by Ed Gutierrez, AFM West Coast Organizing Coordinator
It has often been said that organizing is the lifeblood of the labor movement. Without a doubt, there is nothing more powerful than workers coming together and marching in lockstep toward a common goal. Whether it’s pushing for worker-friendly legislation, bargaining contracts, addressing issues on the shop floor, or fighting for union recognition and respect from our employers and the industry, we must either organize or perish. But, no matter what the goal, successful organizing goes hand in hand with an informed understanding of the environment and the interrelationship between the elements within it. To gain such an understanding, research is critical.
Successful organizing requires a strategy to win. And, while member activism and the capacity to mobilize workers can mean the difference between life and death for a union campaign, research is key in developing a strategy that will give workers a roadmap to victory. Organizing without solid research can sometimes be like shooting in the dark. Research shines a light, and regardless of the challenges we seek to overcome, our work in organizing depends on our ability to see all of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats we face along the way and to plan accordingly.
Union campaign research focuses on a range of areas and issues that can be touched on in the course of any given campaign. Research that organizing unions typically conduct include:
- Market Research—Where does a particular entity sit within a specific market in terms of size, financial strength, etc.? Who are included in the universe of players within that market? How do entities in a particular market relate to and compete with one another?
- Corporate Research—What are the regulatory structures that surround a firm or an industry? Who are a firm’s owners, shareholders, operators, managers, customers, suppliers, and other important related parties? How profitable is a particular company? What is the company’s business plan?
- Policy Research—What legislative angles can be explored to address the union’s issues and concerns? What processes need to be followed and what structures need to be maneuvered through in order to affect policy in a given city or state? Who are the elected officials and community organizations necessary to engage around policy initiatives?
AFM members are using research to help in organizing and building power for musicians. Recent examples from our union show how research is playing an increasingly important role in the organizing work we do. For example, in December 2014, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) released its groundbreaking report, Keeping the Score: The Impact of Recapturing North American Film and Television Sound Recording Work.”The LAANE report fills a void in what has been an otherwise rhetoric-heavy debate by taking a thorough look at the problem of “runaway” post-production through a fact-based, data-driven analysis of the factors that contribute to the increasing loss of film scoring work for AFM members.
The study—with research conducted in part by rank-and-file musicians themselves—gives us a wealth of powerful information to work with in organizing for more employment and in seeking to affect change on a policy level. Here are just a few of the report’s findings:
- The film and television industry is extremely profitable and studios can afford to do scoring work at industry standards. The year 2013 was the highest-grossing year on record for the North American box office with $10.9 billion in revenue.
- By offshoring scoring work, production companies save less than one-quarter of one percent of a film’s production budget—or $143,000 on the typical $65 million film.
- In the case of Southern California, bringing scoring work back to the level musicians saw in 2000 would bring an estimated $37.5 million in total annual economic impact to the Los Angeles region.
You can see the full report here: http://www.laane.org/keeping-the-score/.
AFM’s Organizing & Education Division is also currently providing research support for members at locals in both Seattle and Portland in their unique but related work on building our union’s Fair Trade Music program. This includes market-based research aimed at gaining a more complete understanding of the club scene in these respective cities, and research looking at questions about how public policy in those cities impacts musicians.
Conducting research can also provide an important organizing opportunity itself. This is an especially effective tool to build the union in the case of new organizing when the AFM works with musicians who seek to improve their working conditions by organizing into our union. After all, who better to gather information about any number of issues related to an industry than the workers within that industry?
Ultimately, research is central to any comprehensive organizing strategy. Not only does good research arm workers with the facts, figures, and expertise needed to stand up to power and stake out a position around the issues important to our livelihoods, but it also allows us to see clearly how a comprehensive plan can be developed in an organizing campaign. Good research allows unions to develop the necessary support for our work in the community and to effectively engage employers around our issues. And that’s powerful stuff.
—Ed Gutierrez is AFM’s West Coast Organizing Coordinator. Gutierrez has worked since 2000 as an organizer and strategic campaign researcher for several unions, including SEIU, AFSCME, and UNITE-HERE.