This piece was written by staff for the California Federation of Teachers, and appeared in their most recent newsletter.
How does a new PG&E worker like Nilda Garcia become an organizer traveling the nation to fight for social justice? Garcia is one of a group of “organizing stewards” that has ignited passion in her union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1245.
A multigenerational, multiracial team of these organizers energized educators at the CFT Leadership Conference in February with their story. Led by Fred Ross, Jr. and Eileen Purcell, they are volunteers dedicated to recruiting and training for causes in need of street power.
Volunteering started Garcia’s transformation into an organizer. “My neighborhood schools closed,” she said. “We thought we were being targeted. We are in a high-poverty area with largely Hispanic schools. So when the city council race came up, we had a union candidate run against the incumbent. I wanted to get involved, I wanted to walk my precinct. That’s what sparked it for me — it was my community, my school, my precinct.”
The IBEW has clocked thousands of hours of volunteer time, saying people are hungry for community.
“We’re kind of like the ghost-busters of social organizing,” said Ross, “Who are you going to call?” The IBEW Organizing Stewards have worked on IBEW campaigns, labor’s Walmart campaign, fought “right-to-work” in Florida, and done two tours of duty in Wisconsin. “It’s the right thing to do for solidarity,” Ross said, “and the right way to train our people.” After learning solidarity by living it, the organizers come back in- formed and well-trained in role-setting, tracking, and accountability.
Ross joined the UFW in 1970 and was trained and mentored by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. His father, iconic labor organizer Fred Ross, Sr., authored the classic Axioms for Organizers.
“Good organizers never give up,” Ross concluded. “They get the opposition to do that.” — by CFT staff