Practical workplace organising tips and experiences

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JDMF
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Sep 15 2005 11:33
Practical workplace organising tips and experiences

ok, comms - lets get our collective pool of knowledge into something useful!

Inspired by what catch said in another thread, how about listing and discussing some practical, however small, tips and experiences on workplace organising. What this means is down to you. Personally i see workplace organising ranging from unionising to increasing class conflict to politicising workers to increasing solidarity and everything in between.

We all have read the boring stuff about the theory, history and the glorious battles but what i am after on this thread are the small uncelebrated little things and stuff which is useful here and now.

Just post like one example per message rather than huge monologs - hopefully we get a really diverse list of things from various people in the end.

Lets go!

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Sep 15 2005 11:41

i guess i should start, so i will start from something which may sound and look very small and insignificant, but i've found is pretty useful:

Tie boycott!

this caught like a wildfire in one company i worked in. I've never had a tie coming from a country where its not very common, so i never wore a tie to the job either. I got hassled by the management so we started from the coffee/lunchroom bitching about how stupid it is that we have to wear ties, and then grew into a demand to have a "dress down friday" and quite a few people not wearing ties to work on any day.

management responded with global emails to all reasserting the dress code, majority went back to wearing ties, but some didn't. It grew then again, and another email was produced, and the issue was brought up in team meetings.

Sounds silly? It is! but at the same time it showed how stupid the management was and gave us something to come together and start making demands on. Not to mention it was a laugh grin You also were able to suss out who were more "militantly minded" workers, and who were just repeating "but its the rules". It also didn't stop there, but many other stupid management rules were criticised in the process.

Dont know how it ended up as i left the company in the middle of this...

Anyway, i deliberately wanted to start from a small example which may look insignificant on the surface, but what i found to be a good issue to start in a male dominated office based workplace (like mine was).

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Sep 15 2005 11:59

have been in a few places where there is expectation from management that people will work late during busy spells without any provision for the inconvience of doing so

across these places, we managed to get provision for things like, paid hot meals if working past 7pm ish, paid taxi home if working past 9-10pm ish, days of in lieu of any unpaid overtime worked etc....

a lot of people just seemed to accept the fact that they wouldn't get anything like this, but once a few bolshy enough people can get together and start putting the word around, informally to bosses, that people will not be prepared to work late with nothing back in return, it's amazing how it can reap dividends

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Sep 15 2005 12:21
oisleep wrote:
a lot of people just seemed to accept the fact that they wouldn't get anything like this, but once a few bolshy enough people can get together and start putting the word around, informally to bosses, that people will not be prepared to work late with nothing back in return, it's amazing how it can reap dividends

Very good point. Same thing happened at a print and copy shop i worked. For years the workers worked late without compensation, when i refused one other guy followed example, and then it became a policy to give the time back in lieu - for all except one guy who loved the place so much he didn't want to take the time confused

One worker commented after this happened that how silly he has been forking hundreds of hours unpaid overtime in past couple of years and never even thought to say something about it!

MalFunction
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Sep 15 2005 12:39

greets

some time since i've been employed but ..

dress codes. when i started - it was all ties, suits etc for men and women had to wear skirts.

without any (in)formal agreement amongst the workers we slowly made the dress code disappear until it got down to -cover yer bits and make sure the clothes are clean.

when i challenged the dress code on one ocassion - middle of summer, boiling hot, i was refusing to wear a tie, the top boss man came down and the only reason he could give for making us (men) wear ties was "its in the rules" - to which i replied as he made the rules he could change them, and if he didn't we'd ignore them anyway (also muttered something along the lines of the rules being sexist - women not being expected to wear ties). once we'd cracked that the rest followed.

only a little victory - but anything that challenges the arbitrary nature of authority is worthwhile.

as for unions - if there's one there it makes sense to join it and make use of it. do avoid becoming "the union" - ie where everyone expects you to win all their battles for them single-handed. have to emphasise that the workers are the union and if they want anything done (locally) they have to be prepared to do it themselves.

as for late working etc. one of the last job interviews i went to i asked what the hours were. you work the hours we deem necessary i was told. oh does that mean i get overtime / time off in lieu? nope. needless to say i wasn't offered the job.

mal

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Sep 15 2005 12:57

things like the dress code stuff are good as you don't actually need to get management to agree to anything to get something out of it, as you say, you just gradually implement your own policy (if enough people stand up to it) and management can only sit back and watch their authority over us slip, and on the other hand if they do make a point of clamping down on it, they know in themselves that there is no practical reason for enforcing these rules in the first place, and it's all just about them exerting their power so that they retain authority in other areas

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Sep 15 2005 13:26

I started a thread similar to this a little while ago here:

http://libcom.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=5642

Here's what I put on it:

Little things that I've been involved in at work (always with almost no overt level of struggle). They have all used the "tactic" oisleep mentions above, which can be called Dual Power. You just do them and present to the boss as a done deal.

* As smokers are allowed 5-min breaks whenever, getting non-smokers the same right, just by the smokers saying so to the non-smokers and presenting it as a done deal to the boss (he didn't even question it, cos it would have caused big problems with office morale/mood!)

* For PC users got wrist rests, and decent chairs/back supports (anyone can get these generally, you just have to ask)

* You can start listening to music at work, either on headphones or out loud depending on your work setting. If you just start the boss can find it hard stopping you

* Organise weekly staff social get-togethers, during work time

At the moment I'm trying to find out how many other people in my library are on the same shitty contract with no sick/holiday pay or rights as me, with the aim of trying to do something about it. It's tricky though, cos I know 3 of us, but one kind of likes the "working hard" thing, and when I suggested taking the 20 minute break we're allowed every 3.5 hours (that's how long our shifts are) she said it was "taking the piss" and got really annoyed. Hmmm...

There are a bunch of accounts of workplace organising and action here:

http://libcom.org/library/taxonomy/term/61

more - however big or small, are very welcome

Thora
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Sep 15 2005 14:38

From monday I'm going to be working in a library too - so I'll have a workplace to organise in. Might even join a union.

Garner
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Sep 15 2005 16:01

Wow. Are any of us not librarians?

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Sep 15 2005 16:22

librarian communists

MalFunction
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Sep 15 2005 16:41

greets

(used to be a librarian)

you can always sign up here for the a-librarians list

A-librarians mailing list

A-librarians@lists.mutualaid.org

http://lists.mutualaid.org/mailman/listinfo/a-librarians

free hosting provided by http://www.mutualaid.org/

mal

Mike Harman
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Sep 15 2005 17:26

I'm a Learning Resources Technologist (librarian with computers roll eyes ), but I'm also a saxophone teacher, so only 50% librarian.

redyred
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Sep 15 2005 18:20

I'm involved in a pay dispute at the moment. Well, not really a dispute, since it's regarding the national minimum wage (technicalities in what hours count as on-duty), so it should be impossible for us to lose. It's been pretty uplifting getting the workplace united over it though.

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Refused
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Sep 15 2005 18:36
Garner wrote:
Wow. Are any of us not librarians?

I'm not anymore. cry

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Sep 15 2005 21:19
Refused wrote:
Garner wrote:
Wow. Are any of us not librarians?

I'm not anymore. cry

I stopped being one last year sad

IrrationallyAngry
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Sep 15 2005 23:25
Catch wrote:
I'm also a saxophone teacher

WAR CRIMINAL! black bloc black bloc black bloc

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Sep 16 2005 07:23
MalFunction wrote:

as for unions - if there's one there it makes sense to join it and make use of it. do avoid becoming "the union" - ie where everyone expects you to win all their battles for them single-handed.

this is a good point, and REALLY difficult to avoid. People are very used to the idea that union is a service provider, not a platform to organise from. So many times i have heard workers saying along the lines of "i pay the dues so they should help me in this" or something.

Anyways, can take months/years to shake off this mentality in some cases in my experience. And what makes it difficult are the union reps who like it this way and enforce it with everything they do.

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Sep 20 2005 15:42

hey, this went quiet really quicky wink I thought this board is the bastion of workplace organisers and stuff judging from the political position wink

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Sep 20 2005 15:52
JDMF wrote:
I thought this board is the bastion of workplace organisers and stuff judging from the political position

Not me, I've hardly ever had a job.

I was on New Deal once, does that count? Did sod all organsing as part of it, though.

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Sep 20 2005 15:57
JDMF wrote:
hey, this went quiet really quicky wink I thought this board is the bastion of workplace organisers and stuff judging from the political position ;)

yeah i was hoping for more from this thread, i've even resisted the temptation to fanny around on it as it could have been useful

guess some folks feel more comfortable in theory than in practice, or are still at school/university

BB
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Sep 20 2005 16:10
JDMF wrote:
hey, this went quiet really quicky wink I thought this board is the bastion of workplace organisers and stuff judging from the political position ;)

Maybe folks are to busy organising...

It's probably got to do with the fact that we've gone through it before, but hey no harm in doing it again. In fact i could post what i've posted before...

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Sep 20 2005 16:27

yeah true nothing worse than seeing the same old tedious shite come up over and over again......

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Sep 20 2005 19:54

ok, sorry guys if this has been done to death here. I probably wasn't here when that discussion was had - the one thread which was linked in earlier didn't have much stuff in it either.

besides, i think there is a big gap between the big grand schemes, and the small little things we can all do in our workplaces all the time, and i was hoping to get some ideas and ammo for this purpose.

Vaneigemappreci...
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Sep 20 2005 20:11

Shame this has gone a littl cold as its a fucking good idea. Like has been said previously its about starting somewhere, even if its something pretty trivial like dress code, at least this is something to get people interested in struggles at work and show the influence that people can have in the work place, obviously moving from this to rejecting the imposition of work in its totality is something different, but its a good place to start.

As for stories of such acts of insubordination, i have none, i simply got up and left and ended up in another dead end job confused

it does seem hard to organise at some places where the work itself is so monotonous and unnecessary that the only thing you can suggest is knocking the place down!

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Sep 20 2005 20:40

Yeah it's tricky also cos you have to get settled somewhere first, you can't just turn up then start rocking the boat. But it's not easy being somewhere that long. I mean you can deliberately prolong your being in a shit job but you shouldn't really...

I found out in one of the places I work (local govt.), all the temps are now from one agency (which bid really low). I can see this happening more and more in future, as employers won't pay extortionate rates to agencies. I also notice with this agency the level of exploitation is way lower. They only get about 9% of my wage, whereas previous agencies have taken nearly 100% extra. This occuring could open up more possibility for collective action, as there are only 2 bosses in the organisation now, not dozens. Gonna look into. I contacted the main union steward, SWP, but he only seemed interested in getting me to an anti-war demo roll eyes

And I think this thread should stay here a long time. I know there are people who could say interesting stuff here and haven't yet...

kalabine
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Sep 20 2005 20:49

keep this thread going and i'll post some stuff when i can be arsed

Deezer
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Sep 20 2005 23:36

okay, so I was a shop steward for about seven or so years. I found it very frustrating, draining, rewarding, and great craic. Every tiny victory we won was fucking amazing, holding up the bosses plans was pretty satisfying, poking a collective finger in the bosses eye even better.

I have posted on this before I think but heres one handy hint;

When you are involved in building for industrial action do not do it on yer todd (never attempt to 'be' the union)*, do not start making the case with the 'company men' (and women) who you know are never gonna take on the bosses under (almost) any circumstances.

Make sure everyone involved knows to start making the case with those fellow workers (and I am not a wobblie) who are onside, then build momentum, bring the weight of numbers to those easily convinced and those more sceptical about the chances of successfully taking on the bosses will in turn be more easily convinced that you may be onto a winner. Then you can work on the stupider lot from a stronger position and effectively sideline any remaining scab potential.

Secure support from members and shop stewards of any other unions representing other grades and types of workers in your industry (particualrly essential if they can be used to do your work during a dispute).

Start with small stuff (unless its a reaction to a particularly aggressive attack on existing tetrms and conditions/agreements) and build confidence. It does work - but keep at it its all so easily knocked back.

Chin up - they don't call it (class) struggle for nothing smile

circle A red n black star

*Also represent the people (who elected you) to the union not the union (I mean bureacracy here) to the workers.

Jimmy
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Sep 21 2005 00:07

Being lazy and pasting from Anarkismo. Was in a non-unionised workplace...

When I was working as a cycle courier, a couple of us began organising for better wages and conditions. As we were just getting into anarchism at the time (the shit working conditions moved us from vaguely liberal-amnesty politics to socialism), we tried to organise in a libertarian fashion.

We were doing this with young workers, 20-30, most of whom were into alternative sub-cultures rather than having any political opinions. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that apart from myself and the other guy every other courier thought the boss was perfectly entitled to his fat pay cheque and to order the rest of us about. Organising people who are happy with their own submission is a challenge.

But of course there will always be specific things that they are unhappy about; unfair hiring practices, uniforms, lack of holidays, insurance, a host of other things. We'd try to help them to make links between their individuals greviences and to generalise; i.e. the problem isn't simply that the boss forgot to pay insurance, give you holidays, etc.

So we agitated amongst the workers. For a good while it was just me and to be frank when you're doing that on your own you can appear a bit odd to everybody else. It really helped when the other guy got involved. Even getting people to after work meetings was easier with two. Instead of just me asking people, if I could get 4 to do it then the appearance of a buzz went out. The workers would start thinking "somethings up here, I'll head along".

Having got that far, it was in some respects easier to proceed. There were after all plenty of greviences and once they were being aired in a formal setting rather than over a pint, progress could be made.

I find there's a natural inclination in people to operate in a directly democratic manner and it is usually only later that this gets eroded (and when organised anarchists can play a particularly useful role).

Our workers meetings had very good participation both in terms of attendence, speaking. We'd select 4 or 5 delegates to meet the management and put forward our demands. They would be issued with specific instructions by the general meetings (with some positions. Any offer the boss made would have to go back to an all-workers' meeting. We'd rotate some of the delegates for every meeting. So you had people who never had _any_ experience of industrial confrontation sitting opposite a boss and witnessing in all it's naked truth what a complete liar and slimey fuck he was.

It wakes them up a bit. Occassionaly, over the previous year, I'd be having conversations with workers about anarchism, but a lot of people aren't particularly interested in ideas for the sake of them. But things started making a lot more sense after they'd see for themselves the boss leaving on his new BMW a half hour after pleading an inability to give a pay rise at the rate of inflation.

Involvement in a concrete struggle politicises people. If it's only one struggle, then that politcisation will probably fade. If we can repeat it, then it's more likely to stay.

Back to the couriers...After various excellently democratic workers meetings and dealings with the boss, the couriers had metamorphised from timid lads with a liking for tight clothes and unkempt hair to aggreeing strike action. (The boss held out for three hours and then caved in.) Incidently, over the next year there were two more rounds of confontation with the boss before the three radicals departed. In the three years since they haven't gotton a pay rise. We didn't build a lasting enough structure that was able to cope with the high turnover of workers.

enelpozo
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Sep 21 2005 00:56

the one thing that puts me off sometimes is thinking, do I actually want to be trying to be involved with some of the assholes that can be at work for any more than I have to. But I suppose sometimes it's necessary.

One of the most basic things I would suggest before you even think about a struggle must be to build a solidarity amongst workers, to be friendly with them and to build a relationship outside of 'yes, did you receive that email on this years budget I sent you' talk. In my opinion, people are faw more likely to stand by their fellow workers if they have at least a small degree of friendship than nothing at all.

But definitely one of things which people must try to avoid, like other people have said, is doing things for people and letting them rely on you. There are two people who recently left their jobs where I work but still have pay owed which the boss won't cough up. I offered to get a letter written from the IWW and now it seem they're quite happy for me to do the work. Far from an ideal situation. Anyone got any tips on how to avoid this?

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Sep 21 2005 08:36

Another one on dresscodes (seems to be a theme).

Dickhead manager decides he doesn't want women wearing leggings to work. And says at a staff meeting he doesn't want people "turning up to work in Lycra." Unfortunate choice of words.

So anyway I write a letter to Lycra saying, "Tsk, you realise that Her Majesty's Government [I was a civil servant at the time] has banned your lovely product from some of its workplaces, I wouldn't be standing for that if I were you."

Lycra's legal people write a series of strong letters to Her Majesty's Government at ministerial level. Obviously the minister doesn't have a fucking clue what's going on, 'cause this is all down to one dickhead manager in some backwater office in the sticks. Letters, faxes, phonecalls flying all over the department (this is pre-e-mail, in the lower echelons of the civil service at least).

Hours of HMG's time wasted, and one seriously bollocked dickhead manager when they finally worked out that he was the problem. And some seriously amused office workers.

To conclude: I think that making managers look stupid is a major weapon in the class struggle. Fucking good fun, too. tongue

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the button
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Sep 21 2005 08:47

This one on behalf of my dad, who is extremely unlikely to post on here, so I'm sure he wouldn't mind me sharing it with you. In the event of strike action, get some little business cards printed up to put under windscreen wipers, saying,

Quote:
Warning: Scabbing can seriously damage your car

Yep, my dad's considerably more black bloc than me embarrassed