Nobody said this would be easy - Norma Raymond

Nobody said this would be easy - Norma Raymond

A column by Norma Raymond about the difficulty of workplace organizing.

I work for a big, dumb corporation which has a virtual monopoly on the industry. Since escape is an unlikely dream, I have developed many coping mechanisms. I hope these techniques are not actual proof of minor league Stockholm syndrome. It’s hard to justify this employment, so I do what I can to sabotage while trying to form a union.

Daily, I encourage people to slow down production. I urge them to call off when they’re sick. I plea with them to speak up when there is a problem. I offer to accompany them if this would be more comfortable for them. I brainstorm with them about what would make the job more fulfilling. I point out work-related problems, and encourage open dialogue. These are not extraordinary acts. They are naturally occurring, everyday responses to corporate employers.

A sick worker is told, “Well, it’s not really convenient for you to go home early,” (as if we can schedule illnesses) or “You haven’t earned enough paid time off to call in sick.” A sexually-harassed employee is told, “Well, we like people to be able to joke around and have a good time here,” or “Boys will be boys.” It’s difficult to have hope when some people being harassed refuse to speak up. It’s frustrating when the people told such ridiculous things get fed up and quit. The bosses tell them to, “Lighten up” as if they are to blame. The boss will usually not protect you, so you need to learn how to protect yourself. The boss is unnecessary, but will imply that you are the one who is expendable. That’s why we need to stand up, union up and know our rights.

I was told, in the IWW’s Organizer Training 101, that when trying to form a union people will disappoint us. A great friend who claims to support the union may chicken out. The guy who’s 100 percent on board may quit. But I was also told that someone you may never suspect has a serious grudge and is a union member in waiting. Another, when enlightened, will be eager to join quickly.

I try to be an example of advocacy, hoping that by setting an example others will step up. I listen to people and take them seriously. I stand up for my fellow workers and stand up for myself. I have hope that they will stand up for me, but maintain carefulness because I know they may not. I think critically about what the bosses say and what they actually mean. I have learned their games and I’m always strategizing.

It’s a paradox. The fight is difficult, yet completely natural. It’s slow, but encouraging. The fight can make you feel very alone but also very empowered. It can break your heart or it can make your heart soar with pride. It’s not easy—and yet, it is! The one constant though, is that it is always way too important to give up hope. It’s not only for yourself, but your co-workers, friends, family and generations to come. So many people before you, people you have never met, fought for you. People may argue, “Things used to be so much worse,” but don’t let that blind you to how much better it can be.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2015)

Comments

Chilli Sauce
Jun 21 2015 15:07

I read the title to this as "Norma Ray said this would be easy."

Fnordie
Jun 21 2015 18:04

lol you just stand on top of a thing with a sign, what's the big deal