Representatives of the United Campus Workers (UCW), Local 3565 of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), met with a collection of faculty, staff, and student workers on Tuesday night to share information on forming a USM chapter of the union.
UCW, first formed in Tennessee as a CWA initiative to step up higher education organizing in the Deep South, currently has organizing efforts underway in Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida. CWA-chartered “locals” in these states are in fact statewide. USM employees might form their own chapter, but would join with other employees at the University of Mississippi, where the majority of union members are, in Local 3565.
The Local’s mission statement reads as follows: “United Campus Workers of Mississippi unites Mississippi’s diverse workforce – including part-time and full-time staff, faculty and student laborers – to address the critical issues we all face. Our mission is to champion and defend the interests and well-being of all University labor, as well as to build and sustain social and economic justice in our workplace and our communities.”
Asked about “right-to-work” Mississippi’s long-standing unwillingness to bargain with state employee unions, labor historian and Ole Miss Assistant Professor of History Jessie Wilkerson emphasized the social and economic justice orientation of the union, along with its commitment to progressive coalition building. While the union may be a long way from gaining bargaining rights, there’s much that can be done to strengthen the voice of both higher education employees and other unrepresented members of the community.
The formula for success is both simple and strenuous, Dr. Wilkerson said; it is the mantra of labor unions everywhere – Organize, Organize, Organize.