"Salting" a Workplace with Comrades

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Lucky Black Cat
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Feb 11 2018 09:05
"Salting" a Workplace with Comrades

Hi there! I've been giving a lot of thought to the strategy of a group of comrades seeking a job at the same place with the goal of organizing there, a.k.a. "salting."

Radicals used to salt together a lot back in the day and it worked great for them. And I think it'd sure beat trying to start things going all by yourself.

But does anyone know what's the minimum ratio of salters to workers you'd need to have a decent chance at success?

Is being 1% of the total workforce enough? Or would you need closer to 5%? Or more? Or could you get by with less than 1%?

Obviously every case is going to be different, but I'm just looking for a generalization.

If you have experience with this, I'd be so excited to hear from you about it.

And if you know anybody who has experience with this, I'd be ever so grateful if you could ask them the question for me.

Or maybe someone knows something I can read to learn more about this.

Besides my more specific question above, as a more general discussion question, what do you think of group salting as a strategy for successful organizing?

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Lucky Black Cat
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Mar 13 2018 01:33

Wanted to give this a bump and also clarify something.

By organizing a workplace, I don't necessarily mean organizing a union. That can be part of it, but it doesn't have to be. I mean organizing to fight for better conditions at work.

syndicalist
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Mar 13 2018 03:13

Short advice from a short person:

Concentrating on a workplace or industry needs to be a long range strategy. Not a fast one-off.

vicent
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Mar 13 2018 05:29

Hey Lucky!
I advise you hit up angryworkersworld@gmail.com
They should be happy to give some solid advice
Good luck!

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Lucky Black Cat
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Mar 13 2018 08:49
syndicalist wrote:
Short advice from a short person:

Concentrating on a workplace or industry needs to be a long range strategy. Not a fast one-off.

Thanks for the advice, but if you have time one of these days, I hope you'll elaborate, cuz I'm not sure if I get what you're saying. (If you're short on time tho, no pressure.)

vicent wrote:
Hey Lucky!
I advise you hit up angryworkersworld@gmail.com
They should be happy to give some solid advice
Good luck!

Nice! I will definitely do that. smile

Mike Harman
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Mar 13 2018 10:30

They also have a blog on here. They take jobs in factories in West London, and also produce industrial bulletins like: https://libcom.org/blog/bakkavor-factory-newsletter-issue-3-27022018

Lucky Black Cat wrote:
Is being 1% of the total workforce enough? Or would you need closer to 5%? Or more? Or could you get by with less than 1%?

I don't think this is the main question, it all depends on what the workplace itself is like - the relationships between other workers there and how conflict gets expressed already.

I haven't salted anywhere, but I have done from-scratch workplace organising at places I've worked, that had no organised union or anything, starting with just talking to co-workers about grievances etc.

Questions you should ask:

- How long are you prepared to work there for? Six months? Two years? Five years?

- What's the composition of the workplace like? Is everyone doing more or less the same job, or is it divided up into different departments with different wage levels etc? If you're able to apply for a job with some mates, are you all going to be in the same department or spread around?

- Is the existing workforce relatively stable or is there high turnover, agency staff etc.?

- is it 9-5? Shift work?

It's going to take a few weeks, maybe months, to build up friendships at the workplace and understand how the place works, what the grievances are etc. where you'll need to mostly keep your head down and try to get to know people.

https://libcom.org/library/basics-organising-iww is a guide to early-stage organising that talks about how to approach things.

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R Totale
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Mar 13 2018 13:42
Mike Harman wrote:
Questions you should ask:

- How long are you prepared to work there for? Six months? Two years? Five years?

It's going to take a few weeks, maybe months, to build up friendships at the workplace and understand how the place works, what the grievances are etc. where you'll need to mostly keep your head down and try to get to know people.

Just to add real quick, I think this is broadly what syndicalist was getting at above. You spend a lot of your life at work, so it's important to be realistic about what you can put up with - which'll obviously vary from person to person, one person's workplace nightmare might be another person's perk. But anyway, no matter how strategic or whatever the workplace is, you'll do no-one any good if the place burns you out and you're out the door in a few months.
Also I guess a related question is what kind of workplace do you want to go for - is it more strategic to go for a workplace with lots of disruptive power, which is more likely to have some level of existing organisation (transport etc), or for somewhere with no existing organisation at all, which IMO is the kind of place that most "needs" organising, but might have not so much in the way of potential industrial muscle?

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Mar 13 2018 14:48

"Salting" is strategic placement of trained organizers with outside support into a workplace for the intent of organizing a union. If that's not what you're doing, it's not salting, it's something else. If you don't have direct outside support and guidance on a salting effort it is likely that you won't get far with your goals (if you even set explicit goals). In general you should be absolutely clear, honest and realistic about what you're doing. Are you getting a job in an industry you'd be working in anyway? Is it an industry/workplace that you can hack long-term, physically, mentally and financially?

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boozemonarchy
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Mar 13 2018 21:42
Quote:
what do you think of group salting as a strategy for successful organizing?

I sort of think it's best not to send 'outside organizers' in, rather than build and support organizers where they are at. I think this encourages a more class oriented type of organizing (rather than activist oriented) and allows initial organizer to honestly meet people where they are at (because they are really there). It allows initial committees to quickly become a majority of non-activist rank-n-filers. I think this approach is more libertarian.

That said, realistically, if an org is trying to widen or deepen a unions reach in an industry, it would necessarily need to send people around to talk and agitate. If it were my union, I would advocate that this be someone from our current working rank and file to go agitate / seek employment and not some weird professional activist type. I guess this would be viewed as salting? Like, I'm totally down with all the recent IWW Burgerville campaign - I imagine this included something like what I've just described.

- what I'm struggling with is trying to diverge from activist AFL-CIO, Unite-Here, SEIU type of salting campaigns? Something about them gives me the creeps, must be the heavy top-down.

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gram negative
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Mar 14 2018 07:25

one of the creepy things about those campaigns are the use of radical rhetoric for recruitment.

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Mar 14 2018 22:55

Gram,

Can you link / elaborate?

syndicalist
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Mar 16 2018 15:44

Sorry, I'm time pressed but would like to come back to this.

Right quick though, I think most contributions here have some sound things in them. Most would agree that this thing needs to be well thought out. Needs to be part of a longer commitment and strategy. Not a momentary "lets do it" for the sake of doing it for immediate political satisfaction.

In short, these would be the highlighted point in carrying this sort of thing out:

- Think it it out.
- Plan and develop goals (short, medium, long term).
- Have a long term commitment to carry out.

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Mar 16 2018 14:47

I was a former salt for one of the unions that you mentioned, and the staff organizers and other salts doing recruitment for sure use revolutionary rhetoric and your political values in order to join. I echo the top down nature that you referenced, which becomes even more apparent after a campaign, where the union moves on to the next big thing.

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Steven.
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Mar 16 2018 17:00

Yeah rather than "salting", I think a better starting point is: what job would you like to have? What is the best job that you could get?

Then you can try to get that, and then you can start organising on the job. Potentially then if friends of yours were willing/able they could get jobs and help you.

But unless you're doing something as an organised campaign with significant backing (like say the old IWW Starbucks or Jimmy Johns campaigns), then don't bother salting, try to get the best job for your life and then try to make it better

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Steven.
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Mar 16 2018 20:51
gram negative wrote:
I was a former salt for one of the unions that you mentioned, and the staff organizers and other salts doing recruitment for sure use revolutionary rhetoric and your political values in order to join. I echo the top down nature that you referenced, which becomes even more apparent after a campaign, where the union moves on to the next big thing.

not wanting to derail discussion but that sounds really interesting. Have you written anything about your experiences? If not could you?

asn
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Mar 17 2018 12:49

It seems to me if you are looking at "salting" it definitely has to be part of some organised approach. Focusing on "very" strategic sectors - to slow the tempo of the employer offensive. That is the key issue today - unless that is achieved - say in some peripheral sector - where you get a job - any improvement will be temporary and swept away by new waves of speedups/restructuring associated with new contracts or enterprise agreements and you and other militants being set up for the sack and possibly black listed. I have been in that situation.
In terms of the "salting" in the above "strategic" sector due to the harshness of conditions re shift work and rotating shifts - you and others may not last too long - as you can't cope with these conditions. However you may make contact with militant networks who perhaps are lying a bit low and are invisible on the surface. So in the context of an "organised approach" involving putting out a workplace paper - you could get them involved and help them with their morale and that of other workers. The role of the paper would particularly play a crucial role today - with the big push on corporate identity, outlawing criticism of management, atomisation, fear, etc as it would create the basis to break through all this and create collective discussion of issues and the basis for collective action. (Social Media/Web Sites I see only playing a supplementary role and can be counter productive re playing into atomisation - also assisting management computer spying) Also taking into account the potential strategic muscle exists.
Outside the job organisation, would focus on the editing and helping with distro and following up other potential contacts in the industry, providing intelligence and analysis/research etc. In this way helping short circuit management surveillance and targeting of militants. If it is a "very" important sector - forces of the state will get involved as well in the management counter attack against organised militants.

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Mar 17 2018 18:15
gram negative wrote:
I was a former salt for one of the unions that you mentioned, and the staff organizers and other salts doing recruitment for sure use revolutionary rhetoric and your political values in order to join. I echo the top down nature that you referenced, which becomes even more apparent after a campaign, where the union moves on to the next big thing.

If someone could find a balance between mainstream unionism's top-down approach and the IWW's disorganized and inconsistent approach, that might be something worth encouraging.

I've also heard that unions like UNITE-HERE really chew up and spit out their salts, recruiting idealistic college students and burning them out quick. Although to be honest, the IWW ends up drawing from the same demographic and the salts I've seen end up burning out quickly as well. I'd also heard that UNITE-HERE and perhaps SEIU use what has been called a "cultish" salt program with self-criticism sessions. Again, I don't know much about this and it might be just an exaggeration from a leftist who dislikes any form of accountability.

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gram negative
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Mar 17 2018 22:59

i ageee. i met with the local GMB, years ago, and they tried to talk me into a starbucks campaign, but it seemed completely unserious. maybe it speaks to my hypocrisy or lack of conviction, but despite the IWW being much more aligned with my political values, the obvious lack od support and direction. i've also worked on IWW campaigns with salts, and I can't say they have been successful more often than not.

UH for sure churns and burns salts and staff organizers, but you are completely right that it is often the same outcome and group of people that are targeted. the iww campaigns i've worked on have usually not been planned strategically, which doesn't support any kind of effective salting.

the pink-sheeting / hot-seat self-crit stuff was present, in my experience, but not as intense and creepy as i've heard in other places. while it is easy to mock, it is addressing a real issue, which is how does one keep each other accountable? i don't think that it is necessarily the answer, but my experience in IWW campaigns is that too often people take on tasks that they have no intention of completing and there is no good method of dealing with this.

maybe this is all moot, and the problems of organizing in a time of defeat and retreat, at least in the US. i do feel that the problem of organizing outside of the mainstream unions in traditionally non-union workplaces still exists.

and steven, i've thought about writing about my experiences, but i feel ambivalent of a lot of it, and i guess i'm ashamed of participating in something that could be argued is a betrayal of my professed views.

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Mar 18 2018 01:12
Juan Conatz wrote:
I'd also heard that UNITE-HERE and perhaps SEIU use what has been called a "cultish" salt program with self-criticism sessions. Again, I don't know much about this and it might be just an exaggeration from a leftist who dislikes any form of accountability.

It’s a method of psychological manipulation called pink sheeting. Here’s a New York Times article about how UNITE-HERE emotionally tortured it’s staffers: Some Organizers Protest Their Union’s Tactics.

Here’s a passage about where the abusive technique came from:

NYT wrote:
Several organizers likened pink sheeting to a practice that Cesar Chavez, former president of the United Farm Workers, used when he embraced a mind-control practice developed by Synanon, a drug rehabilitation center founded in Santa Monica, Calif. Union staff members were systematically subjected to intense, prolonged verbal abuse in an effort to break them down and assure loyalty.

Here is what former salts at UNITE-HERE wrote about their experience at having been pink sheeted, as well as their critique of SEIU’s class collaboration: Open Letter to All Those Concerned about the Labor Movement.

Mike Harman
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Mar 19 2018 12:08

An SEIU organiser was fired for trying to organise their workplace (which was an outsourced NGO promoting Fight For 15):

https://libcom.org/news/outsourced-seiu-union-organizer-wrongfully-terminated-organizing-work-25082017

The head organiser was later fired by SEIU for sexual (and other) harassment:

https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/union-organizer-fired-from-fight-for-15-minimum-wage-group/

So this is union as shitty employer full of abusive managers, before you even get to the structural role of paid organisers.

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Mar 19 2018 22:51

This had been a dead thread and it's now turned into a lively discussion. Nice! smile

Thanks for all the helpful advice.

One important advice mentioned is that this needs to be seen as a long-term project, and I definitely agree.

Juan mentioned that I'm misusing the term "salting", that this only applies to "strategic placement of trained organizers with outside support into a workplace for the intent of organizing a union." I never knew this. I had the impression it also included taking a job specifically with the intention to organize and fight for better conditions there, and got this idea based on how some IWW members use the term.

Is it possible the meaning of the word is evolving? Or are they misusing the term?

Steven advised that I should just go after whatever job I want, and then start organizing there. I don't think this is a bad idea. In fact it's an excellent idea. But of course no matter how excellent an idea is, it only works if you act on it. So my problem with it is that, in most cases, it seems that it's not being acted on.

I know people who understand the importance of workplace organizing, both in terms of the immediate benefit for yourself and your coworkers, and also part of a long-term strategy towards building working class power, spreading and escalating class struggle, and building towards revolution. But, for most people, we rarely actually do anything about it, or make much if any effort to organize.

So after seeing this go on, I asked myself: Why?

I think a big cause is feeling demoralized due to isolation. Of course the whole point is to bring your coworkers on board, so that isolation is only temporary. But in the very early stages, you are acting by yourself in order to bring those first few people on board with you. And that can be difficult.

It's easy to feel discouraged, anxious, and unmotivated when you're alone. It's easy to just not think about organizing, to forget about it as a goal, because there's nobody to remind you, "Hey, we're supposed to be organizing, goddamnit!" I think if a group of comrades were working in the same place together, we'd be more motivated and feel more courage to make the moves needed to organize.

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Entdinglichung
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Mar 20 2018 10:41

newly published article about the experience in the meat industry in New Zealand from a trotskyist group's practice in the 70ies/80ies

https://overland.org.au/2018/03/the-turn-to-industry-what-happened-when-left-activists-joined-the-working-class/

asn
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Mar 20 2018 13:36

[[i]quote]I think a big cause is feeling demoralized due to isolation. Of course the whole point is to bring your coworkers on board, so that isolation is only temporary. But in the very early stages, you are acting by yourself in order to bring those first few people on board with you. And that can be difficult.

It's easy to feel discouraged, anxious, and unmotivated when you're alone. It's easy to just not think about organizing, to forget about it as a goal, because there's nobody to remind you, "Hey, we're supposed to be organizing, goddamnit!" I think if a group of comrades were working in the same place together, we'd be more motivated and feel more courage to make the moves needed to organize.


[/i]
You have to look at the dynamics of the employer offensive - orchestrated by the state on various scales with the support of the union hierarchy- constantly seeking to inspire employers to take new initiatives - seizing and keeping the initiative on the industrial front - in the Australian context - once an enterprise agreement is so called approved - employers immediately go on the offensive to bend or breach various of its provisions. Plus also the disorganising effects for workers of speed ups longer shifts/working day, constant restructuring of operations associated with the employer offensive. So as a result of all this you certainly have pessimism and low morale ..
Whilst most leftist groups with a very few exceptions are hopeless re industrial work(often a navel gazing/ sect orientation "salivating over safe spaces policies" etc) and often are drawn into the orbit of the corporate unions, particularly associated with the lack of a base amongst militant workers.
There is a very interesting discussion of the difficulty workers had in coping with the intensified employer offensive during the rise of Fascism in Germany in 30's 40's in Tim Mason' s collection of Essays "Fascism and the Workingclass". Despite major differences from our situation in the Anglo World today - it certainly throws important light on aspects of employer offensive dynamics. Another essay looks at how the employer offensive was tackled in 1943 in Italy under Fascism (in circumstances much worse than we have today) - associated with a strike wave and the Nazi defeat at Stalingrad. Where there is a clear case of outside the job organisation assisting on the job organisation and competition between different groups.
See "Debate on Industrial Organising" in RW Vol.34 No.3(227) Nov-Dec 2016. and other relevant articles (there are a stack of important books reviews ) on our web site www.rebelworker.org For how the tempo of the employer offensive was slowed in NSW in the context of the lead up to the 2000 Olympics.
If militant networks in strategic sectors can be assisted long range or even created and associated with all this work place papers launched and continued in the long term - we can change the situation and possibly turn the tide. Obviously this type of work has to be done internationally. The rise of international syndicalism in the early days, was associated with innumerable globe trotting highly experienced industrial militants. Today we have a lot of mad sect builders oozing identity politics and those who had some such experience in the past go to seed and get cushy middle class university jobs becoming sect gurus.
Those considering industrial organising need to make a serious study of history - go to libraries and hit the books - on libcom - there is some useful stuff and study such episodes as the prelude to events of May 68 in France, early days of various syndicalist union movements, various French strike waves, particularly in 1946, etc. A problem today is the lack of those highly experienced wandering international militants to get the advice and exert the influence.

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Apr 10 2018 08:18

Hi, Asn, sorry I haven't responded until now. But thank you for taking the time to reply.

Quote:
Those considering industrial organising need to make a serious study of history

I'd love to do this. However, I have a lot on my plate and find myself overwhelmed most of the time. Adding a big stack of reading to that, well, just the thought of it makes me wanna scream.

But still, I do want to learn; I know it's important. So can you list the essays/articles you think are most important and most valuable? There is so much written on the subjects you mention I wouldn't know where to begin.

Quote:
A problem today is the lack of those highly experienced wandering international militants to get the advice and exert the influence.

Do you know of anyone who does this? Because if so I'd love to get in touch with them.

asn
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Apr 14 2018 15:08

Some valuable books are: British Syndicalism 1900-1914 by Bob Holton - looks at strike waves in mining and transport in early 20th century and major syndicalist organisations - looks at the network form
Fellow Worker: Autobiography of Fred Thompson looks at the nitty gritty of IWW organising
in the 30's in Detroit and Cleveland 30's onward
The Agony of Modernisation by Benjamin Martin looks at the Spanish CNT history from beginnings to 1936 - particularly factional conflict
Red Barcelona Edited by Angel Smith - very important essays on CNT and conflict between FAI and other groups
New Perspectives on Anarchism, Labour and Syndicalism Edited by Berry and Bantman particularly essays on Polish Syndicalism & ZZZ and essay on Post WWII strike wave in France and mass syndicalist resurgence
For Anarchism Ed. Goodway particularly essay in italian syndicalism by Carl Levy
and Gramsci and the Anarchists by Carl Levy - looks at very influential anarchist group in Turin in Factory Council movement (not the disgusting navel gazing and political correctness of today)
See book reviews on archive section of www.rebelworker.org -
In regard to your other question - people such as myself and others on libcom can help but we lack those who have much international experience and as I said are not these crazy sect builders -a new book recently published "Wobblies of the World" a Global History of the IWW
ed. Peter Cole. David Struthers and Kenyon Zimmer certainly throws much light on
these wandering syndicalist industrial organisers of the early days

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Apr 16 2018 06:48

Wow, Asn, that's quite a list! Thank you very much. smile

So, for someone who's a rookie just starting out organizing, but who also cares about the big picture and long-term strategy, which one or two do you think should be read first?

Edit: And by first I mean, I may not have time to read any more than that.

asn
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Apr 16 2018 12:57

Wobblies of the World A global history of the IWW and Fellow Worker Autobiography of Fred Thompson pub By Charles H. Kerr

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Apr 17 2018 02:53

Many thank yous, comrade!