The Communications Workers of America has embarked on an extraordinary venture in union democracy. It is providing all members with a detailed picture of the union’s current status and inviting them to offer suggestions and opinions, no matter how critical, on how best to strengthen the union and its mission in the years ahead.

The plan is perceived as a 10-month process with a timetable set for each level of the union. At its convention last August, the CWA approved a resolution, “Ready for the Future” (RFF), which will involve all members in a thorough examination of the union’s structure, policies, activities, resources and leadership in order to meet the serious challenges of the future.

In mid-January, the union sent an e-mail about the RFF to 1,700 local union officers, followed by a mailing to 75,000 union members for whom the union has e-mail addresses.

In its discussion guide to locals, the union encourages full and frank participation by all members. It states: “No part of this union can or should be left out of the discussion, and every level of the union should be examined, including national, district and sector levels, councils, committees, conventions, meetings and locals. We must not be afraid to examine our union thoroughly and thoughtfully from top to bottom in order to best represent our members.

“In this far-reaching review, there are no sacred cows,” the statement continues. “We must acknowledge the accomplishments of the past and be prepared to embrace the future. That will only happen if we are willing to debate.”

The CWA has provided local leaders and members with a mass of vital statistics in a resource packet that includes financial data and details about its five subordinate sectors: telecommunications, media, airlines, manufacturing and public institutions in education, health care and public safety.

Involving union members is key to union success. CWA’s pro-member policies make the union attractive to many of the industry’s unorganized workers. It has organized more than 16,000 workers at Cingular Wireless since 2005. Overall, more than 38,000 workers at Cingular are now represented by the CWA. This is, by far, the best organizing record in the AFL-CIO and Change to Win coalition.

Abridged and reprinted with permission from Harry Kelber’s “The World of Labor”