By design, the Next Up Young Workers Summit didn't feel like your average union conference.
Green Day and Muse blared between presentations. A smart phone app supplemented the paper agenda. And participants were encouraged to live-tweet their reactions to speakers and presentations.
But despite these high-tech trappings, the 2nd annual AFL-CIO gathering was distinguished primarily by its substance.
Held in Minneapolis Sept. 29-Oct. 2, the summit drew more than 800 young (and youngish) union activists from around the nation, double the turnout of last year's inaugural event, all united in their desire to reignite the labor movement among workers 35 and younger.
Speakers from the Screen Actors Guild and elsewhere emphasized the need to return the labor movement to its roots, as a tool for improving the lives of ordinary families.
Lucas Neff, an actor from the popular sitcom “Raising Hope”:
If the Labor movement is to continue, it has to be about people. To me, the labor movement is every time in history that we realize we're all in this together and we need to take care of each other.
Some of the weekend's most compelling discussions grew from the Next Up “Unconference,” which allowed participants to pitch sessions on the spot, and vote on those with the greatest shared interest.
Eric Lindberg, a vice-president of CWA Local 9423 in San Jose and a co-founder of the young workers' group Next Generation Bay Area, remarked on the unconference:
Giving people that might not otherwise ever get the chance to lead a class themselves was awesome. It's a great way to make leaders emerge.
Reacting to unconference discussions, Next Up participants voted unanimously to support the message of Occupy Wall Street, an anti-corporate and pro-labor movement now spreading to cities throughout the nation. They formed a networking group to encourage infusion of the arts into protests and pickets. They showed thier solidarity by marching with local public transit workers in downtown Minneapolis and leafletting at nearby a Verizon Wireless store. And they explored the growing ties between the labor and environmental movements.
California's delegation included more than 50 young activists from AFSCME, CWA, OPEIU, UNITE HERE, SEIU, UFCW, UWUA, and the Teamsters, Ironworkers and Machinists unions. During a breakout session, they agreed to establish a statewide young workers program, specially geared to serve both the Northern and Southern regions of the state, that will include a “rapid response” mobilization structure, a rotating quarterly social event, and an effort to appoint young-worker representatives to Central Labor Councils throughout the state.