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On Voting- by FW W.H. Glazer

Introduction

Every four years, Americans are subjected to a painfully long election cycle. It is January of a presidential election year, and that means that we can anticipate another ten months of mainstream media coverage that manages to simultaneously overwhelm us with its volume and leave us with no novel or useful information (did you know, for example, that Dr. Ben Carson was a rageful and violent nerd growing up in Detroit? Or that Donald Trump is a shameless blowhard whose racist, classist, and sexist rhetoric appeals to a sizeable group of racists, classists, and sexists?). My boss loves to play CNN in the office as background noise, but my proximity to the television means that I know a lot more about Martin O’Malley and Carly Fiorina than I ever needed to.

Inherent in the decision to enact non-stop coverage is an assumption that all of this election stuff really matters, that who you support and ultimately vote for can have a tangible effect on the lives of millions of people. We are taught from a young age that our right to vote is a tremendously precious one, and further that failure to participate in the election process is a failure of civic duty. We are Americans, god dammit, and it is our responsibility to uphold justice and liberty and democracy through our voting process.

democracy!

My allegiance is to the Republic!

From a pragmatic standpoint, there is actually some truth to this idea. It is, from a purely practical point of view, smart to vote for the lesser of two evils. Hillary Clinton is less likely to impose anti-Muslim immigration reforms than is Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders is considerably less scary and objectionable than are the cackling hyenas who comprise the Republican field.

 

ed

Gov. Jeb Bush

In the IWW, though, we can’t only think in terms of pragmatism and practicality. We are a revolutionary anti-capitalist union, and it can be convincingly argued that active participation in electoral politics is not only counterproductive for our organizational goals, but counter-revolutionary. After all, no major party candidate will ever advocate for the dissolution of our capitalist economy and the establishment of a worker run society. Voting third party in a presidential race may be more morally justifiable, but barring tremendous social and political upheaval, a third party candidate will never take the White House.

So what do we do then? Do we vote as a practical measure to prevent things from getting worse, or do we refuse to vote because it ultimately represents capitulation to the status quo? I sent this prompt out to a number of Wobblies- Is participation in elections (national, state, and local) ultimately a capitulation to a system that actively works against working people? Or is it a pragmatic tactic to ensure that those in power are as minimally objectionable as possible? What bearing does this have on the IWW? How should we talk to people we are organizing about voting? A few notes:

  1. I have changed the names of the FWs for the sake of anonymity.
  2. I have edited the responses for style and grammar, but have not changed any of content.
  3. This article is not intended to portray any official IWW stance on voting, nor is it intended to encourage the establishment of such a stance. Rather, it is meant to begin conversation on an important subject that will only become more relevant in the coming months.
  4. The opinions and political stances of the FWs below are theirs alone.

Opinions

FW Emma

In my own personal philosophy of anarchism, I believe that, in general, voting is a waste. That being said, I have voted in national elections several times when I thought something very bad would happen if the Republican candidate were to win office. Maybe it truly doesn’t matter? They’re all generally alike. I’m not sure. Voting in federal elections may not matter at all anyway because once someone holds office it doesn’t mean they actually have any power. They are still controlled by the military-industrial complex and the capitalist system.

The reason I don’t vote in local elections, however, is due to a lack of faith in the entire system. I don’t believe in reform. I don’t trust the government to create any positive change that’s good enough for the people. I don’t want to participate in an election when the results just mean more of the same. Maybe voting isn’t so bad sometimes, but I think the more you start to participate in electoral politics, the more you risk falling victim to the false belief that things will change if we only get the right people in office. That seems counter-productive. It’s also a belief that most of our coworkers have, and I believe only education can really solve this issue. People just don’t know the truth–at least our truth–about capitalism and true democracy… the list goes on…

I studied public policy in school and was on track to participate in local and state politics to try and influence social change, specifically in public schools. I abandoned that pursuit because I didn’t want to be a part of our political system. I didn’t want to work in a field dependent on electoral and general politics. Trying to do research and write reports that politicians may or may not even read, let alone consider, seemed like a huge waste of time. I felt my time and resources would be used better elsewhere.  If voting took up a large amount of my time, there is no way I would ever participate. I came to believe that the power of the working class could change the system; that we should be organizing the working class and promoting class struggle, because class effects absolutely everyone, and most people are workers.  

Now, when you think about it, the Social Justice Education Movement is working within the system. For them, there seems to be no way out in order to win battles for workers and students alike. Attending school board meetings and organizing around issues not directly related to working class solidarity is a different approach than what I’ve seen most campaigns do in the IWW. However, they aren’t pulling for any specific people to be elected to the school board or engaging in political action that requires voting.  

FW Coeur

I see voting as a primarily defensive act. Sure, there are benefits to preventing the obviously harmful candidates from obtaining public office. But I don’t see any productive outcomes from voting. Our political system is set up in such a way that even if a candidate truly set out to enact drastic reforms of the Capitalist system, they would be prevented from doing so through perfectly legal and “democratic” means.  That’s why I think in the end, the best defense is a good offense.

The danger in accepting the “least awful capitalist” is the potential for increased apathy. People see a politician doing all of these “progressive” or even “radical” things and think, “Yea, maybe just a few more years of X politician or X party, and things will really start to turn around.” But guess what: That’s what we’ve been saying since the bourgeois revolutions dumped the monarchies in favor of “democracies” run by a slightly larger body of the ruling class.

Listen, Wobblies can and should vote as little or as much as they want. I usually go to my polling station, grab a ballot, and drop it in the box without even looking at a pen. No matter what the outcome, the IWW’s mission and tactics remain the same: the revolution of the working class against Capitalism through direct action and industrial control.

When I talk to my coworkers about voting, I treat it as any other conversation. Above all, it is important to give your honest opinions to anyone you are seeking to organize in order to build trust and accountability. If they want to vote, I generally encourage them to do so, while also explaining my issues with voting. If people are going to vote, I’d rather them be an informed and critical voter than one who is just a step (or less) away from drinking the Kool-Aid.

I love telling people that I’m not going to vote in the next election. Watching their eyes double in size, listening to the stammered phrases of anger and disbelief. Then I explain to them why, and often they think for a while and then say “Oh, yea, I guess that makes sense…”

FW Okwute

I’m openly hostile to electoralism. To vote in a representative “democracy” is to give away power. Our power lies in our numbers, solidarity and direct action. Voting as a way to pursue a progressive agenda is the strategy of social democrats and liberals. But, I don’t try to stop people from going out to vote, I mostly try to convince them that we must do much more. Arguments can be made that voting could improve some things here and there within the capitalist system, but it’s not a strategy for building mass movements capable of carrying out social revolution.

FW Brett

My thoughts are that the discussion is vital and needs to be had, and be had in ways that move away from what I think of as posturing. Yes, representative government is bad; no it cannot be a tool in our revolutionary toolbox (it will destroy us if we try, by transforming us into what we loathe). But simply shouting “I don’t vote” and getting claps on the back from fellow radicals is not enough. There are good moral reasons for avoiding voting – including the sense that participation in the system affects a person’s moral fiber, as well as registering you for jury service, to determine a fellow worker’s potential freedom or liberty. There are good strategic reasons for not relying on voting – it cannot actually progress our agenda. But many of the arguments I hear are silly – it takes too much time (really? unless you’re campaigning, it doesn’t), that it’s completely rigged (a conspiratorial perspective that collapses the ways in which the system is genuinely rigged with a fantasy about a cabal of people manipulating the vote; the vote is rigged far before anyone gets into a booth), etc. I think we need to discuss ways to move people from relying on representative structures of decision-making to reliance on ourselves and each other. But lecturing people about voting with poor and transparent arguments are not useful.

FW Maria

I always vote. I think I have only missed one election, both state and national, since 1966. I missed one because I was too sick to go. The pervasive cultural indoctrination of the 50’s and 60’s probably has something to do with my participation. I view it as a pragmatic tactic, I guess. When possible, I vote for communists or socialists of any stripe, hoping that my vote shows up in a chart somewhere and registers as a vote against the norm. Pretty pathetic. I don’t think I have ever tried to get a worker to vote.

Conclusion

There is not a clear answer to the dilemma of voting. To some, it will always seem at best a waste of time and at worst a capitulation to the capitalist state. To others, it is a sound defensive tactic whose utility is increased because our ability to go on the offensive is curtailed by our small numbers and relative obscurity. One thing I think we can all agree upon is that this is an important issue that’s worth discussing at length. As FW Brett mentioned, “simply shouting ‘I don’t vote’ and getting claps on the back from fellow radicals is not enough.” We need to talk about voting and electoralism amongst ourselves so that we are prepared to talk about it with our decidedly less radicalized coworkers. When the dominant narrative says that voting is important and everyone should do it, anti-capitalist revolutionaries like Wobblies should have thoughtful, well considered responses to challenge it.

I encourage Wobblies and fellow radicals to consider the issue of voting and respond with thoughts and ideas. Email them to theorganizertc@gmail.com!

15 at UPS- by FW Coeur de Bord

Eleven months ago, the Package Handler’s Organizing Committee (PHOC) voted to begin a campaign demanding the starting wage at the three UPS hubs in the Twin Cities be raised to $15/hour (from the current $10), and a corresponding $5/hour raise for all hub employees.  We had our sights set on building power towards some form of disruptive action during 2015’s Peak Season.  Now that Peak has arrived, I would like to share some of my feelings on the progression, evolution, and execution of this campaign, as well as some ways it has influenced our organizing in general at UPS in Minneapolis.

I feel this document is useful as part of a future retrospective assessment of the Boxmart campaign and the PHOC committee itself.  However, I hope it can also serve as a useful reference for other IWW organizing committees thinking about taking on labor-intensive, medium- to long-term campaigns such as this.  Whether or not such a campaign would have a positive impact on your organizing is a decision that only your committee can make, but I hope that by offering my perspectives other Wobblies will be able to make a more informed decision.

The motion (original language):

Notes 16/01/15

What: $5 hourly raise across the board, which would bring starting wage up to $15. Also, end petty wage theft and other shop floor issues where possible.

When: Major direct action during peak season 2015 aimed at entire Twin Cities operation.  Smaller DAs before them, at moments to be determined. Campaign to start within two months (petitions coming out along with Screw ups at MPLS, Eagan, Maple Grove and airport).

Who: Petition to be drafted by core committee, Mass meeting to be run by ——, other tasks delegated to —, —- and — wherever possible to gather support from rest of branch. New shop floor contacts will be expected to further trenchwork on shop floor, canvass for issues to be addressed by escalating Direct Actions, and inoculation. OTC to arrange an OT soon after mass meeting for new contacts. Core committee (eg —–) to fill in gaps where people cannot attend a full OT.  

Where: Meetings at TC IWW office, actions in MPLS, Eagan, Maple Grove and airport.  Actions to focus on Minnesota operation unless tempting opportunities arise.

How:

  1. Use petition to gather contacts for mass meeting. Create Facebook, etc contact points.
  2. Use mass meeting to identify people willing and able to be organizers (and other roles) and set broad outlines of effort, changing as necessary to reflect workers’ concerns.
  3. Follow up with potential organizers, get to OT where possible and patch with one-on-ones where not. Create a campaign committee to broaden work, bring in smaller escalatable issues (eg petty wage theft, harassment etc), grow committee itself.
  1. Do direct actions on smaller issues, symbolic stuff where appropriate. Include off-shop-floor issues eg prison slave labour ala hands up don’t ship.
  2. Follow up on retaliation for the above.
  3. Bring smaller issues back in, build excitement and commitment and hold mass meetings in the months leading up to peak to organize peak action.
  4. Mess everything up during peak.
  5. Publicize concessions and workers’ eye view analysis of fight, follow up on retaliations.
  6. Set further goals.

 

Observations:

We got off-track from the original motion early on.  The first round of petitioning went rather well, gathering over 200 signatures from the Minneapolis & Maple Grove hubs.  Within a short period of time, we had collected that contact information into a shared document and called through the whole list.  We planned the first mass-meeting for early March.  We had about a dozen people who said they would attend.  And then nobody showed up.  We tried again, with the same results.  We then shifted our focus to setting up One-on-Ones with contacts.  This had more success, but we failed to reach the number of signatories we had hoped for.  

Being off-track early on meant that the committee did not grow to the level we needed to continue escalating as planned.  A small committee decreased our ability to hold actions around smaller grievances.  Our influence didn’t spread to other areas of the buildings.  Looking back, these should have been early signs that our strategy needed to be revised..

But we did gather a lot of contacts.

We did an OK job of generating conversation and some level of “hype” around the demand through several symbolic actions.  We had petitions out with every Screw Ups, which added new contacts to our document.  We called each one to set up 1-on-1s or invite to committee meetings.  In September, we handed out stickers along with Screw Ups that read “I Support a $15/hour Starting Wage and a $5 raise for current employees.  It’s Time!!”  Lots of people wore them around work that day, and many stickers ended up on walls, equipment, and other surfaces around the hub.  In November, we stood outside the hub at the end of Twilight and Midnight shifts one night with posters containing the same text as the stickers.  We took pictures of people holding the signs, which were then posted to the facebook page.  

But hype is not organization.  Many people who have been “touched” by this campaign don’t get anywhere beyond signing the petition.  Unsurprisingly, it has been the people with whom organizers have a longer, more in-depth relationship with who come to meetings, and participate in the campaign in a larger way.  Those relationships have been built through several pathways, but the common thread is the one-on-one (or other style of targeted AEIOU conversation).  

Agitation has not often been an issue when organizing our coworkers.  Where I think we have had the greatest difficulty has been Educating and Inoculating.  Because agitation is so high, those are generally the first areas that we cover when meeting with coworkers.  They are also very difficult topics to cover in passing while at work.  If you can’t get past the Education and the Inoculation, how are you ever going to build long-term Organization?  One-on-ones become even more crucial in this equation.  Repeated one-on-ones.  The most consistent participation we have had has been the result of a series of out-of-work interactions and a persistent effort to work through issues that may be holding someone back from organizing.

Thoughts:

One thing I think we failed to do is allow the campaign to evolve as the size and capacity of the organizing committee changed.  Early on in the year, we were riding a high of momentum and had a relatively large committee that peaked at 6 members in good standing organizing at two local hubs.  At that point, we were optimistic about our capability to organize a broad swath of hub workers and pull off a large-scale action during peak season.  At the same time, we were falling behind on doing one-on-ones, which have always been high on our list of effective organizing tools.  I think we relied too heavily on workplace contact and conversation, as well as agitational tools such as Screw Ups.  Later in the summer and fall, our committee lost half of our in-shop organizers, and didn’t keep them on as outside organizers.  The reduced committee stayed the course without taking time to analyze our capacity.  We realized too late that we hadn’t conducted enough one-on-ones, or otherwise developed our coworkers to the point where we could ask them to step up to keep us on track.  

There have been several moments over the course of the campaign when we have had an influx of momentum.  These have been moments when our coworkers with whom we have strong relationships (both at and outside of work) have attended our meetings and contributed their ideas on the campaign and other grievances.  The lesson here is simple: We need to be consistent about agitating, educating, and organizing our coworkers.  It is really hard to generate momentum when weekly meetings consist of the same people, talking about the same things, coming up with the same tasks.  Also, it is easier to get less-organized coworkers to meetings if their friends and/or trusted coworkers are attending.

I began writing this document at a moment that felt particularly “low” energy.  In that same moment, we as a committee had a serious talk and have since generated significantly more energy.  We just welcomed a coworker into the IWW.  There is serious talk of having a sick-in.  I am even more hopeful now that this document can serve as a tool to improve the overall quality of our organizing, in terms of both building worker power at UPS in Minneapolis and building a revolutionary, militant working class movement composed of sharp, hardened, and committed individuals.

Impacts to Organizing:

When this motion was first presented at the January 16th 2015 PHOC meeting, I had reservations about a few aspects of it.  My major sticking point centered on my concern about taking on a campaign of this scale with a committee that was both relatively small (>1% of the part-timers at the Minneapolis hub alone), and relatively young (half the committee had worked at UPS for 3 months or less).  Could we manage the pressure of building for such a monumental demand in a relatively short time-frame without losing sight of the smaller issues that have been galvanizing moments in our previous organizing?  Would anybody take us seriously?  Could we decide to change course in 6 months without losing all our support, or feeling like our time had been completely wasted?

I ended up voting in favor of this motion.  I am glad I did.  That being said, I have wavered back and forth over the course of this campaign on whether it was having a positive or negative effect on organizing in general at UPS.  Some of that is due to the aforementioned peaks and valleys of momentum.  Below is some analysis of my initial reservations that I think accounted for the rest of my mixed feelings.

  1. Could we manage the pressure of building for such a monumental demand in a relatively short time-frame without losing sight of the smaller issues that have been galvanizing moments in our previous organizing?  For the most part, I think we maintained the ability to take on smaller fights.  We even got better at addressing small grievances in a way, as our social network got larger and we got “in” with lots of people.  I believe we learned about more workers’ grievances, and that more people came to know us as people to approach when they had an issue with conditions at work.  

On the other hand, conducting this campaign has been incredibly labor-intensive.  Even when we have fallen behind on tasks, Burnout has always been lurking in the shadows.  Screw Ups was published less frequently this year than it was last year.  And though I hope this is not true, I wonder if the chronic stress associated with a few organizers (most of whom were working 2-3 jobs throughout the year) working on a massive campaign in a large workplace stopped us from taking on smaller fights.  This could have come in the form of blatant rejection, or in the failure to recognize an issue/opportunity when it presented itself.  I can at least say that we never, to my knowledge, turned away a coworker who came to us with an issue they wanted to organize around.  But did I fail to pick up on someone who was obviously having a bad day?  Did I do a bad job listening to a coworker who was trying to organize me?  These are important questions to revisit on a regular basis.

  1. Would anybody take us seriously?  Yes.  Not everybody, but I don’t think we were ever that naive.  Working a unionized manual labor job that pays less than comparable non-union work across the city means that people listen when the topic of a raise comes up.  For newer workers (let’s say within the last 5 years/since the last contract), our part time wages are almost never enough to live on.  For those who have been around the company longer, they have seen their wages remain stagnant since Reagan was president.  Stagnant wages are one of the rank-and-files biggest issues with the Teamsters.  So in that sense, wages were a great issue to take on for a dual/solidarity union campaign.

But of course there were those who dismissed us.  Many of these reactions were based on people’s (begrudging) allegiance to the Teamsters.  “That’s not in the contract,” and “not unless the Teamsters support it,” were typical responses we heard from people who did not support our petitioning and other efforts.  A successful antidote to these sentiments was a good old-fashioned one-on-one meeting.  Being able to sit down with someone, explain the role of the Teamsters in our shop, and why we were raising this demand as rank-and-file workers, was often enough to at least garner support.  One of our most successful lines, corny though it may sound, was something to the effect of “well if the Teamsters won’t get it for us, we’re gonna have to get it for ourselves.”  The biggest lesson I learned here is the power of the one-on-one.  If someone just knows you as an agitator, they are less likely to take you seriously than if they know you as an organizer.

  1. Could we decide to change course in 6 months without losing all our support, or feeling like our time had been completely wasted?  This is a tough question to answer, as it is completely hypothetical.  However, I still think it has some value as a way to evaluate a large campaign.  Things don’t always go as planned, and it is useful to have a backup plan that can help salvage the gains you have made and begin to move forward in another direction.

This question forces you to think critically about the steps you take in building and running a campaign.  For instance, our first step of gathering names and contacts en mass through a petition ensured that we would have gained a valuable resource even if we had to abandon the $15 starting wage campaign.  That list also generated one-on-ones with a variety of workers whom we would otherwise maybe not have contacted.  Even if the campaign folds, we have built relationships with more of our coworkers, and hopefully developed some of them into organizers.  

Conclusions:

Undertaking this campaign has taught me many important and lasting lessons as a union organizer.  Many of these lessons I would not have learned had we continued along our existing path. I learned the importance of a democratically functioning committee with a diversity of opinions and perspectives.  Accountability among committee members must be established early on, and maintained throughout even the most difficult moments of a campaign.  I quickly realized that I could not be an effective organizer by only talking with people I knew already.  Organizing is not a comfortable, social affair; at times, it feels like what my co-committee member describes as “a fucking war zone.”  And as long as you understand and are prepared for that, you can make impressive gains in the struggle against the wage system.  

But this campaign has been more than just a learning experience.  Despite some lingering moments of disappointment and nagging doubts, I am convinced that this campaign has had an incredibly positive impact on our organizing at UPS.  We have identified and developed a crew of shop-floor militants, and brought a few of them into the IWW.  We are tapped into social networks across our shop. These networks cross the boundaries of age, race, and gender.  We have learned to back off and play defense when conditions require it.  Through all of the stress, joy, disappointment, and abundant humor, we have stayed together and even grown as a committee.  While the $15/hour starting wage campaign itself may not be successful, I believe that we have shown that the idea of taking on a major, public campaign contributes to greater overall success in organizing our Fellow Workers.

For the One Big Union,

FW Coeur de Bord

PHOC member