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Wither the NLRB?

Union members protesting the NLRB in 2007

A blog exploring what appears to be a turn away from NLRB elections by the mainstream unions in America.  Why is this happening and what does it tell us about the state of working class self-organisation in the States?
 

Although there can be little doubt that class struggle in on the uptick, the past month has seen two remarkable events.  The first was the UFCW-backed Walmart strikes on Black Friday.  The second was the series of SEIU-backed fast food walkouts in New York City.
 
What’s immediately evident about these strikes is that they symbolise quite a dramatic shift in the tactics of the American trade union establishment. This is especially noteworthy given that the UFCW is one of the largest unions in the country. Similarly, the massive SEIU led the breakaway of Change to Win from the AFL-CIO. So we're not talking about independent unions taking it upon themselves to innovate. Nor has it been small unions who may have to operate differently due to lack of resources. The unions who've helped organise these strikes are the big boys of big labor.

What went before

For decades, the modus operandi for the American trade unions was to have workers sign cards agreeing that they wanted to have a NLRB-overseen collective bargaining election. Once roughly two-thirds of the workforce was in support, the union would petition for an election.

Worker mobilisation was secondary to the election and the idea of a recognition strike was seen as a relic. Little effort was made on getting workers to join as individuals and then encouraging them to organise on the job. Instead, unions focused on gaining political influence. Members were mobilised not to support organising in non-unionised workplaces, but as fodder in the campaigns of Democratic politicians.

Such a legalistic strategy assumes (1) both the union and the employer will operate in good faith and (2) that the NLRB—and by extension US labor law—is, if not in favor of unions, is at least a neutral arbiter.* Needless to say, such assumptions have seen a dramatic drop in the number of Americans working under a union contract since the 1970s.

So what explains this new found willingness of the trade unions to undertake strikes so at odds with their long-standing strategy?

Two explanations

The simplest explanation would be that trade union leaders have come to see the error of their ways. Academics who track such things have argued for a number of years now that the most successful recent union campaigns have been those which eschewed the NLRB. And, in fact, some unions have had some moderately high profile successes organising outside the NLRB.

Additionally, a book entitled Reviving the Strike has gained currency across the American labor movement. I haven't read it, but my understanding is that it advocates such tactics as have apparently burst onto the scene in the past month.

On the other hand, this could be simply the unions exploiting the shopfloor anger that has inevitably accompanied the deepening crisis to ensure their continued existence. After decades of decline, the unions need to re-establish themselves.

Both in workplaces and on the streets, the working class has begun to mount a defense in this latest round of the class war. Unsurprisingly, it's been sporadic and incomplete and full of contradictions, but it's been there. Movements like Occupy and the mass protests seen in Wisconsin have alerted the trade union bureaucracy that they are no longer anything close to the default institution workers turn to in times of crisis.

Consequently, the business unions have had to give in somewhat to the self-organised spirit of those movements. Workers who have no existing loyalty to the trade unions might not be willing to wait for months and months while employers duck, dive, and delay NLRB elections. That means trade unions, if they are to remain legitimate conduits for channelling worker discontent, must adapt.

For the beleaguered unions, interestingly, wildcat strike waves allow them to establish their legitimacy in the eyes of both capital and labor. For pissed-off workers, the unions come in with their professional organisers, their specialist knowledge, and their financial resources. For employers, the unions offer themselves up as 'responsible leadership'.

It's not surprising to hear the reports from the Black Friday strikes that UFCW were very keen to keep pickets orderly and ensure that entrances remained unobstructed. Union officials let the police know in advance when and where protests would be and what sort of activity they'd be permitting on the picket lines.

The message to management in this situation is clear: the union is here to keep this from getting too antagonistic. You're better off with us than hedging your bets alone against your workforce who, unconstrained, might actually try tactics which effectively disrupt business.

History repeating itself?

There's a historical comparison to be had in all this. The NLRB came into being in 1935 at a point when self-organisation and self-activity amongst the industrial workers who formed the bulk of the American proletariat was increasing dramatically. Six years into the Great Depression, there was one expectation shared by capital, labor, and the government: shopfloor anger.

Certain sections of the bourgeoisie, in particular those represented by FDR and his New Deal programs, saw unions as part of the remedy to this. Acting without any institutional restraint, workers could issue unreasonable demands, spread strikes, and potentially challenge the very notion of private property through their actions (whether they realised it or not, it's worth adding).

Trade unions, on the other hand, are legal bodies. They have named officials and large treasuries. They can be fined and their officials jailed. They can be regulated and brought into corporatist structures to ensure labor peace.

At this point it's probably worth quickly discussing that anomaly of labor law known as Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, the “concerted protected activity” clause. By any reading of the clause, it gives all American workers the right to strike with or without a membership in a union. But it should be understood in the context of the goals of the larger act.

As has been argued by Staughton Lynd, section 7 was directed at the things workers were allowed to do in the process of forming a union. Once the union was formed, their was an expectation that a no-strike clause would be included in the collective bargaining agreement. The recognised union was then expected to accept responsibility for enforcing the contract on both workers and management. For the unions, the trade off for this was they gained government sponsorship via the NLRB and, from capital, gained the dues check-off system that ensured a steady funding stream for their officialdom.

Such an arrangement was supported by that supposed bastion of militancy, the early CIO. In fact, the organisation pitched itself to capital on the grounds that “A CIO contract is a guarantee against strikes”.

To put all this another way, the National Labor Relations Act granted unions legal legitimacy in exchange for policing worker unrest.

Playing politics

I also wonder—and this is purely conjecture here—if the timing of the strikes hasn't been political.

First, there's the obvious: that this strike wave has come in the aftermath of Obama's re-election victory might mean the unions are feeling a bit more secure. Of more interest however, would be whether the unions have intentionally pushed for (or rather allowed) these unofficial actions in the wake of the loss of the “Employee Free Choice Act”.

Despite alarmist claims from the right that the EFCA would be “the demise of a civilisation”, the act proposed nothing more than to slightly strengthen the hand of big labor. A revolution it was not.

Rule number one is that history doesn't operate in hypotheticals. However, I'm willing to bet that if the EFCA had been introduced in the aftermath of a wildcat strike wave, capital would have been lobbying both major parties for a mechanism making it easier to ensure disputes stayed within definable boundaries. The EFCA would have done just that. It would have made it easier to secure union recognition through a simpler NLRB-overseen card-check procedure, thus increasing the ease by which trade unions could court pissed-off workers in hopes of securing workplace representation.

The trade unions, in turn, may now be hedging their bets in the knowledge that capital may reconsider its opposition to such a bill if they're given a taste of the potential of unfiltered class power. In that bet, there's valuable lesson for America's workers, too.

* * *

I should conclude by saying that I don’t think the NLRB is finished. Just the opposite, in fact. The unions would like nothing more than an opportunity to strengthen their legitimacy by having a union-friendly government strengthen the privileges afforded to them by the law. This would most likely come through a strengthening of the NLRB.

Of course, having a more pro-union government shouldn't be the aim of workers.

The unions mediate the power that we hold as the productive class in society. Governments which give privileges to unions do it as a means to check that raw power and channel it through manageable structures. Instead, we need to resist this inevitable co-optation as much as we need resist to the direct attacks we face at work.

After all, it will only be by exercising our power, unfettered, that the class will come to understand the full extent of the power we hold.

--------

*US Labor law is in favor trade union representation. The National Labor Relations Act which created the NLRB was designed to give trade unions legitimacy under the law.

There is a larger point, however, which is that at high points of class struggle—the 1930s being the classic case—capital turns to the trade unions to ensure workplace conflict stays within certain, legally defined boundaries. The ruling class is rarely open about this (although not always, as I've written about here) and at low points of struggle, capital will still take the opportunity to malign unions and push for a retreat of the limited protections won by the working class. This means attacking the NLRB, stacking it in their favor, and breaking unions. But it rarely goes so far as to push the state to abolish trade unions altogether. No doubt, capital (or at least certain sections of it) maintains an institutional memory of the utility of trade unionism as a check on independent and unrestrained working class activity.

EDITED for accuracy (see comments below)

Posted By

Chilli Sauce
Dec 5 2012 11:50

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  • What’s immediately evident about these strikes is that they symbolise quite a dramatic shift in the tactics of the American trade union establishment.

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Comments

Chilli Sauce
Dec 18 2012 09:43
S-Cat wrote:
It's just that the actual reality has been that independent committees do tend to be sucked into internal union politics. And I pointed to the IWW group at the phone company in Twin Cities as an example. In this case an ostensibly revolutionary organization, and the person elected as chief steward is a revolutionary anarchist.

That's an assertion followed by a description of a situation. It's not an explanation of why those sorts of things happen.

What I've tried to do (and you're free to think that I've failed in that endevour) is to explain how if workers' organisations undertake certain roles (recognition are representation in particular), it creates a situation which compromises their revolutionary politics. I've attempted to present an alternate strategy which allows us--as revolutionaries--to organise alongside our workmates on the shop floor while avoiding the pitfalls of the "three Rs" of trade unionism.

This doesn't mean that in certain situations it won't make tactical sense for militants to take up shop steward roles (I've been one myself) or for like-minded revolutionaries to have some sort of organised presence within a recognised union.

Rather, it's about the steps we consciously take as revolutionary organizations and how we avoid putting ourselves in a [i]structural[i] position which compromises our politics and goals. In other words, it's not just about what we say but the role that organisations fulfill in the workplace—both must be revolutionary.

S-Cat wrote:
And to do that they'll need to develop majority force, because they can't shut down the workplace, conduct a strike, realistically without a very substantial part of the workforce supporting it.

What's your point? Winning a majority of your co-workers around to strike is not the same thing as organising the majority of workers to secure union recognition.

Again, its about creating a strategy which give us the ability to maintain our revolutionary politics as an organisation, but also effectively engage with and reach out to our non-revolutionary workmates (hopefully gaining more revolutionaries in the process).

S-Cat wrote:
I think workers are likely to seek employer agreement to settle a particular fight. People don't necessarily like striking or fighting, and tend to want some resolution.

You might be right, but the way we organise and the general level of combativity in the class are not static things. In any case, you can reach an agreement and have resolution to a dispute without securing recognition. You're the one banging on about the old IWW, they did this all the time.

Similarly, how would you explain wildcat strikes at unionised workplaces which win their demands? Clearly, majority struggles can occur outside of the control of a recognised union and win--without signing a recognition agreement, contract, or formal truce with the boss. Please respond.

S-Cat wrote:
I see a problem with putting forward a vision of a "revolutionary union" that does not aspire to build a mass union, but assiduously tries to keep itself a minority of those who adhere to a particular revolutionary ideology.

What? Of course we aspire to be a mass union (where the hell did you get the idea we didn't?) we just don't want to be a mass union which mediates struggle. In the absence of use being a mass union—and Jesus I feel like a fucking broken record here—it's about having a strategy to relate to as wide a section of our workmates/the class as possible and spread struggles as wide as possible. As I wrote on one of my first posts on this thread:

“The goal is to have a dedicated group of militants (ideally revolutionaries) in each workplace who strategise on picking fights with the boss and then try to collectivise the struggle and the running of it as widely as possible. [Ideally] we want mass meetings which include all the workforce.”

S-Cat wrote:
The CNT maintained mass unions over a period of many years that continued to be just assemblies & shop steward committees, plus union committees that had no power of decision-making, but were assigned certain tasks (the union junta). and no paid officers (except at the national level for the national industrial federations).

Until 36 when the national leadership decided they wanted to mediate struggle and entered the government...

Chilli Sauce
Dec 18 2012 09:12
S-Cat wrote:
I think this comes about from a typically anarchist fear of success, so to speak. Fear of bureaucratization from a mass union

roll eyes roll eyes roll eyes

Strawman much?

syndicalist
Dec 18 2012 15:07
Quote:
“The goal is to have a dedicated group of militants (ideally revolutionaries) in each workplace who strategise on picking fights with the boss and then try to collectivise the struggle and the running of it as widely as possible. [Ideally] we want mass meetings which include all the workforce.”

I guess part of the tension and underlying differences here, can be followed up with a simple "And then what?" question.

I'm gathering the differences being expressed are not over the question of militant tactics, libertarian forms of struggle, but what happens in the period when there is less struggle and more day-to-day shop floor functioning. When we have moved beyond a mere radical minority to a majority of the workforce. This is a question that is prolly the hardest for all of us to answer.
None of us want to fall into reformism, trade unionism and so forth. But at some point we want to become majoritarian, we want to have a real live presence. So, on the surface, perhaps not, it seems like there's no addressing that aspect. And, I gather, that's where SC's frustration lies
(which, in large measure, I share, but would not express it the way SC does).

Edited comment: A few sorta parallel comments Nate and I have shared here: http://libcom.org/library/letter-staughton-lynd-concerning-direct-unioni...

syndicalistcat
Dec 18 2012 19:33

chili:

Quote:
In any case, you can reach an agreement and have resolution to a dispute without securing recognition. You're the one banging on about the old IWW, they did this all the time.

Similarly, how would you explain wildcat strikes at unionised workplaces which win their demands? Clearly, majority struggles can occur outside of the control of a recognised union and win--without signing a recognition agreement, contract, or formal truce with the boss. Please respond.

a wildcat strike in the context of a unionized workplace already presupposes a practice of recognition and negotiation and agreements. you're sort of missing the big picture there. you can see this if you imagine the same action taking place in a non-unionized workplace. often wildcat strikes in such workplaces are to put pressure on the union. back in the '90s the IWW as involved in a wildcat at Jeff Boat, a shipyard on the Ohio River, which was represented by the Teamsters, which was a mixed megalocal that tended to ignore concerns of the members.

also, i tend to think of the development of class & social "consciousness" as occurring in a very uneven way...surely this has been the history of class struggle in the USA. and so there may be awareness of the need for certain things, for militancy, and not other things. the problems of bureaucratic unionism do lead to ideas spreading about how to avoid that...such as proposing term limits for officers or for reducing salaries of officers, or getting rid of them. so I can easily envision a highly self-managed type of militant union, and I know of local unions that have done this, but without having reached revolutionary conclusions. Many workers understand they have to control the union or they'll be sold out, and they may come to this conclusion before revolutionary conclusions. And the extent to which they do tend to reach revolutionary conclusions is likely to depend on the level of struggle & resistance going on. Already today a third of the population in the USA say they are for "socialism" (tho they probably are thinking of welfare state programs).

so i'm reluctant to accept an extreme either/or position of either a highly ideological revolutionary union, or there's nothing we can support in terms of a mass union. And once there is a mass union, even if it has a nominal commitment to anti-capitalism & workers self-management of production, there may be various motivations for people belonging and various levels of understanding. This is why I think there is need for the ideological revolutionary minority organization as a pressure group inside the mass union. This is why I prefer a "dual organizational" interpretation of anarcho-syndicalism.

in regard to the CNT joining the Popular Front government in Spain in 1936, i don't agree with the theory of this presented in FFO, but it would be a long discussion to get into that.

Chilli Sauce
Dec 18 2012 21:06
S-Cat wrote:
This is why I think there is need for the ideological revolutionary minority organization as a pressure group inside the mass union. This is why I prefer a "dual organizational" interpretation of anarcho-syndicalism.

Well I guess we're probably never going to agree then. As I've already said, I think there can be tactical reasons for taking a shop steward position or creating a conscious grouping of militants within a recognised union. But those are tactic to be employed in particular situations--and ones that are both fraught with pitfalls and fail to take into account the situation of the vast majority of working class people.

On your second paragraph, that's all fine, but it's still not an argument for (1) anarchist seeking recognition in their workplace of either an "anarchist" union or a trade union or (2) for anarchists to form their entire strategy an assumption of trade union consciousness.

Of course class consciousness is messy and uneven and contradictory. This is why--again--I've proposed a strategy that applies regardless of the level of class consciousness, militancy, or organisation in a given workplace. The idea is that self-organised struggled and conciousness are a dialectical process with struggle opening up the space to have political realisations/deeper political conversations.

Quote:
a wildcat strike in the context of a unionized workplace already presupposes a practice of recognition and negotiation and agreements.

It does, of course. However, the fact still remains (as I've pointed out a dozen posts ago) that in the vast, vast majority of workplaces the union is run by a small handful of activists who have the support and trust of the larger workforce. No doubt part of this is union recognition and labor law, but it doesn't take much to prove yourself an effective militant in the workplace regardless of a union presence. And that's the argument I'm making and the strategy I'm promoting.

It's why—regardless of a union recognition—we start by picking small, winnable, collective fights. We then draw more people into our workplace committee and take on larger fights; we establish the trust and respect of our workmates. Then, just like a group of shop stewards organising wildcat action, we can pull of big sexy actions like strikes.

So to answer this question,

Quote:
you can see this if you imagine the same action taking place in a non-unionized workplace.

Yes I can.

Chilli Sauce
Dec 18 2012 21:16
Quote:
I guess part of the tension and underlying differences here, can be followed up with a simple "And then what?" question.

I'm gathering the differences being expressed are not over the question of militant tactics, libertarian forms of struggle, but what happens in the period when there is less struggle and more day-to-day shop floor functioning. When we have moved beyond a mere radical minority to a majority of the workforce.

S and S-Cat, you two have been involved in the struggle for long before I was even born, so perhaps that explains some of this.

The problem for me, however, is that far too often anarchists are pre-occupied with what happens when we have a majority. I'm looking for a strategy for where we are now, which is at an increasing but still historically low point of struggle.

I don't know, I guess the idea of being of practically being a majority in a workplace is basically academic for me. I have ideas for how this might function, but they'll have to be informed by the massive amount of struggle that occurs between now where we're an utter, utter statistical nothing to where we can begin to recruit on a mass scale.

The strategy I've presented here I think takes us to the quite a long way on that scale. It seems like a weird cop-out to criticise that strategy based on the notion that it doesn't clearly lay out what we'll do in some sort of hypothetical situation where the majority of a workplace is consciously practicing and identifying with anarcho-syndicalism.

syndicalist
Dec 18 2012 21:51

Hey Chilli, right quick.

Sorry a wee-bit reversed.

Quote:
I don't know, I guess the idea of being of practically being a majority in a workplace is basically academic for me.

So, to play a bit of devils advocate, so are the conversations folks have about libertarian communism for me. We are a long way away from such, but we talk about it like it's on the near horizon. But they are also conversations which shape a broad outlook, right?

Quote:
The problem for me, however, is that far too often anarchists are pre-occupied with what happens when we have a majority. I'm looking for a strategy for where we are now, which is at an increasing but still historically low point of struggle.

Actually, I'd say that most anarcho-syndicalists (english speaking) do not talk about majorities in any concrete way. And this is part of the frustration on the other end of the stick, so to speak.

But a discussion about majority should not preclude discussions about the here and now. Conversations should be as "whole" as possible, not self-limiting. It's sorta like building a ladder and then climbing it.

Of course, I think some of the conversation that has been had is around a document meant for the SF, not necc. for us in the US. And, conversely, some of the stuff we'd be talking about would be more relevant to the US. That said, there's cross over stuff and lots to learn and share from ech other.

Gots to run.

Fast edit: Chilli, I originally posed my question about a year ago (see other link) when the
IWW here in the US was engaged in the Jimmy Johns campaign. And was winding
down the Queens, NY food warhouse campaign. Both campaigns engaging several
hundred workers.

syndicalistcat
Dec 19 2012 04:41

I'm glad that syndicalist raised the comparison with libertarian communism. I feel that we need to be able to offer a vision for a majority revolutionary labor movement, what this would look like. This is necessary to be taken seriously, frankly. I am not willing to take seriously a perspective that talks about worker revolution but won't walk that road.

This is not just about conditions in the USA, tho that is part of it. It's also relevant to understanding, for example, why the IWA has had such a hard time reviving in Latin America. This was a basic difference of opinion between WSA and the other groups in IWA. Maybe a reason we ceased to be a member.

I would also be interested in hearing the perspective of those in the American IWW who are opposed to contract unionism.

Chilli Sauce
Dec 19 2012 22:26
Quote:
I'd say that most anarcho-syndicalists (english speaking) do not talk about majorities in any concrete way.

Maybe you're right about it not being in a concrete way, but come on, what's easier to find: a discussion of anarchist revolutionary theory and how we'll conduct the revolution or a practical dicussion of workplace organising for where the class is now?

Chilli Sauce
Dec 19 2012 22:33
syndicalistcat wrote:
I'm glad that syndicalist raised the comparison with libertarian communism. I feel that we need to be able to offer a vision for a majority revolutionary labor movement, what this would look like. This is necessary to be taken seriously, frankly.

Yeah, cause that's how to convince your workers to get active in the workplace: start talking about what a revolutionary labor movement looks like and libertarian communism roll eyes

I mean, Jesus, my first lesson in workplace organising was that it's totally inneffective to organise politically. Struggles opens up the space for political discussions, not the other way around. All the good organising I've seen the the US IWW and in SF has taken that lesson to heart.

All that said, if it came to that discussion with a workmate, I would probably tell them to read the latter bit of the last chapter of Fighting for Ourselves.

Quote:
This is not just about conditions in the USA, tho that is part of it. It's also relevant to understanding, for example, why the IWA has had such a hard time reviving in Latin America. This was a basic difference of opinion between WSA and the other groups in IWA. Maybe a reason we ceased to be a member.

Well, at least we're finally getting to the crux of the matter here. Have you actually read Fighting for Ourselves or do you just have an ax to grind about a 20 year old beef that took place before 90% of the current membership of SF had even finished puberty?

Quote:
I would also be interested in hearing the perspective of those in the American IWW who are opposed to contract unionism.

Umm...

syndicalist
Dec 19 2012 22:47
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Quote:
I'd say that most anarcho-syndicalists (english speaking) do not talk about majorities in any concrete way.

Maybe you're right about it not being in a concrete way, but come on, what's easier to find: a discussion of anarchist revolutionary theory and how we'll conduct the revolution or a practical dicussion of workplace organising for where the class is now?

Um, I think I prefer the latter and try and have those here on Libcom....and elesewhere whenever I can. groucho

syndicalist
Dec 20 2012 02:14
Quote:
This was a basic difference of opinion between WSA and the other groups in IWA. Maybe a reason we ceased to be a member.

Well, at least we're finally getting to the crux of the matter here. Have you actually read Fighting for Ourselves or do you just have an ax to grind about a 20 year old beef that took place before 90% of the current membership of SF had even finished puberty?

Yeah, I'm not sure why SC would bring this up and within this context. I dunno, maybe it was some sort of round about way of being critical of what used to be a very "cookie-cutter" appraoch by some in the IWA back in our IWA years. I dunno.

I mean, I still harbor a strong opinion about WSA's mistreatment, etc., etc. , but this isn't the place for that discussion.

If SC has some tactical, strategic, ideological differences with some in the IWA, better to start a different thread and conversation IMHO.

kevin s.
Dec 20 2012 16:37

hey all, interesting conversation....

I suspect syndicalistcat mentioned the ol IWA thing as some kind of comparison to say "look this is similar to that which was a problem."

About the substantive issues... I'm largely sympathetic to Chilli's positions on this stuff, but I think syndicalist's questions about "what next" are pretty basic stuff that needs to be considered. I mean, honestly, Chilli you say you are looking for "what now" answers which is cool, but none of the stuff I've seen on these threads, in DU or FFO has been particularly instructive to me on the truly nuts-and-bolts questions about shop floor organizing. The most instructive places for those, for me, have been various conversations with other wobs in the the Twin Cities branch and, to a less extent, the organizer training.

As far as the big picture questions go of "three Rs," I basically agree about avoiding the legal system (which in the US means, basically, the NLRB) and sticking to a more "direct" approach... and militant minoritarian unionism is the most obvious application of that in the immediate term. Personally the main thing that still bugs me is the more long-term stuff that syndicalist raises.

All for now, gotta go.

Chilli Sauce
Dec 21 2012 09:19
Quote:
I mean, honestly, Chilli you say you are looking for "what now" answers which is cool, but none of the stuff I've seen on these threads, in DU or FFO has been particularly instructive to me on the truly nuts-and-bolts questions about shop floor organizing.

Glad to have you involved in the thread Kevin. On practical stuff, I'd say either go to and IWW training (which you already have) or, if you're in the UK...

http://www.solidarityfederation.org.uk/?q=organiser-training

Short of that, it's stuff like Workers Power or (flagrant self-promotion) pieces like this (which got turned down for Workers Power because it'd been previously published...).

syndicalist
Dec 21 2012 04:00

Chilli, by way of some background. I often wondered what it would have been like to be in the IWWs Cleveland Metal & Machine Workers IU #440 during its heyday. Or the Swedish SAC in the post WWII period. What the challenges of existence and pressures of being as close to mass as one could be during really non-revolutionary times. How would we, as revolutionaries, handled the pressures of trying to keep shopfloor organization on the right path in a world that was rapidly heading in the opposite, reactionary way. And at a time when "we" had real, live-wire shopfloor organization going.

Now, I'm sure there will be some that will simply say IU 440 and the SAC simply fell into the swamp of militant trade unionism, reformism, social democracy, etc. So I can rationalize some things. But I then come back to this nagging question about being in a majority position. What keep us from veering off into this other things were are critical of.

Surely times have changed. Surely we don't want to present obsolete viewpoints. By the same token, todays minorities might be tomorrow's majorities. At least, that is what I always hoped my work would've produced (they did not).

Anyway, visions for today need also have some visions for tomorrow. But I'm preaching to the choir here, I well suppose.

kevin s.
Dec 22 2012 17:40

Hey Chilli, yeah I will agree the WP column has had some pretty good nuts-and-bolts articles. A general impression from my end (of being around for about three years now) is that between various stuff pushed by the (now) old-guard folks around that circle, stuff written in that column, and the organizer training (which also developed by a bunch of those same folks), basically all the practical low-level stuff developed over the last decade is what has largely led to the more substantial growth and gains in the IWW during that period. Personally I think there's limits to the training and folks should be wary of a formulaic application of it, but, there's no doubt it has been huge improvement for the union compared to before.

Quote:
Or the Swedish SAC in the post WWII period. What the challenges of existence and pressures of being as close to mass as one could be during really non-revolutionary times. How would we, as revolutionaries, handled the pressures of trying to keep shopfloor organization on the right path in a world that was rapidly heading in the opposite, reactionary way. And at a time when "we" had real, live-wire shopfloor organization going.

Now, I'm sure there will be some that will simply say IU 440 and the SAC simply fell into the swamp of militant trade unionism, reformism, social democracy, etc. So I can rationalize some things. But I then come back to this nagging question about being in a majority position. What keep us from veering off into this other things were are critical of.

This is largely the stuff that "bugs" me the most and is likely to be a cause for many disagreements in the near or distant future. Probably shouldn't be the top worry for me, seeing as the immediate nuts-and-bolts stuff is more relevant to me at the moment (and a bigger weakness on my part, I think), but it is increasingly a "real" question more and more wobblies have to ask themselves. In keeping with Chilli's self-promoting methods, I wrote a short thing related to this here http://libcom.org/library/small-time-unionism

Chilli Sauce
Dec 22 2012 23:08

You should set yourself up a libcom blog, Kevin.

kevin s.
Dec 23 2012 10:47

How do I do that?

Chilli Sauce
Dec 23 2012 12:46
syndicalist
Dec 23 2012 17:06
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Quote:
I guess part of the tension and underlying differences here, can be followed up with a simple "And then what?" question.

I'm gathering the differences being expressed are not over the question of militant tactics, libertarian forms of struggle, but what happens in the period when there is less struggle and more day-to-day shop floor functioning. When we have moved beyond a mere radical minority to a majority of the workforce.

S and S-Cat, you two have been involved in the struggle for long before I was even born, so perhaps that explains some of this.

I dunno why this popped into my mind. It's soirta of an after thought.

With experience does come perspective. Sometimes there's value to it, sometimes not. While there's no exact repetition to events or ideas, there are similarities. So, I guess, taking the best and learning from the worst of others experiences can be helpful. In some ways, I suspect, it's no different why bunches of time was spent in the new Solfed booklet looking at many different revolutionary workers' currents throughout time.

Well, just a bit of afterthought.

syndicalist
Jan 11 2013 16:20
syndicalist wrote:
Chilli, by way of some background. I often wondered what it would have been like to be in the IWWs Cleveland Metal & Machine Workers IU #440 during its heyday. Or the Swedish SAC in the post WWII period. What the challenges of existence and pressures of being as close to mass as one could be during really non-revolutionary times. How would we, as revolutionaries, handled the pressures of trying to keep shopfloor organization on the right path in a world that was rapidly heading in the opposite, reactionary way. And at a time when "we" had real, live-wire shopfloor organization going.

Now, I'm sure there will be some that will simply say IU 440 and the SAC simply fell into the swamp of militant trade unionism, reformism, social democracy, etc. So I can rationalize some things. But I then come back to this nagging question about being in a majority position. What keep us from veering off into this other things were are critical of.

Surely times have changed. Surely we don't want to present obsolete viewpoints. By the same token, todays minorities might be tomorrow's majorities. At least, that is what I always hoped my work would've produced (they did not).

Anyway, visions for today need also have some visions for tomorrow. But I'm preaching to the choir here, I well suppose.

reading this about Spain http://libcom.org/blog/lights-dark-cnt-cgt-members-indefinite-strike-aga..., sorta drives home a point in my mind about the push and pull of a well articulated "theoretical" position (not said negatively) and the oft cold realities of on the ground stuff.

Nate
May 19 2013 16:17

I think I read this and planned to get back to it but forgot. Anyway. Good post Chili.

Two articles relevant to this, about current stuff undermining the NLRB -

http://inthesetimes.com/article/14785/labor_law_loses_its_watchdog/

http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/14965/another_blow_to_nlrb_court_b...

About EFCA, it's my understanding that EFCA would have made unionization easier but wouldn't have done anything to improve concerted activity protections under section 7(a) of the National Labor Relations Act. A lot of IWW organizing, the bits I'm most keen on, aren't union activity under the law, they're concerted activity (I know you know this stuff Chili, just saying it cuz others may not). Which means that the IWW organizing I like best wouldn't have benefitted from EFCA. EFCA would have created a two-speed NLRB that put more attention to and moved faster on union stuff than on concerted activity (or, to use some terms from Fighting For Ourselves it would have created more incentives for the NLRB to favor more representational forms of unionism and to be less favorable to organizing that was only associational/direct unionist). I think that's an important part of the whole EFCA thing.

Sorta related, I wanted to pass on this quote I found. The gist is that in the U.S. historically, unions have grown in times of major unrest leading to strikes, and otherwise don't really grow. I think part of what Joe Burns's book Reviving the Strike is about is an argument which basically says "unions should try to create huge unrest because that's what will make unions grow." Anyway, here's the quote:

Quote:
Workers who support unions sacrifice money and risk their jobs, even
their lives. Success comes only when large numbers simultaneously
follow a different rationality. Unions must persuade whole groups to
abandon individualism to throw themselves into the collective project.
Rarely have unions grown incrementally, gradually adding members.
Instead, workers have joined unions en masse in periods of great
excitement, attracted by what the French sociologist Emile Durkheim
labeled "collective effervescence" or the joy of participating in a
common project without regard for individual interest. Growth has come
in spurts, short periods of social upheaval punctuated by major
demonstrations and strikes when large numbers see their fellow workers
publicly demonstrating a shared commitment to the collective project.
Union growth, therefore, is concentrated in short periods of dramatic
social upheaval; in the thirteen countries listed in Tables 1 and 2,
67 percent of growth comes in only five years, and over 90 percent in
only ten years. As Table 3 shows, in these thirteen countries, unions
grew by over 10 percent a year in years with the greatest strike
activity but by less than 1 percent a year in the years with the
fewest strikers

Gerald Friedman, "Labor Unions in the United States"
http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/friedman.unions.us

Chilli Sauce
May 13 2013 07:20

That's great, thanks Nate.