Just came in from a day of bargaining for a new collective agreement. I really wish I could write more here about what it is that makes up my collective bargaining days but unfortunately we have this thing called discretion that we are to exercise when in session. Makes sense I suppose since we don’t really want to be bargaining in public until, well, it’s time to go public – and that’s not yet. Suffice to say it is a process. It is slow. But it’s not without its amusing and rewarding moments – and I certainly am not complaining about being here to do this work.
I’ve been thinking a lot about political leadership these past few weeks and what it means to take on any role of “leadership” in an organization as I work towards making a decision about running for a higher position in my regional union structure. On the one hand being in leadership gives opportunities for personal growth and moments of incredible connection with people – not to mention the chance to push for real change. On the other, putting your hand up and saying “pick me” is a surefire way to get yourself immediately on the wrong side of any number of people. Thinking back to grade school, it’s a lot like being the class keener – secretly admired by a handful, picked on by the majority waiting outside by the bike racks after class. And I was *never* the class keener. So what’s changed now?
Last night I went for coffee with my friend Rob and we talked about just this question. As radicals it is difficult to resign ourselves to the imperfections of our organizations, but simply walking away and leaving them to stagnate doesn’t seem like much of an option either. I really am as critical as they come when it comes to the labour movement in Canada, but at the same time unwilling to give up the fight. And that fight is both internal (to change our own structures and democratic processes) and external (with the bosses who collude to drive down the basic living standards and dignity of those we represent). Compounding all of that is my faltering belief in our ability to make substantive change, which I wrote about yesterday. How the hell did I get here anyway?
But you see, there are those moments of connection and of movement when you take on one of these roles. As a member of my bargaining team I get to go out and talk to people working in all kinds of jobs all over the country. I get to hear about their struggles and frustrations and I get to make them laugh when I do my spiel about why their employer treats them so bad. I have organized picket lines of people who *never* stand up for themselves in any other way, and I’ve represented people at hearings who clearly have needed some advocate on their side. When we are out there together, I get that on some basic things we all do have common cause – even if that falls far short of the world I want to ultimately create. As one of my friends on the team says, “Those are the rock star moments. They are the reasons you do this.” And it’s true that what does keep you going through all the backbiting and internal treachery is the promise that more of those battles will come (win or lose, it’s the struggle stupid!)
Ah hell, who am I trying to kid? There’s no turning back for me. At (almost) 35 with 20 years of activism behind me I’m not about to just turn away and stop being who I am. Even when who I am means I have to do things that scare the hell out of me. I don’t like putting up my hand and saying “pick me” and I don’t relish the prospect of failure in public, but at the same time I know what I’m good at. And this. This is something I’m good at.
Hm. So it goes.