Workers’ Rights = Human Rights: Documenting the American Workforce

Posted on January 16, 2013 by WITNESS

The Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) prioritizes members’ voices when creating original videos that are geared toward advocacy, member engagement and communication, and awareness among potential members. Are these lessons applicable to advocacy in other areas of human rights?

By Mary Matthews.

The Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) represents workers all over the U.S., and strongly believes that workers’ rights are human rights. We produce and distribute our own online videos, telling workers’ stories in their own voices.

Why Video for Labor?

From protest rallies to picket lines to profile pieces on specific issues in the workplace, our interviews always begin with two questions: where are we and what are we doing? The story of these events and experiences are told directly by the workers themselves: their thoughts, beliefs and personal experiences. No scripts and no talking points. Day in and day out, no one knows the workplace and workday better than the workers themselves. What they see, experience and communicate must come from them directly.

Occasionally, TWU produces scripted videos that strike at the heart of a specific political issue or pieces of legislation that has a direct effect on the American worker. These videos are often matched with online petition campaigns, calling for viewers to take action in support of workers. These videos can be some of the most moving, impactful and most re-tweeted content we produce. Viewers really appreciate an opportunity to engage and take action, be it by sharing the content or signing an online petition.

Other videos allow TWU leaders to communicate with nationwide members who, by the nature of working in transit, are always on the go.

Finally, our extensive TWU video library is a resource for those interested in organizing their workplace. By seeing TWU in action, workers can get a real sense of the organization, its members, leadership and the union’s commitment to working families.

Distribution

Wherever video is watched, we want our videos to be. So we upload them directly to our twu.org site and a host of online video players, including YouTube, Vimeo, and Daily Motion. We get our videos to the union membership and labor movement at large by pushing them on social media first. They go up on our Facebook and Twitter. We email them to TWU locals all over the country and encourage them to share the videos on their social media accounts and local websites.

From there, the new media department of TWU International emails them to the labor community—including pro-labor politicians, union blogs, community groups and fellow labor organizations like the AFL-CIO and activist organizations like Moveon.org. These individuals and organizations become a vast online community of cross-posters.

A Favorite Campaign

Many recent videos have covered the union busting legislation battles happening all over the U.S., from Wisconsin to Ohio, Florida to Indiana, and most recently Michigan. But we also engage in thematic campaigns. With a such a large number of anti-union governors currently in office across the country, the TWU “Worst Governor Ever” video campaign invited the public to vote. Tens of thousands did. (Look who won). The videos were widely shared and enjoyed—by making our point in a fun way, we were able to effectively communicate specific ways these governors are terrible for workers. The online voting tapped into the people’s deeply held passions.

Opportunity For Workplace Video: Helping To Prevent Violence against Transit Workers

Sadly, we’ve seen many online videos of passengers assaulting transit workers: city bus riders punching drivers, subway conductors wrestling violent passengers to the ground. Transit workers quickly become the face of service and budget cuts, and too often bear the brunt of commuter frustrations.

Documenting these incidents of violence is a great challenge. Not all busses, trains and transit stations are equipped with security cameras, so the concept of unions providing workers with the tools like flip video cameras and basic video operating skills could be of real value. In addition to documenting these incidents and providing identification of perpetrators, a video camera’s mere presence can defuse a volatile situation and prevent violence. These cameras could empower workers to prevent violence, and to tell their stories to effect change.

In the coming year, labor will likely continue to face more legislation, and more companies pushing the boundaries of work rules and conditions. It is imperative that workers continue to use video to make their voices heard as loudly online as on the picket line.

Mary Matthews produces directs, shoots, edits and distributes documentary short videos for the Transport Workers Union of America. She travels the country, documenting the workplace issues and actions of TWU’s 130,000 members, posting these important stories of American workers online at www.twu.org and across the Internet.

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