Basic Steps to a Workplace Organizing Campaign
I. Building contacts:
Start by talking to people you know on the job. (More below on what to do when making new contacts.) Find out who the leaders are--who will others follow? Who influences the opinions and actions of others in the shop? You need to make contact with these people or you'll find them at the head of the opposition. Compile as complete a list as possible of the workers in your shop, regardless of occupation (we organize all wage-workers in the industry, remember, not just particular occupations or trades), with as much information about each as you can get. Don't leave anybody out. During this time, keep a low profile and don't explicitly talk union with people you don't trust to keep quiet.
Do talk to them, though, so they don't feel excluded and so you know what they're thinking. The more you can organize before the boss finds out what's happening, the better. Build an organizing committee of people who show interest and willingness to work.
II. Mapping & charting:
Sit down with each of your reliable contacts and get her or him to draw a map of the work area, showing where each worker usually sits or stands, where the boss or supervisor is, etc. Then make a chart for every worker in the work area, showing social relationships (who their friends and enemies are, relationship with supervisors, who they follow and who follows them, etc.), group memberships (ethnic groups, language groups, shifts, smokers, disabled people, particular assignments on the job, temps, etc.), etc. For each group, identify leaders and personal relationships. Keep a file on each person, recording each conversation you have with her or him, his attitudes, what he says about others, what others say about him. Chart with everybody, but don't show charts to others. The purpose of doing this is to identify who you will next approach, and how you will approach him or her. Don't talk on the clock, don't talk at the job.
III. Building the committee:
Figure out who you need to get on your committee and then organize to get them. Don't just trust your luck or wait for interested people to come to you. Include workplace leaders as much as possible, even if they're problematic. Figure out how to work with troublesome leaders to change bad qualities. Give each member of the committee assignments so that they're personally invested in the campaign.
Find out all you can about the boss (meaning both the company and the people who run the company). Don't get bogged down in details, though. Focus on data that will help the drive. For example, who owns the company? Do the same owners have other businesses? Who runs the company? What's the corporate structure? Is the boss misbehaving? Is the company economically strong or weak? Have there been previous organizing drives? How did the boss respond? Who are the company's suppliers and contractors? Are their workers organized? Are they having labor trouble? Who are the company's customers? Are they other businesses? If so, are those businesses' workers organized? What outside organizations such as shareholders, community groups, church groups, political groups, government agencies, consumers, etc. can be used to put pressure on the boss?
V. Building relationships:
When you make your first contact with a fellow worker (i.e., your first organizing contact, not necessarily the first time you've ever spoken with her or him), set a date and time to meet somewhere away from work. That's all you need to accomplish at this point. Don't get into debates or specifics of how to solve workplace problems. Just say you'd like to talk with the person about some problems in the workplace and to see how she or he feels about them, or that kind of thing. Save the specifics for the off-site meeting. Just get a commitment to meet at a specific time and place.
When you meet, there are four steps to follow: agitate, educate, inoculate, organize.
(A)gitate - Find out what the worker sees as problems in the workplace--long hours, low pay, lack of respect from management, anything--and help her understand that these are all the bosses' fault. Even if it seems like a personal problem, make it the bosses' fault. But remember it's a conversation, not a lecture. The goal is to draw the worker out and get her emotionally agitated against the bosses.
(B) Educate - Teach the worker how workers in similar situations have dealt collectively with problems of the kind she has told you about. This requires preparation in advance on your part, of course. Read labor history. Read the Industrial Worker. Surf the IWW.ORG web site. Talk to other Wobblies.
(C) Inoculate - Ask the worker, "What do you think our bosses are going to do when they find out we're organizing a union?" Prepare him for the anti-union campaign. Bosses generally follow a predictable pattern of harassment and propaganda. You can defuse workers' fear if you let them know you know what's going to happen and are ready to deal with it. Common "bad-cop" tactics include firing union activists, captive meetings (where workers are required to meet with the bosses or their union-busting consultant and get told what a terrible it would be to organize a union), one-on-one meetings aimed at intimidating workers, anti-union mailings, red-baiting (particularly with respect to the I.W.W., since we're an anti-capitalist union). On the other hand there are "good-cop" tactics, like raising wages temporarily, firing unpopular supervisors, promoting union leaders to management, rewarding snitches, etc.
The main thing is to prepare the worker emotionally for all these things and assure him that we know how to deal with them. Solidarity is the key. For instance, we can all wear union buttons or T-shirts to captive meetings. We can sit silent at those meetings instead of participating. Education is also important. We have copies of anti-union letters of the kind bosses will send out, and we can teach workers how to read them and challenge their assertions, so that by the time they come in the mail workers will think they're funny. We can teach workers what it really means that we are anti-capitalist, so that the bosses' warnings about "godless communism" seem ludicrous.
(D) Organize - Get the worker into the committee. Ask her, "What will you do to help this effort along?" Give her an easy task to start with, such as gathering names and addresses. Get her to commit to a due date, then follow up. When she completes the assignment, praise her and give her another, more complicated one. If she doesn't do the job as promised, hold her responsible in a constructive way. Give her another chance and impress on her that people are relying on her, and that she can do it. Find out what is getting in her way--fear? family obligations? disorganization?--and help her get past that obstacle. Have other members of the committee talk with her, to encourage her and put gentle pressure on her.
Once the worker is on board, keep pushing him to take the next step. This often makes people uncomfortable, but it's necessary. We're naturally shy about pushing people to make commitments, but if you don't push, the commitment doesn't get made and we wind up with a tiny core of enthusiastic people doing all the work and a large group of wishy-washy people who won't take risks. Then the core people burn out and the drive falls apart. Solidarity depends on people who take risks together and back one another up. Without pushing, you don't get that.
It's not necessary to sign people up in the union right away. Their union card should be something they earn--not that we're exclusive, but just that we want the card to have significance. It represents a mutual commitment between the worker and the rest of the union, and it shouldn't be handed out casually.
Nor is it necessary, or even necessarily a good idea, to get authorization cards signed. In the I.W.W. we rely on workers' solidarity, not NLRB endorsement or employer recognition, for our power. If recognition serves a practical purpose in furthering your strategy, go for it, when you know you're strong enough to guarantee an election victory. But if you're not strong enough to win, an election will be demoralizing and an expensive waste of time.
VI. Going public:
Eventually it will be time to go public with the campaign. Don't make the mistake of rushing it. Often the boss will force your hand, because somebody will talk, or the boss sees that people are huddling together and figures out what's up. Otherwise, once you've gone through the above steps with everybody and the workers are ready for the next stage of the struggle, you make a plan and put it into action. There are many ways to do this, and the approach you take will depend on your goals. It's vital to set clear, specific goals and then plan a way to achieve them, step by step. You might have a list of demands you want to present to the boss. You might combine that with a show of strength, like a "red-shirt day" or a more concrete action. One group of workers wanted to get paid for the time they were required to spend off the clock cleaning their work stations at the end of each shift. They made a big show of bringing in lots of cleaning implements and stayed for hours, cleaning and cleaning, forcing the bosses to pay overtime for security and building staff. There are all kinds of ways to go, depending on what you want to achieve in the short and long terms.
We're not a business union, and we don't do things their way. They are interested in getting recognition from the boss so that they can start raking in dues as quickly as possible. We're interested in building solidarity so that we can start winning demands, improving our conditions, and building democracy on the job.