Debbie Moy


[Excerpt] "Celebrating diversity" — it's the latest trend for justice-minded union and community activists. Management, too, is interested in diversity: note the steady stream of articles, books, and seminars for business executives on the subject. Even President Clinton stated his desire to create an administration that "looks like America."

Listening to a union activist share her experiences of 20 years in the U.S. Postal Service is a good way to bring a dose of realism to the diversity hype. Karen Wing, a Chinese-American woman who is a shop steward and clerk in the San Francisco General Mail Facility, knows how very hard it is to build understanding and lasting unity among different nationalities.

"More than anything else, unions and activists trying to implement diversity programs need to emphasize patience and perseverance," Wing says. This is especially true on the shop floor, where workers may not have the full power of the international or local union structures behind them. The question Wing faced in her local was "How do you organize in a diverse workplace when you are essentially 'on your own?'"

The problems are enormous. As a shop steward, people often come to Wing with their complaints. Some pro-union black workers ask, "Why don't those Asians speak English? Are they talking about me? Look how they play up to management, they don't even care about the union." On the other hand, some Asian immigrant workers ask Wing, "How can you work in the union? I can't be a shop steward — my English isn't good enough. And those black people are always complaining about work."

Handling remarks like these is not easy. How do you fight a management that deliberately stirs up racial antagonisms? How do you build a union responsive to a diverse workforce?

For Wing, meeting these challenges on the shop floor begins with knowing the history and changes occurring within the workplace.