By Andrew J. Mackay and Bryan Kim
On August 5, 16 of 19 canvassers for Greenpeace in San Diego walked off the job. They were followed by a majority of the Sacramento office. 22 total employees of the Frontline program, Greenpeace’s in-house fundraising program, have had enough of labor policies that give them no job security.
The strike, led by two veteran canvassers in Socialist Alternative San Diego, comes against an organization that claims to be progressive. However, Greenpeace uses a quota system where even veteran fundraisers can be fired for missing quota two or three weeks consecutively. Senior workers bring in six or seven times their salary in recurring donations, yet are routinely fired. Morale is understandably very low. But choosing to resist, they have mobilized in defense of their jobs and dignity. Non-profits beware: the persuasive skills developed by your employees can be used against you. Instead of selling Greenpeace, organizers now sell the strike against it.
Tara Dawn, a strike member from the Sacramento field office, said “As a single mother, I work hard week in and week out not knowing if I’ll have a dependable paycheck to keep a roof over our heads. That is a very difficult reality to face. I love my job and the organization I work for, but myself and the all of the other canvassers deserve to see reform.”
Resistance to reform, both in senior and mid-level Greenpeace administration, emphasizes the presence of “the worker elite”. Despite being former fundraisers themselves, low-level managers have decided not to stand in solidarity with their former co-workers, their interests now aligning with their superiors. In the absence of help from those potential allies, the street-level workers have banded together, using democratic methods and a sophisticated media campaign to damage Greenpeace’s most valuable asset: its image and reputation.
Canvassers have great labor power for two main reasons. First, because they gather monthly donations, each $20 donation that is not gathered is multiplied, since most people donate for 9 or 10 months before canceling. Second, attempts to bring in strikebreaking replacements are frustrated because good canvassers emerge from training, not raw talent. The trainers are on strike, thus nobody can truly be their replacement.
Socialists everywhere should stand in the new areas of labor struggle. Thousands of vulnerable canvassers for all sorts of non-profits can learn from a strong victory.
Andrew Mackay along with friends Bryan Kim and Joe Henry are all members of Socialist Alternative. Bryan and Joe are ex-Greenpeace, and have organized members of the Frontline program, the street canvassers, to strike in San Diego and Sacramento. With the national organization not thinking the threat serious, the strike now enjoys growing support from members in all national sections of Greenpeace, other non-profit leaders, and labor- such as Sarah Saez, program director of United Taxi Workers of San Diego. The strike began August 5 and is continuing, with negotiations beginning in California soon.