November means the holidays are right around the corner. Along with your annual feast, you may have to deal with a side of argumentative anti-union relatives, friends, or coworkers. How do you show your union pride without spoiling the meal?
This is the first in what will become a series of tips union members and officers can discuss with members to help them increase their activism. You can talk about these tips at a membership meeting, include them in your newsletter, or forward to anyone who is interested. What other tips and tools would be helpful to you? Reply to this email and let us know!
One of the easiest places to start building activism is within your own family. But everyone has that one relative (let’s call this person “Cousin Casey”) who likes to pick a fight about politics. Talking about the role of unions can be difficult, especially with your family. Follow these tips and your holiday dinner conversation will be easy as pie.
Tell a story
How has your union helped you and your coworkers? Use your own experiences to make the case, not a bunch of numbers and facts.
Leave the jargon for people who understand it. For example, instead of talking about “collective bargaining,” say you’re “negotiating together for better pay.” Don’t talk about “filing grievances,” say you’re “getting justice for how you were mistreated.” Page 3 of the IATSE email and digital organizing guide [PDF] has some good tips for words to say — and words to avoid.
Listen & ask questions
Make sure “Cousin Casey” feels heard, even if it’s just the latest opposition talking points. Plus, asking questions instead of making arguments is a good way to foster real conversation and make sure your family members don’t feel attacked.
It’s no surprise that your third or fifth or seventeenth conversation will go better than your first one. So if you know you’re going to have to talk about politics, feel free to prepare a few days before. Write down some of your most persuasive points, and rehearse them with someone who can give feedback (and maybe who you can enlist as an ally when “Cousin Casey” shows up).
Feel free to not engage
If “Cousin Casey” really has a bone to pick, you’re not going to change any minds in just a few minutes. It’s fine to enjoy the family time and save the debate for later. You can just say, “How about we talk about this later,” and change the subject. Ask about the kids! Casey would probably rather talk about them, anyway.
And, for good measure, here are some questions you may want to ask, to get Cousin Casey to think a little bit differently about what’s on the radio or TV.
Without a union, how else could working people get fair pay when their bosses have all the power?
Should the union be forced to defend people who don’t pay union dues?
Do you think workers are better off now than they used to be? How can people continue to improve their working conditions?
If you couldn't speak up together with your coworkers, what protects you from a bad boss?
What else helps you navigate your holiday conversations? Send us your best tips (with your name and local number) and we’ll share some of our favorites!
J. Walter Cahill
Department Director, Political and Legislative
Assistant Department Director, Political and Legislative
Department Director, Communications
PS — Pro-labor candidates won big across the United States on Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean your difficult holiday conversations will get any easier. Don’t rub the wins in “Cousin Casey’s” face — be respectful and follow the tips above to ensure your conversation is as productive as possible.