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Strike Blogs Put Workers on the Web

By Annalee Newitz

I HAVE BEEN READING the first blog ever written from a strikers' picket line. Eight hundred health-care workers from Service Employees International Union's local United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW) are striking at hospitals in San Francisco, demanding that their employers provide them with better training and a way to resolve disputes through third parties.

Members of SEIU-UHW are mostly lower-paid hospital workers, such as nurses' assistants, janitors and, as union rep Thea Lavin puts it, "the people who keep you and your room clean while you're in the hospital." Their grievances are all too familiar, but their method of organizing is not.

"Strikers are using text messaging to communicate on the picket lines," Lavin says, "and picket-line leaders are coming home at night and describing what it was like that day."

Workers on the lines are struggling to figure out what's going on in the hospitals during their absences and are constantly fighting the fear that they'll run out of money and be forced to take other work before the battle has been won.

They are also struggling quite literally with scab guards from HCSS, a gang of modern-day Pinkertons that has been terrorizing strikers (and, in one case, actually beating them).

For anyone who has ever been on strike°Xor just driven by and honked their horn in solidarity°Xthe blog at sutterstrikers.blogs.com is a glimpse inside the often tiring and confusing experience of going on strike. The blog features regular entries from strikers like Emily Stone, who was happy that one of her regular patients came to chat with her on the picket line when she visited the hospital for kidney dialysis.

Tom, another strike blogger, talks about how he is worried about the welfare of patients he would normally be attending. "One problem [is that] the replacement AIDEs do not report abnormal vital signs to their RNs," he writes. "One patient had a heart rate of 140 that was not immediately reported. A regular heart rate is often considered 60°V80 beats per minute."

Many entries are just plain, simple calls for solidarity and reiterate why the workers need to stand together. Sal Rosselli, president of SEIU-UHW, made an exultant post the day that Jesse Jackson came out to support the strike at a rally. Stone, after being arrested, starts chanting (with her fellow prisoners), "I'm tied up! I can't take it anymore!"

Rosselli says the local union leadership was inspired to start itsblog by the Howard Dean campaign. "This is my first blog," Roselli says. "We're learning as we go along. But the Sutter Health fight is a national story, so we wanted to communicate with folks nationally over the web."

Traditionally, labor organizers have communicated with their membership on the picket lines via newsletters or at meetings. The idea of starting a strikers' blog is a break with this tradition because it gives rank-and-file strikers the chance to talk to the world°Xand each other°Xwithout going through their higher-ups.

If strike blogs catch on, it will also be a chance for the public to get a very personal look at why people go on strike and why unions are still crucial for protecting workers' rights.

What I hope to see in coming years are people organizing unions on blogs. Federal labor law protects people engaging in union organizing°Xif you're in the process of organizing a union and get fired for it, you can sic a bunch of mad-dog labor lawyers on your ex-employer's ass.

That's why union blogs may be one of the safest places on the web to talk about workplace grievances. Mark Jen, the blogger who was fired at Google, would probably still have a job today if he'd been using his blog to talk about his work while unionizing his fellow Googlites.

So here's the lesson, brothers and sisters and others: If you want to blog about your workplace, the best thing you can do is start forming a union right now. I am willing to bet that you will improve conditions for your colleagues in the process.

What do we want? Union blogs! When do we want them? Now!


Annalee Newitz (shootfrick@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who spent many weeks on a picket line drinking coffee and eating donuts and screaming slogans.


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From the October 19-25, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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