Intentional Solidarity Conversations

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A solidarity conversation (also called an organizing conversation) is an intentional conversation. Unlike most friendly conversations, solidarity conversations touch on sensitive topics which can cause strong reactions and feelings of vulnerability in both parties. It is important that we are responsible with our words and our actions in these conversations – that we behave intentionally, rather than casually approaching these interactions.

Remember the 70/30 Principle. You should not speak more than 20-30% of the time, and you should mostly be asking questions. Your friend should be speaking 70% (or more!) of the time. When they are speaking, do not sit and wait for your turn to speak. Instead, be an active listener by ?, ?, and ?. (How are we active listeners via Zoom or a telephone call?)

This is not sales – it is solidarity. You are not there to convince your friend to join our union. You are not there to explain why our union is great, to teach GTAC history, or to argue about it. (Although your friend may ask you why you think it’s important to be a member, or have questions about our union history and that’s a-okay.) Instead, you should only be asking questions and/or telling relevant and relatable stories. Your questions should help your friend consider these ideas and to make their own decision.

These questions are not a script, they are a map. These are examples of intentional questions. They have been arranged according to the most frequently observed flow of intentional conversations. Your conversations may not follow this order. They may skip around or return to different sections. Remember that you are having a conversation, not reading a sales pitch or teaching a course. If this is a map, it’s a map of a river, rather than a road.

This is not a script, so don’t ask every question listed here. Instead, choose one or two questions from each section which are relevant to you or to your friend, or with which you are the most comfortable. Start by asking how things are right now.

Click here to watch a solidarity conversation!

1. What are things really like? Gathering the facts and getting the story.

  • What is the best thing about working as a GTA at KU?
  • What is the worst thing about working as a GTA at KU?
  • Do conditions at KU allow you to do your best work?
  • How do you feel about returning to in-person teaching in fall?
  • How do you feel about the process by which changes are made at KU?
  • Did anyone ask you how you felt or what you wanted before they decided?
  • Did anyone ask you how you would be affected before they decided?

2.           Who decides? Examining power/powerlessness at work.

  • Do you feel that KU admin values your work or you as a person?
  • Do you feel that KU admin listens to people like us?
  • If you were in charge, what would you do?
  • Did you know that as union workers, we have the right to negotiate any changes to our working conditions?
  • Now that you know that, how do you feel?

3.           What could be? Imagining possibilities of worker power.

  • If you could wave a magic wand and change two things, what would they be?
  • What would it feel like if those things changed? How would your everyday life change?
  • What would you be willing to do to create that life?

4.           What next? Discuss the plan to win. Ask your friend to stand with us.

  • Take a Stand! Ask your friend to make a choice.
    • Will you join our union? OR
    • Will you consent to worker abuse?
      • Remember that not making a choice is a choice.
  • If they do not immediately join our union (unlikely), reframe the question. Ask your friend to choose between power or powerless at work and in their lives.
    • “Waiting” and/or acting individually is powerless action.
      • Individuals ask and hope for mercy or pity.
    • Standing together is powerful action.
      • Workers state their needs/boundaries and stand together to uphold them.

5.           Overcome objections. Is your friend speaking from fear or futility?

  • “What’s the point? KU admin is going to do what they want, anyway.”
  • If your friend is speaking from a place of futility, tell them stories about previous GTAC wins and other GTA worker union wins.
    • GTAC Example
    • GTAC Example
    • GTA Example
    • GTA Example
  • “If I join our union, I might face retaliation or harassment.”
  • If your friend is speaking from fear, walk through their fear with them.
    • “If you join our union, what is the worst thing that could happen to you?”
      • (If they cannot come up with an example, narrow the question.)
    • “If you join our union, what is the worst thing that your department chair could do to you?”
    • If they name a possible injury, walk through our union/solidarity response to protect them.
    • If they cannot name a possible injury, return to 4. What next?
    • If they agree to take an action, move to 6. Inoculation.
  • AAR! Acknowledge their objection. Affirm their feelings. Redirect back to our ask. Examples:
  • If money objection: “I know every little bit counts so much. I’m a GTA, too. That’s why we need to stand together now, so we can win the fair salary that we deserve. Will you join our union today?”
  • “I don’t believe in unions.”  Explore this idea. Many people do not know what our union is like. What do they think unions are like? What is our union like?
  • “But I love my department. My chair is really great.” “I love my chair, too. But chairs are frequently just as powerless as we are. That’s why we negotiate with KU administration. In fact, most department chairs wish they had a union. Will you join our union today?”
  • Fear of retaliation: “What do you think might happen if you join?” Address specific fear. If general: “It’s illegal to retaliate against union members. If KU admin tried to hurt any of us, we would stand together and stop them. But more importantly, we don’t report to KU administration. There is no way for them to know who is and isn’t a dues-paying member. As GTAs, we are safer when we stand together in union. Will you join our union today?”

6.           Inoculation. Plan through the worst-case scenario together.

  • “When you join our union, what is the worst thing that could happen afterwards?”
  • If your friend names a possible injury, walk through our union/solidarity response that would protect them. Then help them join our union by filling out the online form for payroll deduction or bank draft.
  • If they cannot name a possible injury, help them join our union by filling out the online form for payroll deduction or bank draft.
  • It is important to inoculate one another so that we are prepared for any and all “boss fights”. People react badly to being surprised, but we can withstand anything as long as we’re prepared.

Something inspirational about how this is the most powerful thing we can do.

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