We’ve just celebrated the UK IWW’s historic 1000 members conference. At a time when a lot of the Left are lamenting the recent general election results, this is a welcome milestone.
Yet we should always be pushing ourselves and others harder – how many of these 1000 red card holders are actively organising their workplaces? In IWW circles it’s a given that the quality of members is far more important than quantity. We are after all a union that does things properly, rather than one which acts on the lowest common denominator.
This article is about internal development towards the militant organising culture that the IWW was founded on. One where the expectation is that every Wob is organising their workplaces through solidarity unionism, creating workplace committees and taking direct action to rebuild workers’ power. By stepping up, we can level up the union. But also, by stepping up we can make our lives easier at work right now.
Organising as Investment.
Our collective organising capacity is like a resource to be invested. When we put the work in, we get returns in the form of experience, victories and new organisers. When we overhaul our training programmes or our communications channels we invest. When we get a spike of new organising drives or further reaching propaganda several months later, we get our returns. Work put into efficient administration allows organising drives to take place, and successful examples of unionism in practice inspire new members to join and get organising. Like other resources, unused organising capacity is stagnant – it sits there and sees no returns, or perhaps worse, it deteriorates – e.g. as seen when branches collapse. Therefore as Wobs we should be looking nationally and locally at the places where we could get ourselves and others to put some extra work in – where would this really pay off? Lots of little steps up around the union will result in a total gain of a union that is slightly more militant, more experienced, more efficient and more successful. In calling for extra involvement, we are aware that we all have commitments outside of the union. So here’s the second point of this article – remember, organising makes life easier!
Organising: Here to Help.
This might seem like a banal point. We are all here because we believe that solidarity unionism is the way forward. But there is still an issue in the union with organising often being seen as more of a nice idea than a practical necessity. Organising is both mythologised and associated with sacrifice. This is understandable; the modern union is young, successful organising drives are still few and far between and seeing revolutionary syndicalism actually bringing us closer to social change can seem a bit dazzling at times. Additionally, the tactic of targeted salting can give off an image of sacrifice as IWW activism may be seen to define certain dedicated Wobs, rather than just constituting their approach to work and social issues.
Given these problems, its important to underline the fact that organising and the union is there to help you. Investing your organising energy will improve your life – not just in the long term mighty revolution, but in the short and medium term – today on shift and next week at work. Stepping up our level of organising will improve our work life, and by extension our personal lives, no matter what degree of counter culture exists in the workplace. If we are in a job where everyone just gets on with their individual responsibilities, then making the effort to help our colleagues with the odd task will gain appreciation, and likely see our co-workers returning the favour. If we notice that a colleague is under stress, then providing them with basic emotional support – someone to listen to etc. may well get you an ally when you’re in need. If people are openly angry at work and talking about taking action, then putting in the work to communicate between colleagues and to systematise the energy into strategy and tasks, may just get you a real win at work.
Whatever the situation, organising can take your workplace further, reducing stress, alleviating boredom, and bashing the bosses. Moreover, stepping up in organising brings into view new possibilities that we couldn’t have envisaged without that previous step. Organising can often seem daunting – where do you begin? (hence the mythologism), but as soon as we start pushing ourselves into actually organising, solutions begin to present themselves and with enough work, you’ll soon have colleagues chasing you up on organising tasks. The back of the old Red Cards used to say ‘#13: Even on a job that can’t be unionised now there’s always something that can be improved, and collective action can lay the groundwork for later organizing.’ This is the spirit of stepping up – we wobble the job to make it better now and we wobble to pave the way for future activity.
Enough waffle, a bit of action.
Practically speaking, moving towards a union of organisers means running more Organiser 101, getting experienced organisers to set the best examples they can, and getting those who are just starting off the support they need to start the ball rolling on their own organising projects. We need to be imaginative about how to best convey organising skills in the context of a 1000 member IWW in the contemporary UK region. We need literature, film and social media that conveys the specific skills and tactics used in our unionism and we need these platforms to be based in various types of educational models and workplace experimentation.
If we keep pushing this cultural change, eventually our newest organisers will be outgrowing our most seasoned. So wherever you are, whatever your level of involvement with the IWW, step up and help the work along.