activist notes

6.5 Building Coalitions

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6.5 Building coalitions

6.5 Building coalitions

In a municipality of any size, there are many organizations that are neither government nor business: there are faith groups, local community organizations of various kinds, locals of trade unions, district labour councils, perhaps even offices of national or international labour organizations, other local organizations of nationally or internationally not-for-profit organizations (such as Oxfam), and so on. More than you might imagine until you start looking.

[Activist Note: In the passing of the Vancouver City Ethical Purchasing Policy, the district and labour councils as well as the general background support of the Canadian Labour Congress were invaluable. The Vancouver and District Labour Council (VDLC) had been active in the election of the progressive majority (COPE) in the Council that passed the policy; it had had developed an understanding with COPE Councillors of a restricted and specific set of objectives that would be worked through council. One of these was an ethical purchasing policy; its leadership was also central in creating the coalition of community organizations known as the British Columbia Ethical Purchasing Goup (BCEPG) which organized the campaign.

The BCEPG was made up partly of local representations of organizations with national and international standing such as the Canadian Labour Congress, Oxfam Canada and the Maquila Solidarity Network and partly of primarily locally-based organizations, such as the Vancouver and the New Westminster District Labour Councils, UNITE HERE, Simon Fraser University ‘No Sweat,’ a University of British Columbia ‘No Sweat’ organization, Mountain Equipment Co-op, VanCity Credit Union (a progressive savings and loan corporation), and the Vancouver Fair Trade Coffee Network.]


Faith groups, union organizations and organizations representing ethnic communities are of special significance because they already have community bases through their memberships and that means they have direct connections with the people who elect the municipal council.

[Activist Notes: Just to impress you, here’s the list of the organizations affiliated with Progressive Maryland in a campaign for living wage legislation passed in the State of Maryland in 2007: 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, Maryland/DC Division; Association of Classified Employees – AFSCME Local 2250; Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689; Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance; Asian Pacific American Network (APAnet); Baltimore/Washington Laborers District Council; Center for Poverty Solutions; Coalition of Asian & Pacific American Democrats of Maryland; Coalition of Concerned Christian Black Men; Coalition of Korean American Organizations; Collective Banking Group; Communications Workers of America Local 2107; Equality Maryland; Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC); Hispanic Democratic Club; Howard County Education Association; Ironworkers Local 5; International Union of Operating Engineers Local 77; Jewish Labor Committee; Joshua Group Ministries, The; Baltimore/Washington Laborers District Council; Laborers Local 516; Laborers Local 657; League of Korean Americans – Maryland; League of United Latin American Citizens; Maryland NOW; Maryland State & DC Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; Maryland State Teachers Association; Maryland Trial Lawyers Association; Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO; Mid-Atlantic Laborers Cooperation Trust; Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless; Montgomery County Education Association, MSTA/nea; Montgomery County Career Fire Fighters, IAFF Local 1664; Montgomery County Rainbow Coalition; Municipal and County Government Employees Organization/UFCW L.1994; NAACP – MD State Conference of Branches; NAACP – Baltimore Branch; NAACP – Montgomery County Branch; National Capital Area Union Retirees; Norbeck Community Church; Organization of Chinese Americans – Greater Washington Chapter; Organization of Professional Employees International Union Local 2; Pakistan Association; Painters & Allied Trades District Council 51; Plumbers & Steamfitters UA Local 486; Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, MSTA/nea; Prince George’s Taxi Driver Association; Progressive Cheverly; Progressives of Northern Maryland; Seat Pleasant Community Development Corporation; Service Employees International Union Local 82; Service Employees International Union Local 500; Southern Christian Leadership Conference, MD Chapter; Suitland Development Corporation; Talbot County Democratic Forum; Teamsters Local 639; UNITE HERE Mid-Atlantic Joint Board; United Church of Christ – Potomac Association; United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 27; United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 400; United Methodist Church, Baltimore – Washington Conference; United Transportation Union, Maryland State Legislative Board; Washington, DC Building & Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO. (  May 9 2007)]

At the municipal level, the local labour council in developing the campaign for a living wage in the city of Tucson, Arizona, involved local faith groups in activating the local community. In the example in the box below, you can get an idea of the special and inventive things organizations with local community bases are capable of. 

[Activist Note: The successful ‘living wage’ campaign in Tucson, Arizona was initiated when the president of the Labor Council, who had taken a new AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations) course on economic issues, went “into the community to look for people who were like minded on economic justice issues. Through this effort, the Labor Council reached out to about seventeen religious leaders, including some from the Interfaith Council. The Labor and Interfaith Councils came together to help form a new coalition, the Southern Arizona Alliance for Economic Justice (SAAEJ) . … Soon SAAEJ was working to build Living Wage Walks through neighborhoods in Tucson. The walks were a way of getting rank-and-file from both organizations involved in the campaign.  …The SAAEJ  specifically tried to pair up people from the Interfaith Council and the Labor Council to deepen ties between the groups.” (Luce: 61)]

Spread your thinking on who might contribute to the strength of a coalition: A coalition expands the knowhow, connections, work time, energy, and material resources, that can be brought into action. It also notably expands the capacity to mobilize citizens in rallies or other demonstrations of public support, in attending council meetings and press conferences, and in monitoring the implementation of policy changes passed in council.

In the Vancouver City ‘Ethical Purchasing’ campaign, for example, a great deal of the work had been done in the background through the district and labour council’s relationship with Councillors who were already committed to principles of social justice. This meant that a more general mobilization of citizens through public demonstrations, marches, etc. was not needed to establish for Councillors the presence of public commitment to the issue. Working through processes of public mobilization takes more resources and effort.

But keep in mind that coalitions also expand the possibilities of disagreements and internal divisions. Here again the involvement of activists with organizing experience is invaluable.


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