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(en) US, Workers and Capital: Lessons from a Social Service Worker’s Strike By Todd, Portland*

Date Wed, 29 Jun 2005 09:41:45 +0300

“Today, I believe, there is no one, or almost no one
amongst us who would deny the usefulness of and the need for
the labor movement as a mass means of material and moral
advancement, as a fertile ground for propaganda and as an
indispensable force for the social transformation that is our
goal. There is no longer anyone who does not understand what
the workers’ organization means, to us anarchists more
than to anyone, believing as we do that the new social
organization must not and cannot be imposed by a new
government by force but must result from the free cooperation
of all. Moreover, the labor movement is now an important and
universal institution. To oppose it would be to become the
oppressors’ accomplices; to ignore it would be to put us
out of reach of people’s everyday lives and condemn us to
perpetual powerlessness. Yet, while everyone, or almost
everyone, is in agreement on the usefulness and the need for
the anarchists to take an active part in the labor movement and
to be its supporters and promoters, we often disagree among
ourselves on the methods, conditions and limitations of such
involvement .”
— Errico Malatesta, Syndicalism and Anarchism

“Under a more developed capitalism, and to a greater
extent even in the age of imperialism, the Trade Unions have
ever more become gigantic unions, with a trend of
development, equal to that of the bourgeois State bodies
themselves. They have produced a class of officials, a
bureaucracy, that controls all the engines of power of the
organization, the finances, the press, the appointment of lower
officials; often it is invested with even greater power, so that
from a servant of the rank and file, it has become the master,
identifying itself with the organization. The Trade Unions can
be compared to the State and its bureaucracy, also in this: that,
notwithstanding the democracy that is supposed to reign there,
the members are unable to enforce their will against the
bureaucracy; every revolt is broken against the cleverly
constructed apparatus of official ordinances and statutes,
before it has been able even to shake the highest regions.”
— Herman Gorter, “Open Letter to Comrade Lenin”

“For a workers’ organization to be successful in its
immediate role of improving the conditions of its members, it
must speak with one voice—that is, it must aim at having a
mass membership. But by demanding that workers who must
first subscribe to the ideological objectives of the organization
means that they must be subjected to some political test. Such
tests may ensure the political homogeneity of the organization,
but will also condemn it to being without a mass
— Vernon Richards, Lessons of the Spanish Revolution

Shortly after starting my new job, my coworker and I came to
the topic of unions. Unions were on my mind after having been
on strike at my old job for two months, after seeing the
struggle betrayed, and after having sacrificed my job at the end
of a strike. The strike had transformed my whole
consciousness of struggle, social relationships, and politics,
while at the same time forced me to watch all the products of
that struggle be regulated to and dissipated under the
bargaining process and the agreement.

My coworker and I bonded immediately. We share the same
“pace” at work, work identical jobs, operate in similar
roles, and share perspectives much of the time. We came from
different worlds, though. I come from a fallen intellectual class
suburban family, having grown up sometimes in modest
means, other times near destitute amidst the wealthy. On the
one hand, work and poverty drove into my consciousness class
struggle from an early age (though I didn’t think of it that
way then). On the other hand, I inherited the cultural and
educational privilege (and baggage) of the well-educated
background I come from. My coworker came from a black
working class family of 11, and spent most of his life in
Portland. He had lots of relatives in and out of unions, and his
father was one of the workers who checked the train tracks, a
union job until it was eliminated altogether. His family had
been residents in Vanport, a public housing project flooded in
what supposedly was an attempt by the shipyard bosses after
World War II to eliminate the workers once they were done
with them (and they potentially represented a militant threat). I
figured he’d have an interesting perspective on unions, he
being my elder and having a grasp of issues I can’t
manage on my own.

He told me a story of his son working at UPS. His son had
gotten the job and was adamant that the union would protect
and take care of him. My coworker argued with him about the
union there. His advice to his son, and to me (being some forty
years his junior), was that unions were created to help the
workingman, but now they won’t help anyone except
themselves. A month or so later, his son’s friend was fired
when he couldn’t make it to work because of car trouble,
and despite having given notice and followed procedure for
being delayed to work, the union rolled over on the grievance.

It’s easy to dismiss this critical attitude toward unions,
which is commonly expressed by working people, but I think
to do so is to miss some fundamental and radical lessons,
lessons I learned through a strike that occurred at a social
service facility in Portland, Oregon. My workplace was a
residential facility for children with severe behavioral disorders,
only one step above the State Hospital or detention. It is a
24-hour facility with about 100 union employees. I worked
there as an unskilled maintenance worker for a year and a half.
I helped build the union, the strike, and ultimately watched
much of our work betrayed.

This betrayal was in part due to the dynamic that has evolved
between workers, unions, and capital (and the state). There are
personal failings, tactical failings, etc., here, too (as well as
successes), but these we will set aside to get at the more
general trends that emerge in contemporary struggles. I want
to draw out how unions have been co-opted by the state and
capital to provide insulation from worker’s struggles.

With this as my aim, I will identify three deep trends in the
prevalent union model (business or service unionism) as it
exists today. Business unions operate using a strategy centered
on comprehensive contracts and government lobbying, and
utilize a representational decision making structure. These
features are crucial in understanding how unions help cripple
the development of consciousness in struggle, disempower
workers, and betray the demands of those struggling for a
better workplace. I want to lay out my critique by connecting
my experiences in the strike I took part in to these
organizational issues. Though I don’t think all strikes or
labor struggles are equivalent to my experience, I think that
the experiences I had in social service can illuminate our
thinking about these issues, and help delineate where the
failures of business unionism lie. At the end I will lay out a
new model of radical unions that also arose out of organizing
experiences in Portland (and elsewhere).

Before I launch into my argument, let me spend a little time on
how I understand the process of co-optation of unions, as my
understanding is unconventional in some ways. I do not
believe that there is a single cause of unions being co-opted,
nor do I think that you can reduce the complex system that
encompasses unions, bosses, governments, and groups of
workers into simple explanations of cause and effect without
seriously distorting the reality of the situation. Ultimately the
evolution of unions into bureaucratic instruments of capital
occurred in dynamic circumstances that varied immensely in
terms of the on-the-ground experiences of those involved.
Nevertheless deep regularities emerge(d) from the diverse and
decentralized experiences of particular workers, businesses,
and industries.

I want to abandon the-chicken-or-the-egg thinking here. Both
the chickens and the eggs have been evolving across time with
continual feedback from their environment. To understand the
egg, we must understand the holistic context out of which it
evolved. In the same way we need to think of unions across
time as continually evolving through feedback from struggles,
the state, bosses, workers, the economy, etc. Thus I will resist
saying that contracts made workers disengaged. Workers,
management, and the government are linked in a deep
complex feedback mechanism, and workers’ behavior
towards management (via contracts) has evolved in response
to this situation (as contracts have evolved in response to
workers and bosses, the state, and so on). The key for
organizing is to destabilize the organizational equilibrium of the
labor movement. By identifying these trends and structures
that maintain the power dynamics in our workplaces, we can
deconstruct and try to reroute the prevalent trends. The task is
to rupture the equilibrium, and seize enough room for growth.

The business union’s main goal in campaigns is generally
to get the contract. Today’s contracts are what I call
comprehensive contracts. (This is to distinguish them from the
earlier notion of contracts that were partial; those were short in
duration and were centered on specific grievances and
workplace issues.) Current contracts, both for the bosses and
unions, seek to specify as much as possible about the working
conditions. Contracts are used, interpreted, and utilized like
law. The process of expanding contracts to include huge
swaths of policy, however, has had other effects for workers.

In a bargaining context, there are genuine exchanges that
occur, trading this for that. Labor has, through pursuing
comprehensive long durational contracts, historically traded
largely economic gains for things like statements of
management rights, agreements not to strike, labor peace
agreements barring direct action under the contract, and a
mediated and untimely method for solving grievances.
Management has thereby used contracts to gain greater control
over the workplace and workers in the context of escalating
workplace militancy. Contracts often require workers to respect
management rights (even when it means closing an entire
department), put up with “restructuring,” continue
working in dangerous conditions under a “no strike”
clause, or, worse, not talk about the union except on breaks. In
some industries, contracts set the pace and form of the work.
Contracts have become a tool management uses to gain more
leverage in pacifying workers, and they have done this in part
by improving the economic conditions while requiring more
control over the conditions of service and production.

Giving up control of the workplace to the legalistic machinery
of the comprehensive contract is a guiding force towards a
passive workforce. When you have trouble on the job, be it
serious danger to your health or issues with a manager, you are
often forced into a grievance process which frequently takes
months, has little teeth to punish management for
transgressions, and (most importantly) in which the workers
effectively play little role. Most stages of the grievance
procedure occur with union officials, mediators, and
management. The union in essence tells you to sit tight while
the professionals fight for you. Whatever the intentions, the
result has been that workplace problems often go peacefully
ignored during contract periods, few workers participate in or
are informed about union business, and struggle is all relegated
to bargaining periods or to the independent actions of workers
against their contracts.

I arrived at my union job in one such bargaining period.
Initially, there were two stewards for a shop of 100, and
perhaps five activists of which maybe two or three would
actually come through on their work. During the year I was
there before bargaining, workers were seriously injured, two
people were fired arbitrarily, two union supporters were
wrongly denied jobs, my department was cut in half, and the
workload was doubled. The work was traumatic for all
involved, terrible for the children, and devastating for workers.
There was about sixty percent turnover per year due to the
nature of working with such children in a poorly run facility
where workers were treated like disposable lenses.

I was working in the remnants of a failed strategy. A few years
earlier the union had attempted to organize the company’s
other non-union facilities. The company was able to sabotage
the National Labor Relations Board’s elections and
attacked union supporters such that both campaigns failed.
Nationally, a union representative informally told me that the
union gave up on organizing nonprofits because the
campaigns, like at my own workplace, had failed to make any
serious ground regarding the workers’ demands. My
coworkers barely made a dollar and a half over minimum
wage, could not talk union on the shop floor, had few holidays,
no mental health days, illegally low staffing ratios, and a labor
peace agreement that forbade any group action on or off the
job that could portray the company in a negative light. The
union had gotten such a terrible contract that they actually
bargained away workers’ rights to freely speak and
assemble off the clock. Our union stood by, impotent among
turnover, apathy, and distress, trying to muster forces.

At the end of the strike, unfortunately, these issues revived
themselves, despite promises otherwise. After returning to
work under a draconian return-to-work agreement that
regulated workers’ actions under a microscope,
management took shots at workers while their coworkers, who
only a few weeks before faced physical harm for one another,
stood by idly. Workers were given jobs other than the ones
they had before the strike, shifts they had difficulty filling, and
are now constantly monitored and disciplined for any
discussion even remotely indicating anything about a union.
Having signed a contract and a return-to-work agreement, the
workers are now fighting the very structure they fought for, but
with less power now off the picket line and under labor peace .
The government

With the first legalization of unions, government institutions
began to institutionalize mediations between unions and
management. Unions seek influence and power within these
structures by channeling member time, energy, and money
largely into lobbying. Governmental institutions seek votes and
donations from the unions, but also to keep union members in
line to maintain stability and power economically and
politically. In practice this has meant that the government
either dilutes workers’ struggles or attacks them. Any bout
of worker revolt and action is met simultaneously with vicious
attacks by management, security, and potentially law
enforcement and the military.

At the same time, government officials working with unions
often press for largely economic concessions. Concessions
come with demands such as backing off of actions, ending
pickets temporarily, and binding third-party arbitration. The
unions, meanwhile, divert time from taking action to
third-person lobbying, a process which is equally distant from
workplace struggle as contractual proceedings. The two
avenues of struggle are parallel: just like contracts, this
lobbying separates union struggle from the workplace, where
workers’ power is located and where the problems arise.
Lobbying is another mediating activity that has evolved along
with unions and state cooptation of the labor movement.

The political situation was quite complex in the campaign at
my job. The overwhelming majority of the funding of the
center is public (state and county). I believe that the political
campaign overall distracted and hindered our organizing, but I
will focus on the elements that insulated and calmed struggle.
The most salient example is the period in which the governor
was involved in bargaining during the strike. The union was
courting the governor to intervene and threaten the funding of
the facility, which would have been a big deal.

The governor has a history of being two-faced with unions, so
the moves were dangerous either way. He did get involved, and
in an interesting manner. He assigned a mediator to intervene
and guide negotiations, and to directly report back to the
governor. To our advantage, he also failed to mail out the
award notice that my workplace was supposed to get for its
contracts with the state. In return, he ended up asking the
union to stop picketing on certain occasions, to stop targeting
board members at times, and called on us to make
concessions. These actions (or lack thereof) were intended to
give him leverage for negotiations with the company by
demonstrating neutrality and two-way bargaining.

In effect what it did was de-intensify the struggle and force
concessions. Management could get away with bargaining
without public pickets, board members could rest in peace,
while the union was obliged to make concessions.
Management resisted any serious concessions, and dragged
their feet all the while collecting more and more concessions.
The interesting point, though, was that in the guise of political
favors, the governor was able to demobilize our actions and
shift it towards a low-intensity conflict. During the periods of
this intervention the greatest concessions were made (against
some opposition from the rank and file). When the union felt
like it had hit a wall, direct action was utilized more fully, and
management was brought essentially to a settlement. The
governor’s role in the struggle was in practice to pacify the
worker’s militancy, and to promote peaceful class
interactions through extremely weak concessions to the
Representational decision-making

The business unions operate with elected representatives as
the primary decision makers. Such representatives choose all
strategy, actions, contract proposals, concessions, and strike
dates. Leadership convenes, discusses the issues, and
formulates strategies on how to present the issues and
decisions to coworkers, if they do at all.

That is not to say that all union representatives are
unresponsive to workers’ needs. Some are, some
aren’t. My point is that the decision-making structure of
business unions is another element that facilitates and
increases potential distance between workplace oppression and
the struggle to overcome it. There are two parts to this. For
one, there is an insulation of the decision makers from the
social reality of the workplace and its social relationships.

Secondly, there is the insulation of workers from deciding how
their workplace should be run. A dynamic is set up where
workers often follow the leadership in taking actions set out by
the union’s strategy. When there is a workplace issue such
as a worker arbitrarily fired or injured, say, the union
representatives meet outside of the workforce to craft their
plan. Certain social and political pressures exist in this
environment, which do not hold for the workers in general
(though workers obviously have their own specific social
pressures). Relationships, for good or ill, are established with
union staff, management, and representatives. Group
dynamics and history exert strategic pressure on the flow and
nature of actions such a structure takes. Decisions are made
often in an untimely fashion, and most frequently utilize formal
contract procedures. The workers, on the other hand,
experience wrongs at work often going unchallenged, being
challenged too slowly, or being planned, decided, and executed
by others.

Cumulatively, this breeds a service mentality both among
active unionists and workers. Workers tend to get the
impression that the union is a body that either acts or
doesn’t act for you, but which also calls upon you to
support its actions at certain points. Union activists feel like
they have to drag people into actions and teach people to
“act in their own interest.” I don’t think much of
this is conscious but is instead a dynamic that emerges from
the social relations and the decision-making structures of

Let me give some examples from my job. At the beginning of
the strike the union was having trouble materializing direct
action that would pressure management to settle. The union
staff wanted actions to happen every day, from a surplus of
strikers on the picket line to flyering to chanting at strategic
targets. This didn’t work because of group inertia, a lack of
a surplus of strikers, people not understanding or having all the
information about actions, and people not seeing where the
logic for the actions they were supposed to spontaneously do
came from. No actions were happening beyond those made up
of the leadership group.

To compensate and reorient their approach, the union staff
planned what they told the picket captains was a rally. They
gave a good amount of notice, told us that we’d meet
downtown, and said there would be speeches by clergy,
politicians, and union support. Four days before the event at a
picket captain’s meeting, union staff informed the picket
captains that they wanted to occupy the lobby of a building
containing a board member’s business. The staff wanted
workers to get arrested for trespassing as an act of civil
disobedience. To make everyone feel safe the union called the
police, and told them what they were doing and where. Making
matters worse, they had planned this with Jobs With Justice
and clergy without the worker-leadership, let alone the
workers, claiming they were concerned it would get leaked to
the building owners. Picket captains weren’t actually to
plan the action until the night before the act. Between those
two days, ill feelings stirred within leadership. Some of the
picket captains felt that it wasn’t right to have union staff
call for workers to get arrested when they had no part in
planning it or had not been educated about the target and the
methods. For those reasons the meeting was tense. It was clear
that the union staff were rather upset that there was resistance
to their plan, though it was unclear whether there was some
element of self-blame or just pure agitation about resistance.
Most picket captains felt comfortable with the action once its
logic was explained to them.

The action was touted as a success but was clearly far from
that. Few workers agreed to get arrested. The police locked up
the original building, unsurprisingly, and so spontaneously a
new target had to be chosen. The march meandered around
the city, and the police escorted us where we went. The police
locked up the building eventually chosen by union staff (which
had another strategic business within). The union staff waffled
about whether to take an arrest about four times throughout
that day. They decided to sit us down in front of this skyscraper
that held a business that was strategic to target. There was
little media there, whereas getting media coverage was a major
goal of the organizers. The police waited us out, and the union
decided to have us leave after twenty minutes of chanting.

Despite the claim of a victory the action was clearly a failure.
No concessions or responses were made in the bargaining
meeting following the action. Nor was there any significant
press to publicize the cause out of the event. The board
member’s business was minimally affected, if at all. The
arrests failed to happen, and rank and file actions failed to
materialize in the following days out of the experience. This
approach to organizing actions had little or no impact on
increasing the level of participation in actions or gaining
anything from management. It was a decent rally for what they
are worth, but a failure of the union’s attempt to have
successful direct action planned from above and outside.

A similar action was planned weeks later that capitalized on
the lessons of this action. This time the planning incorporated
many of the criticisms leveled at the previous action and its
planning. In this later action, workers had built some
experience with direct action of occupations, were informed,
and had time to discuss the action. Workers were familiar with
the methods, understood the strategy, and played a more direct
role in planning the event. Moreover the thirst for action was
there as the campaign grew grim, long, and political betrayals
had materialized. The action was nearly identical in its target.
A lobby of a building of a board member’s business was

This time it was successful. The majority of strikers
participated in the march, many taking arrests. The action
infuriated and scared the board. They became worried about
occupations of their offices, and the negative press attention.
The farce of benevolent board members working for the
children was ruptured. Consequently the action played a
pivotal role in bringing management concessions, which
ultimately led to the settlement.

The distinction between the two events was the level to which
the workers were directly acquainted with and planned the
actions. The distinction was partly between representation and
more direct participation.
Between workers and capital

The conclusion we should come to is that business unions
have become institutions that buffer the power structures from
the actions of workers to take control of their workplaces. They
compromise workers’ strength through trying to move it
from its most powerful arena, the shop floor, and placing it into
a hostile environment of legalistic bureaucracies. Unions
distance workers from their ultimate source of power, and
obscure their goals through diverting it into political lobbying,
comprehensive contracts, and ceding constituent decision
making to representatives.

Like the state, unions do some good for workers. Unions are
able to provide some protection and benefits for workers, but
have evolved to demand these benefits at the cost of control
over the nature of work. With the current collapse of union
power in the U.S., and the rise of global capitalism mightier
than most states, it has never been more evident that the
business unionism is not the path to a society of worker control
and self-management.

The question for radicals is what kind of workers organizations
do we need presently? If our goals are direct democracy,
decentralized power, and worker self-management, what steps
do we need to take to attain our goals?

The solution is always more contentious than the problems,
and I can’t make any sweeping claims in my youthful and
inexperienced age. What I think we require are radical unions.
I see radical unions as answering the issues in our struggles. I
am not talking about unions that self-gratifyingly wave
whatever narrow ideology they harbor, or ones that try to outdo
all the others through their level of violence or perceived
militancy. Instead I mean unions that operate in line with the
experiences of its members, and that strive for total
worker’s control of the economy. They ought to be run
directly democratically, with the workers deciding as much as
possible. These unions should focus their energy on direct
action, concentrating worker’s power where it is strongest,
and not getting tangled in political lobbying. The lessons of
prior independent unions show that they cannot merely be
local, especially now in a globalized economy. At the least they
must have regional if not national (or international) presence
and infrastructure. Finally, and more controversially, we
should start organizing outside the comprehensive contractual
model. One way of realizing these goals in workplace struggle
is what I will call direct unionism.
Direct unionism

A new model of organizing has arisen out of the earlier
experiences of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW),
independent unions of the 1930s, contemporary
anti-authoritarian left unionists , and most recently organizing
by the IWW. Some IWW branches are experimenting with
campaigns that have different aims and means from the
contractual struggles of business unions.

What is direct unionism? It is union organizing that: (i) targets
primarily workplace issues; (ii) organizes workers based on
their willingness and power to take direct action to settle their
issues, irrespective of whether they want to carry a union card
or whether they are recognized by the NLRB, bosses, or
government bodies; (iii) operates directly democratically; (iv)
builds organizers and a movement out of lessons of and radical
intervention in struggle; (v) is organized by industry; (vi)
organizes not just workers but engages in community
organizing through its campaigns; (vii) develops, analyzes, and
tries to implement a revolutionary vision of society.

Peter Little, in an unpublished essay on organizing, writes,
“In rebuilding minority unionism we begin not by focusing
on signing up large numbers of workers in any industry, but by
learning to organize and develop leaders, and through this
building the union not only as a direct economic force against
the bosses, but as a social and political force
simultaneously… Our challenge is to use the limited power
and strength of a small number of workers to build a powerful,
mass-based industrial organization.”

Among many individuals in the IWW there is a growing
consensus centered on building a structure to realize such an
organizing model. I am borrowing heavily from the
discussions, proposals, and work that have gone on in that
forum, and will only give a rough and preliminary outline. I
hope in doing so, we can begin to initiate discussion about how
we should be organizing. I do not speak for the IWW, though
these are primarily my thoughts that I hope others share.

In this model of organizing direct action and democracy guide
the union’s composition and activity. Rather than focusing
on recognition, such a campaign could be settling grievances
in an industry potentially for years without calling it a union to
the boss or the workers. The goal is not union status, but
union practice. It presses for building real power and
experience in workers, rather than merely seeking out
economic gains. Campaigns will be directed towards building
consciousness in the industry, but also engaging and spreading
working class community. This is a broader strategy that tries
to place campaigns strategically towards building a real
movement of communities acting as and with workers, rather
than supportive consumers or charity. These are some of the
rudimentary motivations behind this shift in focus, but we
should delve deeper into how we could make this happen.

There are three basic levels to what I conceive of as a direct
unionist model of organizing. There is the Industrial
Organizing Committee, the grievance committee, and the shop
The Industrial Organizing Committee

The Industrial Organizing Committee’s main purpose,
especially in the beginning, is to develop member organizers.
This task has many components, most notably teaching social
mapping of workplaces, how to win workplace grievances,
basic legal training relevant to the industry and context, and
other organizing skills. This committee will be charged with
maintaining an educational curriculum for organizers, and
spreading organizational skills continually outward with the
goal of making every member an organizer to the greatest
extent possible. Beyond education these lessons will primarily
occur through on-the-ground grievance work and the direct
collective action that ensues. The committee will craft an
industrial strategy, make assessments, maintain contacts, and
coordinate between the shops. Out of these lessons, a set of
industry minimum standards will be drafted. These standards
will be the aim of longer term organizing, and will be applied at
a stage where there is enough industrial strength to begin to
pressure business to raise the working conditions on an
industry basis, and subsequently going after the unwilling
businesses. This sort of struggle requires community support
and involvement; thus the IOC must develop and facilitate
community organizing for these campaigns.
The grievance committee

The grievance committee is a sub-body of the IOC elected by
the IOC’s constituents. The grievance committee will
assist shops in dealing with workplace grievances. This may
include actions, media work, direct community relations,
advice, and legal support. The committee is accountable to the
IOC, but is also charged with acting swiftly in times of
emergency when the IOC can’t convene. Rather than
acting for the workers, the grievance committee is a
coordinating body to assist workers taking action, working with
the IOC, and acting in solidarity. This committee helps
workers strategize, and provides whatever resources are
necessary and available for their struggle.
The shop committee

In the beginning the union may only have one or two workers
in a shop. These workers will develop their organizing skills
with the IOC. The shop committees will establish themselves
in the shops through agitating around workplace grievances,
and their subsequent ability to resolve those issues. The shop
committee organizer seeks to build a solid base for struggle,
and in the process build a functioning shop committee for
mutual support, planning, and acting together. Leadership will
be built out of the struggles, and will be recruited from the
shop committees to the IOC., and broaden their support
through utilizing the industry-wide grievance committee for
in-shop issues. Consequently these shop committees will be
the lifeblood of laying out what issues and grievances exist in
the industry, setting priorities, and planning strategies. As
strength builds, these committees will aim at expanding
themselves in a way that allows for implementing the
minimum industry standards (and beyond).

This framework is not the final word on workplace organizing.
Rather, it is a strategy that developed out of particular lessons
of struggle . Specifically it is inspired by the failures and attacks
of the NLRB election route, the passivity of union shops under
comprehensive contracts, the failure of spreading worker
consciousness beyond a shop-to-shop mentality, and the other
issues raised in this essay. In Portland (and other IWW
branches), there have been successes in grievance work
outside of the contract/recognition framework. These
experiments are a conscious break from the tradition of
radicals organizing within the confines laid out by the state and
business unions. Instead we are trying to forge a new way of
organizing, one that continually engages workers directly in
the revolutionary struggle for controlling the workplace, and
integrating and spreading community organizing throughout
the struggle. In the process, workers involved gain the
experience of struggle and workplace control that is
transformative of social relations and people’s
consciousness. If we can open up space of perceived safety and
opportunity for struggle, mass organization and transformation
may become possible. Therein the conditions for an
anti-hierarchical society will blossom. The task is building
collective experience and new ways of relating to one another,
and even ourselves.
Copied from Bring the Ruckus* web site:
* Bring The Rukus is an antiauthotitarian anticapitalist
direct action revolutionary initiative.
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