Of Sweatshops & Starbucks: Is the IWW a Good Union?

This is the third in a four-part series analyzing the Industrial Workers of the World as the failure of dual unionism in the American revolutionary left. This installment focuses on the structural capabilities of the organization, and its geographical and industrial reach.

The IWW proudly declares that it employs no paid organizers or staffers. Instead, all the operations of the union are carried out by worker-activists on a volunteer basis – from directing workers on how to organize their workplace, to filing legal complaints against employers, to the graphic design, web design, and print media work necessary for the union. The IWW consistently praises itself on the absence of paid staffers within the union.

Many times, it is an advertisement directed at the frugal worker: “We keep our dues low by refraining from employing people.” Unfortunately, since the quality of a union’s leadership decides the difference between a worker getting fired and blacklisted, and the same worker getting a hefty raise, unions are not the sort of thing you should shop for by price. My question in this article is as follows: Can the IWW function without staffers – and if it can, why don’t other unions do the same?

In the first place, union organizing demands time. Especially in the food and retail industries which the modern IWW has sought to organize, union organizers need flexible schedules. Everyone who has worked a food service or retail job knows the unpredictable schedules they bring. It is nearly impossible for any four workers in the same workplace to find a time when they are all off of work. If a union organizer has their own work schedule to work around, this presents a fatal barrier to organizing. Therefore, the union organizer must be free from the obligation of an outside job, if only to be able to devote enough time to the campaign. The workers interested in unionizing deserve no less.

Paid positions command this dedication from staffers. For the staffer, the union is their career. They are able to devote 40 hours (and frequently more than that) per week to union activities. By offering a paid position, the union attracts those who have studied and perfected their knowledge. Workers need unions because workers need people who know the law, who know how to conduct an organizing campaign from A to Z, and so forth. This why workers contact unions in the first place: because they don’t know how to do it themselves.

This can be applied equally to other types of union staffers. Unions need dedicated business agents who are knowledgeable enough in labor law to face off against Human Resources lawyers in grievance hearings. If a grievance is escalated to the point where a union representative must sit down with a Human Resources lawyer (who quite literally has a degree in union-busting), the worker deserves a union representative knowledgeable enough in labor law to defend the worker.

Why do AFL-CIO unions expend millions of dollars to employ campaign researchers, translators, graphic designers, illustrators, public relations experts, writers, and web designers? It could be because they have so much money that they don’t know what to do with it, and that they want to go out of their way to hire as many people as possible. It could also be because they acknowledge that the work done by, say, a professional graphic designer is more reliable than Xeroxed newspaper cartoons from 1914.

Unfortunately, people with this level of knowledge and negotiation skill do not volunteer their time and energy – they look for careers.

The modern IWW is operated by a layer of worker-activists who have a varying level of devotion to the organization. For most of the “organizers” in the group, the IWW is a hobby like any other – and that’s all it can be for them. After all, they have work, school, and other interests. The degree of knowledge possessed by individuals and branches in the IWW, like everything else in the organization, varies tremendously between branches. There are branches with career SEIU staffers, and there are branches where the most knowledge anyone in the branch has on labor law is a copy of Staughton Lynd’s Labor Law for the Rank & Filer.

Though I hesitate to use the word, professional organizers and professional staffers are a requirement for any serious union. The idea that professionalism creates bureaucracy in unions is misleading – staffers do not hold executive authority over the direction of the union (in contrast to elected officers like presidents and executive boards). Staffers are analogous to legal counsel: you tell your lawyer what you want, and your lawyer has the technical knowledge of the courts necessary to get it. She can file the right papers, make the right motions, and reference the right cases, which are all things you don’t know how to do.

If anything, the threat that professional staffers pose to union democracy is roughly equal to the threat that hobby activists pose to running an organization responsible for defending workers’ jobs, livelihoods, and families. Workers join unions for the former: to defend their jobs. We become a revolutionary union not by sacrificing that function in favor of ideological platitudes and purity, but by combining that function with empowerment, education, and action. If we are unable to defend their jobs to the degree that an AFL-CIO union is able to do, our strength is not as a union, but as an ideology.

Surely, taunting the AFL-CIO for their lack of ideological dedication to the working class will bring the IWW few members, and even fewer organized shops. If we cannot (or do not wish to) compete with the power and ability of AFL-CIO unions, workers will continue to join UNITE-HERE and UFCW over the IWW, because they offer a security we cannot match. Excuses in favor of the IWW are predictable: it’s a small union, its ideology leaves it vulnerable to being disregarded and red-baited, it doesn’t have the money to hire organizers, and so forth. Precisely! These conditions are not historical accidents; these are problems inherent in the strategy of dual unionism.

The IWW is both shockingly (from the point of view of unions) and unsurprisingly (from the point of view of anarchism) decentralized. Any ten people can join the union and establish their own branch. The organization does not require that anyone in your group has any knowledge of labor law, the labor movement, how unions work, what a union is, or how to organize one. For workers interested in unionizing, contacting the IWW is a roll of the dice: the branch you contact could be a group of people relatively capable of organizing a union, or they could be a group of people who are more interested in the historical IWW and theoretical texts than in organizing workers.

The IWW is much like a franchise in the sense that it delegates its name, logo, and likeness to groups of people (who may or may not identify themselves as “workers”), and then essentially lets them go about their business. This is what creates the extreme heterogeneity of the group. The franchisee decides how they want to use the IWW, with basically zero obligations placed on them by the International. The franchisee is not required to actually organize any workplaces – in fact it’s not required to do anything!

In recent times, this has led to the International union being clueless as to what different branches are doing, and even as to whether or not some branches even still exist – there have been several “ghost ships” that lose contact with the rest of the organization and disappear. The Organizing Department Board, to use one example, has been struggling in recent months to even find out what other branches are doing. It is not uncommon for branches to go public with a union drive without notifying any higher body in the union beforehand. Oftentimes, the union does not hear about a campaign until it goes public, and then it gets blindsided by having to handle a strike on zero notice.

To use a contemporary example: Starbucks will never be unionized by the IWW. As Starbucks has locations scattered throughout the country (and world), to organize it would require a nationwide union. Other unions are structured in such a way where they are able to undertake a corporate campaign of this nature. These unions either retain organizers at the national level, or they send organizers from their locals to targeted locations. The IWW is simply structurally incapable of conducting a campaign of this nature. The Starbucks campaign, as with any other campaign against a regional or nationwide employer, is picked up by any IWW branch that wants to undertake it. There is no obligation for a branch to participate in efforts to organize an employer targeted by the union – if the organization ever did approach a branch asking them to participate in Starbucks organizing, the branch would be able to respond with a simple “No thank you.”

Even Jimmy John’s, which is microscopic compared to Starbucks1, has a scope of business too expansive for the IWW. The target employers chosen by the IWW are probably chosen by a sense of social and moral responsibility rather than a serious estimation that the IWW can organize them: “Well, if UNITE-HERE is not going to organize Starbucks, someone has to!” This altruism is certainly well-meaning, but given the present size and state of the modern IWW, in my opinion it would be fatally irresponsible to organize workers under the union. In my opinion, workers would be much more well-off in an established union which has the interest and material ability to defend them. Our role in the labor movement as revolutionaries should not be to divide the labor movement by forming dual unions with little hope of success, but to push an uncompromising agenda of internal democratization and class struggle within these established unions.

How will the IWW reach the Starbucks workers in locations where it doesn’t have branches, or where its branches don’t want to organize them? So long as the formation of IWW branches depends on the number of convinced radicals in a given area, it will not only never reach far outside of major cities and younger demographics, but its numbers will surge and recede with the popularity of radical politics. While the IWW will probably rack up occasional victories in predictably activist- and radical-dense cities like Portland, Minneapolis, and Boston, it is not foreseeable that the union will ever gain a truly nationwide presence.

1. While Starbucks has 10,784 locations in the United States alone – and another 13,000 locations in 64 other countries – Jimmy John’s has less than 2,000 locations in just 42 states. Upon reading these figures, we can see that either the IWW’s eyes are monumentally bigger than its stomach, or that it lacks even a basic understanding of the role of industry research in union campaigns. To drive the point about professional staffers home, a union with even one professional researcher/campaign strategist would never authorize campaigns which are as disproportionate to the size of the union as these two.

Comments

Chilli Sauce
Sep 4 2014 08:43

So I'm going to be honest, I think there's a lot wrong with this article. The critique I've seen of full-timers isn't that they're anti-democratic or inherently bureaucratic (although I do think there's some truth to both of those), but a structural one. Namely that paid staff create a layer of individuals in the union with specialized (often legalistic) knowledge and skill, their very existence which

(a) limits the impetus for self-organization,1 and
(b) changes the reasons/expectations of people who join the union

This, however,

Quote:
If anything, the threat that professional staffers pose to union democracy is roughly equal to the threat that hobby activists pose to running an organization responsible for defending workers’ jobs, livelihoods, and families.

I think is a really interesting statement. What I take away from it, however, is not that we need full-time outside organizers, but a critique of outside organizers, full stop.

I'm not currently in the Wobs, but over the past couple of years I've had some small organizing successes. What I've learned is that, instead of focusing on "building the union", we're far better off on focusing on starting, spreading, and winning disputes. If that grows the union in the process, great, and we should have a long-term strategy, but, union presence or not, it's conflicts that improves both conditions and build confidence. And I think that change of focus, in itself, shifts the conversation away from outside organizers.

Also, I know things change from branch to branch, but I've never heard this from the IWW

Quote:
Many times, it is an advertisement directed at the frugal worker: “We keep our dues low by refraining from employing people.”
  • 1. And to drive my point home, from the article:

    To drive the point about professional staffers home, a union with even one professional researcher/campaign strategist would never authorize campaigns which are as disproportionate to the size of the union as these two.

Fall Back
Sep 4 2014 09:12

Is this meant to be an argument that the IWW should change, or is it trying to say the IWW is shit?

klas batalo
Sep 4 2014 13:23

Considering on their tumblr they say they have quit the IWW and that it is a purposefully sharp polemic, that they expect to get an ideological struggle session by left anarchists over, I'm sad to suggest it is probably the later. Its unfortunate that they probably requested this blog just to PWN/troll libcom.org. At their tumblr they also say their new politics are a mix of Trotskyism, social democracy, and left communism. Some context for folks is this writer is a young former now dual carder with limited experience in a UFCW shop, without any formal training experience, though well book read. Before putting this up they expressed how they wanted to hand over a campaign that only had a handful of back of the house workers at a restaurant in the Philly area over to UNITE HERE in the unrealistic hopes of securing a staff or salting gig.

boozemonarchy
Sep 4 2014 14:06

Yea, as an IWW member I want to have this conversation. That being how to build the union to become a legitimate threat to capitalism. This blog however, is obv. a hit piece and I can't help but get the impression that the thesis is "IWW is shit because it isn't AFL-CIO" or some other such shit.

syndicalist
Sep 4 2014 14:23
Quote:
How will the IWW reach the Starbucks workers in locations where it doesn’t have branches, or where its branches don’t want to organize them?

Well, this is basically the same question to be asked of the reformist unions as well.

I mean, the UAW walked away from the auto supply and parts sector. A place where it had like 70% organization......Because it was filled with low paying companies, heavily female workforce and was deemed a pain in the ass. The Carpenters and other construction trades walked away from the residential building sector. And food, retail and commercial workers wouldn't touch fast food. And it was a pretty common slag-off to tell someone to organize "a burger joint".

I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but there's a certain naiveté here with these blogs (which I also shared in a different way in my early 20s). [ http://ideasandaction.info/2009/10/discussion-anarchist-shop-experiences/ ]

All said, I am slowly working my way through all four blogs. In spite of my profound political and tactical disagreements with the pieces, a respectful and sincere discussion should be had.
Even though it may seem like reinventing the wheel, and we've had these sorts of discussions
ever since forever, perhaps a newer and younger generation needs to engage. And, I believe, the more experienced generations need to have some patience and engage and share real and constructive experiences.

To sound like the proverbial broken record, it will take more then just a simple either build militant minorities in the unions or solely organize the IWW to rebuild a radical workers movement.

gram negative
Sep 4 2014 14:27
klas batalo wrote:
Before putting this up they expressed how they wanted to hand over a campaign that only had a handful of back of the house workers at a restaurant in the Philly area over to UNITE HERE in the unrealistic hopes of securing a staff or salting gig.

really? that is hilarious and sad

akai
Sep 4 2014 15:52

While some of the questions here are certainly legitimate, I really find this to be a crap article. First, agree with what Chili writes.

The author constantly refers to the "organizer" as a leader of workers, instead of workers organizing themselves. The ideas behind this article are not new ones, rather the classic Profintern line of being in leadership and entering into the wider labour movements. The tactics around this line developed a bit but the ideological framework remains the same. You could read the same types of criticisms of the IWW almost a century ago - only the specific details have changed.

The coordinator class of experts no doubt would also become the revolutionary vanguard and play the state coordinator functions in the authoritarian left vision of how things would play out.

In the meanwhile, any union would rather benefit from workers being more than just clients. The types of specialist functions that paid staff might play could also be learned directly. For example, in some unions I know (CNT of Spain, ZSP), worker-activists teach their colleagues about the law, etc., and then more people are capable of defending themselves, teaching and helping others.

In terms of other questions, some surely are legitimate and worth discussing, but I certainly don't come to the same conclusions as the author. Concretely around me I see a few national unions that are organized all around the country and do shit, because the base is not active and the top just wanna keep their cushy jobs. The only big win you can see anywhere this year is not from those unions, but workers who fought outside the mainstream. And if we can only win something on a smaller level, not on the global level, it is better than nothing.

But it is true that we need to be prepared more. But the criticism that some unions have branches that are not particularly active is not only for IWW - lots of union federations are exactly like that too. The question is always what to do to help activate people, especially in places which do not have movements and cultures to support this type of activity.

Anyway, if this guy has moved on from IWW, all the better. I've seen different people who tend towards professionalization and want to employ this model and it's a real problem if you want to do something else.

klas batalo
Sep 4 2014 17:33

The author is a she, and is a teenager with very limited working and union experience in IWW or business unions. They are obviously bright, and I agree with syndicalist should be engaged with if they drop the additude.

syndicalist
Sep 4 2014 17:59

"Drop the attitude" .... Most every comrade who enters the movement has an attitude
Attitudes are hardened or lessoned with experiance.

plasmatelly
Sep 4 2014 19:34

I found the articles very interesting, but struggled with the overall point of them! There was a couple of questions addressed to the IWW that the author raised that suggested they were the driver behind the the pieces, however the logic behind the arguments appeared to be that of dismissing the IWW now and the potential of the IWW of the future. The supposed failures of not having full timers, or university qualified lawyers to go toe-to-toe maybe sounds like the author wishes to build another version of the AFL-CIO except I'm reading an inclination for boring from within?
I'm not a wobbly, and even if I was a frothing-at-the-mouth detractor, I'd find these criticisms as a bit premature seeing as the IWW is essentially building from scratch. Re-establishing the IWW on Monday and criticising it for not controlling entire industries on Tuesday is a bit much tbh. Nevertheless, I think there is some valuable points in there (though I don't for the life of me understand why they are released on 4 different threads!)

Awesome Dude
Sep 4 2014 20:18
klas batalo wrote:
The author is a she, and is a teenager with very limited working and union experience in IWW or business unions. They are obviously bright, and I agree with syndicalist should be engaged with if they drop the additude.

London wobbs have had the same boring internal arguments about "professionalising" the union (defunct 'platformist' group liberty&solidarity's members were particular enthusiasts) and why we are crap, or not a "real" union, cause we can't provide the same level of services the business unions can. Many of our 'realist' critics had never been a member of a business union let alone a shop steward in a position to understand the problem of professional organising as opposed to self-organising (though some of them actually worked as full-time union organisers). Self-organising is usually presented as an ineffective amateur backwater. What the IWW obviously needs is the serious professional organising of business unions...so all we need to do is replicate their organising structures and methods and we will achieve "success",i.e. a union that grows rapidly, regardless of who joins and why, and effectively represents it's membership in a professional manner, which can only be done by paid full-timers, without worrying too much about all that political activist nonsense about the rank&file remaining in actual control through the fantasy of self-organisation or the unions aim; abolition of the wages system.

Steven.
Sep 4 2014 23:29

Yeah, I have a lot of thoughts about this article. I have been reading my way through the series, and the author makes some decent points, however most of this article is tosh, unfortunately, and seems to be very naive and not based on actual experience organising in the workplace.

For example this sentence, right at the beginning is complete nonsense:

Quote:
Unfortunately, since the quality of a union’s leadership decides the difference between a worker getting fired and blacklisted, and the same worker getting a hefty raise, unions are not the sort of thing you should shop for by price.

the "quality" (whatever that means) of union leadership has nothing to do with what's going to happen to individual members with their employer.

I want to come back on a lot of these points in detail, but it's late so it will have to wait until the weekend I'm afraid.

Anyway, I appreciate the time and effort the author has put into writing this, and I'm sure it comes from a decent place, i.e. wanting us to be more effective. However unfortunately it is just very overoptimistic at the possibilities (even though they actually seem pessimistic, but this is I believe because overoptimism about the possibilities makes them pessimistic about the IWW, whereas really I think we need to be more pessimistic about the possibilities, which are not great in the present climate! This is worded very badly… I need some sleep and will answer properly later).

klas batalo
Sep 5 2014 01:35

Honestly I can't take the author seriously when they write on their tumblr blog that they "tried to sprinkle a good deal of being an asshole into those pieces...I tried to have a little fun with it and be as facetious as possible."

888
Sep 5 2014 02:39

what is their tumblr?

klas batalo
Sep 5 2014 03:20
klas batalo
Sep 5 2014 04:58
Quote:
For the staffer, the union is their career. They are able to devote 40 hours (and frequently more than that) per week to union activities. By offering a paid position, the union attracts those who have studied and perfected their knowledge. Workers need unions because workers need people who know the law, who know how to conduct an organizing campaign from A to Z, and so forth. This why workers contact unions in the first place: because they don’t know how to do it themselves.

Specifically the highlighted sections. Considering how the author aspires to become a union staffer, I think it is interesting how they see the main qualifications as being that unions are looking for well studied individuals. I mean sure, that is one quality unions will look for, but most pro-organizing unions actually vet new staff organizers through their experience on the shop floor by having been salts that catalyzed new organizing via committees. The real organizers in this situation are the external organizers (salts) and the workers themselves, staff organizers are just outside support. Like other commenters have mentioned there are real dangers of interference no matter if this is volunteer or staff based.

The second part I highlighted I just think show's the author's forgetting a major communist principle, that the workers' must organize themselves. A tertiary comment is most unions don't just pick up any old struggle that comes there way. Most pro-organizing business unions try to push these people at best to become new salts and leave their current jobs.

Overall all worker organizations from business unions to solnets, do power analysis and strategic planning before picking up fights. Sure there seems to be a tendency in regards decentralization of how fights start in the IWW, and there are still the occasional hot shop, but I think this speaks more to the author's outside perspective in regards questions like that of the Organizing Department, it does in fact usually know much more about what is going on than members in isolated areas less plugged in to the on going organizing. Some may call this undemocratic but it is actually a seriousness in vetting, security and need to know organizing.

In regards "hobbyism" this seems just dismissive of the whole approach of trying to empower worker-organizers. Our union like any union is trying to create life long union members. Are all rank and file worker activists just "hobbyists" then?

Quote:
The Starbucks campaign, as with any other campaign against a regional or nationwide employer, is picked up by any IWW branch that wants to undertake it.

This is just misinformation. The campaign is run and self-managed by the organizing committee of the SWU, which is the company wide network of militants who make it up. In regards how the SWU growth strategy in relation to local GMBs and outside local GMBs, there is a relationship of delegation where ODLs or local SWU contacts are expected to forward all information on members employed at the company or contacts at the local level. The SWU has no problem getting contacts outside of local regions, we get hundreds of contacts regularly. If anything the SWU has been experiencing a lot of success with this recently. The key though with any contacts as stated earlier though will be getting contacts to take on their own fights. There is only so much union organizers, staff or otherwise can do.

Steven.
Sep 11 2014 19:07

Right, so I've finally got some time to respond to the points in this post properly. I'll go through them in the order in which they appear in the piece.

In terms of my perspective, I'm not a member of the IWW, nor am I particularly an advocate for its theory or practice: usually on here I am a critic of the IWW for various reasons.

But I think a lot of the criticisms here are invalid.

For starters, I'm not really aware of the IWW making a big deal of selling itself on the basis of cheap dues. But I don't dispute that I guess some people could mention it on occasion.

Quote:
Unfortunately, since the quality of a union’s leadership decides the difference between a worker getting fired and blacklisted, and the same worker getting a hefty raise, unions are not the sort of thing you should shop for by price.

Now, I've mentioned that I disagree with this, above.

I think it betrays a very basic misunderstanding of workplace and labour relations.

Especially in terms of what happens with an individual worker, the union leadership is completely irrelevant.

What makes the difference between individual worker losing their job or not depends largely on:
1. the particular situation in which they find themselves (i.e. did they commit misconduct, or are they just in trouble for being a worker organiser)
2. the strategy of the employer (e.g. are they an aggressive employer who tries to stamp out dissent, or do they try to co-opt it)
3. the policies and procedures of the employer (in the US setting I guess this would include whatever union contract there were)
4. the legal framework of the country
5. the level of worker organisation at the employer
6. the general background of the industry in terms of availability of labour and balance of class forces.

In the UK, if an employer is determined to sack someone, they can do it, if at worst they are prepared to make a bit of a payout for unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal, or to get a compromise agreement. In the US this is even easier as most places have "no-fault dismissal".

The main things which could make this less likely, other than specific personal things like the employer needs the skills that individual, is having your co-workers prepared to take action to defend you.

Having a radical/left-wing or highly knowledgeable union leader will make absolutely zero difference one way or another.

In terms of getting "hefty raises", in terms of things we can have an influence on, again the politics or abilities of union staff have no impact on this either, the only thing which can is the self-organisation of the workers.

In terms of evidencing this, I could point to hundreds of examples of disputes over pay and job losses, where the organisation and militancy of the workers has been the deciding factor. If the author wants to dispute this, I would suggest they provide some examples to evidence their statement.

Quote:
My question in this article is as follows: Can the IWW function without staffers – and if it can, why don’t other unions do the same?

On this point, I don't think this is a useful question to ask. The question to ask first is is "What is your ultimate goal?"

If your ultimate goal is to bring workers to membership of unions like AFL-CIO unions, then you should just get involved in an AFL-CIO union. If your ultimate goal (like mine) is for workers to increase their power on the job, in society, and ultimately run society for themselves, then your question should be "does using staffers help or hinder the achievement of this goal?"

Now, in terms of useful political activity, I don't think anyone yet have said anything better than Solidarity.

Quote:
Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.

Now, in terms of my question, and that Solidarity test, then the use of paid officials is clearly counter to those objectives. As use of paid officials does the exact opposite of encourage workers to organise themselves, but instead encourages them to rely on "professionals" and "experts", which is the exact opposite of what we need to happen for workers to start winning again.

Quote:
In the first place, union organizing demands time. Especially in the food and retail industries which the modern IWW has sought to organize, union organizers need flexible schedules. Everyone who has worked a food service or retail job knows the unpredictable schedules they bring. It is nearly impossible for any four workers in the same workplace to find a time when they are all off of work. If a union organizer has their own work schedule to work around, this presents a fatal barrier to organizing

Before responding to this, I have a bit of an issue with how US-centric this whole argument is.

Outside of the US (and maybe Canada, I don't really know anything about Canada), American-style professional union "organisers" don't really exist. In recent years a couple of unions in the UK and Europe have tried using a small number of paid organisers, but they are largely irrelevant. Unions here are run pretty much entirely by lay reps: workers volunteering in their spare time, and then getting facilities time agreed by employers once they get organised/get a recognition agreement etc.

Especially considering that the working class in the US is just about the worst-organised working class in the developed world, it's probably not the best idea to copy the standard practice of the established US labour movement as the best model to emulate.

I mean seriously, this advocacy of paid officials is not only more right wing than what I've seen from any anarchist, including the likes of the shit ones like Liberty & Solidarity, but way more right wing than any trots or even right wing social democrats like Labour supporters.

Anyway back to the example given about shift workers finding it hard to meet one another. Yes, this is a problem, however having a paid outside organiser doesn't solve this problem, as the workers will still work shifts, so it is still hard for them to meet one another.

On this next bit, I think the author really shows their naivete:

Quote:
Paid positions command this dedication from staffers. For the staffer, the union is their career. They are able to devote 40 hours (and frequently more than that) per week to union activities. By offering a paid position, the union attracts those who have studied and perfected their knowledge.

Now this is ridiculous. I am a worker activist (who FYI is a rep for a traditional union in the UK, Unison. I have very big criticisms of the rep role, but I do it essentially for personal rather than political reasons). My branch, as are almost all the others, are run entirely by worker activists: volunteers.

We are mostly pretty dedicated, and basically we have to be as it is our own pay, terms and conditions we are dealing with.

Our regional officers, the full-time, paid officials above us are essentially a waste of space and money. This is not the view of me being a crazy ultralefty: this is the view of pretty much all shop stewards.

To see how great these "professionals" "who have studied and perfected their knowledge" actually are in a workplace, you can have a look at the Unison branches which have been taken into supervision by the national union, like Greenwich, which have basically fallen apart completely and lost most of their members.

The thing which makes you a good workplace organiser is not knowledge from books, but is about your understanding of a particular workplace, your relationships with those around you, your ability to listen to your colleagues and get people to come together around their common concerns.

Thinking that paying people means you get the best out of them is just the worst type of capitalist thinking. You get the best out of people who care what they are doing and believe in it. When you pay people to do something it becomes a job, which they generally give less and less of a shit about the more time goes on.

Quote:
This can be applied equally to other types of union staffers. Unions need dedicated business agents who are knowledgeable enough in labor law to face off against Human Resources lawyers in grievance hearings. If a grievance is escalated to the point where a union representative must sit down with a Human Resources lawyer (who quite literally has a degree in union-busting), the worker deserves a union representative knowledgeable enough in labor law to defend the worker.

Again, this is based on a misunderstanding of how disputes actually happen in the workplace.

Outside of the US, it is almost entirely lay reps who represent individual members in grievances/disciplinaries etc. And we are pretty much always in a better position to defend members than outside professionals as we know the workplace inside out. What matters in cases is rarely the law - as all the law does is set down an absolute minimum standard of treatment, and most workplaces have policies and procedures which are above the minimum legal standard.

So what matters is knowledge of the internal policies and procedures, and importantly how they are normally applied. Which isn't knowledge outsiders would have.

Finally, these types of grievances are generally pointless anyway. Grievance procedures are frameworks which are set up by management, on management's terms. If workers are to win things, we have to do things ourselves, we can't use management processes. That would be like trying to fight with both hands tied behind our backs. Workers believing that their grievances can be addressed by these management (and often, union-) sanctioned procedures is a barrier we need to overcome before we can start to win.

Quote:
Why do AFL-CIO unions expend millions of dollars to employ campaign researchers, translators, graphic designers, illustrators, public relations experts, writers, and web designers? It could be because they have so much money that they don’t know what to do with it, and that they want to go out of their way to hire as many people as possible. It could also be because they acknowledge that the work done by, say, a professional graphic designer is more reliable than Xeroxed newspaper cartoons from 1914.

On this bit, I'm not really sure what the point is. Firstly, AFL-CIO unions spend lots of money doing lots of things - like spending hundreds of millions of dollars to get Obama elected. Does that mean the IWW should try to get Obama elected?

The IWW in the AFL-CIO have completely different goals. The former aims at abolition of the wage system, the latter aims in theory to defend/advance the interests of its members but in practice is largely a self-perpetuating bureaucracy to sustain its membership base to pay the salaries and pensions of their own workforce.

Therefore AFL-CIO doing something is not an argument for the IWW to do likewise.

Even if it were, I'm not really sure what the argument is here as the IWW in practice is a small radical group and can't afford to pay loads of people wages. The only way could potentially do this would be by massively increasing its membership dues, but then this would cause almost all of its members to leave, which would put you back where you started.

Quote:
Unfortunately, people with this level of knowledge and negotiation skill do not volunteer their time and energy – they look for careers.

On this bit, this isn't really right either. Of course lots of people who are paid to do things can be quite good at them, but lots can be crap as well. My union branch paid professionals to build their website. However it was so shit that in the end I had to do it myself for free. And the one I did was about 1000 times better than the one by the "professionals".

Libcom.org is run entirely by volunteers, and our site is a lot better than a lot of union's websites which are built by professionals, as is the IWW's.

As for "negotiation skill", this is largely a myth. Workers win things when they are well-organised and have leverage (e.g. the ability to disrupt profits). Workers with no organisation and no leverage won't get improvements, no matter how "skilled" a negotiator is. I say this from personal experience as well, as I represent a bargaining unit of about 3000 workers. And you can bluff a little bit, but really to get anything you need organisation: in the well-organised sections we can achieve a lot, in the sections with no organisation management get away with whatever they want. My "negotiation skill" doesn't come into it.

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Though I hesitate to use the word, professional organizers and professional staffers are a requirement for any serious union

Apart from anything else, I think this is putting the cart before the horse. I've already said why I am opposed to the use of paid organisers. In terms of staff, I can see the need for this potentially, as if any organisation gets big enough it needs routine administrative work done (like maintenance of the membership database), and I have no objection in principle to people being paid to do this sort of thing, as long as it is on a fixed term basis and people aren't paid more than the average wage of the membership or a living wage, whichever is higher.

But this doesn't mean there is any inherent benefits to having paid staff as such, and certainly if there is not an actual use of resourcing for them then it would be counter-productive.

If paid staff were inherently beneficial, then you could evidence this by pointing to more successful unions (i.e. ones where their members successfully improve or defend their conditions) having more paid employees than less successful ones. However I bet you can't do this. Especially if you look at historically the most successful unions: the CNT being the best example as a hugely successful union which was also an anarchist organisation, which had hardly any paid officials (something like one rotating secretary per member union, and paid print staff on the newspapers), and no paid organisers.

Now, I'm conscious that this post is getting extremely long, and it's probably not worth looking at your post point by point anymore, so I'll just go onto a couple of big issue things and then wrap it up.

Quote:
To use a contemporary example: Starbucks will never be unionized by the IWW. As Starbucks has locations scattered throughout the country (and world), to organize it would require a nationwide union.

The reasons you specify for why the IWW could never organise it, you could also pretty much use to say why no AFL-CIO union could either.

Also, you don't seem to consider how or why it is the IWW, despite all of its difficulties, has done better organising at Starbucks than any of the major unions with their thousands of paid employees and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Others have basically pointed to the source of this, which is that they have no interest in it. AFL-CIO unions are not interested in the level of self-organisation of the working class. They are capitalist organisations which need to maintain themselves in a capitalist world, so they need to get a return on any investment they make. And low paid, transient service sector workers in small shops are very unlikely to get a decent return on investment. So a union could send one organiser to an auto plant to try to recruit 1000 workers on decent salaries, whose dues would be significant. But would it be worth sending an organiser to a coffee shop with 12 staff, all part-time, earning low wages? Not really. This also means that it would be difficult for using paid organisers to organise at Starbucks for the IWW as well.

Other posters have also pointed to the small but definitely significant things which SWU achieved.

Personally, while I think that wobblies have done a great job at Starbucks, ultimately it would be futile to try to "organise" the chain because they could only do it successfully if the majority of workers at the chain wanted revolution and the abolition of the wage system, which unfortunately is not on the cards for the for the foreseeable future.

So I think as revolutionaries we should focus on organising wherever we are, outside or inside and sometimes even against the unions.

But this is very different to your critique, which is basically that the IWW should become more like AFL-CIO unions. But then if this is your view, then why not just get involved with an AFL-CIO union? (Perhaps I asked this question above already, if so apologies, I've written this response in dribs and drabs over several days)

fingers malone
Sep 11 2014 22:04

This may be a once in a lifetime event but I agree with pretty much everything Steven is saying here.

syndicalist
Sep 11 2014 22:09

The most interesting part of all of this, is the silence of the author.

bastarx
Sep 11 2014 23:16
Quote:
Many times, it is an advertisement directed at the frugal worker: “We keep our dues low by refraining from employing people.”

Unions in Australia typically hand over half their dues money to the Labor Party and I'd imagine it's similar in the US. So you could still have the same massive, shit union bureaucracy at half the price.

Chilli Sauce
Sep 12 2014 19:13

So, Fingers and Syndicalist have both already beat me to it, but...

Steven, how does it feel to win libcom?

Also, as epic as that post was, I sincerely doubt the author will read it, much less respond.

I'm not an admin, but if I was, I might re-consider if, in the future, Marxxv wanted to post another blog.

akai
Sep 13 2014 07:53

Steven, good answer. Only I am wondering about whether or not one point you said is entirely true and this is about the non-use of paid organizers. Certainly I would agree that the Americans use them to a uniquely high level and in other places there might be more of a focus on shop stewards playing some role. But in some places the amount of professional unionists might be much greater than you expect, for example in Poland. However they are not so successful with unionizing drives in new workplaces and some union activists seem to specialize in taking over initiatives and poaching. Further, the use of professionals in the workplace has lead to a special pathology where the professional union caste are more interested in maintaining their paychecks and cushy position than fighting with the bosses.

Am not disagreeing with what you said, just wondering how widespread a practice it really is, of having paid full-timers.

Basically, the idea of workers being "better-off" with a caste of pseudo-experts (because I agree with what Steven says about how people at the workplace know better) is similar to the idea that society would be better off if stuff was decided by "experts" and people who can devote their times to professional management - ie politicians. It's all a crock of shit but shows the angle of these arguments and that they belong to vanguardism and verticalism.

Steven.
Sep 13 2014 12:41
fingers malone wrote:
This may be a once in a lifetime event but I agree with pretty much everything Steven is saying here.

wow well that is something!

As that post was a bit too long for a comment I was thinking of posting it as a response as a blog article in itself, but thought maybe it was a bit too rambling... What do people think?

Joseph Kay
Sep 13 2014 14:15

These arguments come up over and over so it would be good to have it somewhere easier to find than a comment.

Ed
Sep 14 2014 13:37

Yeah, I think that'd be a good idea.. could you also then tweet this quote from it at the author?

Quote:
considering that the working class in the US is just about the worst-organised working class in the developed world, it's probably not the best idea to copy the standard practice of the established US labour movement as the best model to emulate.
Steven.
Sep 15 2014 11:02
Ed wrote:
Yeah, I think that'd be a good idea.. could you also then tweet this quote from it at the author?
Quote:
considering that the working class in the US is just about the worst-organised working class in the developed world, it's probably not the best idea to copy the standard practice of the established US labour movement as the best model to emulate.

unfortunately it's way too many characters! Twitter is so shit… But okay thanks, will try to do today

Ed
Sep 15 2014 20:26
Steven wrote:
unfortunately it's way too many characters! Twitter is so shit…

Sorted:

Quote:
as US w/class is prob worst organised in 1st world, prob not best idea to copy practice of established US unions as best model to emulate

Twitter beef is on!

Steven.
Sep 23 2014 11:57

I've now expanded on my post, above, into a blog response here: http://libcom.org/blog/leave-it-professionals-paid-union-organisers-23092014

Gregory A. Butler
May 9 2015 14:14

I like the age baiting and thinly disguised misogyny in the comments

The author has a good head on her shoulders, more than her share of common sense and knows enough about unions to know that the IWW is not capable of functioning as one. The abortive "organizing drives" at Jimmy Johns and Starbucks are mute testimony to that.

I think some folks are a little butthurt about that - and coming from a WOMAN who's not yet old enough to drink probably embarrasses them.

The IWW are like Civil War reenactors - they aren't a serious trade union.

If you want to do labor work join a REAL union and struggle inside of it

Pennoid
May 9 2015 14:57

I wish I had as much a penchant for being fleeced by politicians as Greg Butler!

Remind me why we haven't banned this admin: no flaming ?