Thinking About Policy and Staff in the IWW

Thinking About Policy and Staff in the IWW

In this essay I argue that the organizing policy pursued by the IWW for the past decade or so has been ineffective in large part because it’s informed by assumptions which are incorrect. The central assumption being that the IWW ought to avoid using paid staff at all costs. This viewpoint concedes that a division of labor is useful, but only by volunteer worker organizers who cannot be tempted to corruption by virtue of not drawing a salary. Certainly this assumption is itself informed by others, which I hope to address below. Most of these assumptions are not often made explicit, but are definitely current among the left today, and in the works of authors revered by many in the IWW.

In much the same way, the IWW’s organizing policy is itself not entirely explicit. Many of the formulations of principle are found across blogs and Libcom forums, as well as occasionally in the Industrial Worker. A central premise which supports my conclusion in the affirmative for paid staff is that contrary to the claims of many on the left the working class does not ‘self-organize’ or not in the sense that they often seem to imply. By this I mean that a division of labor, including full-time staff, are necessary to form any working class organization that is to be both more than ephemeral, and large, regardless of its political commitments. Obviously these political commitments matter, and that is why I take up the concept of policy as the means for the membership to direct and keep accountable staff and officers. Of course, I do not have all the answers, and I hope to invite discussion with this essay.

A Past Campaign

In the early 00’s, Wobblies helped try and organize bike couriers in Chicago. Their initial strategy was to organize a central, Industrial Organizing Committee, which would be made up of members of “shop committees” at each employer. The IOC employed an Organizer at two points in the campaign. The first, Pete, was an experienced organizer, who for about 2 and 1/2 months helped propel the campaign forward, alongside worker committees. The second organizer, Andrea Murphy stepped in after organizing had dropped off altogether and, having little organizing experience, employed a series of misguided schemes to ‘get workers involved’ (everything from yoga to zines). She had a familiarly difficult time of it. However, she was the first person to be interested in organizing the Bike Couriers, into the Windy City Bicycle Messenger Association, which lasted several months before it was dissolved. Shortly after, members met with the IWW, who began assisting them with organizing. Prior to the arrival of the the first organizer, Pete, two members of the Chicago GMB worked alongside workers, energized after a first mass meeting, to map the industry and gather contacts. Matt Kellard and Colin Bossen had begun working with the WCBMA before its dissolution, and Andrea Murphy met Pete on a trip in Portland. The idea was that upon his arrival in Chicago, Pete “would focus his energies on teaching workers how to organize, handle grievances, and strategize about the union effort.” Indeed, he did just that.

One of the organizers, Colin Bossen, wrote up a post-mortem of the campaign. But his analysis is consistently viewed through the lens of ‘activism’ current now and in the early 00’s. For example, FW Bossen states,

“With Pete in town, we were able to capitalize on this information (contacts) and to organize several shop committees. However, these committees were not capable of functioning without an outside IWW organizer present. Despite this limitation,the shop committees began to build the union slowly by winning small grievances at individual workplaces.”

A bit later, after detailing the successes of grievance handlings in the campaign with the organizer’s presence, Bossen notes

“During Pete’s time in Chicago, we held two organizer trainings, a program started by the IWW in 2000 to give everyday workers on the job the tools and skills (and confidence as well) to organize their workplaces…..The trainings provided messengers with the basic information they needed to organize but did not seem to provide them with confidence to be independent organizers.”

The Shop-floor committee is the first place a worker really interacts with the union.The IWW has had for at least the past 10 years an “Organizer Training 101.” This 2-day training introduces people to the IWW and trains them to form the shop committee. Bossen continues,

“I speculate that MK, Pete, and I served as a crutch and that with us to rely on the messengers did not need to develop their own leadership. Pete left Chicago in June 2004, and his absence was immediately felt. MK and I lacked his experience at group facilitation, and the organizing began to falter.” (emphasis my own)

On one level, this poses a question of leadership in general, and on a more concrete level it is a question of the role of the organizer.

On leadership, the left generally is stuck in a rut of ‘authenticity’. Here, a given leader is chastised as not being a part of working class, either sociologically (‘They make six figures!’) or more to the point, by the leader’s support for bourgeois aims.The question is irrelevant. It is factually true that workers can and will make up their own minds to follow this or that course. Our job then is to convincingly address the issues concerning workers and present clear paths forward. Workers may get tricked into letting someone into power over them, but they cannot trick the workers into taking power for themselves. We cannot deal with the inevitable corruption of some leaders by eliminating all leaders if that means the sacrifice of success.

In the IWW this question comes up partially in attitudes to the ‘third-partying’ tactic employed by the boss. While it is true that the union ‘is the membership’ it is also true that the union employs staff. What ought to be emphasized is that the staff of the union serve the members and that the independent nature – i.e. ‘third party’ – of the union is to the benefit of the worker. Independence from the boss is the precondition for organization against the boss.

The second question is that of the relationship between paid organizers and leadership in organizing drives. It seems reasonable to me that the first leg of the Courier campaign illustrates a healthy relationship. Workers made up the decision making bodies, and Pete and other non-worker members of the I.W.W. provided the necessary advisory roles to support workers in training, confidence, and labor. Once Pete left, and one of the IWW volunteers got a job as a courier to help form a shop committee at one of the bigger shops, the other shop committees and the jointly formed IOC (made up of one worker from each shop committee) dissolved. Bossen writes,

“Toward the end of the summer, MK took a job with Arrow as a bike messenger. He began to focus his energy more and more on building a shop committee at Arrow and less on his work with the IOC. This shift in energy ultimately spelled the end for the IOC. We spent much of the autumn and winter trying to get members of the IOC to focus on building shop committees but were unable to establish functioning committee at any shop other than Arrow. I spent months working with workers from two mid-sized companies, but in both cases, neither committee developed to the point where it was able to take on a worker’s grievance and win.”

It seems clear that with the reduction of the pool of labor outside the shop reduced by ⅔, the drive was of course bound to change in nature. What followed, was that one volunteer organizer ‘salted in’ and the paid organizer left. It’s not entirely clear what specific duties they could have continued to play outside the shop committees. Why doesn’t Bossen draw the conclusion that it resulted from a decline in outside support, and instead locates it in ‘worker confidence’?

Our Current Orthodoxy

Perhaps it is because the predominant sentiment in the IWW is anti-contractualist union activism. That means we don’t aim for the long ‘peace’ secured by contracts, legitimated by the NLRB. We could of course, within the confines of the current constitution, pursue contracts in our organizing. We are prohibited from signing contracts with no-strike clauses. This seems a fine provision, amounting to the outlawing of workers bargaining away their strength. That said, anti-contractualism in general does not change in any meaningful way the work that we’re required to do to remain effective. Contract or not, unions still have to provide their memberships with services. Here, I mean trainings, administration, calling people, house-visits, research, editing news media, designing agitational materials and much more. However, the prevailing orthodoxy takes anti-contractualism to mean a total rejection of the union providing almost any services. This orthodoxy amounts to IWW practice being “Join our union, and do everything yourself!”

Many have pointed out how workers are willing to go some distance, especially against their immediate material interests, in order to support their values. The union has certainly used this fact to it’s advantage over the years. But the reality is that workers just don’t have the time. Even if they think capitalism is wrong or awful, people must resign themselves to keeping their heads down and weathering the storm. The amount of effort involved is too much for one person to figure out alone. Put simply, there is a relationship between moral feeling, and ability to spend time fighting back. As the time necessary to win goes up, the ability to seriously fight back just disappears; even if people wanted to, the simple fact is they have to eat first.

Here we get into messy territory on the left. On the one side, we have the DIY attitude of many anarchists and ultra-leftists. This suggests that decision making (ALL decision making!) must be in the hands of everyone involved at all times. This is somewhat of a caricature. In reality, it is mostly the phenomenon of seeing formal structures doing the work that substantive democratic movements would otherwise take care of. For example: We must decentralize the powers of the I.W.W. GEB because then it will allow locals to make their own decisions and flourish. It will keep officers accountable (rather, it will get rid of officers!) and will forestall any ‘incipient bureaucracy.’ This logic is very similar to that of classical political economy. Here, a ‘civil society’ of independent private property owning producers, would work out their exchanges and grievances with each-other efficiently, if not for the interference of the heavy hand of the state. This also has considerable purchase among ideologists of neoliberalism writ large. States (the main form of social authority) ought to only pursue those efforts which lower the costs of transaction and communication or disappear altogether,save for enforcing the property rights of the idlers!

On the other side we often find some variant of Comintern inspired ideology, which clings tightly to forms of ‘democratic centralism’ that in reality are essentially bureaucratic centralism. That is, a small clique of bureaucrats, continually elected to the same or similar positions, rules on most issues, and dissent from their line is cause for expulsion. Ultimately, purity of political line becomes the goal, with organizational ‘purging’ or splitting, the main form of activity. While these organizations have some semblance of policy and program, they suffer from a combination of bad politics and bad organizational imperatives.

A Better Way?

But what does this have to do with organizing a union in fast food? Or the IWW? Well, the suggestion is that both strategies are ultimately wrong. If the union is going to have campaigns that go beyond DIY shop-level resistance efforts, it’s going to need the consistent help of staff in administration and organizing. While this is embraced to a fault by the bureaucratic sects, it is rejected by the ultras. We saw how in the case of the couriers, when the organizer left, it became difficult to sustain the campaign. What’s needed then is a staff and administration – in a word, a bureaucracy – but one which is subordinate to the will of the membership.

Here we get into the troubles that the union has had in the recent past. While being successful at building shop committees and maintaining them for a short amount of time, the volunteer salts often suffer burnout. Further, we lack a more concrete medium/long term vision for a union with stable membership in one area. Contemporary efforts regarding unionization in the mainstream labor movement are completely geared toward contractualism. It secures dues income for the union, and secures some benefits for workers. It’s cutting a deal. If we’re going to refuse this route, then we need to think seriously about what it is that we offer. And it can’t just be a “value-system.” If that’s the case, how are we better than a church?

Part of going beyond the shop committees, and using resources outside them effectively, is having a model of how to build the union as a local social/political force in the city or area where the organizing is taking place. This is necessarily outside the ongoing workplace activity. This requires social events, educational events, canvassing and a number of other activities involving the union in order to cement it as a social force.

The old IWW did this in numerous ways. Until 1913 when Big Bill Haywood was formally expelled, the Socialist Party’s left-wing and IWW members often shared resources, published complimentary literature, and directly helped in organizing strikes. This even continued in some areas after Haywood left the Socialist Party.

The IWW also had its own robust publishing department, with paid editors for various newspapers and journals in several languages. Agitation, Education, Organization were constant processes. IWW organizers, paid and volunteer, would leaflet working class districts, soap-box, pamphlet shift changes, hold meetings, etc. This Agitation on the outside helped workers on the inside carry on Education about what was possible if workers stood up on the job.

But this was all possible because workers had previously stepped up and chipped in their money to hire staff to coordinate an organization. The IWW could speak authoritatively on questions of wages and safety, and also social and political questions; the role of the working class in society, why the bosses can’t be trusted at work or in the government.

One way that this has been thought about is in terms of “legitimacy.” As in, traditional US unions get their ‘legitimacy’ from the state securing and enforcing their contracts to some degree. This, plus their well organized nature. (We may disagree with their politics, and a lot of their strategy, and even some aspects of how they’re organized, but they have resources, and they sometimes use them effectively). John O’reilly writes:

“The legitimacy of the union springs from struggling together, from the relationships that grow from struggle, and from showing that the union and our vision is just as viable a thing to believe in as the boss and their vision. If we can show workers that our organizing can make their lives better, or at least give them powerful emotional experiences associated with trying to make their lives better, it is reasonable for them to believe other things that we say, like that we are fighting for the whole pie. ”

While the question is interesting, it seems to miss the point. Legitimacy, something we do need in order to organize effectively, will ultimately only come from organizing effectively. But we can be clearer about what that means. As noted above, if workers are not going to be forced to pay dues to to us, but do it voluntarily, then they really have to benefit from what we’re selling.

But, if we’re not selling health-insurance, a grievance arbitration procedure that is ultimately useless, and an admonition to vote for Sanders, then what are we selling? The things which immediately come to my mind are: Effective offensive and defensive organizational support.

Working class organization means having a clear and reliable source to go to with your problems at work. It means that they will be dealt with in a reasonably consistent and effective fashion, and it means that the worker aggrieved will have a role to play in addressing a grievance. Concretely this means having the infrastructural, administrative, and organizational abilities to turn out hundreds of workers in support of a local grievance. This itself would require an initial level of organization, as well as a degree of ‘legitimacy’ in the eyes of the participants. It also would require local bookkeeping, administration, reports filing and public relations work. This would likely would require the local or regional establishment of shop committees across an industry, campaigning by the same to win some public demands, and then their spread outside of that framework. What the worker would get in exchange for their dues is membership in an organization that has some material benefits for them (increased wages, job protection, actual grievance handling, better schedules, etc.) but that also offers an alternative political institution to the ones that dominate American politics (membership in an organization where the members set policy, vote, hold office, draft proposals, defend each other etc.). The second feature is no less important, as it is the last resort method of defense we will have to make use of in our efforts. That is, reliable, effective legal support, and other forms of defense where powerful organization is not yet possible.

Up to this point, the organizing work that the IWW has done has relied almost *entirely* upon small committees made up of volunteer salts. I do not for one minute doubt the dedication of these members, but I do suspect that we might chart a better course.
Let’s think about organizing at 6 grocery locations with 100 employees each, in the context of the prevailing orthodoxy. That would mean at least 1-2 initial Salts per store. Finding and orchestrating the hiring of 12 wobblies into a chain of grocery stores would itself take work to do. Once inside, these salts have to talk to coworkers, set up and do 1-on-1’s, socially map the workplace, physically map the workplace, do research about suppliers and the workers involved there, identify grievances, and begin thinking about recruitment from the shop-floor onto the shop committee. Further, they would have to identify production choke-points in their own stores, devise consistent and useful tactics for settling grievances, train newcomers in the practice, research the business’ growth strategy to identify tactical moves to pinch growth as a means to get concessions (as one example), engage in graphic design and PR, administer and manage funds, etc. That is, under our current model, we expect 12 people, working full time hours for little pay, to take on these tasks.

Alternatively, a union which places rank-and-file committees as it’s core, could delimit the activity they must engage in, and provide them with resources for building on their struggles. While those shop committee’s begin to recruit, the staff of the union could help lay the basis for local growth. They can train and coordinate door-to-door campaigns with volunteers to get the word out about the union when the time comes. They can host the trainings needed for the emerging shop committees (OT-101) on how to use direct action to solve grievances and build the ‘underground unionism’ phase of the campaign. They can work with other parts of the IWW to do industrial research (research staff) to help flesh out possible tactics and strategies for engaging with an employer, especially going public. They can handle educational and advertising initiatives to help newly forming locals (graphic design, pr, educational staff). They can help with the maintenance of web interfaces which allow members to debate and publish writings and arguments in a transparent fashion (web admin and publishing staff).

Instead of volunteer committees of workers handling every aspect of an organizing campaign we could augment the efforts of those workers with a division of labor using employed staff. Workers on the shop-floor would still settle grievances, and would still set organizational policy but they’d be assisted by staff that would utilize discrete skills to implement aspects of policy.

No Policy in the Union? Come Off It

A big concern for paid staff in the IWW is accountability. But what do we mean by accountability? Accountable to who? And in what manner? In contrast to the traditional activist mode of accountability, where ‘organic leaders’ are championed alongside a hodgepodge of democratic mechanisms (recallability), I’d argue that policy is the core of an effective accountability process. Mechanisms (recallability) are necessary in order to execute the rescinding of support for elected officials and staff which deviate from policy.

As it stands now, the IWW has a fractured, franchised organizational policy. One off campaigns devised by upstart members and branches, are meant to demonstrate success and seriousness before requesting resources from the Organizing Department. The Organizing Department acts as a networking tool for people who happen to be organizing on similar turf. That is, if the Tampa GMB and the Atlanta GMB happened to both be involved in organizing at a regionally prominent grocery chain, the ODB would, ideally, forward contact info.

This policy, in line with aforementioned tendencies toward neoliberal thought, presupposes (correctly) a general atmosphere of labor unrest in the capitalist U.S., but responds (incorrectly) with a policy of ‘limited authority’. The unrest merely needs to be ‘unleashed’ by the removal of stubborn ideology, a task best suited to ‘worker organizers’ on the ground. This will lead linearly to growth of resistance and fight back, when the pendulum of ‘high struggle’ finally swings back in a favorable direction.
This viewpoint often treats problems of approach, what might be termed ‘qualitative’ problems, as problems of quantity. Workers simply need the ‘tools’ of resistance (in the form of the OT-101) to unlock their potential to fight back. If we increased the OT-101, with the use of volunteer trainers, we’d lead to organizational growth and an increase of working class fightback etc. But if the issue, as stated above, is not simply putting the right frame of mind in the hands of workers, but of pursuing tactical and strategic ends, then a quantitative increase in the OT-101 is besides the point. It would certainly help us to some degree, but would not grapple with the failures of past campaigns.

What’s more, it would not grapple at all with the above mentioned need for a technical division of labor within the organization. Volunteer work, and member activity is necessary but not sufficient. Instead of a passive policy, of keeping tabs on local organizing carried out by ‘self-starters’ the union ought to pursue an active policy of identifying key industries and targets for growth, that put the union in a better position than today.It is the job of the members to develop a general organizing policy, and the job of national officers to direct staff to help implement policy alongside the membership.

I don’t mean to attack the OT-101, it’s to a large degree responsible for my membership in the organization and what success the IWW has had in the last decade or so. But it is limited.

By way of conclusion, I’d suggest that the following principles could guide the development of paid staff within the IWW.

1) Paid Staff are conceptually different from paid officers.
2) Staff serve the membership. As such, they are subject to the will of the membership.
3) Staff work on projects as directed by membership, or where organizing more generally, directed by policy developed by membership, in consultation with officers.
4) Policy should be a central feature of the IWW, as oppose to simply resolutions and constitutional amendments; policy sets tasks to be undertaken, and directs specific bodies to undertake them in given timelines.

While mechanisms for ensuring compliance with policy are vital, in the absence of policy, they function as idle tools, or worse, weapons in ideological factionalism. Constructing a system of hashing out and implementing policies through the vehicles of officers, staff, and the membership, give substance to mere ‘democratic mechanisms’.
There are further questions. I touched on these above, but what are the roles we need filled in the union? What is the role of the organizer? Publishing? Web administration? Industrial research? Education and training? We have to figure which roles, if given our preference for initial investment, will yield us the resources with which to build. We have to view hiring an organizer as a growth strategy for our organization. Will this organizer, applied to this drive, yield an increase in membership sufficient to spread our organization? This is a perfectly reasonable basis for measuring our finances and budgeting appropriately, and does not in the least approach a Faustian compromise of socialist principles – unless poor management of finances is to be raised from the level of ‘common socialist habit’ to ‘foundational socialist principle’!

Referenced Texts-
Colin Bossen, Chicago Couriers Union: A Case Study in Solidarity Unionism Working USA
Andrea Murphy, The Making of An Organizer: A History and Analysis of the Chicago Couriers Union

Posted By

Jul 4 2016 23:26


Attached files


Jul 5 2016 13:28

Pretty crap. To summarize, the author thinks that working people don't have time to manage their own matters, so they need somebody to provide them professional union services. And unions should not be ashamed to market themselves as services, cause that's what workers really want.

Surely we'll never see such people wither away.

Jul 5 2016 17:52

Yeah, I'm not going anywhere anytime soon, I hope.

Jul 5 2016 18:58

Whether or not people want to realize it:

In order to make gains in capitalism workers have to organize.
What does organization mean?
All too often (as in the case of solfed, and other 'anarchists') it's reduced to 'concerted activity'; literally people taking action together. But that's not organization, that is a *consequence* of prior organization and a lot of infrastructure and support. In the most extreme form, activists reduce everything 'organizing' to this idea of concerted direct action (see David Graeber). The institutions simply are not meant to be. And of course the end result is 'movements' that are less movement and more akin to quick violent gasps receding into long lulls.

Well, then, what might we advance as an 'organization'? How about a technical division of labor?

I know this might come as a shock to *some* but workers in capitalism have to work to live. Given that most of their free time is taken up with this and sleep, they have a limited amount of free time to 'organize'. However, if a group of workers decides to *pay* a few workers to work full time at a handful of tasks (like the IWW currently does regarding book-keeping, accounting, etc.) This does not immediately compromise socialist principles.

In fact, the technical division of labor is *imposed* on workers under capitalism, and society generally. It's not something we can 'choose away'. If we continue to guilt people into making the revolution on their lunch break, we're going to continue to have severe burnout and major membership plateaus as well as defeats.

An organization, wherein members decide policy and elect those officers to carry out said policy, is not in contradiction to anarchist or socialist political principles. Neither is paying someone to organize, educate, or keep books. In fact, these are fundamental aspects of creating a fighting, and winning, union movement wherein workers are educated about the class struggle.

Jul 5 2016 21:30

Why not just organize with the United Electrical Workers (UE) then? I think its a lot more bureaucratic and hierarchical then folks think, but sorta is somewhere in your scheme or so it sounds.

Chilli Sauce
Jul 5 2016 23:55
Contract or not, unions still have to provide their memberships with services. Here, I mean trainings, administration, calling people, house-visits, research, editing news media, designing agitational materials and much more. However, the prevailing orthodoxy takes anti-contractualism to mean a total rejection of the union providing almost any services.

So, I want to respond in more detail at a later point. But in my experience the above just isn't true.

Jul 6 2016 00:51

I haven't had a chance to read through this yet. But from a skim, it seems like it's an attempt to discuss past organizing campaigns in a materialist way, which is something that is done too rarely. I'm glad to see more of that, even if I'm not sure whether I'll agree with the political points being made.

I hope that even if people disagree with it, they'll still welcome it as the type of contribution that ought to be more common.

Chilli Sauce
Jul 6 2016 04:13

Penn, I imagine that you won't be surprised I'm in pretty strong disagreement with this article.

There's some good stuff in there. The focus on structural fixes in the IWW ("if you change the constitution, they will come"), for example, or a lack of coordinated strategy within the union.

However, I think what you mainly did was identify problems that resulted from short-term outside organizers and suggested long-term or permanent outside organizers as the solution.

But, I'd argue, the problem isn't short-term or long-term, it's the role of outside organizers. I'm not sure you think that's a problem, though, and you locate the failures of self-organization in time constraints and the like.

I locate the problem elsewhere - namely our limited experience and resources as a union and the general low point of class struggle. I mean, we're part of a lost generation of labor militants; there's so little direct experience or even collective memory of struggle, it's no huge surprise that the IWW's ideas and methods are alien to so much of the working class.

What I'm saying is that some of this can be overcome by us an organization, some can't. But paid staff certainly won't help us get there in either instance.

I also feel like this disconnect comes through again with your focus on salts. I've never been part of a campaign or branch that uses salts, so maybe your experience is different than mine, but this just sounds totally anathema to me:

the organizing work that the IWW has done has relied almost *entirely* upon small committees made up of volunteer salts.

I've seen successful IWW organizing and it's never involved salts. Again, just my personal experience, but I do feel like statements like this are actually a bit dismissive of some of the solid non-salt based organizing the definitely does take place within the union.

A big concern for paid staff in the IWW is accountability.

One final thing just on this. I was involved in writing Direct Unionism, a document which, I think, has had some influence in these types of discussions. If I may be so bold, I don't think the above even begins to speak to what a direct unionist critique of paid staff would look like.

Jul 6 2016 11:50

Thanks for the response. Right off the bat, I've read Direct Unionism, and some of the response papers, multiple times. They simply dismiss staff out of hand. I'm sure they would have more to say on that specific topic though.

What I mean by salts: I admit I'm using the term a little bit oddly here: To my knowledge all the IWW campaigns have been carried out by volunteer-workers. When I use salt here, I don't mean that the workers *only* got the job to organize it, but I think in most campaigns it's true that wobblies will try and find places to work where they can organize. OR anyway I've seen this line of thinking encouraged. My main point in any case is that they leave the organizing up to the free time. If you think salt is inaccurate then I understand.

When people ask why we're not successful, or growing, there is a common response. 'We're in a period of low struggle'. I don't buy it. How do we demarcate a period of low struggle? That's just restating that we're not successful; it's not an explanation.

Alternatively, some launch into a discussion of *personal* behaviors and modifications. 'The IWW will be successful when everyone learns how to delegate tasks more, plan campaigns better, and stays on top of their reporting!' 'No substitute for the hard work of organizing; get out there and do some 1-on-1's!'

On the face of it, these claims are true. Those things always will make the union better, and are necessary. But this line of thinking has the deleterious effect of ignoring the broader changes of strategy and structure which could contribute to growth on a wider basis.

Now, I don't see how exactly staff organizers impede the activity of the membership. A reminder here that I'm not referring to the business unions as a 1-1 model for us to copy. Indeed, I think it was in a footnote that got cut out of this edit, but by 'services' which unions provide I specifically don't mean servicing a contract (since we likely won't sign contracts, or if we do they won't involve no-strike clauses etc.) but servicing a local or membership. In this way, our organizing staff might be a lot more like Trainer-Organizers - they help facilitate the growth of the local as well as a core team of promising local administrators etc. If a local got to 6-700 members, it might need, and be able to pay, a BST.

In the narrowest sense, unions provide the core service of any true organization; administration. This is the handling of collected funds and the managing of subordinate departments etc. This administration is necessarily made up of a minority of the membership, even in anarchist organizations. Authority isn't the problem, unjust authority is. While we *can* nip in the bud any 'degeneration' by *denying* any, even volunteer' positions with a shred of authority, we'd also be nipping in the bud our effectiveness, indeed the very organization itself. What do we call it when the union kicks non-members off the job? Is that not authoritative?

The MESA had worker-held official positions. There was basically a split between the staff positions and the official positions (president, GEB perhaps?). The officials were workers from the shop-floor, though they got pay for union work, their total salary was what it would be if they worked every day as a mechanic, etc. The staff were directed by the officials, who were elected by the membership. Another union appears to have run in this fashion; the old IWW.

Why not now?

Jul 6 2016 11:53

Oh, and on UE. I'm pretty sure they have cops in their union, at least a small branch in some town? Even if I'd join (if my workplace was organized by them) and advocate against them including cops, I mostly pull from them a current example of the structure of many old lefty unions. I'm not super well informed on their honest-to-god internal practice on the day to day, just the line they put out on their site. But the structure and organizational principles make sense, and on the face of it doesn't appear to contradict too much with socialist/anarchist politics generally. (Aside from cops, and some feelings about staff).

Chilli Sauce
Jul 7 2016 04:28

Hey Penn,

Thanks for the response.

So, I think it's important that in these sorts of discussions we have to make sure we don't mischaracterize the opposing view.

As I already suggested, the anti-staffer arguments I'm most familiar with aren't about accountability. As an analogy, the problem with politicians isn't lack of accountability. It's their role they play within labor movement and wider society. It's structural.

Similarly, I think this is a bit of a caricature of the SF position:

All too often (as in the case of solfed, and other 'anarchists') [organization is] reduced to 'concerted activity'; literally people taking action together. But that's not organization, that is a *consequence* of prior organization and a lot of infrastructure and support.

I think, for example, Brighton Hospitality Workers would have some serious quibbles with your characterization here.

Anyway, with salts, based on this:

the organizing work that the IWW has done has relied almost *entirely* upon small committees made up of volunteer salts.

And this:

When I use salt here, I don't mean that the workers *only* got the job to organize it, but I think in most campaigns it's true that wobblies will try and find places to work where they can organize.

It seems like you're suggesting that IWW committees are only made up of folks who were Wobblies before they got the job. Or, in other words, existing Wobblies aren't able to bring new folks to the union through workplace activity or that the IWW can't make Wobblies out of folks who contact us when they have problems on the job. If so, neither are true.

Finally, on this:

When people ask why we're not successful, or growing, there is a common response. 'We're in a period of low struggle'. ...That's just restating that we're not successful; it's not an explanation.

I get the point you're trying to make.

I can't find the figures off hand, but I remember reading that in the heyday of the IWW something like 10% of all US workers went on strike each year. That means that nearly every worker in America at the time would have recently been on strike or had friends, family, or neighbors who'd been on strike. This is the world from which the IWW emerged.

Compare that to today:

In 2015, there were 12 major strikes and lockouts involving 1,000 or more workers... [which, in total] idled 47,000 workers.

We're building from effectively nothing. The working class has very little sense of or ability to act in defense of its collective interests. Trying to get folks to even take slight actions in defense of themselves and their workmates is a challenge - nevermind getting them on board with the IWW's mission to change the balance of power across entire industries.

Acknowledging that reality isn't an excuse, but it does mean the we have a shit-load of groundwork to do before we can undertake the sort of mass organizing we all want to see happening.

In any case, I don't think having paid staff is a particularly useful to get workers to understand their own power.

The IWW should get better at financially supporting our organizing efforts. But, if we've got the money I don't think we should create specialized staff positions to undertake the hard work of organizing. Instead, I'd rather see that go to cover childcare, travel costs, meals, and the like to worker-organizers who step up within their workplaces and/or administratively within the union itself.

Jul 7 2016 12:27

Chilli, it seems to me that strikes have been much more frequent and/or prominent in 2015 and 2016 than in recent years. Obviously still much less than we'd like, but it does seem like an upswing.

Chilli Sauce
Jul 7 2016 13:19

Fair enough, but I still don't think we're at a point where experience (or even knowledge) of militancy and direct action are part of the fabric of working class life. Until that happens, this debate is largely academic. And I feel like this is part of the problem with the entire argument about paid staff - it's an attempt to shortcut the incredible amount of really hard work that would go into changing the class landscape in such a way that could sustain IWW locals of 600 or 700 members.

Jul 7 2016 15:39

Pennoid, roughly how many paid staffers would you think the IWW might be able to afford currently, if it were to decide to follow your advice?

Jul 7 2016 17:45

lt's truly sad that this sight has gone from a place where people would have been critical of this to how it looks now. That aside, l hope people will be careful of the vanguardists in their milieu and not go in this direction.

l am rather bothered by several things. First, the way the author talks about "workers" it is like he is external to this category. We are told by him that we (us workers) cannot manage our own affairs well, because we have to work. While l certainly know a couple of people who are a bit busy for activism, there are plenty of people who work and participate in organizational life. So it is really creepy that anybody is making such statements like "workers work and have no time" - and even worse is the acting as if working people don't know that other people don't work. Maybe this person hangs around with students or entrepeneurs, but as a working person, l know people work and can have some time limitations - but not enough to be unable to self-organize or maintain an organization.

Unless of course there is some really whacked view of what the "staff" is needed for. l don't buy it. lt ain't a question of how much it would cost (although that could be a question - because why put money towards staff when maybe workers need a strike or solidarity fund more than a paid coordinator). lt's a question of the attitude that leads to a coordinator class.

Chilli Sauce
Jul 7 2016 19:47

Akai, good post.

However, that first paragraph, all the comments so far have been critical, so I'm not really sure libcom has exactly become megaphone ideas like the one put forward by the author.

Jul 7 2016 20:27

I'm not sure I understand the structural problem that staff pose. If by structural, you mean 'acting on behalf of others' which is sometimes restated by anarchists as 'immobilizing' people by having 'experts take care of the problem for them' then that's not what I'm after with staff. I thought I made it clear, but I can understand if it's not.

As I see it, and this a bit vague, but staff would be like trainer-organizers. They would grow logically out of the current set of IWW organizing strategies. The workplace committee, and the Industrial Organizing Committee, would remain at the heart of organizing, made up by worker-members. The proposed organizer, though, would help set up these initial branches and campaigns, coordinate a lot of outside action that would be necessary to getting the local's administration together, building up membership, training local administrators from the membership, and helping train members to take on direct action grievances in the day-to-day and better strategize on the larger scale (coordinate with a publishing department, a research department, etc.). A local of around 700 members could afford a small office and a full time administrator (BST).

In this way, the staff would jointly subordinated to the will of the local committee of worker-organizers and the Organizing Department. In this way, I don't think that there is a major conflict. I think that actually a lot of post new-left anti-authoritarianism has veered far in the direction of spontaneism and anti-organizationalism, whether or not they mean to. Perhaps it's just activism.

On the low-struggle stuff: how do we get out of the low-struggle? How do we spread class consciousness to a majority? By the organized and effective activity of the minority class conscious workers! This doesn't mean a crude vanguardism, in the sense of the post civil war bolsheviks. Just that we're small and to get bigger, we have to organize and concetrate our meager forces.

Blarg, I don't think the IWW has the money now. With the switch to electronic reporting and ACH dues collection we will see an increase and a stabilization of revenue as well as a reduced workload on GHQ. This means the GST will have more time to do more important tasks and any part time labor we hire could be shifted to stipending GEB members(and maybe more resources to the ODB). Another area of wasted cost is the postage and printing costs for the IW which should just be switched to an online magazine.

I'm trying to delimit what is required in terms of 'labor and material inputs' to 'produce' a stable and functional local. It's likely that simply hiring an organizer tomorrow, even full time, would not cut it. We may also need to develop, say publishing, or our core administration (for example ACH dues and electronic reporting) just as much. In this way, there is likely a baseline expenditure and configuration which would be more conducive to growth, then what we have at the moment.

Akai, I can't really address your issues: I cannot take it too seriously. The idea that democracy and self-organization cannot entail delegation of tasks and a technical division of labor pretty much reduces one to an anti-organizationalist politics in practice. I said nowhere that workers were stupid, would not make decisions, or not be involved. I simply argued that they don't have the time or the training to design pamphlets and carry out accounting for locals with hundreds of members, canvass for days on end, etc., in between working and taking care of kids.

I understand the skepticism, especially from people who've interacted with business unions. That's why I stress that I'm not really pulling from their playbook; staff can be deployed how we see fit, as the IWW and other organziations have done in the past. In my first piece on this topic, I tried to point out that more than the simple employment of staff, what defined the differences between the MESA, the IWW, and AFL and CIO unions were their *political commitments* which informed their strategy and thus tactics. Hence, when your goal is to sign a contract to secure some meager demands, set up a nice stream of dues in a some craft local, alongside some 'mutual aid' schemes, you're less apt to tolerate workers taking matters into their own hands; if they violate the contract by interrupting work, the boss is gonna begin wondering why the hell he signed with you in first place! It's these types of dynamics that then force the bureaucratic unions to *use* their staff to frustrate independent labor action; not the mere existence of staff.

Does this make sense?

Jul 8 2016 19:30

No, this doesn't make too much sense. First of all, you simply do not have local groups with 700 members. Also, if you did have them, you would actually be able to find more volunteers. l find it pretty lame to argue that workers cannot do things like make newspapers, do accounting etc. when people ARE doing it all the time. Of course maybe not to the scale you would like to see.

BTW, l personally do not have anti-organizational politics and l am not against the delegation of any tasks. l just think that it is healthier to delegate and rotate a reasonable amount of tasks to a larger group of people and not professionalize movements.

l've seen quite a lot of things work better this way than professionalized.

Jul 9 2016 00:55

Akai, you're right. I'm far adrift from the proclivities of 'anarchists' of your sort - why would we ever want organizations with more than 120 members? Why have organization when we can have networks which mutually liberate each participant by 'activating' the masses. Why change what works?

Onward! Let's make the revolution behind the backs of the bourgeoisie! That way we won't upset anything too much, least of all the social order!

Jul 9 2016 16:20

Well, l rather a proponent of organized federations rather than networking, so you are barking up the wrong tree. Of course, since it looks like you don't have a convincing answer for your arguments about the necessity of professional arguments, l guess your only resort is to start anarchist baiting. Because l suppose anybody who does not see the desirability of a professionalized organization must be against organization in general.

Hopefully people will just see the weakness of your arguments.

Jul 9 2016 17:07

EDIT: You're not worth the time, comrade.

Chilli Sauce
Jul 9 2016 18:01

Penn, I do want to respond again in detail and I will.

But - and I don't always agree with Akai when it comes to IWW matters - that comment you made in your second to last post was, to be generous, not at all arguing in good faith.

Jul 9 2016 20:39

I do look forward to your response Chilli.

It appears to me that there is no way past our insignificance without recourse to different configuration of our labor and materials expenditure. Akai proposes to get there by stroking the talisman of 'self-activity' in the face of the ghost of 'professionalization' which, he appears to imply, is not at all incumbent upon us given the social conditions, but the result of pure choice.

Why do so many workers choose not to be self-active?

Juan Conatz
Jul 9 2016 21:29

Respectfully, given that the IWA has long had local groups several times the size of the largest IWW branch, with seemingly more workplace concentration and campaigns, and without permenent paid organizing staff,I think akai's points deserve to be assessed and considered, rather than incorrectly written off as some sort of anti-organizational rants.

Jul 9 2016 21:36

I'm not gonna wade too deep into this, as I've no investment in the IWW (aside from solidarity)

Let me just suggest you try and find out as much information about the history of and the internal functioning of the Swedish SAC's "ombudsman". These were paid staffers who were sorta like technicians in giving advice, negotiation expertise, labor court stuff and the like.

The realities of the evolution of the "ombudsman" is they became experts, the workers dues payers
and the SAC a provider of a certain service. They would get elected time and again. Over the past 20 years the SAC membership have whittled the Ombudsman down (to nothing?). A number of ex-ombundsman have gone their various ways. Some left to form a couple of other unions over years. I think the only one that still exists is in construction. It is a service oriented union.

Anyway, the problem, as is usually the problem, that once the "technicians" begin to play a significant organizational role, stuff shifts. I/m not even saying that folks who are in those positions are "bad" people with ill intent. The key question for libertarian workers (and I realize the IWW is not a libertarian organization) is the maintenance of real control and real maintenance of a organization that may only rely on technicians, so to speak, for legal or health and safety stuff. Even there, as much of that should be learned by an educated membership.

I would not disagree that problems arise when organizers are parachuted in for campaigns. Or come when negotiations are on going. Or with isolated job shops. It's a perpetual problem even outside the IWW.

One thing that IWW members invested heavily in is your OT. Perhaps there can be ways to tweak the frequency of them on a local level? One thing I found when I was with a mainstream union (yes, I was with UE), the more training and educational we had, the more self-reliant the members and various segments of the local and shop leaderships were. No panacea, no illusions, no greatness, but constant education and training was sooooo helpful.

Anyway, if the IWW wants to be unique, wants to get into a habit of really being member run and controlled, moving towards staff based formulas, in my opinion, may not be the best way to resolve
some of the problem and issues you describe. Or have been part of the convo.

Well, prolly said more then I should.

Jul 10 2016 00:59
Juan Conatz wrote:
Respectfully, given that the IWA has long had local groups several times the size of the largest IWW branch, with seemingly more workplace concentration and campaigns, and without permenent paid organizing staff,I think akai's points deserve to be assessed and considered, rather than incorrectly written off as some sort of anti-organizational rants.


Chilli Sauce
Jul 10 2016 04:39

Penn, I don't doubt your sincerity in posting this blog. However, I think you've mischaracterized – or misunderstood - the concerns people have and, in turn, reached wrong conclusions about why those arguments are wrong and, therefore, why your arguments have merit.

Let's take this line from the introduction to your article:

This viewpoint concedes that a division of labor is useful, but only by volunteer worker organizers who cannot be tempted to corruption by virtue of not drawing a salary.

I don't think I've even seen any serious anti-staffer argument that talks about corruption.

The issue is that paid staffers - removed from the shopfloor - exist apart from the issues, struggles, and concerns of the union membership. Further, by virtue of their position, those staffers develop a seperate interest from the workers they're serving.

None of this is intentional and, no doubt, most people who apply for staff positions are dedicated class warriors. And they will act in what they see as the best interests of the organization, but their perspective will inevitably be different from that of the wider membership. And this is all before you get into the fact that as employees of the union, they may have different personal interests than the members.

Your argument seems to imply that if we have enough democratic oversight (mandates, recallability, etc) we can overcome these divisions. The key problem, though, is that oversight doesn't eliminate those underlying contradictions.

Further, you argue that workers because of their time constraints aren't capable of effectively undertaking the administrative tasks you see necessary for the functioning of large locals.

I'm not actually one to get stuck up on history, but the earliest trade unions were associations of workers free from paid staff. The workers who formed these early unions were working 12, 14, 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. All without the benefit of mass communication. Clearly workers who have far less free time than the modern American working class can find the time and have the ability to organize their own struggles.

When I was reading about those self-organized WalMart strikes Working Class Self Organization blogged about, it had me thinking about this as well. Chinese workers put in more hours than American workers and face much more serious consequences for organizing, yet they've built an organization that has, within its orbit, 20% of China's Walmart workforce.

On a more practical level, every industrial action I've ever been involved in (through trade unions or otherwise) was effectively organized by activists or lay officials. In even the most bureaucratic business union, the vast, vast, vast amount of the labor that goes into keep the union ticking over is volunteer – and that's doubly so when it comes to organizing disputes.

Which is my next point: people find time for things that matter to them. People volunteer for charities, go to protests, join knitting circles and sports teams, and even go to fucking church (and, yes, I know the church has paid positions; that's not the point). And they put in a ton of unpaid, volunteer labor to do so.

People don't put time into organizing at work or building unions because
(a) they either don't know how or the lack the confidence to do so
(b) they don't think it's worth in terms of effectiveness/return on their effort

That's what we have to change. And having paid staff is not going to be anymore effective in achieving those ends.

You've read that Reviving the Strike book, I presume? The author takes great pains to point out that unions only really grow during mass strike waves. Militancy and self-organization – and the accompanying knowledge – is contagious. And we're not going to institute one of those periods because the IWW, in some dream world, could at best hire a couple dozen paid staffers.

As a final note, I'm not against the IWW paying professionals to do one-off technical tasks – bookkeeping, website design, legal shit – but that's quite a different thing from having permanent in-house staffers.

Jul 10 2016 15:36

I agree with what Akai, Syndicalist, and Chilli say. And although we've never met, I've always found Akai to be a principled, thoughtful comrade. No need to disparage what they've written. Pennoid, play the ball, not the player.

This discussion brings up an historical example.

About 10 years ago I visited an ex-hippy guy in Oakland who I had met through friends at a party. The guy's father was John Sargent, who I'd first read about in Staughton Lynd's 1973 Rank and File book of accounts of 1930s class struggle militants. I was able to go through all his dad's personal papers and it was like a therapy session with Sargent's son because although he was proud of his dad, he was still bitter that his dad never took a promotion to be a foreman and higher pay, nor did he take a piecard full-time union official position either. His family stayed in the same apartment as he grew up and had the same income as everyone else on his Gary, Indiana block, except the foreman who drove an Oldsmobile while everyone else had Chevys and Fords. Sargent worked in the Inland Steel plant in East Chicago, Indiana for 40 years, many as the local president. He was part of the original organizing drive of the CIO that included the Memorial Day Massacre at Republic Steel in south Chicago in1937 where the cops killed 10. He got ruthlessly red-baited, starting in 1948 and continuing all the way until he retired in the early 1970s. His son didn't even know of his dad's CP past until he read the Gary daily paper, when he was 12, in 1958 and saw a cover story (which he showed me) about his dad being called before a HUAC hearing in Gary. Yet John Sargent never relented and was a uncompromising rank-and-file militant his whole life, even having a contempt for labor institutions like the dues checkoff, collective bargaining, the contract, and grievance procedures. He documented the period of militancy, before unions, in the 1930s when grievances were settled by work stoppages and strikes. In his opinion, the unions and their contracts ended that rank-and-file militancy.

John's son told me how his dad retired to the rural north end of Napa Valley, at the fringe of California's premier wine growing region. Most of the rest of the family moved to the Bay Area and wanted to plant wine grapes on the several acre spread of land that they helped their dad and mom buy and retire on. The only problem is that John Sargent adamantly refused to engage in the hiring of anyone else's labor power, as a point of principle, while he lived on the land. So they had to wait a decade until he died before they could hire Latino agricultural day laborers to do the planting. Hearing this, I felt sympathetic with John's working class purism.

The lessons I draw from John Sargent's principles is that if you hire the labor power of another person, you're a capitalist -- even if just a petty one. Leninists, with their fetish of vanguard cadres of professionalized -- and in fact, middle class -- revolutionaries, don't abide by these principles. Parties on the Bolshevik model are made up of political piecards.

Talking over a few meals with John Sargent's son, I couldn't help think that despite him being a member of the CP in the 1930s, John really was a Wobbly pure and true.

Lastly, once an organization becomes petty capitalist by exploiting someone's labor power how do you deal with not only the terms of employment but with shopfloor conflicts? If the rank-and-file get poverty wages, does the piecard get them too? I believe every human on the planet deserves a non-commodified health care, but will the organization give any health benefits to their piecard? Or do they get Rolls Royce benefits, as we all deserve?

And if the staffer strikes, how will the organization respond? Call the pigs or Pinkertons? Get a court injunction?

Better to maintain principles and not exploit fellow workers. I know I can be a broken record, but you can't fight exploitation by exploitative means.

Jul 10 2016 15:56
Pennoid wrote:
Oh, and on UE. I'm pretty sure they have cops in their union, at least a small branch in some town? Even if I'd join (if my workplace was organized by them) and advocate against them including cops, I mostly pull from them a current example of the structure of many old lefty unions. I'm not super well informed on their honest-to-god internal practice on the day to day, just the line they put out on their site. But the structure and organizational principles make sense, and on the face of it doesn't appear to contradict too much with socialist/anarchist politics generally. (Aside from cops, and some feelings about staff).

EDIT: I was wrong.

From Wikipedia:

... in July 2005 when the 2,500 member Connecticut Independent Labor and Police Unions (CILU/CIPU) voted by an overwhelming margin to become UE Local 222.

My ideas about unions are 100% identical with John Sargent's above, but I've met some of the piecards in UE and found them to be principled comrades, despite my difference with their hiring paid staff at the top. Local officials still work on the shopfloor. But having pigs in the union is seriously fucked up!

UE and ILWU are the only survivors of the 11 unions purged from the CIO in 1949-1950 for not signing Taft-Hartley loyalty oaths. This principled stand should be applauded. And despite some twists and turns, both are currently independent of the AFL-CIO.

Jul 10 2016 15:58
Hieronymous wrote:
Pennoid wrote:
Oh, and on UE. I'm pretty sure they have cops in their union, at least a small branch in some town? Even if I'd join (if my workplace was organized by them) and advocate against them including cops, I mostly pull from them a current example of the structure of many old lefty unions. I'm not super well informed on their honest-to-god internal practice on the day to day, just the line they put out on their site. But the structure and organizational principles make sense, and on the face of it doesn't appear to contradict too much with socialist/anarchist politics generally. (Aside from cops, and some feelings about staff).

On this, I call bullshit.

Prove it!

I think what Penoid is referring to is CT UE Local 222, formally the independent "Connecticut Independent Labor and Police Unions" (CILU/CIPU)

Not sure if they organize pole officers, but I know they have organized dispatchers.

EDIT: Cross posted

Jul 10 2016 16:00

On the contrary, we cannot let the historical heritage of the IWA or the CNT (the largest IWA section, no?) blind us to the fact that it faces many of the same problems. One of the English language documents I *could* find stated this:

This structure can give rise to anomalies. For example, if there were four unions, each with five members – in other words 20 people – they would get four votes at the Plenary meeting, and could in turn out-vote 299 people gathered in a single union (3 votes). This system benefits the smaller unions at the expense of the bigger formations. Despite this, CNT members consider that it is fair, and cannot think of a better system. Proposals for reform have all been rejected, largely because the smaller unions fear a loss of influence. It should be noted that most of the unions in the CNT are ‘Various Posts’ branches with less than fifty members.

Now this is definitely a higher average than in the IWW, but it seems like they're dealing with similar problems in the context of the piece. But do you have any English language sources which detail larger branches, or their work, concentrated in workplaces in the past 10-20 years? Certainly in one way, the CNT's heritage itself plays a role, and not only in an abstract sense:

Despite the obvious importance of possessing union premises, in many towns there are none. In Córdoba, Sevilla, Pedrera, Arahal and Puerto Real the CNT has offices. In some of these, such as in Seville or Pedrera, the premises have been bought with money from the CNT National Committee, using the ‘Historical Heritage’ funds.6 Here, the unions are committed to paying back the funds to the CNT, which will then help other unions. It is understood as an interest-free loan. Unfortunately, the re-payments are often delayed, and some unions simply do not pay.

In the same piece the author argues that the model for growth in the CNT is 'professionalization without professionals' i.e. there was a large branch in Seville (one of the largest in the CNT) that was able to *provide typical union services* to small groups of workers (25 or so) out on strike. They had considerable success with this, but let me stress:

This is exactly in keeping with Seasol, Brighton Hospitality Workers mentioned above, and the current practice in the I.W.W. The author suggests that this model offers a linear path to growth. It does not. There are severe limitations, in the form of burnout and organizing fatigue.

The CNT’s third weakness is excessive bureaucratization. To organize anything more than a small group within an ultra-democratic structure needs incredible strengths. Even more so when officials get no financial rewards. To decide even the most trivial issues through the structures of direct democracy, through the regular publication of ‘organic’ information bulletins, assemblies and meetings which can go on forever due to militants’ lack of knowledge: all this results in a massive workload for the most involved and a consequent ‘burn-out’ or saturation in the medium term

But when and where it is effective, it is to the extent that it offers basic union services: not here meant to be benefits packages, credit union membership, high ranking salaried officials, or representation in negotiations which amounts to unaccountable deal-cutting. The CNT was effective when the Seville local members:

....held several meeting with the entire workforce of 25 employees, gave them legal advice and, finally, created a CNT section including almost all the workforce.

.... concentrated on publicity, contacts with the media, organizing pickets, legal action concerning infringements of the right to strike, and so on. was a moment when it stopped being an ideological group to become a proper union. They were forced to stop talking about ideas and abstract issues, and to confront the real problems of real workers. They had to propose viable, immediate solutions.

This is not an example of a lucky set of coincidences, but the result of several factors. One of the most important is that the CNT organization in Seville is led by workers, and the number of students and young people is relatively small. But perhaps most important is the quality of the leadership, which is far closer to the ‘bureaucratic-administrative’ model than to that of the ‘charismatic’. The Seville CNT is led by a small group of militants, the majority of whom are well-experienced in running a union. They are well acquainted with legal questions, which are central to the union’s activities.

Chilli, I'm just not sure I understand your point. I think we may go around in a circle here. I would take what you describe as a form of corruption. That is, staff, paid by the membership to follow it's aims, beginning to lie to the membership or work against them.

In the above case of the CNT the members of the CNT who helped were not their immediate -coworkers. From the perspective of the cleaners, they may as well have been outsiders. How is this altered by paying people wages?

Well, you bring up one point, which is that the bureaucrats begin to see their position as their private property, their right, but again this seems to me a form of corruption; they are breaking the mandate upon which they were brought into the position.

That's fine as far as semantics go, but we must address the reality, which is yes, the staff can form separate interests, or ultimate represent the interests of the larger bureaucracy, and not the membership. You kind of just write off democracy, toleration of factions, recall-ability as a means to actually keep people accountable, which surprises me. If those are ultimately limited in their ability to overcome the technical division of labor in capitalism, how come their the founding principles of anarchosyndicalist politics? Why do they work in the case of of officials in anarchist organizations, but not in other organizations? What would

But in the same vein of not misrepresenting each others arguments, I must impress:

I am not suggesting that we pull from the business unions whole cloth our model for employing staff but that we develop our own. I agree that the only guide humanity has for future action is to study the past. That is why I looked at the old IWW and other unions which share our political commitments as well as utilized staff.

So we cannot pluck the experiences of paid staff in the SEIU and say: 'Well that's what paid staff would ultimately be like; unaccountable, independent in interest, and basically a scion for the bureaucrat officialdom! You can't overcome that by democracy!" and then in the same breath propose democracy and recallability as the means to ensure *against* bureaucratization in anarchist organizations.

You may (or may not) recall that a chunk of my first article was devoted to pointing out that union staff activities in most business unions are the *symptom* of a failed political strategy, itself reliant on key political commitments. They're not after what we're after.

I'm also not arguing that workers can't wildcat, and form large one-off actions given ease of communication and similar experiences by belonging to the same large employer. I am arguing that if these want to be more than the ephemeral pangs of a stillborn 'movement' they will have to institutionalize to some extent. Workers need to join formal organizations such that they can democratically deliberate on questions of policy; policy which they can then functionally implement and collectively evaluate. That requires Publishing, Education, Administration (secretaries and bookkeepers) Organizing, and so on.


I'll check it out. On the face of it, I'm proceeding as if we're going to retain the aspect of direct unionism which rejects contracts. Further, I hear you about the concern for the role of staff. That's why the 'vision' aspect of the article explicitly outlines the subordination of the 'organizer-trainer' to the decision making power of the ODB and the particular campaign committee.

Hieronymous, I appreciate the anecdote. But, unfortunately, we are discussing capitalist institutions, or at least by your standards. Like, for example, the I.W.W. with it's GST, it's newspaper editor. Maybe you'd prefer the old IWW, with it's newspaper editor*s*, it's paid organizers and agitators, it's officials, wage-drawing branch secretaries, and traveling commissioned delegates? I don't think the I.W.W. of the 1913-1917 period fits the Bolshevik-inspired middle class organization metric.

We deal with 'rank and file issues' by paying our staff a living wage, for now, and one comparable to that of the industry they represent if/when we're successful. Again, like *actually extant * syndicalist unions did. We can deal with using stipinded members for one-offs by paying them their going hourly rate. How is it better, and less exploitative to ask members to work for free?

Let's take the sphere of household labor, unwaged as it is, is it not still exploitation? They're not producing value, when they engage in household labor, but their still doing work, which *if waged* would likely produce more than the requisite value for the means of subsistence. It's the same with non-productive sectors of the economy generally. They don't produce capital, but they still exploit labor power.

We can't 'proletarian morality' our way out of capitalism. It's not a question of individual choices, but of struggle between classes. This is probably one of the most toxic lines of heritage from the new-left, the 'ethical consumption' of radical politics which passes for 'deep' or 'authentic' politics.

Bill Haywood and the GST of the MESA addressed the question head-on: Matt Smith said, of course the MESA is a business. It's business is to control the supply of labor. Haywood acknowledged himself as a 'parasite' and that though his position was necessary.

We can't avoid the complexities here, but they are by no means insurmountable.