Anyone who works out regularly knows that results in physical fitness pretty much come from only two things: persistence and time. The same thing is true in organizing. Organizing gets results when it’s persistent over the long haul. Persistent long term organizing must be systematic. A key to being systematic is putting things in writing.
In recent times the IWW has mostly organized relatively small workplaces or small units within larger workplaces. With small groups of people it’s pretty easy to remember everyone’s name, what they do, what experiences we’ve had with them. As a result, many of us have gotten into the habit of keeping a lot of information in our heads. This works in smaller settings. This won’t work once we get much beyond 20 or 30 people, because it all gets to be too much to remember. What’s more, when we make a habit of storing information in our head, it’s harder to assess what’s really happening at work, because our feelings shape our perceptions of what’s in our heads even more than what’s in writing. Depending on whether we’re feeling optimistic or pessimistic, this can lead us not to see real progress, or to overlook important steps that we fail to take.
One key activity to systematic organizing is charting regularly. By “charting” I mean when the organizers on a campaign get together and do a written assessment of our current presence on the job. Start with one sheet of paper. List all the facilities or departments in our campaign. Then list all the IWW members in each facility or department, followed by the names of other people we have contact with, and the total number of people in each place. Next to every name, write down whether or not someone has done a good one on one with them, when this was, and how it went. There will be more to say that doesn’t go on the chart, of course, as people talk about what worked and didn’t work in their one on ones. (This is also a good opportunity to do a roleplay about what the organizer might have said differently, but that’s a subject for another time.)
The process of charting helps us make decisions about who to talk to – the people we haven’t talked to in a long time, the people who are slipping, the people we haven’t talked to at all. That can sound obvious, but charting tells us exactly who those people are. It also helps us identify the gaps in our knowledge. (“I just realized, I don’t know how many custodians work third shift. We should find out.”) Getting that information is a task that someone new to the campaign could take on with the help of a more experienced organizer.
On another sheet of paper, write down the tasks that have come up based on the chart. Write down who is going to do each task, and who is going to check in with everyone to make sure they did their task.
Written charts and task lists should be kept after the meeting, and ideally they should be typed up. The next time the organizers chart, get out the old ones and compare. Get out the task list too, to make sure everyone did their tasks, and to discuss how the tasks went. This helps show progress -- “In the last month we’ve talked to 15 more people, this means we have talked to half the workers by now!” -- which can keep our inspiration going. It also helps show patterns we might not have noticed -- “We’re talking to a lot more of the white workers, and to day shift workers, let’s figure out how to break out of those networks and talk to more people” -- which can in turn help us identify new tasks.
Unless organizing is systematic, it will most likely rely too heavily on the social groups at work that we are most comfortable with. Charting is not the only part of organizing systematically, but it's one key piece of the puzzle.