Sunday, November 14, 2010

[olympiaworkers] Organizing Tips

Organizing Tips

Use Your Imagination

  In gaining anything through struggle the key is to cost the other side more than they are willing to pay. That could be economically (withhold your labor or a boycott), that could be their public image (most non-profits depend upon their public image), or psychological stress or all three at the same time. But the poiint is getting the boss to want to settle with the union rather than continue fighting the union.

  The problem is that a lot of organizing and job actions do things about the same way most of the time as if it is out of some tech. manual, step1, step 2 and so on. Most bosses are not dumb and they can see that process. Some bosses will hire unionbusting outfits that know the union process very well. So if the boss knows what you are going to do that makes it a lot harder to win.

  The way to overcome this problem is to change things up, do different things, try completely new things. In other words USE YOUR IMAGINATION!!!!  The more that you do this the more you will get the boss thinking "now what?" And that creates stress on the boss. By the time the boss figures out how to react to the new tactic, you can change tactics again.

  I would suggest in picking tactics that you keep in mind how those tactics will play out in the public mind. If the public mind sees your tactics as silly or destructive or that the tactics harm them then your tactics can backfire on you. 

  So a good imagination makes for a good organizer.


  We live in a class society that includes class bigotry, some call classism. This bigotry includes the idea that those that have gone through the systems educational system have greater knowledge and understand of things than those who have not gone as far in that educational system. But knowledge is gained in many ways. If you think that college alone gives a person more knowledge than those that have never gone to college, next time your car breaks down take it to a college professor to fix it rather than an auto mechanic.

  I work in shipyards, the college educated marine architects are looked upon as having superior knowledge. But what they don't have is superior experience. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to fix mistakes those with the so-called superior knowledge have made. On one job there were so many problems with the blueprint that the marine architect asked me to pipe in the system and that he would come in behind me and draw it out for a new blueprint.

  As Wobbly organizers we must realize that knowledge gained through direct experience is just as important as knowledge gain through studies in colleges. And thus no worker should be treated as less than any other worker based upon how far they went threw the education system.

Often those that have gone threw the education system up to the colleges seek to talk down to workers as if these workers are below them. What they fail to understand is that they are trained in academic shop talk. And when they try to speak to those outside of the academic world they try to "dumb down" how they speak or write. I would like to point out that if I sought to speak to people outside of the maritime industry using maritime ship talk fewer of them would understand me, and that includes those of the academic world. Should I then "dumb down" my talking or writing?

The point is that most everyone has their shop talk or cultural talk that is a means of communication within a group. And just because not all workers are of each grouping does not mean they are in anyway lesser than others or dumb. This also applies sometimes to union talk or Wobbly talk. There is a point where most all workers come together and that is in common language. Common language is that language that most all workers have in common with each other. When speaking to workers, outside of groupings, it is important to use common language and if there is a term that might not be understood by all, then define that term clearly.

In the academic world people tend to speak and write in the 3rd person using abstract theories. Most working people tend to communicate in the 1st person and explain ideas based upon stories, real experiences. The purpose of communication is to convey ideas and information. So that means when talking to people who generally speak one way then learn how to covey your ideas and information in that way if possible.

Friends and Families

  Often the greatest amount of pressure on workers involved in organizing or job actions comes from their families and friends. Most of the time this pressure is unseen by the organizers. Over the years I have seen how some of the strongest union supporters among the workers give up on the union, go back to work or just find another job because of the pressure they get at home becomes too much for them..

  This pressure comes about for a number of reasons: First there are the economic reasons during a strike. Then there is the personal reasons. Most workers live rather simple lives, they go to work and then spend most of their free time with their families and friends. Then the union comes around and takes some of that free time away from families and friends and it becomes union time. And often in organizing drives and job actions the union will become the major focus in workers lives. And families and friends can feel neglected and scornful of the union. And this can lead to disharmony at home.

  On the other hand if families and friends become union supporters with the workers being organized or in job actions you have a strong bond that is hard to break. Some unions like miner's unions understand this very well..

  Some families and friends with union backgrounds or with very good communication will support the union, but many may not. So either the organizers must hope things work out for the best, or they can take proaction to deal with this. The following are some ideas how to take proactive steps in dealing with families and friends.

  1. In your one on one talks with workers and at union meetings, talk to them about this and make sure that they have an understanding of the problem from the begining so that they are not blindsided by the problem.

  2. If your organizing includes a number of organizers let one of them be the union liaison for families and friends. Someone they know they can talk to for information and to talk about problems.

  3. Hold informational meetings by the union for families and friends. In other words make sure that they are informed. At these meetings ask them what union issues are important to them. This will give them input into the situation and it will allow the organizers to understand the issues important to the families and friends. And where possible include their issues as union issues.

  4. Find ways that families and friends can help. There is a lot of union work that goes on and thus there are many things they can do. Even organizing social events is helpful in creating stronger bonds. During a strike they can work on food and supplies.

  5. A step further can be to organize an auxiliary support organization of families and frends. There are somethings that the union can't do that such an organization can do because it is not the union. They could be useful in organizing support in the communities. They can take on general support for the problems that families and friends have during organizing and job actions. They can publish a newsletter where they can have their own self-expression.

  To think that families and friends do not matter in union organizing and job actions and thus are no concern for the union agenda is just naive. But if the union communicates with and involves families and friends it helps create a bond that is almost unbreakable.


  Much of organizing has to do with gathering information and using that information. But unfortunately many times we lose good information because we don't record it somewhere and then we try to use our memory to regain that information when it is needed. Sometimes what does not seem very important at the time we hear or read it later becomes important.

  Every good organizer collects and analyzes information. The following is a suggestion of how to retain information.


  1. Your main organizing notebook: Get yourself a three ring notebook and a hole punch. The reason for a three ring notebook is so that you can add to it. You can find notebook dividers that allows you to label and divide your notebook into sections.

  2. Get a regular notebook and keep it by your telephone.

  3. You might have a notebook by your computer. I use to do that. Now I either print things out as they come or save them and later, like addresses and phone numbers, and paste them together on a page and print it out. I do this because it is easier and if you deal with a lot of addresses and phone numbers and you write them out every so often you may make a mistake.

  4. Carry with you a small notebook to write things down.

  All the information you record from your smaller notebooks place into your main organizing notebook.

  Some folks may keep everything in a computer. Unless it is a laptop you are not going to bring your computer to meetings. Also computers can crash and you lose what you have.

  If you have an organizing committee or you are organizing through a branch, make sure that each organizer has the same information so copy things for the other organizers to use.


  1. Contact information: For members, for those that you are trying to organize, supporters, and resources. Make a note as to which way of contacting someone is best and if it is by phone then when they are likely to me home. For example I don't use my phone much. First off I am not around it much, I don't have long distance phone service. It is really faster to get me by e-mail. Other people don't check their e-mail much.

  2. All the information you can find on the company you are organizing. This would include your industrial mapping.

  3. Notes on the people you are trying to organize.

  4. Issues: Sometimes all issues will not come out at meetings. Sometimes folks will think only money issues are important and will not at meetings express other things that are important to them. But in talking to those that you are trying to organize they may express things that are important to them that are not on the issues list. Write it down.

  5. Comments both good and bad. Write this down. The comments that are about good things that are happening give you an idea to what the workers relate to and like. Comments that are negative can give you an idea of where you need to improve things. Sometimes, even if said in anger, may show things that are being thought. Often those things are perceptions that are based upon misunderstandings. This things you will need to deal with.

  6. Things that happen: Keep records of things that happen that are related to the organizing and witness statements.

  7. Research: There are many things like your issues that need to be researched. First, keep a list of things that need to be researched and add on to it. And keep copies of your research material and record where information can be found like books and web sites.  

Arthur J. Miller 

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