Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Take action to win change

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 3: Organizing to improve worker health > Take action to win change


There is no one way of organizing that works all the time. Many kinds of actions are possible, and many different actions may be needed to build power among workers and fix problems at work. You may win quickly or it may take months or years to win the changes you want.

Educate and reach out about workers’ needs to other workers, the community, the employer and employer associations, and government officials and agencies.

Build relationships with allies and leaders in the community who can help persuade the employer and others to join in, or at least not oppose, the actions you organize. Try to build relationships with factory owners and government officials too. One of the biggest challenges you have as an organizer is to help bring out the best in all the people you work with. Focus on getting the support you need to win.

Organize many workers to take action together to demand solutions from the boss. This is a very powerful way to get employers to pay attention. It can also be risky for the workers who participate. But when more workers act together, the more powerful their message and the less risk there is to each worker. Remember, it is not your job to make deals with management. Take proposals back to the workers and let them decide. That is how collective power is strengthened.

a group of workers holding signs that say "Asbestos kills" and "Sick pay now" while reporters watch and 1 worker presents demands to a group of bosses.

Learn from other workers about what works

Here are different types of actions workers have used successfully in export factories around the world. Adapt them to the situation in your workplace or community to make them work for you. As a part of doing any of these or other activities, discuss what you will do to protect yourself and others from retaliation should it come.

Coordinate workers to take individual actions to make their work area better (such as bringing a pillow to sit on or making a foot rest). Or organize a boycott of an area (such as a loud machine shop) or service (such as a cafeteria). If you all do it at the same time, your boss will notice. See "Workers demand better food and win a new union".
Learn more about health and safety issues. The more you know, the more tools you will have to get the boss and the government to listen and act. See "Women workers organize through health promotion".

Set up a communication network among the workers, including workers from every part of the factory. Workers can pass information among themselves about chemical use in the factory, what management is planning, experiences of workers in different areas, and how workers could respond as a group. See "We now use a safer chemical".
2 smiling workers with cans labeled "Safer Solvent."
Stop work for a few minutes, an hour, or longer and tell the supervisors and bosses why you are doing it. Or have different parts of the factory stop at different times. These actions work best when many workers participate. If too few people stop working, it will not succeed. See "Stand together, fan together".

Take a delegation to the boss to discuss specific demands. Never go alone. Explain how resolving the problems will benefit the employer too. Take notes about everything that is said during the meeting, including the date and time, who was present, and what agreements were made. Take photos or record what happened with your phone.
File complaints with government agencies to get them to enforce labor, workplace safety, and antidiscrimination laws. See "How we won against forced overtime".
Get advice and support from lawyers and take the government or the company to court. Legal cases often take a long time, but the rulings may improve conditions for many workers. See "Cleaning wafers gave Yu-mi the cancer that killed her".
Invite the media to your events and learn how to write news releases. Use social media to communicate among workers and with other interested people. Take and distribute photos. See "Our water turned bright blue!".
Hold a public hearing where workers can testify to community leaders and their neighbors about problems in the factory and their demands for changes. See "We demand to know what chemicals are being used in the factory".
Hold rallies, conferences, and workshops to educate people about the problems workers face and also to push the government to listen and act. See "Workers should not die for fashion!".