and an understanding of how they work. He sees social media as one of the key ways that the labor movement can reach out to Millenials and raise their understanding about the labor movement.
Monique Wallace is also with Carmen’s Local 589. She pointed out that one of the major challenges facing young workers in the labor movement is getting the opportunities to be heard while putting forward their ideas for change. She finds that “a lot of people look at your age, and disqualify you just because of your age, instead of giving you a chance first.” Monique feels that her education at the Labor Guild school and the Youth Caucus have empowered her to get more involved in her union local, as well as to encourage her co-workers to get involved as well.
From lack of respect and uninformed generational peers, to a new economy within a hostile political climate, the problems facing Millennials in the Labor Movement are nothing to laugh off. But Millennials also have their share of opportunities; an increasingly progressive youth and new means of sharing information could be the tickets to a revitalized labor movement. Despite the challenges facing young workers, the Youth Caucus meetings are always fun and lively.
Carrying The Torch
Despite the attacks on the public sector, deindustrialization, globalization, anti-union campaigns, and everything else the bosses try to throw at us, the Youth Caucus is full of optimists.
For Marcus, knowing the challenges he faces in his local are far from unique gives him strength. He finds that during Youth Caucus meetings,“we allow ourselves to share ideas with one another, and get the confidence to push on no matter what you’re going through, because everybody’s going through it.” Monique feels that the Youth Caucus is important because
“when you think of the union you think of old people, sometimes, and seeing the young generation actually stepping up to continue that legacy is a great thing. I think if the Janus law gets its way, it’s going to fade the unions out, and the importance of a union needs to carry on! The young people do need to step in and really get it out there, and give the opportunity for people to understand and do it!”
Rob stressed the importance of the Youth Caucus, stating that its existence means “that there’s a shining light in the labor movement that’s ready to come out of the shadows, and that there’s hope because we have young people who actually care about what’s going on, and young people are ready to take action. It’s awesome because these young workers take their time out of their own busy schedules, their families, their work and everything, and they are the future of the labor movement in Boston.”
Patrick identified what it is going to take to secure unions for the next generation. “A lot of organizing, growing membership, and more militant membership. More action, less talking… …There’s too much deal making, and we have to take it back to the streets.”
Whatever the struggles the labor movement will face over the next years, you can be certain that Youth Caucus members will be fighting in the vanguard.