Contractualism should be avoided

Contractualism should be avoided

A reply to an article that appeared in the Industrial Worker newspaper, titled 'The contract as a tactic'.

This is in response to FW Matt Muchowski’s article titled “The Contract As A Tactic,” which appeared on page 4 of the December 2013 Industrial Worker. While I disagree with most of it, this piece is the most coherent justification of contractualism for the IWW I’ve seen. The reasons behind going for a contract are very rarely talked about in this way, so the article is worth taking seriously and considering the author’s points.

FW Muchowski correctly asserts that the IWW has a legacy of no contracts; however, he attributes this to the lack of “legal structure(s) for unions to win legal recognition. On IWW.org, a similar explanation is given. This explanation is wrong, though. The IWW’s views on contracts have always been more sophisticated than what the labor law of the day has been. Overall, contracts have been regarded with great suspicion. This has had little to do with the existence of “legal structures” (most of which we were against or critical of) and more to do with an analysis of what contractualism would lead to.

The author then goes on to blame the disintegrating presence of the IWW in Lawrence after the 1912 “Bread and Roses” strike on not having a contract. This is usually what anti-Wobbly liberal and Communist Party-sympathetic labor historians say, so it’s a little surprising to see this opinion expressed in the IW. It’s also an absolutely inadequate explanation of what happened. If the ongoing presence of the IWW so relied on having a formal, legal contract with the employers, then how could Local 8—the IWW dockworkers of Philadelphia who went on strike in May 1913—exist? Local 8, for most of its era, operated without a contract. The difference between Local 8 and the textile strikers in Lawrence, however, was one of organization. The Lawrence model was to throw a supporting cast of organizers into a situation that was already on the verge of blowing up; it was a “hot shop,” in other words. Local 8, on the other hand, built an organization with a purpose and from the ground up.

Local 8, along with many other noncontractual models, offers an antidote to the false and seemingly dishonest dichotomy that is often set up when talking about this issue, which is contractualism versus all-out revolution. No one who argues against or is suspicious of formal, legal agreements with employers is necessarily drawing up blueprints for the barricades.

Similarly, Muchowski frames anticontractualism as “ideological” while what he advocates is not. Suggesting that a position is “ideological” and therefore extreme or irrational is a common rhetorical trick in politics, and it works well as it appeals to what is assumed to be “common sense.” But just because it’s a neat and effective trick does not mean that what it is expressing is true. The use of ideology, or examples of it, as a swear word, means that it is something that is based on beliefs rather than reality or experience. But being against or suspicious of contractualism is not merely “ideological.” It has a long history in the radical labor movement, full of examples and historical lineage. Contractualism, on the other hand, has only hypothetical scenarios and “what if” possibilities, divorced from any concrete reality

Solidarity unionism, for example, can be traced all the way back to the old IWW, through the rank-and-file members of militant Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) locals, to labor radicals like Martin Glaberman and Stan Weir (who saw clearly the downside of contractualism), on through the New Left labor history revisionists who rejected the institutional and top-down accounts of labor movements, and finally to the numerous conversations that resulted in the modern-day IWW creating our own model of what solidarity unionism could be. Arguments for contractualism have no similar basis rooted in actual experiences of radical labor.

Many of the activities and tasks the article lists as being possible with a contract are not inherent to that model. Spreading our views, finding out our co-workers’ issues and building for demands are just a part of organizing and happens in every IWW campaign worth its salt.

Lastly, FW Muchowski addresses the problematic issue of limitations placed on the union in contracts. His solution to this is “we don’t have to agree to anything we don’t want to.” But a century of contractualism has established no-strike clauses, management rights clauses and disempowering grievance procedures as the norms. I would argue that after the point in which it is obvious the union has won or is going to win, these are the most important issues for the employer, exceeding wages and benefits. To exclude these things in a contract would take serious organization within the workplace. If you do have the capacity to impose these sorts of demands, which are expected minimum norms for contracts, then why have a contract at all? With that type of power we can have the ability to impose a lot without getting caught up in state-enforced limitations.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (January/February 2014)

Comments

Chilli Sauce
Jan 3 2014 12:59
Quote:
a century of contractualism has established no-strike clauses, management rights clauses and disempowering grievance procedures as the norms. I would argue that after the point in which it is obvious the union has won or is going to win, these are the most important issues for the employer, exceeding wages and benefits. To exclude these things in a contract would take serious organization within the workplace. If you do have the capacity to impose these sorts of demands, which are expected minimum norms for contracts, then why have a contract at all?

YES!!!!

libera
Feb 3 2014 04:40

dp

libera
Feb 3 2014 04:37

I have not read FW Muchowskis article, however I too once thought that the no contract position of the IWW was "ideological" in that contracts seemingly provide workers with the better job security and I felt that contracts provide a pragmatic safety mechanism when organizing. Yet as mentioned with Local 8, wobblies have been succesful maintaining job security through direct action via IWW pins and hiring halls. The metal shops in Cleveland during the 1930s became akin to the ideology of workplace contractualism and eventually lost to the might of business unions. They lost because while the 440 shops preached revolution, they did not practice revolution. If we want to practice revolutionary unionism, we cant acquiese to the impotence of state bureaucracy.

Fnordie
Feb 3 2014 11:01

I'm a little hesitant to respond to this. I hate getting into this conversation because it's way too emotionally charged, for me and for comrades who disagree with me. But, here goes.

I don't think it makes sense to be categorically against all contracts, all the time. That doesn't mean I'm a "contractualist." I have enormous respect for direct unionist campaigns. I'm currently involved in one. Probably the most valuable thing about the present-day IWW is that we're the only people in the US experimenting with (or re-discovering) noncontractual unionism.

Having participated in all of them, I'm intimately aware of the problems with NLRB elections, grievance procedures, and contract negotiation. In negotiations at my last job, the company offered the standard no-strike clause they had in every union contract in the state. We pushed our negotiator to reject it because it was written in such a way as to prohibit marches on the boss. The talks dragged on for months longer than we'd been told they would before they finally gave in and altered it slightly. Our wages were frozen during that whole process, well over a year. It sucked for everybody.

Of course management rights clauses and no-strike clauses hamstring you. Of course they've become the norm for any contract. They haven't always been the standard, however - management rights clauses started in 1950 in Detroit. The fact that they've become taken for granted as a feature of every collective bargaining agreement is one of the great victories of capital of the last 60 years. Saying all contracts are necessarily hand-tying peace treaties plays into this hegemony and obscures history.

The argument that if we already have the power to enforce demands, contracts are redundant...is appealing in a glib sort of way. It strikes me as short-sighted at best; disingenuous at worst. The fact is it's really, really fucking hard to sustain that kind of momentum. At the height of my last union drive, we had more than 110 people involved in workplace actions. A couple months later, we were down to 17 people who would still march on the boss. There's gotta be a way to gain ground and hold it through the ebb and flow of the fight.

In addition to winning stuff through direct unionism (which, don't get me wrong, is fantastic), I'd like to see the IWW forcing companies to accept legally-binding written agreements without labor board elections. Or agree to bargain only if there's no no-strike clause, and management has no rights. This is uncharted territory the movement needs to trailblaze, and nobody else is going to do it.

Pennoid
Feb 3 2014 15:01

I think you make a good point, fnordie, about contracts un mediated by the state. To me, that's a contract the workers can break at anytime without fear of much state reprisal though, and I think it serves the same purpose as simply avoiding contracts, no? I think the direct action strategy is the correct one, but it has to be very widely fleshed out and built upon.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 3 2014 15:43
Quote:
contracts un mediated by the state

That's the thing though: can contracts be unmediated by the state? By their very logic contracts - even those accomplished outside the NLRB - are legal documents enforced through the law.

The other thing:

Quote:
The fact that [mgmt rights clauses] become taken for granted as a feature of every collective bargaining agreement is one of the great victories of capital of the last 60 years. Saying all contracts are necessarily hand-tying peace treaties plays into this hegemony and obscures history.

I don't think it's mgmt rights clauses, grievance procedures, no-strike agreements, etc that are responsible for the limiting nature of contracts. While getting rid of these things (I remember hearing a story that the Canadian Autoworkers fought, ultimately unsuccessfully, for years to lose a no-strike clause) is obviously desirable, I think they are far more the symptoms of mediation rather than the cause.

Even without them, after all, contracts do fundamentally transform the role (and arguably the interests) of the union in the workplace. While contracts might not inherently limit all shopfloor activity done in the name of the union, it does shift the emphasis of the organizing from maintaining gains through militancy to enshrining them in a piece of paper - which the bosses will ignore anyway if they think they have the power to do so.

Fnordie
Feb 3 2014 22:09
Chilli Sauce wrote:
That's the thing though: can contracts be unmediated by the state? By their very logic contracts - even those accomplished outside the NLRB - are legal documents enforced through the law.

I agree, that's what a contract is, by definition. I wasn't trying to say a contract is not a legal document. I'm saying legally-binding agreements can be an effective tactic. If we reject them unilaterally, we limit ourselves just as much as if we always insist on them.

I also like something one FW from Minnesota says a lot - it's possible to have written agreements here and there to solidify things without having an all-encompassing contract for a shop. Organizing is a war. Sometimes there are temporary ceasefires in wars. A ceasefire is not the same thing as a peace treaty.

Chilli Sauce wrote:
While contracts might not inherently limit all shopfloor activity done in the name of the union, it does shift the emphasis of the organizing from maintaining gains through militancy to enshrining them in a piece of paper - which the bosses will ignore anyway if they think they have the power to do so.

That's a fair criticism.

However, it's not realistic to claim that contracts can only enshrine what's already been won, if by that you mean they have zero bearing on what the win actually is. Yes, all victories come from fighting and must be maintained by fighting. But it's easier to win some things through direct action alone ("ground war"), and other things with direct action combined with a legal component ("ground war" + "air war").

This shouldn't be controversial. In the campaign I was talking about in my last post, we used a series of delegations and one big march on the boss to get them to fix a broken dishwashing machine, and correct a bunch of safety hazards. No air war component was necessary. But we also organized extensively around the issue of unaffordable health insurance - for a long time we made no progress on that front. That didn't change til we ratified the contract, and we went from paying 80% of the healthcare cost to 20%. In that case, I think a ground war accompanied by an air war was a better strategy. Sure, maybe we could've eventually won bread-and-butter stuff like that with a ground war alone, but at what price? It would've been a longer, harder, more bitter fight, with a lot more casualties. I mean, I know the most hardcore of us would have been willing to do it...but 11 people had already been fired. Most of our coworkers were weary of the whole thing and just wanted it to be over. Should I have urged people to vote against ratifying the contract on the grounds that it's counterrevolutionary?

Basically, my opinion of contract negotiation is the same as my opinion of arson, kidnapping, or murder. All acceptable tactics, but only in the right circumstances.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 4 2014 00:15

Wow, that last paragraph really is quite the statement.

In general, I'm unconvinced that contracts are a "tactic". I think they're a strategy in as much as they become the orientation point for union and actually end up limiting (and sometimes even determining) what sort of actions - which to me is what defines a tactic - workers can engage in.

And, possibly paradoxically, I'm not actually opposed to workers using the law, either as individuals or collectively. It's something I've done myself and I've helped other do the same. However, I don't think think that actively engaging in the labor relations process is something revolutionary organisations should be taking any part in.

And, of course, you shouldn't tell workers not to ratify a contract. If you're in a union shop, of course you use what levers you can within the union to push for all that you can. And even within a direct unionist approach, negotiation is inevitable. Workers should negotiate as a group and should receive written confirmations of changes of conditions from the boss - but, again, that doesn't mean that the revolutionary union should be the agent signing off on those conditions.

In any case, you seem to have some interesting organising stories and I'd be keen to hear more about them. I do have to ask though, I sort of get the impression you're a bit of outside organiser, am I reading that right?

Fnordie
Feb 4 2014 01:51
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I do have to ask though, I sort of get the impression you're a bit of outside organiser, am I reading that right?

Nope. cool

I was a worker at the shop I mentioned. I don't want to drop too many details, but it was somewhere in California. I was on the committee, and I was a "volunteer organizer" with the union. That just means they trained me to do house visits but they didn't pay me. Other VO's got pulled out of the shop to go on leaves-of-absence and organize elsewhere, but that never happened to me.

I don't work there anymore, I moved back to Maryland and now I'm a wobbly. As for organizing stories, the only ones I have are about that one campaign. I'm probably not as cool as I sound.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 4 2014 10:52

Ah sweet and, well, my apologies for in any way impugning on your revolutionary credentials red n black star wink red n black star

In any case, it really does sound like an interesting campaign you were involved in. Seeing as how you're no longer at the job, a write-up perhaps?

Fnordie
Feb 5 2014 00:24

You know, I've been considering doing that for 2 years. I kept a daily journal starting when I joined the committee, thinking I'd eventually use it to write an account. I sat down to start it one time, but I got stuck. I haven't written an article in years, and there was so much material I didn't know what to include ("Do I write about specific people? How much minor trivia about the actual work is okay?") The bulk of it was just unimportant little stuff that happened, like every time I ever heard a manager snap at somebody. I guess the important parts were descriptions of house visits, committee meetings, what it was like to do delegations, what the captive audience meetings were like...but even that stuff felt like it defied summary. I got like 2 pages down before I said fuck it & gave up.

I guess I could give it another try. But honestly, it wasn't all that exciting a campaign, in the grand scheme of labor movement things. I worked for Sodexo, a big food service subcontractor that's been in plenty of labor disputes. I know lots of them have culminated in strikes or boycotts. We did neither...the most militant thing we did was marching on the boss (I think we did 7 of those all in all).

Maybe I talk about it too grandiosely because I was there. Every campaign's super interesting from up close.

syndicalist
Feb 5 2014 02:13

I'm the last to talk, cause I've no confidence in my writing articles and stuff, but just Write On even if its a ramble. Then extract the good from that or break it down into parts ("chapters"). I've started this with some of the shopfloor stuff I did and some other experiances. It looks like a gawd awful horror show of jumble, but it'sd a start...and ya know what, gotta start somewhere.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 5 2014 13:38

I'm with Syndicalist, just get out it out there. And even if only got to the stage of marches on the boss, that's fine, that's actually more than a lot of us have ever done. Describing how you got to that stage, what went well and what didn't, have you dealt with retaliations, there's huge value in all that.

You mentioned there was voting for a contract, was this part of a unionization campaign or was it renegotiation? And, if it was part of union drive, did you help initiate it? And was it successful?

bozemananarchy
Feb 5 2014 13:54

Hey Fnordie,

Sorry that this is totally unsolicited, but, like others, I'm interested!

It might help to focus on a single aspect. . . For me, I'd be most interested in the details and even the logistics (like how it was planned and actually done) for the marching on the boss actions. For analysis, it'd be cool to hear of the affect these events had on yourself and what you perceived to be the affect on your coworkers including both the marches and non-marchers (if there was any), and the campaign. You could discuss MOB as a tactic, what y'all were using it for, its strengths and shortcomings and your conclusions and lessons you've personally drawn from it.

Anyways, greetings! We were in WSA together there for a bit, good to see you posting here!

Cheers!
-B

Fnordie
Feb 5 2014 18:52

Yeah, alright, I'll give it a shot. This might take me a while so don't hold your breath.

Chilli - it was a new unionization drive, no I didn't initiate it although I did get involved fairly early on, and yes it succeeded

Juan Conatz
Mar 26 2014 16:28

Scott Nappolos also responded and this can be found here.

I believe the author of the original article is supposed to be writing something in response, I imagine that will be in the next IW.

billz
Mar 26 2014 21:41

From my perspective, if the goal is to grow the union in both size and strength, this is what i would propose:

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that both the IWW and the "progressive" end of the mainstream labor movement have a lot to learn from each other. Let me first say that this is a statement based less on ideology and more on the reality of the current state and time of the US working force. Turn of the century class struggle and revolutionary mass action is no longer on the radar as a goal for the overwhelming majority of US workers. For the most part, the boss is winning and the labor movement as a whole, with a few exceptions, remains in rapid decline currently on the way to being legislated out of existence.

So what can radical labor do? First and foremost, the dissolution of the IWW into mostly fractured individuals with little actual workplace connections to one another is a serious impediment to the growth of the union. We need more job shops and less branches and individual members. We need to secure more collective wins, both in the short and long term, for more workers in specific workplaces. We then need to hold on to those wins while planting the flag of the IWW. These wins can reverberate through an entire workplace and sustain an IWW presence.

Contracts, grievance procedures and NLRB elections are not and do not have to be an ends. They can, believe it or not, be used as a means to more progressive and radical ends. To refuse to engage with them on principle will stymie the kind of organizing that I would argue we need more of to grow as a union.

Organizing within shops, collectively against a boss in a specific workplace, is how we can establish a foothold with job shops. Job shops under contracts, managed and created by the workers who work under them, are worth more than most will realize. To accomplish this the organizing department needs to grow in size and resources and then begin to search for and field realistic organizing leads.

When a lead is discovered a team of trained and experienced organizers, under the direction of the Executive Board, should assess it. If the lead is assessed to be ripe for a strong campaign, a trained organizer will be dispatched based on geography. The organizer will help develop a rank and file organizing committee.

This organizer needs to either dedicate his full time work to aid in organizing the workplace in question, or work closely directing a team of volunteers, one of which needs to be able to dedicate his full time hours to aiding the organizing campaign.

This or course would require a stipend paid to at least one person, within the budgetary constrains of the IWW, for a time period through an NLRB election and at least a month or more after. The ability to utilize a full time organizer could easily be the difference between winning and losing an election.

Once the election is won, the committee of rank and file organizers needs to demand that the boss negotiate with them over not just wages and benefits but also turning over more control of the workplace to the union itself. This could include health and safety, working conditions, control over scheduling and discipline, discharge and hiring etc..

While the boss will likely not do anything without the union surrendering its right to strike, the union may be able to trade that right temporarily for concrete gains in all aspects of workplace democracy and higher wages. These concrete gains will prove to the workers, a majority of whom would have not wanted a union before the process started, that the union is right for them and will now fight to defend it.

Why should we temporarily trade our right to strike for gains in workplace democracy?

1) Depending on what the workers want and what the boss is willing to give, a noticeable net positive for the workers could be won, a net positive that can grow with struggle. That struggle requires time and organizing.

2) We are not surrendering our right to strike forever, only temporarily. A smart union will use the time to champion the gains while simultaneously preparing to strike.

3) Strikes involving a sizable workplace (say over 100 workers) are not easy to conduct or win. As described in the above point, they take a lot of planning and that time is going to have to pass regardless without a strike. Strikes are more effective after a union has demonstrated to the workforce that it is worth fighting for. They are of course also more effective when you have a workforce completely prepared and willing to strike. It is very rare to have the immediate support of the majority of workers you would need to win a strike right after a union is organized.

4) Rushed strikes lacking real support amongst the community and workforce elevate the risk of losing the union entirely; this is a victory for the boss even if he has to pay off one or two workers to never come back due to a ULP settlement.

In short, signing a contract that most will see as a huge and sustained net positive for the union is basically giving the boss the sleeves off of your vest. You now have a strong unionized workforce that you can organize to build to strike. And yes, you would, at times, need to litigate through a fairly confining process, if, for example, someone gets unjustly fired. But we don’t need to buy into the management culture of using lawyers and spending lots of money. It is not necessary and members can be trained to handle such a process. Wining peoples jobs back can be very demoralizing for the boss and be quite energizing for the union, even in this process. (Many times it can be happen even quicker than filing a ULP). This process does not need to be exclusionary to workers. It can be used as a tool to organize and involved them if the will of the union to do that is strong.

I also believe that it is key to have specific language in any future IWW contract that releases a rank and file worker, at least one day per week (depending on the size of the workplace) to help organize the union on an ongoing basis. This is where dues check off can be useful, although we need to be careful not to get lazy and use it as an excuse to not talk to workers.

If the boss is forced to provide the union with a check ever pay period, this is big and guaranteed influx of resources that can be put to good use. Half could go to IWW GHQ and half could stay at the local. The half for the local should primarily be used to pay the lost time of the rank and file worker who is spending that day or two helping to organize the union. Not having to spend all that time hounding workers for dues and instead proactively organizing with them around issues and aggressively fighting the boss.

The union I work with was (and still is) engaged in a particularly brutal battle with a viciously anti union employer. To try and break the union they ceased dues check off deductions after our contract expired. We were able to hand collect dues from upwards of 80% of the membership. This went on for several months with a few hundred workers in the shop. It reduced the income of the union by a non-trivial amount (as it was a union shop and now those who refused to pay didn’t have to) and it also devoured an immense amount of organizing time and resources that could have went to more proactive ways of fighting the boss.

Of course there were positives, as there are with all sides of this debate. Showing management that we could hand collect dues, and actually doing it, was certainly a blow to boss morale, but without us striking once and threatening another strike on May Day, management would have never backed off that issue (and others). The boss would have been happy to keep us out collecting dues by hand forever and it would have become more difficult and divisive over time for the workers.

A lot of what we see as corrupting business unions; dues check off, grievance and arbitration, no strikes, contracts, paid organizers, etc. corrupts them primarily because they are business unions to begin with. We are not SEIU. I have seen smart and aggressive unions use these tools against the boss and to organize workers to fight. If the radical intent and drive the IWW remains the same, I would not expect contracted job shops to hurt the union or its politics. I dont expect an IWW member in a job shop, even if they spend a day a week doing work for the union, avoid talking to workers because of dues check off. I dont expect them to stop building to strike because they are under contract, nor would I expect them to let the union atrophy after its certified by the NLRB by becoming some kind of pork chopper pie card.

I think this type of organizing I describe is essential if the union is to grow, especially in the arena of job shops and workers new to the labor movement

syndicalist
Mar 26 2014 22:09
Quote:
devoured an immense amount of organizing time and resources that could have went to more proactive ways of fighting the boss.

I would agree with you about the amount of time spent. But didn't yas get to know each worker better? And each worker got to know "the union" better?

Perhaps averaging one steward for every fifteen-to-twenty members helps to lesson the load.....and brings everyone closer together......And, PS: How do you think it was done before check-off?

Chilli Sauce
Mar 26 2014 22:13
Quote:
While the boss will likely not do anything without the union surrendering its right to strike, the union may be able to trade that right temporarily for concrete gains in all aspects of workplace democracy and higher wages

Whoa....

Quote:
A lot of what we see as corrupting business unions; dues check off, grievance and arbitration, no strikes, contracts, paid organizers, etc. corrupts them primarily because they are business unions to begin with.

I've got the honest, FW, I think you've got this one backwards. It's those exact practices that turn workplace organisations into business unions in the first place. I mean, radical principles are all well and good, but what you've laid out changes the nature and role of the union itself.

I'm actually not one for history wanking (after all, there's a reason that some of the most anti-contract Wobblies come out of contract shops and contract campaigns), but I think this passage bears repeating:

“Much can be explained by John Turner’s experiences. In 1898 Turner had been (unpaid) president of the United Shop Assistants Union. On amalgamation Turner became paid national organiser and threw himself into a recruiting drive around the country. The membership grew rapidly as a result of prodigious efforts on his part. But his experiences in the ‘United’ Union had brought about a change of approach. Branches then had come into being as different work places had come into conflict with their employers and then faded away as victory or defeat seemed to make union membership less important or more dangerous. Now Turner, to ensure a stable membership, had introduced unemployment and sickness benefits... His policy worked, but he was now primarily organising a union whereas previously he had primarily been organising conflicts with employers.

By 1907 the pressure had relaxed somewhat and Turner was a fairly comfortably off trades union official of some importance. Although he called himself an anarchist until he died it did not show itself in his union activities. Heartbreaking experience as it might have been, the small union before 1898 had been anarchistic, that after 1898 was no different to the other ‘new’ unions either in power distribution or policy. The executive of the union was being seen in some quarters as a bureaucratic interference with local militancy and initiative. And complaints were to grow. By 1909 Turner was accused from one quarter of playing the ‘role of one of the most blatant reactionaries with which the Trades Union movement was ever cursed’.”

Chilli Sauce
Mar 26 2014 22:36

Just a final thought, I think everything you talk about in regards to building up a successful strike (which I agree with) also applies to building up a successful NLRB election. And - for effort as well as principles - if we're going to expend the same level of energy, it's far more powerful and far much useful to do it to build up to a strike campaign.

syndicalist
Mar 26 2014 23:29
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Quote:
While the boss will likely not do anything without the union surrendering its right to strike, the union may be able to trade that right temporarily for concrete gains in all aspects of workplace democracy and higher wages

Whoa....

Quote:
A lot of what we see as corrupting business unions; dues check off, grievance and arbitration, no strikes, contracts, paid organizers, etc. corrupts them primarily because they are business unions to begin with.

I've got the honest, FW, I think you've got this one backwards. It's those exact practices that turn workplace organisations into business unions in the first place. I mean, radical principles are all well and good, but what you've laid out changes the nature and role of the union itself.

I'm actually not one for history wanking (after all, there's a reason that some of the most anti-contract Wobblies come out of contract shops and contract campaigns), but I think this passage bears repeating:

“Much can be explained by John Turner’s experiences. In 1898 Turner had been (unpaid) president of the United Shop Assistants Union. On amalgamation Turner became paid national organiser and threw himself into a recruiting drive around the country. The membership grew rapidly as a result of prodigious efforts on his part. But his experiences in the ‘United’ Union had brought about a change of approach. Branches then had come into being as different work places had come into conflict with their employers and then faded away as victory or defeat seemed to make union membership less important or more dangerous. Now Turner, to ensure a stable membership, had introduced unemployment and sickness benefits... His policy worked, but he was now primarily organising a union whereas previously he had primarily been organising conflicts with employers.

By 1907 the pressure had relaxed somewhat and Turner was a fairly comfortably off trades union official of some importance. Although he called himself an anarchist until he died it did not show itself in his union activities. Heartbreaking experience as it might have been, the small union before 1898 had been anarchistic, that after 1898 was no different to the other ‘new’ unions either in power distribution or policy. The executive of the union was being seen in some quarters as a bureaucratic interference with local militancy and initiative. And complaints were to grow. By 1909 Turner was accused from one quarter of playing the ‘role of one of the most blatant reactionaries with which the Trades Union movement was ever cursed’.”

Chili .... please source quote. Thanks.

Juan Conatz
Mar 26 2014 23:31

That's from Fighting For Ourselves.

syndicalist
Mar 27 2014 00:36

K

Fnordie
Mar 27 2014 02:27

billz - of course there are concrete benefits to all the practices you outline: dues check-off gives you steady revenue; contracts give you a way to demonstrate the union's value to new workers, and a degree of legal protection; paid organizers give you coverage of more hours organizing time. Business unions do all those things for a reason, they're effective means of building organizations.

But I'm still against the IWW adopting any of those practices. What makes us different from the business unions is explicit revolutionary politics. By extension, that means nobody else is going to experiment with non-contractual unionism, or with all-volunteer unionism. In my opinion, re-discovering repressed forms of rank-and-file insurgency is more important for us than simply growing in number. "Quality over quantity" is how that Direct Unionism paper put it.

edit - I hope this is clear from my older posts, but I'm not unilaterally against contracts as a tactic all the time. I support the change in the IWW constitution that made no strike clauses forbidden...I hope it leads to innovative contracts that are less slanted towards the company, as well as more direct unionism.

Chilli Sauce
Mar 27 2014 10:00
syndicalist wrote:
K

Originally from this book, though, the Slow Burning Fuse:

http://libcom.org/history/slow-burning-fuse-lost-history-british-anarchists

Also, I slightly edited my quote to cut down on length.

billz
Mar 30 2014 01:06

To answer your questions, yes and no, the shop was in good shape and certainly the interactions around dues collection helped workers get to know their union rep and staff organizers better, but my point is its not an "either or" game; in other words, if we would have had the resource flow streamlined, that doesnt mean that the reps and staff would not be talking to the workers (although in many business unions that is the case). We actually would be, and did, but we could focus on the broader corporate and strike campaign instead of hounding for dues, furthermore, you lose the union shop by default. It also creates a lot of drama amongst the workers that is counterproductive.

billz
Mar 28 2014 20:54
Fnordie wrote:
billz - of course there are concrete benefits to all the practices you outline: dues check-off gives you steady revenue; contracts give you a way to demonstrate the union's value to new workers, and a degree of legal protection; paid organizers give you coverage of more hours organizing time. Business unions do all those things for a reason, they're effective means of building organizations.

But I'm still against the IWW adopting any of those practices. What makes us different from the business unions is explicit revolutionary politics. By extension, that means nobody else is going to experiment with non-contractual unionism, or with all-volunteer unionism. In my opinion, re-discovering repressed forms of rank-and-file insurgency is more important for us than simply growing in number. "Quality over quantity" is how that Direct Unionism paper put it.

edit - I hope this is clear from my older posts, but I'm not unilaterally against contracts as a tactic all the time. I support the change in the IWW constitution that made no strike clauses forbidden...I hope it leads to innovative contracts that are less slanted towards the company, as well as more direct unionism.

Of course i argue the opposite. I dont believe you have to surrender revolutionary aims by having a contract or full or part time stipended or salaried organizers. I think that recent history has shown that both rank and file insurgency and lack of job shop growth is lacking.

While I agree certain quality can be measured in terms of radical action (even if it produces no traditional gains), but what most workers are looking for is quality in life, finances, and workplace control. I think you can actually do both in the way i suggest. I think its been done.

I think that clause will lead to less contracts and less job shops, certainly less stable ones. This is a problem. Its not like im arguing you force a clause on workers, its up to them, and they have to make the decision based on the context and power dynamic of the time.

What i am against is union staff unilaterally suspended that right for workers who are left out of the decision making process completely, even suspending that right beyond contract, as seiu did in california with nursing homes. What I am saying is very very different.

redsdisease
Mar 28 2014 21:07
billz wrote:
A lot of what we see as corrupting business unions; dues check off, grievance and arbitration, no strikes, contracts, paid organizers, etc. corrupts them primarily because they are business unions to begin with. We are not SEIU. I have seen smart and aggressive unions use these tools against the boss and to organize workers to fight.

Isn't this kind of magical thinking though? 'Why won't you act like the SEIU? Because we aren't.' 'Well, what makes you different from the SEIU? We say we are.'

If we are going to be any different than the business unions, we have to act differently, otherwise what's the point? Why would I bother putting energy into the IWW if it's activity was exactly the same as any other organizing union? Cause it quotes Marx in it's preamble? Cause it has a neat history? If that were the case I would rather put my organizing time into UE or any other lefty union that actually has membership and resources.

billz wrote:
If the radical intent and drive the IWW remains the same, I would not expect contracted job shops to hurt the union or its politics. I dont expect an IWW member in a job shop, even if they spend a day a week doing work for the union, avoid talking to workers because of dues check off. I dont expect them to stop building to strike because they are under contract, nor would I expect them to let the union atrophy after its certified by the NLRB by becoming some kind of pork chopper pie card.

Why do you expect any of this? Does it bother you that the majority of successful IWW contract campaigns have resulted in almost entirely moribund shops? And why do you think that large numbers of workers in contract shops, many of whom would only be IWW members because of the contract, won't have an effect on the union's politics? Do you expect that by nature of being in a radical union they'll become automatically radicalized? How would you expect a union with a majority of non-radical members to retain it's radical politics beyond mass member disenfranchisement.

billz wrote:
I think this type of organizing I describe is essential if the union is to grow, especially in the arena of job shops and workers new to the labor movement

Since this organizing style seems very similar to business union's style, why do you think that the IWW will grow using it, while the business unions remain stagnant.

redsdisease
Mar 28 2014 21:14

Also:

Fnordie wrote:
In my opinion, re-discovering repressed forms of rank-and-file insurgency is more important for us than simply growing in number.

This, this, a million times this

billz
Mar 29 2014 14:08
redsdisease wrote:
billz wrote:
A lot of what we see as corrupting business unions; dues check off, grievance and arbitration, no strikes, contracts, paid organizers, etc. corrupts them primarily because they are business unions to begin with. We are not SEIU. I have seen smart and aggressive unions use these tools against the boss and to organize workers to fight.

Isn't this kind of magical thinking though? 'Why won't you act like the SEIU? Because we aren't.' 'Well, what makes you different from the SEIU? We say we are.'

If we are going to be any different than the business unions, we have to act differently, otherwise what's the point? Why would I bother putting energy into the IWW if it's activity was exactly the same as any other organizing union? Cause it quotes Marx in it's preamble? Cause it has a neat history? If that were the case I would rather put my organizing time into UE or any other lefty union that actually has membership and resources.

My argument is that you can both act and think differently than seiu or whoever and also use the program that i am proposing to fight the boss, win , and organize hundreds of workers into job shops. democratic inclusion, rank and file decision making, strikes, militancy, radical political education and solidarity etc. etc. etc.

billz wrote:
If the radical intent and drive the IWW remains the same, I would not expect contracted job shops to hurt the union or its politics. I dont expect an IWW member in a job shop, even if they spend a day a week doing work for the union, avoid talking to workers because of dues check off. I dont expect them to stop building to strike because they are under contract, nor would I expect them to let the union atrophy after its certified by the NLRB by becoming some kind of pork chopper pie card.

Why do you expect any of this? Does it bother you that the majority of successful IWW contract campaigns have resulted in almost entirely moribund shops? And why do you think that large numbers of workers in contract shops, many of whom would only be IWW members because of the contract, won't have an effect on the union's politics? Do you expect that by nature of being in a radical union they'll become automatically radicalized? How would you expect a union with a majority of non-radical members to retain it's radical politics beyond mass member disenfranchisement.

I expect this because some of the best organizers and driven by their politics, when people have sold out, in my opinion, it is because the staff who cut their checks direct them to do something, not rank and file workers, that they dont want to do. instead of quit, they do it. This can happen with the iww and the structure i propose because there would be no such staff hierarchy. I am unaware of moribund job shops currently, but likely they need the aid of an organizer. I would also argue that if it werent for the job shop or contract, things would be a lot worse or there would be no iww presence at all. A union with a majority of non radical members who become more radicalized through direct fights with the boss, where they can see real gains brought by the union, who then can be pushed further to the left, is the only way forward to defeat the ruling class in this country. They dont give a shit about free food co ops and coffee shops or cookie stores, zero interest. plus even there there is no stable radical presence in the work force with the current iww methods. It is hard, what i propose is not an easy task, and certainly the concerns you raise could potentially be real, but i still believe its the way forward.

billz wrote:
I think this type of organizing I describe is essential if the union is to grow, especially in the arena of job shops and workers new to the labor movement

Since this organizing style seems very similar to business union's style, why do you think that the IWW will grow using it, while the business unions remain stagnant.