MK gets into the issue of burnout and how individual campaigns can determine one's outlook on the IWW and the prospects for class war in general.
Have you ever woken up and the first thing that happens determines your mood for the entire day?
There’s a phenomenon among IWW organizers that some of my friends call the “How’s The Campaign Going” syndrome. When a fellow worker calls and asks about the campaign you are organizing you take stock of the situation and give a report. Sometimes you can’t wait for this kind of phone call, since it’s an excuse to impress other organizers with the great work going on in your branch or in your industry. Other times you use the opportunity to discuss ways the union has failed your expectations.
My theory is that the margin between a “good” organizing situation and a “bad” organizing situation is smaller than we often think. We must recognize our answer to the question “How’s the campaign going?” is always subjective. We usually subconsciously answer a different question: “What are you doing right now?” To put this another way, when an organizer tries to see what the class war looks like, it’s like a soldier looking over a trench. You might see your company charging forward or you might see them gunned down and retreating, but neither image tells the whole story of the state of the battle.
In real world terms, I believe the less active I am in the union, the less active I perceive the IWW to be. The more I wade into factional email battles, the more I imagine the IWW to be plunging to its death under factional wars. If I feel demoralized— an emotion that could be affected by any number of things in my life—the more likely I will characterize the state of the IWW as grim. Conversely, if I’m excited for my own organizing, the workers’ revolution seems inevitable. When are my evaluations of our efforts truly “correct”?
I think every organizer should try to be conscious of the risk of burn out. Some confuse personal burnout with lack of organizational progress. So stay in touch with someone who is excited, someone who’s on a peak while you’re in a valley. If you don’t know someone excited about their own organizing, take a moment to seek someone out. Keep negative thoughts to yourself—a bad mood can be contagious. Everyone needs to vent, but persistent negativity does the organization a disservice. If you’re causing people to reassess their own level of activity for the worse, who are you helping? If you buy my “How’s The Campaign Going?” theory, then be aware when it hits someone else close to you. If it feels frustrating to hear about how bummed out someone else is about the campaign, remember the two of you are looking at the same thing, just interpreting it differently. Don’t argue; help them work through it.
The path to cooperative commonwealth isn’t a straight line and it isn’t free of debris. In the work we do here in the IWW, instead of two steps forward and one step back, it usually feels like ten steps forward and nine steps back. Don’t forget that the math gives the same result though, and don’t scare yourself away from the union. We’ll get there.
Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2011)