Relationship-Based Organizing Series

This page is a curation of my ongoing series on “relationship-based organizing,” which is about how the power of organizing towards direct action emerges from the trust and strength of the relationships we have with others in our communities. This idea of organizing contrasts sharply with many traditional approaches to organizing that revolve around getting other people to do things and go along with your campaign. Such traditional organizing is more about instrumentalizing relationships as a means towards political goals instead of nurturing relationships as the fertile soil from which strong organizing grows.

Because I can’t resist a good visual metaphor, I use images of weight-bearing supports in human-made structures to illustrate how the connections between people are what hold up our social movements.

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  • Relationship-Based Organizing: An Introduction
    • I introduce here the framework of relationship-based organizing. It’s less a specific set of practices or principles than a lens through which to think about all aspects organizing. For each tactic, strategy, goal, or method used in organizing, one can ask, “Does this strengthen my relationships with my coworkers and thus make us stronger?”
  • Building Relationships with Coworkers Is the Precondition to All Good Organizing
    • The first step in organizing is getting to know your coworkers. When workers trust each other and have built up a culture of mutual support on the job, then they will be much more willing to talk about grievances and take action together when the opportunity arises.
  • Notes on Social Relationships in Workplace Organizing
    • Here I discuss more ways for especially newer organizers to think about social relationships in the workplace, including the different stages of politicization that your coworker relationships can go through as your organizing advances.
  • A Critical Survey of Left Unionisms: McAlevey, Burns, Moody, Syndicalism, Permeationism, and Relationship-Based Organizing
    • I review here what I take to be the main theories of left unionism being practiced today. I think it’s helpful for workplace organizers to be familiar with these ideas to be able to critically relate to them, taking what’s useful and rejecting what’s not. I end by showing how relationship-based organizing differs from these other union methodologies.
  • The Contradictions of Paid Staff in the Union Movement, Parts I, II, and III
    • In these posts I show how mainstream unions are structured in such a way that professionalized staff organizers come to have divergent interests from the rank-and-file workers who they supposedly represent. The staff organizers stands outside the workplace while the workers relate to each other and have the potential to take action inside the workplace. But unions don’t have to be divided against themselves, and rather, workers can create unions and organizing structures without staff organizers where the workers themselves are directly in charge of their own affairs and in leading the fight against capital.
  • Not My Union: The Workplace Politics of Stan Weir and Martin Glaberman
    • Stan Weir and Martin Glaberman were militant rank-and-file organizers and writers who worked in the auto and transport industries from the 1940s – 1960s. While both started out as Trotskyists determined to work within the mainstream labor movement, their personal experiences led them to increasingly distrust their elected union leadership and to organize outside of formal union channels. Weir and Glaberman exemplify much of relationship-based organizing as I’ve tried to describe and theorize it, and in this post I relate their union ideas and experiences with my own.
  • Sun People, Moon Spaces, and the Source of Grassroots Power
    • Here I expand on Ricardo Levins Morales’ allegory of sun spaces and moon spaces to show how power is based in relationships in the workplace. Everyone else, from union officials and staff to lawyers and the media, is secondary to and derivative of the power in the relationships workers have with each other.
  • Relationship-Based Organizing with Thorny Coworkers
    • 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 who aren’t easy to talk to or build relationships with. Here I discuss some strategies for how to navigate this.
  • How to Plan and Facilitate Good Organizing Meetings
    • Unfortunately, many grassroots orgs have meetings that are dull, overly technical in nature, and unattractive to new and potential members. This post is about creating meetings whose main purposes are to share skills, discuss issues, maximize participation (especially for newer people), and strengthen relationships between members. While my org no longer puts quite as much preparation time into planning these meetings as we used to (more because we’ve gotten better at it than because we don’t value it as much), we’ve been using this general framework for more than four years now and it continues to be extremely valuable for our organizing.