Lessons learned, lessons offered

Conference participants, including NYSNA Treasurer Pat Kane (center), protesting plans to outsource postal service.

Labor activists share experience and inspiration at the Labor Notes conference

For 35 years, Labor Notes has been helping workers “put the movement back in the labor movement.” Through conferences and workshops, printed and online materials, the organization promotes organizing strategies to help workers win rights on the job and build democratic unions.

Labor Notes conferences are exciting. At its largest gathering to date, hundreds of union activists came together in Chicago in April from around the country to share their experiences, learn from one another, celebrate victories, assess setbacks, and strategize ways to make greater progress. As the program put it, the conference was about “moxie” – about the fearlessness, fortitude, and planning it takes to make jobs better and unions stronger. More than talk, the conference was about practice: what works and what doesn’t.

More than 70 NYSNA members, our biggest contingent ever, attended this year’s conference. In years past, a handful of NYSNA members used to take themselves to Labor Notes looking for guidance on building a strong and democratic union. Today, NYSNA is at the forefront of activist unions – and we’re working in every hospital to train stewards and foster activism to keep building our movement for quality patient care and respect for nurses.

New hope for workers

Several NYSNA members gave presentations at the conference. Anthony Ciampa, RN at NewYork-Presbyterian and a NYSNA director at large, spoke on a panel called “Beating Divide and Conquer” where he discussed the collaboration between NYSNA and 1199SEIU at his hospital and what it means for our unions to build a shared platform and approach management as a united front.

Second Vice President Marva Wade described the growing effort to pass a single-payer health plan in New York State at a session on healthcare. Karine Raymond, RN at Montefiore and NYSNA director at large, described the slow, hard work nurses have done unit by unit at her hospital to beat apathy and foster member involvement. And NYSNA Treasurer Pat Kane talked about our fight to win a safe staffing law.

“This was my first Labor Notes conference,” says Anthony, “and it was a fantastic way to share ideas and learn from one another about getting members proactive. The conference gave me great hope about the labor movement and what the working class is doing to improve our conditions.”

Marva recalls when just a few NYSNA members got themselves to Labor Notes. “A lot of what we learned at Labor Notes bolstered our belief that change was possible. People understood our desires and gave us real support. Now we come to the conference with a story to tell. To others who are struggling, we’re an example. I tell them, ‘If we could do it, you can do it. And we will help.’ It makes a difference when you know that a cadre of people has your back. It’s so much harder to succeed alone.”

Facing the same issues

“At Labor Notes I’ve learned that the issues are fundamentally the same for all workers,” comments Karine. “Even though you may not walk in my shoes, our shoes tend to fit each other and we can learn from each other. It’s really difficult to paint the bull’s eye on your back and stand up. At the conference, others brought their stories to the table and we strategized together and heard their solutions.” And that helps put movement into the movement.

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