Jane McAlevey

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Phil's picture
Joined: 28-08-09
Dec 20 2017 18:01
Jane McAlevey

Question for American comrades, particularly wobblies: have you heard of an organiser called Jane McAlevey? The reason I ask is that a number of British unions appear enamoured with her work, particularly my own union PCS.

See: https://www.pcs.org.uk/news/activate/organising/organising-to-win-%E2%80%98we-are-patient-disciplined-and-methodical%E2%80%99

To be fair, plenty of what she says makes sense, but as far as I can tell she's always been a full timer and never a lay rep. Also, this coincides with efforts in PCS to centralise so much more stuff into the hands of full timers - including education, which is being taken from trained tutors working in colleges and going to union employees often hired due to membership of or proximity to the Socialist Party of England and Wales.

This may be nothing to do with Jane, but the timing just makes me naturally suspicious.

Hieronymous's picture
Joined: 27-07-07
Dec 21 2017 05:49

I've read some of her books and listened to several of her interviews. As a preface, she can be smug at times and often comes off as an all-knowing piecard, but her analysis of workplace class-based organizing is usually spot-on -- especially concerning working-class agency and strikes. I appreciate her critique of symbolism masquerading as class struggle, especially in its Alinskyite form (from class-denying identity politics to the UFW relying solely on boycotts to staff-managed media-savvy Fight for $15 campaigns).

Here's an excellent interview on KPFA radio called "Organizing Class Power, Turning the Tide Against the Right"

Joined: 20-04-08
Dec 29 2017 07:45

Her latest article

Her argument seems to resonate with many activists

klas batalo's picture
klas batalo
Joined: 5-07-09
Jan 6 2018 00:22

she basically has come up with a bunch of buzzwords and sorta "new" models for organizing that are essentially class wide unionism... like she calls for "whole worker" organizing i.e. an approach to working class organizing that recognizes other aspects of workers' lives etc. I believe she also was some sorta heretic within HERE and moved to SEIU or something and had a bunch of organizing experience in Stamford CT, that's also where a lot of pretty serious militant stuff (as far as AFL-CIO goes) is happening with HERE currently. that's probably why. also she has that new book.

Hieronymous's picture
Joined: 27-07-07
Jan 6 2018 16:12
klas batalo wrote:
she basically has come up with a bunch of buzzwords and sorta "new" models for organizing that are essentially class wide unionism...

This is inaccurate. If you’d read her stuff — even the short essays — or listened to the podcasts you’d see that she harkens back to bottom-up organizing of the 1930s. If you’d read Staughton Lynd’s oral histories of militants of that inspiring era, it’s hard to disagree with this approach.

Her “buzzwords” for approaches to class struggle and social change are:

    1. Advocacy, which is what business union legislative reps do when they lobby politicians at the statehouse. It’s also the approach of post-ACORN activistism groups (e.g. ACCE where I live) who drum up media attention then try to use this to pressure ruling class institutions to negotiate. Alinskyites sometimes do this as well.
    2. Mobilization, which is the go-to activismist strategy of most groups in the U.S., dating back to the Battle of Seattle — and before — then followed by the anti-war movement, Black Lives Matter and the Womens’ March. It’s the splashy, media-savvy idea that relies on tools like social media for getting million in the streets for a one-time event catalyzes massive social change. One just has to read Cloward and Piven’s Poor People's Movements to see how solely using the mobilization approach amounts to magical thinking (which explains the similar critique as Piven was her faculty advisor when she got a PhD). It’s also the approach of Fight for $15, where the top (often Ivy League educated) piecards in Change to Win unions created a blueprint, in consultation with the lefty Berlin-Rosen Madison Avenue PR firm, to create the illusion of rank-and-file participation in mass action in order to mobilize for nothing more than press conferences (mixed with advocacy cooperation with Democratic Party politicians). The greatest weakness of this approach is the facile victories that get blast all over social media, in which there’s no self-reflection or critical engagement but instead just a steady stream of glorious wins.
    3. Organizing (or Deep Organizing), which to my thinking is too focused on trade unions, but just the same it’s an approach that’s shopfloor-based and clearly intended to foment working class self-activity — hence McAlevey’s references to the rank-and-file rebellions of the 1930s. It’s disgenuous to call these terms “buzzwords” or to allege that this model is “new” — as McAlevey certainly doesn’t. But this is a class-wide, bottom-up focus that’s all so necessary today.

There’s lots in her new book No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age to critique, but there’s even more to recommend. Her case studies of successful organizing offer many useful lesson for shopfloor militants trying to spark actual class struggle. Using them, we would approach organizing based on actually building power, making our attempts smarter and potentially more successful. I put her ideas on par with Joe Burns’ books on revitalizing the strike weapon — on the micro level — and how Beverly Silver’s Forces of Labor historically and geographically situates class power on the macro level.