MINNEAPOLIS - This year's AFL-CIO Next Up Summit, held here Sept. 29 - Oct. 2, had a very different flavor. Unlike the 2010 summit, this conference was lead and organized by young union members from across the country.
At the 2010 Next Up Summit young activists and union members expressed their desire to take the reins of a national youth outreach program of the AFL-CIO. So emerged the Young Worker Advisory Council (YWAC), a diverse group of 20 labor leaders from different national affiliated unions, trades, and constituency groups.
Building up to this year's summit, the YWAC developed four concrete steps for the AFL-CIO Next Up program. According to YoungWorkersMovement.com, these priorities are:
- Developing a toolkit for young workers to use in starting or leading a young worker group at the local level
- Connecting young workers with opportunities for training and mentoring
- Developing a brand that resonates with young workers
- Identifying new ways to bring young people into the labor movement.
As a result of these priorities, about 300 of the participants of the summit this year in Minneapolis were young activists who are not members of a labor union. This included youth activists from the A. Philip Randolph Institute, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Jobs With Justice and student groups such as the Student Labor Action Project, just to name a few.
Jonathan Alingu, a member of SLAP at the University of Central Florida, said, "As a student, I often feel isolated from the struggles of the labor movement and I'm often shielded from the benefits of being in a union. As I get more involved in workers' rights, I feel my eyes have been open to the fight and it keeps me motivated and dedicated to building the blocks to changing the system. Seeing the hundreds of people ready to battle with me just makes it that much easier."
The program of the summit was also very diverse, with workshops such as: How Unions and Immigrants Are Fighting Together for Workers' Rights, Art and Activism, and Power Analysis: Know Your Target. Another exciting aspect of the summit was the "Un-Conference" which gave participants the opportunity to hold their own workshops. The "Un-Conference" breakouts allowed for frank and honest discussions about topics like racism and homophobia in the workplace and the issues that young union members often have in their locals.
With Young Worker groups starting all over the country, like Young Empowered Labor Leaders Oregon and Texas, Young Trade Unionist in Baltimore and D.C., and the Young Workers' Project in central Florida, it is clear that the AFL-CIO and the Next Up Summits have been successful in mobilizing young union members and activists to take hold of a progressive youth movement and make it their own.