The new environment that has emerged since Donald Trump’s inauguration has played out in my university call centre in its own way. It has resulted in three new union members and newly identified left wing allies.
Trump’s attacks, especially his Muslim ban executive order, shocked many and had everyone at work talking. But it was the immediate response of protesters that had the biggest impact. During breaks at work, I watched footage of the airport demonstrations in the tea room. This sparked conversations about racism, resistance and more. It brought more political people out of the woodwork, including a new workmate who goes to refugee solidarity protests and another whose parents were resistance activists in Chile.
I started more openly talking to co-workers about the union, where previously I tended to raised it with individuals privately.
Then, during the week, we discovered that we had been underpaid for an overtime shift. A few people starting saying things like, “I’m not letting this slide” and “I know my rights”. Given the generally intimidating atmosphere at my workplace, it was the most defiant I had seen people.
As a group we checked our enterprise agreement, and I jumped at the chance to talk about the importance of joining the union, particularly as our agreement is due to be renegotiated later in the year. I told everyone I was the union delegate, and a few other union members openly identified themselves for the first time. This prompted some people to talk about their experiences of unions standing up for workers.
It all came together when our union endorsed Melbourne’s anti-Trump protest rally. At the end of our shift, we made signs that said “Trump NO, refugees YES”. I talked about why it mattered that unions take a stand on political issues. I followed it up by asking everyone if they had joined yet or had any questions. Three people signed up straightaway, and a few others said they want to talk more.
Right now, as images of thousands of people standing up to the president of the United States stream across the globe daily, union activists should be talking to workmates about taking a stand in our own lives and why joining and being active in your union is a great start.