More and Better Organizers: Advice for Revolutionary Workers (Review of ‘Weakening the Dam’)

Weakening the Dam
Weakening the Dam

A quick review of impressions and the content of the pamphlet on organizing skills and strategy from the Twin Cities IWW.

Submitted by klas batalo on November 14, 2012

So I just got my hands on a physical copy of “Weakening the Dam” by the Twin Cities IWW from Zabalaza Books. I originally skimmed various online versions of the pamphlet a few years ago, but I would highly recommend having it in your hands to keep notes, or pass off to other fellow workers.

The main reason for this pamphlet is explained in it’s introduction, if we are going to build a revolutionary union movement we need more and better organizers. The pamphlet mostly consists of articles and advice that can be found in the Industrial Worker’s For Workers’ Power column. The whole thing reads like a greatest hits of that column, which is especially useful for us workers who haven’t always kept up on our dues enough to always get the IW or the General Organizing Bulletin sent to us. More articles can be found at:

The pamphlet starts by providing some context to the contents by recounting some organizing stories from a few fellow workers and campaigns from years past. In particular a story from UPS workers and their experience reminiscing about how good it felt to fight back against the bosses when a newbie continued to get harassed for being militant about work pace like the rest of their fellow workers. Also included is a story about bike messengers who were celebrating an anniversary of a work action where they shut off their two-way radios to pressure the bosses into accepting their demands. A year later many have been fired, but none of them would have changed a thing, the experience of collective action being remembered as “life changing.” In this section an argument is made that action precedes consciousness, and that often workers have to experience struggle in order to create ruptures with the type of resignation that comes with day to day drain of class struggle at work. I agree with this analysis and am glad to see fellow workers advocating this within the union. Struggle changes everything.

The next few stories and reflections are on how to take baby steps in your workplace organizing without losing confidence or trying to bite more off than you can chew. The section “Emotional Pressure and Organization Building” goes into how if you properly map out the situation at the workplace it often can just take a little bit of emotional pressure via collective action against lower management to change things for the better on the shop floor and gain the confidence of your fellow workers building committee organization. A corollary to this is the advice of “Stick to the Script!” When we decide to collectively confront our bosses using direct action tactics like a march on the boss, it is advisable to make a plan and to map out what you think the boss will say beforehand. We are often used to taking orders and are taught to be afraid of the boss. Sticking to a script and remembering to insist that it isn’t about whatever the boss brings up, but that you have these demands and that is what you are there to talk about is how you can keep the confidence to put the pressure on, and win.

Most of the rest of the pamphlet is about how to bring people into the union and develop them. A few simple phrases are used to help us as workplace organizers to remember how to do this on regular basis. They are: “Know the Union, Hear the Union, See the Union” and “Replace Yourself” easy refrains not hard to forget, right? Knowing the Union is where we are all at now. You are reading this on a site of interest to IWW members. You know the union, you agree with it’s politics, or have had the union change your life. Hearing the Union are those who are sympathetic to the union and think it is a good idea but maybe need to be given a little more confidence that it is a legitimate effort but once that happens will start coming to meetings and be active. Seeing the union is where most workers are at and they are going to have to see the union in action benefiting everyone in the workplace in order to get off the fence and take a side. Replacing yourself is the act of replicating your skills and sharing your knowledge with other fellow workers so none of us become specialists and we decentralize our working class power. There is a list of various ways you can do this and I suggest that every Wobbly read this section if just because most of these suggestions are very helpful in counteracting your IWW GMB or IUB organizing from becoming an ‘Ol boys club.’

The rest of the pamphlet is a collection of texts on setting short, medium, and long term goals, strategy, and tactics in a campaign. There are also very helpful checklists for recruiting members to your workplace organizing committee as well as new members to your local GMB. It ends with one of the most helpful guides which I think could be of great help to new wobblies organizing which is a sample timeline for a non-contractual direct unionist campaign. Overall “Weakening the Dam” is a great companion to the organizing skills wobblies and supporters can learn in the IWW’s Organizing Training 101. I recommend every IWW member and workplace organizer take it’s advice to heart.

Further Reading:

A Rebel Workers’ Organizing Handbook

Direct Unionism: A Discussion Paper