The image shows the old pillars of the Hera Temple in Greece, built originally in 450BC. The pillars are lined in rows and there's no remaining roof but a blue sky in the background.

Good Listening Skills for Organizing (Listening Series, Part 2)

[This series on listening is part of my larger series of posts on relationship-based organizing.]

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how listening related to organizing at a more general level. In this post I get into specifics of how to practice good listening. Most of these listening skills apply to social relationships in general, but here I present them in the context of union organizing.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a form of counseling that a reader first commented about on my blog, noting how it sounded similar in a lot of ways to how I write about relationship-based organizing. Piquing my interest, I started to look into MI, found a lot that I resonated with, and discovered some new angles for looking at my organizing.

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Self-Acceptance in Organizing (Listening Series, Part 1)

[This series on listening is part of my larger series of posts on relationship-based organizing.]

Everything that is democratic, caring, and collaborative in human relationships is created through listening. Thus for the relationship-based organizing model that I advocate on this blog, listening is at the foundation of everything. 

And yet, good listening is not easy. Good listening can appear instinctual, unique to each personality, and situation-dependent, all of which make it hard to analyze and strategize about in a way that organizers might find helpful.

I entered adulthood as a bad listener. I wasn’t the kind of person who would talk too much so as to edge other people out of talking, and I listened plenty and asked people questions to evoke their thoughts. But for me the quality, not the quantity, of my listening was what was bad. I didn’t know good listening was a thing, so I just assumed that all listening was more-or-less the same. 

My first lesson in good listening was just noticing that some of my friends were good at listening to me. Being listened to made me feel seen and whole, and that was something I wanted to give back to my friends.

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Not My Union: The Workplace Politics of Stan Weir and Martin Glaberman

[This post is part of a series on relationship-based organizing.]

Despite an increase in buzz and news stories about labor organizing in recent years, actual union membership in the US is continuing its long decline. The most recent statistics show a 10.1% union density in 2022, the lowest on record. 

The image is of a graph of union density in the US from 1955 to 2022, showing a steady downward slope from 35% density in 1955 to 10% density today.

All of the respectable ideas for fixing this problem have been tried and failed. On the fringes of the official labor movement is an idea that doesn’t get much airtime but might have the ingredients of an effective solution: To save the labor movement we have to abandon the Union movement. 

I capitalize the U in union deliberately to designate the form of union that has become historically dominant in the US. Such Unions include all of the big-name ones in the AFL-CIO and all of the other prominent unions in the US today. Such Unions have two distinguishing features. First, they contain no-strike clauses that prohibit workers from withholding their labor for the duration of the union contract. Second, they contain management rights clauses that take away union voice and influence from workers over job conditions and that declare management alone has the “right to manage” the workplace. Together, these Union clauses amount to telling workers to shut up and get back to work, something workers now hear as much from their Union reps as from their bosses.

Two worker radicals and writers who posed a different vision of unionism were Stan Weir and Martin Glaberman, authors of, respectively, Singlejack Solidarity (2004) and Punching Out & Other Writings (2002) (out of print and expensive to buy used, but downloadable as a pdf). Both books are collections of the authors’ shorter writings and were published shortly after their authors’ deaths. 

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Mostafa Meraji, Vakil Mosque in Shariz, Iran. Big faded brick pillars recede into a dark open hall with an ornately blue and yellow-tiled arching ceiling.

Relationship-Based Organizing with Thorny Coworkers

[This post is part of my series on relationship-based organizing. If you are new to my blog, I recommend checking out earlier entries in this series first.]

Relationship-based organizing (RBO) is a method of union organizing that centers building social relationships with coworkers. Everyone likes social relations, especially in our hyper-isolating and individualizing and anti-social capitalist society, so RBO is just puppy dogs, lollipops, and rainbows all of the time, right?

Of course not. One of the first things that goes through new organizers’ minds when they think about how to talk to their coworkers and build relationships is the question of those coworkers that aren’t easy to talk to or build relationships with. I’ll call them “thorny coworkers.” Like your biological family or your neighbors, you usually don’t have much control over who your coworkers are and you have to find some way to live with what you got. The first temptation upon realizing this is to think that maybe the organizing can just leave the thorny coworkers out of it. Depending on the grievances and social dynamics of any particular moment, this might be an entirely plausible strategy. 

However, as a general approach to organizing your coworkers, leaving the thorny coworkers out of your organizing entirely will likely backfire or severely restrict what you can win. Every coworker you exclude from organizing is another coworker who becomes easy pickings for the boss to turn against you. Every once and a while, you might be at a workplace where just one or two coworkers are thorny and ignoring them doesn’t really create any problems. 

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A Critical Survey of Left Unionisms: McAlevey, Burns, Moody, Syndicalism, Permeationism, and Relationship-Based Organizing

[Featured image credit: © Roman Eisele mit freundlicher Genehmigung der Ev. Kirchengemeinde St. Michael und St. Katharina / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0. The image is looking up at the large ornately buttressed ceiling of an open chamber with pillars coming down.]

[This post is part of my series on relationship-based organizing.]

Unions and organizing are complex things with many parts, dimensions, and dynamics. Major theories of unionism each try to build a worldview that organizes how these concepts fit together in a coherent way and that advances a particular set of union practices. The main theories on left union theory and strategy today include those of Jane McAlevey, Joe Burns, Kim Moody and Labor Notes, and reform caucus unionism. Other left unionisms, dominant at different points in US history but less prominent today, include syndicalism as practiced by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and permeationism as practiced by Marxist-Leninist organizations. These theories are not static nor mutually exclusive, as they often overlap in important aspects, get mixed and matched in practice, and evolve over time.

Different unionisms will tend to weight the importance of the different aspects of unionism differently. Many unionisms tend to highlight one or two parts that are the most central, around which every other part is organized around to support and tie together. While each form of unionism is nuanced and complex, a useful way to survey the landscape of left unionisms is by showing what each one locates as its central concepts. I briefly draw out some of the main features of these union theories as well as some of the critiques of them. 

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