A 5-year plan for Sheffield IWW

A 5-year plan for Sheffield IWW

Working in the tradition of Weakening the Dam (see Goals, Then Strategy, Then Tactics) and shamelessly copying Lifelong Wobbly’s article, What’s Your Five Year Plan?, here’s an article that sets out a possible set of objectives for Sheffield IWW to hit by 1st January 2020.

These objectives are ‘possible’ in two ways. Firstly, I believe they are realistic, and can be achieved if organising energy and resources are invested wisely and efficiently. Secondly, the objectives themselves are perhaps less important than getting Sheffield wobs to think in terms of long-term wobbly planning, and the building blocks of goals, strategy and tactics for reaching our objectives. Therefore I’d invite wobs to comment about other possible objectives, missing objectives, overambitious objectives, under-ambitious objectives etc. I’d also love to hear thoughts on strategy – on how to actually reach these goals, perhaps the subject of a further article(s).

So here goes:

  1. 500 members in good standing. Why this number? To be honest it’s somewhat arbitrary, as its difficult to predict growth rates for such a long period of time. However, we recently hit 70 members, and have been growing at around a 100% annual growth rate for the past 6 months. If we kept growing at 100% we’d have 2240 members in five years. However, growth doesn’t sustain itself at such a rate. Rather, it seems to follow a rough model: a) we have X members and wish to reach Y, but are struggling to expand b) we update our organisational infrastructure c) growth expands, reaching Y d) growth requirements again outgrow organisational infrastructure, requiring a new makeover back to step b etc. So 500 after 5 years hopefully reflects the relationship between union infrastructure and membership growth and poses an ambitious, but achievable membership target.
  2. Strong branches in surrounding major cities – chiefly Leeds, Nottingham and Tyne and Wear, which in recent times have had some difficulty sustaining themselves. ‘Strong branches’ could be taken to mean around 100-200 members, branches having own long-term strategies in place, industrial focus points, consistent and efficient administration etc.
  3. Established General Membership Branches (GMBs) or groups working towards chartering in surrounding urban centres of Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsley and Chesterfield. Beginnings of groups further afield e.g. Worksop, Wakefield, Scunthorpe, Lincoln.
  4. Hospitality Industrial Organising Committee (IOC) at 50-100 members, working with other hospitality IOCs around UK to form an Industrial Union (IU) by the end of 2020. At least 3 sustained workplace organising committees in the Sheffield IOC, and other relevant health indicators e.g. efficient administration, regular training, media, mentoring etc.
  5. At least 2 other healthy IOCs (most likely Education and Health Care.) with 25+ members each, basic officers and working with IOCs in same industry in other UK regions.
  6. Representation and diversity. Reflection of Sheffield demographics through key indicators. Ethnic – 19.2% of Sheffielders are non-white – this reflected in membership and active membership. Gender – 50% active membership being non-male, with gender equity strategies carried over to the IOCs. Age – Average age raised by 5 years and a continued, notable break from student/activist cultural circles.
  7. Industrial diversification. Entry/better representation in key Sheffield industries: Entering transport and distribution with embryonic IOCs (10-15 members) and stronger showing in education, health care and public admin (as above, healthy IOCs with 25+ members).

Finally, the quantitative and tangible indicators are meaningless without their less tangible cousin – workers’ power/workplace counter-culture. Its not enough to have 500 members signed up and existing in the fashion of a TUC union. What we need is pockets of organised, workplace militants dedicated to building a revolutionary union and developing new workers into new and greater wobblies. This mean workers that get the union and get the organising methodology of the IWW. It means workplaces with active committees and active workplace struggle gaining clear victories. It means militants that are able to work strategically towards long term goals, willing to put in the boring hard work and capable of weathering any setbacks that may arise.

So there’s some goals, now all we need is a plan…

Originally posted: January 17, 2015 at New Syndicalist

Posted By

Juan Conatz
Jul 27 2015 05:00

Share

Attached files

Comments

Steel City Synd...
Jul 29 2015 19:35

When this article was first released, I wrote the following article in response (I am a member of Sheffield IWW):

https://steelcitysyndicalist.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/a-different-5-year...

MediaActivist
Mar 6 2021 18:02

Thanks for this. The branch looks like it's being revived now for those interested!

syndicalist
Mar 7 2021 01:49

So how'd the plan work out?

Steven.
Mar 11 2021 23:59
syndicalist wrote:
So how'd the plan work out?

Well perhaps unsurprisingly it did not work out. I didn't comment on this at the time but I was pretty shocked reading it how anyone could have such unrealistic expectations to think that a revolutionary syndicalist union could grow to have 500 members in a small city in just 5 years, considering I wouldn't be surprised if the national union across the whole of the UK had never surpassed that point in its whole history.
Looking online, it seems the branch folded at some point. They last posted on Twitter in March 2019. But as the person above commented, a post went up on their Facebook page a few days ago talking about attempting to restart it. In this I wish them all the best in their efforts, and hope they will set some more achievable and realistic goals than their predecessors!
https://www.facebook.com/iwwsheffield/

Uncreative
Mar 12 2021 10:59
Steven. wrote:
unrealistic expectations to think that a revolutionary syndicalist union could grow to have 500 members in a small city in just 5 years, considering I wouldn't be surprised if the national union across the whole of the UK had never surpassed that point in its whole history

This post was written at the start of 2015 which was the same year the UK IWW had its "1000 member" conference in Bradford and I understand it continued to grow after that, though I'm unsure of current membership figures. So theres a nice surprise for you.

Leeds IWW reached 150 members in good standing at some point after 2015 - more than twice the membership of Sheffield at the time this was written and from a smaller start, and Sheffield IWW was always significantly bigger, better and more active than Leeds. I think Sheffield had something in the area of 250-300 members though I could be misremembering.

doug
Mar 12 2021 16:15

And did Sheffield branch collapse after reaching that number of members?

Uncreative
Mar 12 2021 16:30
doug wrote:
And did Sheffield branch collapse after reaching that number of members?

I believe so, certainly looks that way, yeah. I don't think that was an inevitable consequence of having aimed to get 500 members though, and i don't think their aim to grow to 500 members was predestined to fail - nor do i think a radical union branch merely expanding from 70 to 250 members in a few years represents some sort of "failure". Or if it does, I wish the entire radical left would fail like that instead of in the customary fashion.

Reddebrek
Mar 12 2021 18:10

If I remember comments made at some meetings the main issues the Sheffield branch had was that it was growing its membership base but struggled to turn paying members into active members at the branch level outside of specific campaigns. Also the numbers are a bit misleading since the IWW assigns "at large" members to their nearest active branch, which means they can inflate membership figures without much possibility of taking part.

Where I live now I was attached to the IWW branch despite being very, very far away. So haven't had much contact with them, though I have attended several functions and meetings they put on. It was mostly the same core dozenish members but a few different faces, so not great but I can think of orgs that had much worse demographics.

syndicalist
Mar 12 2021 22:03

I am shocked.

How many are now just paper members? pardon my cynicism. Ive just reached that milestone in my 60 plus years.

Fall Back
Mar 12 2021 22:50
Uncreative wrote:
Steven. wrote:
unrealistic expectations to think that a revolutionary syndicalist union could grow to have 500 members in a small city in just 5 years, considering I wouldn't be surprised if the national union across the whole of the UK had never surpassed that point in its whole history

This post was written at the start of 2015 which was the same year the UK IWW had its "1000 member" conference in Bradford and I understand it continued to grow after that, though I'm unsure of current membership figures. So theres a nice surprise for you.

Leeds IWW reached 150 members in good standing at some point after 2015 - more than twice the membership of Sheffield at the time this was written and from a smaller start, and Sheffield IWW was always significantly bigger, better and more active than Leeds. I think Sheffield had something in the area of 250-300 members though I could be misremembering.

It's a shame things like this so rarely get written up, although entirely understandable given that the end often goes hand in hand with burnout and a lot of disheartening.

There's a lot to be learned (both as positive examples and what not to do) from groups that manage to take that first step beyond being a glorified affinity group / discussion circle and can become something a bit bigger. And not just in how they get there in the first place, but how it was sustained (or not) and what went wrong in the end.

Uncreative
Mar 13 2021 13:44
Fall Back wrote:
It's a shame things like this so rarely get written up, although entirely understandable given that the end often goes hand in hand with burnout and a lot of disheartening.

There's a lot to be learned (both as positive examples and what not to do) from groups that manage to take that first step beyond being a glorified affinity group / discussion circle and can become something a bit bigger. And not just in how they get there in the first place, but how it was sustained (or not) and what went wrong in the end.

Leeds not so much, but this kind of write up by people who were involved in Bradford, Manchester and Sheffield IWW would be valuable.

Fall Back
Mar 13 2021 14:16

Tbf even if it went nowhere, 150 people willing to pay dues in a medium sized city isn't nothing - it's an order of magnitude bigger than most local revolutionary groups that are considered broadly successful (in our own microcosmic scale)

Numbers aren't everything, but they're also not nothing, and I think there's nearly always something to be learned from any serious attempt, and for whatever its flaws, 150 people (even if it was all punks and pre-existing activists!) is very definitely that.

Steven.
Mar 17 2021 15:28

Yeah it would be very interesting to see a proper write-up of that and what happened. Although really, I wonder how much of it would be people essentially signing up members, getting dues for a month or 2, and considering them still as paper members for some considerable amount of time before officially lapsing them after they stopped paying…
I mean I recall when I joined the IWW in the early 2000s they claimed to have about 4000 members if I recall correctly, which I didn't believe at the time.

the button
Mar 19 2021 11:51

2481 dues-paying members according to the latest (2019) membership return filed with the certification office.

R Totale
Mar 19 2021 15:24

Are past figures available? Would be interesting to know what the peak was and what the tendencies in general over the past decade or so were.
Oh, wait, is here, wikipedia has this graph:

And another that I can't link to for some reason, giving both US and UK figures.