Susan Kellock


[Excerpt] Although it has taken almost a decade to gain formal recognition, it has finally happened. In February, 1985 the AFL-CIO announced its endorsement of corporate campaigns, and encouraged affiliates to consider their use more aggressively and more often. The endorsement appeared in The Changing Situation of Workers and Their Unions, a report prepared by AFL-CIO Committee on the Evolution of Work.

While it is encouraging that the AFL-CIO has endorsed the concept, it also sends off alarms for those who have been involved in campaigns. The alarm sounds for the issue of "timeliness" in initiating corporate campaigns, and for the understanding of the time, commitment and resources necessary to assess, develop and implement them.

Most campaigns have been initiated as a form of strike assistance or in response to a crisis, such as plant closures, runaway shops or union-busting. While corporate campaigns can be useful in these situations, their potential is maximized when used to bolster organizing drives or the collective bargaining process.

The arguments for initiating a campaign prior to a strike or crisis are logical. A corporate campaign gives unions the power to put a company on the defensive by isolating it from the rest of its business, political and social communities. The sooner this process is set in motion, the greater the potential for averting the crisis or minimizing the damage. Early intervention of a campaign also provides a greater opportunity to build a firm foundation for the union's future.

Timing the initiation of a campaign involves more than assessing the potential for a crisis. It also requires an understanding of the time unions need to prepare a campaign that can place the union on the offensive. It takes time to identify the targets and tactics that can accomplish this goal. Thousands of pages of company and government records must be analyzed. The company's community image must be assessed. The local media's treatment of the union and company must be evaluated. The potential for coalition-building must be determined. And hours upon hours of discussion must take place with workers who know best the working conditions, attitudes and practices of the company. It is extremely difficult to accomplish these tasks while responding to the immediate needs of a strike, an impasse in negotiations or a plant closure.