So recently I posted some IWW stuff I’d been writing for the paper and a work in progress. For a while I was hesitant to post that sort stuff here, only doing so occasionally, I don’t really know why. Trying to keep my life compartmentalized I guess. Anyhow, here’s everything else I got written so far. Some of it’s been circulated, I think all of it actually. Formatting isn’t very good and the post is super long, sorry, just trying to get these up here before I forget again.

Ted from the Bay Area GMB and I co-wrote this. it’s supposed to be funny and make a useful point.

Point: Building a Culture of Thank You
By: Red Card

I once read an article about how collective action was good for your health. I have engaged in enough collective actions on the job, at protests, pickets, organizations and coalitions that I should live to be 100. But when I read this article I felt worn down, burnt out and the exact opposite of how I generally feel. I began to wonder what the heck this article was talking about. For one it was based on the
British, so maybe they do things dramatically differently on that side of the pond. Then one day, a Fellow Worker noticed that I was feeling burnt, pissed off and just about ready to say fuck it, when all he had to do was say “Hey Red, thanks for the good work your doing.” I began to think a bit about what happened there. In practical terms not much, all my Fellow Worker did was thank me for doing something I had been doing for the past year or so. But what it said to me was more than just that, that this FW supported me and figured I was doing something worthwhile. This brings me to the point of the article. This organization suffers when we don’t say thank you to our Fellow Workers.

First, saying thank you to your Fellow Worker lets them know that you appreciate the work that they do to build the One Big Union. I believe this point to be self evident and needs little explanation. After all saying thank you is a sign of appreciation that has been cultivated over years of civilization. I know this may pain the primitivists, but they won’t be reading this article so it does not matter. Its only civilized to show your appreciation.

Second, saying thank may mean the difference between your Fellow Worker doing a task because they agreed to do it and because they want to do it. Take my job for instance, when I am at work its because I agreed to do it (for a small paycheck) and I do the least possible job that I can get away with (often instead of working I write articles such as this). Our Unions lack of financial resources means we don’t
have anyone to make a living (Our GST no doubt could find himself a better paying job). What is there other than a paycheck? Well, how about the pride and appreciation of your Fellow Workers? I dare say,
when I am working hard on Union stuff cause I want do a righteous job that any Fellow Worker could be proud of often simply for a gesture of appreciation from my branch mates. Just to belabor the point, one is more likely to do a higher quality job when they know that others will appreciate the work.

Third, saying thank you to your fellow worker creates an understanding between you and the person you thanked. Solidarity is based on shared understanding of the struggles each individual within our class goes through based on being a member of the working class. If the Fellow Worker does not receive appreciation for the work they have done it is possible they may not know that you understand the work they put into the project. Thus, may have a harder time building solidarity because of a perceived lack of understanding from you.

Counterpoint: Building a Culture of Fuck You
By Mr. Block

First of all, I don’t want to hear any of this IWW nonsense. Don’t try to take my dues money or get me to some meeting full of whiners or preach any sort of hateful doctrine to me. I like my job and I like my boss. You hear me? Still, Red is a friend of mine despite his dumb ideas and he asked me to say a few words to you people. You probably won’t listen but here goes.

You don’t need any kind of culture of thank you. Red is just being whiney. He keeps coming to work everyday and our boss never says thank you. See? You don’t need any kind of thank you to run a sophisticated operation. (Not that your IWW is sophisticated. From what I’ve seen you people are simpletons.) My boss never says thank you. He says “do it!” and “now!” and “what did I just tell you?” and so on. A lot of that amounts to him basically saying “fuck you.” That may sound like I’m being harsh. I’m not. I like my boss, he’s a good friend of mine. He just knows that to really make things happen you have to lay down the law.

Here’s some of the ways that my boss keeps things going. He never says thank you to individuals. He knows that’s a waste of time. He always asks for more and more and more time on the job, because he knows that what we do is important. He doesn’t rotate tasks because he knows that doing one thing and only one thing is the best way to get good at something. If someone doesn’t like how things are going, they can leave. That’s my boss’s attitude, and it’s the right attitude. People who leave aren’t as talented as the ones who stick around. Saying thank you all the time is just asking to keep sensitive losers around
instead of people who want to really get the job done. And in the end we all get paid and that’s the point, isn’t it? Maybe if you IWW people would start handing out the green stuff instead of those red
cards you wouldn’t need this thank you nonsense.

(This article was inspired by the teachings of the book of JK and JP. Thank you JK and JP.)

This is a pair checklists and notes for meetings on membership development and organizer development. I think the member development stuff could work well with a delegate training/delegate expectations thing. The organizer stuff could would work well combined with these organizer discussion group/”candle light trainings” Chicago used to hold and that have been done a bit here and there other places. I think Fellow Worker MK from Oakland (formerly from Chicago) is working on some publication or manual about those. FW Colin wrote a manual for one once, I don’t know if I still have a copy or not. Personally I’d like to see the checklists made into a form where we do one for every single member, to keep track of what they have and haven’t done.

1. Checklist for for people who just became IWW members

Goals: build relationships between new member and other IWW members, educate members so they can understand and make use of IWW procedures and democracy, build people’s sense that being an IWW member is part of who they are

– Attend branch social event

– Attend GMB meeting

– Attend new member orientation

– Report at GMB meeting about IWW activity at their job or that they’re otherwise involved in

– Attend some local public event with the IWW (picket, demonstration, speak out, etc)

– Attend 3 GMB meetings

– Give an Around The Union report at a branch meeting (this involves calling at least one person in another branch and having a conversation with them about what’s going on in their branch/campaign)

– Participate in a branch committee

– Chair a GMB meeting

– Attend a meeting about organizing (either long term drive or short term issue/workplace action) other than in their own workplace, debrief afterward

– Attend 6 GMB meetings

– Deliver a report or otherwise speak publicly as a representative of the IWW at a local event/meeting (and report back to the GMB at a meeting and/or by email)

– Write something for the branch newsletter (or, have someone else interview this person and turn it into a co-written article)

– Play a key role at some local public action with the IWW – picket captain, hand out leaflets, etc, (and report back to the GMB at a meeting and/or by email)

– Write something for the Industrial Worker (or, have someone else interview this person and turn it into a co-written article)

– Attend a Union-wide Event (and report back to the GMB at a meeting and/or by email)

– Deliver a report (speak publicy) as a representative of the branch at a union-wide event (and report back to the GMB at a meeting and/or by email)

– Participate in a committee of the international (and report back to the GMB)

– Start organizing in their workplace (therefore go through second checklist)

2. Checklist for people we’re working with in organizing

Goals: Make this person into an organizer, make this person committed to the campaign

– Have an organizer do a one on one with them

– Attend an organizing meeting (meeting to plan an action, meeting to

discuss goals, etc)

– Attend a short Organizer Training

– Attend a two day OT

– Go with an organizer on a one on one and take the co-pilot role, debrief afterward

– Go with an organizer on a one on one and take the lead role, debrief afterward

– Set up a one on one with a co-worker on their own

– Hold a one on one with a co-worker on their own

– Participate in a job action

– Join the IWW (and do the stuff on the first checklist, the member checklist)


Notes for implementing something like this –

First meeting: Get a group together who is organizing at our jobs. Ask everyone to bring a list of 3 people they’re working with in their organizing. First talk through the checklists in general and see if they make sense, need any changes. Then go over the checklist for each person, see what they’ve done so far. Each person take an assignment to get each of their 3 people to do one more thing on the list by the date of the next meeting. Brainstorm any obstacles you expect to run into and how to deal with them (roleplay if necessary). Set a date for the next meeting in 2-4 weeks then adjourn. Someone types up the notes for everyone and emails them out.

Second meeting: Report back on how the tasks went. If necessary, do a roleplay on any difficulties you ran into, in order to handle them better in the future. See if there’s any modifications you want to make to the checklist. Each person takes another task. After the meeting, someone types up the notes and emails them out.

In those notes is included a write up of the check list as a proposal to the branch. If the branch will not agree then the organizers will have to do both. Ask people to comment, set some deadline for feedback and revisions (set this at the meeting, say like a week), then send the proposal out. As part of the proposal announce one meeting for all members on some date at a time that works for as many people as possible. Ask people who can’t attend to write and say what would be better time for them to attend an orientation.

Branch meeting: Try to get the branch to accept the new member check list as a task for all delegates. If the branch agrees to the new member check list then delegates will handle that check list with new members. If not then organizers should do this work on top of organizing work. Either way, organizers continue to meet to work on the organizing check list for members they are working with.

Third meeting: Run through an orientation to the union for new members (and only for new members, not for people who are curious), then have a discussion of anything else they want to know.

Fourth meeting: Modify and finalize the branch’s orientation curriculum or if the branch does do orientations then the orientation curriculum that you will use as organizers to orient new members as part of the first check list.

Sample Campaign Time-Line

Nick from Edmonton and I wrote this together. It’s a sample campaign timeline for new members in the US/Canada. The idea is to give people a sense of the time involved and a basic calendar for starting new organizing in place with no prior organizing. It starts with an Organizer Training and ends with an Industrial Union Branch being close to forming. The idea is that new members/new organizers would get something like this as a way to measure where they’re at in the lifecycle of an organizing campaign.
Day 1 and 2 –

Campaign membership: 2

Number of organizers: 2

General Organizer Training for branches (OT 101)

Day 5 – Small group meeting or individual plan to pick target. (If the plan is to organize your own workplace you can skip to day 15, though you should still have the discussions with the branch. Also, you should always have a partner to organize with if at all possible. Flying solo as an organizer is a bad idea.) Make a plan to track the necessary information – contact sheets, spreadsheets/database, file cabinet, binder, whatever works for you.

Day 7 – Email and calls to IWW list, GEB contact, ODB contact to find out who else in the IWW works in or is organizing in this industry/company

Day 14 – Open meeting with anyone from branch who wants to attend, present planned target, discuss needed roles and assign tasks

Day 15 through 45 – Research, gathering contacts, social mapping, relationship building

Day 46 – Begin one on one meetings with coworkers. A serious organizer should do at least 3 conversations per week. Expect to succeed in 1/3 of these. Do these for the next 10 weeks or until you have a group of at least 10 willing to attend an organizer training. If people are unwilling to attend a 2 day training then you should not trust them with your and your co-workers’ jobs.

Day 67 –

Campaign membership: 5

Number of organizers: 2

Hold group new member orientation to the IWW for the people in the campaign who have joined up. Invite people from the branch to attend as well. If any new members can’t attend the orientation as a group, make a plan to get them oriented individually. Your GEB rep, ODB rep, or someone from the OTC can help you with orientation materials and curriculum if your branch doesn’t already have this stuff.

Day 98 –

Campaign membership: 8

Number of organizers: 2

Hold another new member orientation. Invite people who have already been to one to attend and help facilitate discussion. If any new members can’t attend the orientation as a group, make a plan to get them oriented individually.

Day 116 and 117 –

Sympathetic but inactive supporters: 20

Campaign membership: 12

Number of organizers: 2

Number of delegates: 1

Officers: Treasurer

Host Organizer Training aimed at training a group of workers in one campaign (OT 102). If people have scheduling difficulties such as childcare needs, pay for childcare for them so they can attend. If people have scheduling difficulties that you can’t get around, then

you can hold the training as two different one day trainings, or four sessions of 4 hours each. The Organizer Training Committee and the Organizing Department Board can help you with this.

The training should end with a session where you create your plan to win, including immediate next steps and a timeline for the next piece of your campaign’s plan. If there’s not time for this at the end of the training, hold a meeting to do this within two week’s time. This will involve doing social mapping, among other things, and pushing people to use the training. Emphasize talking to key workplace leaders

and build a list of them by name/identifying information (“the one on nights who wears the Sox hat”). Workplace leaders are harder to move. Expect to succeed 1/5 of the time. Talk to all the identified leaders first before repeating a conversation with a leader who says no or isn’t sure.

Identify one member of the organizing committee who is very organized personally, this person should become your first delegate. Get that person to start thinking about money, get other members of the organizing committee to turn in receipts to them, have this person turn the receipts into the branch treasurer. Make sure they report at every meeting on the financial state of the drive giving a balance, and account of how much dues was taken in and expenses.

*From this point on you will begin to act like the experienced lead organizer who supports and pushes your coworker organizers.

Day 118 – Begin to debrief individually with everyone who attended the training. Begin conversations with leaders. Everyone at the training begins to have 3 conversations per week. With leaders, expect 1/5 of these conversations to succeed. If there are other areas of the workplace where you don’t have leaders identified, begin outreach to other workers in these areas, in order to identify leaders. Push everyone to do these conversations. Expect half of the people to do so. Tell everyone how often to expect success.

*Make your own personal plan on how you will individually train the workplace leaders on organizing. Make this a central piece of your own work.

Day 138 –

Sympathetic but inactive supporters: 30

Campaign membership: 22

Number of organizers: 5

Leaders involved: 2

Number of Delegates: 2

Officers: Treasurer, Secretary

Core organizers begin to get tired. Committee meeting to discuss how the individual conversations are going. Layout plan to win including campaign timeline. Expect that a few people might come who are not doing the individual conversation. Expect that a few people who are doing at least some individual conversations won’t come. At this meeting discuss difficulties people are having in their conversations with co-workers and brainstorm solutions. Set goals for continuing conversations.

Start spreading paperwork around in order to take pressure off of organizers. Elect another delegate and have them collect dues, turn the previous delegate into the campaign treasurer. Get the group a bank account and give both delegates signing authority on the account. The new delegate will become a campaign secretary, the secretary will take care of reporting to the branch on the progress of the campaign and fielding any questions from people not directly in the campaign. Both officers should report every month, with the Secretary reporting on membership and communications from people and groups outside the campaign and the treasurer continuing financial reports.

Day 152 –

Sympathetic but inactive supporters: 35

Campaign membership: 30

Number of organizers: 4

Leaders involved: 4

Number of Delegates: 2

Officers: Treasurer, Secretary

One of 2 original core organizers burns out and quietly leaves campaign. If the branch is functioning well and reaches out to them, they stay around. If the branch is not functioning well, they drop out and possibly quit the union. Meeting to plan first action. Arrive with a plan in case group doesn’t have any ideas or any good ideas, get group to plan together. Layout roles and give assignments. Check in to see who is doing their one on one conversations. Help anyone who is struggling, by having a role play and brainstorming.

Day 154 – Check in that everyone did their part for the action

Dat 155 – Action

Day 157 – Meeting to respond to management’s response to the action, if necessary.

Day 166 –

Sympathetic but inactive supporters: 50

Campaign membership: 35

Number of organizers: 5

Leaders involved: 5

Number of Delegates: 3

Officers: Treasurer, Secretary

New organizers begin to get tired. One campaign member (preferably a workplace leader) that you have been working with begins to act like an organizer. Have the group elect one more delegate, make sure the branch is training new delegates in how to report.

Group meeting with everyone who is involved in the campaign. Celebrate any victories, discuss work issues to agitate people, assess campaign and lay out social map so far, lay out the plan to win, set goals, give assignments, set deadlines. Check in to see who is doing their one on one conversations. Help anyone who is struggling, by having a role play and brainstorming. Continue conversations with co-workers.

Day 168 – Plan new member orientation to the IWW for the people in the campaign who have joined up. Get the branch to do this, not the organizer(s). Organizers handle turnout, not running the orientation or getting a space etc. Set a date or set the wheels in motion to set a date, start working on turnout as soon as date and time and place are figured out.

Day 180 –

Sympathetic but inactive supporters: 55

Campaign membership: 40

Number of organizers: 3

Leaders involved: 7

Number of Delegates: 3

Officers: Treasurer, Secretary

Two of new organizers burn out and quietly leave campaign. If the branch is functioning well, they have had an IWW orientation and people in the branch reach out to them, they stay around. If the branch is not functioning well, they drop out and possibly quit the union.

Committee meeting. Plan shorter organizer training focusing on key skills, to increase the number of organizers involved. (Either one 4 hour session or two 2 hour sessions.) Also have each organizer person pick two coworkers to target to teach how to organize on an individual basis by involving them in small group conversation, debriefing, and

covering the basics. Prioritize turning workplace leaders into organizers. Then the meeting shifts gears, discuss how the individual conversations are going and how to do turn out for the shorter organizer training. Expect that a few people might come who are not doing the individual conversation. Expect that a few people who are doing at least some individual conversations won’t come.

Day 194 – Shorter training

*From this point on the organizers who have been around will begin to act like the experienced lead organizer who supports and pushes their coworker organizers. You will need to help them with this role and push them to really do it.

Day 195 –

Sympathetic but inactive supporters: 60

Campaign membership: 45

Number of organizers: 8

Leaders involved: 10

Number of Delegates: 4

Officers: Treasurer, Secretary

Begin to debrief with everyone who was at the training. Celebrate victories, agitate on issues, push the plan to win. Everyone continues to talk with coworkers. Elect one more delegate, preferably from your pool of good organizers. Submit the bylaws you have been working on with a membership list put together by the secretary and the delegates to General Headquarters and petition for an Industrial Union Branch charter. Once you have this charter you need to hold a meeting and brainstorm what is going to be handled by the GMB and what is going to be handled by the Industrial Union Branch. Ideally the GMB handles solidarity work with other unions and allied causes, new member orientation, and organizer training. The IUB handles building the campaign, keeping members caught up on their dues and social and educational events for workers in the industry.

I think it’s obvious that our union needs a lot of work. We need more members, more organizers, more money … I’m not putting down the union, not at all – we should be proud of what we’ve accomplished and what we’re doing now, but the IWW right now is not at a place where we can say “okay, this is good enough.”
I’ve got some random thoughts about things I think could be improved. In no particular order:
– find out which branches have their own orientation curriculums. Collect them, review them, share them all with other branches
– write a manual for people who want to start branches, including a “here’s what to expect with your GMB” section about the ups and the downs. (For instance, it really sucks the first time someone quits. That may be obvious, but it’d be nice to tell people that from the outset.)
– collect and review the bylaws of all the branches, share that with the branches
– create regional bodies to encourage cooperation and communication (a rough draft for a proposal for one of these in the midwest is below.)
– what do branches expect from delegates? how do they train delegates? In general, it seems to me that delegates are an untapped resource for the union. Delegates should talk with each other more across branches, maybe have a delegates conference. FW Rhiannon from Edmonton has good ideas on delegate stuff.
– Systematically handing out IWW literature to branches
– Distributing the IW and other lit
– Supporting wobblies who are not in branches, either small groups who are working toward branch status or lone wobs
– conference calls for member and organizers outside their home GMBs to build relationships and help people brainstorm and stay energized to do IWW work
That’s just a random laundry list. One thing I want to add is that I think this is not stuff that the Organizing Department should do. I think the OD should stick to workplace organizing and issues involved in fighting bosses directly. That’s not because this other stuff is not important. Far from it. I think this other stuff is raelly important. I think the OD should stay away from it for two reasons. One is that I think it’s easy to try to do too much and therefore end up accomplishing too little as the result of being spread thin. Second, I think there’s a risk that if the OD started doing both workplace organizing stuff as well as dealing with branch development/member development outside of organizing then it would centralize too many functions in the OD, giving it too much potential power. The OD should stay subordinate to the GEB, which means that the OD should not work on everything in the union just some things in the union.
Currently there’s no other body to work on the stuff listed above and similar stuff other than the GEB and maybe some committees (there was a committee on member retention I think at one point, I rememebr seeing a report on the topic anyway), so it currently falls to the GEB. It may make sense at some point to create an education committee or some other named body to handle this sort of stuff, it’s sort of like internal organizing, working on and with people who are already IWW members about their IWW membership, as opposed to organizing in the workplace against the boss and in order to make people into IWW members.

Just an idea.
Proposal to form a Midwest Coordinating Commitee (MWCC), rough draft.
The MWCC will work to encourage contact, communication and coordination between branches, emphasizing direct contact between members as much as possible. It will not have the power to make decisions which branches must follow.
Every branch in the Midwest (exact area still to be defined) will be asked to elect a member to serve on the MWCC and to participate.
The MWCC will elect a chair from its members. MWCC members will report regularly (how often?) to each other on activity in their branches, and report to their home branches about activity going on across the region.
The MWCC will write a periodic (twice a year? quarterly?) report on activities in the Midwest and on its activities, submitted to all branches in the region by email and to the GOB.
The MWCC will contact individual members and groups of members in the Midwest who are not affiliated with branches. The MWCC will push them to form branches and to support these members in that work, as well as help those members get access to resources, training, and other members in order to help them. To facilitate this, the MWCC Chair will stay in regular contact with the GEB member(s) who deal with the Midwest and with General Secretary Treasurer in order to get regular reports on new members who are not affiliated with branches.
The MWCC will coordinate visits across branches by encouraging cross branch events for branches close to each other, and by organizing one regional gathering per year (Midwest Wobfest). The location of Wobfest will rotate across branches. The MWCC member in a branch will take responsibility for local planning (finding a space, etc) and for recruiting people from the branch to help with this work. The rest of the MWCC will help with this and with the content/agenda of Wobfest, as well as helping with publicizing the event and turning people out to it.
The MWCC will communicate with the Organizer Training Committee to keep track of when the last organizer training was held for each branch and who the organizing trainers are in each branch and across the midwest.
The MWCC will coordinate an exchange of bylaws between branches – each member will send a copy of their branches bylaws and get a copy of every other branches bylaws. These bylaws for other branches will be made available to other members of the home branch of MWCC members upon request.
The MWCC will coordinate an exchange of local branch newsletters, sending their local newsletter and getting a copy for the MWCC member and for the editor of the their branches newsletter. Newsletters from other branches will be made available to other members of the home branch of MWCC members upon request.
The MWCC will operate via email, individual phone calls, and conference calls. The MWCC will also host a quarterly conference call for members in the Midwest to report on and discuss branch activities.
Each branch in the midwest is asked to donate $50 to the MWCC to help it operate (pay for mailings, fund Wobfest etc). These funds will be administered by the MWCC Chair and the Secretary Treasurer of the home branch of the MWCC Chair. All expenditures will be reported to all participating branches. Expenditures of greater than $30 will require a vote by the MWCC by email or conference call.

Members should retain the right to pay dues directly to General Headquarters and opt out of their GMB.
To be clear, this not be an ideal situation if it happened. But losing the right to opt out would not improve things. (Similarly, divorces are usually pretty rotten things. Banning divorce will not make for less rottenness in the world.)
Making branch membership mandatory is a bad idea. I could be wrong, but my mpression is that many people in the union feel that the charges process does not work very well – hence the discussion about changing the charges process, and the fact that about 2/3 of the members who voted chose one or the other charges reform option over the current charges process, the one we’re stuck with for another year at least.

This means that in at least some cases, the charges process is not a very good vehicle for solving problems. Also, let’s say the charges process gets reformed, and it’s like … awesome, it runs like clockwork. The reality is that that process will always involve some unpleasantness. I think it’s reasonable to expect that some members would rather quit than go through bringing up charges in some situations. Allowing members the option to opt out a bad situation in one branch is better than having those members quit. I think in some contexts it might be better than charges being brought.

Despite what some wobblies think, opting out of a GMB is not the same thing as being engaged in collective activity. It is not as if the options are either be in a GMB and be engaged in collective activity or do not be in a GMB and be isolated/individualist. I would bet every GMB in the union has inactive members. It seems to me that it’s just as reasonable to say that this will happen _more_often as it is to conclude it will happen _less_ often if we make GMB membership mandatory by giving GMBs exclusive jurisdiction. Put differently, given that GMBs currently have people who opt out in every way except dues, I fail to see how requiring members to stay in GMBs they don’t want to stay in would accomplish anything positive. If anything, allowing members to opt out allows members an additional way to hold bad officers accountable – several people opting out might make a GMB with problems start to change its ways.

Also, there is no reason why opting out of a GMB would be a necessarily individual thing (just like being in a GMB does necessarily mean one is part of collective activity). A group of fellow workers might decide to opt out together – because they have a problem, or because they’re focused on organizing an IUB and simply
don’t care about (or don’t have time to be part of) the GMB – in that case, they might feel that they would rather pay directly to the General Administration instead of a GMB. In a situation like that, I wouldn’t see why that should be such a big problem.

Ultimately, branches should be voluntary associations of IWW members, not mandatory ones. There’s nothing to be gained by making GMB membership mandatory.

Tasks Of The Class And The Organization
“It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism.”
I think it’s important that we don’t confuse the struggle of the class with the tasks of this organization. The IWW is tiny. The people who do the real work of making the IWW exist are even fewer. If we had 1,000 times the members (SEIU has nearly 2,000 times our members) then I might be more open to this. We can barely build a real fighting organization that acts at the point of production – fairly basic anti-union tactics do massive damage to our organizing. For us to say we’re now going to take on everything else to, to be responsible to the entire scope of class struggle, is ludicrous and it will dilute our focus.

That said, insofar as other stuff can be made functional to building the IWW _as a union_ then I’m down for other stuff. But I’d prefer the IWW gain four members in one branch through workplace organizing than gain 40 members through copwatch or healthcare justice work or work against sexual and partner violence etc. That’s not because I think the latter is unimportant. It’s SUPER important. But it’s not what I think the IWW should be doing. I don’t want an IWW that is a catch all for any work whatsoever, even if it’s really good work. I care a great deal about anti-homophobia and anti-domestic violence and anti-sexual violence work, it was my first political work and all I did for about 4 years, and it’s a class issue. Still, if someone came to me an said “I’m joining the IWW because I want to fight sexual assuault” I would say “I’m with you comrade but this isn’t the right organization for you.” We’re not a machine that’s currently built to wage those struggles and we shouldn’t be in my opinion. I want an IWW that builds power at the waged point of production.

Again, if we were kicking ass and taking names left and right on that front I might be more receptive to other work but for now I think it’s a distraction. For this organization. Not for the class. The class can have more than one organization working on aspects of its interests as far as I’m concerned. Given the divisions in our class it’s probably good to have more than one working class organization. I’m a pluralist for the class, a purist for the organization.

Recruiting And Organizing

I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between recruiting and organizing. It’s not an absolute difference, but I think the distinction is useful.

A GMB is, basically, a collection of wobblies based on membership or ideology or wob identity. As I see it, generally, GMB’s can and should recruit – table at events, turnout at lefty stuff, leaflet, cultural events, etc. I think of recruiting as asking people to get involved in the organzation, and eventually to become a member, based on ideological conviction and relationships with GMB members.

A shop committee or IOC is based on or aims at workplace activity, to build power. These bodies organize, which I think of as getting people involved in action with their coworkers to have more control over their work and their lives. Organizing is about collective self-interest: I’m stronger with a group of people who have each other’s backs, my FWs will help me out when I need a hand and I will help them out.

There are some questions and challenges that come up around recruiting I thought of: how does a GMB member move into doing or supporting organizing? how does someone make the switch from the mentality of recruiting/being recruited (ideological conviction) to organizing (collective self-interest)? There’s also general issues about doing recruting well, how to have a recruiting program that will operate in a transparent, democratic, nonmanipulative way and help build the union. I think the GMB model is based on recruiting initially, which should then move into organizing. That’s another question, should GMB’s maintain recruiting and organizing at the same time or switch from one ot the other? In either case, how can GMB’s move from recruiting or organizing?

Questions and challenges about organizing: Well, there’s just basic questions about how to organize well, organize more, teach each other, learn from experiences etc. This is what I mean about tactics before. There’s also questions about how organizing turns into IWW growth. I’d really like to hear from others here with workplace organizing experience in our union, how you make the ask for folks to take out a red card and when. It seems to me there’s wobs with cards who are inactive, wobs who are active in GMB’s, wobs who are active in shops, people who are active in shops where wobbly organizing is happening but who don’t hold red cards, and people in wobbly shops who are inactive. As I think of it, organizing means trying to get inactive people active, and active people into the union. (So there is still a recruiting component.) Does it have to go in that order? Or sometimes does an inactive or less active person take out a card as part of or at the same time as becoming more active? Another question related to people active in shops becoming card holders, how do people active in shops (or, eventually when we’ve got shops and industries locked up, people who work in industries that we run) get active in the GMB and the democratic running of the organization?

I think leadership development can happen in different ways across these different lines (recruiting as a way to develop leaders, or pushing someone to move from recruiting into organizing or supporting organizing, etc), just like there’s different areas of leadership: shopfloor/shop committee leadership vs GMB leadership – not the same as GMB officers or delegates. (Also, like I said, these are not absolute differences. People organizing in a shop might find some inspiration or support in a cultural event and knowing there’s more people in the union. People involved in GMB activities might get inspired by going to organizing meetings, and then either get involved in organizing or more recruiting. This happened to me and Fellow Worker Rick around Chicago Courier Union stuff, especially one organizing committee meeting we went to. And folks active in GMB stuff might eventually be people who start organizing in their workplaces.)

Who Has Nothing in Common?

The IWW is an organization for workers. The goal is to build power for ourselves as workers against our bosses and for the working class against the employing class. A worker has to sell their time and their energy in order to live. An employer makes their money by buying other people’s time and energy, keeping the product, and selling it. We work making things and doing things. They pay us a portion of the money that customers pay them for our labor, and keep a portion of it to live off.

Workers spend our time at work and are told what to do, using up our energy on the job. In return, we get some money to pay for the things we need and want. That’s how we live. Employers spend their time at work telling other people what to do, and making sure that workers spend their energy doing their jobs. Often employers hire other people to watch “their” workers and make them work – that’s what managers are for.

Employers can’t become members of the IWW because workers and employers have opposed interests. We sell our time and energy, our power to work or labor power. They buy our labor power. Both sides want the best deal in this transaction. They want to get as much of our time and energy as they can and pay us as little as possible. We want to work less hard, for less time, and we want more money. And we don’t want to have to work for wages at all. We want to abolish waged labor, so that one will live by buying someone else’s time.

What if you hire a kid in your neighborhood to mow your lawn? Are you now a member of the employing class? The employing class lives off of buying someone else’s time. That means you’re not a member of the employing class if you hire someone to perform a service, like an accountant to help with your taxes, or if you hire a babysitter to take care of your kids once in a while.

Let’s say you hire a nanny to take care of your kids full time. You are the employer of the nanny. You purchase the nanny’s labor. There may well be a conflict between you and the nanny, as in any wage relationship: you may want to pay less and get more, the nanny may want the reverse. But unless you make a profit from purchasing the nanny’s labor or someone else’s labor then you are not a member of the employing class. Let’s say you tell your brother-in-law to bring his kids over one day, so the nanny watches your kids and your brother-in-law’s kids. Let’s say your brother-in-law gives you some money in return. If you keep the money, then you’re making a profit from the nanny’s labor. That would be like you running a nanny agency, where people pay you and you pay the childcare providers less than what the families pay. By taking a cut you become like a member of theemploying class temporarily, and on a very small scale.
If you don’t take a cut, if you hire the nanny to care for your kids and you don’t make any money off of that, then you will need another source of income. If you have a job and you pay the nanny out of your wages then you are still part of the working class. You should be allowed to be a member of the IWW. The nanny is allowed too. If there’s a conflict between the two of you, the IWW should always be on the side of the seller of labor. That’s a basic principle of the organization. We exist to support the interests of sellers of labor. So if you pay someone for something and they say you don’t treat them well, the union should take their side every time.

The IWW has very open criteria for membership. Any worker who agrees with the Preamble of the IWW Constitution can join. The union excludes employers, as discussed above. The union also excludes people from membership in three other cases. Paid officers of other unions, paid officers of political parties, and people with the power to hire and fire are not allowed to join.

Are people with the power to hire and fire, paid officials of political parties and paid officials of trade unions not members of the working class? Some people argue that these positions are outside the working class. Others argue that they are inside the working class. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter. They should still be out of the union.

What does the manager of a fast food place do? They place orders for food and supplies, do the book-keeping, make sure that the place is clean and the customers are happy and so on. If a restaurant was collectivized and operated by the workers, the collective might have someone who does all of those same functions, as a permanent or rotating position. That might not be the ideal way to handle those tasks, but still, that person or position wouldn’t be the same as a regular manager. In many cases, in restaurants these tasks are actually handled by other employees because the managers don’t do their jobs or do their jobs poorly. Many workers already self-manage a lot of their workplaces, but the manager gets the credit and the extra pay and is basically an unnecessary drain (as is the capitalist class!). The manager can get away with it because if complains the manager can fire them. That’s the other thing the manager does. They hire people to work there, fire people, and use the (implied or explicit) threat of firing to discipline people. It’s hiring and firing that means the manager can’t be a member of the union.

When we get fired from a job, we lose our source of income. In capitalist society, almost everything we want and need is hard to come by without money. Most things exist in the form of commodities, which means you need money to buy them. If you’re a member of the working class, you don’t have access to money except through working. (You might borrow money from a friend or family, but that money came from their wages.) Firing can result in all kinds of problems, as anyone who has ever been fired knows. It can mean loss of income needed to pay the rent or mortgage, pay the car payment, pay you and your family’s medical bills, loss of health insurance, etc etc. The power to fire someone is a pretty huge power. If the IWW let managers into the union, that would mean we would have members of the union with the ability to fire other members of the union. That would make for a huge power difference. The manager could use that power to push around other members of the union, in order to influence the policy of the union and to prevent the union from organizing against the employer.

Wait a minute. I said earlier that the union should let workers who hire nannies and landscapers into the union. Don’t those workers also exercise the power to hire and fire? Absolutely. Why should those workers be allowed in but the manager shouldn’t be? That’s an important point. First of all, the importance of the power to fire should be recognized. A worker who hires someone else has a huge amount of power over that other worker. Our union must always act in favor of the seller of labor, even if that means acting against a worker who is a member of our union (the member who hires the nanny). That argument should hold for the manager too, though, shouldn’t it? Isn’t the worker the manager of the nanny, just like the restaurant manager is the manager of the cooks and cashiers and so on? No, it’s not the same.

Here’s the difference. The worker who hires a nanny doesn’t live off the purchase of the nanny’s labor. There’s no profit. The restaurant manager also doesn’t live off the purchase of the labor of the cooks and cashiers and so on. Does that mean there’s no profit? Absolutely not. The manager is an employee of the restaurant owner. The owner profits off of the purchase of the cook’s labor. The manager gets a cut of that profit, in return for making sure that the workers keep working and the profit keeps flowing. The manager may or may not be considered a member of the employing class, but the fact of the matter is that the manager’s economic interests are tied to the interests of the employing class. The manager is paid by the capitalist to manage the workers, so that profit keeps happening, so that capitalism keeps existing. The employer of the worker who hires the nanny doesn’t profit from the nanny and so doesn’t have an interest in the nanny either way. The employer of the manager has an interest in the cooks and cashiers and servers, an interest in those workers keeping on working. The manager’s economic tie to the capitalist class means that the manager is likely to represent the interests of the capitalist class. It’s the manager’s job to do so. As a result, many managers come to identify with the capitalist class. They also often feel threatened when workers organize, because our organizing will take away the little power that the manager has. Even a manager who doesn’t identify with the capitalists or get off on being charge, is subject to pressure from the capitalists. Its the manager’s job to enforce the capitalist’s rules. If they don’t do that and they get caught, they’re out the door.
Let’s say the union did let managers in, and the capitalist found out the restaurant manager was a member. The capitalist could pressure the manager, by the capitalist’s control of the manager’s wages, to make the manager advocate for certain positions within the union. The manager could use their power to fire other members to pressure those other members to also advocate for those positions. That kind of scenario is why the union should exclude managers.

What about paid officials of political parties and unions? It works the same way. By being paid officials, the party or other union leadership could use their economic power to force the member to take up positions on certain things in the union. Hold on a minute. Can’t any boss attempt to do this, to use their power to fire to make the member advocate certain positions within the union? That’s true. The difference is that political parties and other unions are not only employers but they have different visions for organizing the working class and the directions that should be taken. If someone is a paid official of a party or another union the other organization could use their economic power over that person to attempt to set policy in the IWW in a way which we might not immediately recognize.

Todd Hamilton and I wrote this together. An edited version appeared in Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, which I think everyone should read. (Everyone should read ASR I mean, not this article necessarily.)
Success and failure in Solidarity Unionism
We are both members and organizers in the Industrial Workers of the World. We write this article not as a representation of the organization, though, but as individuals with common political and theoretical commitments. In our experiences in the IWW success and failure are not always what they seem. While we are all for any improvement in the lives of workers, in some cases improvements – ostensibly gains – can create be regressive, as for instance when the boss improves conditions in the attempt to limit disatisfaction and workers end up aligning with the boss against other workers. In other instances, lack of improvement – ostensibly failures – can bring about transformation and useful experience for workers. In order to address this further, we will first talk about the type of organizing in the IWW that we are most excited about.
We take very seriously the criticisms of unions which come out of the left communist tradition. These criticisms are essentially that unions have evolved (in semi-recent history) to mediate conflicts between workers and capitalists, in order to maintain the capital relation. These criticisms do apply to many organizations which are called unions. We call those organizations business unions, because they create a situation of labor peace which is conducive to the smooth functioning of capitalism, or service unions, because these unions operate as fee for service institutions where professional staff and officers get paid out of dues money in exchange for improved benefits, conditions, and wages for the workers.
This creates a situation wherein the workers in the shop are passive and the professional staff are the active parties. Because workers do not build or maintain the relationships between themselves, and the knowledge of how to effectively organize required for workplace action, this creates disorganization.
While we do take these criticisms seriously, we do not believe that these criticisms apply to all unionism as defined by the IWW. In many areas of the IWW we practice a different form of unionism. It goes by different names – direct unionism, minority unionism, revolutionary unionism, solidarity unionism – and each name highlights a different aspect of the practice. The most common name in the IWW at the moment is solidarity unionism. Simply put solidarity unionism is organizing collectively (or as a group of workers) to directly implement our desires whether that’s in the workplace, industry, or economy. Solidarity unionism is a process of concerted effort, the construction and action with a collectivity or collectivities. More simply: solidarity unionism is a way of acting with others. This is not to undervalue individuals and individual actions, but a union always involves more than one person. Furthermore, for us a union is an attempt to construct or exercise collective power against an employer (or the employing class), with the goal of making them do something they would not otherwise do. The goals of solidarity unionism, unlike business unionism, is the transformation of social relations within the workplace, and building experience in struggle and class consciousness amongst its participants. This stands in contrast to the goals both of business unionists and many leftists alike who seek merely to achieve means to their ends or reforms (even when in the service of revolution). Solidarity unionism seeks to prefigure revolution through its building of collective activity and solidarity.
Solidarity unionism means organizing without falling back on some of the familiar features of union organizing as we’ve known it. These include comprehensive contracts, election based campaigns requiring a majority of workers, and the mediating bureaucracies and institutions (the courts, union bureaucracies, lawyers, politicians and parties) that alienate workers’ power. With solidarity unionism, we organize even if there is only a minority of workers who are members of the union, whether or not the boss and/or state recognize the union, and remaining strategic about how to avoid and deal with (the generally alienating and debilitating environments of) the courts, the state and parties, and hierarchical union bureaucracy that acts for and instead of workers (often against).
Our experiences with other forms of unionism have demonstrated to us that these other forms have important limits. These limits are what make us convinced of the left communist critique, and of the need for solidarity unionism. Contracts have helped kill job actions through forcing workplace gripes into a mediating bureaucracy that is hostile to workers. The hierarchical institutions put struggle into realms where worker power is weakest, and where workers play a secondary role. Beyond the power of the boss, the union bureaucracy has all the power and knowledge creating a hierarchy between the workers and the means of struggle. Elections and membership-based drives necessitate sinking huge amounts of efforts into organizing where there is often little benefit for workers. This form of organizing privileges bureaucracies with huge resources, and reproduces ierarchical relationships between workers and the union. Solidarity unionism is about organizing whether we’re recognized or not, whether there’s a contract or not, and most of all settling direct worker issues by the workers directly. That doesn’t mean we categorically don’t use things like contracts, lawsuits, arbitration, but they are tactics we use as adjuncts to our direct action not our strategy. Likewise we understand them and hold them to their strategic value, and don’t mistake them for what they aren’t. Simply put, the union is what we say it is, when we say it is, where we say it is, and all the decisions about the unions ‐ its definition and its actions ‐ rest in the hands of the members. We don’t need the boss, the state, or anyone else to give us permission or recognition as a union. We recognize and authorize ourselves. In doing so, and in acting together to improve our lives and struggle against the boss, we change as individuals.
A solidarity union is a shared project. Grammatically speaking, solidarity unionism exists in the first person plural. Considered from outside this first person perspective, the union is something else, just as I am only I when considered from the first person perspective. Furthermore, it is best to think about solidarity unions grammatically in terms of subjective rather than objective pronouns. An individual is an “I” when the individual is a subject, we are we when we act: I speak with you, we collaborate together. When an individual is an object the individual is a “me,” when we are acted upon we are us: the boss fired me, the police arrested us. When we act with others, though, we are subjects as individuals and we form a collective plural subject: I come to the organizing meeting, we refuse to work under bad conditions.
The assessment criterion for solidarity unionism is internal to the subject(s) involved. Solidarity unionism has effects internally and externally. That is, it changes those involved in the project, produces changes in workplace, and it produces an experience for use later. These external changes and the experience are in turn useful internally and externally. The products can help a group encounter others to work with, either as potential members or as individual or collective allies. The products also serve to help us act in the future, both in terms of having experiences to reflect on in order to make decisions and in terms of greater ability to organize in the workplace.
Once we begin to think in these terms, and begin to organize with these issues in mind, we gain a deeper perspective on strategy. For instance it is no longer necessary to fly the union flag as a hallmark in every campaign. It might be more tactical to keep the boss in the dark about union activity at a shop, or in an industry until we have already won enough gains and a wide enough base of support that announcing our presence would be strategic. Thus going another route than majority-based elections allows us to be strategic about when and how we give knowledge about the union’s presence in organizing. We can also be strategic about who and when we sign members up. Rather than having the goal of organizing being to just get people to take out cards whether they want to participate or not, membership can be an action itself and a positive step a worker can take in further the struggle and consciousness building. We can keep dues and membership for workers who want to be a part of the organization, who are ready to join, and who have experienced class struggle and organization together with the union (this of course is a positive feature, rather than a restrictive). This can draw a line in the sand between unions that are paper tigers, and unions (like us) that exist in our actions, education, and struggle. Solidarity unionism also means that simply becoming a member is not the most important thing a person can do. Membership should be part of an ongoing process of building relationships, education in practice and in theory, and of taking action with other workers. We don’t want membership simply for dues money or names on a list. That would be to become a paper tiger. Solidarity unionism presents its own challenges, and poses new questions to us. The rough model we are working off is one in which experienced workers assist in workplace struggles where demands are won through direct action. Workers are brought into the organization and developed through these struggles,moving towards revolutionary understanding and practice. At a certain level of strength and roots these worker-organizers can apply deeper pressure in their industry. That is we seek to build a foundation to respond and deepen struggle that otherwise might emerge but deflate through familiar mechanisms.
Solidarity unionism makes the union there insofar as the workers act as the union. Solidarity unionism makes the ability to develop workers especially important since we cannot even be effective as long as there are divisions between workers and the organization as far as taking action goes. Likewise we can’t afford to neglect the development necessary to be a revolutionary union, since the actions we pursue must reflect both our revolutionary nature and the struggle and consciousness of the workers. There is, it must be said, no solution to these problem at the level of theory. We have seen widespread evidence of our ability to win gains on the shop floor through solidarity unionism, and even to bring and build workers who have been truly radicalized for their first time through the IWW. This doesn’t happen in every instance, however. The issue of winning gains brings us back to where we started: success and failure. Outside of a solidarity union context, we tend to think (or at least talk) of success and failure in terms of winning campaigns, achieving demands, membership numbers, building members out of struggles, etc. Despite this language of success, many of our most active members are from campaigns that didn’t achieve their goals, and few active members are from campaigns that did. Betrayals, false starts, firings, attacks, and the like seem to have gotten us some of the best people, whereas gains often led to slow deaths (contracts leading to passive satellite shops uninterested in organizing and interaction, direct unionism campaigns that the workers drop out of after gains are achieved, etc) and generally few commited members.
Solidarity unionism means that our definitions of success and failure must be revised. Success is not solely a matter of better wages or conditions. Winning gains doesn’t always mean radicalization occurs, and failure to win gains can still entail huge changes on the people who experience the organizing together. Simply put, solidarity unionism puts the emphasis on collective struggle, and it is the struggle which changes people. Improvements in conditions do not necessarily. We do of course care very much about the latter, about improving conditions. We organize to protect ourselves and our co-workers from layoffs and from harassment. We organize to improve our wages and benefits. Most importantly, though, we organize the individual worker. The most important thing we do is get involved in collective struggle with our co-workers in a way that expands everyone’s experience, understanding, and abilities. We have seen this occur in many cases, without winning external economic gains.
Winning and losing, success and failure are tremendously important categories and we do no want to abandon them. When we organize on the job, something is ruptured. We are able to reshape our lives in ways that are deeply moving for many people, so moving that people are willing to risk their livelihoods to be a part of it. When Todd was on strike at a home for children with acute behavioral problems almost none of the workers planned to stick around for the end of the next contract period. People were striking for something bigger than that. Nate worked at an NGO that organized a union against bad conditions. People began to stick around out of commitment to each other, because of the relationships that were built as part of the organizing. Both of these instances did not create the improvements in the workplace that we hoped they would create. Judged from an external standard, our experiences were failures. Ours were painful experiences and we do not want to minimize that fact or downplay how devastating this kind of failure is. At the same time, to some extent, every working class struggle which does not abolish capitalism is a failure if we judge it from an external standard. This external standard is important, because it reminds us of the world we must change. On the other hand, this standard is too absolute to guide our strategy because it makes it difficult to draw lessons from our experiences or
identify resources we have gained.
Judged from an internal standard based on what we came away from those experiences with, they were not such unqualified failures. We came out of these experiences with improved understanding of how to organize with our co-workers, deeper commitment to the class struggle and the IWW, important relationships with other people, and a clear grasp of the pitfalls of business unionism. These internal results are part of what can be called the “compositional effect” of a struggle. Struggle has an effect on us which changes us, makes us different, recomposes us. This happens to individuals and to organizations, whether informal organizations like a group of friends and co-workers or a more formal organization. If struggles are widespread or circulate enough, they begin to effect what can be called a recomposition of the working class, which is a set of compositional effects upon a large number of workers.
The most important compositional effect is the increase of what can be called “compositional power.” Compositional power is the individual and collective ability to organize. Compositional power is increased or made more effective by its use, like a muscle. Solidarity unionism is a practice of exercising compositional power, in order to increase compositional power, in order to create other compositional effects: more widespread compositional power on the parts of others and changed balances of power between workers and employers.
As we said earlier, winning and losing are tremendously important categories. The compositional effect of a struggle is what should determine whether it is a win or a loss. More specifically, the effect of a struggle on compositional power is the most important question with which to evaluate a struggle. This is the key to solidarity unionism as we understand it. We need to make these kinds of evaluations in order to draw on our experiences so we can make them effective in the present, to use them in order to work to create similarly transformative experiences with others, and to win and maintain positive improvements in our lives at work. In some cases, we may not know whether something was a win or a loss right away. Sometimes composition effects take time to emerge. We must continue to ask ourselves if we are winning or losing, and not to be afraid to change our answers. Whatever answers we come up with must guide our practice in the present so that we can some day achieve one of our ultimate goals, the abolition of the wage system.
Instead of a conclusion, we want to make the final two points as observations:
1. What we call internal effects and their importance for us is analogous to feminist practices of consciousness raising. It matters less if something has been said before about women’s oppression and more that this particular person or group of persons comes to be able to say it – and does say it – for themselves. In our experience it is similar with workplace organizing. An agitational conversation, one involving, say, the question “what is your job like?” is less about the contents being articulated in order to extract knowledge than it is about a performative activity in which the person has an affective experience (becomes angry), makes a decision (to take a small action toward changing the workplace and coming together with others), begins to develop a relationship with the conversation partner, and begins to acquire the confidence, skills, and analysis needed to successfully organize their workplace. The increase of compositional power occurs when more people go through this experience and emerge committed to struggle.
2. Organizing in the workplace uses capacities everyone has. It must, then, take as its fundamental implicit or explicit presupposition a capacity to do and be more, that the actual does not exhaust the potential, and that this is universally the case for all people. This underlines an important part of what we see as the role of an organizer. If everyone is capable of organizing then the organizer is only a temporary role, and one that is not monopolizable. Indeed, one who occupies that role should aim at the opposite of monopoly, at collectivization.

Compositional Power
This is an interview Todd Hamilton and I did with this UK magazine called Turbulence.
Compositional power
Turbulence chats with Todd and Nate, both individual members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) about solidarity unionism, and gets their perspective on winning, losing and workplace struggle
Why prioritise workplace organisation when some people have argued value production now takes place everywhere?
We work for wages. We spend a huge chunk of our day and our lives at work, so it just makes sense for us to organise there. We don’t see this as a choice for people who want a revolution: we have to be organising in the workplace now, so that when opportunities open up we’re already there. Whether the revolution begins amongst housewives, chronically unemployed, housing struggles, etc., we’re still going to need to deal with workplaces in the transformation of society.
As far as value production now taking place everywhere… well this isn’t actually a new condition, it’s always been true wherever capitalism has existed. Your question implies that since value production occurs everywhere, there’s no need to organise in the workplace. We see it instead as meaning we need to organise in many places.
So has nothing changed? What about increasing precarity, for example?
No. A lot has changed. But since life outside of waged workplaces has always been part of value production, we don’t see this as one major change which changes everything else (which is what some people seem to think with real subsumption, postfordism, postmodernity, whatever). This whole debate has produced some important insights into the way we understand the capitalist mode of production, exploitation, hierarchy, and so on. But many people mistake the innovation in theory for a change in the material conditions of the present. This is unfortunate for two reasons. First, we think these new theories can help us better understand the past too. And, second, there are important lessons from past experiences which we need to hang onto as a tool for use in the present. If everything has changed, as some argue, then the status of those lessons/examples is lessened.
There have been changes though. One big change in the US is that the ruling class is largely no longer interested in the class compromise upon which the higher unionisation rates in the US were once built – the business unions negotiated higher productivity in exchange for better conditions. The ruling class has decided it can accomplish much of what it wants without having to cut any such deal, by simply forcing higher productivity and worse pay and conditions. But this isn’t a change at the level of production, it’s a change in demeanor of the ruling class, how old laws are interpreted, new laws being invented, etc. Simultaneously the makeup of the US workforce has shifted – more immigrant labour in certain sectors, more service-industry work where conditions breed high turnover.
So what are the problems of workplace organising? And if material conditions haven’t changed substantially, why is the IWW a fraction of the size and strength it was 90 years ago?
The main problems for the IWW, and worker organising in general, are not a result of epochal shifts in capitalism. Take precarity, which you mention. We just don’t think there’s been a significant change here: precarity is the universal condition of the proletariat. Perhaps this condition was obscured for many years for large sections of the working class – the basis of the post-war settlement – but the people the IWW organised most and most successfully were outside these sections. Labour conditions in some of the sectors the IWW organised historically in the US are no more precarious today than in 1912, and in some cases they are significantly less so. And, more generally, precarity was never lessened or obscured in the US to the degree that it was in some other places. That’s part of the the reason why the debates on precarity in Europe haven’t jumped the ocean. European precaritisation is in many ways socio-economic Americanisation.
There’s a number of reasons for the IWW’s decline, partly related to shifts in the economy and demographics of the US, and partly to repression. The IWW was almost destroyed several times over the course of its history. Tons and tons of organisers got murdered, permanently disabled, imprisoned, deported, blacklisted, etc. There’s a parallel here with the movement(s) in Italy in the 1970s and the destruction of autonomia.
But workplace struggles never went away. The problem is simply that organising is really, really hard: the ruling class has the deck stacked dramatically in its favor, and even though our power is superior, making this latent power active is an arduous, dangerous, and difficult process. This is the main difficulty we face and it’s pretty much true for any class struggle in any society.
In some ways increased flexibility and mobility in and out of work do make organising harder. But not impossible, and, in fact, the IWW has been the only union organising in many ‘flexible’ workplaces (independently contracted computer workers, transportation workers, etc.). But despite these changes in the composition of the class, our model of organisation doesn’t vary much.
What is solidarity unionism and how does it relate to other models of workplace organisation, like bio-syndicalism or Justice for Janitors?
Talk of a solidarity unionism ‘model’ is a bit misleading. It’s more like a scale or a key in music, it provides the framework within which we improvise the affective, immaterial, flexible processes of organising and building organisation. Simply put solidarity unionism is organising collectively to directly implement our desires, whether that’s in a single workplace, across an industry, or throughout the whole economy. It’s an attempt to construct or exercise collective power against an employer (or the employing class), with the intention of making them do something they would not otherwise do. It’s about organising whether we’re recognised or not, whether there’s a contract or not, and most of all settling direct worker issues by the workers directly. Our goal is the (prefigurative) transformation of social relations within the workplace, while building experience of struggle and class consciousness amongst its participants.
A solidarity union is a shared project. Grammatically speaking, it exists in the first person plural. Considered from outside this first person perspective, the union is something else, just as I am only I when considered from the first person perspective. Furthermore, it is best to think about solidarity unions in terms of subjective rather than objective pronouns, as I or we, not me or us. As objects, we are acted upon: the boss fired me; the union won us a 5% raise. But as subjects we act: I come to the organising meeting, we refuse to work, we collaborate together.
From the little we’ve learnt from comrades in Spain and Argentina, bio-syndicalism looks sort of like our kind of unionism, except it involves more of a relationship with the state than we see as necessary: demands for new rights or law, or running for election, say. Within the IWW we may have tactical relations with the state for defensive purposes, but we don’t think there are any positive gains to be won this way. As workers our relationship with the boss is one of power. We cannot rely on recognition, representation or visibility to change that relationship; we can only rely on our collective organisation!
Bio-syndicalism doesn’t strike us as a new idea. It’s very much like some forms of organising that existed in the 1930s and before, and have continued to exist in small pockets here and there. Why call that ‘bio-syndicalism’ instead of just syndicalism? Our impression is that the people who like bio-syndicalism hold to a type of marxism that believes everything is different under the sun today, so that old organisational forms don’t work anymore. Sure, some older organisational forms have lost their efficacy and some, like the Party and business unions, never worked in the first place. But others do still work.
And Justice for Janitors… ?
While anything that makes for better conditions for workers is great, we’re not particularly excited about Justice For Janitors. Justice For Janitors is part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a business union in the US (part of a coalition with the overstated name ‘Change To Win’ which split from the AFL-CIO). Our criticisms of business unionism are many, and we see Justice For Janitors and other similar campaigns (they’re called ‘corporate campaigns’ in the US) as repeating all these problems. In short, they all boil down to discouraging workers’ self-activity and bureaucratising and defusing struggle. The business union model involves delegating power away from workers to professionals outside the workplace – paid staff and officials, lawyers, public relations people, journalists, etc. The effects on democracy in the workplace are obvious. And business unions usually aim at contracts. But once in force these become a mechanism for policing the shop floor because of the need to keep production flowing and to avoid an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the official union (contracts all contain ‘no strike’ clauses, making work stoppages illegal).
What then is the difference between ‘activism’ and organising?
This is a crucial distinction for us. We see activism as acting for someone else: show up to a protest on someone else’s behalf. Organising is acting with someone else: get together with someone else, form a group of people, start acting collectively on shared needs. Activism has a function and is important sometimes, but organising is more important. Put it this way – in activism we exert what power we have, in solidarity with someone else. In organising we get together with others in order to increase our collective power. As a result, we have more power to exert, both in solidarity with others and, in the long run, to reduce the problems that we face.
We might explain this difference by looking at the old slogan ‘be realistic, demand the impossible!’ We can translate ‘be realistic’ into ‘be reasonable’. The activist makes impossible demands, then when criticised insists ‘this is reasonable!’ The organiser uses a reasonable approach in order to move people into thinking – and feeling in their gut, in terms of confidence – that what they used to think was impossible is actually possible.
Being an organiser means encountering someone else where they’re at, using an idiom and appealing to values as close as possible to the ones they already have. The goal is to get close to them in order to move them (and be moved ourselves perhaps). But organising in the workplace also uses capacities everyone has. It presupposes, implicit or explicitly, a universal capacity to do and be more, that the actual does not exhaust the potential. This underlines an important part of what we see as the role of an organiser. If everyone is capable of organising then the organiser is only a temporary role, and one that is not monopolisable. Indeed, anyone who occupies that role should aim at the opposite of monopoly, at collectivisation.
Given the above, how do you relate to the ‘movement of movements’, which sometimes seems to be built around spectacular events like summit protests? And don’t some ‘activists’ actually organise, whilst union ‘organisers’ might in fact be activists?
Summit mobilisations can be awesome. Take Seattle. There were tons of great people there and exciting stuff happened. Many people did stuff that went beyond their positions (and others did stuff that didn’t live up to their positions). But we think there are real limits to this.
There’s a difference of both site and function. The summit protest’s site is at a location where there’s a summit. Its functions are many and include getting a lot of people into a place together for a positive experience (inspiring, educational/transformational, meeting people, communicating, etc), and physically impeding the functioning of the summit. With workplace organising the site is double: in the workplace, as the place for action against the bosses, and outside the workplace, in homes, in meeting rooms or elsewhere. Put differently, the sites are the face-to-face encounter between two or more people (outside work), and the bigger and conflictual encounter between groups of workers and their bosses/the production process (in the workplace). But we’re not claiming any monopoly: we know some of these types of sites also exist in summit protests and other activism, and that’s excellent.
Few people literally live at work, but almost everyone lives at work in the sense that we have to go there for our jobs. We’re not there deliberately in the same way we are at a summit protest. In other words, we’re not necessarily already plugged into the movement. Take the positive encounters between protesters and residents that happen at a summit protest (like when people bring food and water to protesters, cheer them on, talk to them, etc). They’re really cool but aren’t the reason for the protest. By contrast these types of encounter are the whole point of workplace organising. We organise at work to meet our co-workers. Or rather, organising at work is meeting (actually many, many, many meetings…) with our co-workers. The function of workplace organising is also double. First, to produce a positive experience, preferably one which leads to members of the organisation and to people becoming organisers. This isn’t always or even often fun, but it is transformational and educational, both in how we see the world and in our capacities, like learning a new dance step or learning to keep cool while speaking in front of people. The second function is to increase collective power at work and therefore to improve conditions.
But the movement of movements isn’t just about summit protests, is it? And we think really the question of the IWW’s relationship to the movement of movements can only be answered by talking about what it is. We’re not sure exactly, but nor are we interesting in drawing lines, defining who’s in and who’s out. Certainly we think it’s likely that the transformational effects on individuals of both summit protests (say) and workplace-organising could have results for the other, as people’s lives take them across different sites. Struggles mutually reinforce one another. But we don’t know that either includes the other or should, at least not ‘include’ in the sense of ‘subsumes’.
What does organising really mean in concrete, day-to-day terms? And related to that, how do you measure success or failure?
Someone we know says this: ‘Everyone wants a revolution but no one wants to wash the dishes.’ Organising involves a lot of dish-washing. We have a lot of conversations with people, asking them questions, listening, responding, asking follow-up questions, listening some more. We build a relationship with them. We find out what they want to see changed at work. We get them to talk with other people at work in order to build (and then strengthen) a web of relationships.
Then we start to talk and act as a group – identifying things we want to see changed, figuring out ways to pressure the boss and ways to implement the changes we want. At the concrete day-to-day level, organising is like running a really long distance – it’s not particularly complicated intellectually but it takes a lot of time and energy, and it can be really hard. It is pretty slow-moving sometimes, especially when we’re used to the pace and the energy of big demonstrations.
It’s easier to talk about the success question. It’s usual to think of success and failure in terms of winning campaigns, achieving demands, increasing membership, etc. But many of our most active members are from campaigns that didn’t achieve their goals, and few active members are from campaigns that did. Betrayals, false starts, firings, attacks, and the like seem to have gotten us some of the best people, whereas gains can sometimes lead to slow deaths and few committed members – contracts leading to passive satellite shops uninterested in organising and interaction.
Of course we organise to protect ourselves and our co-workers from layoffs and from harassment, and we organise to improve our wages and benefits. But winning is not solely a matter of better wages or conditions. It’s also about radicalisation and the experience of collective organising. It’s collective struggle with our co-workers which expands our experience, understanding and abilities. We have seen this occur in many cases, even without winning external measurable gains.
When we struggle we reshape our lives in ways that are deeply moving for many of us, so moving that people are willing to risk their livelihoods to be a part of it. Todd was on strike at a home for children with acute behavioral problems. Almost none of the workers planned to stick around for the end of the next contract period, but they were striking for something bigger than that. Nate worked at an NGO where people started organising against bad conditions. People began to stick around out of commitment to each other, because of the relationships that they built as part of the organising. Neither of these instances created the workplace improvements we were hoping for. Judged from an external standard, our experiences were failures (as is every working class struggle which does not abolish capitalism). This external standard is important, because it reminds us of the world we must change, but it makes it difficult to draw lessons from our experiences or identify resources we have gained.
Struggle changes us, makes us different, recomposes us. When we organise on the job something is ruptured. This happens to individuals and to organisations, whether informal, like a group of friends and co-workers, or more formal, like a union. If struggles are widespread or circulate enough, they begin to effect what can be called a recomposition of the working class. The most important effect of this is to increase ‘compositional power’ – the individual and collective ability to organise. Compositional power is increased or made more effective by its use, like a muscle: solidarity unionism is one way of doing this.
Some of this is analogous to feminist practices of consciousness raising. It matters less if something has been said before about women’s oppression and more that this particular person or group of persons comes to be able to say it – and does say it – for themselves. An agitational conversation, one involving say the question ‘what is your job like?’, is less about extracting knowledge and more about a performative activity in which the person has an affective experience (becomes agitated), makes a decision (to take a small action toward changing the workplace and coming together with others), begins to develop a relationship with the conversation partner, and begins to acquire the confidence, skills, and analysis needed to successfully organise their workplace.
In the end the success of organising lies in social relationships. Organising ought to prefigure the systemic shifts in social relations that the end of capitalism entails. When we struggle together and take action, we confront things that formerly we had to face alone. A bridge can be built between people engaged together in struggle, and we can drive fissures into the isolation that is imposed on us. Organising is about reclaiming our lives and our space to realise our desires, often ones we didn’t even know about. It’s not always easy or pleasant, but sometimes unique beauty and joy can be born of these collective transformations.

Graduate Worker Organizing
This is a draft of a talk I gave in April, 2008.

Graduate student employees need to unionize. First off, why? Why unionize? Simply put, because this is a hard job. It’s tiring, emotionally draining, and stressful. And the pay is low. Many grad employees get paid low enough that a single person living our annual rate of pay falls within what the U.S. government recognizes as low income.

The reason why is to alter the balance of power. I expect I’m pretty much preaching to the choir here, but I think that’s the basic answer to why unionize. Think for a second of a few things you don’t like about your job. Think about what you would improve if you had more control over how your job is run and how it impacts the rest of your life. Whatever it is you just thought of, it’s probably a pretty good reason to unionize.

Implied in what I’ve said so far is a definition of that word unionize. To make it explicit: to unionize means to get more power on the job in order to improve our jobs and our lives. The way to do this is by getting together collectively. A union is a group of people acting together to improve our lives. We need to be one of those.

At least for those of us in the humanities I think this is not what our training and socialization inclines us toward. We are not encouraged to act in groups. We compete with each other for fellowships, for attention from advisors, and eventually for jobs. Once we get jobs, those of us who do get jobs, our status at most institutions will be based on what the employer calls merit review: an individual assessment of us and our work. This way of doing things rewards individualistic behavior rather than collaboration. It is an environment in which individuals succeed at least in part at the expense of others. If this sounds overstated, think for a moment about scholarly aspirations. Who are the top people in a field? They’re individual names, for one thing, and their know for individual and often idiosyncratic contributions. Sometimes their names become adjectives for lesser people in the field to use to describe themselves, and we lesser people aspire to being an important individual under that adjective, with some important individual contribution.

Compare this with say, hospice care, caring for people at the end of their life. That’s an important sort of work to do, right? Hospice workers are doing something good and worth doing, right? We all agree? Certainly hospice workers do give individualized care, make a personal connection, but there is no parallel in hospice work to academic superstars.

To be clear, I’m not against individual excellence. I’m all for it. How could I not be, being so incredibly excellent myself? No really. I’m excellent. Believe me. Seriously though, I really am. Really seriously though, unionizing is not a limit on individual excellence. Unionizing is about acting collectively to change the playing field at work. In that changed playing field people who are driven to excel can still be excellent. I know I will. While unionizing is not an obstacle to individual achievement, it is not an individual affair. It means getting together with coworkers based on common problems, and working to solve those problems. It means exerting power to make our employer treat us better. While individuals may be able to get ahead in the current context, those individuals are getting around problems or solving them individually, which is not the same as eliminating those problems. Someone who gets a really good fellowship solves the problem of low pay and high workload for themselves, basically they get a get out of jail free card, but they don’t change the condition of low pay and high workload for people of their job class and if the fellowship ends their back in that jail. Unionizing means changing those conditions.

What unionizing does not mean is legality and formality. That is to say, a union is not a contract or a body with a contract and it is not a body which the employer recognizes or the government authorizes. Now, in some cases, unions are recognized and authorized. But those are recognized and authorized unions. There are also unrecognized and unauthorized unions. This is important I think.

Let me put it differently. Not all unions are recognized and authorized by the government and the employer, but all unions are recognized and authorized, by the members themselves. We recognize ourselves and authorize ourselves as a collective body. If the government and the employer doesn’t, well, that will probably change how we need to act, but it does not decide whether or not we are a union.

This may sound strange. It may fly in the face of what many people think of when they think of the word “union.” I admit, most entities that call themselves unions today and that most people call unions are legally recognized bodies that are recognized by employers. But actually, all unions go through a stage of non-recognition and non-authorization.

In brief, here’s how private sector union organizing campaigns work if they choose to use the election process of the National Labor Relations Board or NLRB. Organizers talk to workers to get some percentage of them committed to the idea of unionizing and of doing the work needed to move the campaign forward. In order to get an election, the NLRB requires basically a petition, consisting of signatures by 30% of the employees in the job class seeking recognition. Most organizers aim for about double that number of supporters before filing a petition. When the petition is filed, the NLRB tells the employer and begins to schedule an election. It can be as quick as 6 weeks, theoretically, or as long as a year away depending on how good the employer’s attorney is. At the point the organizing campaign is public.

When the election comes, to be recognized the NLRB requires that 50% of people who vote plus one additional vote be pro-union votes in order for the union to be recognized. Winning the election means the employer is obligated by law to meet with representatives of the unionizing workers and to make a good faith attempt to negotiate a contract, for twelve months. If no contract agreement is reached in the 12 month period it’s like the election never happened.

Let’s say a group of workers goes through this process. That’s not actually a very good idea, the chance of success is about 1 in 10, but let’s say this group does so and they win. Their organization, legally recognized and employer recognized, that’s a union. But when did it become a union? When the contract was signed? When the election was won? When the campaign went public? Immediately before the campaign went public? When the first group of co-workers really started actually working to change the balance of power on the job?

I want to say it’s the last of these. The union exists when the workers begin to act like a union. This is because a union is an activity. That’s why I’ve tried to use the verb unionize about as much as the noun union here.

You don’t have to agree with me on the use of the term union. If you prefer not to use the word the way I do, if you want to say that a group of workers is not a union until they get a contract signed, that’s your business. I don’t agree – and I think you should pause and reflect on the fact that this point of view is the point of view that employers often have, and it leaves out some organizations that call themselves unions – but really, I’m okay to agree to disagree. At the least, though, let’s agree that in my description of how NLRB election campaigns work, before the contract is signed there is something that exists. Something organized. An organization.

That’s the important point. Organization. Grad employees need to organize. We need to come together to improve our jobs, and form something lasting which we bring new colleagues into, something which will persist once we leave, persist because the people around then are bringing new people in. Along the way we will act together to the best of our ability to deal with problems at work as they arise, and we will make plans to keep on working to make things better here. That’s what I mean and what I want to see.

I want to reiterate: this is not a matter of laws and contracts and recognition. I’m not averse to those things. My point is that what I am talking about is a matter of power and organization. Our relationship to legal status and contracts and recognition and affiliation with a larger organization or not, those are important questions. But they are not the deciding factors in whether or not we unionize. They are questions of way we might go about our unionizing. They are tactical questions.

I’m trying to stress this point because I think this has been a failing of several previous unionization attempts by grad employees that I know of. (I lost a job once because of this sort of failing, it’s part of how I ended in graduate school actually.) The issue is not our permission to act or whether we act. It’s when we and how we act, in what ways and for what reasons. You may find yourself thinking something like “this all sounds fine in the abstract, but I can’t really imagine what you’re saying. And I don’t want talk, I want real change here because this is hard stuff we deal with. To make that real change we will need the force of law and the power of a big union behind us.” If you’re thinking that, let me say first that I respect that and I can see where you’re coming from and I’m glad you feel seriously about this and strongly as well. Second, if you’re thinking those sort of thought, please perform this exercise:

Imagine one of those problems at work that I mentioned earlier.

Ask yourself, how would the law or a membership fix that?

If you think something like “well, the union has money and staff and the law, well, it’s the law! It involves the government and the government has money, and staff!” then please ask yourself, what would that money do or go to? What would that staff do? What force would that law have? Particularly with law, when it comes to employment and things that are illegal for employers to do or not do, that’s important but… think about all the times you or someone you know has broken the speed limit or otherwise violated the law and gotten away with it. Labor law is the same way. It gets broken a lot and the percent of employers who break the law and get away with it is really high.

Anyway, how would the formal and legal and recognized stuff change the problem you want to see changed?

Try to imagine that clearly.

You may draw a blank or find yourself thinking something like “well, I don’t really know, but … I mean … it just would!” Don’t worry – you may still be right – but please admit that you don’t actually know how the problem would be solved.

I’m not saying I know how everything could be fixed here. But what I am saying is that it’s okay to not know all the details. Not know all the details shouldn’t stop us from start work to solve a problem. If we only worked on problems we already knew all the answers to, we would not solve very many problems. Maybe the solutions here do involve recognition and law. The important point is not to assume they do, to assume that if we don’t get a contract then we can’t make change, if the law and our employer don’t agree to call us a union then we are nothing. That is a serious mistake, one that inhibits our abilities to imagine changes and avenues to change.

Unionizing means getting together, putting our heads together to come up with ways to solve problems, to make our employer treat us differently. There are a number of ways to do that. The basic principles are deceptively simple, in a way that it’s easy to overlook which is why I’m spending time on this right now.

Think about exercising – in exercise we want to exert ourselves within the current bounds of our ability in order to expand the bounds of our ability to exert ourselves. Likewise, organizing means exerting power within our ability to exert power right now, in a way that expands the amount of power we have to exert in the future. Our goal with organization should be to solve problems in ways that increases our capacity to solve problems in the future. If legality and recognition and all that are one part of how we exerting power in way which expands our power, then great. But if we exhaust ourselves or if our strategy is all-or-nothing, as happens when we say “if the election fails or if we can get a contract then we are not an organization and we can’t act,” or if we think that the election means we will make everything better once and for all, then that’s another matter. That’s like saying “I’m going to lift this massive heavy weight and if I fail I will never exercise again” or like saying “I want work out so much that I never need to work out ever again.” This would be a bad idea in the gym and it’s a bad idea on campus where we work.

There’s a lot more that could be said. This is only about what I think our basic framework should be for how we think about what it means to unionize. This does not get into the details of the various steps along the way. The practices and processes and functions and relationships needed for creating a genuine working organization that has the potential to last a long time, the ways we might push for improvements, learning about and beginning to master the skills and activities needed to start making all of this a reality, examples we can learn from and perhaps more importantly gain inspiration from, what a union would be for us in this job class, how that will relate to the wider industry and the rest of our class and then there’s plans and timetables and benchmarks and many, many decisions … I didn’t even scratch the surface on any of that. I think those things make less sense without a good orienting framework, but I look forward to when those things are our main focus, and I look forward even more to when we’ve figured those things out and are really, actually winning.

Earlier similar talk I gave:
Academic workers need to form a union. If we were really organized we would have more power to exert in solidarity with our other fellow workers and more power to improve our own jobs. In what follows I’m going to list a few things that need to change as part of organizing ourselves then speak very briefly about how I think we should organize.

First off, as part of organizing ourselves we need to debunk some myths that make up what I like to call the ideology of academic exceptionalism. Academic exceptionalism is the idea that working as an academic is somehow tremendously different than working anyplace else. One of these myths is the myth of the radical academic. This is the idea that teaching or writing or reading about some subject somehow changes the world. That’s false. As academics, our jobs are to read and write and teach. We may make the world a better place by doing our jobs, just like how nurses makes the world a better place by doing their jobs, but we’re not going to alter the power structures in the world by doing our jobs. This myth also inhibits attempts to exert power on the job, and it needs to be got rid of.

Another of these myths is the myth of meritocracy. This is the idea that you get into a university by being really good at something that really matters, and that you succeed in your educational and professional career in the academic industry by being really good at something that really matters. That’s false too. It’s true that being really good at things is one way to succeed in this industry. But some people succeed without apparently being at very much – due to patronage, favoritism, politicking, etc – and many people fail who are also really good at important things. This is important for two reasons. The myth of meritrocracy makes people think they need to compete with each other. It also makes people who work as academics think they’re better than other people, which inhibits solidarity across the line around the campus.

Along with rejecting these myths, we should try to understand, criticize, and eliminate institutional realities related to them, including tenure, merit pay, and competitive distribution of fellowships and jobs and other funding. Those institutional realities help segment and individualize the academic workforce. They should be gotten rid of an replaced with progressive union contracts.

Aside getting rid of these myths, those of us who work as academics should start paying more attention to the ways that academic jobs work as jobs, and the economic forces which shape condititions in the industry and its various parts. As part of this, we should pay more attention to the ways that academic jobs link with other jobs as supply chains and markets. This means not only trying to understand what’s happening but also more deliberate attempts to build relationships across job classes and across campuses and schools among those without the power to hire and fire – graduate employees and clerical staff at this university, graduate employees and adjuncts at other institutions in the area. We should also pay more attention to the labor movement today and historically in our industry, analogous industries, and generally. Ideally this should become part of the workplace culture. There are important lessons we’re not learning.

Two more points. One, someone needs to write the history of the graduate employee unionization attempt here and we should discuss it publicly and critically. I think the UE is a great union with a proud history but it was the wrong union for this campaign and it should have said so. It has a membership of 35,000 people, tops. For it to take on an election campaign of 4,000 people was irresponsible. This would be like SEIU trying to organize about 240,000 people in a one year election campaign. It was also a mistake to pursue an election as the route to unionization. I don’t know the figures for the public sector, but in the private sector if you got with the NLRB’s election process you have about a 1 in 10 chance of ending up unionized. Public sector employers don’t bust unions as viciously, but the process works very similarly.

Instead of the election route, I think we should aim for building a union of academic workers that can act – that can exert power in a non-symbolic way – without having a majority, without being an exclusive bargaining agent, and without a contract. These kinds of unions have existed and still do. Building a union like that will be a step toward a majority union with a contract. As part of this, a lot of need to admit that we don’t know how to do this – despite whatever political or theoretical or disciplinary acumen we may have, some of which I think may actually impede organizing – and that currently we’re not as organized and not as powerful as we should be. Let me be clear here that I am not proposing theorizing or writing or teaching or any of the other things that we get paid for. We need practical and organizational activity conducted on our time off work (and time on the clock stolen back from our employer by using that time in ways which could get us in trouble if we got caught), as with every other instance of workplace organizing. A few options we should consider include attending workplace organizing trainings, reading up on the relevant laws and court cases, starting a newsletter and circulating pamphlets, starting organizational projects like flying pickets and grievance committees, and seeking out examples of these that we can learn from and network with. A more simple starting point would be to map which units have local informal or formal organization and which don’t. Those which are organized should begin to network on a face to face basis and set concrete goals and timelines for improving our lives at work. We should also formulate demands we want on a unit by unit basis and in common with other units. For graduate employees, I’d like to see an end to the fees at the beginning of the semester, I think that would provide us with a good starting issue.

Soylent Union!
When I was kid I used to watch science fiction movies with my dad sometimes. I don’t remember the details very clearly but I remember watching this movie Soylent Green with him. I think that was the title. I should look it up and make sure. My dad was really into it and he would be disappointed that I don’t remember this better.

As I remember the movie, it’s set in some apocalyptic world or something. Something has gone terribly wrong and people are dealing with that. In the movie Soylent Green is the name of a processed food that is a major part or all of people’s diets. During the movie the main character figures out that Soylent Green is actually made out of human beings. Everyone in the movie is consuming other humans. Shocked with this knowledge and determined to tell people, the guy comes running into some room or something and shouts “Soylent Green is made out of people!” I think then maybe the police take him away or whatever. I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter, it’s kind of a dumb movie. (I should totally be a film reviewer. I clearly have a gift for it, as you can tell.)

I want to do what that guy did in the movie, minus the running and shouting and the getting taken way, none of which is my style. My point is that there’s a parallel to Soylent Green that we all live with. I’d like to call it Soylent Black-And-Red. This is really a pretty simple point. Our organization is made out of people. It seems like it shouldn’t be, but it can be easy to forget this. And unfortunately sometimes in our organization we end up eating each other up.
There are a few basic ways that we can end up with Soylent Black-And-Red, some more passive and others more active. All involve eating people alive in some way. I think none have to involve bad intentions. The people in the movie go about their lives doing what they do, eating to survive, and they are unknowingly eating other humans. It’s easy to do the same in our organization, without knowing it.

Passive Soylency
The passive version of Soylent Black-And-Red is simply not participating or attempting to participate. It takes a lot of work to make our organization happen. It takes a lot of time and effort. That time and effort is unevenly distributed. Nonparticipation helps keep that time and effort unevenly distributed. It means that others face a choice: take on a heavy burden of time/money/both, or let the work not get done, let the organization suffer and lag.
A fellow worker in my branch, currently one of the co-Branch Secretary Treasurers, has talked about this in terms of “Fellow Worker X.” He says some people sometimes act like there’s this mysterious nameless member who will do the work. “This important thing needs to get done, so it should happen. It’s important!” That kind of thing gets said sometimes in our organization, followed often by “so we should do this important thing.” In some cases, the person saying this says “I will do it,” or “I will work on this with others.” Sometimes they say “I don’t have time to do this but I think it’s important” (I know I’ve said this more than once). Other times they say nothing at all about getting involved. In these last two types, the person says “we” or “our organization” but they mean something more like “someone should do this, someone else I mean.”
That’s “Fellow Worker X,” the idea that someone else will do the work. That may be true. And sometimes it’s necessary. But that someone else is a particular member with a name. Treating needed work as something that someone will do, the mysterious Fellow Worker X, means we don’t have a conversation about how the work will be distributed. It means we probably don’t notice who did the work – it’s the mysterious Fellow Worker X! – and we don’t think about how they’re dealing with the work and we don’t thank them. This can contribute to burning people out, which is part of what I mean by “eating people.” That’s what makes Fellow Worker X a part of Soylent Black-And-Red.
A flip side to this, a more active but often no more conscious version of Soylent Black-And-Red, is when someone does it all or tries to. This is the other side of the coin from nonparticipation. This is monopolizing participation or taking too much.
Don’t get me wrong, there are times when it’s appropriate for one person to do more. If me and some coworkers get fired wrongly again and the branch is selling assessment stamps as a fundraiser to help us, I would prefer that the assessment stamps be done by someone who is good at design and that people who are good at fundraising work on selling them. In that case, we would need the money to pay our bills and keep food on the table, so having a better artist make the stamp (as opposed to the crooked stick figures that are most of what I know how to draw) and more experienced people helping coordinate getting people to donate, that’s totally appropriate. Just like not all cases of “we should do this but I don’t have time to contribute” are cases of Soylent Black-And-Red, neither are all cases of high participation forms of eating people.
At the same time, part of keeping people in the organization is allowing them and helping them have meaningful participation that makes a real contribution, is respected, and helps them develop as a member. If one person or small group regularly takes on too much, they leave less for others to do. They take up all the space, suck up all the air. People can’t plug in meaningfully then, can’t really live and grow in the organization.
That also leads to burnout, in that overcommitted people or overparticipators will eventually get tired and scale back their activity, or they will leave. Overparticipation can also lead to people leaving not due to burnout but because of what we might call freeze-out: they don’t have meaningful ways to participate, they feel shut out or simply bored, so they walk away. Any skills they learned are now gone, along with whatever other talents and potential they brought to the organization.
Burnout is sort like the active version of Soylent Black-And-Red in that it’s self-cannibalism. I’ll talk more about others parts of the active version in a bit. When I joined the IWW in Chicago I told the delegate I was talking with that I would not be able to participate very much. I had just gotten over a difficult part of my life and was trying to put some things back together. I had been involved in the labor movement and in the left for a bit. I knew how much those things can suck up all of my time and energy in a way that’s not very good for me or for my relationships. So I said, “I’m going to ease into this, I can’t give a ton of time.” The delegate said something like “that’s fine. We want to you to participate at the level you’re able to, and at a level you can sustain.We want you here for the long term, not the short term.” That has stuck with me.
Burnout is especially bad with long term overparticipators if they haven’t made space for others to learn and develop. That is, burnout plus plus freeze-out is really bad. In that case, when people either scale back or leave, they leave a bigger gap than they would have otherwise. This is because they didn’t allow enough room for others to learn to do the things the overparticipator did/does. (To be clear, I’m not against people participating a lot. This isn’t about the number of hours. It’s qualitative not quantitative. It’s about relationships and what’s going on at a given moment. Someone could be an overparticipator in one branch and do less than people who might be considered only moderately active in another branch. And sometimes it may even be necessary to do this stuff – in an organizing emergency the most skilled organizer may have to do a lot of the work and sacrifice the other goals of developing new people and creating space for participation. It all depends. All I’m really saying is we should be mindful of these possibilities and act deliberately.)

Active Soylency
Along with passive ways of eating people alive, there are active ways of doing so. Some of these are obvious. For instance, direct name calling or insulting side comments. This is much more common in electronic communication than in person or on the phone. For some reason electronic communication just seems to make it a lot easier to be cruel. I think it may be because we’re reacting in real time as we’re reading and typing, but the other person isn’t there so we don’t moderate our comments as much. And also things that may not seem as harsh in person because of tone of voice and facial expression and body language can seem much more harsh electronically. My friend J Pierce has started to say that IWW members should not argue by email. Instead, when we start to get hot under the collar while sitting at the keyboard we should stand up and reach for the phone. Call the other fellow worker and talk it out by phone. I think that’s some good advice.
I think one source of this tendency may be that we are an oppositional organization. We oppose the wage system and the present way society is constructed. In our organizing we start from the things we are upset about. So we spend a lot of our time working against something and denouncing or opposing something. There’s nothing wrong with that, I think it’s necessary actually, but it’s easy to make a mistake and start treating other people we disagree with as if we oppose them. That is, sometimes people talk to or about fellow workers the way they talk to or about the boss. I think sometimes people get down on officers of the union for this reason, because we start to associate officers with bosses or other authority figures we oppose in other areas of our life. All ofthat is very destructive and it should not happen.
One of my personal pet peeves is when people imply that other people are scheming behind the scenes or being otherwise dishonest. Now, I’m not naive. I know some people are dishonest or scheming in this world. But most of the time most of the bad things in the world are not motivated by ill-will. They’re more the result of people not thinking or acting in good faith and still managing to do bad things. (I would argue that this is part of capitalist society in general. People go about their economic actions without a whole lot of thought and along the way reproduce this system. Loads of bosses want a better world and many may subjectively share similar values to many wobblies. That doesn’t change their actions, of course, or mean we shouldn’t oppose them.) I think the general assumption we should have about IWW members is that they are acting in good faith and that problems are the result of misunderstandings or differences of vision, not ill will or dishonesty. That doesn’t mean that differences will be easy to resolve, but it does mean that the problem when differences arise is a different problem.
Along the same lines, I think it’s totally unhelpful to characterize debates inside the IWW in terms of right and left. Since the IWW is an organization that wants to abolish capitalism – which is at least in one sense a left-wing idea, since it’s a revolutionary idea – and since the majority and possibly all of our members identify with the left, no one in the IWW is likely to say “I’m on the right wing on this issue.” Characterizing debates inside the IWW as right vs left is not helpful because it doesn’t allow people enough room to respond. It sets people up to say basically “Right-wing? No I’m not!” rather than laying out arguments on their merits and addressing them constructively. I think sexual violence, domestic violence, and homophobia are huge problems. I spent several years in the late 90s working exclusively on these issues, doing things like helping organize Take Back The Night marches and speak outs. I think this work is vitally important. I don’t think the IWW should make it a major focus of what we do. This is not because I have a right-wing position about these issues. Similarly I think the dues in the union should go up and I think we should not hire people to be paid organizers for the IWW. Other people disagree with me. This is not because anyone is on the left or the right of this issue, it’s because we have disagreements over what will make the IWW effective. Characterizing those disagreements as right vs left will only make it harder to work out those disagreements constructively. Characterizing someone else in the IWW as on the right when you’re on the left is another way to set them up as Soylent Black And Red – it’s okay to eat them alive, they’re conservative.
Another form of eating people alive is disrespecting the time they spend on things. This can be as simple as ignoring someone’s hard work or not saying thank you. Our union is made up of almost all volunteers who put in tons of time and effort, and the tiny handful of people who do get paid are making very little and they’re not doing it for the money. When we insult some person or group or body as being incompetent or unimportant or just ignore them we basically tell them that they have wasted all their time. That’s not a positive thing. (If in your opinion they genuinely are wasting their time you should make sure and say this is in a respectful and careful fashion.)
On a related note, the reality is that in some cases we will disagree. In some cases, we may disagree with some project or idea that someone has spent a great deal of time on, like crafting a proposal or working on some organizing campaign that you may not think is a very good idea for some reason, and so on. It’s very important that we stick to respectful and honest standards of debate in these situations. When a proposal fails or a project is brought to an end that someone has spent a lot of time on it means that person’s time is gone and hasn’t really produced anything. As waged workers we already spend too much of our time on pointless things (our jobs!) – capitalism is a society based on stealing labor time from us. So when our organization takes people’s time and burns it up it’s especially bad. I think some aspect of this is unavoidable (we can’t just go with everything that someone wants to happen just because they have spent some time on it), but we need to aware of this and of the emotional costs on our fellow workers when this happens. We also need to voice our concerns and objections early rather than late, so if a proposal or project is going to end that way they lose as little time as possible.
I guess my over all point is very simple. The union is made out of people and eating people is gross. Don’t do it. And you may not always realize at first that you’re doing it. One way to try to avoid this kind of thing is to wait before communicating, so we don’t act while heated (sometimes that’s necessary but often it’s not). Another is to ask questions when there’s a problem to try and treat the problem as a misunderstanding and offer the other person a chance to try and respond to clear things up.

Looking Backward

There’s a famous book called Looking Backward by a U.S. writer named Edward Bellamy. I’ve never read it. I’m told it’s a science fiction book about what the author takes as a utopian future. I mention it because a fellow worker recently used that phrase “looking backward” about something I wrote. The thing this fellow worker was talking about is a short piece of fiction that I wrote. It wasn’t written for the sake of fiction. I wrote it to help me get clearer on an organizing drive that is only just starting as I type this. The thing I wrote was a fictional report on the success of our organizing drive. I wrote one other piece like this, a report on a “blitz” in an IWW campaign. I’ve started calling them “looking backward reports.”
So far I’ve only written two documents like this. They’re after this section. I found it helpful to write them, which is why I mention them here, because maybe this type of writing could be helpful to other people too. This kind of writing helped me imagine what success would look like in our organizing. Not full success along the lines of abolishing capitalism and replacing it with a cooperative commonwealth. Not even full success under capitalism along the lines of making our jobs much, much better. The success depicted in what I wrote is more moderate and, at least for me, more immediately useful in my work in the union. I’m talking about the relative success of one or two pieces of IWW organizing.
I think writing out plans and proposals is useful for organizing. It helps us get our goals clearer as well as the criteria we can use to see if we’re advancing or not. It also helps to think through the various specific tasks involved. That is, writing out proposals can help us get clearer on our goals, strategies, tactics, and immediate next steps. Sometimes those things can be hard to see. Sometimes those things can be so hard to wrap my head around that I don’t even know where to start. This is where the ‘looking backward’ kinds of writing have come in handy for me.
Sometimes one reason I have a hard time knowing where to start is because I’m tired or pessimistic. That is, sometimes my problem is not so much intellectual, a matter of thinking, as it is emotional, a matter of my gut. By imagining what some kind of success would look I start to feel inspired and excited. Then I can use that energy to push myself to think through what to do in a campaign. That starts by working back from the imagined success. The format of the looking backward reports helps with that.
The looking backward reports involve imaigining pretty far ahead in order to pretend to look back, as a way to get myself to look ahead in the short term in a realistic and pragmatic way. That may sound overly complicated and maybe it is, but like I said, it helps me to get motivated and start working. I figure that’s plenty enough justification. ‘Looking backward’ writing means imagining a point in the future where we’ve done some good things that we haven’t yet done. As part of imagining that, I imagine looking back from that future moment, tracing a line in some detail from that future successful moment to the present where I’m writing from, the moment where I’m tired and unsure of what to do. That helps me get at least a skeleton of some things that could be done for the organizing work. That skeleton then serves as the basis for thinking through in more detail what actually needs to be done here and now, in the moment where I need to get to work.

Looking backward from Iowa Blitz
This didn’t really happen. It’s a fictional account of a blitz written to get across the idea and needed preparation. I think this is something we should consider trying out for real.

Report on Wobbly Blitz in Iowa

Don had been working at this place for a year or so. It was a warehouse that handled food. He worked as a forklift driver on night shift. There were 45 drivers on the night shift and 45 on the day shift. Thirty drivers worked at a second smaller facility. There were a handful of janitors and office staff at each location. Don spent a year preparing for the blitz. He recruited two other members, got four people to support the idea but who refused to join, and he got one person from his branch to get a job there. One other person from his branch agreed to support him from the outside.

The wobblies there on the job and the one off the job made their main priority information gathering. They got a complete phone list for all the forklift drivers on both shifts at the main facility. They picked up a few other people’s information in other job classes too. They used a variety of techniques to turn these numbers into addresses – the phone book, a raffle, giving people rides home, sending christmas cards, going through the trash at the company, and following people home. They also got a handful of people’s information at the other plant. They put all the address information into a spreadsheet and made contact sheets with every person’s information – where they worked, what shift, their address, etc. They added whatever other information they knew – what shift, the person’s approximate age, their race and gender, if they smoked, etc.

They also listened a lot, had small conversations with their coworkers and mostly just paid attention to what their coworkers said to each other. They took notes and met regularly to share information. They recorded any issues they heard on the contact sheets.

In preparation for the blitz they looked up all the addresses on an atlas. They grouped the contact sheets by how close the people lived to each other. They put the contact sheets into five bundles of about 18 people each. They used and atlas and mapquest to find out the best route to get from each house to the next within the group, as efficiently as possible. They also got directions from Don ’s house to the first address in each bundle and the last address in each bundle. All the wobs working on this went to an organizer training before the blitz. Those are the preparations that happened in Iowa in advance.

Don worked with a group of wobs outside Iowa too, for support and to coordinate the blitz. Billy from New York came out twice to meet with Don ’s committee. Wobs in Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago all agreed to help make the blitz happened. People in each of those cities held an all day 8 hour training on doing unexpected house visits to workers. They spent an hour presenting the idea of the blitz, two hours on how to get in the door, an hour on lunch, and four hours of practice doing a one on one. The blitz coordinators decided that only people who went to the blitz training would be allowed to attend the blitz. The reasoning was that if someone can’t handle 8 hours of roleplays then they can’t handle 12 hours of real house visits. The coordinators also decided that only people who had been to a regular organizer training and who had organizing experience would be allowed to lead house visits. People with less experience and training could come along to learn and could do parts of house visits, but they would be accompanied by more experienced organizers. This would also allow a training opportunity because everyone gets better at organizing by doing organizing.

There were six pairs of organizers. One person came from Madison and one from Milwaukee in the same car, three from Chicago in one cars, three from the Twin Cities in one car, one from New York, one from the Bay Area, one from Portland (they drove in with the Chicago wobs, having flown in to Chicago) and the one wob from Iowa working on the campaign who didn’t work at the facility, who had her own car. During the blitz Don loaned his car to one team, and another team used a car the committee rented because they couldn’t another car loaned to them.

The week before the blitz, the each pair got a copy of their packet and the committee’s report on the company so far. Everyone read the material. The blitz started on Friday afternoon. People drove in from out of town and met at Don ’s house. The plan was to do the blitz Friday through Sunday then hold a meeting the following Tuesday at a church near the plant. The meeting would start earlier before the night shift people arrived and run late so the day shift people could come, it would be like two meetings right in a row.

The meeting would push for job actions around issues at the end of the week or early the next week with a follow up meeting at the end of the day the action happened. At the follow up meeting, the committee planned push to get people to attend two four hour organizer training over the next two weeks, and start talking to more people and signing up new members.

Don and his committee presented a two hour introduction to the company and what they knew while the group ate sandwiches. The groups held a two hour practice session and discussion on house visits. No one who worked at the plant went on the house visits. The five teams left Don ’s house at 5:30. They knocked on doors until 9:00 (a total of about three hours on the doors, 18 team-hours) then returned to Don ’s. They reported on their results over pizza: they had talked to 8 people. Three were definitely against the idea of a union. Two said they wanted a union and said theywould attend the meeting. One said to come back the next morning. Two were undecided. Of these two, one agreed to attend the meeting the following weekend. The group discussed the issues they had heard and the leaders people had named, and turned in their contact sheets. Everyone left for the homes of the wobs who were putting them up.

The group met again at 7:00 in the morning on Saturday. They had coffee and donuts and reviewed the previous night’s findings. They did a quick roleplay. They left Don ’s house at 8:30. During the day Don and the wobs who worked in the plant typed up the contact sheets from the night before and took calls from the organizers in the field when they got their directions mixed up. The organizers knocked on doors until 8:30 at night, taking a lunch break (for a total of ten hours on the doors, sixty team-hours). They met at Don ’s to review their findings over pizza. The organizers talked to 30 people. Eight were anti-union. Six were moved to be pro-union and agreed to attend the meeting. The other sixteen were undecided. Of these, six agreed to attend the meeting. The organizers listed the issues they had found and the leaders people had named. They discussed the difficulties they had faced in the house visits, how they had dealt with these and the ones they didn’t know how to deal with. The group brainstormed a few ways to deal with these.

The next morning the group started again at 8:30 until 8:30 and the in shop committee typed up the previous day’s house visit sheets, noting who had what issues, noting leaders and noting information gained about hours, demographics, etc. The group met again at 8:30 and debriefed. They talked to 25 people that day. Seven were anti-union and six were pro-union and four said they would come to the meeting. The rest were undecided and only two said they would come to the meeting. Total during the blitz, the organizers talked to 63 workers. 18 said they were against the idea of a union. 14 said they were pro-union. The other 31 were undecided. 10 workers who said they were pro-union said they would attend the meeting. Nine people who were undecided said they would attend the meeting. The was a total of 19 people who committed to attend the meeting.

Most of the out of towners left the next morning. A few stayed one day to help the committee sort and discuss the information and prepare for the meeting. One organizer stayed in town the whole week. On monday there was a buzz in the plant, people were talking about the union quietly when the boss wasn’t around. That night the organizers and the committee made follow up calls to everyone who was not anti-union. On Tuesday 23 people came to the meeting, 8 from day shift and 13 from night shift. This included Don and the other three in-shop committee and two of the in-shop supporters they had recruited. The other 17 people had been turned out by the blitz. At the meetings, the workers agreed to move a petition about their issues, demanding an end to restrictions on sick time and a fifty cent per hour raise. Twenty of them signed the petition the organizer presented and agreed to get their co-workers to sign it. They decided they would deliver the petition by a march on the boss at the beginning of night shift on Friday. The day shift people would stay after a bit to be there for this. They set a follow meeting for noon the next day, Saturday.

The out of town organizer who stayed and the outside organizer from Iowa did two hours of house calling every night Monday through Thursday, for another 8 team hours. They picked up three more supporters and met two more anti-union workers. By Friday, the workers had a petition with 31 signatures on it. Thirty workers marched on the boss. The boss turned bright read and cursed and stuttered and looked like an idiot. He did not agree to meet their demands. The next day 25 people came to the follow up meeting. Ten agreed to come to the organizer training in a week’s time from noon till 4pm. Everyone agreed to talk to two more co-workers to get them to sign the petition and they would hold a second march on the boss on Thursday.

The committee stayed afterward to talk. Two of them agreed to spend four hours each the next week doing house visits in teams of two. Don would lead one pair and the outside organizer from Iowa would lead the other. They did so and got another four supporters. At the next march on the boss on Thursday there were another ten names on the petition and 35 workers. The next day management announced it would end restrictions on sick time but would not issue a raise. The workers had a follow up meeting the next day with 30 people at it. The committee came out as union supporters their and 8 others signed up as wobblies on the spot. Five of these people came to the organizer training on Saturday along with one person who signed up at the training. That’s where the campaign is at right now.

There are currently 13 wobblies in the shop and one outside organizer supporting them. The outside organizer and ten of the wobs in the shop have had some kind of organizer training. 72 workers out of the 90 at the main facility have been house visited. 35 workers have signed a petition for improvements. 18 people have said they are anti-union. There are 18 people who have not been visited. Five of them signed the petition. Here’s the current plan: The core of the committee – the ones who have been to the full organizer training – will house visit the other 18 people and get other supporters to come along on these house visits. The core will work to train the members, and get the members to help make other supporters into members. The rest of the local branch has been invigorated by these developments. They are conducting orientations for new members and helping out with gathering information about the other facilities. Once all 90 people at the main facility have been visited, the committee will start reaching out to workers in other units at the main facility and collecting more information about workers at the other facilities. The committee may decide to run an election campaign or stay with a solidarity union model, they’re not sure yet. Don , with the help of branch members and wobs outside Iowa, is working on a press release about the union and a flyer for workers to move in the main facility and other facilities. He is also inoculating people again and preparing for the boss’s anti-union campaign in a variety of ways. We are considering doing another smaller blitz in two month’s time for the smaller facilities if necessary.

Cost of the blitz: The blitz cost about $900 in gas and $150 in food. Individual organizers donated $250 toward this by paying some of their own gas. The Iowa branch gave $200. The OTC gave $200 because the blitz was a way to train newer members. Don put the other $400 on his credit card and is getting a reimbursement check cut by the GST pending approval. This is much, much cheaper than other unions can do blitzes.

Other results of the blitz than the ones listed above: newer organizers got more experience and so did the more experienced organizers. Everyone came home tired but invigorated to do IWW work, especially the younger wobs and less experienced organizers. Wobs in Gainesville, Michigan, and Madison are talking about planning their own blitzes. Madison wobs are holding a blitz training in three weeks time and the following week they will be canvassing door to door in a neighborhood in order to give members additional practice at cold call house visits. Some Twin Cities wobs have started to outreach to some of the local business unions about getting wobs to volunteer to go along during house visits during a blitz in their campaigns. We have mixed feelings about this but the experience will help make those wobs better at house visits in future wob campaigns.

We think the Iowa blitz worked well in part because there are several branches in relatively close driving proximity. This model would probably work well in the North East where cities are close together. One thing we need to impress on wobs who get excited about this is that most of the real work is done in advance – getting contacts mostly, and putting the information in a usable format, and doing some training. If they don’t understand this – and if they don’t do this work first – then any attempts they have at blitzes will fail and probably result in firings. If they do understand this, though, it will result in more methodical organizing and probably some solid growth in the union. It still remains to be seen how we can sustain these new members and make them into solid wobs. The OTC is discussing holding a version of its organizing 102 training, though there is discussion about whether or not a 101 training makes more sense first. It’s also hard to find time for these trainings right now because the workers there have so much else to do. It may make more sense to keep doing shorter 2-4 hour trainings and get some of the people who will commit the time to drive or fly to 101 trainings elsewhere in the union, that will also help tie them in to the rest of the union.

One final note, some of us felt that we could have been more effective during the blitz if we had done more of this kind of stuff before and/or if we had had more training. Hopefully the stuff in Madison and the Twin Cities can help with that. We also expect that if these start happening more often we will get better at them. And we will get better at the other parts of organizing.


Looking Backward on Education Worker Organizing

This also didn’t really happen. Organizing Report for Education Worker Organizing Conference

Here’s a report on our organizing so far. We prepared it for this conference and for other people who have asked for info. We’re graduate employees at the university here. Our campaign started about a year or year and a half ago in the spring of 2008. It came after more than one losing union attempt before. There’s about 4000 grad employees. Right now our campaign has a committee of about 400 members. We probably have another 400 supporters who aren’t as involved. This means we’re at something of a crossroads. We’re currently thinking that through, and it involves some difficult conversations sometimes. On the other hand, it’s exciting. While we have a lot of work to do, we’ve accomplished a lot including our goal of building a real organization, and having a committee equal to 10% of the total grad employee work force. Of the 400 committee members, 150 of us are card-carrying members of the Industrial Workers of the World. We think of this as an IWW campaign but we don’t exclude people who don’t want to join. (This is one of the things we’re currently talking through internally.) We’re tied to other IWW members who are organizing locally and elsewhere, and we also have strong ties to other organizing in educaiton around the country. We try to keep up on all that because we know there’s lessons we can draw on.

Here’s how we go to where we’re at now. We initially started meeting with other co-workers who had issues at work. Some of our issues are matters of respect, and a lot of them are economic. In our initial meetings, we talked about our problems at work, and set some goals. One goal the 10% goal mentioned above which we’ve met. Other goals were to build the IWW, build our ties to and participation in the IWW, and to strike a balance between long term goals and short term goals (like just hanging in there). More concretely, we went over lists of everyone we knew in our departments. We talked about what we knew about people’s problems at work and relationships with co-workers. We also talked about the handful of people we knew who had expressed interest in unionizing. Then we went over lists of other departments and did the same.

The next step was to talk with the other people we knew who wanted a union. We practiced this. Basically, we told them we thought we needed to unionize and that we were working on making that a reality. Our definition of a union was pretty simple: a group of people working together to improve our lives at work. This was and still is important to us. We recognize ourselves as a union, whether or not management does. So we talked to people. Told them our plan was to aim for 400 people involved. Our initial round of conversations brought out about 25 interested people to a larger meeting. We talked about our problems at work and the plan to get 400 people. Most of us attended a workplace organizing training over spring break in March of 2008. After that we started to reach out to more people. We had to do a lot of information gathering. It was slow going. We got lists of all the departments at the University. We decided to proceed on a department by department basis. We got lists of all the graduate students in each department, got their contact information, and started talking to them. We tried doing phone calls and emails, but that didn’t work much. We had more luck going to their offices and office hours, and sometimes we went to people’s houses. Some people were weirded out by it but over all it worked out. We got a boost from a conference that some of our members hosted, and from doing speak outs with people from other graduate student unions who came to talk with us. That brought out a few more people.

The department by department thing worked okay. The downside was that we would have to shift gears from building in one department based on some support to have a lot of support, then into trying to get those people to help us break into other departments. Every new department felt like starting over, somewhat. Sometimes that felt demoralizing. The positive parts were that several times it brought an influx of new excited members, which reinvigorated us. It also gave us quantifiable goals that we could measure – “we’ve talked to 12 out of 30 people, 6 of them are interested and 3 came to the meeting. We need to talk to the other 18.” It also gave us clear tasks to do. Newer people could help by talking to people or coming with more experienced people (we started holding regular trainings once a month on that), or by helping us find information. The summer slowed us down a ton because a lot of people left. Some of us kept working. By that point we had maybe 50 or 80 people involved in some way, including supporters who didn’t do a whole lot but were still nice to have around. One main frustration was that we weren’t able to do anything about day to day problems. We had had a few people not get involved because we couldn’t help with that – stuff like problems with paychecks, sexual harrassment, etc. We made a plan to deal with that stuff, and started to implement it in the fall.

Our plan had multiple parts. We registered as a student group, so we could get meeting space. We already had an email list, but we started using it more to coordinate and to share knowledge and vent and support each other, all that kind of stuff. We set up a web site and started making flyers to reach out to people. We’re not sure how much that helped over all but we know at least a few good people who got involved around that. We should say, at this point we weren’t being open to management that we were a union. We talked about supporting each other and so on and dealing with concerns. (“Got a problem? Talk about it!”) That sort of thing. We’re pretty sure the university knew what we were doing, though.

We decided we were going to go public. We did so with the flyers and web site, and we started holding regular open meetings every 3 weeks where people could come and bring concerns. We had had meetings before, but they were invite only. These were more like speak outs. We used the publicity from all of this to build toward another big organizer training and then our ongoing organizer training classes. That worked pretty well and brought in a few more people. It also started the university telling lies about us, but that wasn’t a surprise. They’re not very effective, we think, because they’re really inaccurate. They say that the IWW is violent, which makes them look stupid because you don’t have to be IWW to be involved and because we’re just so obviously not violent. They also say we’re not a real union, which makes them look like liars because people see us around a lot. They also started talking all about what would happen in our election and how we could lose things. That was a real miss-step because we hadn’t talked about an election and we’re not sure we want one. We think later they will start to push for us to have an election, so we’ve saved all their emails and flyers.

Anyway, in the speak outs people could come and say anything. Some anti-union people came. That got a little tense. More often, people would come with problems. That was part 1 of our plan. We set up a system to handle grievances. If someone had a problem with a professor, we sent that prof and the department chair a letter. If the problem was with the department chair, we wrote to the chair and the dean. We always went one step over the person’s head. After the letter, we would meet with them. It would be the person and two other people who didn’t work in that department. We found that that resolved most things (faculty are timid creatures). In one case we threatened legal action (this was around possible harrassment issue). In another, we picketed (around disrespect), and in another we had mass phone-in to the chair (one department didn’t pay their employees on time). All of those worked pretty well. We also picketed for a secretary who was being threatened with firing for no real reason, and we went with some of our brothers and sisters in another union on campus to a demonstration at a Board of Regents meeting. (That’s another thing we’ve worked hard at, building ties to other employees on campus.) We used the grievance committee to build membership in the union. People see it work for them or their friends and that really ties people in.

Aside from the grievance committee, we also started a campaign to lower fees. We were paying $400 or so a semester in fees. That’s about 3 weeks pay for us in the Humanities, nearly a month, and we only get paid for 9 months or so out of each year. We started the no fee project at the same time we announced the grievance committee. We initially did petitions. That gave us a chance to talk to undergraduates as well as to spread the word to other graduate employees. This was a bigger hit the lower paid the department. We did the petition drive and some of our member with media experience did a lot of outreach to the press. We met with the President and he stonewalled us. We talked to members of the Board of Regents and got a resolution in support passed by the student and faculty governments. We had planned to do a grade slow down at the end of the semester but we pulled it at the last minute.

That’s because the University said they would cut the fees for graduate students in half. That takes effect as of the coming semester. Unfortunately the cost is being passed on to undergrads. We expect them to try and use that to stir up anti-union sentiment among the undergrads, to use that against us. We’re a little nervous about that, actually. Some of us feel the cut isn’t enough. It caused some division inside our group. We called off the grade slow down because of that. We may bring that tactic back, though.

We’re also happy to report that some individual departments have started paying the fees for their graduate students. We’re sure this is in response to us. We’re thankful for the support among the faculty who pushed for that. Right now we’re trying to get more departments to do that, by documenting the policies of the departments that do so and using that to talk to faculty in other departments.

The third part of our plan was and is the same as from the beginning, which is to keep building. We’ve had regular meetings to check in about our growth and our conversatsions, and finances. Our dues are about $12 a month. Not everyone keeps up on their dues. We should be better about that. Anyway, we can expect easily $1200 a month to come in. We use the money to pay for photocopies, rent space, pay for food at meetings, etc. We also get a lot of in-kind donations which keeps cost down. We’ve paid for a bit more big ticket expenses too, like flying in people from other organizing drives to talk with us, sending our people to trainings and conferences. We have about $3000 in the bank right now. We want to build that up, for a strike fund, so we’ve just started doing regular fund raisers. Those also serve as social events, to help people get to know each other more.

One final thing, on our demographics and structure. Like we said, we’re about 10% of the total graduate employee workforce. (We’ve got a few adjuncts who are members too, we try to back them up as best we can.) That figure is misleading though. We’re really strong in the Humanities – English, Comparative Literature, Communication, the various national languages are some of our strongest places, we’re well over 10% there – and in some of the social sciences. We’re really strong in Sociology and Anthro. We have a solid group in Political Science and in History, though there are some solid anti-union people there too. We’re really pretty weak in the sciences and engineering and in the fine arts. That’s in part because of who has been involved so far – we started out in a lot of the departments just named. It’s also because the science people have really different issues and the departmental cultures and the nature of their work is pretty different. We’re making in-roads steadily though, though slowly.

Because the issues vary by departments and so on, and for the sake of democracy, it’s important that we have active involvement across departments. Each department where we are involved has a department committee. They keep people informed in their department and pass info on to others involved in the union. We also have campaign-wide committees: the grievance committee to run the grievance actions, a press committee, an education/training committee, and a social committee that tries to inject some fun into all this. We also have regular delegate/organizer meetings where each department sends two representatives, and we have pretty regular all-campaign assemblies where anyone can come and can speak. All of this is a lot of work. We’ve had some people step down from their workload, and unfortunately a few people have burnt out. We’ve recruited and developed more people than we’ve lost, though, and we’ve gotten better at distributing the workload.

Here are the most recent things we’re working on. We’ve started to move what we call a workplace standards document. Basically, it’s all the stuff we’d want if we had a contract except for pay and benefits. This includes intangibles like respect, but also things like sick days. We’ve had some success with it, mostly where we’re already strong. With the sick days, if someone is sick, the Chair or Director of Graduate Studies has to find someone to fill the spot, it’s not our responsibility. We do help with that sometimes, but because we want to help, not because we have to. We’ve used the union email list for that on occasion. We’re trying to use this to outreach to people in the departments where we’re weaker, and to advertise the grievance committee. We’re also agitating for higher pay. We’re pushing for a graduated percent raise, with a higher percent raise for the lowest paid people. That’s a more long term goal. We’ve had some demonstrations and pickets about it, and we’re getting faculty to sign on. It’s slow going. Right now we’re kind of small for that. It’s one of the things we’re using to build ourselves up. Lastly, we do a lot of mutual aid kinds of things – helping people find summer jobs, move to a new apartment, find TAships, grant writing tips, how to understand the health insurance plan, that kind of stuff. A lot of that happens informally and by the email list (we have three – an organizing and grievances list, an announcement only list, and a “chat” list which is anything goes and sometimes cause problems as a result), but occasionally meetings come about. We had one where we had to deal with some sexual harrassment between union members, which was hard, but we worked through it. Like we said, we’re currently figuring out our next steps from here, how to move up from the 400 person mark. Our tentative goal is to bring in another 100 people or so, and to really shift gears toward having more of those less active supporters. We’re not totally sure. Part of why we’re at this conference is to continue to learn from other examples. So that’s our report. We’re happy to move on now to the question and answer, and to hea r about what’s going on in other people’s workplaces.