Of Sweatshops & Starbucks: Will Dual Unionism Win the Labor Movement?

This is the final installment in a four-part series analyzing the Industrial Workers of the World as the failure of dual unionism in the American revolutionary left. This installment focuses on the potentials of a new approach to unions based on reforming and democratizing established unions from within rather than founding competing unions.

Will Dual Unionism Win the Labor Movement?

With these critiques, my goal is not to push the IWW to reorganize itself in the ways that I think are best, nor is it to encourage revolutionaries to establish yet another dual union in opposition to the IWW. My actual conclusion is much to the opposite: no matter how the IWW organizes itself internally, it will always be at such a striking disadvantage to established unions that its ability to function as an actual union is effectively compromised, and stands virtually no chance in competitions with established unions.

It is true that creating a dual union is much easier than entering rival unions. By creating a dual union, we create a sandbox, a microcosm, of everything we think a union should be. The IWW is everything we wish AFL-CIO would be, without having to do any of the legwork of actually winning over rank-and-file workers to class-conscious militancy. Instead, we can take pride in the ideological correctness of our union: unlike the class-collaborators of AFL-CIO, our union is doing unionism right, even if we have no influence over working conditions in any employer’s operations, let alone an entire industry, let alone any influence in the larger labor movement. But forget any of that: after all, the IWW’s ideological commitments make it far more relevant to the working class than AFL-CIO will ever be.

Indeed, there is an extremely sectarian perspective of rival unions promoted by the IWW. My membership in the IWW was also my first experience with the labor movement in general. It taught me that all unions which are not the IWW are equally useless to the working class. There is virtually no difference between SEIU and NUHW, UNITE and HERE, or UE and the Teamsters because, after all, none of them are the IWW!1 The only good a revolutionary can do within these unions, I was told, is recruit their members to the IWW – and essentially, recruit their members as if they weren’t members of another union already. You do this by acting as if their union’s leadership and collective bargaining agreement don’t exist, creating a climate of opposition to the incumbent union, and using this to build allegiance to the IWW.

Going from the argument that all “business unions” are basically company-run unions, it is hard to explain how these unions often evoke enthusiastic support and loyalty from their members – unless of course you use the tired fatalistic argument that these workers have simply been deceived by a vampiristic union leadership, and that they are only loyal to these unions because they have not experienced a revolutionary union like the IWW yet. Or, as the authors of Black Flame articulated it:

The notion that the established unions could not evolve, and that the IWW alone was a real union and would inevitably replace the other ones [...] was a caricature of other unions and ignored the fact that established unions retained the loyalties of existing members, who were not prepared to throw in their lot with an entirely new union: such obstacles to replacing existing unions were simply ignored by the IWW. Workers generally preferred to join established and proven unions, and the fact that existing ones were compelled to open their ranks to new categories of workers [as we will see with fast food workers in the next section of this piece] and reform their policies showed both their ability to change as well as their lasting appeal.2

The IWW of old was unable to challenge the AFL on its own turf, and as such it was relegated to organizing those workers which the AFL had no interest in organizing: namely unskilled industrial workers and migrant laborers. As such, for many workers in the IWW’s jurisdiction, they did not join the IWW because it was the best union, but because it was the only one. They had no choice between unions, only a choice between the IWW and no union.

To an astounding degree, this is the same pattern we are seeing today. The modern IWW would be indisputably unable to challenge AFL-CIO in its own industries. We may say these industries are primarily transportation, healthcare, and education; although in basically all professional, skilled and semi-skilled jobs does AFL-CIO have the numerical and organizational advantage. Therefore, the IWW is relegated to organizing the one sliver of the workforce that AFL-CIO will not organize at this point: fast food service. For about ten years, the IWW has enjoyed no competition within this jurisdiction, and even so it has gained no ground. Unlike in 1905, it would be hard to say that “fast food workers are not joining the IWW because it’s the best union, but rather because it’s the only union,” because, well, fast food workers really aren’t joining the IWW at all.

AFL-CIO’s attitude towards these jobs is slowly shifting. It can no longer simply ignore these jobs, as they comprise an ever-greater share of the workforce. Though AFL-CIO has begun cautiously probing the industry with its recent Fight for 15 campaign to gauge militancy and study the workforce, it is not yet willing to represent fast food workers on the shopfloor. However, it would seem likely that within the next five or ten years, UNITE-HERE will begin to enter these shops.

Even if the IWW has gained a minor presence in the industry by the time UNITE-HERE enters the scene3, UNITE-HERE will most likely drive the IWW from the industry with ease.

* * *

From its foundation to its most recent conventions, the IWW has avoided the question of boring from within with the simple excuse that “established unions are too big to reform.” If these unions are too big for a militant minority to reform internally, how is it that they’re not too big for a militant minority to drive out of existence externally by creating a dual union?

Dual unions are burdened by having to perform the contradictory roles of a “pure-and-simple” labor union and a revolutionary propaganda organization. They must not only bring organization to unorganized workers, but do so in a way which brings the workers in alignment the dual union’s syndicalist ideals. This can either lead to the union not growing at all (or growing simply as a propaganda organization, like with the IWW), or to the union’s syndicalist program being diluted by the non-syndicalist workers. Malatesta remarked similarly:

It is while [dual unions] are weak and impotent that they are faithful to their program – while, that is, they remain propaganda groups set up and run by a few zealous and committed men, rather than organizations ready for effective action. Later, as they manage to attract the masses and acquire the strength to claim and impose improvements, the original program becomes an empty formula to which no one pays any more attention.4, 5

Militants who organize themselves as minorities within established unions simply do not face this dilemma. The militant minority, since its locus is within already-organized union, can focus exclusively on winning workers over to syndicalism. The militant minority, operating as a militant core within a larger union, is not challenged by workers who join their group only for “bread-and-butter” interests.

1. This is a historical trend with the IWW: “As an example, [...] the Western Federation of Miners had been unreservedly praised when affiliated to the IWW and then, following its withdrawal, was suddenly characterized as a fake union that should be ‘wiped out of existence’ – even though the union had not changed in any real way.” Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism & Syndicalism. Volume I: Counter-Power, pg. 225. Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der Walt, 2009.

2. Ibid.pgs. 225-6. Emphasis mine

3. Which, as I labored to demonstrate in the last piece in this series, is unrealistic. Assuming the IWW has gained a foothold in fast food by the time UNITE-HERE challenges it is closer to spread betting than honest historical analysis.

4. The Anarchist Revolution: Polemical Articles, 1924-1931, pg. 25. Errico Malatesta, 1995.

5. For a historical precedent to the latter claim, see the IWW’s Industrial Union #440 in Cleveland. Composed of about 1,500 workers in metal factories, the workers abandoned the IWW for the CIO in 1950 over the IWW’s refusal to sign the anti-Communist Taft-Hartley affidavit.

Comments

888
Sep 4 2014 21:36

The concept of working within the existing unions is not remotely new, and there are so many examples of its failure that they make even the most old fashioned and unimaginative application of anarchosyndicalist methods look very promising in comparison.

klas batalo
Sep 5 2014 05:05

Its really disingenuous to make it out as if the IWW's dual union strategy is about raiding all other unions. The IWW has a history of solidarity with all workers' struggles, even if we may have our critiques. Where IWW militants have taken successful militant minority action as dual carders it has been in the form of creating rank and file committees as militants of those unions, basically doing internal organizing where negligent business unions won't or can't empower their rank and file to be more engaged.

kevin s.
Sep 6 2014 16:56

I've still only skimmed this series, interesting topic and some points I agree with, although I think there's a lot of exaggerated, cartoonish representations of IWW politics.

I'd say this for example-

Quote:
Militants who organize themselves as minorities within established unions simply do not face this dilemma. The militant minority, since its locus is within already-organized union, can focus exclusively on winning workers over to syndicalism. The militant minority, operating as a militant core within a larger union, is not challenged by workers who join their group only for “bread-and-butter” interests.

... is by and large how most IWWs tend to operate in "dual card" (non-IWW, union shop) settings, pretty much like klas batalo explained. And yet the article makes it sounds as if IWWs generally are more interested in poaching or raiding membership from other unions-- which frankly, is an almost non-existent practice in the IWW, due to two factors. One being IWWs generally oppose "contractualism" and the whole goal of raiding is to win union representation in a rival union workplace. The other being, even among pro-contract wobblies, raiding is widely viewed as kind of a "sin" and unsolidarian as it is within the labor left as a whole. I disagree with that view but the point is, very few wobs would ever (whether pro- or anti-contract) be in favor of a strategy of membership poaching.

Although dual card IWWs are sometimes of accused of poaching on other unions, actually I've only ever heard of business unions raiding the IWW during the "new" IWW period. I've heard of the "old" IWW engaging in turf wars, although I don't much about the extent of it.

About this-

Quote:
Though AFL-CIO has begun cautiously probing the industry with its recent Fight for 15 campaign to gauge militancy and study the workforce, it is not yet willing to represent fast food workers on the shopfloor. However, it would seem likely that within the next five or ten years, UNITE-HERE will begin to enter these shops.

Even if the IWW has gained a minor presence in the industry by the time UNITE-HERE enters the scene3, UNITE-HERE will most likely drive the IWW from the industry with ease.

While I agree the IWW probly can't compete with the mainstream unions even in fast food, the author has their details confused. Fight For 15 is driven by SEIU, which is not affiliated to the AFL-CIO. and is on bad terms with UNITE HERE. And while UNITE HERE would have every reason to organize in fast food, SEIU is currently the biggest "threat" to the IWW in fast food. I'd be surprised if SEIU ceded fast food to another union easily.

Last thing, this-

Quote:
The IWW of old was unable to challenge the AFL on its own turf

That's not entirely true. The IWW held it's own for years in longshore, and to a less extent competed in the textiles and garment industry. Probably others I don't know about but those are the examples I'm aware of IWW effectively competed with the bigger trade unions. I'd argue in the longshoremen case it's in part because they were multiracial union (rare at that time) and partly because they successfully fought for better wages and working conditions. The same reasons for IWW successes in lumber and agriculture.

syndicalist
Sep 6 2014 18:55

Cartoonish representations. .... Mr Block?

syndicalistcat
Sep 11 2014 00:18

when the IWW was formed, it was created by radical breakaways from AFL to some extent, such as Western Federation of Miners & Brewery Workers. In 1908 the Western Federation of Miners split. The more radical leadership, which included Haywood & St John, went with IWW which continued to have a large Metal Mine Workers Union into the early '20s. The more conciliatory leaders like Moyers got nowhere with their "partnership" unionism. They formed the AFL Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers. They were destroyed by Anaconda in Butte in 1914. By 1918 there were over 5,000 IWW members in Butte & none in Mine Mill & Smelter workers. Very often IWW miners would dual card in Mine & Mill, as in Arizona in 1917 or in Butte in '20s. The same was true in maritime. After losing a disastrous strike in 1921, the AFL sailors' union was smaller than the MTWIU. in early '30s the TUUL's (dual union) MWIU & IWW MTWIU were a majority of union members on ships...larger than AFL sailor's union. After CP went down CIO route they were able to control east coast maritime union for awhile, which came out of TUUL union, and on west coast the MTWIU was a dual card pressure group in AFL sailor's union. in late '30s due to direct action campaign on ships, pushed by IWW, AFL expelled SUP for "IWW domination".

After IWW formed Forestry & Lumber workers union, AFL chartered an AFL union to compete with them....it got nowhere. It was destroyed in the south in the same manner as the IWW union. It was the CIO, not AFL, that eventually created a new union in forestry, the Woodworkers, which included IWW veterans.

In agriculture there's still no dominant union. Change in transport & work org in late '20s pushed IWW out of agriculture. but it was another dual union that made headway in early '30s, the CP's Cannery & Agricultural Workers Industrial Union, which organized all the big agriculture strikes in early '30s, and won major wage gains...but their org was destroyed by police state environment in rural areas of California...same as happened to IWW in early '20s.

In the 1933-34 worker insurgency in USA, workers at first jumped on AFL bandwagon but were sold out & learned not to trust AFL bureaucracy & organizers. by 1934 there were about 350,000 workers in independent unions under socialist leadership, outside the AFL.

SEIU has been engaging in a kind of PR game with Fight for 15 in fast food, tho they have citywide organizing committees. The "strikes" have generally involved few workers, but this may be changing. To give them credit, it's raising the expectations & interest of fast food workers. Whether these workers can so easily be enrolled into SEIU...time will tell.

Mr. Huxley
Sep 16 2014 14:27

While there are trends within the IWW that I think you correctly analyse, and I certainly have no problem with radical-reform campaigns within "traditional" labor unions, I think you're also throwing the baby out with the bath water, too.

There are certainly differences between the UAW and the Teamsters, say. There are even differences between locals within a single union [hell -- within different *facilities* under the same contract] -- just as there are differences between different GMB's within the IWW, for that matter.

And I think that the IWW needs to rethink its position on staffing. I don't think contract campaigns are the end-all be-all, but the bogeyman AFL-CIO and business unionism and anti-staffing don't help the labor movement or the IWW. For all our disagreements, the enemy should still be the boss, not the AFL-CIO.

All that I grant.

What I disagree with is demonizing the IWW. Use your own principals with which you've come to conclude that the classic unions are worth fighting for -- I agree with that sentiment -- and apply them to the IWW.

I'd love to have reasonable labor radicals fighting with me in the IWW. We need to be serious about the business-end of the labor stick, and relax a bit on the ideological purity. Else, it will always be a lonely radical on a soapbox organization.

boozemonarchy
Sep 16 2014 20:31
Quote:

. . .I'd love to have reasonable labor radicals fighting with me in the IWW. We need to be serious about the business-end of the labor stick, and relax a bit on the ideological purity. Else, it will always be a lonely radical on a soapbox organization.

I have to take issue with boiling down the wariness/opposition of paid staffers to a simplified ideological purity thing. I'm in the wary camp, and my wariness is rooted in practical concerns rather than obsessing over my circle-a cred. I think professional organizers, business agents and such (not necessarily someone doing the books, a publication or something) do not in any way help increase class confidence (really my only serious goal atm). I think that they end up being a liability, not to the revolutionaryness of the union, but to the actual ability of the workers in it to exert their natural strength at the point of production.

Chilli Sauce
Sep 16 2014 22:13

So, having seen these conversations go round and round, I think the term "ideological purity" should be the Godwin's Law of IWW discussions.

Quote:
We need to be serious about the business-end of the labor stick, and relax a bit on the ideological purity. Else, it will always be a lonely radical on a soapbox organization.

Also, I got to be honest here, when the IWW's gone with the business end of the stick (and it's been tried time and again), it hasn't come out great - not in terms of membership numbers, workplace organisation, and certainly not in terms of principles.

Mr. Huxley
Sep 17 2014 17:25
bozemananarchy wrote:
Quote:

. . .I'd love to have reasonable labor radicals fighting with me in the IWW. We need to be serious about the business-end of the labor stick, and relax a bit on the ideological purity. Else, it will always be a lonely radical on a soapbox organization.

I have to take issue with boiling down the wariness/opposition of paid staffers to a simplified ideological purity thing. I'm in the wary camp, and my wariness is rooted in practical concerns rather than obsessing over my circle-a cred. I think professional organizers, business agents and such (not necessarily someone doing the books, a publication or something) do not in any way help increase class confidence (really my only serious goal atm). I think that they end up being a liability, not to the revolutionaryness of the union, but to the actual ability of the workers in it to exert their natural strength at the point of production.

Why do you think that?

I'd say that staff can have that effect. Undoubtedly. I've seen it.

But I'd also say that not having staff can have that effect -- because, eventually, union work becomes a full time job. And folk just don't have the energy to hold down two full time jobs until the day they retire.

Mr. Huxley
Sep 17 2014 17:30
Quote:
Also, I got to be honest here, when the IWW's gone with the business end of the stick (and it's been tried time and again), it hasn't come out great - not in terms of membership numbers, workplace organisation, and certainly not in terms of principles.

By "business end" I do not mean -- necessarily -- filing with the NLRB.

I just mean in terms of perspective -- what counts as a victory? What should we be trying to do?

That sort of thing.

What counts as a victory, IMO, is organizing workers. By "organizing workers" I mean having them join the union and having them pay dues on a regular basis (not for one month). That's the lowest level of participation. You can get people to do direct actions together without that element of being organized, by all means. But it's not the same sort of victory.

Having a worker sees themselves as a worker, and be willing to join a worker's organization on that basis, though -- that's a victory.

And for all that's beautiful and grand in the IWW -- and for all the many concrete victories that they've accomplished by using new tactics which are needed for the labor movement -- I'd still say there's this element within the org which is worthwhile to dampen in favor of seeing the value of bread-and-butter issues.

They're interlinked, in the end, after all.

Chilli Sauce
Sep 17 2014 21:05
Quote:
But I'd also say that not having staff can have that effect -- because, eventually, union work becomes a full time job. And folk just don't have the energy to hold down two full time jobs until the day they retire.

Thing is, though, that depends how you define union, how you define union work, and the goals of the union.

So, for example,

Quote:
By "organizing workers" I mean having them join the union and having them pay dues on a regular basis (not for one month). That's the lowest level of participation.

I think I'd basically disagree with that almost 100%. Would I rather have a co-worker who pays dues or comes to a organising meeting? Would I rather have a co-worker who pays but crosses a picket line or who doesn't pay dues but doesn't cross a picket line?

Signing people up, for me, is always secondary to active involvement in struggle. Paying dues is useful if it aids that end. If it doesn't, well, I'm not gonna worry too much about it.

Mr. Huxley
Sep 17 2014 23:01

Signing people up is active involvement in struggle, though. That's what I'm talking about. It doesn't matter how you define the union, how you define union work, and the goals of the union. Dues are important. Members that pay dues, and only pay dues, are important.

If you can get people to do more, then great. If they feel suspicious about dues and just want to do union activity, then sure. But that's a blue-moon situation. More or less, most people are comfortable paying union dues before they're comfortable doing anything else.

I agree that it can't stop there. But that's what I mean by saying that these goals aren't either/or. They're not in conflict. And it's that particular cultural strand that should be addressed because it would help the IWW make more gains.

boozemonarchy
Sep 18 2014 00:18
Mr. Huxley wrote:
Why do you think that?

I'd say that staff can have that effect. Undoubtedly. I've seen it.

But I'd also say that not having staff can have that effect -- because, eventually, union work becomes a full time job. And folk just don't have the energy to hold down two full time jobs until the day they retire.

Because of the countless examples of unions organized this way that become a self-serving, class-collaborating monster ceaselessly selling out the rank and file to assure its continued existence. Its MO becomes maintenance/growth of the organization that writes their checks rather than being a vehicle of working-class militancy.

I know Steven already did this, but I really do feel Solidarity hit the ball out of the park here. . .

Solidarity wrote:
Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.
Mr. Huxley
Sep 18 2014 00:28

I don't see these things in conflict-- having staff does not make it so we can't engage in meaningful action as defined by Solidarity. Nor does recognizing that membership is important, and even focusing on membership. If you act such that you increase confidence, autonomy, initiative, participation, solidarity, equalitarian tendencies and self-activity of the masses then you're acting well -- and you can act well regardless of the source of your paycheck.

No?

And what of the many unions which employ staff, but aren't corrupt? What do you make of these?

The position of staff is not an executive position. It's important that there's a distinction between decision-making power and staff within a union. Staff that don't recognize the difference between leadership and staff will blend those interests inappropriately. And just because organizations become corrupt that's not a reason to drop out -- that's a reason to stay involved, I'd say. Corruption is not a necessary feature of the social system.

You can't get lost in the numbers, by all means. But there's an advantage to it, too -- it makes it so you can't make too many excuses for yourself. It forces you to adapt. If the people believe in what you're doing, eventually, they'll join. And it's their interests that are important -- not the party line. By building working people up to fight for their own interests -- as defined by them -- you're doing exactly what Solidarity pointed to as good, revolutionary activity.

But that takes some serious work. Very serious work -- as evidenced by the good organizers that have come out of and are still in the IWW.

Don't they deserve to, eventually, get paid for what they do?

akai
Sep 18 2014 05:00

For me this is really a sad trend towards professionalization. I really wonder if this is a popular position or marginal one in the IWW. I know that this has been a topic from time to time. I also know that there has been some overlap between the IWW and professionalized operations such as Brandworkers. Hope that in the end the union doesn't go that way because I think despite what people might be arguing (that it doesn't lead to anything bad), I am convinced such things to do encourage the growth of rank and file activism, rotation of duties, etc. - all things which I personally think are the main point.

OliverTwister
Sep 18 2014 12:24
akai wrote:
For me this is really a sad trend towards professionalization. I really wonder if this is a popular position or marginal one in the IWW. I know that this has been a topic from time to time. I also know that there has been some overlap between the IWW and professionalized operations such as Brandworkers. Hope that in the end the union doesn't go that way because I think despite what people might be arguing (that it doesn't lead to anything bad), I am convinced such things to do encourage the growth of rank and file activism, rotation of duties, etc. - all things which I personally think are the main point.

The union voted in 2012 to place a strict ban on paid organizing staff.

Mr. Huxley
Sep 18 2014 13:14
akai wrote:
For me this is really a sad trend towards professionalization. I really wonder if this is a popular position or marginal one in the IWW. I know that this has been a topic from time to time. I also know that there has been some overlap between the IWW and professionalized operations such as Brandworkers. Hope that in the end the union doesn't go that way because I think despite what people might be arguing (that it doesn't lead to anything bad), I am convinced such things to do encourage the growth of rank and file activism, rotation of duties, etc. - all things which I personally think are the main point.

It's not a trend. Mine is a minority opinion.

Though I'd note again -- having staff does not discourage the growth of rank and file activism, the rotation of duties, etc. In fact, a good staff member *ensures* that more people who would not otherwise get involved, get involved, stops people who tend to always pick up duties for themselves so that other people have an opportunity to do union stuff, and trains people to take their place, and has people take their place.

The problem isn't having staff. In mainstream unions, leadership corruption comes about because there are paid elected positions which are also not very accountable to their membership [well, that, and direct mob activity -- thanks Teamsters! Hahah]. But the IWW structure doesn't have elected positions in this sense, and in the end, that can be avoided by simply not paying people in elected office.

Thus separating decision-making power from staff. [I do encourage staff to not think of themselves as part of the union -- it's not their union, it's the workers. They can form their own union, etc.]

But if you're going to get large, then eventually staff is just an inevitability. It's unrealistic to expect people to hold the equivalent of two full time jobs all the way until they retire. People hardly have the energy to hold one full time job all the way down the line, these days -- especially the job of organizer, which is seriously stressful work.

gram negative
Sep 18 2014 13:19
Mr. Huxley wrote:
If you can get people to do more, then great. If they feel suspicious about dues and just want to do union activity, then sure. But that's a blue-moon situation. More or less, most people are comfortable paying union dues before they're comfortable doing anything else

I completely disagree; in my experience, people are much more skeptical of paying dues before being part of workplace struggle. Sure, signing up and paying dues are measures of committment, but I think that organizing activities like marches on the boss and having conversations with coworkers are much better barometers of committment as well as more useful for organizing. In an IWW organizing drive that I am involved with (as an outside organizer), asking workers to sign up and pay dues backfired completely. The organizing has become more successful now that we've dropped trying to sign people up and pay dues. Why should we ask people to pay dues before we have gained their trust, and before they have invested at all in organizing their workplace?

Mr. Huxley
Sep 18 2014 13:23

I suppose what resonates most with me in this series isn't that we should reject the IWW, as I noted to the writer. Or even all the facts upon which the case is based, because I know counter-examples and I know that there's some exageration here to make the case cleaner. But, all the same, the demonization of the labor movement as a whole within the IWW is tiresome -- precisely because, though there are mainstream unions to which it certainly applies, there are also mainstream unions to which it doesn't apply. And those unions are some of the few worker's spaces within the United States today, they're worker run, and they're fighting for their members the best that they can -- not to say they aren't making mistakes, but to then say that these are *the same* as the boss isn't quite accurate.

Just as in the IWW, people have suffered and died and continue to fight within these mainstream unions. And while there are differences of opinion, that doesn't mean that they're the enemy. There's a difference between the folk you invite to your planning meeting and the folk who are your friends. The AFL-CIO isn't necessarily even a friend -- I know that's the case, too, with the history and everything -- but there are workers in unions who are supporting the labor movement, and those unions are not necessarily corrupt unions.

And then, the folk who I hear this type of language from, more often than not, are not the folk who are actively engaged in organizing labor. So you kinda wonder -- whose selling out the working class, here?

It just doesn't seem terribly helpful to treat mainstream unions, which are workers institutions, and aren't all corrupt, as *the same* as the boss -- which is clearly the common enemy, even if there are disagreements on strategy and tactics and goals.

And, on top of that, just because there are disagreements, doesn't mean there isn't stuff you can't learn from them. It's not like everything that comes out of the AFL-CIO is a necessary evil, or something. They have a point, to a point -- and even though they are in decline, in many ways, they still have more members than the IWW. So, what's up with that? That's a very real issue. More members = more power. So, why isn't that important, to some people? Why is advocating for membership and dues something contentious within the union, at all? That shouldn't be contentious. It will help with our aims and goals.

Mr. Huxley
Sep 18 2014 13:30
gram negative wrote:
Mr. Huxley wrote:
If you can get people to do more, then great. If they feel suspicious about dues and just want to do union activity, then sure. But that's a blue-moon situation. More or less, most people are comfortable paying union dues before they're comfortable doing anything else

I completely disagree; in my experience, people are much more skeptical of paying dues before being part of workplace struggle. Sure, signing up and paying dues are measures of committment, but I think that organizing activities like marches on the boss and having conversations with coworkers are much better barometers of committment as well as more useful for organizing. In an IWW organizing drive that I am involved with (as an outside organizer), asking workers to sign up and pay dues backfired completely. The organizing has become more successful now that we've dropped trying to sign people up and pay dues. Why should we ask people to pay dues before we have gained their trust, and before they have invested at all in organizing their workplace?

I'm guessing you're disagreeing with the "blue-moon situation" line, and that's how I'm responding here.

The reason why is two-fold.

The dues discussion is a low-risk way of navigating that trust-building. Rather than building trust and a relationship while simultaneously trying to fight a boss, you're just talking about your relationship with one another -- and it makes it an explicitly public relationship, not a friendship, not a club, etc. It sets the terms of the relationship clearly, and lets you work through the anxieties which every worker who hasn't done union stuff has -- such as not trusting you with their money, not thinking you can do anything anyways, "I'm just not a union person", "I have to talk to my wife", "I have kids...", etc.

It's a way of building a long term organization, because all those fears are anxieties are still there even if you're doing concerted activity together -- which can also backfire, and if they aren't properly prepped, then that backfire will just prove that you can't do anything anyways.

Number two: there's a difference between doing concerted activity as a collection of individuals, and as an organized group of workers. It's not like workers have worker-identity put into them. They're just within a social system that exploits them. That's the only common bond. But if you're going to organize the worker, you need to get them to a point where they recognize their membership in a class, and their membership within an organization. Talking about dues is the easiest and low-risk way of doing that -- and, truth be told, most workers -- in the end -- are more comfortable paying dues than doing direct action. They may be up for direct action when things are rough, or if there's an immediate goal, etc., but it's the lowest level activity that actually contributes to the cause.

Not everyone, mind. I'm just saying generically speaking -- especially if you're trying to organize a workplace that is not a hot shop.

gram negative
Sep 18 2014 14:08

Honestly, I think there are two related issues with your wish to push signing up and dues payment. We shouldn't be looking for low pressure ways to talk about the union - the problem is that our coworkers are rationally afraid to stand up because of the consequences. Not confronting those fears does a disservice to them and the organizing. The second issue is that creating paper members does little for the union; the spectrum of activities that people can take part in is not just strike/pay dues, but includes coming to meetings, visiting coworkers, leafletting, and on and on.

I am not against paying dues in any way, I just think that the emphasis on signing people at the beginning of a campaign is misplaced. This may also be biased that all of my organizing has taken place in historically non-union industries.

Mr. Huxley
Sep 18 2014 14:17
gram negative wrote:
Honestly, I think there are two related issues with your wish to push signing up and dues payment. We shouldn't be looking for low pressure ways to talk about the union - the problem is that our coworkers are rationally afraid to stand up because of the consequences. Not confronting those fears does a disservice to them and the organizing.

I wasn't clear before.

The conversation on dues is what allows you to address those rational fears. It's not a trick. It's low-risk, in the sense that you're not jeopardizing their job. And it allows them to accept the possible consequences of being organized without, simultaneously, having to deal with a boss.

Quote:
The second issue is that creating paper members does little for the union; the spectrum of activities that people can take part in is not just strike/pay dues, but includes coming to meetings, visiting coworkers, leafletting, and on and on.

Sure. And, as I said before, if you can get someone to do more then that's awesome. That moves the union forward. But the facts are, many workers aren't willing to do more -- and having resources to hold meetings [have a union hall/rent a space/buy pizza], visit coworkers [taxis/busses/gasoline], print leaflets, and so on, is participating in the struggle.

But it's still pushing the union forward to have members paying dues. That's a real action.

Quote:
I am not against paying dues in any way, I just think that the emphasis on signing people at the beginning of a campaign is misplaced. This may also be biased that all of my organizing has taken place in historically non-union industries.

Well, I'm certainly biased, too -- there's no getting around bias. Haha. I wouldn't say anyone is *objective* in this dispute. grin

I've done both. But, it's whatever. I'm not interested in pulling cred. I think that the tactics and strategy speaks for themselves, when you try them. And that's also why I qualify -- I mean this in a general sense, not a formulaic sense. There are times when you have to do other stuff, and sometimes it can work. But dues actually help us, for realz. And so does having members who are part of something.

syndicalist
Sep 18 2014 14:51

Still haven't heard from the author after all this wheel spinning. Sez something, indeed

akai
Sep 18 2014 15:06

Hi. About paid staff again, it is a question of union model. I should say that I am a very happily unpaid person with some mandate, which means some work. But if there was much more work, I would not insist on a salary - I would first insist that some people help out. Because it is total shit to expect one person to work full time when tasks can be shared and spread out. It also encourages more people to feel responsible and, when time comes to rotate duties, at least some other people will have experience in things.

May I say I am quite glad yours is a minority position. smile No offence to you intended, just cannot agree with you.

Just a clarification, I know in the past the Secretary of IWW (or whatever you call it) was paid and could pay staff. So is that abolished now?

fingers malone
Sep 18 2014 15:19
Mr. Huxley wrote:

But if you're going to get large, then eventually staff is just an inevitability. It's unrealistic to expect people to hold the equivalent of two full time jobs all the way until they retire. People hardly have the energy to hold one full time job all the way down the line, these days -- especially the job of organizer, which is seriously stressful work.

Mate, you know that in the UK pretty much all the base level work in the unions is done by rank and file members who are not paid, right? Some people receive facility time which is some hours off work.It's rare for unions to employ organisers. Admin staff, yes, and regional officials are paid, but the NEC for example of my union I think is mostly people who are still workers. And in my workplace the maximum facility time anyone gets is three hours a week.

I think our union density is nearly double what it is in the States so I woudn't say that the paid organiser model is an inevitability.

Mr. Huxley
Sep 18 2014 15:37
fingers malone wrote:
Mr. Huxley wrote:

But if you're going to get large, then eventually staff is just an inevitability. It's unrealistic to expect people to hold the equivalent of two full time jobs all the way until they retire. People hardly have the energy to hold one full time job all the way down the line, these days -- especially the job of organizer, which is seriously stressful work.

Mate, you know that in the UK pretty much all the base level work in the unions is done by rank and file members who are not paid, right? Some people receive facility time which is some hours off work.It's rare for unions to employ organisers. Admin staff, yes, and regional officials are paid, but the NEC for example of my union I think is mostly people who are still workers. And in my workplace the maximum facility time anyone gets is three hours a week.

I think our union density is nearly double what it is in the States so I woudn't say that the paid organiser model is an inevitability.

I don't know anything about the state of UK unions, but I know that unions work best when rank-and-filers take on the tasks of the union. I know about facility time, etc.

All that I'm on board with.

My only point of contention is this notion that organizing isn't a job, that it inevitably leads to corruption, and that it wouldn't help things -- not to mention the demonization of the labor movement as a whole. That's just silly. Organising is hard work, you can have a corrupt union without paid organisers, and having an organizer on staff does help things.

They have to be good at the job and know its parameters, but I'd, for one, would like it if the wobs hired an organizer. It would help in making the union stronger.

I'm stating things too strongly in saying "inevitability" -- but it certainly helps. You do have staff, yeah? I'd be surprised if the staff doesn't help in organising activities. Tho, you never know, every local is kind of its own beast in the end.

fingers malone
Sep 18 2014 15:46

No, we really don't. The local branch is responsible for a certain level of admin and we just have to do it ourselves. No one has any kind of paid position in the branch at all. You only get paid workers at the regional or national level of the union. There are paid regional officials and national officials, and there are a lot of paid workers who do admin and so on at that level, but we don't have staff in the way you use the word in the States. Keeping track of the membership lists and so on is the responsibility of one member of the union committee, but organising is everyone's responsibility.

Mr. Huxley
Sep 18 2014 15:57
fingers malone wrote:
No, we really don't. The local branch is responsible for a certain level of admin and we just have to do it ourselves. No one has any kind of paid position in the branch at all. You only get paid workers at the regional or national level of the union. There are paid regional officials and national officials, and there are a lot of paid workers who do admin and so on at that level, but we don't have staff in the way you use the word in the States. Keeping track of the membership lists and so on is the responsibility of one member of the union committee, but organising is everyone's responsibility.

Fair enough.

I don't disagree that organising is everyone's responsibility.

That's what kills me. I'd say that having an organiser on staff doesn't erase that responsibility of being a union member. It just makes the organising effort go more.

For instance, in our local, if we didn't have an organiser, the darn thing would fall apart -- it's just the way of things, here. I know this by looking at the history of the local. But, all the same, keeping the local together helps those workers, and gives the opportunity to develop workers into member-organizers. And, hopefully one day, staff.

Vs. doing the same thing, but without protection in a workplace without contract, history of union organizing, or even the expectation that you should be paid enough to be paid your bills, it's much better. So it's worth keeping the local going.

gram negative
Sep 18 2014 17:18

Have you spoken to union staffers in the US before? The staffers who work for the union at my workplace are overworked - most work 6 days a week, with 10 hour days common. Though the union is not a profit generating entity, it is still subject to economic pressures. A new shop with +1000 new members has just opened and instead of hiring new staff the union is instituting a speedup by reshuffling the shops staffers represent whilr adding no one new. In fact, this mainstream union wants to transition to unpaid staff, not simply for the organizing utility but for the economic benefit of unpaid work. The economic issues of having staff are just one problem, the other issue is the development of specialists skilled at organizing separate from the bulk of the membership. Having paid staff sets up the organizing to fall on their shoulders; the ideal should be for workers learning how to organize through doing it. I don't think organizing is neccessarily so complicated that an expert is always needed; organizing just requires practice.

Mr. Huxley
Sep 18 2014 16:13

Yeah, I have. What's your point? I know these facts. They don't address what I've said, though -- namely, that having a paid organizer doesn't mean that the membership shouldn't worry about organizing, that having paid staff doesn't mean that the union will become corrupt, and having paid organizers makes sense because it's hard work.

You just have to do it correctly. It's not like every union with paid organizing staff is a corrupt union. Yeah?

And, it makes sense to do it correctly, because it works better than just hoping that workers will figure it all out on their own. Training program or no.

The economic issue is easy to solve. Pay them a wage in accordance with the folk who make up the union. Work is about 40 hours a week, salaried. Use progressive discipline and eventually fire them if they don't work. [which is what I mean by "ideological purity", here -- that's the part that usually snags people]

Having paid organizing staff pushes the organizing efforts further, because you have someone dedicated to that important task, and gives someone time to help workers learn how to organize. There's a real skill to it -- and you can benefit from someone helping you.

I know there's a training program in the wobs -- a very admirable one at that -- but imagine being able to run that program more often. That's the sort of thing a paid organizer could do.