On Bluffing

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Rage

Rage – contribution by M. Kostas

 

This week’s piece comes to us by fellow editor at Recomposition, Phineas Gage. In it, he analyzes three instances in different organizing scenarios where bluffing, whether premeditated or spontaneous, helped leverage reactions that would not have otherwise happened. A running theme through these experiences is the desire to struggle, but to struggle together, paired with the glaring fear that people won’t have each other’s backs when push comes to shove. His insight not only lets us in on the small details that can make or break actions, but also shines a light on how every step we take in our organizing, as in our life, is a gamble.

 

 

 

On Bluffing.

by Phineas Gage

All warfare is based on deception.
                                     -Sun Tzu

I.

I was standing there shaking with rage. I was chosen by a few co-workers to try and go upstairs and talk to the supervisors about a problem we were having. Management, in their benevolent and eternal wisdom put us on a floor that was being renovated. It was twenty below zero outside and all that stood between us and outside was a few strips of plastic sheeting. All of us were mad but most of us, including me, were pretty timid. We were all in our late teens and didn’t want to get in trouble.
We were keenly aware that the company was taking us for a ride, but some of us were young single parents, others thought if we just held on another better job would come, and all of us didn’t think we would get much done by trying to fight back. Our hands ached from the cold and our joints were getting stiff. We had to dial three times just to get the numbers right, our fingers were so numb they just weren’t doing what they were supposed to do.
While talking to each other something snapped inside all of us. We worked ourselves into just enough of a frenzy to call the ‘team leader’ over. Jeff the pimply, lanky introvert who monitored our calls came over and recited some platitudes about not being able to move any of the equipment to a warmer floor and returned to his desk at the end of the row. After some bullying on our part he agreed to call up stairs on our behalf. This led to him being told what he just told us.
We went back to our seats and started calling again. After a few minutes we started grumbling again, this led to us agitating each other. Eventually we decided we should send someone upstairs to talk to management. A few people suggested me because I drank on the weekend with the burly skinhead who was the call centre supervisor.
When I entered the office I opened my mouth, my supervisor cut me off and asked me not swear. He was putting me in my place. I started to explain the situation downstairs in a now calm and reasonable manner. He explained to me the same thing we’d been told twice before downstairs. Something inside me snapped. I stayed calm but I started spouting total bullshit.
I cited legislation that didn’t exist, I told him I would call government agencies on them (for the record getting people to work in the freezing cold is perfectly legal in Alberta), and then I said that if they didn’t give us what we wanted we would walk. None of us discussed this, and few of us were ready to do something like that.
He flinched; I winced. He made a call to the owner at her home, at eight o’clock at night. Half an hour later we got moved upstairs to a warmer floor. For the next couple weeks we all held our heads a bit higher at work.

 

II.

Andy and I sat in the Tim Horton’s drinking our coffee and talking to an East African worker by the name of Binyam. He worked at a courier company we were trying to organise. We were explaining the process of unionizing his company to him. He was obviously not against the union; he had a few kids and a wife at home. I told him that it would help his family if they were able to negotiate with the employer. He was still nervous. I told him he had nothing to worry about in signing the card, that he was legally protected and that no one would know he signed the card unless he told someone.
Andy smiled, leaned back in his chair and said that everyone was already on board. The worker asked us why no one told him they had signed, Andy said because they were scared just like him. Binyam could relate to this and understand this so he took the card out of Andy’s hand and said he was in if everyone else was. The thing is they were not already on board. The drive was going well but to say ‘everyone’ was on board was a stretch. We needed more than 50% to sign cards for us to get card check certification, we had just over half what we needed with a few months to go. That put us at bout 30% not 50% and certainly not everybody.
Somehow after that word got out that the campaign was taking off and spreading like wildfire, shortly after that it did. Once word spread that everyone was signing up everyone started to join. Before Andy’s bluff everyone sensed each other’s fear and so they wouldn’t sign a card.

 

III.

Malwinder and Linda walked out of the supervisor’s office; they were frustrated as hell and ready to escalate. They went in trying to address staffing issues, they left the supervisors office and immediately started planning how to put more pressure on management. When they went to the floor with the issues the workers were pissed too, right until they asked them to do something about it. While Malwinder was trying to talk to Pete about the problem, Pete wouldn’t look Malwinder in the eyes.

“Look if we just slow down for a couple days the overtime will drive them crazy and they’ll have to give in”.

“Yeah, but you know not everyone will slow down”, Pete said as he prepped his flyers for the next day.

“Look, all we have to do is stand together you know they’ll buckle after a couple days”.

Pete looked over his glasses, and looped his thumbs through his suspenders and thought about it for a second. “They sure will, if we all stick together, but we won’t, this ain’t the eighties any more’. Pete was referring to a time in the recent past when Letter Carrier depots were a hotbed of militancy. Pete had enough and continued his work turning his back on Malwinder.
As Linda worked the rows of letter carrier cases it became clear that everyone was angry with management, and everyone thought that a slow down would work as long as everyone participated. No one ever said they thought it was a bad idea their big problem was that they thought that nobody else would be on board.
Malwinder and Linda talked about this on their coffee break that afternoon and they hatched a plan. They decided to tell everyone they had a lot of support for the action and that they were going ahead with it.
The next morning they began to work the letter carrier cases and people were much more receptive. Lots of carriers slowed down and they all recorded their overtime, management had a hard time singling people out because so many were on board. It also covered for the newer, slower and more timid letter carriers; they were getting static for taking time to learn the routes that they weren’t familiar with. The budget for the depot soared and management relented, after all it is cheaper to hire more carriers on straight time than it is to squeeze everyone for overtime.

 

Confidence and Class-Consciousness:

Most people are uncomfortable with dishonesty and some of the tactics used above are definitely dishonest. Telling everyone there is strong support can also backfire if you don’t have it and someone calls you on it. There is a fine line between bluffing and lying, and while I am comfortable with a bit of deception towards the boss, like in the first example, the other two examples are different in that they were deception towards co-workers. However it is worth noting I have yet to see a boss call a militant’s bluff; the shadow of an all out workers revolt lurks in the back of the mind of any boss. The fact that a scenario like that seems so hard to get to for most workers is actually pretty plausible to most workplace supervisors is very telling indeed.

The fact that these examples were effective points to something important about the nature of class struggle. Confidence is at least half the game, workers actually want to struggle and they know they are being screwed. What keeps them from struggling is not ‘ideology’ or being brainwashed, they don’t struggle mostly because they are responsible adults and do not want to struggle if nothing will come of it. Most workers at very least have plans for their life that don’t involve work and don’t want to screw these plans up by doing something rash. A lot of people have other people depending on them, spouses, kids and other family members and other dependants and they aren’t going to risk being able to provide for these people if it isn’t going to pay off.

Its easy to be hard on progressives for their dim opinion of workers and no one has a dimmer view of the typical worker than one of those workers themselves. Our society boasts a lot about how democratic it is out of one side of its mouth but it never quite manages to hide a darker side: a deep seated hatred of the ‘ordinary person’. This holds us back as much as anything else; there is no doubt that there are a lot of idiots in the world. There are also a lot of lazy selfish people, but the thing about class struggle is you don’t have to be a genius or a saint to get it. Everyone knows what is going on, the single most important thing a militant can do is not convince workers of the need for a better world. The single most important thing a militant can do is convince workers that the only thing that stands between them and that world is their own fear and distrust of each other.

Fast Food Unionism: The Unionization of McDonald’s and/or the McDonaldization of Unions

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fastgood

This week’s piece comes to us Erik Forman, a contributor to Recomposition. Forman cut his teeth organizing as an IWW in different fast food establishments before the recent push by SEIU and other unions. The text is a repost from from Counterpunch’s Monthly Digital Exclusive. In Fast Food Unionism, he gives a broad background of the industry, business union tactics, and draws out some directions that an autonomous movement of fast food workers could take to remedy the issues he identifies. Drawing from his experience both as a worker and a direct organizer in the field, the piece brings a closeness that is often missing in many discussions.  (more…)

Communication is a Revolutionary Act: Thoughts on communication and media for liberation

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fight-for-15This week we’re including a piece by Scott Nikolas Nappalos on media and communication where he argues that we need to view them as part of our political process rather than just tools. The IWW has a unique history when it comes to culture, media, and communication in the history of North America. In particular, the IWW experimented with different forms of communication and media as part of its organizing including the famous cartoonssongsthe Industrial Worker newspaper, and the One Big Union Monthly. IWWs used forms of communication as political acts in ways that were innovative for their time such as silent agitators (mass visual propaganda), song and soapboxing tactics, and publications that sustained a working class culture of writers, artists, poets, and working intellectuals. Though good history of this is absent (and indeed of the IWW in general), Salvatore Salerno’s book Red November, Black November explores how culture and community formed a backbone of the IWW. The union went so far as to create a workers university run by IWWs, the Work Peoples College, that addressed a broad range of life under capitalism including basic skills, jobs and home life, as well as training for participating in the IWW, and of course political, artistic, and scientific education. This tradition was picked up by IWWs who started an annual educational and cultural retreat in Minnesota for IWWs by the same name. While focusing on the North American context and the IWW specifically, his points also apply more generally. Nappalos ideas open up a different take on communication that moves away from all the hype and technofetishism of our age, and tries to shift the focus towards understanding our role in sustaining and nurturing political relationships in struggle.


SN Nappalos

Traditionally many radicals have looked at communication and media as tools for implementing their ideas, programs, and lines on populations. Adopting the same model from capitalist marketing theory and propaganda models, communication is thought of as transmitting information from sender to receiver, with most of the thinking centered around how we can best transmit the information to our receivers, how to achieve the greatest numbers, etc. Different media are debated, and today fascination with the emergence of social media and internet culture has captivated political actors of all stripes. After the development of mass industrialized media around a century ago, the model of media and communication as a megaphone still is dominant in the actions and thinking of our time. (more…)

Going Green at the Cost of Workers’ Safety

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by Emmett J. Nolan

The issue I’m writing about may seem rather trivial to some readers. To be honest, I too was shocked that my co-workers and I had to fight so hard to be heard on such a small and seemingly obvious issue. The issue which management picked to draw a line in the sand over was providing a trash can in the dining area of the café I work at. Yes, a trash can. Something most customers and workers take for granted. Rightfully so, because who could imagine a counter service café with a bus your own table practice operating without a trash can?

 

In an effort to make the company more green, a composting service was hired and new compostable packaging materials were chosen. Now, compostable items were separated from recycling and garbage. A part of this change included removing all four of the trash cans within the dining and patio area of the café. The cans weren’t replaced with a sorting station like many other businesses had done. Instead the company replaced them with a sign that read:

(more…)

No Need to Wait till Tomorrow, When Safety Concerns Can Be Fixed Today

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by Emmett J. Nolan

 

When we encounter challenges and worsening conditions at work, if we don’t respond immediately to those negative changes we risk having those degraded conditions becoming standard procedure. Whether it’s a reduction of staffing, an increased speed of work or anything else that makes our day-to-day lives on the job more complicated or less valuable, we must act quickly or run the risk of these lower standards becoming firmly established into precedent. The longer we wait to respond to these issues, the more challenging it becomes for us and our co-workers to change them. One such example my co-workers and I encountered involved a safety concern. If we did not respond to it immediately, the result would have been a permanent risk to our well-being.

 

One day I arrived to work and nothing seemed to be different; a day that was starting off just like the rest. Fifteen minutes into my shift, I needed to slice a loaf of bread for a customer. Our slicer is automatic, just push a button and a weight pushes the bread against a dozen or so jostling blades, neatly slicing a full-size loaf of bread. For years we’ve used this machine with no issue. I trained and seen countless co-workers trained on this machine. Each time, the optical sensor –if triggered– will stop the blades. This feature is pointed out and demonstrated often by one passing their hand by the sensor. The safety feature came in handy in the past when errand objects fell into the slicer and we needed to fetch them out by hand.

(more…)

We’re Not Horses, We Can’t Rest on Our Feet

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by Emmett J. Nolan

 

On my first day of work, my manager explained to me the three options regarding breaks:

  1. clock out for 30 minutes,
  2. take two 10-minute breaks on the clock, or
  3. take a 20-minute break on the clock.

Additionally, an hour and a half “black-out” period existed for breaks during the busy middle of the day. The actual state law is a 30-minute meal break and two 10-minute rest breaks for a work period over six hours. Not only was this buffet option of breaks illegal, but it was also a strain on the body during a 7 to 9 hour shift. This situation continued on for two years and I discovered that this system was not just limited to my department or workplace, but existed within other departments and at other locations in the company.

(more…)

Pushing Back on Discipline

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by Emmett J. Nolan

 

Chances are we all will inevitably have a run-in with the disciplinary procedure at work. In these moments, it’s natural to feel targeted personally. Often times the warnings are sprung on you by surprise, there may be multiple managers in the meeting with you, and the process doesn’t resemble how you thought the progressive disciplinary procedure worked.

 

Mistakes are inevitable; we’re not robots. Since our livelihood is at risk in these moments, when we have to encounter discipline it’s important that it’s carried out in a manner that is transparent and equitable. Additionally, we should all have the ability to state our defense to the accusations that are brought forward in a disciplinary action. Too often management plays the role of judge, jury, prosecution, and jailor without our side of the story ever considered. In fact, while my company’s manager’s handbook states that during any disciplinary meeting with a worker, a manager is required to have a supervisor or another manager present; alternatively when workers request a witness or an advocate within our disciplinary meetings, our requests are routinely denied. (more…)

Playing for keeps

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by Madaline Dreyfus

 

There were a couple of years where I didn’t do any organising at work. I had fair reasons, too. Good reasons, even.

 

As a temporary employee, I had no job security. Most of my coworkers are white-collar conservative teachers with few reasons to feel invested in direct action. It’s hard to trust people in a workplace like that, and I didn’t think my odds of staying around were good either. It’s true that things aren’t perfect but there is rarely a reason to get too excited about problems – anyway, everyone is too busy getting through the day to make life harder than it is. Every day feels like an avalanche of little dilemmas that need attention. Lots of good reasons not to get wrapped up in something risky and complicated.

(more…)

Building the One Big Union: The Organizing Campaign

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An article by Alex Erickson on IWW organizing campaigns on how they are what will build the IWW.

Building the One Big Union: The Organizing Campaign
by Alex Erikson

In “Building the One Big Union: A Strategy for a Strategy,” I laid out a roadmap for building a union of 10,000 Wobblies- 100 branches of 100 members. We have several branches of 100 members currently, so it should be possible to reverse-engineer and replicate these successes in all of our local groups. Sounds great, right? With thousands of members, we would theoretically be able to take on more ambitious campaigns, deploy more powerful tactics, and add more strength to the workers’ movement. But of course, quality is more important and quantity when it comes to building workers power. 10,000 paper members who don’t show up to meetings aren’t a threat to the bosses. The promise of growth of our union is only meaningful if we build the union in a particular kind of way, in a way that organizes workers to engage concretely and directly in the class struggle. In the IWW, we do this primarily in what we call “organizing campaigns.” Organizing campaigns are the focus of our organization.

Other unions also run organizing campaigns. IWW organizing campaigns are unique. Our organizing campaigns have specific short-term goals, each tied to a specific long-term goal of our union:

(more…)

Working at Artistry Bakery and Cafe

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In this article, Madaline tells the story of how she fell into organizing and the IWW – pushed both by terrible bosses and by amazing solidarity among her coworkers.

Working at Artistry

By Madaline Dreyfus

If the first week of work at Artistry Bakery and Cafe was any indication, there was no way this four-month experience should ever have resulted in two of the strongest friendships in my life. I was introduced on the first day to a group of men and women, mostly about University age, who were also going to be working with me at the restaurant. Before our new manager arrived to start the training, I started talking to a tall, tattooed woman, and the conversation turned to things which embarrassed us. I said that I was embarrassed by my one of my middle names, Ruth, and continued for several minutes to tell her how much I disliked this name. Confidently, I ended with “God, I mean, what a horrible thing to do to your daughter. What’s your name?”

Stone-faced she stared and me and said “Ruth”. I was fairly sure she wouldn’t ever want to speak to me again. (more…)