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Asian American Studies 197A
Winter Quarter 2002

Raymond Ramirez, "Immigrant Workers and 'Shared Leadership'" Hyun Ja Pak, "What UCLA Students Can Learn from Immigrant Workers"

Gillian Claycomb, "Developing Worker Leadership at the Garment Workers Center"

 

Reflection Journal 2

What UCLA Students Can Learn from Immigrant Workers
By Hyun Ja Pak

The leadership involved with the Market Workers’ Campaign consists of three different groups. There is KIWA (Korean Immigrant Worker Advocates), other community organizers, and an actual leadership developed from the workers themselves. By working on this campaign I have been able to learn a great deal about the process of unionizing workers. I have also been able to see how non-profit organizations like KIWA take an active role in helping their surrounding community while empowering the people to take hold of their rights.

On February 1, 2002 I attended a community organizers’ meeting with the rest of my committee. At the meeting were a number of different representatives and community members who had come to learn, support, and actively participate in planning the actions that would take place prior to the union election date. The facilitator of this particular meeting was a woman named Marti from the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of L.A. (CHIRLA). I particularly took note of her ability to keep the meeting focus. The meeting began with Tomas, an Assi immigrant worker, who gave a personal account of the current situation of the campaign. His personal testimony of what was happening gave the group a clear picture of the morale of the workers. It was important for the group to remember that the issue in the meeting wasn’t to be effectively coordinating a successful action, but that we were the very contributors for reaching some justice for people like Tomas.

In conjunction with Tomas’s report, Liz, a KIWA organizer, explained to us the progress of the campaign. She efficiently mapped out for the group what stage the campaign was in and what kind of conditions it was working under. For those who were not familiar with the process, she broke down the different procedures of how unions were formed and a brief overview of how ideally the different stages work. I thought this was done very well. She didn’t bore those who already knew the way the system worked, but rather informed them about the advancement of the group while making sure that the newer members were up to scale with the rest of the organizers.
Being that I wasn’t well versed in something like unionizing, I learned a great deal of information that day. As a result, I felt more confident and active in the actual campaign. During the meeting the facilitators opened up the floor for the group to participate. Instead of dictating what the group should do, the leaders allowed the committee to partake in planning. One gentleman spoke out about an issue that he felt very passionately about. Though it was out of the most genuine intention, the actual issue had very little relevance to the campaign. I found it quite troubling that the man would not let go of this argument, but rather insisted that we continue to speak about his issue. That was until the facilitator kindly instructed him to possibly hold out his comment for a different forum, or to speak with the KIWA directors after the meeting. I was quite impressed at her ability to not dwindle his complaint, but rather kept the focus on the market workers.

The meeting also allowed for the more veteran organizers to share different strategies that worked, as well as, different strategies to avoid because of their negative effects in the past. I thought this was great because it pulled experiences and resources from right within the group. This also helped level the playing field of roles. It was clear that the facilitator was nothing more than a facilitator and the group as a whole was a combined leadership. As we compiled the ideas and the different strategies we had, Liz informed us that they would run these ideas by the workers and that would allow us to proceed with the movement. I appreciated that though the organizers had full knowledge of how to effectively campaign, it was evident that the real leaders and the very voices that called for action were the workers.

This form of leadership may differ from that of the leadership qualities some UCLA students are accustomed to. Though I am sure that some have experienced "grass-roots" type leadership, it seems to me that many more students still hold the idea that there is one elite powerful leader who reigns at the top. I see this in the way my business friends continue to talk of their aspirations of being the CEO. Or how others complain about the hierarchical ladders that continue to limit and frustrate people who are attempt to work in the system. It seems to me that even in the education system at UCLA, one individual often heads the leadership in the classroom, department, school, or university. Not to say that one individual does all the planning and work, but it is usually that one individual who holds the greatest authority and power.

This approach is very similar to the way things run with the leadership I’ve been active in. The only differentiating factor is that there is one appointed leader, yet the leadership doesn’t rule completely under that individual. Ultimately, the planning and organizing is done through a committee or group of people. I believe that I work best under these conditions. I’ve found it most effective and less likely to have negative effects when we work together in inclusive leadership. I have also found it helpful that when the group does begin to wander or go off in tangents, the role of the appointed leader is pertinent to getting things done.

I definitely believe that UCLA students could learn a great deal from this type of leadership. I believe that inclusive leading adds increasingly to the amount of resources and experiences. I have found even through my experience at the Market Workers’ meeting that it is so important for leadership to stay focused on the issue or cause and to also filter out the smart and less effective tactics.

I believe that our group has been progressing quite well. Though I’m sure all of us feel we could contribute more time and effort into it, each person does add equally to the workload. It has been helpful because the group has been small and well informed with each other. The communication has been good and I think each person has a strength that can really assist the group in making an excellent presentation. For example, Jessica is an awesome resource and a continual liaison for the group with KIWA. She helps arrange for interviews and keeps us up to date with what is happening in the campaign. TJ is also a great resource. His experience with video-production gives us the ability to capture footage first hand as we follow the campaign. He helps us keep in mind the different aspects we need for our final video project. As for me, I’m probably the administrative type. I’m big on timelines and making sure that we cover all our basics before we head into things. I try to make sure that the group is continually clear about what we are doing and push to set goals for our next step. I like to make sure the loose ends are taken care of. I have very limited Korean skills, but my conversational skills have helped try to arrange for interviews with other market owners as well as interpret as much as I can. Overall, each member has equally been contributing a great deal, and I believe that we make a great team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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