The Electrical Worker online
September 2018

From the Officers
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Back to Basics

There aren't many news articles dealing with the labor movement that don't pose the question at least once: is labor dying?

For years, opinion makers and so-called experts have been writing our obituary, telling us that organized labor is on its way out.

Well none of these naysayers were at last month's Membership Development conference. Because, to paraphrase Mark Twain, they would have learned that the reports of our death are greatly exaggerated.

The IBEW has experienced five straight years of uninterrupted growth in our total membership. This year, more than half of our districts met the benchmark we set for 4 percent yearly growth in "A" members — and others are close behind. Last year, not one district met that mark.

Our "A" membership has hit an all-time high, while we keep adding professional and industrial members in every branch.

And it doesn't matter where we are. In fact, some of our biggest victories have come in right-to-work states with low union density.

Despite all the challenges faced by the labor movement — hostile judges and politicians, big CEOs who don't respect their employees' right to collectively bargain, and well-funded union busters — the IBEW continues to grow.

And we are doing it by getting back to the basics of good organizing.

When Henry Miller and the founding members of the IBEW first set out to turn a handful of linemen into a continental-wide union of all electrical workers, organizing was not just one job among many responsibilities.

It was their only job. And they did it by getting out into the worksites and communities and talking face to face with workers. It took a lot of patience and determination, but as the message spread, the IBEW began to grow.

These days, IBEW locals have a lot to deal with, from contract negotiations to managing benefits. But the old truth still holds that organizing must be our top priority.

We have access to new technology that Henry Miller could never have dreamed of, like our new Mini Van app, which allows organizers to connect with workers in the community, or social media tools, like Facebook and Instagram, which organizers are using to reach out to the unorganized.

But while technology is changing, the basics remain the same. And that means building a spirit of solidarity with every single worker. It means educating them on the importance of the IBEW, and, perhaps most importantly, teaching them that the union is not just some dues-collecting institution, but a family of brothers and sisters who look out for each other and work together to better our lives and the lives of everyone who works for a living.

New members are signing up not just because being in the IBEW means better wages and benefits, but because they know there is power in numbers.

We have one more year before the next Membership Development conference. By continuing to stick to the basics, we are laying the foundation for our biggest year ever.


Also: Cooper: A Justice for the Rich Read Cooper's Column

Lonnie R. Stephenson

Lonnie R. Stephenson
International President