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Plan campaigns around the most important problems

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 3: Organizing to improve worker health > Plan campaigns around the most important problems

Gathering information about problems at work gets people talking and feeling connected. For many workers, those discussions will be the first time they feel their concerns about work are being heard. It can be a powerful experience to learn that others share similar problems.

When workers know and trust their co-workers, it becomes possible to begin talking about what they want to change. First they identify the problems and then they plan the solutions. Even when different groups of workers share similar problems, each group may support a different solution that they think best fits their situation.

a large group of marchers with a banner that reads, "We demand justice! Enforce safety laws! Compensate the injured!"

Step 1: Choose a problem

Although many changes are probably needed, your group may be more effective if it works on one at a time. First, pick a problem the group has a good chance of solving quickly. As the group learns to work together, you can take on more difficult problems. If you choose several problems at once, it usually requires a stronger group and a more complex campaign.

To help a group decide what problems to tackle first, it may be helpful to discuss questions such as:

  • Which dangers affect the most workers?
  • Which danger causes the most serious harm or is the most dangerous?
  • Which dangers can be solved quickly?
  • What will get strong support from co-workers?
  • Which community groups, politicians, or community leaders can give support?
  • Which local media — radio, newspapers, or TV stations — might give support?
  • Is the company violating any laws?
  • Are there international groups that can help?

You may need more information before deciding on a problem and going on to Step 2. See Where to find information and support.

a woman making a list and leading a group of workers in a discussion.
low pay
bad chairs ***
There are so many problems. We need to start with one. What is the most important concern for us right now?
Harassment is really bad.
The pay is so low we can’t afford food and rent.
We all need better chairs. They are so hard they make my legs hurt.
My chair tilts. I need a new one!
Some of us don’t even have chairs. I have to stand all day!
It sounds like chairs are a problem for several people. Should we take that problem first?

Step 2: Decide how to solve the problem

List all the ways the problem could be solved. Use the illustration from Solve health and safety problems to talk about the changes that could be made. But do not limit the group to those answers. Be open to any ideas about how to solve problems – ideas that come directly from the workers are more likely to be appropriate for their factory. Think about changes and solutions as steps in a ladder. The first step is the easiest change, and keep moving up towards more permanent, long-term solutions. Pick ways that best use your group’s strengths and resources.

a woman speaking to a group while standing next to a list posted on the wall.
These are great ideas. Are there more?
possible solutions?
more breaks
taller chairs
new chairs
change jobs
during day
hire more people
shorter work hours
pay by hour
start a committee

Step 3: Look at your strengths, obstacles, and allies

In addition to the strength of working together, what other strengths do workers have that they can use to solve these problems? Talk about and write down:

  • What are our strengths? What opportunities for change do we see? What strategies would be most useful to pressure the employer to make changes?
  • What are the obstacles we will have to overcome? What concerns do workers have about organizing? What allies does the employer have to resist workers’ demands?
  • What allies could we enlist to help pressure the employer?

a man speaking to a group while standing next to 3 lists on the wall; 3 people answer him.
It is important to know our weaknesses, but we also have friends and allies who can help us. Let’s name some.
Church leaders.
Maybe students from the university.
Labor rights professors.
common problems
people are angry
skilled     organizers
can’t talk at work
new workers
no money

Step 4: Plan for action

Organizing workers to take action may take some time, especially if workers fear being attacked or losing their jobs. Make a plan and decide who will carry out each part. Talk about how to do each task. Share ideas and skills for successful organizing. Your first task might be to recruit more people to this organizing committee. Set a date when each task in the plan should be finished, then set a time to meet again to see how things are going.

5 people speaking in a group.
First we need to talk to all the workers. We can decide on a day to bring seat cushions to work.
The maintenance workers can make the work tables lower. We have all the tools.
How can we meet with every worker?
No! We’ll all be fired. Let’s make cushions first.
This is not enough! Let’s stop work for a day to demand new chairs.

Step 5: How is the plan going?

Have each person report on progress they are making with their tasks. Celebrate what you have accomplished, such as how many workers support the demands or are willing to take action. Then decide if you are seeing the results you expected or if you need to change the plan.

5 people speaking in a large group.
I have talked to 20 workers who live near me. They are excited to do something!
I’ve talked to 15 so far. Many are afraid, but they are tired of the bad conditions at work.
One of the workers I talked to was very angry with me. He says I will make him lose his job. I am afraid to talk to other workers.
I talked to some students. They will help us do research online.
Let’s go together to talk to people, okay?

Step 6: Adjust the plan if you need to

If the work is not going according to plan, analyze why. What needs to be changed to make the plan work? Adjust the plan and decide which tasks each member of the group will do. As before, set dates when each task should be finished and when you will meet again to evaluate and adjust the plan.

If people need help to complete their tasks, talk over what is needed and who can help. A worker joining the group can take responsibility for tasks she has never done if she gets advice, training, and support from more experienced organizers. Be supportive rather than critical. Don’t lose possible organizers because they make one or two mistakes.

Could an international campaign help?

Local and international organizations may be able to help workers in the factory. They can bring information and experience that may be useful. For example, they can help get information about the company that buys garments produced in a specific factory. They can find out about the labor conditions in other factories used by that company. Knowing who owns or contracts to a specific factory can be useful for organizing an international campaign to put pressure on a company to treat the factory workers better.

a woman speaking to a man while reading a newspaper with the headline "Workers demand justice from factory."
Is this your factory, dear?
When corporations are global, your campaign can be, too!

International campaigns can get the word of local worker efforts out to the world. The large companies that buy the products made in export factories do not like the public to see them as "sweatshop" companies. Telling the personal story of the challenges of a factory worker is an excellent way to win the support of people around the world.

An international campaign can only support the factory workers’ local campaign and goals if the workers tell the campaigners what support is needed, and if the international supporters listen. Communicating with campaigners is easier when workers are unified in a strong group. Workers can also have a strong relationship with an outside union or community group that serves as a liaison between non-unionized workers and an international campaign.