A tale of two trainings

A dual card member briefly compares the training programs of the UFCW and IWW.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on March 1, 2014

The IWW’s Organizer Training 101 (OT101) is fundamentally different from any of the union trainings I’ve ever participated in with my business union.

In 2010, I went to the United Food and Commercial Workers’ (UFCW) Prairies Youth Activist Retreat. It was five days long and held in a smaller vacation town in Manitoba. We spent the first two days learning the UFCW version of labor history and why we needed to vote for the New Democratic Party (NDP). We had a provincial NDP functionary (the Minister of Justice) come and speak to us about “our” issues. Incidentally, he sidestepped my question about why the NDP cancelled the university tuition freeze. We were told that, because of elections in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, we might be expected to act as volunteers for the NDP’s electoral campaigns and that the skills we learned were going to be put into that project.

The next day was the structure of the Canadian labor movement and a half-day explanation of why Walmart is terrible (seriously, like half a day dedicated to how terrible Walmart is). The next day focused on contract negotiation. We split into two teams and tried to play the roles of employees and employers. It was the only role-play in the week, and it forced half of the workers to identify as bosses. Of course, no one wanted to play the role of the boss because we were all snarky youth attending a union activist training and thus we didn’t identify with the bosses. We didn’t take this activity, seriously and the “bosses’” only offer was “de-certify the union and we will give you a $10 raise or don’t decertify and we will negotiate a contract with the CLAC [Christian Labour Association of Canada] to lower your wages.” It was a pointless exercise.

The final day was the “organizer training” day. After the whole “why we organize” spiel, we were told that our job as organizers was to go find information in order to pass it on to the next level up within the union. Then, as the height of ridiculousness, our next task was to go to local grocery store to fan out and get information on the people working there! Can you imagine a group of 20 youth from out of town or even out of province going to a store all at once? We were instructed to pay really close attention to the workers there as well as to ask them questions about what they did and how they liked it. Of course the bosses found out right away and they called the police. Cops escorted these young organizers off the property. It was a mess and I doubt that anything productive ever came of the activity.

These tactics are fundamentally different from how the IWW operates and how the IWW trains its rank-and-file organizers. The IWW, through role-playing in its trainings, helps to empower workers themselves. Our goal isn’t to pass off information to another layer of the union who does the work for us. The IWW doesn’t see signing cards or being the official certified bargaining unit in a workplace as the ultimate goals of an organizing drive. Our definition of a union is fundamentally different. One learns in the OT101 that a union is “two or more workers coming together to change something in their workplace or industry” and not a statemandated collective bargaining unit. We role-play talking to our co-workers, and since the people we are going through OT101 are our co-workers, it’s much more empowering and uplifting.

After a week at UFCW youth activist retreat, all I felt that I got from it was a week of drinking and a paid vacation (which was fine, because as a minimum wage retail worker, I didn’t actually get paid vacations).

After a two-day IWW OT101, I feel empowered to go out and organize.

Transcona Slim is a dual-card member of the IWW and UFCW, currently working in the retail and education industries.