A review of “Weakening the dam”

A review of 'Weakening the Dam', a pamphlet put out by the Twin Cities IWW branch for the purpose of promoting the development of workplace organizers.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on November 29, 2011

What is one way to gain insight and clarity when organizing your workplace as a seasoned Wobbly? How does a total newbie find helpful stories, strategies, hints, and warnings about diving into organizing? What is the logical next step in learning what the union has to offer after you have “Thought It Over”? Many a worker in the Twin Cities have found a pamphlet put together by some Wobblies, “Weakening the Dam,” to be the answer to all three of these questions.

The introduction to this collection of organizing tales, resources, and introspection rightly points out that, besides the IWW’s organizer trainings, there are many, “resources that are not written down, but are in people’s heads.” This pamphlet is a step down the path to rectifying this mistake. Passing knowledge on to current and would-be organizers should take as many forms as possible, and writings should be updated frequently. Most of “Weakening the Dam” consists of material originally published in the “Workers’ Power” column that runs each month in the Industrial Worker.

The pamphlet serves many purposes and many audiences. It covers topics such as goals, strategy, and tactics for organizing while also going into a sample organizing campaign from day 1 to day 195. The sample campaign plays out a little like a diary and a little like one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I read when I was young.

The accessibility of “Weakening the Dam” also appeals to me. I have long been a fan of writers such as the late Howard Zinn, who wrote for the layperson. I do not mean that the text is written at an eighth-grade level, but that the ideas are simple and straightforward. People may debate certain aspects of the IWW through the years, but one thing most can agree on is that organizing has been, and must be done, by regular workers with regular vocabularies. This pamphlet keeps us on the shop floor with organizers.

Would I use it as a direct reference tool for organizing? Probably not. It plays more as a generator of ideas, a labor meditation guide of sorts. A fellow worker I know is currently organizing at her workplace. She was getting down because no one would join the union, and she saw this as a failure. Reading through the essay “Lasting Lesson's from the Class Struggle” gave her a new perspective on her work. She may have failed to get workers to join the IWW, but as the essay says, “through struggle we produce more than better or worse working conditions, resolved or unresolved grievances, and union or no union. We produce new kinds of people.” She reflected that her coworkers were changed people, sticking up for each other at work and seeing work in a different light. Maybe they will make the leap someday.

While generating ideas makes “Weakening the Dam ” valuable, it could go deeper into organizing issues that happen further into a campaign. A broader spectrum of dilemmas that happen during a campaign would make the pamphlet more relevant to all organizers. Also, while problems are usually more fun to read about, successes and proven techniques could be woven into more of the sections. The advantageous aspect of this pamphlet is that sections can be easily revised, culled, and added as needed.

Hopefully, “Weakening the Dam” will connect with new members by giving them a jargon-free, accessible path to organizing. It will recharge and redirect members currently battling in the trenches against that scourge of the boss. I hope many more publications like “Weakening the Dam” will be written, revised, and entered into the consciousness of our organization.

If you would like a copy of the pamphlet, contact the Twin Cities GMB via: http://www.iww.org/en/branches/US/MN/twincities.

Originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of the Industrial Worker