Debate on 'direct unionism'

Collection of letters, articles and responses mostly from the IWW's Industrial Worker around the 'Direct Unionism' discussion paper.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 2, 2011

Previous entries on this debate include:
-Direct Unionism: A Discussion Paper
-A response to 'Direct Unionism: A Discussion Paper' Parts 1 & 2
-A member of Black Orchid Collective's 'Response to “Direct Unionism: A Discussion Paper”'
-Counterpoint: Response To Juan Conatz’s Take On “Direct Unionism”

Comments

Chilli Sauce

12 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on December 2, 2011

Thanks for posting these up (Juan, I presume).

Ed

12 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Ed on December 2, 2011

Yeah, cheers.. I'm feeling a bit ill and just read it all. Really good stuff!

Inhousejoke

12 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Inhousejoke on December 2, 2011

Cool stuff, might be worth adding the original paper up there too?

http://libcom.org/library/direct-unionism-discussion-paper-09052011

Nate

12 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on December 7, 2011

Just wanted to say thanks to Juan for getting the initial ball rolling of conversation in print about the direct unionism discussion paper and Chili for pushing folk to write letters on this. Aside from the contents of the debate, I've been pleased to see back and forth about vision and values in the Industrial Worker like this.

klas batalo

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on May 26, 2016

so i always found trying to follow this debate was very hard because how this was formatted, so i'm not sure if i ever read all of these pieces even. so here they all are in order:

https://libcom.org/blog/response-direct-unionism-discussion-paper-part-1-2-15052011
https://libcom.org/blog/response-direct-unionism-discussion-paper-part-2-2-20052011
https://libcom.org/library/response-%E2%80%9Cdirect-unionism-discussion-paper%E2%80%9D
https://libcom.org/library/counterpoint-response-juan-conatz%E2%80%99s-take-%E2%80%9Cdirect-unionism%E2%80%9D
https://libcom.org/library/response-critique-%E2%80%9Cdirect-unionism%E2%80%9D
https://libcom.org/library/contracts-iww
https://libcom.org/library/debate-collective-bargaining-iww
https://libcom.org/library/letter-staughton-lynd-concerning-direct-unionism
https://libcom.org/library/direct-unionism-practice-undermining-service-industry-barriers-worker-solidarity
https://libcom.org/blog/developing-iww%E2%80%99s-direct-unionism-politics-07032013
https://libcom.org/library/direct-unionism

Juan Conatz

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on May 26, 2016

Hmm. Actually I'm pretty sure the way this is organized is all in order. I'll check later.

EDIT: yeah, Klas, the order that it is in is the correct one and based off when each article was published or posted. Your order is incorrect as it changes the order of Lynd's reply (doesn't really make a difference either way) and puts my final reply before John O'Reilly's, even though I refer to his.

klas batalo

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on May 27, 2016

Juan Conatz

Hmm. Actually I'm pretty sure the way this is organized is all in order. I'll check later.

EDIT: yeah, Klas, the order that it is in is the correct one and based off when each article was published or posted. Your order is incorrect as it changes the order of Lynd's reply (doesn't really make a difference either way) and puts my final reply before John O'Reilly's, even though I refer to his.

okay weird. i also think maybe not all the articles are actually linked. hmm. well good to know. :D

Juan Conatz

8 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on May 27, 2016

As far as I'm aware, these are all the articles that are direct replies to the discussion paper. Are you aware of others? I know that that 'Wobblyism' mentions and assesses direct unionism, but it's more its own thing.

Juan Conatz

6 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on January 8, 2018

FYI, self-deleted a comment I made. Looks like a reply by syndicalist was deleted along with it. Sorry about that.

syndicalist

6 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on January 8, 2018

Juan Conatz

FYI, self-deleted a comment I made. Looks like a reply by syndicalist was deleted along with it. Sorry about that.

NP. It was only relative to the OP so no sweat.

Juan Conatz

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 3, 2018

Solidarity/direct unionism has been a success in that in provided a unique model to point to for the IWW to be something more than a tiny, elderly, white male historical reenactment society. But it's not even clear its responsible for this. The IWW may have been a benefactor of young leftists joining regardless of what it was doing since its fate is intertwined with what is happening as far as social movements and the American left is concerned.

It did build a culture that established an expectation of workplace organizing as the primary goal and made it so workplace organizers received social capital and influence in the organization. From what I understand, this is a drastic difference from how it once was.

But overall, Solidarity/direct unionism's benefits and tangible gains are vague. The majority of campaigns done under this model seem to end up with the main organizers being fired, lengthy NLRB proceedings and an eventual collapse of the campaign. There are little material gains one can really point to, and the few small ones people do point to, often require some twists of logic, a little cynicism and redefining of what most people mean by 'success'.

The model has failed to establish a long-term meaningful presence in a single workplace, much less an industry. There is not one campaign that was happening from when I became active in the IWW (2011) that is still around in a meaningful sense today.

The model more or less hit some dead ends that no one has been able to resolve in a satisfactory answer. It encourages minority action over workplace issues with little legal recourse and a drastically under resourced organization backing this action. Which of course equals firings. When the model happens to survive the inevitable firings, and even gains majority support, there's little idea of where to go next. Since it refuses contracts, more direct actions subsequently follow. It's completely dependent on where the workplace is on the spectrum of 'hot shop'. It requires such an emotional and time consuming commitment, that organizers burn out quickly, and leave the IWW altogether. Or they remain, but do not attempt workplace organizing again. There is no medium term end game. It's high tension, confrontational actions requiring majority support...on every issue.

I don't think its any accident that the two IWW projects that have arisen and provided probably the majority of new members since 2015 are not directly workplace organizing projects. The GDC, which recently has focused on participating in social movements and antifascism, and then IWOC, which is a mix of traditional outside prison support (letter writing, publicity, etc) and inside prison membership. What people gravitate to reflects on what they are gravitating from in an organization. I think the failures of solidarity/direct unionism are responsible for the development of the organization since 2015.

One would think that the contractual organizing model would be the benefactor to the shortcomings of solidarity/direct unionism, but it has its own issues that preclude this. Whether people like it or not, contracts require servicing, or a mixture of inside and outside dependable support that ensures that contract is being adhered to by the employer. There also needs to be some basic democratic minimums established that keeps the outside support accountable and not just the only point of contact (gatekeeper) between the workplace and the wider IWW (such as the local branch). This probably has to mean staff. It also requires lawyers. Contract negotiations on the employer's side is sure to include anti-labor lawyers, so it requires lawyers on the union's side. That's just the nature of this model and you can't wish it away. Put a few IWWers with no experience negotiating contracts and no formal legal background in a meeting with anti-labor lawyers and you will never see a good contract. Maybe won't ever see a contract. You are on their field. Successful, stable and democratic contractual organizing seems to require staff and lawyers. The IWW is not capable of providing this due to the cost.

So, really, the IWW has a problem. It has two models of workplace organizing in front of it. Neither one really works if you want material gains, a long-term industrial presence, diversification of the nearly all white non-prisoner membership, as well as keeping dues low and relying on volunteers. I don't see anyone or any grouping in the IWW recognizing these issues, much less saying something towards resolving them. It is probably going to require a new crop of people, unconnected to the dead weight and corrupting influence of past practice, to make advancements on this stuff.

klas batalo

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on February 3, 2018

Appreciate your thoughts Juan.

Personally I don't think there was ever a generalized adoption of the methods and program of "Direct Unionism".

There has prevailed either informalist solidarity unionism or this contractualism, as detailed in the "Wobblyism" piece (radical service unionism.)

Too many campaigns focus just on single shops and going public. It's an old rut. That was not the prescription of Direct Unionism or the Wobblyism model that clearly stated it wanted to focus on building capacity for direct action industrial networks with clear strategic targets around supply chains etc.

Do I think Direct Unionism and Wobblyism have faults? Certainly there is room for improvement. In my experience trying to practice them, I've realized we need a clearer preparation and administration of the model. There are lots of things to consider. What are the most typical issues common in workplaces we can be prepared as worker organizers to agitate around. What are the most successful examples of direct actions we can perform without going public? Do you have a strong institution in your local GMB or IUB backing your organizing? (This could mean different things to different people, but I'm not opposed to stipend organizing staff). Direct Unionism was released to the world remember as a half finished draft.

You have to remember that Direct Unionism and Wobblyism did not propose to go public or tackle bigger demands like wage increases, etc unless the full capacity of industrial networks had been achieved in a sustained way.

This hasn't really been adopted in a wide spread way. The worst light we can look at things is at the campaigns run by people who proposed these models. Did they themselves follow them? Did they take short cuts?

klas batalo

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on February 3, 2018

I'll add that there may be merit to your claim that the failure of the DUists to fulfill their model may have a half truth to it. As I say above the model I don't think was ever generalized, and the model could be developed and fleshed out further IMHO.

Pennoid

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Pennoid on February 4, 2018

Juan,

A lot of that stuff is what I've been getting at the past few years and what inspired the IU caucus (though that was also partly inspired by a desire to form some counter weight to May 1st types, and people sympathetic to their outlook).

Direct Unionism doesn't work. Contractualism has pitfalls, but they aren't unavoidable. Employing outsiders can occur in line with democratic and wobbly principles. If what we want is an educated, militant, and action oriented labor movement, we can build it. But it requires a lot of resources to educate them; a lot of resources and labor to sustain the structure of the organization, and a lot of labor and resources to maintain gains wrenched from bosses.

We don't have to have union-bosses; but bureaucracy is a necessary evil. Crucially we have to install democratic rules and norms for checking any outsized influence of a bureaucracy; wages set at the median income of the membership; term limits; recallability and the like.

I do think the DU logic runs through the spirit of the contemporary IWW and the OT program. It's the IWWs contemporary 'common sense.' It precipitated the current slide toward ambulance chasing, the abandonment of anything like industrial programs, and the tendency toward activism.

Organizing campaigns are not planned by experienced people strategically to grow the union; they're pursued ad hoc by whatever some member in some branch is able to strongarm/convince locals is a good (often terrible) idea. Even if well intentioned. The OT promotes this because it spreads the basic skills for organizing while the union does nothing to try and control the activity done under it's name by some collective authority. It's irresponsible and unaccountable and a sad parody of actual democracy and collective decision making. The right word is local autonomy. Local autonomy is exactly the kind of think the IWW was founded to combat; the local autonomy of myriad different craft unions to scab and undermine eachother.

We need to look at other successful unions seriously (like the NNU, UE, ILWU) and less promoted campaigns in our own history that show the strengths and weaknesses of alternatives we haven't yet employed on a wide scale.

Any way, my 2 cents.

klas batalo

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on February 5, 2018

I call BS. Contractualism and just stealing the labor organizing playbooks that activists learned from flirting with the AFL-CIO, etc created ambulance chasing, lack of industrial organizing, etc. All of this predated the OTC and the DU type politics.

Honestly both Juan and Pennoid here are just speaking to their own personal / regional experiences of failure. Most of the campaigns never pursued vigorously the type of approach advocated by DU if you really look at how it was laid out. Just a lot of the same old same old we all know is bad in the IWW. Also Juan just quit, so take what he has with a grain of salt. He always writes a screed on here after leaving groups. Did this after leaving the WSA with his "liquidationism" hit piece on political organizations.

Y'all are entitled to your opinions of course, but I just think you miss the fact that the majority of the union never adopted direct unionism. Read enough accounts of campaigns like JJWU, Chicago Lake, SWU, etc and you see it again and again that they just go for legalistic route and flashy "direct actions" a la activism not actual direct action unionism. I say this fairly confidently as having spent the last month collecting organizing stories from the unions campaigns.

Juan Conatz

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 5, 2018

Direct unionism was never a program to be implemented, but more a way to be oriented towards certain key questions in workplace organizing. So it's sort of missing the point saying that there was never a "generalized adoption" of a direct unionist "program". There was no program. It was an incomplete discussion paper. This is basically nitpicking terminology in order to avoid facing the main point, that contemporary non-contractual organizing in the IWW has been mostly a failure and has hit dead ends that no one can seem to resolve.

Pennoid has some points, but like many who have advocated a more staff-assisted, contractual route, the proof is in the pudding. Since there's so much local autonomy in the IWW, there should be space to experiment with a more staff-assisted, contractual route. To date there has been no movement towards this. There hasn't even been any real look at the IWW's experience with successful contracts and the many shortcomings associated with servicing those contracts and those workers.

klas' last comment is a good reflection of the level of debate in the IWW, unfortunately. Don't consider criticism, assume bad intentions, call others reformists, say the other person is a personal failure, or an angry/scorned person. If there was some personal harassment and vague threats to my employment thrown in we could have a winning bingo card here. This would be humorous if it wasn't such a depressing cliche.

klas batalo

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on February 5, 2018

give examples of specific campaigns that fully adopted DU being a failure Juan, you just have a bone to pick.

what's your alternative?

donald parkinson

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by donald parkinson on February 5, 2018

This really just shows an internal IWW culture that's incapable of moving forward and developing better strategies because it isn't open to critique and has no way to gauge failure.

klas batalo

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on February 5, 2018

If Juan had any intention of showing some leadership he'd share what he thinks is a better set of methods and ideas. I don't always agree with Pennoid on everything but I still joined Industrial Unionists because at least it tried to put forward a political alternative.

Juan Conatz

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 5, 2018

I've said my piece on it. Take it or leave it. You seem pretty emotionally invested in this and are responding pretty angrily.

For what it's worth, I'm not the one with the answers, as I'm on my way out as far as spending personal time on leftist efforts. But I don't think any current grouping in the IWW is capable of resolving these issues. It's going to take new people, of which there are always plenty due to the high turnover rate in the organization, to really figure this stuff out without the dead weight and exhausted social capital of older members whose identity is intimately intertwined with specific organizing styles.

Chilli Sauce

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on February 5, 2018

It's really interesting to see all the Direct Unionism stuff come up after all these years.

So, I think there're a couple of things to keep in mind:

1) To echo Juan, at least for those of us who wrote it, Direct Unionism was never a program to be implemented. It was, as it says, a discussion paper. As far as its impact, it seems like it fed back into a wider solidarity unionist current within the union. I wouldn't say the release of the Direct Unionism was a particular watershed moment in the IWW - for good or for bad.

2) "Join the IWW, see the world, get fired".

Yeah, this is a problem in the IWW, but I'm not sure it's a problem specific to the IWW or to solidarity or direct unionist organizing model. I'd venture that, in 2018, just about all union campaigns have firings. The difference is that in the IWW throws up pickets, has public actions, and shouts about it online. Most other unions take up legal recourse in a much quieter way and are willing to settle in a way that the IWW isn't.

3) I think it's worth considering the Stardust Family United is this for a number of reasons.

One, this was a group of workers who consciously and explicitly adopted a solidarity unionist model - and they said as much. And, yeah, there were mass firings. Yeah, there was legal backup. But there were significant gains and all the fired workers were eventually reinstated. The shop has gone quiet for the moment (at least publicly), but if the goal of workplace organizing is to develop workplace militancy and establish long-term organizers, that campaign was a success.

Two, mistakes were made in that campaign. Mistakes will be made in any campaign. A lot of them - at least from my perspective - come from the fact that the IWW and the solidarity unionist model in particular seeks to ensure the workers on the ground always have the final say on decisions in terms of strategy.

I was involved in that campaign and when you're dealing with a people in the heat of the struggle - especially their first dispute and especially in a hot shop - they're going to act in a less deliberative way than those of us who are more experienced/who have an outside perspective might counsel, for example.

I don't think contracts/direct unionism/some other model can fix that. So I guess what I'm saying is that we do have to separate form from content and make sure that we don't conflate one with the other when we approach these conversations.

syndicalist

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on February 5, 2018

Not really my place to say anything here, but feel compelled to say one thing.

The question of firings during any workplace campaign is both real and serious. I have been in non-IWW where firings and suspensions have occurred. This can happen in any campaign or struggle. And happens even in weakly organized workplaces as well.

That said, if a campaign is run as a conscious suicide mission, then there's something wrong with the campaign.

syndicalist

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on February 5, 2018

DP

Pennoid

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Pennoid on February 5, 2018

The problem as I see it Just, and I tried to lay it out in past writings, is that effective utilization of staff requires sinking a lot of money into it; more than a branch of even 100 members could afford. That means uniting the organization as a whole around a strategy and implementation. I haven't followed it closely and maybe I'm wrong, but I'm still getting emails about trying to approve a stipend for a campaign that amounted to less than 1/5 an annual salary at a living wage that the organizers are planning to distribute across three organizers.

So they want to pay organizers for.... 1 month? What union campaign only takes one month to organize?

I don't advocate a staff driven model. I've consistently argued against it. I've argued that the existing of staff isnt enough to define a campaign as staff-driven. The UAW campaign at Nissan was clearly staff driven, didn't develop Rand and file leaders, didn't engage in shop actions, and failed.

The point is that particular staff roles can act as a catalyst to help remove barriers to action for workers; can help us tackle tasks of considerable scale, can stabilize and routinize our bureaucracy (and help minimize it and keep it accountable).

The proof is in the pudding; check the NNU, check the UE, check the IWW in it's heyday, check the MESA or any of the cios left led unions in the past.

Pennoid

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Pennoid on February 5, 2018

Oh I just saw your other post, I too think there is a mix of personalities and informalities that gets in the way. It makes it so that there is no sense of people forging agreement *formally* to go forward with a plan or project in a lot of cases, let alone trying to do one using resources from across the union.

klas batalo

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on February 5, 2018

Juan Conatz

I've said my piece on it. Take it or leave it. You seem pretty emotionally invested in this and are responding pretty angrily.

For what it's worth, I'm not the one with the answers, as I'm on my way out as far as spending personal time on leftist efforts. But I don't think any current grouping in the IWW is capable of resolving these issues. It's going to take new people, of which there are always plenty due to the high turnover rate in the organization, to really figure this stuff out without the dead weight and exhausted social capital of older members whose identity is intimately intertwined with specific organizing styles.

So really you just have nothing to offer the working class? Or is it don't organize? Calling a woman who disagrees with you emotional... Classy.

Juan Conatz

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 6, 2018

Chili Sauce

2) "Join the IWW, see the world, get fired".
Yeah, this is a problem in the IWW, but I'm not sure it's a problem specific to the IWW or to solidarity or direct unionist organizing model. I'd venture that, in 2018, just about all union campaigns have firings. The difference is that in the IWW throws up pickets, has public actions, and shouts about it online. Most other unions take up legal recourse in a much quieter way and are willing to settle in a way that the IWW isn't.

syndicalist

The question of firings during any workplace campaign is both real and serious. I have been in non-IWW where firings and suspensions have occurred. This can happen in any campaign or struggle. And happens even in weakly organized workplaces as well.

Of course firings happen in workplace organizing. There’s nothing unique to solidarity/direct unionism in this regard. There’s also nothing unique even about publicizing firings and doing actions around them. What is unique is the proportion of effect it has on the IWW. If you’re going to go a non-contractual route, and you’re not going to have the assistance of staff and lawyers, a way of dealing with firings needs to be developed. Currently, firings have what certainly seems close to a 100% success rate in either killing a campaign or dealing it a blow it never recovers from. That’s a problem unique to the IWW.

Chili Sauce

3) I think it's worth considering the Stardust Family United is this for a number of reasons.

One, this was a group of workers who consciously and explicitly adopted a solidarity unionist model - and they said as much. And, yeah, there were mass firings. Yeah, there was legal backup. But there were significant gains and all the fired workers were eventually reinstated. The shop has gone quiet for the moment (at least publicly), but if the goal of workplace organizing is to develop workplace militancy and establish long-term organizers, that campaign was a success.

First of all, I think it is telling that you bring up the Stardust effort, a campaign less than 2 years old. That’s well within the timeline for this stuff and so conclusions with wider implications can’t really be made based on this campaign. There’s always going to be a current solidarity/direct unionist approved campaign that exists in the here and now. Meanwhile, there are perhaps a few dozen campaigns that have preceded this, over, what, a decade, that hit all the roadblocks of the model, made little gains, no longer exist and have nearly no members from that experience still in the union.

Also, your line about the goal of workplace organizing gets back to what I said earlier about the twists of logic and redefining of what most people mean by 'success'. Workplace organizing is also about making material gains and establishing long-term, stable presence in a workplace/industry. It’s not just about militancy for the sake of militancy or creating a small collection of committed cadre.

Chili Sauce

Two, mistakes were made in that campaign. Mistakes will be made in any campaign. A lot of them - at least from my perspective - come from the fact that the IWW and the solidarity unionist model in particular seeks to ensure the workers on the ground always have the final say on decisions in terms of strategy.

I was involved in that campaign and when you're dealing with a people in the heat of the struggle - especially their first dispute and especially in a hot shop - they're going to act in a less deliberative way than those of us who are more experienced/who have an outside perspective might counsel, for example.

I don't think contracts/direct unionism/some other model can fix that. So I guess what I'm saying is that we do have to separate form from content and make sure that we don't conflate one with the other when we approach these conversations.

So, although I don’t want to dwell too much on Stardust for reasons already stated, basically what you’re saying is that there’s nothing wrong with the model, it’s the decisions of the workers who may not adhere to the model that’s at fault here. I suppose that’s possible. Not going to lie, that reminds me a lot of the argument of activists convinced of consensus decision making make about how “You’ve experienced xyz problems, because you just were not doing it right.” It’s not that convincing.

Pennoid

The problem as I see it Just, and I tried to lay it out in past writings, is that effective utilization of staff requires sinking a lot of money into it; more than a branch of even 100 members could afford. That means uniting the organization as a whole around a strategy and implementation.

Nonsense. There are branches of around 70-90 people that pay $14,000 in rent for an office through a mixture of dues and voluntary donations. There’s nothing stopping, say, all the branches in Florida from working towards generating this amount of money yearly for a part-time paid organizer, who would then be at the direction of FL folks to concentrate on a particular industrial campaign.

Pennoid

The proof is in the pudding; check the NNU, check the UE, check the IWW in it's heyday, check the MESA or any of the cios left led unions in the past.

It’s probably true that there can be paid organizers in a radical, democratic union. I’m not contesting that. I am saying that advocates of this have provided no real examples to point to that prove the current IWW can move to this model. NNU, MESA, the historical IWW don’t seem like meaningful examples to me. UE is probably a better example, but I think you’d be surprised at how little they utilize organizing staff. In any case, proponents of this model seem unwilling to experiment with this at local level. Until that happens, no one is going to agree to adopt an organization-wide change on this stuff.

klasbatalo

Calling a woman who disagrees with you emotional... Classy.

There’s no way I can keep track of the gender identities of individual libcom posters/IWW members that I’ve never met in real life, but that’s not really the point of your comment. I’m supposed to respond by saying you’re a “white workerist” or “fascist enabler”, right? Is that how this works?

You do seem to have an emotional investment here. And you continue to try to make this personal and raise the emotional stakes of this discussion. I’m not stupid, the purpose of this escalation is meant to provoke the other person to either say something truly reprehensible or have a near mental breakdown. I’ve seen this Twittermob-style of debate become more prevalent in the IWW in the last year. It’s abusive, destructive and I’ll have no part of it. I’ve always liked you and respected you but you’ll get no more responses from me on this thread.

gram negative

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by gram negative on February 7, 2018

It's too bad that this discussion has become so acrimonious, because i have found it very interesting and neccessary.

I've had experiences with both DU-style campaigns and staff-driven campaigns. I think that the post-mortem of the recent IWW organizing campaigns is needed, and it is good to see the level of honesty present here. Whether the campaigns have or have not followed the model correctly isn't particularly relevant, compared to talking about what actually happened. A lot of what has been said about the DU-style campaigns resonates with my experiences - the unstrategic choice of targets, the effects of firings, and the problems of hot shops. Juan, it is tough to hear what you say about the cynical redefinition of goals, but I do think that you have a point, and I'm sure I've said those very things before.

I could certainly see how having staff could help with IWW campaigns. The material gains that were won through the campaign that I worked on are real, but after we got the contract, the shopfloor committee has slowly dissolved over time, and much less time has been spent cultivating stewards by the staff. The company is nibbling at the edges of the contract everyday - I just found out that my old job classification is going to be abolished, and the existing employees are going to be slotted into a new position, with a massive pay cut, like tens of thousands a year. The response from the union? There's not much to do, except organize new shops and build more power on the city level. That answer rings hollow, but that is position that the mainstream unions find themselves in, which is expand or die, and most aren't expanding. This DU vs staff-driven debate at times seems like it is missing deeper issues regarding organizing in the US than whether to pay someone to do housevisits or not.

I'm curious where the rosy perception of NNU has come from; they strike me as very similar to the otber new organzing style unions, and they aren't exactly batting 1.000. I know the least about what UE is up to, and I'm curious about what new organizing ILWU is engaging in.

Nate

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on February 7, 2018

I hesitate to get into this because it's heated and I like everyone involved and I'm inactive at this point so I don't feel entitled an opinion, but for whatever it's worth...

I think stuff is likely to go better in IWW organizing if it's not talked about in terms of discrete models of organizing and instead is just addressed as much as possible in terms of practical local needs and efforts to meet those needs. Can a campaign use a staff member and is that affordable? Cool, then go for it. I think the reality is going to be that the IWW's going to rely on massive amounts of volunteer time for the foreseeable future. It's also the reality that all unions in the US also do so, though other unions do have a lot more staff.

Sort of related I think one of the major defects of the original discussion paper is that it talks in terms of specific approaches to unionism ('direct' vs other) and worse in terms of specific identities of members ('direct unionists'). I started to notice this part way through the writing of it and don't remember if I ever raised it. I think that kind of spirit is a bad one that fosters divisions. I also think that kind of spirit tends to color assessments of campaign successes and failures. I think that's to some extent unavoidable - members care what other members think of them, resources are scarce, so people are hesitant to report when they used resources in ways that didn't succeed (like hiring staff and having it not work out) or when they did stuff that caused problems for other people (like when they got people fired etc). That's amplified when it becomes a thing like 'we need this effort to help in our conflict with the other kind of IWWs.'

Also, I think no one has any of this figured out. That's why union density in the US continues to decline. My hunch is that most stuff by most unions, and absolutely the IWW, will continue to fail in its short term objectives over when looked at over a period of, say, five years. I think for the time being the organization will be stuck with trying to see what are more and less preferable failures, and have to continue experimenting.

Pennoid

6 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Pennoid on February 8, 2018

$14,000 a month? Hats off to that monthly hustle. I didn't realize that was possible.

I guess if we got those people to donate to an organizing campaign we'd be better off. Is that raised through a space committee? Monthly or annual canvassing? A wealthy donor or two? Or signing enough people up for a monthly payment that's automated?

A Response To A Critique Of “Direct Unionism”

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 2, 2011

This is a response to FW Sean Gallagher’s letter that appeared on page 8 of the October Industrial Worker.

FW Gallagher writes that in the early 20th century “there was no federally recognized right to organize.” He continues that labor relations today are “in no way comparable to the non-codified nature of industrial relations prevalent in 1905.” While it’s true there was no “federally recognized” right to organize, old AFL unions bloody loved contracts. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) didn’t invent contracts; it only enshrined them.

FW Gallager goes on to say, “The reason for eschewing contracts in our early period emanated from historical circumstances which have not survived to the present day.” I agree with him here: the circumstances have changed; they’ve gotten more pronounced! Before the implementation of the social-democratic labor relations regime, contracts were more likely to be based on raw class power in the workplace. The contract was a way to prevent disruption in the workplace. Under the NLRB, unions often eschew actual workplace conflict and seek to just have a “fair” election—which was the entire goal of the NLRB in the first place!

FW Gallagher then addresses the early IWW’s transient workers, claiming their fate to “rarely [toil] consistently under one company or farmer...negated the role contracts could play.” Besides the fact that we did have a lot of settled industrial workers in the early days, it’s important to recognize that many of the workers we’re currently organizing are basically locally transient, working in high turnover industries like food and service. This is one reason why the seminal IWW principle of “organize the worker, not the job” still makes so much sense today.

It is then suggested that “Direct Unionism” is compatible with “opposition caucuses.” In fact, “Direct Unionism” declares “we are not seeking to function as a reform caucus.” One of our prime dualcarding examples focused on the actions of Wobs in the Canadian postal union, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW). One the authors of “Direct Unionism” was one of those Wobs, and his actions in no way included opposition caucuses. Instead he, as “Direct Unionism” advocates, brought IWW tactics to his unionized workmates—mainly through introducing a version of the Organizer Training 101 into his local union branch.

In large parts circumventing the existing union structures, this strategy led to a dramatic increase in militancy and workplace conflict.

FW Gallagher’s letter claims “some of the most militant labor struggles” were “centered on the fight for union recognition.” Trade unions always propagate the belief that the interests of the union and the workers are one in the same. Yet, one needs only to read Martin Glaberman’s “Punching Out” to understand how the institutionalization of the United Auto Workers de-escalated struggle and alienated workers—regardless of whether autoworkers, like Glaberman, thought recognition was a good idea at the time.

Finally, I found this statement both confusing and unsubstantiated: “Under [‘Direct Unionism’], the IWW would be... unprepared for an unexpected struggle like Wisconsin.” How would contracts have benefited the IWW in Wisconsin? If anything, the Wisconsin state government’s actions in negating long-standing contracts demonstrate the folly of relying on contractualism and our supposed “federally recognized right to organize.”

- Tom Levy, London

Originally appeared in the December 2011 Industrial Worker newspaper

Comments

A letter from Staughton Lynd concerning 'direct unionism'

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 2, 2011

Friends,

I am entering an ongoing conversation about “Direct Unionism” and recognize that I have missed out on earlier episodes. I also am less informed about the early history of the IWW than either Juan Conatz or Sean G. Here are my two cents’ worth of opinions:

1. I agree with FW Conatz that employers almost always want a contract to include no-strike and management rights clauses. The draftspersons of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) went out of their way in Section 13 of the law as originally enacted to rebut the notion that once you had a contract you should no longer need the right to strike. John Sargent, first president of Local 1010, United Steelworkers at Inland Steel in East Chicago, Indiana, was convinced that the local union accomplished more for its members before the local union was recognized as an exclusive bargaining representative and a comprehensive collective bargaining agreement, including a no-strike clause, was negotiated. See his oral history in “Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers” (1982). What happened was that the new CIO national unions, beginning with the United Auto Workers and the United Steelworkers of America in 1937, gave away the right to strike.

2. I agree with Sean G. that there is nothing inherently sinful about reducing an oral understanding to writing. At the big Westinghouse plant east of Pittsburgh in the 1930s, if the management and the union reached an understanding about a particular matter, it would be written up and posted in the plant. And under Section 301 of the NLRA as amended, such an agreement can be enforced in the courts, and is therefore less likely to be ignored by management.

3. Where the problem arises, in my opinion, is what it means for a union to be “recognized.” The usual understanding, favored by U.S. labor policy, is that when a union is recognized it becomes the exclusive representative of workers in that bargaining unit. Such recognition puts the union in a position to have management automatically deduct dues from the workers’ paychecks, the so-called “dues check-off.” Workers interviewed in the 1960s and early 1970s who had experienced the self-organization of workers in the 1930s mentioned this most frequently as the reason that “your [watch]dog don’t bark no more.”

I think there is much to be said for the typical European arrangement of many “recognized” unions in the same workplace, as opposed to the idea of a particular union as exclusive representative.

- FW Staughton Lynd

Originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of the Industrial Worker newspaper

Comments

syndicalist

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on January 12, 2012

I thought this is pretty good letter.

The Westinighouse story I heard many years ago. It alway stuck with me. And always seemed like a way to go about satisfying some of the need to have some form of written understandings. I recall, not so long ago, asking comrades what happens if they actually won the Jimmy Johns election, what would they do about a written agreement. No one ever answered me, but I thought along these lines, that it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

As a PS: I would highly recommend this article:
The Origins of the Union Shop
Note: This article is excerpted from ideas & action #11 (Fall, 1989).
http://www.uncanny.net/~wetzel/unionshop.htm

Nate

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on January 12, 2012

I thought I did answer you on that Syndicalist, but if not then I apologize. If I remember right that exchange was during a high point in the campaign, so a lot fell off a lot of people's radar. Anyway, the short answer about Jimmy John's, what we would have done: fight to negotiate a contract. There was disagreement in the campaign about whether or not to file an election at all and there would have been disagreement about what came after winning the election. (By the way, it was a hair away from winning that election - lost by two votes, and two people showed up late to vote by less than 5 minutes. To my mind, it being that close means it's our fault that it was lost, because that's a small enough margin that we could have pushed that much harder.) Anyway, like the election itself, there would have been disagreement over the goals and the aims after winning. We would have negotiated some kind of agreement though. Given that there was a slim majority willing to file for an election, I think it's like that there would have been a slim majority willing to accept a contract with all the trappings of contracts that we reject. Then we would have been stuck with the mess of trying to service that contract.

I looked at that article of Tom's, it's too long for me to read just now but it looks really good. I think I'm going to put in the libcom library tomorrow or soon. Thanks for that.

syndicalist

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on January 12, 2012

Nate..thanks for a reply... I think this basically is the email which I wrote at the time. . For decades the nuts and bolts question of "What if we were a majority"
and "What if we actually organized a (broadly speaking) Syndicalist Union?"in a workplace has bounced around my head. I've never been in that sort of situation, where radical workers or radical worker organization has been in a majority. I have posed this question, a number of times over the years to a number of folks in the IWW, and never really got a good reply. So, in one way, the question, remained open at the time of the Jimmy Johns campaign.because folks I had a good political feel for and sense of solidarity with were engaged in the campaign.

The below email was was written before the "Direct Unionism" stuff came out, so some of the issues are coverd in tose writings

Anyway, perhaps this posting is improper or misplaced in this section. Apologies in advance.

"Even though [the question of majority status and contracts was] stated ... in the context of trade unionism, from an anarcho-syndicalist or even revolutionary industrial unionist
perspective, I think this issue continues to pose a dilema. It has for
the SAC in Sweden; has for the CNT in Spain; the USI in Italy, the
IWW's IU 440 Cleveland Metal Workers Union (where significant job
control existed) and for the IWW when they organized U. Cellar (at
U.Michigan) some many years ago. I realize that each country has their
own traditions, but each has the fundamental "daily" questions of how
it exists and operates.So, it's really the "nuts & bolts" stuff that
interests me.

I break this down a couple of ways. Do libertarian revolutionaries
doing mass work, particularly organizing indendent or IWW unions, seek
contracts as an objective in their campaigns?

Let's put aside how one would organize in the workplace for a moment,
'cause I'm assuming we're all on the same page on building maximum
rank-&-file control. A couple of quick questions come to mind. If the
campaign in mind seeks "majority status" what happens after a
collective agreement is reached with a boss? Does the independent or
IWW union really fall into many of the same functions as a trade
union?

If, I may, and this is posed with all sincerity and respect, I'd like
to pose this to our IWW comrades here. I'm asking this because the IWW
comrades have been the most active in organizing indendently as of
late and their dilema and situations are real. .

If these sort of questions or discussion is not appropriate, I take no
offense if being told so. I only ask 'cause I think there's something
to be shared and something to be learned by the nitty gritty of the
practical experiance. I am less interested in the ideological debate
at the moment.

For my IWW comrades, how would the Brooklyn warehouse workers goals
differ from the Jimmy Johns workers goals if they were both succesful?
Would they end in collective agreements? If so, from a broad
syndicalist perspective, how can, over the long haul,prevent "creeping
bureaucracy" and traditional trade union methods from seeping into
work and existance of the union?

I recognize that when we are in "minority" status, our tactical and
other abilities are quite different. Sometimes even "easier" to hold
to a more comfortable position and, most certainly, a better
ideological one. For all of my shopfloor experiances have always been
in the minority, but never in a shop independently organized."

Nate

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on January 12, 2012

hey Syndicalist, yeah I think my answer is the same. We'd have fought for a contract, maybe won it, then things would have fallen down the rabbit hole of dealing with a contract shop. This is the IWW's experience in other places where we've won contracts (some of the strongest anti-contract folk in the organization are people who came into the organization by working in the shops under contract). That's what most likely would have happened given the balance of views in the Jimmy John's campaign. FWIW I don't think the people who argued against the election and who would have argued against various aspects of the contract, I don't think we're more revolutionary, the other cats were just as sincere of revolutionaries and in their commitment to the IWW. It's a difference of vision among sincere revolutionaries, which is why I think conversations around this direct unionism paper are relevant within the IWW.

The other thing you seem to be asking is what *could* have happened in a better scenario than in the Jimmy John's campaign, if the votes internally had gone the other way. I think it probly would have looked a lot like the Chicago Couriers Union and the Starbucks campaign, except with larger numbers of people involved in one spot and with a smaller, weaker target. Run actions, fight on issues, etc. A lot of that happened anyway during the election and in my opinion is the stuff that the campaign pulled off best after it filed for the election. That stuff was useful for the election but only partially so. In terms of running those kinds of campaigns, I think the legal sorts of things like in Staughton's letter are mostly a red herring. The core issues in those kinds of campaigns are social/organizational within the campaign (how to build and maintain and fight effectively) and aren't really legal issues, and the legal stuff doesn't offer much of a resource for us in that. I think a lot of us in the IWW nowadays first learned that lesson from reading it in Staughton's writing, so it makes this letter something I don't really know what to do with.

All that aside, I put that article of Tom's in the libcom library, it's here - http://libcom.org/library/origins-union-shop - I'm looking forward to reading it all the way through.

syndicalist

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on January 12, 2012

I appreciate the reply Nate. I guess that I'm still wondering about the broader question: "What happens when we are a majority?"

Anyway, I think this would lead astray from the nature of the postings. So I'll end here in the spirit of not derailing or detracting from the spiirit of the IWW postings.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on December 16, 2012

Hi Pennoid, FWIW, many of the folks involved in Recomp were also involved in writing Direct Unionism as well.

Nate

11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on December 17, 2012

I just saw Syndicalist's last comment about what do when we're a majority. I think once we hit majority status in one location (one workplace, an area with multiple workplaces, etc) I think we have at least two things to do. Stuff in that location, and expanding out of that location. Within whatever the location is, we fight the boss, and try to do so in a way that escalate upward. I think there's a ceiling on how much we can pull off in any one location and the limit is lower the smaller that location. Of course do education and relationship building among members etc, in a way that tries to get people to plug in to broader stuff beyond that particular location. I'd also prefer that our stuff not happen via a contractual framework, and the JJ's election was going to be that. I thought that's what you were talking about at first. I'm not sure I'm really answering the question, maybe I don't really understand the question. I'd like to know what you think people ought to do, or what the possible outcomes are when we get to a majority status in any location.

syndicalist

11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on December 18, 2012

Nate, I'll get back to when I have some thoughtful time. But my basic question was premised on two live wire situations that are now prolly at least a year and another a few years old (JJ & Brooklyn warehouses). So i suspect there's been plenty of reflection time and seperation on both those. And some of Nate's answers certainly are reflective of a viewpoint expressed in DU.

In the age of prmotion of minorities by miltants here, the question of being a majority is never really addressed. And, candidly, I have no real answer myself...even after all these years.

My original comments were written almost a year ago, so I might rephrase this, but I think the essense is still at the heart of the matter of majority status and building a functional syndicalist union or workers association:

Would they end in collective agreements? If so, from a broad
syndicalist perspective, how can, over the long haul,prevent "creeping
bureaucracy" and traditional trade union methods from seeping into
work and existance of the union?

Also, given that we are not always in a "struggle mode", can majorities, over time, receed and things fall back into militant minority situations? or does the core of more ideologically dedicated/educated militants become the heart, soul and core of the shopfloor organization?

I guess we don't know some of the answers cause we don't have any real contemporary
US examples of this (a functioning syndicalist like union or majority shopfloor orgamnization that practices our general ideas/forms). So alot of what we think we want as an outcome is, in part, speculation.

The "long haul" question will continue to be on the table until there is some real, shopfloor constructive examples of keeping the ideals alive and working over time.

Well, more when I can give some real meat and potato thinkibng to this.

On contracts and the IWW

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 2, 2011

I’m writing in response to FW Sean Gallagher. I am a member of the Portland IWW branch, which has a number of contracts. Unlike FW Gallagher’s experience, I don’t have as nearly a positive view on the impact and role of contracts in the IWW as he does.

A starting point for me in criticizing contractual organizing is that it absorbs too much time and energy in an environment which we have little expertise in. Research, drafting articles for a contract, and the perpetual back and forth at the bargaining table is both time and labor intensive and often creates a drain on shop-floor activity. This occurs in opposition to the employer’s lawyers, who are better versed in legal language and have the incentive of getting well paid while finding ways to navigate contractual language. We are not lawyers, nor are we well-versed in how to use the language or even read it, let alone argue it across from the table from a lawyer. On a more basic level, it’s tedious and difficult to sustain energy when focusing solely on this approach.

If a contract has been reached, then another series of problems arise. Sustaining motivation and organization can be difficult even with premeditated inoculation around the idea that the struggle is never done even after a contract is signed. Furthermore, a contract becomes stagnant as worker turnover continues during the duration of a contract or worse, new workers may resent elements of the contract that they come into. It is also difficult to agitate workers while under a contract to take action because of the attitude that “we can just wait until the contract is open again,” even if it’s not for another year or more.

Anyone who has had to deal with a laborious and ineffective grievance procedure will also be able to speak to the limits of contracts. The grievance procedures serve as a trap to drain more energy and time from workers when other tactics would likely resolve the issues at hand in a faster way that simultaneously emboldens workers.

Of course bread and butter issues need to be pushed if we’re trying to support workers, but I’ve often seen the “either/or” approach taken in contractual organizing where bread and butter issues get traded for other work conditions. Bread and butter issues in a single shop’s contract, and single shop contracts in general, do not address issues on a larger industrial level. This means that we spend our energy defending a single shop when we could and should be trying to organize on a wider level.

-FW Chris A.

Originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of the Industrial Worker newspaper

Comments

A debate on collective bargaining and the IWW

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 2, 2011

I write in reply to Fellow Worker Sean Gallager. I thank him and FW Juan Conatz for their replies to the “Direct Unionism” discussion paper. I’m pleased to see this discussion happening in the Industrial Worker and I hope the discussion continues.

I agree with some of what FW Gallagher writes. Due to space limitations I reply now only to a point where I disagree, which is with FW Gallagher’s advocacy of collective bargaining for the IWW. FW Gallagher is right that “ideas only matter to the extent that they correctly reflect historical experience and objective conditions,” so I will discuss some of the history of the capitalist state’s sponsorship of collective bargaining in the United States.

The U.S. government increasingly promoted collective bargaining in the early part of the 20th century. To take one important example: In 1919, economically disruptive disputes escalated between the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and capitalists in the textile industry. In response, the New York governor appointed a state commission aimed at preventing “industrial war” which created “distrust and hostility” between classes. This commission recommended collective bargaining in order to reconcile the union and the employers. As the commission wrote, a “collective bargaining agreement calls for the utmost good faith on both sides to perform (…) every term and condition thereof; whether it refers to shop strikes on the part of the worker, lock-outs on the part of the employers, or the maintenance of its terms as to wages and hours. This Board desires to emphasize this point as fundamental in any contractual relationship.” Contracts require such good faith and, from the point of view of the capitalist state, contracts helped create such good faith.

With state help, the ILGWU won an industry-wide collective bargaining agreement, which the industry association soon violated in 1921. The ILGWU sued and won an injunction against the employers. The New York Supreme Court said it issued this injunction to prevent “the continuance of an industrial impasse.” The Court said that no matter who won the dispute, “such industrial struggles lead to lockouts, strikes and acts of violence” and in the end “the employer and employee, instead of co-operating to promote the success of the industry, become permanently divided into hostile groups, each resentful and suspicious of the other.” Therefore, “it is the duty of the court to (…) compel both parties to await an orderly judicial determination of the controversy.” In other words, the capitalist state began to believe that promoting collective bargaining agreements would help create industrial peace. The role of law is not simply to protect individual capitalists but to bring greater stability to the capitalist system as a whole. (On this point, I encourage fellow workers to read the discussion of the English Factory Acts in chapter 10 of Karl Marx’s “Capital.”)

The state’s role and strategy of promoting stability in the capitalist system by promoting collective bargaining explains U.S. labor legislation created in the 1930s. The 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act (hereafter, “Recovery Act”) said “disorganization of industry (...) burdens interstate and foreign commerce, affects the public welfare, and undermines the standards of living of the American people.” The Act argued that one key tool for more efficiently organizing industry under capitalism was to promote collective bargaining agreements. Thus Congress should “remove obstructions to the free flow of interstate and foreign commerce” by “induc[ing] and maintain[ing] united action of labor and management under adequate governmental sanctions and supervision.” The Recovery Act added that contracts would raise wages for workers, “increas[ing] the consumption of industrial and agricultural products by increasing purchasing power” of workers. More money in the pockets of more workers would help stabilize the American economy by providing a larger base of consumers.

The National Labor Relations Act (or the “Wagner Act” named after its sponsor, New York Senator Robert F. Wagner) took up the labor relations provisions of the Recovery Act, adding little except for extra enforcement. Senator Wagner argued before Congress that the Wagner Act was “novel neither in philosophy nor in content. It creates no new substantive rights,” and went on to list various prior examples of workers’ legal right to collective bargaining. The real change with the Wagner Act, he argued, was greater enforcement of rights that the state already recognized workers as having. By providing better enforcement for workers’ right to collective bargaining, he said, the Wagner Act would be more conducive to industrial recovery than the Recovery Act. Wagner said that lack of adequate enforcement in the Recovery Act brought “results equally disastrous to industry and to labor. Last summer it led to a procession of bloody and costly strikes, which in some cases swelled almost to the magnitude of national emergencies.” That is, Wagner argued, it was precisely the lack of collective bargaining that led to the strike wave of 1934.

Wagner identified a second consequence to the lack of enforcement provisions in the Recovery Act. Without collective bargaining, he said, workers “cannot exercise a restraining influence upon the wayward members of their own groups, and they cannot participate in our national endeavor to coordinate production and purchasing power.” Wagner argued that Congress should pass the Wagner Act in order to “stabilize and improve business by laying the foundations for the amity and fair dealing upon which permanent progress must rest.” If Congress didn’t pass the Wagner Act, Wagner predicted that “the whole country will suffer from a new economic decline.”

The Wagner Act’s full title was “An act to diminish the causes of labor disputes burdening or obstructing interstate and foreign commerce, to create a National Labor Relations Board, and for other purposes.” Like the Recovery Act, the Wagner Act’s first priority was to keep the economy flowing as smoothly as possible by reducing labor disputes. The Wagner Act said “denial by employers of the right of employees to organize and the refusal by employers to accept (…) collective bargaining lead[s] to strikes and other forms of industrial strife or unrest.” Furthermore, “inequality of bargaining power between employees (...) and employers (...) substantially burdens and affects the flow of commerce, and tends to aggravate recurrent business depressions, by depressing wage rates and the purchasing power of wage earners in industry.”

FW Gallagher is right that “ideas only matter to the extent that they correctly reflect historical experience and objective conditions.” “Direct Unionism” is far from perfect, but its criticisms of contractualism are based on analysis of the history of the U.S. government’s embrace of collective bargaining. The U.S. government backed contracts because they believed this would make the capitalist system more stable and resilient. As the Wagner Act said, “protection by law of the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively safeguards commerce from injury (…) and promotes the flow of commerce.” Furthermore, the Act added, collective bargaining would encourage “practices fundamental to the friendly adjustment of industrial disputes.” U.S. Congress passed the Wagner Act in 1935. When President Roosevelt signed it, he declared that the Wagner Act was “an important step toward the achievement of just and peaceful labor relations in industry.”

The Preamble to our Constitution states that the IWW’s goal is help our class advance the historic mission of abolishing the wage system and declares that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common. We should hesitate, then, before pursuing strategies which U.S. presidents and senators deliberately encouraged in order to achieve industrial peace within the capitalist system.

- Nate Hawthorne

Originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of the Industrial Worker newspaper

Comments

Nate

12 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on December 4, 2011

In case anyone cares, here are my sources on this. It's all stuff I found via googling a bunch.

All quotes regarding the ILGWU are from the New York State Supreme Court's decision in Schesinger v. Quinto.

Quotes from the National Industrial Recovery Act are from
http://ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=66&page=transcript

Quotes from the National Labor Relations Act of 1935
http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=67#

Senator Wagner made his speech on
February 21, 1935, quoted in the Congressional Record, 74th Cong., 1st sess., Vol. 79, 2371-72.

President Roosevelt's remarks are quoted in the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, Handbook of labor statistics, Issue 616, page 19.

fnbrill

12 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fnbrill on December 4, 2011

The problem with the traditional Leninist position held by Sean G etal Is that the union contracts - eg those of the 30-40s era CIO - they want to emulate, all were prefaced on giving away the shop floor power that Nate, etal are advocating for. In fact the primary reason the CIO had much sway in organizing was they used the threat of sit-downs and workers' self organization as the least acceptable alternative to the capitalists.

As Zinn describes it:

Unions were not wanted by employers, but they were more controllable-more stabilizing for the system than the wildcat strikes, the factory occupations of the rank and file. In the spring of 1937, a New York Times article carried the headline "Unauthorized Sit-Downs Fought by CIO Unions." The story read: "Strict orders have been issued to all organizers and representatives that they will be dismissed if they authorize any stoppages of work without the consent of the international officers. .. ." The Times quoted John L. Lewis, dynamic leader of the CIO: "A CIO contract is adequate protection against sit-downs, lie-downs, or any other kind of strike."

Nate

12 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on December 6, 2011

Thanks Brill. This makes me think we should do some stuff around the CIO as a way to further get into these issues.

fnbrill

12 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fnbrill on December 7, 2011

there's a really good article in the old Root and Branch magazine. I don't think I have, but will check. By Paul Mattick, Jr

Hieronymous

12 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Hieronymous on December 7, 2011

Do you mean “The CIO: From Reform to Reaction” in Root & Branch number 6 by E. Jones?

It's the best account I've ever read of the actual effect of the CIO. I've been procrastinating about scanning it, but if this is the one I'll do it tomorrow.

fnbrill

12 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fnbrill on December 7, 2011

yes! thanks H!

Chilli Sauce

12 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on December 7, 2011

Please do! Thanks H!

Nate

12 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on December 7, 2011

Hieronimous that'd be great, thanks for the offer. Any other recommendations for resources to get at the CIO in detail, from a communist perspective?

Juan Conatz

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on May 28, 2012

CIO stuff if sort of an ongoing project I have for the library. Radical America has a bunch of stuff. Finding other material has been a bit difficult though.

Juan Conatz

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on September 18, 2012

The CIO article H mentions is now in the library here: http://libcom.org/library/cio-reform-reaction

Direct unionism in practice: undermining service industry barriers to worker solidarity

This response is primarily written with the intention of facilitating an introduction to Direct Unionism for service workers who are very new to labour. We hope to participate in the DU discussion, and share with those interested how we have been affected by these conversations and also how we are practicing and implementing these ideas.

Submitted by apt to react on February 25, 2012

Direct Unionism in Practice: Undermining Service Industry Barriers to Worker Solidarity

Disclaimer: Our intentions for posting this response to the conversations on Direct Unionism vary greatly in terms of purpose. In crafting this reflection and response, we have also considered where we could put it to the most relevant use, and so have prepared it for many different readers. This response is primarily written with the intention of facilitating an introduction to Direct Unionism for service workers who are very new to labour. Many sections of our essay may seem redundant to many labour activists and we apologize, but hope to encourage other locally contextualized struggles through Direct Unionism. We hope to participate in the DU discussion, and share with those interested how we have been affected by these conversations and also how we are practicing and implementing these ideas. We would like to thank all participants in the Direct Unionism conversation and, also, offer our analysis based on our work in Vancouver, BC.
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Last fall, we were invited to the Vancouver District Labour Council youth meeting to hear a friend give a talk about the importance of mobilization, direct action, and the dissolving right to strike for all workers. From the point of view of the only “unorganized” youth worker/organizer sitting in on the discussion, it became distinctly clear that the issue of building a “culture of resistance” was a huge part of even the “recognized” labour institutions. The meeting left the impression that even the organized workers were less radicalized than the unorganized. BC Labour’s bleak future lay in the hands of the Youth Leaders around the table representing all of BC’s major unions. We learned that from our shared experiences even the organized worker of today shares little critical analysis of class and power, nor of their union bureaucracy; they express that they are simply frustrated and trying to scrape by.

The value of the union is evident to some of these member/workers -- in terms of the dollar value for which their labour is exchanged, or by their own sense of entitlement above unorganized workers [or, more bluntly, their sense of worth as measured against the ‘un-organizable’ or transient worker; their “middle class” security blanket – which is often a self-delusion, akin to ‘false consciousness’, having been beaten into them]. The working person who cannot or desires not to pursue the credentials or lifestyle required to fit into the trades/industries which are jurisdictionally organized by unions, or who rejects the corruption, politicking, and social/fiscal investment in the status quo of the ‘Labour Movement’, finds themselves battling as a ‘one man army’ and may radicalize along individualist lines. To offer this person a ‘collectivist’ approach, instead of a ‘solidarity of the autonomous’ approach, is to replicate the mechanism they reject. This is a strong argument against a contracts-bases strategy, which provides room for negotiation only within boundaries that are neither agreed upon nor seen by the working person on the shop floor; direct action responses to individual issues, when and where they happen, negate bargaining on particulars.

The follow up discussions on the “Direct Unionism” essay put out last year has provided us with a working definition of Direct Unionism and the basic elements of direct action in the workplace. These actions orchestrated by workers at their sites have a name: but now what? The previous responses while generally in favour of direct unionism, focus on contracts and memberships and leave out some of the most important elements in the essay in terms of potential actions and worker solidarity. We like what Tom Levy reinforces about “organizing the worker, not the job,” as it allows adaptation to the flexible, mobile, reality of service workers in general. It seems like the only feasible option in terms of speaking to the reality of these workers, which in most cases is substandard. The glove fits.

AFFILIATIONS

The majority of unorganized workers do not want to affiliate with a union, as they have witnessed first hand the societal backlash of protected workers (in Canada, the governments continually bust out “back to work” legislation and the media persists in undermining the integrity of the workers and their causes,) and many are effected by the stigmatization of labour organizing initiatives. They are swayed towards “meritocracy,” and defend those institutionalized barriers that keep them in precarious positions. Their class-consciousness is situated in inertia, not in action. On the rare occasion that workers are introduced to the possibility of a “Union,” they are provoked and mislead by their employers, peers and sometimes even the union itself. Zealous Union Reps often leave out important information and focus only on card signing, playing into these stereotypes concerning institutionalized bureau-crazy. With all of this in mind, we believe it is important to work autonomously, to develop and accentuate ideas and actions instead. As workers and organizers we have to start reaching out to workers and focus on what we have in common within/between iindustries.

AUTONOMOUS AND ANONYMOUS

At our local IWW (INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD) meetings, we talk in depth about the realities of what we as a branch can offer workers here in BC and specifically how we can offer protection. We realize that without having the financial and institutional backing a larger union in BC might have, we don’t have much to offer workers in terms of protection. It became obvious after much discussion that it would be more beneficial to find a group that cannot be represented by a bigger Union in the first place. An industry where coping mechanisms are used day to day already to facilitate Direct Unionism, and where workers already have a sense of the industry issues and setbacks. We unanimously decided that we put all of our energy into building awareness amongst the workers in the service industry in order to provide them with viable strategies accessible within our community, to fight bosses and self-organize.

This means spreading awareness across the board, creating relationships outside of work between coworkers, sharing stories, identifying industry issues, and limits, and how they can use their combined experience to make their Direct Unionism the most effective.

Especially now, at a time when in Canada, the service industry is the largest growing but yet remains the least protected. It might be time to focus on the dynamics of the service industry and what is allowable in terms of getting through to employees and being able to illustrate to them, through small possible actions that there is power in numbers. In order for this to work entirely, the IWW may need to prioritize and adapt to these immediate needs.

As organizers working mainly in coffee shop settings, it became apparent that a lot of these ideas are already manifested day to day as coping mechanisms for workers on these sites. Most of these workers don't even know they are participating in direct action or direct unionism. There is room here, we believe, to reclaim workers sense of solidarity by pointing out to them how they already do it; as a movement we could be honing in on this direct action and reclaim it as direct unionism. The only option is to promote dialogue, in a manner resembling what we are collectively doing here, in response to the original article and the responses of others before us – but in the embodiment of the ideas, opening a conversation of direct actions and working with what we have. We could be highlighting what workers are already doing as a form of survival and framing it as a tool they can use to get direct results that effect them positively. These are skills they can access and take with them from job site to job site. The workers identify as “transient,” and understand the realities of the service industry, but they usually don’t fight to influence these realities.

In regions where the local labour regulators do not recognize any IWW ‘bargaining units’, (i.e. no card-signing threshold has been met and filed with the authorities; no legal negotiations between the employer and their ‘representative body’ have taken place to secure a contract) it becomes obvious the issue isn’t whether we should debate card signing relevance, but instead really think about what is needed. If the IWW is not recognized as a body with power, by either the average worker or the boss who should fear it, we need to undertake local issues-based organizing and use these examples to build this network from nothing. It is important to recognize all groups in the community that can participate in this network in different ways.

As a small unit, we have started a campaign, distributing pamphlets and visiting work sites, coffee shops especially, focusing completely on worker options and examples within our city in terms of fighting bosses. Giving a name to the work of the employees who do actions at their worksites has been really useful. “Direct Unionism” has been received with much excitement, as many workers feel that their actions day to day in terms of solidarity, are recognized. This gives their actions meaning and context, and a foundation for story-sharing and further actions.

Many workers don’t hear positive stories about coworkers fighting the bosses, and many wouldn’t attempt to take action because of the powerlessness imposed by the corporate environment, or other coworkers. It only takes one bad exchange with a boss, and one trip to the Employee Standards Branch for a worker to know that going that route is bleak. The service industry worker, already marginalized in so many ways, also has to take the time to build a case against their employer and wait for many months just to hear that their case was missing some vital element, or that the employer submitted more winning evidence to counter their arguments.

We need to build an infrastructure and working relationship with groups in our communities who are sympathetic to our cause, and we need to have a better understanding of local labour law, so we can work around, navigate the bias. We can provoke members of larger unions to hold their heads higher and speak louder from within the Labour hegemony in order to break down the divisions that stifle solidarity.

LOCALIZE STRATEGY / CREATE CONTEXT

IWW members on the Island put together a pamphlet of just this, BC Worker's Rights. To help workers in BC access the info available to them in the Employee Standard Branch In the “Standing up for Ourselves” section of the pamphlet, the IWW Vancouver Island touches on methods workers can use in order to achieve fair treatment, but on the whole leaves out the potential to implement direct unionism. We view this pamphlet as one of the first stages of what is necessary as put forth by the DU paper in starting the direct unionism campaign in terms of identifying the local issues and restrictions. It must be considered that many service industry workers will not go through the Employee Standards Branch because of the precariousness of their positions as service industry workers.

When they do try to take action (which takes a bigger toll on the individual in the long run) they are often unsuccessful at receiving remuneration. This speaks to the lack of faith in the system (whether big Union or otherwise) and fits well with the autonomous nature of direct unionism.

In BC, the labour law is divided cleanly; there are completely separate employment Acts that deal with workers, dependent on whether or not they are members of a union. This presents a difficult challenge to the IWWer who wishes to form a bargaining unit within a specific worksite: the moment their certification is complete, the entire game changes. They will find themselves with a new set of laws to learn, a new set of power bureaucracies to deal with, and importantly, a new division between these workers and their comrades in the IWW who are not in the bargaining unit. It means they have more privilege and are also more constrained under the law than their unorganized colleagues, making solidarity actions tricky to pull off.

While the legal processes of union certification play out (from the date the IWW would file the cards, above threshold, at the Labour Board, through scheduling, holding, debating on and finally counting the votes, and thence throughout bargaining the first Collective Agreement) “a trade union or person affected by the application must not declare or engage in a strike”[BC Employment Standards Act 32:1]. Any intentional decrease in productivity can be legally considered a ‘strike’ action, or in the very least can be debated in a court or arbitration as enacting ‘bad faith’. In the event that a group of workers wished to sever their IWW agreement with the boss and dissolve the union (or, bring it back underground using a new name), the law requires they pay $10,000 to de-certify – and these funds must be proven to derive from the workers themselves, not the employer or other body.

All of this should serve as a caveat to IWW organizers seeking legitimacy from the established legal system. We, especially as the most transient and vulnerable workers, should recognize that the deck is stacked against us, and question the impulse to ‘play the hand we’re dealt’ – why play that game at all, when we can freely choose to play a different one, and see the results on the faces of our coworkers.

The reality as a service industry worker is very concerning. Unfortunately through legislation and many other barriers, the means to form a union is almost impossible. We feel the laws and regulations around forming a union and working as a service worker are incompatible in BC. The nature of the service industry (being flexible, having high turnover, notorious for low wages,etc) cannot stand up to the rigid qualifications for joining a labour union. When the circumstances do line up, which can only be for a short period of time, many of the employees are bullied, and alienated or just aren’t in a position to tough it out and inevitably something goes wrong.

Also, if you have a small unit, and this is often the case in service industry work, the recognized Unions won’t even work with you because the success rate is so low. Tom Levy also mentions this in their response, that “many of the workers we’re currently organizing are basically locally transient.” This makes it clear that it is not possible for everyone to form a union in this industry. One source from a bigger Union here in BC laid out the reality that “the de-certification rate is in the 70% range when it comes to units with less than 15 - 20 people, and they are not willing to work with smaller units, unless these units can guarantee....[success and longevity of union membership]”. The requirements are not feasible within the service industry, as the service industry was designed and has evolved in relation to a labour climate shaped predominantly by industrial trade unions of middle-class, white men; the service industry has been historically (and continues to be) regarded by many blue-collar and ‘professional’ union members as “unskilled” work, done by persons with whom they hold no affinity nor solidarity. This lack of inter-industry respect has meant less institutional and popular support for the struggles of precarious workers and their exclusion from participation within ‘Big Labour’ has allowed many legal loopholes and unfair industry ‘norms’ to become well established.

When you ask a coffee shop worker where they worked before their current job, they will probably tell you they worked at some other coffee shop, for another owner, and so on and so on. It is part of the coffee shop worker culture to hop from shop to shop. We want to agree with Chris A. about the importance of “addressing issues on a larger industrial level,” we see a potential here to win cases and set examples in order to create a worker network where workers take their experiences to the next site and tolerate less and less abuse from the bosses each time. Where they can use the tools available in the community to build solidarity and call out the bosses.

It is crucial that we build up a generation of resisters who understand their rights in the work place, who value the basics of workplace organizing as an ongoing, all-hands-on-deck exercise, and who will provide a re-educating example to dissatisfied union members. Without the basic infrastructure to carry out these direct actions and the willingness of IWW organizer’s to let go of the organizing based on site/contracting, the IWW is irrelevant; it becomes simply a club in which to wax poetic about the ideals and dreams of a liberated working class.

Comments

Nate

12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on February 25, 2012

I'm happy to see more discussion of the direct unionism stuff. I particularly like the points about labor law in BC, I didn't know any of that. I think this piece - http://libcom.org/library/weakening-dam-twin-cities-iww - covers some of the specifics of stuff that people can do if they agree with the perspective in this article.

Juan Conatz

12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 25, 2012

Is this in the Industrial Worker?

Chilli Sauce

12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on February 25, 2012

Is the author a regular libcom poster?

Juan Conatz

12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 25, 2012

Ok, just read it. The authors seem to have put a lot of thought into this. I'm kinda surprised about this appearing because it is pretty much outside all of our circles as far as who we know. There's some limited ties that I discovered after asking around, but this isn't the same as the other people who have responded, all who we either know personally or are familiar with through other means.

They do take up a issue of the discussion that has been more neglected so far, that is...they see this as the way the IWW has to organize. That to try and function as a mainstream union is a dead end, not because it requires we take on a role counter to our aims, but that the way labor law is set-up means that even with unions with vast resources and political friends have major issues with this model of organizing. The IWW attempting to do it will just result in utter failure or as they put it, we will be "simply a club in which to wax poetic about the ideals and dreams of a liberated working class."

This viewpoint has been expressed though by people like Devrim in regards to some of the sentiments of the UK IWW though.

Juan Conatz

12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 25, 2012

One of the authors said they are having trouble adding links to this piece. Its telling them 'Try again later'. I've never seen this warning and assumed it has something to do with them being new users. Anybody know something about this?

Joseph Kay

12 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on February 25, 2012

that probably means mollom (anti-spam) was down (it's set to reject posts if it is, since we've been hit with hundreds of spam comments during brief outages before). i've bumped their permission to regular user which should bypass it (this is usually automatic after a while).

klas batalo

11 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on November 20, 2012

yeah just got to agree with Juan and the OP about this being the way new workplace initiatives have to organize.

i think more often than not the usual argument i hear against the IWW is more like, you are bad at being a real union, in that people think the IWW trying to be a revolutionary union means it should be trying to be both revolutionary and fight like a trade union.

Reflecting on this just makes me laugh because I don't understand why anyone on both sides of that, people on the inside or outside think it would ever be a good idea to just make the IWW a more militant trade union with red and black flags.

Haven't we seen that those models are not working, haven't we seen even the trade unions recognize they have to move towards more open minded ways of organizing under pressure of the current materially conditions? Similarly for dual carding, in regards to reform caucuses/boring from within...it's not working let's try experimenting with "new" methods. (Really it's all back to the future for me...)

On 'direct unionism'

IWW general strike propaganda
IWW general strike propaganda

John O'Reilly reviews some of the perspectives laid out in the 'direct unionism' discussion paper.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on March 10, 2012

A new pamphlet called Direct Unionism: A Discussion Paper, written by some IWW members, has stirred much discussion in the past months. I agree with much of the paper and find the majority of it a useful way of pushing forward thoughts about what the union does and how it can do better today. I think any serious piece of writing put out by IWW members about our methods and ideas is an important contribution to our organizing culture and am excited that there’s been so much response to this piece. I have a few disagreements of the pamphlet that I believe are worth laying out. I will not dwell on my agreement with the pamphlet, but instead will pose some respectful criticism about ways in which I think it could be improved.

First, to summarize their basic argument: The authors criticize several practices or ideas among some IWW members. Their primary critique is against the contract as the end goal of an IWW campaign. The contract, the authors argue, not only is not enough of a goal because it leads to the constant headache of stagnant shops, but on a political level it actively slows down class struggle by functioning as a compromise between labor and capital. The compromise embodied in the contract promotes social peace not struggle. Obtaining and servicing a contract pushes a union away from shop floor struggle and towards workplace contractualism. They also find a useful way of dealing with the
question "What if the membership wants a contract in a democratic organization?" by effectively arguing that if the membership wants that, we've failed in our job as good organizers no matter what the outcome.

The authors counterpose to this contractual approach a union focused on struggle, on building fights, wins and losses, and keeping organization democratic yet smart. They spell out an articulate and compelling perspective on what the IWW should be doing. We should be a union of militant workers, engaged in the direct work of building the class struggle and always upping our peoples' level of consciousness, experience, and dedication to the class. In two key details their critique is mistaken though: their lack of concern for organizational form and their dichotomy between contracts and non-recognition.

The authors write that they are not terribly concerned with the form in which workplace struggle takes. They say: "We try not to overemphasize formalism (...) we don’t judge a struggle simply on its particular form—be it the union form, the workplace assembly form, or a “workers council” form." This is a mistake, and it's spelled out concretely throughout a section titled Are We Trying to Build A "Union"? For the direct unionists, the answer seems to be "not necessarily." I disagree. The union form, the IWW version of the union form at least, is important. We need to build formal organization and we need to be able to use that to build an IWW identity. A union as the IWW practices it is a group of workers coming together to represent their interests and act against the boss's interests today and in doing so building a fight against the boss class's interests tomorrow. By building the union, we push our message throughout the class and have a flag that we can point to and say "See, this is what the union does." Anecdotally, people working in fast food and restaurants in the Twin Cities know that there’s a union for them because of the IWW’s campaign at the Jimmy John’s sandwich shops here. Without the union form, these workers would not still be talking about these possibilities in a concrete way because there would be no organization for them to plug into. Having a clear organization is important because it allows us to build a strong union identity through our culture of solidarity and allow other groups of workers to see our vision in practice and step closer to us.

The organization is not, or at least should not, be a "union of militants" as the paper seems to suggest, but instead a "union of militant workers." By that I mean that the IWW should not be an organization of highly developed cadre organizers who stir up struggle at work, but should be a formal union made of workers with different levels of consciousness and organizing ability that is always pushing to develop our members. There will always be people with different levels of experience and consciousness and by embracing the union form, we can draw in workers from wherever they are at and develop them upwards as revolutionaries. After all, if we’re serious about revolutionary struggle, we need to build our organizational ability widely through the class struggle, as early IWW organizers suggested that revolutionary industrial unionism should train us to run the economy after a revolution. By building the union, by bringing in workers and having experiences of struggle with them, we have spaces for bringing up workers and building them into organizers and revolutionaries.

The direct unionists call for “a need for organization,” but don’t adequately explain what organization means. If we don't pay enough attention to organization, our analysis of how to act gets fuzzy and we can make mistakes that neither build the class struggle nor make our lives any better. We act united and public because that's how we have power. We should carry a revolutionary unionist banner and act in a revolutionary unionist way. If not, then what leadership can we provide? Being clear about what it is we are and what we're doing is an important part of organizing. How many times have we explained the politics of the IWW to someone in a one-on-one and heard “Wow, the IWW believes in something! That’s inspiring!” The truth is that like it or not, workers look to organizers and militants for ideas. By raising the banner of the IWW and building ourselves as a formal, revolutionary union, we make it easier to join the organization by building an IWW identity through culture and organizing, and make it easier to develop our members internally by intentionally thinking as an organization about membership development.

The second main mistake of the direct unionist perspective is their confusion of recognition and contractualism as the same thing. Here it's worth quoting the piece at length:

"[We’d] like to note that direct unionism does not reject recognition from the boss. It only rejects ‘official’ recognition and the legalistic methods (contracts, labor board elections, union registration) used to do so. This pamphlet intentionally stresses the ‘here and now’, but if we reach a point where the IWW is a majority presence in a shop, recognition won’t go much further than there being a recognized IWW delegate who is management’s “first point of call” when it come to shop conditions."

The direct unionists argue that that recognition is a possibility in the distant future, but in the short term most recognition is simply contractualism and should be avoided. It’s worth noting that the direct unionists effectively demolish contractualism as an IWW strategy throughout the piece, a critique that I share. They argue though that we can get contracts and get sucked into the negative aspects associated with them, or we can act directly as a group of workers using direct action and avoid all those pitfalls. But the question of recognition is not a distant one, in fact it’s a major feature in most of our current workplace campaigns.

In all the IWW union fights that I have participated in or interacted in, the question of recognition and legitimacy have been reoccurring themes, sometimes explicit and sometimes implied. The bosses sometimes attempt to delegitimize the union by arguing that a direct action approach is not a union approach. This can play out many ways, but most often plays out by the boss saying “If they say they’re a union, then they should file for an election.” Here the boss is trying to put the question of the union’s legitimacy at the workplace often as part of an attempt to third-party the union. We can respond by filing an election, something which the direct unionists and I would oppose for reasons they lay out in the pamphlet, or we can stubbornly continue to push for only direct action, not being able to answer our coworkers’ question of why we won’t file. Under the current conditions of labor law and class consciousness, simply telling a coworker that an election is a bad idea politically is not an effective answer, because the IWW and the labor movement does not possess the cultural and ideological power that we would need for most people to accept our answers without seeing it for themselves. A fellow worker said to me that he thought all new branches run end up running at least one contract campaign for this very reason.

The question of legitimacy is thus a power factor in our union fights. I disagree with the contractual approach but also think that the direct unionists’ answer is also weak. Only relying on direct action leads us to question the reasons for going public with the union in the first place, which leads us to ask why we should organize a union at all and not stick to informal work groups, something the direct unionists say they oppose. We need to find a way to find an answer to the question of the union’s legitimacy and I think we can find it in the example which the direct unionists use to argue for non-contractualism, that of Philadelphia’s Local 8, the IWW’s longshoreman’s union in the 1910’s and 20’s.

The direct unionists say “It [Local 8] established ‘worker control’ on the Philadelphia docks while balancing bread-and-butter concerns with radical, non-contractual principles. To achieve this Philadelphia’s longshore workers would strike any pier in which a shipper tried to bring in non-union labor to unload cargo.” What the direct unionists don’t include here though is that through a strong organizing campaign that took years to fight Local 8 was recognized by the shipper’s organization as the legitimate representative of longshoremen in Philadelphia. The IWW had a hiring hall which the shipping companies used to get workers, much like modern longshoring unions do. Also workers believed that the IWW was their legitimate representative and would refuse to work with longshoremen who were not paid up or would not wear union buttons. In short, through a vigorous campaign of direct action, the IWW fought for and received formal recognition outside of a contractual framework. (Refer to Peter Cole’s Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia for support for this section)

The direct unionists could be throwing the baby out with the bathwater here. Even if we find contractualism a mistake for revolutionary unionism, we need to note that there are different kinds of recognition and that the question of legitimacy cannot be solved simply by hoping that workers will see the union as legitimate by practicing direct action. Capitalist ideology is pervasive and we need to face the fact that today given a choice between pure direct actionism and a contract which recognizes the union, workers will often opt for a contract because it makes the union seem like a legitimate force in the work place. The IWW needs to fight to find ways that deal with the problem of legitimacy that do not give up our tools of direct action, but rather make them part of the culture of work.

Much of the Direct Unionism pamphlet correctly exposes and argues against approaches that would make it more difficult to develop a fully worked-out model of revolutionary unionism. “Business unionism with red flags” remains an important idea to consider and struggle against within our own organizing and organization. It is not simply enough to declare that we are revolutionaries and that it follows that everything we do is revolutionary. We need an organizing practice which matches up to our vision and values about the unionism we would like to see. In developing that practice though, we must carefully interrogate the practices that we think are associated with business unionism and ask ourselves the same questions we ask ourselves. Just because some organizations declare themselves to be business unionists does not mean that everything that follows is inherently business unionist. Reformism has the same problems of praxis that revolutionary unionism has and we should be able to correctly analyze what the “best practices” are and use them to our class’s advantage.

Originally appeared: March 3, 2012 at Thoughts on the Struggle

Comments

unionbagpiper

12 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by unionbagpiper on March 11, 2012

I found a lot of extremely useful information in this article. Great work.

Chilli Sauce

12 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on March 18, 2012

A fellow worker said to me that he thought all new branches run end up running at least one contract campaign for this very reason.

That's good.

Chilli Sauce

12 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on March 18, 2012

Glad to see the direct unionism getting more discussion. I'm not going to comment too deeply, but I will say that two areas the author highlights were two of the main areas where the authors had differing ideas. What we decided on was a bit of compromise and I guess that comes out a bit more strongly than we realised at the time.

Juan Conatz

12 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on March 22, 2012

Scott Nappols comment from the original link

Hey there,

I'm one of the authors of the pamphlet. People don't likely know this, but the document was the product of a series of drafts and debates with IWWs across years. It represents a synthesis and compromise of various positions for that reason. That probably helps to know in reading it.

On organization, what did you find unclear? I might agree, but wasn't sure which elements of organization you thought were missing from reading your post.

On recognition, this is one place where there was some disagreement. Some were fine with and promoted seeking recognition on a tactical basis (different recognitions or not based on context), and others (myself included) rejected recognition all together. To me, I think the approach of these debates often comes from the wrong angle. People debate whether it fits our values vs. how much numbers and powers we can attract by adopting numbers-seeking-tactics. While there's elements of that, it overlooks the real issue which is that these questions aren't isolated from history, but bound up in how struggle evolves across time.

The reality is that we exist in a particular time. A legalistic labor regime evolved that permanently changed labor history, and that's different from the IWW of old. Even the AFL had to embrace illegalist tactics then, and recognition was not really a viable option without intense force. That's a difference from our own time. More instructive is to look at today's syndicalist movements and the division between those that embrace and reject formal recognition, and what it has meant there.

The contradictions around recognition aren't simply ones about legitimacy, but more fundamental. How can we have functioning unions in a time period where very few people have participated in labor struggles, where people in general are disaffected from politics, and where capitalist restructuring has displaced and fragmented labor power? The challenge for revolutionary workers is to organize people around their interests in an incredibly hostile environment towards changes being won, and with heavy inertia against taking the (often) illegalist approach that it would require. People who support recognition attempts often underestimate the level of struggle it would take to have a serious militant union at this time, and don't adequately assess whether people want to have a divisive, threatening, and disruptive workplace for years. Usually it's better to leave than to take that option, unless you're already radicalized. Short of shifts in the objective circumstance (Which may be happening now), it's unlikely that we will see any substantial successes of such a militant approach, especially since any yellow union could easily steal the base if the chips are down.

Both the CNT and FORA raise these issues well by rejecting being the structure of negotiation all together, instead being in favor of building broader assemblies of workers to negotiate. I support that strategy. Likewise they raise that legitimacy and institutionalization in capitalism, require unions to become unthreatening to capitalism. We have no reason to think that capital will just let a union like the IWW exist, bargain with it, officially recognize it, without an excess of force. There's no reason to think that we can organize a revolutionary organization in workplaces hostile to the bosses, and have them play well with the gloves off. SEIU is maybe a carrot they would use, and illegalization would be the stick. For now, people have chosen small targets, and usually in campaigns end up moving towards social unionism to garner numbers, but it's not hard to imagine the real product if we found ourselves in a serious fight. I don't think that we would survive if we tried to enter the real social war that occurs when we clash for full power with the boss at this time. That is the main contradiction, we want legitimacy, but to be a functioning union requires a context. We can't invent that consciousness out of thin air, and it won't happen only through agitating people around their immediate needs because reformists can beat us at that game. The revolutionary workers movement is something more than that, and it won't grow in any time period. In our time, we need to build militants and prepare for when workers power is realistic and proximate.

klas batalo

11 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on November 20, 2012

I am pretty sure I share S. Nappalos' feelings regarding recognitiion here. I just figured I'd chime in though that John O'Rielly's argument here is pretty similar to Sean Gallagher's. Sean Gallagher is basically like we need contracts because it secures immediate gains which then secures legitimacy and confidence in the union. John here is basically in between and says that contracts don't achieve immediate gains, direct action does, but forcing recognition shouldn't be off the table because it helps provide us with legitimacy. The problem here and why I agree with Nappalos is that it will precisely take militant "force" yet unheard of for this period to get to a point where we can just force on paper recognition agreements without all the other bad concessions outlined in the Direct Unionism paper. I think this leaves us instead in a better position to ask, what ways can we gain respect of our coworkers and other membres of the working class without trying to beg/force recognition?

That is an open ended question and I don't have many answers but arround Wisconsin and similar efforts we could see that the IWW was pretty effective at branding itself as having a legitimate voice around workplace issues, even the mini successes and failures of some of our small shop organizing criticized in DU and elsewhere like JJWU, SWU, FRWU, etc has helped build a case for us being a legitimate union in the service industry.

Developing the IWW’s direct unionism politics

An article by Juan Conatz replying to some of the Direct Unionism discussion paper responses.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on March 7, 2013

Cleaning out my numerous Google Doc drafts, I found this, which continues the direct unionism debate by taking on most of the responses to the original discussion paper. So I decided to finish it, as most of the written discussion has dropped off.

First off to clear something up, I did not write (not even one word!) the original discussion paper. There seems to sometimes be confusion over that, probably due to the fact I wrote 2 reviews in the Industrial Worker newspaper. Honestly, outside of a few people who later became involved in Recomposition, a former American Wobbly who is now in Solidarity Federation and some folks I associate with the Workers Power column, I don’t know who all wrote the thing. It was a collaborative effort involving a group of Wobblies over a couple year’s time.

Looking back on the discussion paper, I think (the authors would probably agree) it should be seen as an unfinished draft. Further along than a rough draft but not quite a final draft. I don’t view it as a complete program conceived in full agreement. Speaking of ‘direct unionists’ or a ‘direct unionist tendency’, which sometimes happens, is sort of misdirected because it talks of differences and perspectives in terms of factions. This is convenient when speaking in generalizations or to identify commonality, but can also be unnecessarily divisive or destructive. Part of how I interpret direct unionism is not as a sexy self-identifier, but as building a culture of seriously talking about IWW organizing in a way that advances our practice. To put it a bit more clearly, it’s not about being part of a formalized tendency that ‘wins’ out, but about pushing debate in a way where it has organizational ramifications that are discussed and decided upon by membership. Also, another problem of the sexy self-identifier is that it can be more about the term and not about the ideas. I've come across a few Wobs that identify with the term, but then advocate ideas that are basically the opposite of what the paper advocates.

Those ideas the paper advocates, in my opinion are:

1) Anti-contractual, as well as being against National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections and overly relying on Unfair Labor Practices (ULP’s) or using them as an offensive weapon.

2) Being enthusiastically pro-Organizer Training 101, particularly about the replace yourself parts, building more and better organizers and direct action grievances.

3) Being against permanent, full time, paid staff organizers.

4) Seeing value in membership, but emphasizing participation first.

5) Suspicion of formal recognition from the state or bosses.

There’s other stuff that can be taken from the discussion paper, but I think it’s safe to say this is the meat and potatoes of direct unionism.

Anyway, there’s been several different responses and comments related to the discussion paper, and I wanted to reply to parts of some.

The first one comes from a member of Black Orchid Collective. BOC is a small eclectic Marxist-influenced political organization based in Seattle. They write quite frequently and are worth checking out.

In their response, the author expresses agreement with the thrust of the paper, but brings up its lack of political content, made all the more relevant because of their experience as a care provider in a state-run facility.

to win, we need also to challenge the political narratives of the state, debate in the broader ideas about what health, care and disabilities justice means — We won’t be able to win in our little shops, in our expendable jobs, through class struggle narrative alone, on the basis that we are workers. We dont produce lifeless products, which we can abandon at will through class unity. As healthcare workers, our care for our patients and residents play into how we struggle, and how our struggle is perceived. The reason why the liberal state succeeds is because it is able to present itself as the spokesperson for the well-being of elderly people and people with disabilities in healthcare settings. We, the workers, need to break down that state monopoly and claim that role alongside our patients and their families. This is a struggle that is beyond the workplace. It is a battle against the state in the realm of ideas and analysis about healthcare, disabilities justice and the like, questions that cannot simply be answered by direct action on the job, but require study, conversation, debate, discussion etc.

While acknowledging this situation is unique, there are similar questions to much of our other organizing. What it comes down to is that we fight for bread and butter issues, but also have a revolutionary perspective. What is it and how does it transform our views of the jobs we organize at? Take education for example. The school system as it exists is often a horrible place for teachers and students. A radical approach needs to acknowledge and incorporate how the education system deals with, treats and conditions students, as well. Or fast food. I doubt we imagine ‘self-managing’ fast food restaurants or merely wanting the employment there to be better paid. Some have even advocated ‘abolishing restaurants’ altogether. The point is, we should have a wider critique of what that industry represents and the consequences of its existence.

Other parts of this response continue along ‘What is the political content?’ question, which is a valid one. I don’t have the answer for that. When it comes to what is our vision of society ‘post-revolution’, that’s something that needs to be developed more fully. But this is something an organization needs to be careful and concerned about. While such a thing, more fully developed, will help inform the practice in the now, this is something that can distract from real organizing, turning the membership inward, while elevating those who say over those who do. It’s a balancing act.

The last part of this response is on the unemployed.

Another question I have, is the role of the unemployed in relation to the IWW. As we all know, the high unemployment rate in the US right now reflects deeper racial divisions and segregation. A strategy for the working class needs also to include the demands of the unemployed, not simply for political reasons, but also for practical reasons. The precarious, low waged jobs that many of us are in means that our lifestyles and prospects are not that far from those who are unemployed. [...]In building the leadership and consciousness of workers, how do the writers of Direct Unionism think through the relationship between precarious workers and the unemployed?

Another good question, which there probably isn’t an easy answer. In the 1930s, the IWW was involved in various unemployed movements, but I’m not sure of their activity. My question to the author would be, what do you think? One of the few things I’ve heard about this sort of organizing is refusing to work overtime because of the conception of overtime ‘scabbing’ on the unemployed. The desired effect was that refusing to work overtime would lead to people being hired, thus bringing them out of unemployment.

As a direct response to my reviews in the Industrial Worker, Sean G disagrees with both the discussion paper and my favorable opinion of it. While I would love to argue some more about this, Tom L sent a letter to the IW that tackles most of my disagreements with Sean. Chris A and Nate Hawthorne also replied and covered a bunch, too.

Also appearing in the IW was a letter from Staughton Lynd. I was pleased to see that someone who has been so influential on the IWW paying attention to our debates. He says:

I agree with Sean G. that there is nothing inherently sinful about reducing an oral understanding to writing. At the big Westinghouse plant east of Pittsburgh in the 1930s, if the management and the union reached an understanding about a particular matter, it would be written up and posted in the plant. And under Section 301 of the NLRA as amended, such an agreement can be enforced in the courts, and is therefore less likely to be ignored by management.

I find this a bit confusing, because Lynd has been one of the most critical people on the radical left of contractualism. If he didn’t invent the term, he certainly popularized the term within the labor movement. For one, mentioning enforcement of the courts brings up some questions. It is my understanding that Lynd is critical of getting wrapped up in contractualism and labor law, not only because this is the capitalist’s arena, but also because it takes disputes and decisions out of the hands of the rank-and-file. The problem with the example, is that it still would place the union as enforcer of this contract. A contract, to me, presumes a negotiation between the union and management of give and take. But I’m not sure we should be in the business of ‘giving’. Rather, how about the workers come to an agreement about their demands and then engage in the required amount of work disruption to get it? From that point, management has to show their agreement through action and meet the demands, or disruption continues. In my opinion, this sort of ‘job conditioning’ avoids the pitfalls of representation and negotiation that were the seeds of the contractualism we see today. Making negotiation happen through action seems to possibly be a way of doing this. I realize this raises lots of questions about the level of militancy, firings and other topics.

In sort of an extended version of his reply to Sean G on the development of labor law and contractualism, Nate Hawthorne wrote a libcom.org blogpost titled ‘Workers, the state and struggle’. In it, he gets more in depth about why current labor law is the way it is. Where he talks about direct unionism, he echoes the Black Orchid response by saying:

the point is that those of us who are engaged in conversations about the form of workers’ struggles, including so-called direct unionism and other efforts to avoid the traps of collective bargaining and other institutionalized forms of workers’ struggles, we should have further discussion about a few things. One thing I think we should discuss further is the role of explicit, openly revolutionary political perspectives as part of our activity in struggle.

This is also a big part of his piece, ‘Mottos & Watchwords: a discussion of politics and mass organization’, which, as I understand it, being one of the authors of the original discussion paper, was him addressing what he saw as shortcomings of it. As I already stated, I agree that the political content of direct unionism could be developed more, but this task is inseparable from the task of developing the IWW’s political content more. So while, this critique of direct unionism is fair, in some ways, it misses the mark, as neither direct unionism nor the IWW itself is very clear on how practice and vision are related and linked.

As the Black Orchid response makes clear, there are organizing situations which necessitate a wider vision. But also, as Nate argues in ‘Navigating negotiations’, without this wider vision, we’re in danger of just kickstarting the existing institutions that aim to simply make a ‘better capitalism’ to work for us. One of the reasons alternative unionism arises, and this includes solidarity unionism as well as direct unionism, is that the current scheme isn’t working. Not even in the narrow parameters that it is meant for. When this happens, alternatives arise. This sometimes gets the current scheme to start working, which will attempt to incorporate these alternatives. Incorporation is inevitable unless the alternative has a vision beyond that scheme.

Moving on from Nate, the next response comes from IWW members in Vancouver. ‘Direct unionism in practice: undermining service industry barriers to worker solidarity’ gets a bit more specific than some of the other responses, describing both Canadian labor law and the service industry.

Not being Canadian, there’s not much for me to say on the labor law bit, but there’s a lot to agree with here. The recognition that there are things we do at work daily to deal or even resist the imposition of wage labor is an important thing. These ‘informal work groups’ should be the basis of our organizing, and are the key to many campaigns.

The last sentence of this article has really stuck with me. It says:

Without the basic infrastructure to carry out these direct actions and the willingness of IWW organizer’s to let go of the organizing based on site/contracting, the IWW is irrelevant; it becomes simply a club in which to wax poetic about the ideals and dreams of a liberated working class.

To me, this means that even if we wanted to, the IWW can not be a regular reformist union based on collective bargaining contracts. This isn’t the basis for our potential power and will not succeed as a strategy.

I do have some concerns about what is written about affiliation (which I assume means membership). Deemphasizing membership too much can lead to our co-workers not taking what we’re doing seriously and impede the identification of the union as the vehicle for what we need and what we’re doing.

This gets us to the most recent response to the discussion paper, by fellow Twin Cities IWW member John O’Reilly. On the topic of formal membership and building a union he says:

The union form, the IWW version of the union form at least, is important. We need to build formal organization and we need to be able to use that to build an IWW identity. A union as the IWW practices it is a group of workers coming together to represent their interests and act against the boss’s interests today and in doing so building a fight against the boss class’s interests tomorrow. By building the union, we push our message throughout the class and have a flag that we can point to and say “See, this is what the union does.”

I agree with this. Despite the often negative connotations with the word ‘union’, it’s something we have to redefine ourselves. That possibility exists now because as much as there are many bad things associated with the word, there are many people (most people in fact) with little experience with unions.

The various conversations that have branched out from direct unionism have been valuable for me personally, and in my opinion, have been much needed in the IWW. There’s much more to say, and much more to experiment with, and I hope we continue to do both.

Originally posted: March 6, 2013 at Recomposition

Comments

Chilli Sauce

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on March 7, 2013

This is good and, FWIW, Juan I consider you an honorary author of Direct Unionism. ;)

Two quick things:

(1) On membership, this was one of two areas where the authors had to reach some compromise language in the original draft (as it was released, I think it's far short of a final draft). The other was recognition through non-legal means. Interestingly, the best critiques I've read of Direct Unionism have picked up on these tensions.

(2) On politics, the piece sort of assumed a set of (political) principles but was primary focused on practicalities. The working title was "Organizing Without Contracts". While a decicion to not pursue a contractualist approach certainly has political implications, our concern was to present some practical ideas to what non-contractual workplace organising could look like.

I don't think every article could or should be a catch-all. I don't think adding sections on post-revolutionary social organisation or how the IWW will relate to the unemployed and the racial and social aspects of unemployment would have helped us achieve the goals of the piece.

Finally, I'm also glad you picked up on the contradictions in Lynd's feedback. I too was really happy to hear he was going to weigh in, but found his contribution rather surprising if not dissapointing.

Anyway, thanks again for writing this.

syndicalist

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on March 7, 2013

Gonna email it to myself to read gril.

This caught me as it was eye level at the end:

Despite the often negative connotations with the word ‘union’, it’s something we have to redefine ourselves. That possibility exists now because as much as there are many bad things associated with the word, there are many people (most people in fact) with little experience with unions.

I'm not sure if you're saying that because of the DU paper that we now have such possibilities or not. Pardon me if that's not what you're saying.

Dunno, the one long time ago learned lesson is that it is always our role to define what we mean by unionism. That even in the harshest of debates, with coworkers and others, our unionist vision should be at the core of the discussion. Perhaps in the IWW the DU paper gives active Wobs an opening to discuss the specific vision within the iww. coo wit dat.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on March 7, 2013

coo wit dat.

Syndicalist, I'm upping you just for being down with the kids ;)

syndicalist

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on March 8, 2013

Chilli Sauce

coo wit dat.

Syndicalist, I'm upping you just for being down with the kids ;)

Well...it's about as close to an anarcho-syndicalist perspective and why not support it?
I'm not sure how practical all of it is, but that's the beauty, isn't it? The challenge of
trying to take ideas and put them into practice.

Nate

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on March 8, 2013

I like this piece Juan, thanks for writing it. I'm curious what you and Chili and others see as the open questions or whatever to still pursue with this. I know for me helping write it was super thought provoking. (I hope I've said this before publicly - Chili is the person who really made the paper happen. He did a lot of the writing and pretty much all of the coordination in terms of getting people to write stuff and respond and so on. I'm really grateful for that because I got so much out of it.) When we first were working on it I tended to de-emphasize political ideology and came out of it being like "ideology is way more important than I thought!" I don't think this is a failing of the discussion paper as much as that I think that discussion in the IWW should deal with the stuff in the paper but more stuff too. I really like how you put it: "the political content of direct unionism could be developed more (...) this task is inseparable from the task of developing the IWW’s political content more (...) neither direct unionism nor the IWW itself is very clear on how practice and vision are related and linked." I wish I had just written that instead of whatever I said before.

I wanted to add that I've found SolFed's Fighting For Ourselves very thought provoking and powerful for this stuff, in terms of helping me think about the political content of direct unionism and developing the IWW's politics further. Both the analysis (especially the stuff on association and representation) and the social vision (what kind of world we want etc). I also wanted to add that since we wrote the discussion paper it seems like there are more examples of nonrevolutionary unions experimenting with the sorts of things that the discussion paper calls for/approves of. I don't think that's a matter of us having influence, I think it's that those unions have changed. But I think this also speaks to the need to push on some of the political questions, developing the content and so on. I think that's a high quality problem too.

syndicalist

I'm not sure if you're saying that because of the DU paper that we now have such possibilities or not.

I can't speak for Juan (though if I could I'd make him say how handsome and charming I am) but that's not how I read his comment, and I would definitely disagree that the DU paper had anything like that influence.

syndicalist

gril

you just made my day.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on March 8, 2013

Thanks Nate. However, I'm gonna pass credit right on back to you. It was you that actually got this thing public, cleaning it up for publication and actually getting it published.

I know for me helping write it was super thought provoking

I did want to specifically agree with you on this point: the process of writing DU was super-clarifying for me in terms of politics and an organising strategy (as if if the two can be seperated!) And although if we re-wrote it, I think I'd frame the argument differently (a political choice, no doubt) to include concepts like 'representational', 'associational' and 'mediation'.

DU isn't a perfect or complete argument, but I do hope it's helped other to have some of those same sort of clarifying conversation.

I don't think the paper can take credit for these new experiments happening in English-speaking revolutionary unionist currents, but I do think it helps to situate and maybe provide some common terminology to understand them.

syndicalist

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on March 8, 2013

Just to pick up on something. More out of curiosity then anything else.

Nate, does "ideology" always have to be presented in "rhetorical" terms (use of a certain language) or terms). Or can it not be basis from which approaches the concepts and forms and then transmitting same without the rhetoric? I know that folks that I've associated with for years (all anarcho-syndicalists) have tried to steer clear of the ideological rhetoric, while trying to present "the ideology" in the content of the presentation. Not sure that make sense, am a shitty writer, perhaps you catch my drift.

syndicalist

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on March 8, 2013

Also appearing in the IW was a letter from Staughton Lynd. I was pleased to see that someone who has been so influential on the IWW paying attention to our debates. He says:

I agree with Sean G. that there is nothing inherently sinful about reducing an oral understanding to writing. At the big Westinghouse plant east of Pittsburgh in the 1930s, if the management and the union reached an understanding about a particular matter, it would be written up and posted in the plant. And under Section 301 of the NLRA as amended, such an agreement can be enforced in the courts, and is therefore less likely to be ignored by management.

I find this a bit confusing, because Lynd has been one of the most critical people on the radical left of contractualism. If he didn’t invent the term, he certainly popularized the term within the labor movement. For one, mentioning enforcement of the courts brings up some questions. It is my understanding that Lynd is critical of getting wrapped up in contractualism and labor law, not only because this is the capitalist’s arena, but also because it takes disputes and decisions out of the hands of the rank-and-file.

I think there are two parts to this. What workers have forced the boss to agree to and having it posted. The second the legal coverage. I'll leave the latter aside for now. Because I don't see having posted a what was agreed to posted on a bulletin board as contractualism. And, in IWW shops, as i understand it, this was also practiced. I guess I have a hard time with there being
a feeling that anything that is written is a contract in the sense of being a collective agreement based on what now has become collective agreements with no strike clauses, management rights, etc., etc. I dunno know, it's like not taking minutes at a meeting and then having to rely on what folks thought they said or agreed to.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on March 8, 2013

syndicalist

Chilli Sauce

coo wit dat.

Syndicalist, I'm upping you just for being down with the kids ;)

Well...it's about as close to an anarcho-syndicalist perspective and why not support it?
I'm not sure how practical all of it is, but that's the beauty, isn't it? The challenge of
trying to take ideas and put them into practice.

Oh yeah, I wanted to clarify this, I meant down with the kids for being coo with dat. Although I'm glad you like liked DU, too. ;)

Nate

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on March 9, 2013

syndicalist

Just to pick up on something. More out of curiosity then anything else.

Nate, does "ideology" always have to be presented in "rhetorical" terms (use of a certain language) or terms). Or can it not be basis from which approaches the concepts and forms and then transmitting same without the rhetoric? I know that folks that I've associated with for years (all anarcho-syndicalists) have tried to steer clear of the ideological rhetoric, while trying to present "the ideology" in the content of the presentation. Not sure that make sense, am a shitty writer, perhaps you catch my drift.

I think I get you. What'd be your answer to this, Syndicalist? I guess I would say no, the ideas don't require the terms, but for some stuff the terms may be the best ways to convey the ideas?
I'm not totally sure here, except to say that I think it's really important that we try to avoid impenetrable specialist conversations when possible, and if such conversations do seem important to have then we should have stuff in place to help people learn to understand and feel comfortable to speak in those conversations. (I know I for one learned a ton from Fighting For Ourselves about anarchist history - people throw around references to the CNT and FAI etc, stuff I'd always meant to learn about but which I'd never gotten around to and have always been a bit intimidated to dig into.)

syndicalist

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on March 8, 2013

Thanks Nate. I guess my analogy with language would be to what you say
about trying to "avoid impenetrable specialist conversations when possible".
That is, we can promote ideas with a minimum of "in-house" and "specialist"
language in our public literature.

For sure internal conversations, internal education can and should be more specialized.
I was referring more to external stuff.

Juan Conatz

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on March 25, 2013

syndicalist

I'm not sure if you're saying that because of the DU paper that we now have such possibilities or not. Pardon me if that's not what you're saying.

Nah, I'm saying because of a lack of experience with unions, we have an oppurtunity to define unionism as we like, as opposed to previous eras where unionism was more defined because of peoples experiences with them being more common.

syndicalist

11 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on March 26, 2013

Juan Conatz

syndicalist

I'm not sure if you're saying that because of the DU paper that we now have such possibilities or not. Pardon me if that's not what you're saying.

Nah, I'm saying because of a lack of experience with unions, we have an oppurtunity to define unionism as we like, as opposed to previous eras where unionism was more defined because of peoples experiences with them being more common.

Fair enough, in large measure.

Juan Conatz

11 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on March 31, 2013

Nate

I also wanted to add that since we wrote the discussion paper it seems like there are more examples of nonrevolutionary unions experimenting with the sorts of things that the discussion paper calls for/approves of. I don't think that's a matter of us having influence, I think it's that those unions have changed. But I think this also speaks to the need to push on some of the political questions, developing the content and so on. I think that's a high quality problem too

Exactly. Even since I wrote this last fall, there's been more examples. That's going to be something we're going to have to relate to

syndicalist

8 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on December 16, 2015

From time to time I reskim aspects of this pamphlet and the Dam breaking one as well. Just a funny habit I've developed over the decades. Basically to look at stuff that I found of interest and see how its stacked up over time or see if Ive missed sometime that time has a funny way of pointing out.

Anyway, I'm just curious from a totally constructive/functional manner, what, if any of the props have been adopted inside the IWW? And if so, how they working out?

Anyway, feel free to reply or ignore.

Juan Conatz

8 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Juan Conatz on January 31, 2016

Well, I would say that the Organizer Training program is viewed as one of the most important things about the union. I do think the OT has reached supremacy within, at least, the North American part of the IWW.

There is a ban on permanent, paid organizing staff that was passed a few years ago at Convention, along with a ban on new contracts that contained no-strike clauses. If I remember correctly there was a contract campaign which had a ULP filed against them for refusing to accept a no-strike clause, but the NLRB ruled that since it was in the union's Constitution, that it did not qualify as 'bargaining in bad faith'.

syndicalist

8 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on January 31, 2016

If I remember correctly there was a contract campaign which had a ULP filed against them for refusing to accept a no-strike clause, but the NLRB ruled that since it was in the union's Constitution, that it did not qualify as 'bargaining in bad faith'

Interesting.Something to take note of.

fnbrilll

8 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fnbrilll on February 1, 2016

I've not heard of a new ruling Juan. I know that when the problem of no-strike clauses arose first in Phily and then in Portland I suggested amending the constitution for no-no-strike clauses based on a case during WW2 when the MESA won the right to strike because they had a no-no-strike clause.

syndicalist

8 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalist on February 1, 2016

^^^^^ re: last two comments. Either of u know the case?
I'd like to read it. Nevha new after all these years and bargaining sessions

fnbrilll

8 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fnbrilll on February 1, 2016

was wrong - hurray!