Based on strike solidarity efforts for the Marriott Strike in San José, CA
October 4, 2018 to November 10, 2018
Our goals for this strike solidarity kit are two-fold:
- Provide other DSA chapters and SV DSA’s Labor Working Group with a ‘playbook’ of tactics and strategies to employ in future strike solidarity efforts. We hope that you’ll be able to use the best practices in this document and adapt ideas found here to suit your chapters’ strengths, and the needs of the picket lines you’re supporting.
- Provide a retrospective of what we at Silicon Valley DSA did in support of the workers on strike at the San José Marriott, to discuss what worked, and to be honest about what we could improve in the future.
Picket lines need many different things to sustain them: not only food, finances, strong union organizing, but also joy, spectacle, media coverage, and community support. Our chapter worked on many of these angles to support the strike.
Our strategy was to focus on finances (via a strike solidarity fund), food (by delivering meals to the picket line), and creating joy and spectacle (by putting on mini-events like folclórico dance, group-cooked meals, Halloween, coronet playing, etc). We also made sure to mobilize chapter members for all community events that the strike organizers called for.
The most important part of any strike solidarity effort is to support the workers and center the workers’ fight in all strike support efforts. During a strike, workers are fighting not only for themselves, but for all workers. A better contract in one shop can reverberate across an industry or a community and teach us the power of direct action. The workers deserve our utmost respect, support, and solidarity. This was SV DSA’s guiding principle for strike solidarity, and was important in how we talked to fellow DSA members about the strike, what solidarity and support actions we decided to take on, and which times we asked DSA members to join the picket line. This also influenced the coalition-building with UNITE HERE! Local 19 and allowed us to act on our own initiative, rather than being dependent on another organization’s direction and resources. The union was ultimately grateful for this independence, though it took a lot of resolve and some trial and error.
Every picket line is different in terms of what they need most. Food was not much of a need on our picket line; It seemed the community was dropping off food all the time. We brought meals once a week, but always with prior communication with a union staff person. They seemed to need fun on the picket line, strong shows of community support in the face of San José’s explicitly anti-labor mayor, and financial support to pay the bills in San José, with its high cost of living.
Three Months Before the Strike
-We had an idea of the strike in early July when the national Marriott travel advisory went out by UNITE HERE! When the contract expired in San José on July 15th, 2018, we knew a strike was possible and started talking about what support would look like. We quickly wrote a statement of solidarity at our monthly Labor Working Group (WG) meeting and submitted the statement to the chapter membership at subsequent branch meetings, where it passed unanimously. Our statement also promoted individual action via the union’s pledge to not stay at a Marriott on strike, which was linked in the statement.
-Fostering labor awareness. For the first half of the year, we hosted monthly labor history movie nights, some of which were about strikes. The connections were not always as intentional as they could have been, but part of the long game for consciousness-raising. Regular social and educational events built trust amongst WG members and helped new people join our group, with low stakes as we had few action items this early on.
-Insider knowledge. Some of our information was not public knowledge due to an insider relationship with an organizer in UNITE HERE!, but we were very clear with them about what was shareable with the WG, chapter, and social media. When there was something we shouldn’t know, our contact kept it to themselves. Some chapters include members who are also union staff or union members (or in our chapter, married to said staff). This can be very useful when nurtured carefully.
One Month Before the Strike
-Collecting contact info. We began a strike solidarity signal group so that we could plan between meetings and collect more allies. Our primary chapter communication happens through slack but it is too public and slow for strike organizing. The signal group also grew to include non-members.
-We held an organizing 101 training with a UNITE HERE! organizer. Although not directly related to the strike, it strengthened our relationship to UH and gave the organizer a platform to speak about our potential role the strike. Our members were also better able to appreciate the kind of long-term organizing that goes into an action like a strike and see themselves as students of UH members with more organizing experience, regardless of industry.
-In breakout sessions at the branch meetings (our chapter has two branches) we talked about the potential for a strike and wrote a Picket Best Practices guide to make those with less picket experience feel more prepared. We also collected contact information of interested members so we could coordinate with them if a strike began.
Hardship Fund Logistics
-Planning for a hardship fund. When we decided it would be complicated to distribute the money fairly to workers, we learned that an existing hardship fund for union members was already established by a local non-profit with plans to support Marriott workers, so we could donate our fundraiser into that. We still decided to run a separate gofundme so that we could retain some funds for meals or other supplies, and track the total amount of money raised by our efforts. The other group’s fundraiser took several more weeks to go public so we were glad to maintain some independence there and had raised several thousand dollars before the other group’s page even started.
-Making a transparent plan. Several of us drafted the fundraiser wording, submitted a proposal to our chapter committee, and discussed what to ask for. We decided to encourage members to consider donating a day of income or similar amount in honor of workers’ sacrifices and this request moved our donation amounts into a higher tier than other similar fundraisers. The average donation was $74 at the end, though many donations were in the $150-250 range.
-Because we were then still working toward incorporation, we had to use a member’s personal bank account for the gofundme page but we spread out financial responsibilities and published all receipts and records to the chapter for transparency.
One Week Before the Strike
-We made banners. We chose to design somewhat general banners that could be used at a variety of actions. One said “DSA ❤️s Union Workers” and the other said “Take care of those who take care of you 🏨✊” (yes, we used the hotel emoji). We later found out the second phrase is similar to one used by corporate Marriott, so it was a great jab at them. As far as supplies, we got white sheets at Goodwill for the banner material and made simple stands with buckets, concrete, and PVC pipes. The process of painting took a while but also gave us time to talk about what the strike might be like. At this point we didn’t know if it would happen or if it would be 2 days or 2 months long. The banners were also super useful at the picket line for taking up maximum sidewalk space.
-Designed and made buttons that would make it easier for our members to identify each other even if they were new to DSA. They say simply “DSA Strike Solidarity” so that we can use them for other actions.
Week 1 of the strike
-We updated signal group members to strike activities twice daily, with other updates on slack and social media to encourage members to join the picket line.
-Fundraiser was published by day 3 of the strike.
-We scheduled other SV DSA events in mind. We tried to avoid conflicts with other WG meetings, and scheduled a picket line turnout after a pizza night, so members could attend both.
-We made other materials like this chant sheet focused on Spanish chants that were new to our members. Although the union had chant sheets, they were less accurate and hard to find.
-Asked union staff for a time slot to provide a meal. A lot of food was donated in the first week so we did not want to show up unannounced with food that would be wasted. We opted for pupusas as our first meal, which were a bit costly but regarded as the best treat by workers.
-When we noticed that children at the picket line were often bored, we brought some bubbles, chalk, and union-themed coloring pages to keep them busy.
-A Strike Solidarity Digest shared with our members at the end of each week helped summarize what we had done that week and made requests related to the next week’s actions. We made similar digests for the following weeks.
Week 2 of the strike
-Picket “shifts”: although DSA members were encouraged to join the picket line whenever was convenient for them, we found it more successful to focus on a few times when we knew our members were more often available. This gave members a concrete time to plan around, and this way no one showed up to a picket line of strangers. We tended toward 2 weeknight evenings and a weekend event of some kind, again with daily signal updates and announcements every few days on our social media and in our weekly email newsletter. We also started textbanking general membership lists about specific picket events along with other important activities like tabling for CA Prop 10.
-Entertainment: one special opportunity presented itself after a few cold calls. A member reached out to several local ballet folclórico groups until one responded through facebook messenger and were available that very night. We contacted the union and blasted the event on their Facebook and our own social media, which turned out a lot of people to a memorable late Monday night dance show.
-Community meals: some of our members expressed interest in providing vegan food at the picket line so we gathered to make a meal and serve it. Even though the picket lines were small enough that they did not need “servers,” it turned more of our members out and made workers feel appreciated by the community to have many of us there. The union rented a “headquarters” room near the picket line that had a kitchen so we were able to use it for free.
Week 3 of the Strike
-Planning for Twitchcon: during week 3 it became clear that the strike would intersect with Twitchcon, a large gaming convention. One member used reddit to alert Twitchcon goers to the importance of not crossing the picket line. Another member who was attending the con had the idea to make fliers and stickers to hand out at the event, sharing the link to the hardship fund and inviting con attendees to join the picket line on Saturday night. It took a few days to get the stickers designed and printed at our local union print shop.
-Hybrid picket meetings: Normally during this week of the month we have our Labor Working Group meeting. Instead of our normal location we met at the picket line and picketed for 1 hour before having a smaller debrief meeting at a nearby bar.
-We ordered a custom cake that said “the sheets are dirty,” inspired by one of the most popular chants. When we delivered it workers happened to be having a very serious meeting (spontaneity can sometimes be awkward) but when the meeting was over, the cake helped break the tension.
-We invited a worker to speak at our monthly branch meeting, which happened to meet a mile from the picket line. At this meeting we distributed pledge cards asking members to consider donating time, money, or other skills to the picket line. This made new members feel more empowered to jump in mid-campaign and boosted our strike fund donations.
-Cross-chapter talk: during this week we joined nationwide DSA calls about the strike and shared our experiences, although each chapter seemed to be doing very different things. We realized we were lucky to have known about the strike in advance and to have a relatively small picket line to support.
Week 4 of the Strike
-More coalition-building: union staff put us in contact with Working Partnerships, a local non-profit running a barbeque and kids day. We helped staff the kitchens and kids table for a big Halloween weekend event.
-Twitchcon Blitz: on the same day as kids day we did our biggest push for Twitchcon attendees, passing out over 1000 fliers and tabling with other DSA materials. Although only one joined the picket line at our invitation, we thought it was important to make clear suggestions for material solidarity since many on the message boards expressed a desire to help. We also had some great conversations about local working conditions and talked to con attendees so that the very busy union staff did not have to. There was also a significant boost to the hardship fund during the during the weekend, which we believe was due to our flyering and conversations with attendees. Our visibility also increased press about the picket line, here and here.
-Picket or treat: in Halloween night we encouraged people to come to the line in costume. We figured many of our members would want to do something festive but not have plans, while many Marriott workers took the night off to be with family. We also made an effort to reach those who had not been to the line yet and suggested this would be an exceptional night to try it out. Our 9 members made up over half the picket line and we all had fun with special Halloween chants and fake cockroaches.
Week 5 of the Strike
-We turned out members to a rally set during negotiations. Rumors of settling had been swirling for weeks so we were never sure when our last time on the picket line would be.
-Keep it going: after the strike ended, we encouraged members to support San Francisco’s continuing picket and DSA SF’s fundraiser since it is nearby.
-We all took time to recover, then at the next WG meeting began planning this kit and celebrated our growth as organizers.
-We began planning a panel on the strike effort for our chapter meeting held a month after the strike, which happens quarterly. The panel included a staff organizer, Marriott worker, and a former labor WG co-chair.
-Reach out to other DSA chapters and national resources earlier. Although these conversations began to happen a few weeks in, chapters in striking cities all had very different ideas and levels of engagement. Perhaps coordinating in advance could have boosted involvement everywhere.
-Delegate and nurture leadership. Our WG co-chairs took on a lot of the planning and execution before and during the strike. Other leaders emerged and took on more as the weeks went on, but we should have been better at delegating from the beginning so as to not rely too much on individuals. It was amazing to end the strike with more leaders than we started with but we realize that was lucky and that the goal should always be to delegate and trust each other.
-Get more members involved. We had at least 40 members show up to something in 37 days, which by our chapter’s typical attendance is excellent. However, it would have been great to reach more members, including some active members that never made it out. Having a designated mobilizer to follow up on texting and individual outreach would really help. Our chapter is also very geographically spread-out so having last-minute and weeknight actions was difficult for some members.
-Organize the unorganized. Throughout the strike we saw many other workers and members in the public who interacted with the strike and could have shown more solidarity, perhaps through more consciousness-raising on our part. For example, temporary workers or “scabs” are unpopular amongst strikers and socialists, but they are often amongst the most exploited workers, sometimes brought from other countries or unpaid for their services. Instead we should focus our hostility on management and those providing services that allow the hotel to remain open. Cab and Uber drivers also witnessed the picket line often while waiting for rides, with varying levels of enthusiasm for the cause. As socialists we could use such opportunities for conversation or connecting workers to existing support networks such as the developing organization, Uber Drivers Rising. Too often, workers like cab and Uber drivers are pitted against each other rather than recognizing the true oppressors of the working class: proponents of global capitalism. Future solidarity actions should consider how coalition-building could strengthen the immediate power of picket lines while also organizing for the future.