Demographics and the SF workplace organiser training program

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Feb 10 2013 15:54
Demographics and the SF workplace organiser training program

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Chilli Sauce wrote:
The SF/IWW training which you reference specifically states the fact that it assumes it's dealing with an under-35 workforce with no previous organising experiencing.

Caiman wrote:
What are you saying here, that the training is for organisers under 35, or organisers under 35 who work in places exclusively staffed by people under 35?

To be honest Caiman, I'm surprised you're even asking this.

You've been to the training. It specifically starts out by saying that the training was developed primarily in the service and retail industry with workers who (a) didn't have a union and (b) had no previous organising experience.

This means--you guessed it--that it assumes workers are going to be under a certain age. Although fairly arbitrary, we say 35 because the level of class struggle and organisation actively experienced by workers under that age is much lower than someone who was in the workforce in the 70s and even the 80s.

It then goes on to say that the training provides one model. Some of it may not be applicable to your workplace and, in any case, the training is designed mostly to get you thinking strategically about organising, not be some definitive template for how an organiser must function.

Then, there's the whole section on workplace dynamics--specifically looking at the role of existing 'social leaders' and acknowledging the fact that most social leaders are those who've been at the job the longest, are the oldest, and have the most experience. There's then a whole discussion on how this could affect your organising strategy.

If you think there's some massive flaw in all this, I'd suggest you bring it up internally and offer a change.

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Feb 10 2013 15:57
Steven wrote:
I don't want to continue derailing talking about the Solfed organiser training. However it doesn't say people should go and lecture their workmates. I found the training basically suggest things that I picked up through my personal experiences. And in my job I was the youngest person there of an extremely diverse and in general much older workforce, and did "organise" it after a couple of years, and my age/inexperience was never an issue. It depends how you do things. If you are tactless, patronising and arrogant, then people won't pay any attention to you. But if you listen and try to help people clarify their own ideas on things and workout themselves what to do then you can make progress. And IIRC the organiser training specifically says you should try to only spend 20% of your time talking, and 80% of it listening.

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Feb 10 2013 15:58
Akai wrote:
I am curious though about organizing programs that assume you are dealing with under 35s. Right now, in our local situation, we see the sense of specific organized targetted at younger works, even 25 and younger. But we'd never invest too much in anything that assumed that this sector would be leading some organizing campaigns. If anything, here the people under 25, or under 30, are particularly problematic and if we target them, it's to try to spread awareness about issues amongst them. Well, different strategies and actions are needed for different situations and if your workplace is under 35, you have to be talking to their experience and mentality, but I am quite surprised to hear that any training which presumably should be more general decided to target under 35s. I have some of observations about some under 35 activists who seem to have come off some motivational program about building "leadership skills". Not talking about any of the authors here, but some American activists who went through some training program in different organizations. Personally, have no problem and welcome the ideas and efforts of younger workers to organize whenever it happens but I would have to agree a bit that some people who go through organizer programs come off as arrogant and brainwashed with some organizing formula. Again, I didn't perceive the author of this piece to be like that. This is not an age issue but it is something like, aha - I got theoretical training in how to organize YOU, so you should listen to ME. In its worst form - and this is something that has been a big issue in E. Europe, you get Western activists coming who know absolutely nothing about local conditions and want to press their proven formulas...Well, this is something you get to learn a lot about if you spend longer periods of time anywhere else. It is also relevant for teaching work, because it is a job where cultural expectations can surprise you.

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Feb 10 2013 16:37

Problem with this thread is that I guess only the ones who have seen the training can comment on it. But I suppose that it would have to have practical limitations then, as well as cultural ones. Mind you, I think training for potential situations in your workplace could be very helpful, but just am strongly convinced it needs to be tailored a bit more to be efffective. Have seen one guy, an activist from a mainstream union, present some parts of their training in another country and it was a little painful at times. Like anything, it was interesting enough to know what they do, but it was so specific for the type of workers they were dealing with and for the US that it seemed like another world to people.

That's not to say the training you are talking about is like that and I wouldn't comment on it not having seen it, but have seen things which don't translate from one situation to the next.

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Feb 10 2013 17:12

Of course circumstances are going to vary from country to country and workplace to workplace, but I do think certain organising principles are universal. I mean, prior to attending an OT, I thought the organising process went a bit like this:

agitate (i.e. have really good arguments about class struggle) > convince your co-workers about the neccesity of a revolutionary union, worker control of industry, and the global general strike > create a plan for direct action in the workplace

Now, of course, that's fucking mental. It was the training that made me sit down and think a bit strategically about organising:

How to pick an issue to organise around
The importance of looking at real, material grievances
How to safely and effectively approach workmates
How to build and maintain a core of dedicated militants in your workplace
Not trying to 'organise politically' (i.e. that deeper political conversations come off the back of struggle)
Looking at the social dynamics of the workplace and taking them into account in your organising
Effectively picking, planning, and preparing for direct action

Those sort of skills transcend national boundaries.

Of course, no training program can take into account all aspects of every workplace and the training is designed to be 'self-adapting' based on the real-life experiences of the attendees.

It hasn't always been perfect and there's always room for improvement, but we've always described it as "toolbox"--a program which attendees can pick and choose and adapt based on their workplaces.

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Feb 10 2013 18:11
Hieronymous wrote:
I'd been to an IWW organizer training about a year before and have to honestly say that there was very little I took from that except to be a good listener. The problem is the IWW training said almost nothing about strikes, since no one doing the training had ever experienced one -- some Wobblies even tried to discourage us from striking, lamely telling us to sign up workers with red cards instead!. Also, it laid out a rigid formula for organizing that amounts to a one-size fits-all approach. I personally think that there's more to be learned by spending some time in the industry and researching its dynamics and how it's been changing due to market forces.

That's pretty shocking about the discouraging strikes and, FWIW, this is a criticism I've had of the IWW in that it seeks to be the vehicle of struggle. Of course, I've never seen it stated so openly but I've also heard that the IWW has weird dynamics out in Northern California....

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Feb 10 2013 18:20

But to their credit, the local IWW branch were some of the most consistent supporters of the strike once it began. Once I post up my account of the strike, you'll also see the heroic actions of an IWW spy who wreaked utter chaos from the inside by taking a job as a pseudo-scab.

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Feb 10 2013 18:22

---

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Feb 10 2013 18:23

That sounds fucking awesome.

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Feb 15 2013 15:08

A large part of the content of the OT101 is actually lifted out of SEIU's trainings and condensed. The challenge with these kinds of programs is how do you get as many basic skills into two days as possible. I think Heironymous underestimates how hard it is to get politicised folks to be good listeners and if that is all one got out of the training I would have to say that is probably a large enough of a step forward for me.

This isn't to say there isn't room for a lot more trainings, a lot more development and that we aren't now seeing a need to move beyond the 101 program. A few folks are working on a overhaul of the 102, and there is a training for trainers happening in April for the 102.

Still though I think the numbers speak for themselves, without giving exact numbers the IWW has about 50 branches and we have substantially more campaigns happening than that number. Before the OT program we had a half dozen. Also contractual organising is a major minority position in the union now, whereas it was the dominant position ten years ago as well politically the organisation has matured a lot.

I think Chilli makes an important point about the idea that convincing arguments building class power, I think this is where a lot of people come from. What the OT program does is it builds confidence, this makes people more bold and willing to demand more control over their work. I actually think the polemic style of conveying ideas through debate, while it still has an important role, actually undermines this kind of development. It's funny that as anarchists we want everyone to think freely but then we abuse each other for disagreeing with each other and deviating from our positions on web boards. Emphasising skills and method is still political if it is taught right but it also allows people to take projects on with more confidence.

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Feb 20 2013 20:13
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I actually think the polemic style of conveying ideas through debate, while it still has an important role, actually undermines this kind of development.... Emphasising skills and method is still political if it is taught right but it also allows people to take projects on with more confidence.

Yeah, this is what really struck me about the OT 101. I'd been to trainings before, but the were primarily discussion-based. You can learn a shit-ton from them, but the fact that the 101 says "This is a model. You can apply it as you see fit, but we're actually going to a go through it--step by step--from A-B".

Shi*t, it just gives you so much more confidence as an inexperienced organiser.

EdWob, good to see you around again, btw.

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Feb 20 2013 14:29

The anti training attitude seems to me to be one of the biggest problems amongst anarchists and syndicalists. Its this feeling that as 'revolutionaries' we ought to be a bit more rough and ready, and therefore reject systematic approaches. To be honest, to me it seems like often it is little more than a disguised manifestation of basic anarchist anti 'intellectualism', that refuses to recognise the value of developing formal ways to share practical strategic knowledge with relation to organising, in favour of something more romantic like 'just going and organising'. All i can say is that if our stated goal is to organise union sections, but people don't know how to socially approach organising work, then that is a real problem.

Considering that most IWA sections for decades have remained propaganda groups with little-to-no progress toward becoming unions, i think it is vital that we look into more systematic approaches if we want to refound the IWA as the colossal force it represented in the early 20th century.

I am not aware of akai's assertion that an activist from a mainstream union was telling the IWA how to do things. I know that a really non-sectarian comrade from the IWW US spent their last summer sharing the IWW US training with IWA sections that were curious, and that this sharing had no strings attached. The IWA comrades who attended these that i have spoken to found it a fresh experience and i know this had led to a resurgent desire amongst many to execute real organising work with the aim of developing union sections for the IWA groups.

As a side note, the SolFed training continously states throughout it that it is not a comprehensive guide, it is an introduction to basic practical advice and one particular approach that came out of a specific series of organising attempts. It is a complete misassumption to say that all trainings are automatically totally prescriptive. Obviously no training can ever be! Social activity is always going to be far more subjective than, say, learning maths. Mostly i find often the objections about the content i have come across have come from people who are either upset as to the particular origin of the knowledge (without recognising that this knowledge can still be useful!), or keep their objections vague and unspecified in a way that is difficult to engage with.

The training is also predominantly NOT referring to the law, organisations or structures, it is referring to organising as social activity, and understanding that this social activity is best approached with strategy if it is to be successful. It contains nothing about 'branch management' (as the mainstream unions do) nor does it promote apolitical politics, although it suggests common sense advice such as leaving the discussion of politics to when people are already in struggle, rather than talking about politics before struggle.

The point in the current trainings is mostly that they are a way to stop young / new, but committed, syndicalists from repeating the practical organising mistakes of previous generations, by patiently explaining the results of some of the most basic trial and error that those experienced in the workplace will dismiss as 'obvious', when it is not always obvious, and also to instil a much needed sense of confidence, not arrogance. it also does not claim to turn those who attend into activist supermen.

There are maybe ways in which the trainings IWW US training needs to be adapted, when passed to anarcho-syndicalist groups. But this is why we need to argue for the need for systematic approaches, and persuade IWA comrades to engage with 'training' as a valuable tool, in order that any criticisms of training programs are channelled toward the development of training programs rather than shutting them down.

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Feb 21 2013 22:46

I know this is slightly off topic. The US IWW and solfed OT training courses were largely lifted from trade unions that developed them for their shop stewards and organisers that frequently engage in representation and negotiation with management as a matter of necessity (I know this because Ive spent many years as a TUC rep and taken many of their organiser courses so the US IWW OT course was nothing new to me). Could a solfed member please explain how these training programmes fit in with soldfeds strategic pricipal of avoiding representation and negotiation, when they were designed for workplace reps who frequently engage in representation and negoitiation?

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Feb 22 2013 07:39

Nope. You're misinformed there comrade.

To say the training is "lifted" from the trade unions is a pretty serious misunderstanding of the context in which the original IWW training program was created. It took the most worthwhile elements from the SEIU organiser training and mixed it years of best practice coming out of US IWW campaigns, not the least of which includes the Starbucks Workers Union.

As for the SF program--which I don't believe you've attended in full--we explicitly dropped out the bit about the IWW model of "going public" to fit the SF model of struggle, which does not have struggles under the SF banner as the ultimate goal.

A central tenant of the SF training is self-organisation and how to organise without representation. While I'm pleased with the fact the training is overwhelmingly practical and hands on, we do a short section at the beginning on the training explicitly differentiating SF's anarcho-syndicalist model from the representative, mediative model offered by the TUs.

Also, if you think think that SF's model is about avoiding negotiation, I suggest you read this:

Quote:
We sometimes hear the argument that, by negotiating within capitalism, we risk becoming part of it. But this does not stand the reality test. This is to equate negotiation with class collaboration. But as every demand short of revolution is a negotiation, this approach would in effect brand every organisation that did not demand revolution in every situation as reformist. This is nonsense and pure posturing. Negotiations are simply meetings between workers and the enemy, whether management, the letting agent, or whoever. The factor that determines the nature of negotiations is who is doing the negotiating. Our approach to negotiations is to see them as part of class struggle. Negotiations should be done en masse, or by delegates mandated by all the workers taking action. The revolutionary union does not negotiate on behalf of workers, workers negotiate for themselves, but we don’t shy away from being delegated.

Awesome Dude, I like you a lot and you know that, but right now you're talking absolute rubbish.

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Feb 21 2013 23:58

The question was asked in good faith chilli and was in no way meant to be a "deliberately malcious question or observation ". In fact it was largely based on the previous last three posts. It was no attack on an organisation. I was simply seeking clarfication after having read solfeds recent book, fighting for ourselves.

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Feb 22 2013 07:16
Awesome Dude wrote:
IThe US IWW and solfed OT training courses were (...) were designed for workplace reps who frequently engage in representation and negoitiation?

The IWW's training borrows from trainings used in other unions around the US. Those unions pretty much exclusively engage in representation etc, and they largely provide training to staff. But you're implying that there's a political problem with the content of the training because the training is similar to other unions' training and to staff training. That's like saying "libcom is run by people who use computers and the internet really well, but the internet is a product of the defense industry" or something. The heart of the training is on how to have particular kinds of conversations and to run a few basic workplace actions. (And if anyone hasn't been to the training, the exercises aren't presented, at least not in my experience, as like "if you do XYZ stuff then the following results will automatically follow" it's more like "often this works pretty well, and it's stuff we get better at with practice, so let's practice now." Kind of like practicing scales on a musical instrument.) If you think those conversations and those actions are in some important way going to pull workers in struggle in a bad political direction (toward representation etc) then I'd like to hear an actual argument for it. Personally, I think the fact that the unions typically teach those skills to staff and officers is more about those organizations trying to control access to important skills than it is a matter of those skills being poisoned by the training.

About strikes, I think strikes are over-rated among a lot of lefties and are sometimes a really bad idea. And often workers are, rightly, nervous about striking. So if some people at an IWW training were downplaying strikes, that sounds like a good idea to me. At my work management's tried to provoke strikes repeatedly and did so successfully at one point. Four union locals struck for 2 1/2 weeks, with really good participation. Management was hurt less financially than the workers were. They tried to save face and claim a victory etc but the gains in the contract were really minimal and nowhere near what people lost in wages (about 5% of a year's pay). That's not to say "never strike" but to say that we shouldn't overestimate the efficacy of strikes and should have other tactics to use as well as part of building to effective and winnable strikes.

And now several quibble with Chili!

Chilli Sauce wrote:
a criticism I've had of the IWW in that it seeks to be the vehicle of struggle.

Does this mean anything other than "the IWW likes people to join the IWW as part of organizing by IWW members"? If so, then what does this mean? If not, then I'd like to hear what your objection is to this. I'm under the impression that SF is pursuing an alternative approach, de-emphasizing formal membership. In practice IWW campaigns don't succeed enough (in my opinion) at recruiting members, so in practice IWW organizing often also de-emphasize formal membership, but I see that as a failing. I have a hunch that eventually SF will run into limits if it does de-emphasize membership, limits that will create tension over the political-economic bit with SF's theory (of trying to be both political and be a fighting organization) and it will have to work hard to avoid not recruiting mostly people who already agree with the group's politics.

I could be misinformed about what SF does, or I could be right about that but wrong in my predictions. For what it's worth, if I'm right on both counts, I don't have a principled political objection to this approach, it's just one I think isn't as conducive to building the kind of organization I want to see, compared to the approach we're using in the IWW. I'm belaboring this point because I want to underline that I see this as a comradely difference of opinion and not matter of political principle. I can't tell if you mean your point the same way when you say this bit about "the IWW wants to be the vehicle of struggle." I can't tell in part because this is in the context of a discussion involving stuff about representation etc, stuff that SF criticizes politically (ie, has a principled political objection to) so it's easy to sound like this isn't just "I prefer an alternative strategy but we're all comrades" but rather "we are to the left of you because of this difference between our groups." Would you clarify please?

More minor quibbles - I've not been to an IWW training in a while and I don't get much sleep these days but I don't remember the IWW training saying anything about age (under 35 and whatnot). I've not seen the SF training but I don't think "a central tenant of the SF training is self-organisation and how to organise without representation" is any different from the training the IWW does in the US. Finally, on a more theoretical note, I doubt that SF manage to actually organize absolutely without representation, I think it's likely more a matter of trying to keep representation to minimum. (Workers who deliver a demand letter are engaged in representation, for instance. SolFed also played/plays an important role in the workfare fights. I remember some funny and commendably self-mockery like "SolFed: Standing Outside Shops For Full Communism." That too strikes me as an example of SolFed participating in representing workers - that's not a criticism of the practice, by the way.)

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Feb 22 2013 07:57

F*ck! Nate and Edwob on a thread, just like old times!

Awesome Dude wrote:
The question was asked in good faith chilli and was in no way meant to be a "deliberately malcious question or observation ". In fact it was largely based on the previous last three posts. It was no attack on an organisation. I was simply seeking clarfication after having read solfeds recent book, fighting for ourselves.

The thing is Awesome Dude, I feel like often we go in circles when it comes to your objections to SF. I mean, I can only imagine we're two or three posts away from you commenting that since SF's industrial networks haven't led any struggles, SF isn't a political-economic organisation.

If your post was based on the discussion on this thread, that certainly didn't come through. Instead you start with a faulty premise (the training was "lifted" from the TUs--untrue--and therefore the goals of the training are similar to the TUs, also untrue) and that leads you to faulty conclusions.

So I don't think you're post was malicious, just seriously misinformed. And, in any case, I find Nate's explanation of how and why the IWW changed the training before SF ever got ahold of it to be pretty spot-on.

Also, that bit I quoted was from FFO. That whole section that I link to deals with negotiations, so if you have questions about SF in that regard, that's where I'd begin.

Nate, running short on time today and I want to give your post the time it deserves in terms of a response. Gimme a couple of days.

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Feb 23 2013 00:27

To quote Edmonton Wobbly in post #10: "a large part of the content of the OT101 is actually lifted out of SEIU's trainings and condensed". Over the years some comrades from the North American IWW have decribed the process in which the training courses were assembled, so I could very well be wrong (please point me to, if you can, material which details the process?). I wont go into the boring ritual arguments solfed and I used to have a few years ago....I think we've all moved on. I'm very much in the "spontaneity" corner, which solfed's anarcho-syndicalism clearly isnt, so lets not waste our time arguing the differences between us by what we mean by "political-economic".

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Feb 23 2013 04:04
Chilli Sauce wrote:
F*ck! Nate and Edwob on a thread, just like old times!

smile
my mis-spent youth...

Chilli Sauce wrote:
Nate, running short on time today and I want to give your post the time it deserves in terms of a response. Gimme a couple of days.

sure dude. no rush.

and in case my tone was off at all anywhere, that was stress talking. (I been working too much, sleeping too little, and prepping for the impending birth of the next kid.)

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Feb 23 2013 07:39
Quote:
To quote Edmonton Wobbly in post #10: "a large part of the content of the OT101 is actually lifted out of SEIU's trainings and condensed

You know what, AD? Fair enough, my apologies. I think EdWob's language is a bit sloppy there as well, however, and if I'd noticed it earlier, I would have probably quibbled. Even though I think he's probably talking about structure; the goals and content are pretty different.

Quote:
prepping for the impending birth of the next kid

F*cking awesome! Congrats!!

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Feb 23 2013 23:07
Nate wrote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:
F*ck! Nate and Edwob on a thread, just like old times!

smile
my mis-spent youth...

Man, you get Juan and s.nappalos involved and it'll be like Christmas!

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Feb 23 2013 20:59
Nate wrote:
And now several quibble with Chili!

Chilli Sauce wrote:
a criticism I've had of the IWW in that it seeks to be the vehicle of struggle.

Does this mean anything other than "the IWW likes people to join the IWW as part of organizing by IWW members"? If so, then what does this mean? If not, then I'd like to hear what your objection is to this. I'm under the impression that SF is pursuing an alternative approach, de-emphasizing formal membership. In practice IWW campaigns don't succeed enough (in my opinion) at recruiting members, so in practice IWW organizing often also de-emphasize formal membership, but I see that as a failing. I have a hunch that eventually SF will run into limits if it does de-emphasize membership, limits that will create tension over the political-economic bit with SF's theory (of trying to be both political and be a fighting organization) and it will have to work hard to avoid not recruiting mostly people who already agree with the group's politics.

SF's aim is to encourage self-organisation. We want people to join us, but only if they agree with us. We would see a continuum with people participating in actions, sympathising, and joining, but the organising and actions are not necessarily under the banner of SF, depending on what the workers involved want.

Quote:
I doubt that SF manage to actually organize absolutely without representation, I think it's likely more a matter of trying to keep representation to minimum. (Workers who deliver a demand letter are engaged in representation, for instance. SolFed also played/plays an important role in the workfare fights. I remember some funny and commendably self-mockery like "SolFed: Standing Outside Shops For Full Communism." That too strikes me as an example of SolFed participating in representing workers - that's not a criticism of the practice, by the way.)

Again, we would be looking at what any group of workers was aiming to do. They would likely be doing it under their own banner, not necessarily ours.Demand letters and the like that we have done have been what the workers involved wanted. While it may be "representation", it's not what we mean by representation, more like delegation. The people doing the letter are delegated to do so by those in struggle. Often of course in practice it is one or two workers involved in a struggle and others do things like this as part of support and solidarity.

Hope this helps.

akai
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Feb 23 2013 21:16

Since this thread is already off-topic and going into some personal chatting, I will pick on one point which was important for me.

Harrison wrote: Considering that most IWA sections for decades have remained propaganda groups with little-to-no progress toward becoming unions, i think it is vital that we look into more systematic approaches if we want to refound the IWA as the colossal force it represented in the early 20th century. ... this is why we need to argue for the need for systematic approaches, and persuade IWA comrades to engage with 'training' as a valuable tool,

Can you tell me then why your section has not delegated anybody to the group established to do this?

There is no need to argue for anything in the IWA, but to implement existing decisions! I mean, thinking something is vital is one thing, but that counts for shit unless you are ready do to something about it. Won't go into the plans on line, but the first step is for people to get their asses off the internet and start working. Keep in mind we have been waiting quite a while and personally I am pissed off about the inaction.

I will come here and remind you publically every once in a while. smile

Second comment is the language, the word "refound" is really misleading.

Third, I think that it is bananas to talk about being a "colossal force". It is not those times. I'd be happy if a few more sections showed steady movement in the area of syndical activity. A few have been doing that.

Lastly, I do not really agree with the first statement. About half of the sections are progressing well and a few are functioning unions. Of the others, only 3 have existed more than 2 decades. (Only 7 of the IWA sections have existed for more than 20 years.) So it is not really true if this is about 3 unions - unless you want to include SolFed - then it would be about 4. But actually I think it is making progress, slowly but surely. So, you know, you can reflect about it.

I don't argue though with the idea of the criticism, meaning I think we need to be doing more ASAP.

My section has only been around 3 years. I am not satisfied with its development in this sense, although we do not so badly once we are in action and have won some things. But I do not think training is the only thing that is vital. Perception of what the organization is and what members ;activities should be, what their responsibilities are and they main goals of the organization is very important. Basically, if people have got your organization confused with being a historical society, or an anti-capitalist radical club, or a discussion club for anarchists, you have got a problem from the beginning. That's my reflection on it. That people support some ideas, but don't have many ideas about putting it into life. It is also undoubtedly an issue of opportunities, local circumstances and traditions. In some circumstances, a lot more needs to be done to get going.

Enough about that. If you have concrete proposals, get them to the IWA via SF. I'd like to see more systematic work instead of people writing suggestions about what should be done here, where maybe 5 comrades will see it, if you are lucky. Just an accident that I was reading here today.

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Feb 23 2013 23:08
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Can you tell me then why your section has not delegated anybody to the group established to do this?

The thing to keep in mind--and I'm speaking purely in personal capacity here--is that SF itself has gone through a period of growth, experimentation, and cosolidation in the past 2 years. I mean, my local had to sort itself out locally first before getting involved in the national. I think as a national org we're still getting to the point where we can be as active in the international as, of course, we'd like to be.

There's also the fact that SF has been in talks with various IWA groups to share our training directly. We were even given funds to organise a IWA training weekend. It didn't/hasn't come off for a variety of reasons (I'd still like it to, tho) but I'd like to think our voice has been heard within the int'l re: training.

Anyway, I'm not saying SF has been perfect about all this (we haven't), but it's not like we've been totally absent.

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Feb 24 2013 00:07

Um, the first point is a poor excuse, really.

Second is that things like this should be on the IWA-wide scale, not individual deals (most usually made with individuals) and, well it is a fucking mess if on the international scale one thing is developed, some group does not participate and just do their own thing.

We of course can repeat our invitation made 2 years ago and invite you anytime over here - we'd be glad to see this training, as would comrades in the region smile

One correction: SF was not given funds to organize an IWA training. Because SF never proposed to make an IWA training. SF proposed to invite a couple of people from the IWA to share their experiences with SF and this was supported, after some clarifications. (We wrote to clarify this before the international meeting where it was discussed.)

I would have preferred personally if SF thought about an IWA training, but it hasn't. So, no, I don't think you can talk about some big influence on that issue. Especially as the ones that are mostly involved with practical training all have their own developed programs. The question is about doing things in a more coordinated way on an international level. Some steps are being taken after a proposal was passed, but it was not proposed by SF and SF is not participating.
So, I don't agree with your assessment of not being absent if you are indeed absent from the only international project approved by the IWA.

Anyway, I repeat the above that if you truly think it is important, you get down to work and no lame excuses. Please discuss about getting involved.

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Nate
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Feb 24 2013 01:13

Thanks Martinh, I appreciate that. I don't see how this is particularly different from what happens in a lot of IWW organizing, Chili, when you have a chance.
Gotta run, family thing.

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Mar 1 2013 22:19

Nate, this turned out to be a monster post. Feel free to respond in your own time.

Nate wrote:
Strikes are over-rated among a lot of lefties and are sometimes a really bad idea. And often workers are, rightly, nervous about striking. So if some people at an IWW training were downplaying strikes, that sounds like a good idea to me. ...That's not to say "never strike" but to say that we should have other tactics to use as well as part of building to effective and winnable strikes.

I think this is really important. As you're aware, the rationale behind the both the IWW's and SF's training is building up power and confidence through small, winnable action. But my concern was in H's post was the way it seemed membership was being posited as being as the alternative to striking as the trainers “lamely [told] us to sign up workers with red cards instead”. That's not exactly the escalating model I experienced when I went to my first 101.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
a criticism I've had of the IWW in that it seeks to be the vehicle of struggle.

Nate wrote:
Does this mean anything other than "the IWW likes people to join the IWW as part of organizing by IWW members"? If so, then what does this mean? If not, then I'd like to hear what your objection is to this. I'm under the impression that SF is pursuing an alternative approach, de-emphasizing formal membership. In practice IWW campaigns don't succeed enough (in my opinion) at recruiting members, so in practice IWW organizing often also de-emphasize formal membership, but I see that as a failing.

I've heard you say speak positively about the turn away from NLRB elections in the IWW and you know I agree. However, I think a reduced emphasis on membership is fairly logical outcome as the organising model moves away from recognition as a goal. As for membership, SF definitely has a higher bar. And I think that's because we have a slightly different idea of how we see our ideas spreading throughout the class.

I guess I'd also ask you what value you see in formal membership.? Because outside of steady funds—which are undoubtedly important—I think an organisation can basically just as effectively engage with militants (either as an outside organised group or amongst our own workmates) whether they're members or not. We prove our worth as an organisation by our ability to support workers and give them the confidence and skills to organise themselves on the ground. It seems like the sort of things we can do as an organisation—training, running public meetings, creating leaflets and leafletting, fundraising, social events, picket line support, etc—we can do for folks/have them help us with regardless of membership.

I'm also not totally sure how much commitment membership brings to a struggle. I mean, we've had situations where outside non-SF militants have been more regular attendees meetings than some of our members. Of course, the internal life of an organisation is important (and members participate in other ways than just coming to meetings), but I don't think having a lower bar to membership equals a healthier, more active, or more productive internal dynamic.

Okay, on to my comment about being the “vehicle of struggle”. While the US IWW may be continually moving away a legalistic model of recognition, in my experience the goal of most IWW activity is to eventually 'go public' as the IWW. (This is one area that the SF explicitly changed when we adapted the training.) I think this creates a certain dynamic where—for better or worse—building the IWW can become unhealthily entwined with building up the capacity of the class. It also creates, in my opinion, a propensity for the IWW to accept a wider degree of activity within it's membership. And since I think revolutionary organisations should combine the explicitly political with the economic, I'm in favour of a much tighter political line within revolutionary organisations.

Again, of course, this doesn't mean that we shouldn't seek to reach out to and work alongside militants who don't share our exact politics. I just don't think they should become members. Similarly, I'm not opposed to workers trying out different strategies and tactics which I, as an anarcho-syndicalist revolutionary, may disagree with. After all, sometimes mistakes are the best teachers (my arrogant statement of the post, right there), but I don't think it they should occur under the banner of a revolutionary organisation.

There's also this thread from a while back where a couple of us talked about these issues. I imagine some opinions have changed (or at least become more nuanced), but I still find the discussion on how our respective organizations approach the relationship between practice, membership, and agreement to be instructive.

Nate wrote:
I have a hunch that eventually SF will run into limits if it does de-emphasize membership, limits that will create tension over the political-economic bit with SF's theory (of trying to be both political and be a fighting organization) and it will have to work hard to avoid not recruiting mostly people who already agree with the group's politics.

Maybe. And I hope that you're right that our success will draw people to us, but if anything our problem has been that groups of workers/individuals we've given support to haven't stuck around very long. And I don't think the problem is that we didn't recruit them. Rather it's that (a) we didn't effectively explain what we offer/expect and (b) didn't have a way to integrate people that don't already have a background in our politics and/or methods of internal organisation.

I've even seen a case or two where people think membership is a substitution to either being actively involved in the organisation or participating in supporting other workers in struggle.

Nate wrote:
I want to underline that I see this as a comradely difference of opinion and not matter of political principle. I can't tell if you mean your point the same way when you say this bit about "the IWW wants to be the vehicle of struggle." ...Would you clarify please?

Nate, come on, we've known each other long enough for you to know that I'm not trying to play any sort of one-upmanship with the IWW. I'm with you 100%, I'm all for comradely organisations trying out different strategies, learning from each other, and consciously seeking the space for common activity.

Quote:
I don't remember the IWW training saying anything about age (under 35 and whatnot).

Yeah, the under 35 thing comes out of a lot of the internal criticisms the training has had within SF. Some older militants feel it overcomplicates and overstrategizes the process of organising (although, tbh, I think it's cause they do most of things in the training without being conscious of it.) The other concern has been from people who come from workplaces with an already active union presence and for whom building up an alternative workplace model may legitimately complicate matters.

Quote:
Finally, on a more theoretical note, I doubt that SF manage to actually organize absolutely without representation, I think it's likely more a matter of trying to keep representation to minimum. (Workers who deliver a demand letter are engaged in representation, for instance. SolFed also played/plays an important role in the workfare fights. I remember some funny and commendably self-mockery like "SolFed: Standing Outside Shops For Full Communism." That too strikes me as an example of SolFed participating in representing workers - that's not a criticism of the practice, by the way.)

This is another really big topic and I'm not sure I can do it justice in a short post.

I sort of feel like you're saying (correct me if I'm wrong here) that any time demands/negotiation don't involve the entire workforce, that's representation. Personally, I don't think that's the essence of representation, which to me is a more structural concept associated with the both the methods and goals of a particular organisation.

Rather, I think representation is about individuals/groups who stand apart from the larger workforce and act independently and in the name of the larger group (i.e. without a delegated mandate). In terms of the workfare stuff, I don't think that definition holds up. We don't claim to speak on behalf of the workers in those shops and, when possible, we consciously try to get them involved as active militants. I mean, hell, them taking up the fight from SF would be the ideal goal.

In terms of workplace activity (an SF demand letter or an SF member organising 5 of his or her workmates for a march on the boss), it's still workers from inside the workplace making and enforcing the demands. SF isn't any kind of outside force with whom we request the bosses sit down with to negotiate or resolve the dispute. In the case of SF helping to write and deliver a demand letter for even a single employee, that's still us playing a support role. The struggle will still ultimately be determined and decided by the worker(s) directly involved.

syndicalist
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Feb 24 2013 16:51

Being over 35.....

Quote:
the under 35 thing comes out of a lot of the internal criticisms the training has had within SF. Some older militants feel it overcomplicates and overstrategizes the process of organising (although, tbh, I think it's cause they do most of things in the training without being conscious of it.)

It's called trial by fire

[That said, I'm not opposed to any sort of info./skill sharing...which, I guess folks call training).

akai
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Feb 24 2013 18:02

Never trust anyone under 35... hehe

syndicalist
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Feb 25 2013 02:12
akai wrote:
Never trust anyone under 35... hehe

wink groucho

akai
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Feb 25 2013 08:32

But seriously... there will be a couple of cross-section training sessions in the IWA in March and April. I don't know if the comrade doing the first takes age factors into account (I will ask him) or how many participants and who but in the second one, an under-35 crowd is expected, so I suppose it would make sense to address the issue. Groups attending actually have good age diversity but it looks like only the young ones will travel. I get why that is, but it might be worth doing a questionnaire that asks people who their co-workers are - also in terms of age, to get a sense of in what conditions people are working in.

To get back to the demographic issue...