Structure of present day IWW

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Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
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Apr 23 2016 03:07
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I'm not sure I understand the derision for 'service'. Certainly we could provide service (guidance through direct action grievance procedures, education, legal support as a last resort, contract negotiations, logistical and administrative support, media editing/management, newsletter printing, etc.) that does not translate into 'bureaucratic control'. Even these services would require paid staff in a real capacity to implement effectively and consistently. There is often a 'slippery slope' argument made by anti-staffers or anti-bureaucrats, that just doesn't hold up. How exactly does paying union administrators or even organizers, necessarily translate into bureaucratic domination of the organization?

Just on this - and maybe JK's already said it better - but for me the fundamental problem isn't bureaucrats or rule by bureaucracy, but the role of the union within a struggle. Does the union mediate the struggle? Is "the union" a representative institution or is it made of the workers themselves?

It seems to me that once the union starts having paid organizers and offering "services" (think guaranteed legal assistance or a business agent, not so much training and printing), the role of the union in the workplace and the relationship between the union and the members is fundamentally altered.

There's a larger point that staffers perhaps inevitably develop a different set of interests/priorities than that wider membership, but I still think that's secondary concern to the above points.

As a final idea, I think part of the problem with revolutionary unions (and especially outside of times of heightened class struggle) is that they often strive to have struggles in the name of the union. Personally, I'm happy to see union members being the militants pushing the struggle or the union being seen as those folks who offer practical support when needed, but I sometimes think radical unions fetishize struggles happening under their banner.

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Apr 25 2016 19:49

The 'low point of struggle' doesn't really explain anything, it just restates that we're failing, but in a way that puts the control out of our hands. I think there is some truth to it, but I definitely think we have room to find improved methods of organizing and fighting back.

I think highlighting both where unions get their funding it's relationship between the members and the bureaucracy is important, as well as the role of that bureaucracy in relation to the employer and the membership. Those are *political* decisions. Decisions to sign long-term contracts with employers that guarantee dues money from boss to union-boss; contracts which bargain away the right to strike, and encode a grievance procedure that forces direct action to fizzle out, etc. Those choices do not derive simply from the existence of paid staff. They represent the decisions to pursue those goals perhaps with the *use* of paid staff, officers and the like, but are political positions, advocated by living people at different points in time in regards to accomplishing specific ends. We can see how and why they failed, if we look closely in detail, why they were advocated and their logic of operation.

I'm not advocating that the IWW adopt the political positions of the AFLCIO today or in the past, regarding how best to wring demands from employers or secure membership in locals. The services I'm arguing for are administration, education, co-ordination, publishing. Things that are auxiliary to and augment efforts of workers to organize.

I agree that we should have term limits on staff, methods of reviewing their performance regarding the membership they're advising etc. But again, the imperative here, is to continue support of the I.W.W.'s general union policy; rejection of no strike clauses, emphasis on DA grievance settlement; with the aid of administrative, technical, and potentially organizing staff (or perhaps "Coordinating" staff). I agree that this will change some of the dynamics in the union, that is the point. I don't see many negatives that outweigh the positives.

The IWW as it is now, is needlessly bureaucratic. Say I'm trying to set up an IWW branch right now. I want to make a paypal subscribe button so that members can easily pay dues. In order to do this, I need to already have the branch chartered and filed with the IRS, because I need the EIN. I'm also required to put an address (we're about 10-15 strong, we don't have an office, so do I put my own?) and finally, paypal deducts a small percent for payments we'd receive. It's kind of a lot of administrative work to ask people to do on their own. It's not undoable, but it is a real barrier to activity, especially between work and school. There's very little reason this couldn't be circumvented by having the IWW generally collect all dues (online and through recurring bank payments) and cut checks to locals for half. Members would have a "Cancellation of Membership" option under their profiles or whatever just like netflix or facebook or some other paid service. This would simultaneously centralize the task and reduce the bureaucracy, so you'd think it'd please marxists and anarchists alike! tongue It's doubly irritating, because we have people with limited levels of involvement (paper members) for whom it would be easier to pay by subscription. Of course this would help us also to get the charter app filled out. But, we're hamstrung by the fact that to pay online we have to already have an EIN, which means we have to already be the branch we're trying to be!

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Apr 26 2016 01:10

Penn, I totally get your frustration, but - and no snark intended - was that a response to my last post? I don't really feel like your addressing how the structure of a union affects the political decisions/compromises it makes.

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Apr 26 2016 11:59

It was a mixed response to yours and others' posts. That said,

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Just on this - and maybe JK's already said it better - but for me the fundamental problem isn't bureaucrats or rule by bureaucracy, but the role of the union within a struggle. Does the union mediate the struggle? Is "the union" a representative institution or is it made of the workers themselves?

It seems to me that once the union starts having paid organizers and offering "services" (think guaranteed legal assistance or a business agent, not so much training and printing), the role of the union in the workplace and the relationship between the union and the members is fundamentally altered.

This is the theoretical line advanced in fighting for ourselves, and it it is an interesting distillation of a/s theory. But I don't think it's ever held up in practice historically. Even the I.W.W. used smaller groups of workers talking and negotiating with bosses, at many points, in order to arbitrate and reach a settlement. Is this not representation? Isn't a delegation to a convention a form of representation?
I'm not advocating that staff get votes at convention. I'm suggesting that they can be those people so skilled to carry out a task on mandate from the membership. I would think that they should (in keeping with *general social conditions*) get remuneration for their work.

What is the relationship between the member and the union right now? If there isn't a local, that relationship *doesn't exist*. You may get a weeks delayed response about an inquiry from GHQ a few times a year. Unless you're in one of the *few* large and active branches (which have mostly plateaued, regarding organizing) then you're pretty much stuck being a paper member.

So yes, I want to change the relationship between the members and the union. I want an administration which is so staffed that inquiries generally get responded to quickly. I want an administration that makes it *easier* for workers to find out more about us than harder. I want an administration that makes it easier for workers to sign up and become members, rather than harder. I want an administration that facilitates local growth, rather than inhibits it by duplicating administrative tasks at the local level, and forcing them to be carried out by volunteers.

But to do this we would have to hire office staff, web admins, secretaries, accountants. That's fine. We *could* promote from within. We *could* hire politically sympathetic people with these skills. We *could* set up training programs that would recruit from our organizing drives. Especially any organizing staff ought ot be very close to the membership if not recruited from them.

I think that the association/representation argument is distinct from this. The members would still be setting policy. They would be the collective bosses of the staff. This is *distinct* from say, advocating that we seek long contracts with closed shops where the boss cuts a check to union, the union *officials* (a separate category from technical and even organizing staff) draw large salaries, and essentially dominate at the international level. Here, the membership takes a very real backseat. They don't negotiate. They don't settle grievances. At every level, there is staff on hand to help. That derives from political imperatives of organization, which *employs* structures, forms of organizing, etc. to carry out it's tasks.

The mechanism people have advanced whereby secretaries and accountants take over the union, has been suggested. It has been argued that these individuals develop interests *distinct* from the membership. No, they have the same interests; more pay. But they are workers *employed* by the membership. In order to assert their interests as against this membership; to bleed the union and suck dues for self gain, they'd have to win a political struggle within the organization. Bureaucratic drift is not an automatic mechanism. So people have presented some safe-guards, and I've pretty much agreed with them.

I agree that the relationships can change. That's the whole point. But I think the bureaucratic drift, frame of argument, over states the structural forces, and understates the role of political positions. I might have to develop this line of reasoning with reference to revisiting the 30's and comparing organizing drives to hep illustrate my point. But for now that's the thrust of my rebuttal.

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Apr 26 2016 13:06

I'll try to respond properly later, but quickly

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Even the I.W.W. used smaller groups of workers talking and negotiating with bosses, at many points, in order to arbitrate and reach a settlement. Is this not representation? Isn't a delegation to a convention a form of representation?

That wouldn't be representation as Fighting would understand it. It's like the difference between a representative - a permanent/semi-permanent position that acts on behalf of the the larger group - and a mandated delegate, who carries the wishes of the larger group forward.

I also feel you about the IWW needed to sort out it's administrative framework, but that's much more about people needing to step up, take some responsibility, and get their shit together than it is about the need for professionals to do that shit for us.

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Apr 26 2016 13:21

Will try and respond properly later, but on representation, a review of FFO (Nate's iirc) suggested it makes more sense to view it as a spectrum rather than either/or, with strict mandates and instant recall at one end and officials (elected or not) making decisions over workers' heads at the other. So stuff like forming a committee to negotiate or run a strike could fall towards either end depending on a bunch of factors (and/or could start out one end and move towards the other). Maybe that's a helpful modification.

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Apr 26 2016 23:12

I was just reading a piece by Fred Thompson on this topic from 1938. In this piece he tries to define what "rank and file rule" means. This was during the period when they still had a major mass union in the Metal & Machinery Workers with about 1,000 to 2,000 members. He says there isn't a separation between "officialdom" and "rank and file." He says, okay, there are officers, some are voluntary and some on payroll. At that time term of office varied from 3 months to 1 year. No one remained in office for many years, he points out. Unlike in AFL fiefdoms with their "strong leader" tendency. He says that members were not allowed to serve more than three successive terms in any office.

So we see they had term limits & forced rotation from office. This tends to make the members less dependent on some particular leader & requires also some type of training & sharing of skills (tho Thompson doesn't talk about that) so there is a pool of members available to do the necessary administrative tasks. He says if they did stay for life, as some do in AFL unions, they'd be "sobered" by responsibilities, that is, tend to adopt more of the outlook of the bureaucrat.

I think the thing about how the AFL unions became bureaucratically dominated has a lot to do with developing over time a relationship of dependence on certain individuals who were in office. The BA or officer running the hiring hall could help you get a job, AFL unions by 1900s had staff jobs you could be hired to. They could help you resolve your issues with management. They learned various things from being in a paid position for a long time. They learned how to deal with lawyers, how to understand contracts, tactics for negotiations, how to schmooze with various people in the community who had influence like politicians, how to relate to other union officials, they developed experience at public speaking, at putting out leaflets and newsletters.

A bureaucracy tends to develop when there is this relative monopolization of skills, knowledge & decision-making authority. But just having officers or some paid person doing some job for the union doesn't necessarily create this kind of dependency and concentration of knowledge & decision-making authority.

Moreover, he points out that officers have limited powers. They can't call strikes or end them. He says they have no vote in membership meetings, tho I don't think that is so crucial.

He says that the branches, Industrial Unions and the general organization have separate treasuries which they have control over. So there is some degree of autonomy there.

He says the most important thing is diffusion of responsibility among members. I'm not sure what he means by that. But I think he is referring to the on the job initiative & organizing of members because he says this is how things get done.

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Apr 27 2016 01:28

I've been meaning to read some thompson, what's the source you're referring to, syndicalistcat?

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Apr 27 2016 01:56

Also, good point Joseph, but I sort of stand by my contention that there is a baseline administrative makeup which lays the foundation for a genuinely membership run union.

Syndicalistcat: That's interesting. I think that the key is 'officialdom'. I'm not against officials, but I agree they should largely be roles filled by membership where possible and be waged no higher than the highest paid bracket of members.

Chilli, I don't think the main problem is that people won't step up. I wish it was. I hear this a lot and I'm sick of it. The idea that the reason we're failing is because not enough people who work 40+ hours a week are 'donating' their labor to an organization which is *already* yielding near 0 results is pretty delusional. I think I'm most bitter toward this idea because I used to bandy it about so cavalierly and that's my own baggage, but I just can't stand it. There are definitely circumstances outside our control. We can talk about those. But I think there is plenty we can improve on. (I don't mean to sound curt or anything, in a hurry).

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Apr 27 2016 03:12
Pennoid wrote:
I've been meaning to read some thompson, what's the source you're referring to, syndicalistcat?

It's in this issue of the "OBU Monthly"
https://libcom.org/library/one-big-union-monthly-march-1938

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Apr 27 2016 13:04
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Chilli, I don't think the main problem is that people won't step up. I wish it was. I hear this a lot and I'm sick of it. The idea that the reason we're failing is because not enough people who work 40+ hours a week are 'donating' their labor to an organization which is *already* yielding near 0 results is pretty delusional. I think I'm most bitter toward this idea because I used to bandy it about so cavalierly and that's my own baggage, but I just can't stand it. There are definitely circumstances outside our control. We can talk about those. But I think there is plenty we can improve on. (I don't mean to sound curt or anything, in a hurry).

So, I've been in and out of the IWW for over a decade now, in different branches, and involved with various campaigns, including some in my own workplaces. (I've also been in other, usually anarchist, orgs who had the same problems). In every branch there's always at least few good people, but I'd say in the majority of cases people (a) don't arrive to meetings on time and (b) don't follow through on their action points.

I get people are busy, but if we can't sort out the basics, there's no point to even having the debate whether we should hire staffers.

On a related point, I often see a tendency to create a new (usually regional or national) officer to deal with x, y, or z. Often these positions go unfilled or there's no real follow-through or people drop out mid-term. That sort of stuff needs to be resolved and, if it was, there'd be even less argument for full-timers.

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Apr 27 2016 19:23

Chilli, for me that's the kicker. What's the common denominator? Organizations which remain small and ineffective, and rely on remunerated volunteer labor. Again, I'm not saying we ought to fly off in the other direction and try and bid for a Trumka to lead our union. But I am arguing that there is a baseline administrative framework which *encourages and lays the foundation for* us to build lasting membership in our organization. How long can we keep failing and blame it on the apathy of the general population? Our failures are often complex, and cannot be reduced to "get staff now!" but it is a vital component for us to move forward. The current membership sign-up and management policies are prohibitive, slow, and overly bureaucratic, as lifelong wobbly has layed out on their blog here: https://lifelongwobbly.com/2015/06/03/would-yearly-dues-allow-the-us-iww-to-grow-as-fast-as-the-uk/

Let me ask: You say you've seen plenty of people fail to show up to meetings. Why do you think they didn't show up? Because they weren't interested? Well, why weren't they? Because they're lazy? Because they're busy? Because they don't expect much from the meeting/org? Some of these are simply our fault. Some are outside our control. But if the *rule* in our organization is that "a few good people show up" and the rest stay home, then we really have to rethink our policies, our tactics and strategies. Why aren't we addressing the problems people are facing? Why aren't they willing to help out? Is it because they're tired? The task seems too large? Because we're not legitimate? My own hypothesis (and personal observation) is that most of the time, people are busy. They forget. They need a day off. Why? Because they work and go to school for a living. That's not something we can change right now. It's something we have to organize to change. It's something that requires that we put some real work behind it. It means that we need to eliminate barriers to activity on the one hand, and raise incentives to do action on the other. Having a solid administration will help cut the barriers to entry and interaction, as well as having good education programs and an accessible social/news media platform for members. Winning fights will encourage others to take action and raise our profile. In general, when workers refuse to rebel, I think they're trusting their own conscience, and can we blame them? Instead I think we ought to chart a course which registers those apprehensions seriously and addresses them.

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Apr 28 2016 02:57

I don't know, man. People make time for things that matter. I mean, people make it to fuckin church! And, organizations far larger than IWW branches (or even the national union) survive without paid labor.

And, to be blunt, where's the evidence paid staff will encourage people to step up? I can only speak from experience in trade unions, but once there's paid staff, the expectations fall on them.

I think the problem in the IWW are much more complex than paid labor or otherwise. For a lot of people, it's a social club and while outside responsibilities shouldn't be discounted,, I think that explains a lot more than lack of paid staff.

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Apr 28 2016 03:05
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I don't know, man. People make time for things that matter. I mean, people make it to fuckin church! And, organizations far larger than IWW branches (or even the national union) survive without paid labor.

And, to be blunt, where's the evidence paid staff will encourage people to step up? I can only speak from experience in trade unions, but once there's paid staff, the expectations fall on them.

I think the problem in the IWW are much more complex than paid labor or otherwise. For a lot of people, it's a social club and while outside responsibilities shouldn't be discounted,, I think that explains a lot more than lack of paid staff.

Churches have paid staff, though.

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Apr 28 2016 03:15

I don't even really know what's being argued about here. The IWW already has paid staff. The General Secretary-Treasurer works full-time. Then there a few part-time staffers and interns that help the GST. The press officer and Industrial Worker editor both get decent stipends. There have been a number of people who have received stipends when there are situations and campaigns that need them.

Are you talking about full-time, paid staff on the local level? Not going to happen. We don't have that kind of money.

Are you talking about permanent, full-time organizing staff? Also, not going to happen. We don't have that kind of money and it is banned by the Constitution.

Like what kind of positions, specifically, are we talking about?

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Apr 28 2016 03:44
OliverTwister wrote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I don't know, man. People make time for things that matter. I mean, people make it to fuckin church! And, organizations far larger than IWW branches (or even the national union) survive without paid labor.

And, to be blunt, where's the evidence paid staff will encourage people to step up? I can only speak from experience in trade unions, but once there's paid staff, the expectations fall on them.

I think the problem in the IWW are much more complex than paid labor or otherwise. For a lot of people, it's a social club and while outside responsibilities shouldn't be discounted,, I think that explains a lot more than lack of paid staff.

Churches have paid staff, though.

Fair enough. But I was trying to make two different points there. One, people make time for things that matter to them - like church. And, two, lots of other organizations just as big as the IWW survive without paid labor.

Penn wrote:
How long can we keep failing and blame it on the apathy of the general population?

Also, just on this, this is sort of the opposite of what I was saying.

I don't want to discount your intentions here, but I do slightly feel like you're shifting the argument with each post without addressing the issues raised in previous posts.

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Apr 28 2016 08:26

I think Pennoid's point is that the existence of paid staff does not guarantee bureaucratic rule. I was arguing that you can't have bureaucratic rule without paid staff.

We might be somewhat at cross-purposes, as both can be true (i.e. paid staff are a necessary, but not sufficient condition of bureaucratic rule).

I think Juan's probably right that not a lot more can be established without being specific, and arguing on a case-by-case basis for a particular paid position.

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Apr 30 2016 02:19

in a general sense, to state a truism, you have bureaucratic rule if the officials & staff tend to monopolize decision-making and control the organization. You have worker or rank and file rule if the workers control the direction of the organization. You can have worker rule or control even if there is a structure for administration and doing tasks & people elected to do those tasks, and even if there are some people hired to do some tasks as staff. A reason this can be sort of vague is because it can depend really on the level of information & skills in doing things shared among the members, so that there isn't a dependency relationship and there are key points of participation in deliberation & making decisions by members.

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May 2 2016 23:57

I think bureaucratic rule and the existence of paid staff are fundamentally distinct. I will concede that paid officialdom significantly increases the possibility of bureaucratic rule. In general I'd like to emphasize that any given role has to be evaluated to some extent. I think we got lost in the weeds a bit because the *general* (maybe I exaggerate it) anti-staff issue glosses over important details, and acts as a convenient shorthand. There are three basic points: Accountability (membership driven), Division of Labor (staff), and correct policy (no magic here).

The association vs. representation thing is too simplistic. There is a very core element to organization, what I'd argue is it's defining feature; division of labor. A lot of people, give a little bit of money, full input, so that *someone else* can handle xyz problems. This may include some forms of 'representation' to 'the public' to bosses, or even to the membership. My argument is that it should *augment* those efforts of members to organize. There is no question that a well staffed administration is the basis of any organization. I feel as well, that organizing staff are also necessary. What has changed, aside from affordability, since the 1940's or 50's to make using organizing staff or administrative task unnecessary?

There isn't much further we can get without specifics. Why not have a research committee identify targets, present plans to the membership, put it to vote and the odb can put some set funds toward national campaign attempts? Surely there's no shortage of these ideas out there. I think the TC put forward a proposal recently or some people from there were thinking about it that had a similar spirit? We need this shift because the ODB is pursuing a policy that is passive now.

And that is the other part of this. Yes, we need accountability, yes we need a technical division of labor (and staff) but all directed at the correct aims, or effective policy. That won't always be clear, and requires membership deliberation etc.

Note: Juan, yes I understand the constitution bans paid staff. Pretty silly. I'm also aware that funding paid staff would require higher levels of membership. That's why I link the proposal to *correct the backwards dues intake policy* and reduce redundant administration costs. That's also why I suggest that the most important staff are those which facilitate organizing. That means the people we pay will be actively getting more members. They will be paying for their own. I've written about this somewhat here: https://communistleaguetampa.org/2015/10/17/the-iww-and-paid-staff/

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May 3 2016 04:02
Pennoid wrote:
Note: Juan, yes I understand the constitution bans paid staff.

It does nothing of the sort. We have paid staff.

Article VIII of the Constitution states:

Sec. 4. The IWW shall not hire any permanent salaried organizing staff.

Sec. 5. In the event that the IWW does make use of paid organizing staff, paid organizers shall be selected from the IWW membership.

Sec. 6. Any paid organizing positions in the IWW shall be for temporary and fixed terms tied to the campaign on which they are working.

Sec. 7. Upon completion of their term any paid organizers shall be expected to remain IWW members and to return to regular work.

It bans a specific kind of paid staff.

Honestly, I've seen the paid organizers thing come up every now and then as a 'magic bullet'. It isn't clear to me that it is. I would rather see experimenting with expanding trainings to more members and temporary stipended outside organizers first. We have a limited experience with the latter, much less guidelines, expectations or takeaways from it.

As far as the paid staff and bureaucracy relation, I don't think I have anything to add on that without thinking about it more.

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May 3 2016 18:12

My bad, rushed it, meant to say permanent organizing staff. Thanks for sharing the language directly. That is a silly policy though.

Expanding trainings? Yes that's not a bad thing. It is a 'quantitative' increase though that cannot address failed policy in other domains. I've heard others say this. Doing *more* ot 101s means we will simply have *more* small groups of workers run into the same problems we have been for the past ten years. My point is that our problem is not simply one of 'try harder' or increase the volume of present activities.

I would like to read more about the use of paid organizing staff in the past decade or 15 years. I know of the CCU and WFM people using them. Did JJWU or SWU rely on them at all? Reading Bossen's history of the CCU as well as the one written by the second organizer worked to convince me of the utility of organizing staff. That and personal experience, and older historical research.

Can people think of staff roles they'd think useful? I think before we introduce new roles, we'd have to revamp admin and Dues intake. That would free up, increase, and stablize funds to maybe pay a web admin/membership manager, once membership and Dues payment are centralized on the site with auto-withdrawal. This will free Delegates to be volunteer salts and other types of organizers instead of stamp-punchers.

Campaigns could continue to petition the ODB for money or a paid organizer who will be drawn from a crew of reserve organizers, similar to trainers for the ot-101 program, perhaps under the oversight of the odb or a sub-committee (or jointly with an elected national organizer). I think this is similar the UE's approach, yeah?

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May 3 2016 18:13

Double post

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May 4 2016 18:28

Very interesting growth dynamics in UK compared with USA.

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Sep 18 2016 19:47
Steven. wrote:
Juan Conatz wrote:
The UK meanwhile, has quadrupled in 5 years.

don't mean to derail the thread, which is interesting, however I wanted to ask about this. Is this true? I mean it's great if it is but it seems very surprising. I remember I was briefly a member of the IWW, probably in 2003/4 and we were told that it had 400 members. Although that to me seemed to be an over-estimate. I mean I'm not aware of everything which goes on, but the IWW here doesn't seem to have much of a public profile, no print publication, the website hasn't had anything posted on it in about 8 months, and I thought its main organised shops split off into the IWGB (and then maybe subsequently UVW)?

This is the thing though: The IWW in the UK is hopelessly disorganised, does almost nothing to advertise itself, and uses 5 years to set up a new website, yet it is growing with about 200 members a year. This does make you wonder what could be achieved by a group that actually had it's stuff together...

For what it's worth, the new IWW website is now finally up and running on iww.org.uk. It's still very much a work in progress, and most of the branches hasn't started contributing news and event to it yet, but at least it shows some of what is going on with the union.

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Sep 18 2016 20:04

The site looks very snazzy, FelixFrost! I wish the SAC IT committee would have cooked something like that rather than paying for having the front-end design upgrade of the old open source site...

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Sep 19 2016 02:23

To be fair though Felix most of the problems you list would be held by any radical organization in the UK or US. I don't think AF or SolFed or Black Rose have done a significantly better job advertising themselves or having a great web presence.

That said I agree with you, we should always be challenging ourselves to ask what we could accomplish if we held our organizations to higher standards.

ETA: At a glance their website looks top notch for a leftist groups, better than any others I'm aware except perhaps www.cnt.es.