American Studies 197A
Winter Quarter 2002
UCLA Students Can Learn from Immigrant Workers
By Hyun Ja Pak
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 wasnt 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 Tomass 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 didnt 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 wasnt 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 Ive been active in. The only differentiating
factor is that there is one appointed leader, yet the leadership
doesnt 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.
Ive 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 Im 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, Im probably
the administrative type. Im 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.