Background on this: the SEIU was forced to cough up a copy of its “Contract Campaign Manual” as part of a court case – and it’s an interesting little document. The whole thing reads, as F. Vincent Vernuccio notes in the Washington Times, as a step-by-step checklist on how to manipulate… just about everything, really… in the course of forcing favorable negotiation terms. Mostly because that’s what it actually is.
Lots of people are going to concentrate on passages like this:
Union members sometimes must act in the tradition of Dr. Marin Luther King and Mohatma Gandhi and disobey laws which are used to enforce injustice against working people.
It may be a violation of blackmail and extortion laws to threaten management officials with release of ‘dirt’ about them if they don’t settle a contract. But there is no law against union members who are angry at their employer deciding to uncover and publicize factual information about individual managers.
…as they should, frankly. But looking at the document itself tells you something interesting about SEIU: it apparently hasn’t had an original thought in its collective head since, I don’t know, about 1985 or so*.
Seriously, are these people idiots or something? They’re using an unrevised contract negotiation manual that’s old enough to vote? The font alone is a dead giveaway that nobody’s critically thought about this thing in over a decade and a half: in fact, the generally poor condition of the copy given to the courts as part of the case suggests that the SEIU may not even have a clean version of it in digital form in the first place. There’s probably one kind-of OK copy somewhere in the files of the central office, and they use that to make as many photocopies as they need, when they need it** – and no, this isn’t nit-picking: it reveals a serious problem in their training system. I’ve been in office situations where the training manuals were done once, then never ever ever corrected or updated; and, after about three years or so, new hires quickly learn to never bother with the manuals, because they’re useless.
And there’s my point: this manual may be great on walking union goons through the finer points of descending en masse on people’s homes and scaring teenagers, but it’s less than useless when it comes to controlling the media narrative. It’s amazing that what’s supposed to be a standardized collection of labor relation wisdom does things like:
- Provide sample “community surveys” (read: data-mining) that don’t have a place on the form for an email address;
- Discussing “Using the Media” without once contemplating that cheap video cameras and ubiquitous internet access means that you can no longer designate an ‘official’ face of the moment and make it stick;
- Discussing “Organizing Your Media Campaign” with the same lack of self-awareness as the last point;
- Having a section called “Let Members Do the Talking” in the first place, when half of Big Labor’s PR problems these days involves an union member taking a slap at somebody, usually while (helpfully) in full union costume;
- Having a section called “Researching Media Outlets” that does not have the words ‘internet,’ ‘email,’ or ‘computer’ in it;
- Having a section called “Educating The Media About The Campaign” with the same omissions;
- Having a section called “Helping Reporters Do Their Jobs” that has both the aforementioned omissionsand the aforementioned lack of self-awareness;
- “Creating News.” Oh, this is the fun one! I could be boring, and belabor the point about how this section doesn’t actually tell you a darn thing about how to generate media buzz in a world where this little beauty is no longer state of the art for computers. Or I could just quote this passage: “An electronics supply store can show you the jacks and cords you will need so you can playback from your tape recorder directly over the phone line.”
…And I’m going to end on that point, even though there are two more sections that can be mocked, in roughly the same fashion as the previous ones; that bit about ‘electronics supply stores’ and ‘cords’ and ‘tape recorders’ and ‘phone line’ kind of makes my point for me. We live in what is becoming a post-digital world; one where distributive networks have already transformed the basic nature of communication and production, and we’re now just seeing the secondary and tertiary implications play out from that. Meanwhile, Big Labor groups like SEIU are still mired in a purely analog rut like so many reactionary Luddites, grimly pursuing a public relations and media strategy that may have worked perfectly well from 1950 to 1990… which is to say, one that is woefully out of date. Entertainingly, this is pretty much on par with the rest of their organizational model.
Moe Lane (crosspost)
*That’s my best guess, based on the old-person font and the fact that the whole thing was clearly written before the concept of a worldwide, distributed computer network had really become familiar to Americans. It could possibly have been written as late as 1990 or 1991, but by the time I started graduate school we were already seeing things like Mosaic pop up. Surely they would have noticed that, correct? Or even the old BBSs? Certainly AOL was up and running by 1993 (however you’d like to define it)… and yet there’s no noting of this new computing paradigm. I feel reasonably comfortable pegging this as being a mid-Eighties publication, in other words.
**I base this on over a decade and a half of working in offices that had not yet embraced this marvelous thing that we call ‘PDF.’ Or ‘computer networks.’