In the UK salting is often seen as a bit of a big deal. This is unhelpful; we should remember that it’s just (a useful) part of wobbling along.
Wikipedia defines salting as ‘a labour union tactic involving the act of getting a job at a specific workplace with the intent of organising a union.’ This is a fair description. It also doesn’t imply very much. If (in theory) all IWW members should be organising their workplaces/communities, then salting boils down to being aware of where your organising work can have the biggest impact, and adjusting your job applications accordingly.
This seems like common sense; as revolutionary syndicalist, we should be conscious of the relationship between our working lives and the class struggle. If we need to sell our labour anyway, we may as well do it somewhere that our daily organising can be most useful. This implies a more strategic general outlook on work and syndicalism – something we could always use more of.
However, this doesn’t mean you have to go for a shit, super-exploitative job in an industry that you have no interest in. This is the stereotype of salting which has taken hold. It’s effect is to paint the practice as one involving much sacrifice and dedication, and to create ‘the Salt’ as a figure separate to the wider membership – the most hardcore, the most gung-ho. This stereotype creates a barrier between your average Wob and the practice of salting. This is a real shame when salting can mean simply choosing a more strategic workplace within your profession and your industry.
An unhelpful stereotype thus concentrates an excellent practice into few and far between members – often those who are young and with fewer commitments, dependents etc.
Why does this happen? Maybe because salting is seen as a bit of a super-tactic. Something to do if you really really really want to make a difference. Perhaps something to rise to in the IWW, or a project to try for a period of time. Consequently, a certain demographic of Wobs tend to be attracted to the prospect of it – the young, fiery etc.
This mythologising of salting overlooks some basic facts about organising: It’s long, boring, delicate, complex and its success requires more than a small dose of luck. Campaigns should be planned with an organic basis, with a realistic time-scale, expectations, demands on participants etc. Idealistic salters going in without this kind of support risk burning out, leaving half-baked organising drives and wasting time.
The stereotype of ‘the Salt’ and Salting, therefore risks alienating both general members from what should be a widely established, strategic practice, and enthusiastic Wobs from the more restrained, well planned general IWW method that ultimately produces results.
This is not to throw away all high intensity, coordinated salting efforts – there is no doubt a time and place for these, and in any case its up to individual Wobs to decide how much work they are able to put into the union. But the overall concept of salting should be cut down to size and made more applicable and accessible and consequently practised more widely. If instead of a handful of Wobs going in for high intensity, stereotypical salting, we had swathes of the membership being more discerning with where they work, and therefore where they organise, the results would likely be more beneficial overall.