[This post is part of a series on 1-on-1 organizing conversations.]
There’s one main mistake people make when they start out organizing their workplace that’s responsible for more stumbles, setbacks, and losses than any other: they don’t really get to know people before they try to take direct action with them.
If people don’t know each other, how can they be expected to take risks together, especially when breaches of trust can put everyone in danger? Some coworkers get cold feet, those who are on the fence never really get involved, and those who appear most committed fall off or burn out.
[This post is part of a series on 1-on-1 organizing conversations. If not familiar, please read the intro post as it describes the basic definition of “educate” and how it fits into AEIOU (agitate-educate-inoculate-organize-uplift), which the writing below builds on.]
If you want to solve a problem in your workplace that you’ve discussed in the agitate step of AEIOU, you need a plan. The educate step of AEIOU is about how to make to a plan in talking with a coworker.
Sometimes my writings on this blog are meant to be succinct and hit home a point in a punchy way. Sometimes my writings, as in this post, are messier and more tedious as I wrestle with problems that I haven’t mastered yet, and I want to get my hands dirty.
[This piece was originally written for Regeneration Magazine.]
There’s a dissonance at the heart of the labor movement. On the one hand, contemporary labor unions were built on the back of militant worker struggle. For example, the massive strikes of the 1930s built the backbone of the present-day AFL-CIO. Any particular long-standing union, if you go far enough back in its history, you’ll find strikes that made the union. On the other hand, the labor movement of the present has been in retreat for decades, in large part aided by the passivity and cowardice of union officials and staff who have preferred to make concessionary deals and shy away from direct confrontation.
This dissonance expresses itself most when workers in a unionized workplace want to fight for better treatment and pay but the union leadership itself is either urging compromise with employers or is just ignoring the workers altogether. What are workers in these settings supposed to do? Some fellow workers and organizers of mine have developed the idea of a spectrum of organizing models for how to relate to your mainstream union, which I’m borrowing and putting my own spin on here.
With left groups on the rise across the country, there’s a hunger for ideas about how to relate our new formations to existing ones. While the dichotomy of working within the system versus working outside of it is a helpful starting point, as an ending point it erases an array of strategic options that fall in between. With the assumed goal of doing grassroots, action-oriented workplace organizing, this piece draws out a range of organizing models of how to relate to mainstream unions and factors that might help you choose between them. This article will provide information to help choose the organizing model that best facilitates the kind of workplace organizing given the particular conditions.