Wobchat #2: Bristol IWW

Hey! Where in the Wobbly world are you?

Bristol, South West of England.

Tell us a bit about what your branch has been up to in the last couple of years.

In the last year or so we have put a lot of work into getting the branch to grow and outreach to both existing and new members from different communities. We have started producing a monthly e-bulletin and a quarterly newsletter, and we moved all our admin to the online Members Forum to make the meetings less heavy and more sociable. We translated info on the IWW into Italian and Spanish and successfully gained new members speaking these languages. We helped a FW living outside Bristol to set a local IWW group in Gloucestershire – as we affectionaly call them, the Gloz Wobs. We also did a fair bit of rep work for several members and some good old direct action.

We have just published an online survey ‘Rate Your Boss’ and have started running a weekly advice and information drop-in session in central Bristol. In terms of organising we are focusing on the bar & hospitality sector, the Third Sector and incarcerated workers (the latter being a joint campaign organised by Bristol and Cardiff).

What was your most kick-ass achievement during that time?

Lots of them!

In terms of repping, we had two fantastic achievements in 2015, the first one when one of our most experienced reps helped a FW make a huge emotional win in an Employment Tribunal case. Then, a few months later we organised a campaign around a FW who hadn’t been paid their wages after leaving her job in a cafe. The campaign went viral on social media, we ended up on several local newspapers and had a great noise demo outside the cafe…and a week later the cafe owner paid the FW what they were owed!

In terms of organising, we are very, very proud of our ‘Rate Your Boss’ campaign and of the drop-in.

Finally, personally I’m very proud of the translation work and the liaising with migrant groups that has generated a lot of attention among Italian and Spanish speakers, and a few new members 🙂

What challenges have you had to overcome?

Getting people to use the Members Forum!! 😉 Jokes aside, the usual challenge of working out how to get people actively involved in the branch, especially people who work full time and/or have children, or struggle to find their own “niche” within the branch/IWW.

What main industries do the bulk of your membership fall in?

I’m not sure about this one, sorry! I think we’re quite mixed in terms of people I see at the meetings and events, we have members in the retail sector, bar & hospitality, health services, charity sector, public sector…

Which industries are your members actively organising in?

At the moment we’re mainly focusing on the bar & hospitality sector as this was chosen as our national campaign, but we’re also planning to organise in the Third Sector following the example of Leeds branch. Some of our members started IWOC (Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee) together with Cardiff members. We have published an online survey “Rate Your Boss” and got responses from people working in many different sectors, so we want to be flexible and be able to support workers everywhere.

What are the main concerns of your membership? What are the main concerns of working people in in your region?

It varies depending which sector people work in, but in general I think the concerns are pretty much the same all over: instability and precarity, both in financial terms and in terms of legislation constantly changing and making it more difficult for people to stand up for themselves.

What disputes have your members participated in beyond IWW organising, and what organisations have they worked with?

Lots of our members are involved in other local campaigns or groups as individuals. As a branch, we have worked with SolNet – they joined our campaign against the wage-thieving cafe owner I mentioned above. We also have a regular presence at the Bristol Anarchist Bookfair. The most exciting for me was being invited to an informational
meeting about work organised by a the local branch of a group of Spanish migrants called Marea Granate – it was a really interesting evening, we got a lot of interest and a good bunch of new members through that.

What are your three most impressive innovations as a branch?

Because of my background, for me they’re all to do with diversity. I’m pretty impressed and proud of our multilingual blog that has lots of info in other languages, and I love that we have an email address people can write to in other languages. I also think we’ve been pretty innovative in terms of outreaching to different groups and responding to training needs in a very flexible way.

How diverse is your branch?

We’re pretty good in terms of gender balance and we have a good mix of members who are not British – including myself!

We could do better in terms of ethnic diversity, like many other groups and organisations…

What is your training programme like? What is your rep team/capacity like?

Our Branch Secretary completed the “Train the Trainers” training last year and is now able to deliver training. I shadowed them during our first round of rep training in March and I’m now also a trainer. We are planning to run the rep training every couple of months or so this year. By end of April we’ll have between 10 -15 accredited reps. We’re also planning to create a general presentation/workshop to take to different groups and talk about what we do.

What could you be doing better?

It’d be great to find the secret to get everyone happy and involved in a project, and avoid burnout of a core of active members who end up doing a lot of the work. This is why we have putting a lot of time and energy into getting new members, and getting back in touch with existing members to try and find out what stops them from getting involved.

I’d like the reputation of the IWW in Bristol (and beyond!) to grow to the point where people know we are THE union to contact for help and advice, and for real grassroots radical organising in the workplace. The One Big Union, basically!

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