Sunday, October 24, 2010

About This Site And Index Of Columns

About this site
This web site is an archive of some material published by the Industrial Workers of the World. Most of the material on this site appeared in the Industrial Worker newspaper in one of two columns, Workers Power and Minority Report.If you have thoughts about any of this, or if you would like to brainstorm about potential column ideas, please get in touch with the person who maintains this archive, at crashcourse666[at]

For an index of the columns on this site, go to

Workers Power Columns

The Workers Power column aims to offer a space to share organizing stories and thoughts on strategies and tactics for building power on the shop floor. These columns are posted here to encourage discussion. The columns are intended for members of the IWW, though non-members may find them interesting as well. The columns don’t provide all the answers, but hopefully they are thought provoking and useful. At the very least, the people who wrote them learned a lot and got clearer about our ideas by writing them.

Please consider writing for the column. Writing is a good way to think, to encourage discussion, and to share lessons and experiences. The column is mainly about ideas for building power on the job in the short term, the direction of the IWW with regard to workplace organizing in the short term, and first hand accounts of the realities of workplace organizing - in all its glory and all its failure. If you would like to submit a piece for this column in the newspaper, please e-mail it to forworkerspower[at] Submissions should be no more than 800 words.

Minority Report
Minority Report: A Different Sort of Unionism
Writings by Alexis Buss
Nowadays people in the Industrial Workers of the World tend to talk about a vision of organizing using the term “Solidarity Unionism.” The term comes partly from a book called Solidarity Unionism by Staughton Lynd. Some people used to call this “minority unionism” or “direct unionism.” One of the ways that these ideas got worked out and spread around in the IWW was by some columns written by Alexis Buss that appeared in the Industrial Worker newspaper. The columns were printed under the title Minority Report. They’re also online at 

Some of this material has also been reprinted by the Chicago branch of the IWW under the title “A Union On Our Own Terms.” The columns are reprinted here partly as a piece of recent IWW history. (For more of that history, see the last chapters of the book on the first 100 years of IWW history by Fred Thomson and Jon Bekken.) More than that, though, these columns have ideas that are still relevant to organizing today.

Minority Report June 2003

Minority Report June 2003
by Alexis Buss

At recent IWW organizer trainings, we have been talking about the kinds of agreements that solidarity unionists would make with a boss. After all, we aim to secure better conditions and build upon them -- part of that means being able to negotiate with management and memorialize the agreements we reach.

Readers of my columns will regularly see me criticize elements of contracts that I think are best left out of the picture if we are to be a strong movement. Some of these elements are desired by entrenched union bureaucracies, some are desirable for management, and some serve both interests, forsaking the workers. I'm talking about dues checkoff, management prerogatives and no-strike clauses. There are other features to contracts, like binding arbitration as the last step of a grievance procedure, time lines favoring management, zipper clauses and so on that I've been known to gripe about too.

But what are the kinds of agreements we should make? Typically I talk about agreements in terms of using direct action to gain power over specific situations and negotiating to memorialize the outcome. But there are elements in present-day contracts that are very useful. What remains to be seen is if a more encompassing contract that truly protects and expands the rights of working people can be negotiated in the present climate.

To my mind, when setting out to negotiate, workers should seek to get:

    * 1) an end to employee-at-will status;

    * 2) a grievance procedure;

    * 3) whatever economic and working condition improvements they may want and;

    * 4) a past practice clause.

Most contracts contain a "progressive discipline" or "firing for cause" clause, which effectively ends employee-at-will status. I'd be interested to hear from veteran unionists what kind of progressive discipline clauses worked well in your experiences. One that we negotiated here relied on the idea of not making it easy for staff to be disciplined for simple wrongdoing. Management was obliged for each discipline to write an essay discussing the good qualities of the person being disciplined, outline specifically how performance was to be improved, and have regular meetings with the worker to discuss progress. Because it's a bit of a pain in the ass to do this, only the most serious offenses are taken up, and the former trifling nit-picky disciplines have all but vanished.

Grievance procedures are the systematic way that issues that arise in a shop are handled. Many clauses limit the definition of a grievance to issues covered by the contract, effectively cutting off workers' ability to grieve issues not anticipated by the contract. One could argue that issues that aren't covered by the contract are free from the confines of the resolutions proscribed in the contract, so perhaps this isn't the worst thing that could happen. But having a procedure that management has agreed to follow when a any kind of conflict comes up can be very advantageous to workers.

Too often I've seen the wind taken out of the sails of organizing campaigns with promises from management that are never delivered. A clear process shows everyone when they're just being blown off, and workers can more quickly decide how to up the ante. It's my preference for the last step in a grievance procedure to effectively be 'all bets are off.' Yes, have steps beforehand -- meetings to discuss the issue, put it in writing, bring in a mediator, whatever makes sense in the structure of your workplace. But letting a third party who does not have to work under the agreement he's binding you to make the ultimate decision is not ideal. Past practice clauses effectively say, "Unless we reach an agreement, the workplace stays as it is now." What this does is put the burden of changing the workplace on the shoulders of the employer. They must come to the union to talk about changes, and the union can agree or not, or negotiate. When the workers decide that a situation needs to be fixed, the grievance procedure can be used to put the discussion on a timeline. These clauses have largely disappeared from present-day contracts, but I think it's time for a revival.

Your experiences with the particulars of contracts you've worked under will help your fellow workers understand the benefits and pitfalls of certain kinds of language. Here's your invitation to share your stories -- contact us now!

Minority Report December 2002

Minority Report December 2002
by Alexis Buss

Most union campaigns get off the ground by finding out what problems exist in a workplace or industry. Workers form union committees, a campaign is launched, and workplace issues are articulated to attract more and more support for the union's cause. Most often, this organizing is done with the goal of the union being formally recognized by the boss, either by a card-check agreement or an election of some sort, so that a contract can be bargained.

But what usually happens when it is time to sit down and bargain the contract? It isn't true to say that at negotiation time the boss and union come to the table as equals and work out the best possible deal for both parties. The union most usually comes to the table from a very weak position, because it has been built not to fight for and enforce its demands, but rather to ask the boss to give it legitimacy.

This method came about when NLRA was enacted in 1935. "Labor peace" was a desirable concept for the bosses, the government and entrenched union bureaucracies. The bosses were tired of dealing with rising labor militancy -- factory takeovers, strikes, walk-outs, sit-ins, etc. Government officials had to deal with helping their pals in big business recover from the effects of this kind of organizing. And the labor bureaucrats were worried by workers who were getting too uppity and demanding the same kind of respect from them that they were demanding from the bosses. So a system was created for bosses to be given a legal mandate to bargain with the unions, and a set of laws and rules were created so that bargaining became a gentleman's game.

The expected way that unions and bosses dealt with each other was that the contract was improved upon with each new set of negotiations, so long as the company was in good health. This has changed. It is now routine for companies, ones with and without unions, to shut down plants and offices, downsize jobs, reduce pay and benefits, and generally show no consideration to workers, even during profitable times.

But here's something that has been true ever since our present set of laws was enacted: it is usual and expected for contracts to contain completely useless (worse than useless, positively harmful) language for workers -- the management prerogatives clause, and no-strike clause.

Because most unions accept that workers are on earth to be managed, and bosses should run the world as they see fit, it isn't a surprise that most union contracts allow management to have total control over a workplace. During the term of a contract, when the union is entitled to collect dues from workers through dues check-off, limiting the ability of workers to strike is also desirable for many unions to make sure that their main revenue streams are not cut off. Let alone the added benefit of avoiding the hassle of "managing" uppity workers.

When we think of how we can turn around the labor movement, we must keep these things in mind. We can't just accept "more organizing." Because even if we had more organizing of the kind we have now, we would still have to address the issue of unions not helping workers to pursue job control. We would still have to deal with concessionary bargaining.

How are we going to get off of this road? We must stop making gaining legal recognition and a contract the point of our organizing. Our unions and networks of solidarity must be able to deal with the issues that inspire most campaigns -- wages, benefits, working conditions. But just as necessary is to have a way for us to organize to address the respect (or lack of respect) workers feel on the job, our ability to control how we work, how our workplace is going to interact with our community and our world.

We have to bring about a situation where the bosses, not the union, want the contract. We need to create situations where bosses will offer us concessions to get our cooperation. Make them beg for it.

This is one of the potentials of minority unionism (by the way, this is the last column that I'll be using this term -- in the next month, I'd like your help in figuring out a new name to describe the kind of unionism we've been talking about in the pages of the Industrial Worker). The point of unionism as the IWW sees it is to organize workers in ways that our power cannot be ignored or co-opted. Minority unionism is one way to do this, because we can organize around demands without worrying about if we have a contract or legal standing. As much as possible, we should seek to avoid situations where our power is replaced by laws and contracts.

If contracts and agreements help us hold bosses to their promises, that's great. But if bargaining becomes an exercise in what rights we will give up, and deciding that bosses should in fact have total managerial control over our working lives, we're going about it the wrong way.

Minority Report November 2002

Minority Report November 2002
by Alexis Buss

In this column and at other times, I have written about a major advantage the IWW has over business unions, specifically when it comes to our practice that any worker can join and find meaning in his or her membership through organizing regardless of whether or not a majority of workers on the job have declared in some fashion that they want to bargain with the boss: Minority Unionism.

There are other advantages to the IWW -- we abide by the principle of one member, one vote. Every officer and representative in this union is elected, and the folks sitting in these seats rotate frequently. Every change in the structure of our union is voted on, including dues rates and constitutional amendments: Democracy. Our membership also tends to be very eager to engage in struggle to win better conditions. Wobblies are often the first to arrive on the picket line and the last to leave, even when the picket doesn't benefit them directly: Militancy. These elements shouldn't make us unique, but sadly often they do.

Increasing militancy and democracy can only benefit any workers' organization, especially business unions, and there are people who work quite hard for that kind of reform. But these are very limited reforms for unions that stay tamely within the limits of the labor law regime.

Since I wrote the first installment of this column, I have come to realize how troublesome the idea of minority unionism is to the business union model, particularly when it comes to jurisdictions. Let's look at the following hypothetical example:

Alice, a loading dock worker at Best Buy (an electronics superstore), is told that she must buy her own pair of safety shoes. That's legal. She doesn't want to, the safety shoes are expensive. Let's say for the sake of argument, most of her co-workers agree they shouldn't have to pay for the shoes. The policy that has been handed down is going to go into effect in two weeks.

Alice talks to an electrician who came in to run service for some new gadgetry. The electrician is an IBEW member, and tells her that if she were union, the shoes issue wouldn't happen because the union would make the company pay the cost of any safety-required clothing.

Alice calls the IBEW and says that she wants to join the union. This is crazy talk to the person who took her call. She'd need to go through the apprenticeship program and there's a big waiting list. And there's not enough work in the area to support new members. Alice hangs up the phone, bewildered by her encounter with craft unionism.

She talks to a trucker making a delivery. The trucker is a Teamster. The Teamster also tells her that making a union is a way to handle this situation. Alice calls the Teamsters and asks to join the union. Let's say in this case that we're dealing with a local that is experimenting with minority unionism, because they also have things going on at Overnite and they needed to develop some strategy that would keep a union presence on the job (please note, I'm saying this for the sake of argument -- it's not something that has actually happened). The Teamsters say, "Yes, join us."

But one of Alice's co-workers has a brother who works in the public sector, also on a loading dock, and is represented by SEIU. That worker joins the SEIU.

The UFCW, representing retail workers, gets wind of the fact that this is going on and demands the memberships of these workers, which the AFL-CIO awards them. But neither worker wants the UFCW because that union is misrepresenting the folks at the shopping market across the way. Instead they buy their own pairs of safety shoes and forget about talking union.

I know the above is a scenario of my own invention, but I think it can help to illustrate the problems that would pop up if business unions adopted any kind of minority unionism or direct affiliation program. The reason I think it would likely turn out the way I describe above -- maybe not in all cases, but often enough that it would be problematic -- is that business unionists made a decision to abandon minority unionism in 1935 when they advocated for the Wagner Act.

The Wagner Act -- while it allows for protections for workers engaged in minority unionism through its provision protecting concerted activity -- was welcomed by officers of business unions because, among other things, the law guaranteed exclusive bargaining rights to unions that won representation and facilitated maintenance of membership provisions like dues check-off. And the AFL-CIO takes this even further in its structure with anti-raiding and jurisdictional language, which has protected the worst of the affiliate unions by blocking workers who cannot hope to imbue democracy and militancy in a union representing them, and instead wish to throw the bums out and get a new union.

In Australia, government, chartered unions, and the bosses have carved up the work life of the country into industrial jurisdictions. Unions are given exclusive bargaining rights for industry standards like time off, pay rates, safety regulations, hours and working conditions. They have the right to bargain regardless of the density of their membership, but the outcome of the bargaining affects every worker in the industry, union member or not. When a worker becomes a member, they often do so to address particular conditions in their own shops. One worker can be a union member and use the union to agitate for his own individual interests or for the entire shop. Because of the history of American unions' fights for legal rights, I can imagine a system that apes the Australian system, but without the legal right to bargain for entire industries.

It would happen by the AFL-CIO carving up jurisdictions and agreeing that only unions with jurisdiction over an industry could take a member working in that industry. Much of this work has already been done, it has just been strayed from in these lean years. The Australian system came about because workers' activity was on the rise. Many went "union shopping," changing organizations as it suited them in pursuit of the maximum possible level of militancy. Instead of encouraging this militancy, a choice was made to control the workers by only allowing them membership in a very circumscribed manner.

An interesting side note: the Australian system isn't true industrial unionism. For instance, there is a secretaries' union. Secretaries are a necessary part of almost any industry, but instead of being part of the union that represents their industry, they are represented by a craft union. Ironically, although women overwhelmingly do the job, the union is controlled by anti-feminist men, largely because the union has very few voting members. The union does little to organize the people it represents, and even undoes the work of members looking to reform the union. The union can behave this way because it can maintain bargaining rights in spite of a very low number of actual members. So this allows a group of people who have come to be very unpopular with secretaries to exclusively represent them.

Back to the scenario of Alice, what would the IWW do? We'd get to work on the shoes issue right away. Alice would most likely first encounter either a mixed worker local (a General Membership Branch) or an Industrial District Council, an organization that helps unite all workers regardless of what industry they work in. She would be put in touch with other members, and given training and solidarity. She would learn how to organize to win demands, and how to build the union's presence on her job.

The IWW is open to all workers, and our system of industrial unions is made in order to enhance our power. The only reason to worry about which industrial union one should be in is to give ourselves the most bargaining power and job control possible .not to protect jurisdictions. The IWW opposed the Wagner Act when the thinkers who brought it into existence first thunk it up. That's because we saw the danger of asking laws to do our organizing for us, and we wanted nothing of the stifling bureaucracy, limited vision and anti-solidarity methods of the business unions.

Orienting ourselves towards building our movement this way makes us different in a very profound way. We are choosing to experiment with new methods of organizing, methods that have potential not only to succeed in winning small grievances, but in building a movement capable of making a real difference.

Minority Report October 2002

Minority Report October 2002
by Alexis Buss

At the recent IWW General Assembly, I got a chance to be on a panel to share ideas on how to rebuild the labor movement. My talk was on minority unionism. Here are some excerpts:

If unionism is to become a movement again, we need to break out of the current model, one that has come to rely on a recipe increasingly difficult to prepare: a majority of workers vote a union in, a contract is bargained. We need to return to the sort of rank-and-file on-the-job agitating that won the 8hour day and built unions as a vital force. One way to do this, is what has become known now as "minority unionism." It.s to form meaningful, organized networks of solidarity capable of winning improvements in individual workplaces, throughout industries, and for the benefit of the international working class.

Minority unionism happens on our own terms, regardless of legal recognition. It is not about settling for creating a tiny clique of professional malcontents. It should aspire to grow, but in the short term gives an example of what kinds of organization is possible when we decide that our unions are going to exist because we need them to.

U.S. & Canadian labor relations regimes are set up on the premise that you need a majority of workers to have a union, generally government-certified in a worldwide context, this is a relatively rare set-up. And even in North America, the notion that a union needs official recognition or majority status to have the right to represent its members is of relatively recent origin, thanks mostly to the choice of business unions to trade rank-and-file strength for legal maintenance of membership guarantees.

The labor movement was not built through majority unionism-it couldn.t have been. One hundred years ago unions had no legal status (indeed, courts often ruled that unions were an illegal conspiracy and strikes a form of extortion) - they gained recognition through raw industrial power.

When the IWW fought for the 8-hour day in the timber and wheat fields, they didn't decide to prove their majority to the boss through elections. Workers instead held meetings to decide what their demands were, elected shop committees to present those demands, and used tactics such as walking off the job at the end of an 8-hour shift to persuade recalcitrant bosses to agree to those demands. Union recognition in the construction crafts was built through a combination of strikes, direct action and honoring each others' picket lines .(the latter not often enough).

The wave of sit-down strikes that established the CIO in auto and steel, for example, was undertaken by minority unions that had a substantial presence in workplaces with a history of agitating around grievances. The unions then drew upon that minority presence to undertake direct actions that galvanized the larger workforce in their plants - and inspired workers across the continent.

Unionism was built through direct action and through organization on the job. But in the 1930s, the bosses found it increasingly difficult to keep unions out with hired thugs, mass firings and friendly judges. Recognizing that there was no way to crush unions altogether, and tired of the continual strife, they offered a deal: If unions would agree to give up their industrial' power and instead work through proper channels - the National Labor Relations Board in the United States, various provincial boards in Canada - the government would act as an "impartial" arbiter to determine whether or not the union was the bona fide representative of the workers.

In the short term unions were able to short-circuit the need to sign workers up one by one and collect dues directly. The bosses traded union busters in suits for the gun thugs they had previously employed. And after a short burst in membership, unions (particularly in the United States) began a long-term downward spiral. Under this exclusive bargaining model, unions do not attempt to function on-the job until they gain legal certification. That legal process affords the bosses almost unlimited opportunity to threaten and intimidate workers, and to drag proceedings out for years. It is a system designed to interfere with workers' right to organize-and the IWW pointed this out when the National Labor Relations Act was passed.

However, while the labor law regime is designed around this majority-designated majority status unionism, it does not actually require it. As long as workers are acting in concert, they enjoy the same basic legal rights - such as those are - whether or not they are in an officially certified union. Indeed, in certain cases they enjoy greater rights, as the courts have ruled that most union contracts implicitly surrender the right to strike. It is illegal to fire members of a minority union for their union activity, to discriminate against them, to fire them for striking, to refuse to allow union representatives to participate in disciplinary hearings, etc. An organized group of workers has legal rights, though it would be' a mistake to expect the labor boards to enforce them any more vigorously than they do for unions that have been certified. And an organized group of workers, even if it is a small minority, has much more potential power than unorganized individual workers.

For the most part you have as many legal rights as a minority union as a majority union does - with the single exception of being certified as the exclusive bargaining agent with the sole authority to negotiate a contract. A minority union has the right to present grievances (though there may not be a formal grievance procedure in place); to engage in concerted activity, to make demands upon the boss; to seek meetings, even to strike (though this isn't a great idea if you don't have majority support).

If you pick your issues well and use them as an opportunity to talk with and engage your fellow workers, you can simultaneously fight for better conditions and build the `union: In campaigning around issues that matter to your coworkers you are building the union's credibility, you are gaining experience in self organization, you are learning who can be relied upon you are establishing that the union is workers on the job and that were in it for the long haul.

The labor movement was built when groups of workers came together and began agitating over conditions: Sometimes they persuaded their fellow workers to approach the boss and demand that some problem be corrected. Sometimes they refused to work under unsafe conditions or in unsafe ways, and persuaded their coworkers to do likewise. Sometimes they acted on the individual job, sometimes they held citywide demonstrations over issues of common concern, such as working hours or unsafe-work.

The important point is that they acted. They identified key issues of concern; they met together, they decided upon a course of action, and they acted upon it. That is unionism-in action. It does not require official recognition, it does not require a contract. It requires workers to-come together and act collectively.

If unionism is to become a movement again, we need to break out of the current model and return to the sort of rank-and-file on-the-job agitating that won the 8-hour day and built unions as a vital force. Minority unionism is about forming meaningful, organized networks of solidarity capable of winning improvements in individual workplaces, throughout industries, and for the benefit of the international working class. It is a process, a process that offers hope for transforming our greatest weakness--the fact that our members are scattered in many, largely disorganized workplaces--into a strength.

Minority Report July 2002

Minority Report July 2002
by Alexis Buss

For the past few years, I've been contributing an occasional column called "Wobbling the Works" focused on how labor law affects union organizing. I'll still be writing on this topic once in a while, but lately my attention has been on a concept which I'll call "minority unionism," a way to describe a method of organizing that does not wait for a majority of workers in a workplace to win the legal right to bargain. This month I'm going to share some of the things that piqued my interest and pointed me in this direction.

I recently had to redo the IWW's constitution for our fellow workers in IWW Regional Organising Committees, who were tired of American misspellings of words like labour and organising. Searching through the constitution got me thinking about the idea of job branches. A job branch is a group of five or more IWW members at a given workplace who are charged with getting together on a monthly basis. The plain implication is that they would discuss grievances, come up with strategies to resolve them, and build a union presence on the job.

I am working on a project that started out as a video version of the classic IWW pamphlet A Worker's Guide to Direct Action, but has grown a bit in scope since we started. Researching the video, I saw Miriam Ching Yoon Louie speak about her book Sweatshop Warriors, which provides some excellent examples of how immigrant workers centers have helped individual workers understand their rights and organize on a variety of work and community issues. I also got the chance to interview Barbara Prear, a housekeeper at the University of North Carolina and president of UE Local 150, when she visited support staff at Swarthmore College, who have been conducting a living wage campaign for six years. The UNC union has no legal right to bargain, but has been very successful in using pressure tactics to get administrators to the table and negotiate improvements for the lowest-paid workers on campus.

I have been thinking quite a bit about ways that workers who do not have a legal mandate to bargain and have no contract can act union, using the law to augment their work. This came up because Staughton Lynd asked me to work with him on a new edition of Labor Law for the Rank and Filer at a moment when I had become particularly cynical about the potential for using labor law in organizing. I've just come back from spending a weekend with the Lynds, people from the Youngstown Workers Solidarity Club and their rank-and-filer-troublemaking cohorts from near and not-so-near places, veteran activists, and student organizers.

The club developed as a "parallel central labor body" to fill a void when the local central labor council could not provide sufficient support for a strike. Hanging out with these folks was the antidote for the cynicism I was feeling; not that I now have more confidence in the law, but I feel more able to look at the possibilities... A month ago I saw a documentary on the Overnite trucking strike, "American Standoff," which I reviewed last issue. "Standoff" illustrated a lot of problems that labor has not adequately confronted. How do we deal with organizing in companies that are so anti-union that they are willing to spend millions of dollars to keep workers from even getting to the bargaining table? The Teamsters' Overnite campaign, which is now on a road so difficult that it isn't clear it can be salvaged, is one of a long string of campaigns that seem to have left labor scratching its collective head, wondering what to do in the face of self-destructive upper management and backwards labor law. Clearly, the answer is not to give up. It isn't to settle for a minority clique of agitators in each workplace. It's to form meaningful, organized networks of solidarity capable of winning improvements in individual workplaces, throughout industries, and for the benefit of the international working class.

And last but not least, several fellow workers from across the water forwarded me an article on minority unionism that ran in a recent issue of The Nation. The article, by Richard B. Freeman and Joel Rogers, argues that the AFL-CIO should develop a plan for organizing that does not depend on having a majority at a workplace. The thing that was so great about getting multiple copies of this article in my inbox was the puzzlement of the non-American unionists who sent it. The way us backwards Yanks do things is absurd. Few countries do unionism the way it's done in the U.S., with the union being the sole bargaining agent of a declared majority. I think it would help if more workers I talk to knew how other places do it, and would also be good if folks outside the U.S. saw the implications of how it's done here.

So, that's the point of this column. I want to share these stories and experiences. I want to connect my fellow workers with resources that others have found useful to their work. I can't offer a recipe for success . not all of these examples will be appropriate for everyone. But smart thinking on a way forward isn't just possible, it is happening. And by developing resources to try these things out, we will give one another the confidence to turn comments like "what a good idea" into "I'm going to give that a try."

Know the Union, Hear the Union, See the Union: Still Good Advice

Know the Union, Hear the Union, See the Union: Still Good Advice
by x361737

Some time ago Workers Power ran a column in which a Fellow Worker promoted the idea of “Know the Union, Hear the Union, See the Union” as way of explaining how a healthy campaign sustains itself and grows. Having participated in some organizing, I found myself often re-reading that piece as a source of inspiration and advice. I hope to expand the “Know the Union...” organizing approach by offering my thoughts on how to put it into practice.

In any workplace there are going to be some workers who will quickly be attracted to an organizing drive. Perhaps they’ve been involved in organizing before; perhaps they have some level of ideological agreement; or perhaps they simply have a high level of grievances. In any case, these workers “know the union” and typically come together to form the initial organizing committee.

For other co-workers, they’ll have to be persuaded to join the campaign through a series of one-on-one conversations. They need to “Hear the Union” to get agitated about workplace issues and realize they don’t have to face them alone.

Most workers, however, fall into the third camp: “See the Union”. They’ll have to see the power of collective action before they get involved. As our Fellow Worker summed up in the previous column:

"Here's how we move the workers who need to see the union in action. The workers who know the union organize and build relationships and leadership among the folks who hear about the union. Together both groups take action to change small issues. This demonstrates in practice what a union is. Other workers see the union in action and start to understand that change is really possible."

For our friend, “Know the Union...” proved helpful when organizing slowed and workplace militants got frustrated at the pace of growth. “Know the Union...” encouraged workers to get ‘back to the basics’ of successful organizing: one-on-one conversations and group meetings to plan and undertake winnable direct action grievances. It also demonstrated the role the existing leadership should play in instituting a continual process by which co-workers are led up the “hear, see, know” ladder until a culture of solidarity and collective activity is instituted in a workplace.

There’s another important lesson to take away from this: many self-identified radicals have little real-world organizing experience. This is okay. Like anything else, organizing takes practice. What we do have, however, is a wealth of grand arguments supporting class struggle and a vision for a post-capitalist future. Because of this there’s a temptation to ‘intellectualize’ the organizing process. Speaking from personal experience, I know what it’s like to feel unsure about doing something new, especially when it comes to organizing. It’s tempting to fall back on something we’re more comfortable with—like making the argument for why we need a revolutionary union.

Reality, however, is much more complicated than a well-phrased argument. Instead of trying to ‘win the organizing argument’ we’re much better off building relationships of trust with our co-workers. Through this relationship, we engage our co-workers in small scale winnable actions. These actions, in turn, lay the groundwork for larger struggles and deeper conversations.

To put it another way, workers—conscious of it or not—undertake individual anti-capitalist acts all the time. Workmates, however, often need to see collective activity in action before they’re willing to join a union. From there, it’s involvement in collective struggle that opens a space for us, as radicals, to begin having discussion about class, capitalism, and the labor movement.

As organizers, “Know the Union” not only helps us not only to remember that organizing is a process, but forces us to recognize that many times “action precedes consciousness”. The most important thing organizers do is not winning arguments or making rousing speeches, but actually building the relationships that form the basis of any successful campaign.

Solidarity and the service model

Solidarity and the service model
by P. Gage

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers’ unionism is one of worker organizers servicing a contract that is negotiated with the employer. A large body of volunteers and a handful of paid staff provide a service to workers who are expected to come to the union with their grievances.

Servicing a contract is pointless if the union doesn’t know who is in the shop, how many workers are in the shop and what the issues are. A contract is even more useless if the workers don’t know it exists. In this shop the collective agreement required the employer to come to us when they hired new people. They pulled a fast one on us, as the grievances roll in it is becoming apparent they have pulled a fast one on us for three years.

The point of a contract is to mark gains negotiated by the bargaining committee. In exchange we trade off our right to strike and submit to a grievance procedure where issues are settled off the floor allowing the business to run smoothly. Most of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers is based in the post office and we have a large volunteer steward body that can help people with filing their own grievances in our postal sector bargaining units. A situation like this can’t happen at the post office because the union is institutionally a part of the culture of the workplace.

Small shops face a real challenge to this model because there isn’t a concentration of shop stewards to enforce the contract. When these workers took action they acted as most workers in most industries do when confronted with an injustice at work, they withheld their labour. Trade unionists tend to see non-union industries as static and without struggle but in a lot of cases the struggle is far more direct and personal in nature when the union is not there. In fact the union, through the contract is what puts limits on this struggle and determines its course.

Al seemed to think that if we had better contact with the shop we could have filed a grievance and these guys would still have their jobs. Al’s probably right. But the problem was that a contract cannot enforce itself, a contract does not make a union. Contracts are pieces of paper; unions are relationships between workers and their work. The reason we didn’t have better contact with the shop is all the workers who voted for the union were gone and replaced with new workers who weren’t told about the union. These workers did not have the chance to struggle together as a group to get the organization needed to enforce the contract.

When they did struggle they did the one thing the contract says you can’t do, they struck and then got fired. Next week they will be working at another courier firm and a new batch of drivers will be working at this company. When these new drivers are hired they will be union members as soon as they walk in the door, the company will inform us of their membership and their contract and everyone will follow the rules. Not because they want to but because the company wants to avoid this from happening again too.

What is most ironic about the whole situation is that it was these workers did not know about the contract and so they went out and acted against the contract and were fired for violating the contract and that is what gave the contract life again. It was no longer a piece of paper but a document that outlined a relationship between a group of workers and their boss. It also ensures that as long as the contract is followed what gave the contract any real meaning on the job won’t happen again.

On Contracts

On Contracts
by P. Gage

I was in for one hell of a shock today. I finally got the names and addresses of the four ‘Rand’[1] members working at the courier company I was re-organising. In the same day I saw them threaten to wildcat and then get fired. I had the pleasure of introducing them to the glories of union representation only ten minutes before Sylvain, the boss, accused the workers of blackmailing him and then fired them.

By talking to the workers I pieced together what had happened. The boss used to run a thirty-person outfit that was unionized under the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). When they lost their major contract the company shrank down to one driver. Now they are building their business back up; as they hire new drivers they do not tell them about the union. There are now eleven people working in the shop, well eleven minus four fired men. These guys will likely be replaced by a new batch on Monday.

The boss was bullshitting the union too, he never told us when he hired more guys on. Even though the contract said that they had to inform us of any new workers, they also had to send them over to the union office to sign cards as a condition of work. The employer also had to provide us with regular seniority lists. In every instance they simply ignored the contract. They even hired these four guys on as independent contractors under a separate deal than the collective agreement we negotiated with the company. They pretended the union didn’t exist and the strategy worked for them for three years.

While the workers were getting their letters one of the fired workers looked across the room at me as he took his dismissal letter out of the boss’ hand. He smirked at me and winked. That’s when it hit me- these guys didn’t care. They agreed to certain terms and conditions and the employer broke their side of the deal. They didn’t have a union as far as they knew so they created one on the spot. They drafted up a letter with a list of demands, all four signed the bottom and handed it in. If Sylvain didn’t meet their demands they said they would try and convince the courier company’s clients to stop using them as a courier and would show up for work Monday but refuse to do anything until their demands were met.

These workers didn’t know about the union, then we show up saying we ‘represent’ them. I looked across the room at Al the local president who was negotiating with the boss. He was a model of restraint; Sylvain on the phone was not. I could hear words not fit for print from 15 feet away. For a brief moment I saw how comical this all was, I saw things from the point of view of the four guys who just got fired. The workers invited us along for the ride; they didn’t need us to represent them, they wanted outside witnesses to support a struggle that they took on themselves. We were frowning; to us this was serious business. They were smiling; to them it was a joke.

We all had a conversation in the parking lot afterwards. I told them that we would grieve the firings, and our reps would also bring up their return to work at negotiations for the new contract. Their odds of getting their jobs back were pretty good, and the odds of them getting back pay were even better according to our regional office. They said a settlement would be nice and they would think about their jobs, but what they really wanted was to cause as much trouble for that business as humanly possible. I said I would see what I could do, returning the smirk.

Later that day while driving back to the union office Al was horrified to hear me call the situation funny. He didn’t like my take on things at all; he said I enjoyed the conflict too much. Al and I have been through a lot and I respect him, he’s got thirty years at the Post Office under his belt and hasn’t been afraid encourage workers to take action. I told him I would think about what he had to say.

[1] A Rand member is someone who is paying dues to a union but has not signed a union card. Named after justice Rand who set the precedent for dues checkoff for unions in Canada.

The Battle of the Sandwiches: What Does the Bosses' Offensive Look Like?

The Battle of the Sandwiches: What Does the Bosses' Offensive Look Like?
by Erik Forman

If you read stuff about the labor movement of the 1970s and 80s, there is a lot of talkabout the “bosses’ offensive,” an aggressive attack on workers movements by capital.

A friend of mine from Italy told me that in 1977, the bosses and pro-boss workers (we call these people ’scissorbills,’ because their words cut you) staged a march of several thousand people in opposition to the continued wildcat strikes, sabotage, and occasional kneecapping, kidnapping, or assassination of bosses in the plants of northern Italy. This action was sufficient to change the climate and turn the cultural tide against the workers’ insurgency.

In my own workplace, we have seen an ebb and flow of class struggle on a micro-level. Initially, when the union went public, the boss was so afraid of us that he would sneak in and out the back door of the store without us knowing. We actually had a hard time planning actions because we could never find the boss to make demands.

The company replaced our boss with a new, more authoritarian manager. She set about breaking the union. Many of our fellow workers quit of their own volition before the union-busting really started, so we were already weak when the boss went on the offensive against us.

How did our new boss attack us? The same way we attacked our boss. She picked a winnable issue- something that we cared about but that we would be unable to defend. An issue that would isolate us from our coworkers, where we would not have “common sense” or the moral high ground behind us. In this case, it was the day-old sandwiches. We used to keep the sandwiches we didn’t sell at the end of the night for the workers who would come in the next day to have for lunch. Since we’re all so damn poor, this small gesture of solidarity meant a lot- it saved us money, and sometimes meant we got to eat when we would otherwise miss a meal.

The boss took away our sandwiches and put a note in the back room instructing us that we were no longer allowed to keep the sandwiches.

We were outraged. She was taking food out of our mouths. Immediately, two workers confronted the boss and demanded we be able to keep the sandwiches, explaining how important it was to us, how we didn’t make enough money to buy lunch every day, and how upset all the other workers would be.

The boss had prepared an answer in advance. She said it was against health code to keep the sandwiches, and that her boss would not allow it. We went back and forth a bunch of times to no avail.

The next day, I packaged up the sandwiches and put them in a stapled-shut bag, labeling it for a coworker who worked the next morning. He got the sandwiches and shared them with others on his shift. This was a direct action, directly contradicting the boss’ wishes.

I got called in the back room the next day. I was informed that if I did this again, I would be written up. Two writeups and I would be fired.

What could we do? We could do another march on the boss. A strike? A picket? A phone-in? We couldn’t figure out how to escalate. Our coworkers were not comfortable openly disobeying the boss, especially with the supposed legitimacy of “health code” behind her.

Our boss won. We lost the sandwiches. We did not have the organization we needed to defend ourselves.

This was the first defensive battle of a long retreat. Once you lose once, the effect can be devastating. People lose confidence in their ability to win and your organization crumbles. The boss gets increasingly brazen in their attacks.

But their brazenness generates agitation. You might have to bide your time, but eventually, the time will be ripe for a counterattack. It’s important to understand this dynamic in order to be able to beat back the bosses’ offensive, but also to be able to take the occasional loss in stride, pick our battles, and stay on the offensive more effectively.



Anyone who works out regularly knows that results in physical fitness pretty much come from only two things: persistence and time. The same thing is true in organizing. Organizing gets results when it’s persistent over the long haul. Persistent long term organizing must be systematic. A key to being systematic is putting things in riting.

In recent times the IWW has mostly organized relatively small workplaces or small units within larger workplaces. With small groups of people it’s pretty easy to remember everyone’s name, what they do, what experiences we’ve had with them. As a result, many of us have gotten into the habit of keeping a lot of information in our heads. This works in smaller settings. This won’t work once we get much beyond 20 or 30 people, because it all gets to be too much to remember. What’s more, when we make a habit of storing information in our head, it’s harder to assess what’s really happening at work, because our feelings shape our perceptions of what’s in our heads even more than what’s in writing. Depending on whether we’re feeling optimistic or pessimistic, this can lead us not to see real progress, or to overlook important steps that we fail to take.

One key activity to systematic organizing is charting regularly. By “charting” I mean when the organizers on a campaign get together and do a written assessment of our current presence on the job. Start with one sheet of paper. List all the facilities or departments in our campaign. Then list all the IWW members in each facility or department, followed by the names of other people we have contact with, and the total number of people in each place. Next to every name, write down whether or not someone has done a good one on one with them, when this was, and how it went. There will be more to say that doesn’t go on the chart, of course, as people talk about what worked and didn’t work in their one on ones. (This is also a good opportunity to do a roleplay about what the organizer might have said differently, but that’s a subject for another time.)

The process of charting helps us make decisions about who to talk to – the people we haven’t talked to in a long time, the people who are slipping, the people we haven’t talked to at all. That can sound obvious, but charting tells us exactly who those people are. It also helps us identify the gaps in our knowledge. (“I just realized, I don’t know how many custodians work third shift. We should find out.”) Getting that information is a task that someone new to the campaign could take on with the help of a more experienced organizer.

On another sheet of paper, write down the tasks that have come up based on the chart. Write down who is going to do each task, and who is going to check in with everyone to make sure they did their task.

Written charts and task lists should be kept after the meeting, and ideally they should be typed up. The next time the organizers chart, get out the old ones and compare. Get out the task list too, to make sure everyone did their tasks, and to discuss how the tasks went. This helps show progress -- “In the last month we’ve talked to 15 more people, this means we have talked to half the workers by now!” -- which can keep our inspiration going. It also helps show patterns we might not have noticed -- “We’re talking to a lot more of the white workers, and to day shift workers, let’s figure out how to break out of those networks and talk to more people” -- which can in turn help us identify new tasks.

Unless organizing is systematic, it will most likely rely too heavily on the social groups at work that we are most comfortable with. Charting is not the only part of organizing systematically, but it's one key piece of the puzzle.

Talking to Bosses: Stick to the Script!

Talking to Bosses: Stick to the Script!

We have nothing in common with them as a class but sometimes we need to talk to our bosses. When we confront our bosses, for instance, we need to talk to them. A lot of bosses seem to have an instinct for turning the tables on us, and a lot of us workers have a habit of letting them do so. We spend so much time following their orders and they spend so much time giving orders that when we speak up it can be almost as disorienting for us as it is for them. That can make it easy for the boss to take back control in conversation.

For us to keep control in conversation with the boss we need to know what we want to have happen. We can't get our way if we don't know what our way is. If we don't have a plan then things can't go according to plan.

Let's say we're going to confront a boss about making someone stay late. Here are some ways the boss might respond: justify the decision ("we had more work, someone had to do it"), bring up some other issue ("well, you all are out of uniform"), try to guilt you in some way ("you do this after I got you that nice coffee maker for the break room?"), bring up the way you raised the issue ("you shouldn't bring this up in a group"), point you to someone else or somewhere else ("you should bring this up at our team meeting," "you really should go through Human Resources"), or question your right to bring it up at all ("this is a private matter between me and that person, it's none of the rest of your business.") There are other possible responses. The point is, you should think about the different ways your boss will respond, and know how you will reply in each case.

The goal in replying to a boss's response is to come back to your issue and your goal. Don't get side-tracked. Don't argue. At most, acknowledge what they said, ("we appreciate the new coffee maker", "we tried to bring this up with HR"), but don't let them turn the conversation to be about that. State your issue again, and what you want. "You make us work late and it causes problems for us. Will you stop that?" If they keep bringing up other things, and they probably will, say "This isn't about that, we're here to talk about you making us work late." Then re-state your issue and what you want.

The over all point is that our issue and our demand is not up for discussion. We are not going to be talked out of feeling like a problem at work is a pain in the neck and we are not going to be talked into having our demand disregarded. We are making clear that the issue is a problem and we are presenting our demand to fix it. If you have to, just say "we're not here to debate with you or to discuss other things. We want to know if you will stop extending people's hours or not. That's all we want to talk about. Will you stop?"

Stick to the script and you can turn the tables on the boss.

Building a Ship

Building a Ship

I recently stepped down from a position in the international. In thinking about this, I remembered something I wanted to share. I feel lucky that I had the privilege to meet Fellow Worker Utah Phillips before he died. FW Phillips sang a song with the refrain, "building a ship, may never sail on it, gonna build it anyway. That's an important idea.

"Building a ship." The IWW is a sort of ecosystem where several elements depend on each other, and move at different paces. One of the main things I do in the IWW now are trainings and administrative work. This is important but it's hard in that the pay offs don't come quickly and often happen elsewhere out of my direct sight/experience. This is different from helping organize a picket or a job action, or moving a co-worker in a one-on-one.

On a personal note, I'm happy to report that my wife is pregnant and that our daughter is due to be born at the end of August. I am very excited to meet my daughter and to raise her. At the same time, I know parenting will involve being stressed, missing sleep, being afraid, and a lot of hard work. Along the same lines, I used to think that revolutionary activity should always be joyful or make us feel good. I no longer feel that way. Obviously this stuff should have enjoyable and/or joyful elements, at least sometimes, but that's a different matter. The work we need to do is often hard and trying and tiring and involves sacrifices. Many things worth doing are hard and are not immediately rewarding. To not do them because they are not immediately rewarding is not justifiable. That doesn't mean it's not worth doing over all, like parenting. It's both rewarding and really hard at the same time.

"May never sail on it." I told FW Phillips that his music and stories were a big part of my introduction to the IWW, and that I had really enjoyed talking with him and hearing his stories. He said thank you. He said something like "I was your age when I met the people who got me into all this, and they were about the age I am now. Someday you'll be my age and will be getting new people into all this." It was (and is) a sobering thing to say, and definitely felt (and feels) like shoes I can't fill. It's also an important reminder to think long term: Utah was I think 73 when I met him. I had just turned 30.

All this ties in to the reasons I decided to step down. In short, I was and am feeling burnt out. On the one hand, I need to make sure I do not burn out entirely, so that I can continue to play a somewhat positive role for the long term. On the other hand, the point in the song is important. This stuff is not about immediate returns - or, at least, not about seeing our really big goals accomplished. I find that a useful reminder. This work matters. We have to keep doing it. For me right now hanging in for the long term means stepping back for the short term, taking on less in order to do better at the things I am doing in the IWW.

"Gonna build it anyway."
Lasting Lessons from the Class Struggle
by M. Jones and MK

“To build the new society you need new people and people can be transformed only in activity.” - Martin Glaberman, Work and Working Class Consciousness.

March 20th, 2004. Over the course of a year a group of UPS loaders had developed a lot of comradery with one another. They had the power, and they openly expressed it by refusing to work at the speed demanded by the bosses. A new worker was brought in and management tried its best to isolate him from the activist group. When this fellow worker defied management and lined up with the rest of the workers, working at their pace, calling management “blue shirts” and spending his breaks with other militant workers, management brought even more pressure on him, pushing him to change and work faster or he would be fired. His coworkers responded after a break one morning by refusing to go back to work until a certain blue shirt, the one mostly responsible for the pressure brought on the new worker,was taken off of the line. It was a stand-off, and the tension was high, none of them having been involved in anything like this before. They won their demand, the supervisor was taken off the line, and they were threatened with firings if they tried anything like that again. Over the course of the next year they all began to leave the job, moving to other work, other shifts at UPS, or to other departments.

Roughly a year and a half after the action had taken place, two friends from the UPS job visit for the first time in awhile. Chatting over a beer, one had quit UPS but the other still worked there. He relayed how he would bring the story up whenever he saw their old despised manager, how that blue shirt's face would turn red and he would storm off. Nostalgic for the old crew and their bold action at work, the worker who had since moved on called another former coworker. He too expressed pride in their defiance of the boss and added that he looked forward to the next time he could stick it to management to show 'em who was really in charge. Though the gains were long gone, the memory and experience still lingered, with the workers holding onto a desire to take action next time they have the strength.

May 17th, 2006. Messengers from Arrow Messenger Service in Chicago gather for a special anniversary party at a fellow worker's home. Exactly one year ago, on a busy Thursday afternoon, they all had turned off their two-way radios messengers use to communicate to their dispatcher. Having been through three fruitless negotiating sessions with the company, this was their way of showing Arrow that if the bosses wouldn't meet their terms, the company wouldn't run. After a pitched battle during the ensuing month, the company agreed to the workers' demands.
As they gather at the anniversary party, make little drunken speeches and reminisce over last years drawn-out struggle, only three or four of them – out of twenty – still work at the company. Several were fired during the campaign, others quit in frustration, and others just decided to move on. There is virtually no organization left at the company and no existing struggle against the boss to speak of. In another year the union will be completely gone from Arrow and what will become of the gains made in Winter 2005 is anyone's guess.

But one thing is clear, no one there would have changed a thing. For some it was the greatest experience at work they had ever been a part of. There is consensus that the whole thing was nothing less than life-changing. Crappy work is no longer something that must only be endured. It can be collectively resisted.

At first glance one can look at these shopfloor skirmishes and see defeat. Gains were eroded, and no lasting organization was ever built. But through struggle we produce more than better or worse working conditions, resolved or unresolved grievances, and union or no union. We produce new kinds of people. A major part of our organizing has to be a change in consciousness. This is why our tactics are so important. This type of change in outlook isn't facilitated as clearly through an NLRB election campaign. Direct action, where workers themselves are making the change, gives the feeling of power to us workers. Most members of our class have not felt this power, but once it has been summoned up it is much harder to push down.

When we workers act as a group we are making a statement to each fellow worker involved. This statement is clear, I am willing to stand here with your if you are here to stand with me. We may win this fight, or we may lose, but that statement always stays with us. It resonates with us as we go through our lives. When we organize and when we take action that effectively challenges our boss, we have the power to demand the changes we want to see. This is the key to understanding why these types of actions change our lives. In the UPS story, workers stood up, put themselves on the line for another worker. In the Arrow story, workers took action to strengthen their position and to make a clear point: we are united and without US you do not have a company. When we put ourselves on the line for one another, no one forgets what is possible afterward.

The concept of producing organizers at one company who scatter out to others companies has become a maxim for some IWW organizers in industry-wide efforts, and the concept is a good one, but there's something more to it. Not everyone is going to become an organizer but everyone is going to have do assess the fight they've just been through and draw conclusions for their own lives. When the dust settles from our action, as it inevitably does, we are left to consider what happened. We have seen the power we have as workers, a power unknown before. It may not occur to us immediately, but with any major change in our lives, there is a resonance - a white noise that does not go away. It could be a month later and we could be at the same job, or a year later and we could be two jobs down the road, but we will remember. And when we have the chance, we line up with, or maybe even lead, an effort to organize and take a stand against the boss. This time we do it with less hesitation than before, maybe with more foresight and with more vigor, because now we know exactly what it means.

The bottom line is this: our organizing needs to have as its byproduct a new increase in workers' willingness to resist - an increase in our propensity to act on our urges to resist the bosses - even if the resistance is individual. This is the revolutionary outcome. This will lay the groundwork for future organizing, in this industry or others. To “organize the worker not the job” as we say in this union, is to gradually create new kinds of people, people who are most likely to never again roll over and take the shit the boss throws at them.

The Missoula Floods were enormous landscape-changing events during the last ice age, some of which discharged 2.6 billion gallons of water every second, but they were only possible due to sudden small ruptures of the ice dam on the Clark Ford River. Small ruptures led to larger ruptures, they built off each other weakening the dam. In the IWW, our workplace committees, our campaigns, and our fights with the boss have ruptured production, only to have seen companies rebound and get back to business. But the true ruptures are the changed individuals that come out the other end of these fights. One day our years of struggles will turn these ruptures into a revolutionary flood that will forever change the landscape of the world's economy.

Know the Union, Hear the Union, See the Union

Know the Union, Hear the Union, See the Union
By Adam W.

On a 100 degree summer day I was in Stockton, at the Sikh temple meeting room. A middle aged trucker with a long, flowy beard asked me “How do we show the other drivers who weren't at our meeting today what the union is and why they should join?” I struggled to give him a good, clear answer on this one. I improvised an analogy on the spot. I think it paints a picture of our Solidarity Unionism organizing model in practice: “Know the Union, Hear the Union, See the Union.” Let me break it down.

First you give the whole saying: “Here's how our organizing works. Some workers will know the union, some will hear the union, but others have to see the union.” If you have a marker and paper, draw three circles around each other (like a bulls eye target). In the middle one write “know,” the next “hear,” and the outer most circle “see.”

You'll get a raised eye brow or maybe a “huh?” look on the faces of folks, which usually translates to “What the hell is this crazy IWW organizer trying to tell me now?” Don't worry, this is actually good. If you get this reaction it means people will be interested to hear the explanation. Point to everyone in the room. Tell them that they are the workers who know the union. Point out that they are the workers that have attended meetings, are initiating the organizing and maybe have already taken out a red card. From experience or being fed up, they already know collective action is needed to fight for change on the job and that this is the definition of a union. Usually this group is small, but it's the starting point for every campaign.

The people who know the union talk to other folks. Some of the people they talk to will be quickly convinced. They're the ones who hear the union. Maybe they won't come to the first meeting or they might want to know that it's a legit effort and not the malcontents of the month, but once they are asked they will participate. This is usually the first layer of workplace leaders that are brought into an organizing committee.

Most workers are in the third camp, ones who need to see the union. They won't be meaningfully won over to the organizing effort simply by telling them somnething. These folks are skeptical that collective action by workers can win. They're probably scared of losing their jobs or maybe had a bad experience with another union.

Here's how we move the workers who need to see the union in action. The workers who know the union organize and build relationships and leadership among the folks who hear about the union. Together both groups take action to change small issues. This demonstrates in practice what a union is. Other workers see the union in action and start to understand that change is really possible.

For myself this is one of the most useful concepts when beginning to organize. Organizing starts with those who “know” the union, they bring in the folks who “hear” about the union and together they take action to move the workers who need to “see” the union. How this plays out in the long run is that workers move from “seeing” to “knowing” the union through becoming involved in the organizing and action. This process builds the IWW and builds a conscious and militant working class.

What We're Changing

What We're Changing
By M. Jones

In our organizing we are trying to establish power on the job. This power can be seen and felt in different ways depending on the job. But what we want from our organizing is control over our day to day lives on the job, this control will come from the power we can establish through collective action.

The collective actions we take on the job change the conditions on that job; they change how we daily interact with our bosses and with each other. This results in a bettering of conditions. I believe old time Wobblies called this job conditioning. It comes out of workers collectively and directly confronting the boss on an issue, and sticking up for one another. It is done with or without a contract; often the contract is an impediment to actions that can condition the job.

One of my first experiences with this came on my first job out of high school, throwing boxes at UPS. The workers here, although only informally organized exerted strong control over the job, and had no fear in voicing their opinions to the boss. The workers rallied around one or two strong leaders on the job. These leaders were the first workers to extend a hand to me and the other fellow I got hired on with, these were the workers when there was an issue would between two other workers would get it worked out, and these were the workers who were the first (but not the only ones) to bring up an issue to the boss. These confrontations often happened on the post break discussion session, they were often loud and confrontational. In this I saw the first application of our power as workers, and what it meant to be organized. The result was we worked the pace we wanted, worked with who we wanted, and stuck up for on another. Eventually, this experience would culminate in a threatened strike sticking up for a fellow worker who was in danger of being fired.

When I moved on to another job, this one at a truck manufacturing plant, I found a much different situation. Workers did not condition the job in the same way. They did not stick up for each other. Moreover, the leadership that had existed on the job at UPS did not exist here. The leadership that did exist was found in the “team lead” who often was a good leader and a company man. This of course led to workers following this person, falling in line, and not sticking together. In this situation our job conditions were much different. We were more at the mercy of the company. They had us out organized, and because of this we had no control over our daily lives on the job.

On my current job we are early on in a long process of organizing. One of the first tasks has been to get my fellow workers to take action together and to stick up for one another. Most of them are decent folks, willing to help each other out but with no experience of being organized. Most want to confront problems as individuals, thinking they may get a fair hearing from the boss. In small ways though, I can already see some changes, from a willingness to be critical of how things are handled to having each other's backs and helping each other out. These are some of the small changes that can lead to larger ones.

Job conditioning, I have learned is based on the small confrontations that happen everyday. When the boss comes out ready to tell us a decision he or she has made and is not confronted by workers as a group, they set the conditions for that day. If we workers confront them, stick up for one another, and lay out our demands for what we want, we set the conditions for that day. We are making a point with our action. The boss is learning their role. Workers are learning our power.

Why Direct Action

Why Direct Action
By M. Jones

The goal of the IWW is to create the “future society in the shell of the old.” It is important we keep this goal in mind as we go about our organizing. This goal helps define how we organize for the daily struggles and it shapes our perspective on future organizing. As IWW's we accept that this goal means we put certain principles forward in our organizing. One of these, Direct Action is the basis of this article.

Direct Action is a principled tactic that will help us build revolutionary industrial unions, because it builds revolutionary industrial unionists. Backed by solid organization it can enforce our demands whatever they may be: better wages, more time for ourselves, subsidized childcare, etc. At the same time it prepares us for larger battles and struggles as it develops us into a collective force. It has the ability to change our conceptions of ourselves and the world around us. Old prejudices, the shit of capitalism, that has kept us divided as workers can get shed. Ways of feeling, isolated, alone, depressed with the weight on you shoulders fall away. This happens because we are involved in action, doing things in a way that is not passive. We are a force with our own agenda and goals.

As the IWW, we emphasize direct action in our organizing. Simply put, direct action is any tactic that addresses an issue directly, that a group of workers themselves control, and that does not depend on a third party. Direct action does not rely on the state through the National Labor Relations Board, legislation, politicians, or bureaucrats. Instead it is based on us acting collectively and directly on an issue. Sometimes it is aimed at the boss or bosses. This is the first thing that comes to most of our minds. This is the classic image of the workers marching out of the factory or sitting in. But it is also simpler actions, refusing to participate in employer meetings unless they are on the terms of the workers. This happened with a group of massage therapists out in Portland recently. Or bringing in the proper safety equipment paid for by the group when the bosses refuses to provide it (as happened recently at a Chicago Starbucks). Sometimes it is aimed at other pieces of the capitalist system. In Portland a social service workplace for victims of sexual or domestic violence was in danger of getting its funding cut by the county. The workers organized, and with a large group of supporters showed up at the county commissioners' meetings demanding the budget not be cut. They had their funding restored because of the action they took together. Another example of direct action is a group of women workers that confronted a sexist co-worker (or co-workers). The target can vary but the method stays the same.

It must be said openly that Direct Action is not about violence or destruction despite what the bosses or the media may say. Anyone who advocates individual violent acts, as “direct action” is sorely misunderstood on it place and purpose and does a disservice to the working class, for whom there is no need for such posturing.

We recognize direct action takes discipline, planning, and follow through. The foundation however is the solidarity that exists among workers in the shop. Here is the basis of the action. We begin at this point and organize the action from there, bringing others in as necessary. Solidarity is how we support each other around an issue, it is a measure of how strongly we as workers feel towards one another and how much we will support each other. Solidarity is developed out of our shared experiences on the job and our common grievances. It is both the foundation of and broadened by Direct Action.

Our organizing around an issue succeeds or fails based on how good of a plan it was and how well it is carried out. To ensure that it is carried out well we assess our situation before hand, keeping in mind our desired outcome and possible responses. As workers we come together and democratically decide what we want and what we are going to do. Outside organizers can help develop a plan and tie it in with larger strategy. But the decision to act and how to act must be carried out by those directly involved. It is important that as many of those impacted are involved in the planning and decision-making. It is in this way we maintain a democratic organization. We also increase our strength as a group by sharing skills, planning together, and testing our abilities. And most importantly we further the solidarity we feel towards each other.

Direct action requires that we overcome the divisions amongst us by deciding on a plan and moving on it. We stop taking complaints to the boss one at a time, hoping for some sympathy or a fair hearing. Instead we list out the problems, our demands to fix them, and through an action confront the boss directly. This challenges us to do things many of us are not used to, things we are discouraged from doing by capitalism. First we think critically about the situation around us. We have to organize beyond ourselves and bring people in. We strategize as a group to ensure our plan is as fool proof as can be. And lastly up for each other and for ourselves.

It is obvious how this differs from the other days at work. Instead of driving in think how miserable to day will be, hoping things will move by quickly, that the speed of work or your numbers of cases to solve won't be too difficult. That the pay will seem worth it, there won't be as much inventory to stock. The boss won't come by and demand that we work overtime. Instead we show up focused, with a plan, a sense of community with those around us. We have a say in our lives on the job and we have power. Organizing puts this into play; direct action takes it to the next step.

This tactic can only be effectively accomplished by those directly involved. It is a key to keeping our organization democratic, making sure those most impacted and with the most to gain or lose are the primary actors in an action. They are not necessarily the only ones with a stake in the action, but they are the most effected. Work should be done to make sure anyone potentially impacted is consulted on the action, especially with large actions (except of course the boss). Everyone involved is accountable to each other during and after the action. This means that if the designated Fellow Worker who is to speak to the boss during the action is unable, someone else steps up, or we have a second speaker appointed. Or if during a slow down action, where we have all decided to work at our own speed the whole day, a fellow worker begins to work faster, we work things out with them. We figure out what is up and work with this person and ensure next time this mistake won't be made. Any mistakes made can be worked out and any problems resolved as a group, sometimes with the aid of external organizers there to walk us through. Here it is clear how this is different than a handful of “organizers” calling the shots.

Direct Action is useful to our organizing because direct action is the only way to continue to build upon our success and to ensure that our gains are not whittled away. Organizing in the IWW is not merely about winning demands. Yes, winning demands, improves our lives as workers on and off the job. We do not lose sight of this, but we recognize it is not an end in itself. If our only goal were to win demands, we would have no reason to be different than the business unions. If this were our goal it would be fine to hire picketers to stand outside to shop, while the workers toil inside. It would be fine to use only “public” pressure to force the boss to sign a contract as some business unions do. But this is not what we want. We want workers and ourselves as workers, to be conscious of themselves and to be organized. This means being active, not passive. This means building up our skills and our confidence. Out of this comes our real strength.

This is why we need not be the largest numerically to have the biggest impact. We, as workers, decide how to take care of an issue: not unaccountable leaders disconnected from the situation, not the state through appointed judges, not the union president and her cronies miles away. We are not passive in this. We are making the moves and the decisions.

We aim to build a new society. Building a new society requires us to change as workers. Collective Action challenges the alienation that breaks us apart and makes us feel like isolated individuals. People do not change when they are spectators who watch someone else get things for them, or are given things to keep quiet. We change when we are acting on something, when we are experiencing things ourselves. Through direct action this is possible. Here we are seeing what is possible, what limits exist, how we can be stronger next time. This happens again and again as we build the One Big Union, until our strength can match that of the bosses and larger things are possible.

On Leadership

On Leadership
By Phinneas Gage

Miguel was charismatic. Middle aged yet still handsome, a principled family man, an open communist and refugee from Chile. He was part of the left, of the left, of the left, those who desperately argued that the working class had to defend themselves even as Allende their socialist President was dragged away and shot in a basement. As an entire generation was exterminated or disappeared, buried beneath soccer stadiums and dropped into Volcanoes Miguel managed to make it to Canada, like an entire generation of Chileans he vowed not to give up the fight. He was a survivor, a militant and a leader.

So a leader is what my union decided to make him. When Miguel was on the floor he held more power than any of the bosses. I remember being a nervous inexperienced shop steward dealing with a possible firing; the stakes were high- the sister in question had gotten into an accident, her third in the last month. Three accidents for drivers in a year is enough to get someone fired, and on top of all this she was still a temp and nowhere near the end of her probation, and as one supervisor recently found out she was pregnant. I asked for Miguel to help me represent the sister as the stakes were just too high for me to responsibly handle on my own.

To say we came out on top in that interview would be an understatement. Miguel simply walked into the room, beaming, and sat down leaning far back in his chair. The two young supervisors were obviously caught off guard, they were visibly nervous. There’s a stereotype of what the labour militant should look like, yelling at the boss, defiant, a person who lives and breathes direct action. No doubt there were times when Miguel was exactly this. However, the quiet power he held was stronger. In this case he merely told the supervisors that if they fired this sister it would be an injustice that cannot be overlooked by the workers. He never once mentioned the union all he said was the workers would not tolerate this injustice.

That quiet power, the leadership in that man and his skills as an organizer did not come from him alone. Those supervisors did not fear Miguel, they feared the respect he had from his peers, the bosses feared the workers ability under Miguel’s leadership, to make their lives miserable. Miguel believed in his coworkers and his coworkers believed in him.

A union officer does not need to have the backing of the workers on the floor. He - and it's usually he - only needs to have backing of the workers who bother to turn out to vote. A working class leader can only exist with the tacit support of the workers. The problem is the relation that the officer has to the workers they represent and used to work next to. This is why a union officer is not necessarily a working class leader.

When leadership comes from the floor there is very little distance between a working class leader and her supporters. Quiet chiding and maybe a bit of teasing about status going to their head can bring the leader in line if they are acting out of step with the workers. This discipline by the workers on their leadership is part of the normal work environment.

When one is a union leader one “visits the workfloor.” You are no longer at home on the job; you are a guest in the workers own space. This creates a distance, a relationship that makes officers likely to view their role as a professional one, as an expert who comes in from the outside. Even the most progressive unions while in one instance saying “you are the union” to the membership say in another that we must “service our members”. These two conceptions of workplace activism are fundamentally at odds with each other. In fact the idea that “€˜the membership is the union’ acts a smokescreen for the union turning itself into a third party above and beyond the workers own self activity on the job. Much like employers try to call workgroups teams or subordinates “€˜partners’ unions mask their bureaucracy by conflating the ability to mobilize and inspire with the position in the union hierarchy.

Two years earlier Miguel was president of the local; he served two terms before returning to work in the plant. During a wildcat action in his former workplace Miguel was stuck in a tough position. Stopping the mail often gets people fired, but the workers were incensed. Against his own previous practice (Miguel had already been fired once for leading a job action himself several years earlier) he advised the workers to return to work. He was afraid someone might loose their job as had almost happened to him.

No doubt some people keep their militancy up while in office. There are courageous labour leaders and I’ve met my fair share. Miguel definitely was one of them. But again it isn’t enough that a leader is brave and principled. The important question is why was Miguel willing to incite job actions to the point of getting fired when it was his risk to take but advised others not to take the same risk. The reason is his relationship to the struggle, and to the workers he was leading had changed.

This relationship is destroyed by institutionally removing the leadership from the workplace and placing them in an office, the pronoun changes from “€˜we’ to “€˜you’. The means of disciplining the leadership then becomes voting them out, in effect saying that when you screw up your punishment is to become just another worker. The focus of activity is no longer at work but rather at the union office. A good militant who would be perfectly willing to stick their own neck out on an action with their co-workers is afraid to have others take that risk. Their instinct is a noble one; they want to protect their people.

The desire to not incite others to take big risks, even if one would take those risks themselves is a good quality in a person. The problem is not with the caliber of working class leadership the problem is with the leadership’s relation to the rank and file. The key is to build working class leadership that can stay on the job. This means organizing in a manner that does not rob the rank and file of on the job leadership and organizing without full time paid leaders. True leadership is not an office or a title but the ability to move people. This way when we decide to take risks and take on a fight we do it in full knowledge of what we are getting into without asking others to take risks we ourselves are not taking as well.

Pinchpoint Target

Pinchpoint Target
December 2008

Some people think the IWW should pour all of its resources into organizing in an industry which is particularly important to the economy, to maximize our impact on capitalism--I call this the “Pinchpoint Target” idea.

Pinchpoint Target is the idea that there's one key sector or a few key sectors of the economy where organized workers could shut down capitalism. This means workers in that sector or sectors have a certain level of objective power, at least potentially. For instance, if every dockworker in the United States went on strike the global economy would stop. Dockworker strikes stop an incredibly valuable amount of machinery and goods. Every minute of the strike costs the bosses of the world a great deal of money. This analysis is correct. It does not mean that the IWW should focus only organizing dockworkers.

The problem with Pinchpoint Target is that it takes a correct objective analysis of the economy--some sectors are more important to the global economy than others--and argues that the analysis should dictate organizational strategy. The mistake is that Pinchpoint Target says that we'll organize that key sector or sectors and then be able to end capitalism. That is, the idea is that workers in that sectors or sectors will lead the charge for everyone else.

There are at least three problems with this idea. One is that workers in other industries need unions too because their jobs also suck. Some of those workers are currently IWW members and not all of them can change jobs to some key industry. The IWW needs to support and train and develop those members too. To do otherwise would be undemocratic.

A second problem is that the current level of training, experience, and dedication in the union is insufficient. The procedures for educating news members and developing a sense of Wobbly culture and community need to be better. I don't mean to put down the hard work of my fellow workers. I simply think that we still have a lot of work to do in this area. If we're talking about key sectors where we want to not only build unions but push forward revolutionary transformation then we will face tremendous repression. We have to be prepared for this repression. That means we have to develop better networks of solidarity and union infrastructure and a stronger Wobbly culture. The union busting we face when we organize image conscious restaurant chains or in the public sector is nowhere near as fierce as in manufacturing. We still have a hard time handling this in our campaigns. If we organize dockworkers or oil refinery workers the union busting we face will be much more intense than anything we have seen before. We need to get better at winning smaller campaigns in less important sectors of the economy before we charge up the mountain.

The level of repression which workers in pinchpoint industry face is an argument for not prioritizing those sectors for another reason. If workers in those industries are isolated, they will be more easily defeated. If organization and revolutionary consciousness is spread throughout the working class across different sectors then we will have a better chance at defeating that repression. If it's not, then the struggles in the pinchpoint sector or sectors will be more likely to lose--and the workers in other sectors may be less likely to unite with the workers in the pinchpoint sectors.

The experience of class struggle on the job can have a radicalizing effect. I've argued that we should organize in a way that maximizes this effect. This is important to counteract divisions between parts of our class. More important sectors of the economy are more likely to be well paid, and one response to major unrest is to improve conditions. The difference in income between the pinchpoint and nonpinchpoint workers can lead workers in the non-pinchpoint sectors to be less disposed toward solidarity.

I want to close by saying that the Pinchpoint Target is motivated by a sense of urgency. The idea is that prioritizing one sector or some key sectors will move the abolition of the wage system along faster. That's a worthwhile goal and that impatience is totally understandable. The world is a bad place in many ways and it needs to change. I'm not convinced that the Pinchpoint Target will help us, but I respect and share the sense of urgency of the fellow workers who hold to this idea.

What Does the IWW Do?

What Does the IWW Do?
November 2008

People become IWW members in two ways. Some people join because of ideology and people join because of the union's activity. Along the same lines, the IWW does two main things. First, it helps workers solve problems at work by helping them organize. Second, it transforms people. That is, the IWW improves some people's live on the job and radicalizes some people through collective action alongside discussion. In doing so it gives them practical skills and confidence to do things. Another way to put this is as a pair of principles: building industrial power and building organizers.

We need room for both of these principles. Our organizing should radicalize workers. And our organizing should make people who think of themselves as radicals more effective in fighting bosses and capitalists.

In practice these principles are closely related. For instance the NYC warehouse campaign really got running because of the hard work and dedication of a handful of IWW members. This is basically true across the board for the IWW. The bulk of the work of maintaining and building the union rests on a relatively small percentage of IWW members. In this we're like most unions I think. So, we build industrial power by using our current organizers. These principles work together.

While these principles overlap, it can be useful to think about them separately sometimes. This gives us two different ways to evaluate success and set priorities. Let's say in one shop we win an awesome contract for 100 people and develop no members of that shop into class conscious workers and active IWW members and organizers. Let's say in another shop we lose and the campaign dissipates. But five people who were already IWW members become better organizers and five new members join from the shop and become organizers. The first hypothetical is better if our main priority is industrial power. The second is better if our priority is developing organizers.

Personally I think if someone only cares about one or the other principle then the IWW may be the wrong group for them, depending on what industry they work in and what role they want to play. If someone wants to organize and all they care about is industrial power, other unions do a lot better at building industrial power most of the time. If someone wants to organize in a way that only focuses on developing class consciousness I think there are groups that do a better job than us. However, the IWW is one of the only groups I know that does both at the same time and is reasonably good at both.

While both of these principles are important, my personal view is that right now the priority for the IWW should be to develop organizers. This doesn't mean neglecting industrial power, because we can only meaningfully develop organizers by aiming at industrial power. But the reality is that the IWW relies too much on people who joined with their vision and values already formed and their skills already developed. Plus, turnover in the IWW is far too high. We need to get better at creating organizers, improving organizers over time, and retaining organizers for the long haul. This is a key part of building the One Big Union and ultimately abolishing the wage system.

Forget About Industrial Power

Forget About Industrial Power
September 2008

The old wobbly song “There Is Power In A Union” goes “There is power there is power in a band of working folks, When they stand hand in hand.” This is the basic idea of a union, strength in numbers. We're lacking in the numbers department in the IWW today. So our power is small, at least in one important sense. We need to recognize this if we're going to grow quickly and efficiently, without cutting any corners in terms of member education and development

Some people in the IWW think we should organize big companies that dictate conditions for the rest of their industry because they have such a large share of the market. If we make changes at the industry or market leaders then we make change across the whole industry. That's true, and we should organize these companies (we should organize everywhere). But the reality is that our power is small compared to big companies.

More than that, our first priority right now should not be to make change for as many workers as possible across an industry. Our first priority right now should be to have members improve their own lives at work and to recruit other organizers out of our co-workers. That will build our pool of committed, capable organizers so that we can eventually have really enormous impacts for our whole class.

On the short term we should focus on small companies instead of big ones. We are tiny compared to a multinational company and so is our relative power. But compared to a small “mom-and-pop” grocery store or a locally owned restaurant with 20 employees, or a fast food franchise where the owned has 5 stores and 75 employees, we are huge. We have branches that are bigger than companies of that size. We can run picket lines and other actions against those companies which can really hurt them economically (as opposed to picketing, say, WalMart) because every shop is a huge portion of the company's total income. This will maximize the relative power of our branches and make for more winnable campaigns in a shorter time frame. Those wins will result in more members with greater organizing experience and higher morale. It might also reduce organizer burnout by giving us more victories to restore our spirits in the short term.

Of course, gains in smaller companies will be limited by the conditions in the industry which are mostly set by industry leaders. We'll have to explain this to the workers we organize and turn them into organizers dedicated to organizing their whole industry. The small shops will provide us with a larger base and more concrete examples to work from as we turn to organizing larger companies in those industries.

Reply: Industrial Unionism is the IWW Strategy
By Patrick B
October 2008

While I don't think the Industrial Worker is the proper forum for debate over organizing strategy, the readers of the IW should be offered an alternative view to that presented by the September 2008 IW article entitled “Forget Industrial Power,” by Fellow Worker Nate H. In the article he argues that the IWW should avoid placing organizing efforts in large companies because of our relative weak position and that organizing large companies is likely to create failure and burnout for our organizers.

The main disagreement I have with the argument is that it is a self-fulfilling prophesy. The more we believe we can't do something, the more that becomes a reality. We have refused to take on large targets for over 40 years. As a result we have grown little. It was only when the IWW took on Borders in 1996 and Starbucks in 2004, both large companies, that we saw significant increases in membership and activity.

Furthermore, the argument is grounded in circular logic. Acquiring big resources only comes after we take on big targets. It is tantamount to saying “we need resources to organize big targets, but we can't get resources until we organize big targets.” We've been saying this for decades. Where has it gotten us?

The early IWW was not afraid of any targets. They took on companies and industries thousands of times larger (review the copper mine organizing in Arizona or the Textile companies in New England for example) than their membership and made not only changes for the workers of the industry but also for the labor movement as a whole.

The article further contends that we should focus our organizer recruitment at the small workplaces of our current membership. The problem with this argument is that it assumes we would not acquire organizers at large targets, which is, of course, likely. IWW-style

organizing anywhere creates new organizers out of workers. The argument also completely ignores the good possibility that the quality of the organizers recruited from large targets may be better. Because of the larger size, there is a larger pool of talent to draw from. He also believes we should focus on small companies instead of big ones. The grounding for this is that we could potentially build enough power on the backs of small capitalists to eventually fight the large businessmen. While I agree with FW H that we should not solely focus on large companies, I think focusing on small ones is just as problematic, and may even require more time and energy than a large company and may be more prone to failure.

Businesses act in predictable ways if the basic economic laws are given consideration. Occasionally these laws are broken, or a business owner will act irrationally, or outside agencies (i.e. Government) will interfere with economic laws, but the vast majority of businesses comply and therefore act predictably to internal and external pressures (labor rebellion, etc.). If we apply the pressure of unionism to small companies than we should be able to predict, given a long enough time frame, the effects on the company, the industry, or the economy as a whole.

Instead of providing power for the IWW, organizing small companies is likely to lead to eventual weakening of our union. Smaller companies are required to compete with the big companies, who set industrial standards, to survive. Any hindrance to this is likely to either limit what we can gain from employers or entirely push the small shops out of business. The larger companies will acquire the customer-base left by the exterminated businesses, the Wobblies will be out of work, and capitalism's wheels keep on turning. The amount of real economic pressure we could apply to small businesses is therefore very little.

Organizing small companies is a bigger drain on resources. Even the big business unions, with extensive resources, have had trouble organizing the little shops. They are just too hard to organize.

However, I will not argue that the best alternative is organizing one large company either. On a long enough timeline, the end result of focusing on one large company will reflect that of the smaller ones (look at the Teamster organizing in the Nineties). Large companies can go out of business like any other and when they do, their competitors in the industry will assume their former market share.

What's the alternative? The answer to the problem of limited resources, unemployment prevention, and organizer burnout is to organize industrially. By organizing industrially, we have a large pool of talent to draw from that is often limited in both small and some large companies. We can choose where in the industry to place emphasis to prevent firings and ensure negotiating leverage.

Moreover, taking on an entire industry eliminates the ubiquitous problem in small companies of high turnover. Turnover creates extra stress for organizers and affords little negotiating leverage to the workers. When the pros and cons are carefully considered, organizing industrially is actually much more likely to yield success with less effort than organizing small companies or single large companies. While the endeavor may seem intimidating, industrial strategy is easier and more appropriate for our current resources.

Often times, there is a tendency to fear big targets because of the size of the employment is intimidating. I used to think this way. But a close friend and fellow worker once told me I was looking at it from a “glass-is-half-empty” point of view. He said, Don't think of all those workers as a barrier, think of it as an opportunity.

A workplace or local industry of 1000 workers should not be viewed as “1000 members until success,” but rather “this industry offers us potentially 1000 new members.” That optimism never left me. I think if it was adopted by more Wobblies, we would grow significantly.

Response to FW B
October 2008

I thank FW B for taking the time to reply to my column. I disagree with FW B that the Industrial worker is not a proper forum for debate over organizing strategy. That's the biggest disagreement we have, I think.

I argued that we should focus on small targets, because we can have more victories at small targets because our branches are bigger relative to small companies. That way we can win things more quickly and make more organizers by having inspiring victories. I think inspiring victories are important for making organizers, and making more organizers is one of the three most important tasks facing the IWW right now. (The other two are retaining organizers and getting better at organizing.)

The heart of my column, the bit I feel most strongly about, is this pair of sentences: “Our first priority right now should be to have members improve their own lives at work and to recruit other organizers out of our co-workers. That will build our pool of committed, capable organizers so that we can eventually have really enormous impacts for our whole class.” I think FW B and I agree on this.

FW B points out that this can also be done by targeting big companies and industry-wide campaigns. He points to the Starbucks campaign as an example. The Starbucks campaign is important and impressive. It's made more organizers for our union and that's awesome. FW B is absolutely right and this is a gap in my column's argument.

All of that said, I still think that a new GMB that is looking for a first organizing target is better off trying to organize a smaller shop. The smaller the shop, the less resources management has to dump into union-busting and the more of their business we can shut down with pickets and other actions given our currently small numbers.

Let me put it this way. Let's say hypothetically that three new branches form in three different counties in the great state of Minnesota and they host a joint organizer training. One says “we have a member who works at Wal-Mart so we're targeting all the Wal-Marts in our county.” The second says “we have a member who works at a local magnet factory with 50 workers so we're targeting that.” The third says “we haven't made up our mind yet - we have Walmarts here and we have a magnet factory with 50 workers, and we have one member at each.”

If someone from the third branch asked my advice, I would urge them to follow the lead of the second branch, not the first. I would wish the first branch nothing but success and they would certainly deserve support. But would I predict that at least in the short term the second branch is more likely to succeed and to have more of the victories necessary for sustaining organizers.

Of course, I would be happy to be proven wrong by more victories and organizer recruitment within really big campaigns.