Ep. 1 Comrades Read Kim Moody's Rank and File Strategy
Comrades Andrea Haverkamp, Nick Fisher, Tim and Joe Clement join Laborwave Radio for another series of Comrades Read!
We dig into the "Rank and File Strategy" a popular 30-page pamphlet written by Kim Moody in 2000 for the publication Solidarity.
We provide a summary of Moody's argument, that socialists are marginal in labor unions and therefore need to create "transitional organizations" to insert radical activity into unions and build toward a larger international socialist organization, and also talk through our points of agreement, departure, and the possible limits of the rank and file strategy.
Comrades challenged the idea that unions need to build toward a "socialist party" apparatus, while others acknowledged Moody's emphasis on focusing where we have current capacity in the working-class and therefore the rank and file strategy gives us a pathway for contemporary conditions.
This and more in the first episode of another mini-series where we'll be discussing the Rank and File Strategy! Read the pamphlet at https://solidarity-us.org/rankandfilestrategy/
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Link Wray- The Bad and the Good
We're doing another edition of a fun series called comrades read. And this time we're going to be discussing in full detail with various guests Kim Moody's very popular rank and file strategy, which was published in 2000 in a journal called solidarity. So before we dig into the contents, I want to give our guests on this first episode of the series opportunity to introduce themselves. So how about we go around the horn and I'll ask Andrea first, introduce yourself. You could just say who you are and any of your affiliations that you want to share.
2 (2m 6s):
Hi, my name is Andrea. I've been on a few times. It's always great to be here. President of coalition of graduate employees, a labor union in Corvallis, Oregon, and I am also affiliated with the job market. So looking for organizing work, if you're listening and you're in the Pacific Northwest,
0 (2m 24s):
Well, you might not want to share this with your future employers, that you're a supporter of the rank and file strategy.
2 (2m 29s):
Well, anyone that's going to hire me, I would be short-lived if they were not for it.
0 (2m 35s):
And how about Nick? Would you like to go and introduce yourself?
2 (2m 38s):
Sure. So my name is Nick Fisher here. They pronouns are both grace and I'm a vice-president for grievances at the coalition of graduate employees, working with Andrea on the executive council. We're an AFT local, by the way, Ft 669 based in Oregon. And I'm also a member of the mid Valley IWW general, general membership
3 (3m 0s):
Branch rom rank and file their no, no office, not on the job market yet, but you know, I would like an organizing job as well. So if you're out there,
0 (3m 11s):
Okay. And then we have one more guest on the call.
3 (3m 14s):
Hey, I'm, I'm a wobbly at large in central North Carolina, and that's about it. So my intro, not very public person.
0 (3m 25s):
Well, thanks for joining us. We also have just listening in, might jump on, but Joe is in the background. So if you hear a voice you haven't heard yet, that's Joe and Joe is sneaking time during work as a proper radical rank and file unionists would do so. Thanks Joe, for being in the background there. So what I thought we would do is start off with just a very quick summary of the rank and file strategy. What the arguments are that moody makes, and then allow us to just kind of dig into some of the analysis and details that we think are most interesting and pertinent, and then start trying to discuss limitations, any critiques, any things that we really enjoy about it for today, just have a fun conversation.
0 (4m 10s):
So I'll do my best to be succinct in a summary. And I ask you all to fill in the blanks after I'm done. So in this pamphlet, that's about 30 pages. Kim moody assesses the general weaknesses and marginality of the socialist left in 2000. And he claims that the primary reason for this was a lengthy kind of material analysis of labor unions in the United States, how they developed over the course of racial capitalism from the 18th and 19th centuries and early 20th century. But then also deduces that there is a general lack of socialist consciousness among the working class.
0 (4m 52s):
That's a big part of the problem too. He says that what we need to do as a beginning of a strategic process for overcoming this marginality of the socialist left is attached socialist to a mass working class organization. And he identifies labor unions, trade unions, more specifically as the apparatus that socialists need to glom on to, to start building infrastructure for the socialist left. And he says specifically the strategy should be creating what he calls transitional organizations to insert themselves into trade unions and start like building a foundation upon which socialists and radicals can start organizing on.
0 (5m 38s):
And the transitional organizations would be comprised of rank and file workers that would combat the bureaucratic and conservative tendency as a business unions while also providing a base from which socialists can organize. And that these transitional organizations will look like things like caucuses left, caucuses labor councils projects, like labor notes, I guess like education centers for workers and worker centers. This is some of the more specific ones that he identifies. He finally concludes his argument about the rank and file strategy by proposing six specific tasks for socialists in the labor movement.
0 (6m 18s):
The first one is to build the rank and file to fight the boss and let the union bureaucrats get caught in the crossfire. So in other words, instill a union culture of what do you call it? Social movement, unionism through rank and file networks to, to build cross union transitional orgs like labor notes, jobs with justice and labor councils, three ally with community-based work class organizations for build international workers, solidarity five create and build a labor party or forms of alternative class-based political organizations and campaigns. And then finally six, the task is to build a larger socialist organization that relates to all of these levels of work in class activity.
0 (7m 4s):
Okay. So that's my summary. What did I miss? What did I get wrong? What are things that you think should be also added to that?
3 (7m 12s):
No, I, I think that was very solid. I was not super familiar with this as, as a pamphlet and I was under the apprehension that they were actually going to talk about organizing workers and, you know, the project is to build a socialist party, labor being, you know, instrumental to that. So that's what most of his argument and definition of what the problem is and how, how to attack it is centered on which I found as sort of wildly really uninteresting.
3 (7m 52s):
But I'll just leave that I'll stop right there.
0 (7m 57s):
Well, just a follow up with what you're saying, Tim. So you're saying, saying that the argument really suggests that trade unions and he says this in so many ways like Lennon described the working class is only being capable of coming up with trade union consciousness that they're insufficient. But what you can do is kind of radicalize them as an instrumental process towards building a bigger like socialist party that will be more powerful. And what we really need is that
3 (8m 20s):
Yeah. I mean, like to quote a paragraph from him, you he's talking about unions and his transitional bodies that, you know, such struggle as in such organizations are expressions of work, herself activity and blah, blah, blah. And, but capitalism attempts to demobilize and disempower workers. And our experience is that it often takes people, trained an organization with a commitment and a perspective of worker organization that is socialist. So he wants professional socialist to really take the reins of these transitional organizations, which I thought was really interesting considering his rebuttal to the professional organizers.
3 (9m 12s):
What did other folks think or want to share before continuing to dig in deeper?
4 (9m 16s):
One thing that I think for me was useful in sort of setting the tone for moody is, is the sort of historical place it is. You know, I can moody in various discussions that he's had about it and another interviews and stuff notes that it's not like, you know, he created it out of thin air. You know, it's the result of what has happened for the past 30 years, leading up to it of, you know, internal union upheaval and rank and file workers being sort of frustrated with the way that let's face it. Unions are, self-preserving the number one task of the union staffers in leadership, whether they're elected or paid is to keep the union going.
4 (10m 3s):
And so in that way, sometimes the workers get sold out, you know, and not supporting strikes, fearing to do anything illegal on the job that would actually really support the workers. And so seeing an insurgency and the radical potential of insurgency within labor unions has been since the red scare sort of a reclaiming of what was for the 50 years prior, a large socialist political movement and also the sort of, you know, it, it's a transitional stage. I know sometimes, you know, it's, what is it stages? Is it taxes, whatever it is, the rank and file strategy I think is important.
4 (10m 44s):
And noting that it is one of the many leverages of power that in terms of accessible leverage point for socialists, it's it's right here and it's time we reclaim it. And sometimes that means that we are on the sharper point of the stick, if we are leadership and we are staff. And what that means is embracing that there will be, and there should be rank and file radicalization within your union and workplace that might challenge you and might challenge what we think of as organizational stability
3 (11m 21s):
Going off of what Andrea was saying. Like, not only is it that unions have to operate like within the context of capitalism and become kind of like a handmaiden to capitalism, right. But like Modi, like specifically calls out mainstream unions, business unionism as cozying up to the bosses and becoming complicit in the perpetuation of the very corporations that are exploiting the workers. Right. And like, I felt this tension before a little bit where it's like AFT calls me out to lobby, to lobby up in like at the state Capitol for increased expenditures for higher ed. Right. Which is like
2 (11m 54s):
Basically me going and being a part of that process of trying to get more money for my employer, arguably so that I could then try to like, you know, we can try to negotiate it back to us through contracts, but I really appreciated that that moody is kind of like identifying two parties in a really general sense. Right? Like he's talking about the gap and that's what this essay is supposed to fill is like, when he breaks down the history, you'll have the unionists on one side where for like the business union model has beaten socialism and leftism and communism and everything out of the labor movement at large over the past, Oh wait, we have to add twenties like 80 years. Right. So he is saying that socialism doesn't exist in the unions that exists in the student movements that came out of the 1960s and seventies.
2 (12m 40s):
And so, yeah, I really like it. He's trying to write this way. These transitional organizations are ways for the people who have studied the theory have all the socialist ideals and everything, but maybe aren't engaged in like working class struggle, like within a union context, within a working context, without a union. But these folks who might be like, middle-class more cushy bougie, how they can get more involved in that struggle. And I really appreciated that he was trying to like bring these two together and his historical analysis supports that gap, I guess.
0 (13m 10s):
Yeah. So there's a lot to follow up on there. I, I Def I definitely think it would be interesting to talk about, okay. I think what you're identifying as like the role of the professional managerial class in this strategy at, which is maybe a temporary class of like career and PR and like highly educated people that realistically their class material position has dramatically declined since the sixties. That would be interesting. But before getting there, I think it would be good to just flesh out Moody's analysis of business unionism, how it developed, like how unions got to the point they are now, because I do think he offers a lot of insights that are really important in that specific regard.
0 (13m 51s):
We can maybe contest some of the conclusions that he comes up with for transforming that. And the role of that labor unions should have it writ large. But I personally think his analysis of how we got here is pretty spot on. So the first place I want to start with is what he calls the common sense of the United States. Following Antonio Graham shoe's idea of common sense, just kind of being basically mainstream ideas, ways that people just rationalize and make logical, the broader systems of oppression around them, specifically in the United States. The settler nation is founded upon mass genocide and dispossession of indigenous people, as well as a major slave system.
0 (14m 33s):
And these foundations to the nation state provided a logic of racism and hierarchy that moody identifies right at the very beginning, lends itself favorably to business unions. Like it's easier for business unions to kind of gain a foothold and be more understandable to the masses at large when it fits pretty well within the already ideological apparatus that people are navigating. And I'll let you all add to the story or share anything you want to say to that.
3 (15m 6s):
All right. I will try a little bit in that. I agree. One thing that I would say that he sort of glosses over is, and going back to Graham sheet is the cultural hegemony of the state. Also that just one thing that bugs me about this, his analysis of the whole thing is how we got here today. The very real interests of capital as represented in the state, not just in a fight with, with bosses, but it was also, you know, the, essentially the de-radicalization and the demobilization of the working class that happened in the run-up to, and during the second world war there's a lot he could put in there.
3 (15m 53s):
And he got a lot in a very small a pamphlet. So, you know, that's a little little thing
4 (15m 59s):
And maybe one way that we could route our discussion in sort of putting that in there is that in many ways, business bureaucracy, leadership, and head Jeremy is caused by government in a way it's, what's legal. What we're doing is illegal. What they're doing is, is thoroughly regulated and what they're doing is not. And in that way, the Taft-Hartley act is discussion for a whole nother time. But I think it's essential in how we got to where moody is, because that was one of the big thrusts that really legitimized bosses in the eyes of the state. You know, before that, you know, in the late 18 hundreds, your middle manager quote unquote, was the organized rank and file leader of that sector of a factory or a workforce in which if the boss told that, you know, what we might think of as a stop steward, what the crew to do, and they didn't want to do it, that would be sort of the leader, but now it sort of sapped and absorbed middle management into the ranks of bosses.
0 (17m 7s):
No, I think you're absolutely right. I mean, I think that the, both the NLRA, and then later the Taft-Hartley act, it made this existing system of business unionism, more legible to the state. Like it was, it was a bureaucratic system for the state as well to minister unions more easily. And they're like, make them more readable to them, fit them into their governing structures. So like business unions existed prior to like the NRA and they had already a system of delegates and stewards. So they they're already friendly to the concept of the state. I would say, like they could easily be absorbed into it and like function perfectly well with class compromise of writ large, just so long as the state kind of expanded our labor relations framework to facilitate the creation of more business unions, as opposed to more radical unions.
0 (18m 1s):
I think Kip moody does make that argument, but he, he seems convinced that business unions I'd already kind of had something of a stranglehold on the broader labor movement prior to that, and really focuses a lot on the failure of the communist party in like building up a more robust rank and file union culture that could have been specifically in the story of what he calls the tool. So Modi is talking about the trade union education league, the tool, right at the early part of the 20th century and how they have this great opportunity as being one of the transitional organizations that he's talking about providing like socialist consciousness and education and a material base for organizers to use, but they were run by the communist party and the communist party didn't have a specific position on trade unions.
0 (18m 52s):
So what happened was a lot of communist party members would be members of the communist party and they would also be members of their union. And they would just run for union office and become elected leaders. But by becoming elected union leaders, they would just become the bureaucrats of the union and just administer a top-down. So he suggests that tool, the trade union education league could have actually been successful if they had a stronger position and focused on how becoming the bureaucrats of the union is not the same as having a socialist union. So he seems to say that like business unions had kind of already defeated these left-wing unions prior to even the creation of the NLRA or they already had more of a cultural hegemony.
3 (19m 37s):
Yeah. I mean, I think that's fair. I was more thinking about the second period, the creation of the radical unions that became the CIO. The CIO did not create those unions. Those unions were self-organized by rank and file. The CIO was, it was a bureaucracy imposed upon them by the labor relations framework. There were no CIO without the Wagner. Those would have been clash, struggle, unions existing outside of any labor relations framework. And he tends to blame a lot of that on that the communists were too focused on doing big, big, big P politics wheel on a deal on at the state level, as opposed to paying attention and actually doing class struggle.
3 (20m 34s):
Politics. That, to me, it was the big one, the earlier one, there's a lot of different perspectives on that. I think just the communist party's rule in defining the IWW at the time was really interesting.
0 (20m 51s):
You want to say more about that? I don't think I know that history as well
3 (20m 55s):
After the Russian revolution, in a nutshell, the communists had something to point at and say, this is the way to go. We need a political party. And at the IWW at that time, there was a lot of debate. A lot of Wobblies joined the communist party a lot because it, you know, they, they came out of an anarchist tradition and they weren't joining a political party and there was a power struggle and it was never truly resolved because the level of state repression that was visited upon the IWW sort of rendered that power struggle mood at the time, but it was new Ben Fletcher biography.
3 (21m 45s):
And there's an interesting interplay there on the suspension of local eight by the IWW and the communist leadership of the IWW at the time, that was actually a political play to defang, an actual radical working rank and file union and, and get control of it
0 (22m 8s):
For our listeners that might not know that biography of Ben Fletcher, a black wobbly is really, really good. I also just as by Peter Cole, I found out when I was reading it that Ben Fletcher just so happens to live on, had lived on the same block that I currently hold on in Philadelphia. Like literally he lived on the corner across the street from my house that I live in currently. So that's pretty cool. Anyway, I don't know how long you lived there. It's there, Nick. I want to bring you into the conversation, just make sure that anything you wanted to share, we're not missing out on
3 (22m 45s):
Related to what we're talking about. Something that I've read another sources. And I kind of appreciated that, that moody spends so much time talking about the communist party's role in the, in the labor movement during world war II has to do with how the communist party basically got so caught up in like the anti fastest efforts of world war two and therefore supporting like the subtler States of America. That, that was like their downfall within like the labor movement. Right. And once we get to like the NLRA, well, we've already had the NLRA when we get to like, Taft-Hartley what we see is basically this labor piece that was struck by the labor unions at large, but especially the communist party during world war II, codified into loss.
3 (23m 30s):
Like all of those practices that are more cozy with the managers become like those business union practices become,
0 (23m 38s):
Expand on what you're saying about Moody's treatment of world war II in the fifties and the era of like labor peace, which for a lot of mainstream labor union narratives often features as like the high watermark of labor union labor unions in the country. Like they lax poetic about this great moment in time. When we add a lot of union density, there were a lot more like contracts and the gap between CEO pay and average rank and file worker pay was only 33 times instead of 3000 times or whatever. So what a great moment in time, right? Our inequality was somewhat managed, but moody, like you're saying points out that business unions really attach themselves to the nation state project, post world war II during world war II and post-World war II and the kind of massive increase in production levels.
0 (24m 32s):
They help facilitate that. And what moody content consistently points out is that today unions are still kind of in this mode of operating as if we're in the 1950s, where there was a somewhat reasonable size private social welfare system for union members that they were able to carve out and somewhat of a sizable piece of today. We're still like business unions are still operating in this mode as if that's what we're trying to accomplish is just expand the private social welfare system for our members exclusively and not really bothered so much in trying to push for universal programs like Medicare for all and things like that.
0 (25m 16s):
And he's saying that the fifties really was the moment of just complete takeover of business evenings. Like they G they had already had cultural hegemony, but it really was solidified and entrenched. And today we just can't seem to break out of that at all, because there's no socialists left. There's no threat to the prevailing business union order. The bureaucrats just kind of run the machine and we don't have any like strategies to break it down. And so this is again in 2000 and he's offering this as a pathway forward. He does. And I don't think we have to talk more about his like analysis, this history that much longer, he mentioned kind of briefly the sixties and seventies offering like some moments.
0 (25m 57s):
There's always been some glimpses of rank and file strategy that he points to some successes, but ultimately still stuck in a position where business unions, reign. There is no end in sight. John Sweeney had taken over the AFL CIO didn't do much. So this is where we are. All right. So comrades, what do we think of the argument? I know that we've already shared some critiques, but how about we talk about some of the things where we think that the strategy makes sense or it's strong, and then we can talk about some limitations.
4 (26m 28s):
I think the absolute strongest point is the radical potential of working individuals to form organized working class structures and shape them. And I read it as that is where emergent strategy and emergent leadership comes from. Not necessarily the top down, not necessarily from Hetty theory, although learning and education are an essential part of it, but you can see it in what has been successful today. When we look at the, I think most notably like the big red for ed teachers wave and teacher strikes where it was up against the union and ultimately more powerful.
4 (27m 19s):
Cause if we're going to get that critical majority nationwide in a constellation of movements, it has to begin at the rank and file level. And this is where its power is. And using that to shape and sharpen and grow the already existing union structure, I think it's compelling. And there's a reason why it's recognition in this article has remained so popular and has been adopted so much because as soon as you try to sort of, prefigure an argument, that's it? That, that doesn't, you know, I love the comrade critiques, particularly the newest ones inspector with the Griffin keto Griffiths, but right.
4 (28m 6s):
It's not a pure, there's not really pure rebuttals, right? There's critiques and building on it. And it's, and it's a strategy, not a tactic. And I think that's also important in the name rank and file strategy that it's not a prefigured tactic, it's an overall strategic lens to view organizing.
3 (28m 27s):
The one thing that did strike me about the whole thing was just how small and limited it was that it was really only going to address the currently constituted unions to create a working class base of socialist workers for a socialist political party. And that struck me as just that just really limited in, you know, it's fine, but, but for the amount of ink that gets spilled over it. And I, my critique of that would be that those are not reformable body.
3 (29m 9s):
They're not structurally able to perform any sort of radical transition as they're constituted. In fact, that that to actually have a true rank and file led by the workers, a union that was fighting the class struggle, you would have to dismantle those unions. Once I read this, I went back to something that I'd read quite a while ago, a guy named Stan Weir, who did single Jack solidarity with his, he was a worker activist for many, many years, and then became an academic way and wife and his critique because like around 79 or so, all the labor federations got together and were talking about the need for a new labor party ban.
3 (30m 8s):
And his take was that, you know, the institution of collective bargaining in this country as it has come to operate is reactionary. And until that is changed, it doesn't matter who you put in, who is leading the union, whether it's the workers, whether it's the bureaucrats that you can't enter into that and not get chewed up by it or stymied by it because it's specifically formulated to take class struggle off the table.
4 (30m 42s):
Well, I I'd, I'd say that that that limitation is, is just baked into what is also a compelling well, not, well, it it's, it's what it, what this strategy does is it's like, what do we have right now? What is in front of us today? What can we do right now? And those structures, and, you know, the 6% of the private industry that is unionized, that's what we got. And to not use that as one of our tools in the strategy, you know, it'd be a huge setback as, as moody States about class consciousness, it ebbs and flows and it's, it's not necessarily a linear progression. And I think that there, there is a potential there.
4 (31m 24s):
Yeah. Ultimately in 10 years, right? What, what can AFT, you know, beat surely we will not usher in a such deep economic justice that CBAs and that, you know, Taft-Hartley regulations are out. But I think that is part of the strength of this is, is it's not, you know, that sort of Noam, Chomsky ass, big view. It's like, what is a strategy that we can do that you can read this and you can go to your shop floor. You can go to your workplace, you can go behind the counter and think I should start really talking to each coworker I have and, and start exploring this and what we can do.
3 (32m 9s):
Yeah. I it's just, it reminds me of this. I just finished writing this chapter in which the author was looking at union organizing practices in the mining industry. And she was really pushing for, she wants academics, social scientists in particular, who are looking at working class organizations to focus on Bush calls, small places, close to home, which makes me think about kind of what Andrea is saying about like the transitional organizations and where does this begin? Because if we're talking about like a
2 (32m 41s):
Rank and file grassroots labor movement, in which we're trying to build transitional organizations between people who are in working class struggle and people who want to support working class struggle, that doesn't necessarily start at the, even the local level of the union, right. That can start in mutual aid networks that are neighborhoods that can start. And all these other like different ways like forming tenants organizations. And so I think I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon and say, mainstream unions, we can just go reform them all. And they can the rollover and be committed to direct action. And they'll say like to hell with collective bargaining and all of these other practices that are really against workers, workers power, but I don't think I'm ready to say, like, I'm ready to burn them all down and start with something else.
2 (33m 28s):
And I do draw a little bit of hope from events like the Los Angeles teacher strike, which, you know, was within the bounds of contracts bargaining within that like business union model. And maybe this is something that moody. And the other article that I haven't read where he's actually focusing on maca Levy's work and like the critique of, of her position, maybe he gets into this and like the, the shortcomings of bargaining for the common good. But the fact that like the LA teachers union were able to get like limits on like charter school expansion and classroom sizes and all of these things that would be outside of the traditional business union purview. That gives me some hope that there, there is still revolutionary potential in the mainstream labor movement, but it does start like what movie, like what I think Modi would say, if he were to admit that there are still socialists in the labor movement, which I think we can all attest to on this call, that there's still potential
0 (34m 25s):
You hearing what y'all are saying. When I was reading this, it was hard for me not to immediately start thinking about like a pretty popular position within the IWW of dual carding. Like this tack, it's not a strategy specifically, but a tactic of like, if you're a member of the IWW, that's one card, you can also be a member of a business union. That's your second card. And with that dual card, a position, try to bring IWW practices into the broader union. The goal isn't necessarily to like, de-certify that union or replace it with the IWW. But if you can build like a rank and file caucus and get them to be radical and like take on grievances on the shop floor and when great, you know, like do IWW style organizing, even if it's, even if there's a business union that already exists.
0 (35m 12s):
And I, I feel like there's a certain affinity there with like Moody's argument moody has kind of a more elaborate and fleshed out strategy. But I think Tim, I agree with two of your assessments is that moody does focus very narrowly on existing trade unions. That does seem to be like the arena that he says, this is where we should try to attach ourselves to the broader working is socialist. He seems to kind of suggest like worker centers could be that umbrella that helps the non organized the unemployed, but it doesn't really talk about it that much. It's more like trade unions, that's where we should focus. So he doesn't spend much time talking about creating new unions and like radically independent unions, like the IWW or otherwise.
0 (35m 58s):
The second thing that I do agree with your assessment is that Moody's strategy is specifically transitional up to the point of building a more powerful socialist party or something of a labor party, all of this rank and file strategy really in the long run is subordinate to an organization that's bigger than that. That's like more of a official political organization, Allah communist party of the 20th century or whatever like that is Moody's position. That's what I read into it. But I think when we read this pamphlet personally, I am like, I can kind of choose to not care about that argument.
0 (36m 39s):
I'm not necessarily in agreement that we need to like subordinate this rank and file power that we built up just to something bigger, like the DSA or whatever party might emerge. Like I don't care about that so much, but I think that there's a lot that we can probably find in common ground with, with just specifically the idea of like rank and file workers, pushing their business unions to their limits and trying to win as much possible out of that. Like maybe a war position, so to speak. But there is one thing that I think I keep seeing this analysis of moody that I just want to share. I think it's a misunderstanding of his argument, but it's clearly adopted by the official platform.
0 (37m 19s):
The DSA is the DSA adopted the rank and file strategy as its position, as a strategy that the organization at large is going to embody. But it's very clear to me that they misunderstand moody is suggesting that rank and file socialists not only need to get involved in their unions and build left caucuses, but that they need to take over the leadership. And he is like explicitly not saying that he even suggests that becoming the leadership of business unions just puts you in the position of being a bureaucrat. And regardless of your radical credit, that's all just kind of be irrelevant because all you're going to do is run the business union. You're just going to have individually socialist ideas, but organizationally, that's not going to transform the union.
0 (38m 4s):
He really does seem to be set on the idea that like workers organize regardless of unions, existing or not. And what we need to do is help those rank and file networks on their shop for, and not even worry about the leadership of unions, like who cares about the leadership. So give you all an opportunity to keep going wherever direction we want to go. But I do want to share in the chat, our listener, who is again, embodying the rank and file spirit by stealing time on the job to be here with us is suggesting that one way to think through these limitations that we're identifying is that workers within business unions are in a position to see what doesn't work and what real alternatives might look like in those unions.
0 (38m 49s):
So, so Jeff, I'm understanding, you're suggesting that by kind of being familiar with the machinery of business unions and labor relations and the limits of collective bargaining, we can kind of get a sober analysis of what works, how, how to navigate the terrain and maybe where the other pathways open up that we should try to pursue. What do y'all think about that dual carding idea? Like if you're familiar with the idea, do you see like a certain affinity with the rank and file strategy and dual carding, or do you think I do a card maybe has some different insights to offer for rank and file workers?
4 (39m 26s):
I think that concept of being in, but not lock and step like of one's union is critically important. I think we see that across the UC California strikes where they were Wildcat strikes that emerged at each campus, which we're all apart of, you know, that the bigger parent governing union that, that bargain with the UC system as emblematic of the power of a dual card strategy, it's important to be able to force leadership's hand. And that's the power of an, a dual carding approach would allow multiple workplaces to push the same, you know, whether it is resisting a Jeff Bezos takeover of your city council that is relevant to you as workers.
4 (40m 21s):
And when we're thinking about, you know, trade unions, you know, maybe it's your staff and your teachers both being able to organize together to push their leadership's hand for something transformative for the whole community. Yeah. I absolutely think that, you know, not seeing becoming the leaders as the objective, but leading from below and also if you're a leader and you endorse the rank and file strategy yeah. You might be closer to the pointy end of the stick than not, you know, and, and, and embracing and welcoming that.
3 (40m 57s):
Yeah. I th I think there's some, some affinity between the rank and file strategy and dual carding. One thing I think though is the West Virginia teacher's strike. That was an illegal strike led by the rank and file. That is a much closer idea to dual carding than generally rank and file movements within unions. Particularly the ones that moody was identifying in the sixties were very reformist. They wanted to reform their union. They want a different union leadership. They wanted union leadership to care about other things than what they cared about, but fundamentally they were not subversive to the union.
3 (41m 45s):
So I think that that sort of differences is like, as a wobbly, I don't think about taking over the existing grievance or bargaining in the union, but what I'm trying to do is form a committee to take direct action on the shop floor, whether that be in one shop or across an entire state like I did in West Virginia. I think something of a distinction that I think moody would be my approach, but the movements that he sort of identifies as rank and file rebellions were generally more reformist in what they wanted out of their union leadership,
0 (42m 30s):
Just for our listeners that might not know Kim moody is one of the co-founders of labor notes. And labor notes was largely project that grew out of strikes in the seventies, as well as the kind of nascent Teamsters for a democratic union. And they were very supportive of these kinds of efforts. So I think, I think you're right to identify that he, he celebrates these kinds of reform movements, but it does seem to be a consistent that his criticism of them is that you all got to preoccupied with like changing the leadership instead of changing kind of the bottom up culture in general. If I, if I may, you know, something just to share with listeners with the guests on the call is that three of us have been in the same union together. And I, I genuinely feel like maybe not consciously, but, you know, regardless we kind of tried this experiment for the rank and file strategy in some ways in our own union.
0 (43m 23s):
And I know that Nick and I talked a lot of inside baseball throughout these experiments of trying to create like left caucuses and stuff. So maybe we could talk like empirically about the successes and the failures of that. I mean, Nick, you mentioned in the chat one indication of what happened was a lot of the leadership of the union are dual carding waffling is. So do you want to just talk about how it worked in that union?
3 (43m 52s):
I think that union cultures can be very insular. And so like, we are a higher ed union, so like we have connections to a couple other like grad unions in the state. Other like faculty unions, we have like connections with our faculty and our FCIU classified staff union on campus, but we're not well connected with like our level ask me, or like teachers unions outside of campus rights. We don't have all those connections, but I would say that within like those three on campus that we have faculty grads classified staff, that the grad union tends to be more interested in things like direct action and being kind of rowdy. I do definitely know like faculty members who are down
2 (44m 32s):
To like get on a picket line, but there are different sensibilities, different aesthetics and like approaches to organizing different unions. Right? So like we're in this weird situation where our IWW branch was not a charter branch or it's a new general membership ranch previously, it was like kind of a reading group that did something like did like a, a local or an annual fair around like the theme of solidarity and whatnot. So when we actually became a chartered membership branch, like it just so happened that Alex who was our staff organizer at the time and our other at the time part-time staff person, where as well as myself and I think Andrea, and like a number of other people, like were some of the founding members of our IWW local.
2 (45m 17s):
So there's been like a strong connection, I think, between the two unions for the last year and a half of IWW, mid Valley's existence. But yeah, it's, it's turned into like a lot of the folks who are active in our grad union start to get active on that in the IWW, because in IWW, we're also like working outside of our own workspaces and were helping organize other other folks. And we have like a, a bit of attendance union tied in there too.
0 (45m 47s):
Yeah. And I think what's kind of, it's all funny to me because in some ways it, it kind of shows some of like the possibilities of the rank and file strategy as identified by moody, but also kind of contradicts them at the same time. And that ironically enough, I do think, and I'm maybe other Wobblies back at mid Valley would disagree with me, but the success of the creation of left caucuses within the existing grad union, which by all purposes will be identified appropriately as a craft union, a business union, the success of those radical caucuses actually helped build the IWW locally because it was raised the kind of expectations of workers.
0 (46m 30s):
It became, people became more interested in union history in general. And the IWW was kind of there as like a cultural group at the time, but not really doing any organizing and the organizing took off. So it was like the kind of reversal of typically IWW is forming and then like kind of influencing the culture of unions surrounding them. This was kind of the opposite, but I think there are limits to, to like what was accomplished. So there were a lot of successes though. Oughta left caucuses created, like Nick mentioned housing caucus was in particular, one of the more popular ones. But I think the limits were that, I mean, this is a grad union, so maybe this wouldn't be the same for other unions, but the kind of temporary nature of grad unionists that they leave campus leaves with them, a lot of historical memory and kind of ideas around direct action.
0 (47m 19s):
So a lot of the leadership of these caucuses took off like they disappeared, you know, because they graduated. But also like next talking about is unions have this kind of tendency towards of themselves. And caucuses become very easily subordinate and peripheral to the central operations of the union during a year of collective bargaining. Those caucuses became ancillary and like somewhat of an afterthought in a lot of ways. So they're going to be nurtured and cultivated as rank and file networks of socialists or whatever. And instead they kind of became an afterthought and they kind of atrophied, and now I'm not in the union anymore, but it's very difficult to revive these things and resuscitate them their lives.
0 (48m 5s):
So they become like very often temporary moments in a union's history and disintegrate and dissolve. It's hard to keep the rank and file alive within existing business union culture.
4 (48m 16s):
Yeah, absolutely. A community garden if built for someone else and not organically emerging from the community is simply a plot that is soon to be weeds. And I'm saying this, I'm taking off my leadership hat in the union and I'm putting on my general membership hat. And I see just a bunch of vestige of limbs that now form nearly three pages of our constitution where these caucuses became formally codafide and almost all are defunct in practical terms. That's not to say they cannot be revived, but they're no longer organic, right.
4 (48m 56s):
Say, you know, I'm going to make up a caucus, say you have the vegan and vegetarian caucus. A lot of our caucuses look like affinity groups, not necessarily organizing around a working class need or a workplace common issue, but as defined are there. And then if, if, if no, one's in it, right. If membership has zero, which after bargaining in a lot of these formerly now constitutionally recognized caucuses, which can't, it's hard to be insurgent if you're a part of the constitution, you know, just, just in practical terms. And then if there is an insurgent issue, maybe you find your way into an affinity group caucus that fits your fits your form and function, and then you can carry it out.
4 (49m 45s):
But yeah, I think, I mean, I think that overall the rank and file strategy that we've tried to foster as a core part of our union has transformed our entire college, small college town community. If I look at where the culture, not only of this union was in 2014 versus where it is now entering 20, 21 radically different, I don't think in 2014, you would have seen the union put materials support into COVID community organizing and mutual aid, black lives matter, disarming campus cops, environmental justice, housing justice, all of these issues when it was a straight business union
3 (50m 28s):
Protected by Janice, very comfy with its dues. And now I think even more than ever, we realized that there's a need for deep organizing and emergent strategy from the rank and file. So I think, yeah, it's a mixed bag in some way. The experiment with formalizing different rank and file group caucuses was great. But I think unless the community garden is truly an organic kept thriving community garden, it can turn into a plot very quickly, constitutionally protected clockwise. That is actually really super interesting baseball. One thing that I was curious about, cause I I've never done, you know, been involved in that kind of business union I'm in North Carolina, we don't have the lowest density in the nation, but one thing that was interesting to me, it was exactly what Andrea was saying.
3 (51m 24s):
It doesn't sound like anybody like they were caucuses, they were relaxed caucuses as opposed to the idea of dual carding, which is basically you just apply a solidarity union as a principle, as in you build an organizing committee out of general members and you sewer grievances, and then you take direct action to get those grievances resolved. I mean, that's a strategy that's different from being, you know, it's usually not recognized in any way by its parent union, but it's usually tolerated because it has no interest in being in the constitution being involved in bargaining or trying to strip away members or competing.
3 (52m 4s):
So it's interesting to hear about the left caucus experience that y'all have had. That sounds really interesting.
0 (52m 11s):
Well, and also Nick and I have tried to think through some of these like direct action grievance committees, kind of like you're talking about like the solidarity union approach. And I fixed some of the challenges, like just the lessons for any listeners that are trying to do some of these experiments in their own unions. Like the imposition of labor relations is the structural challenge to overcoming these things and sustaining them. When you have a cycle of collective bargaining that takes up all the oxygen of the union, what is going to be tempting for anybody, for radicals, rank flowers, whatever that wanna like nurture their, their garden, you know, plant their seeds, if they're going to want to get closer to the action of collective bargaining.
0 (52m 52s):
And it's very, and like everybody goes in on that and that absorbs a lot of the energy and the focus. And then the imposition of the contract actually is the opposite practice of direct action to resolve grievances. Like they want to channel grievances into a formal system of meetings, HR reps, delegates, and so on. And it's really hard to be, you know, I was on the staff side. So the staff that relationship with members is always a little bit complex, I guess, to put it simply. But even if you're like a member that's really active a steward or an elected leader, and you want to instill that idea into members and your colleagues, it's really difficult to get them to see like the need to not rely so heavily on the contract and the specific grievance process detailed there.
0 (53m 44s):
Even as the grievance officer, you can say that stuff and it's really challenging to get them over that hump, right? These are the challenges I think of both dual carding rank and file strategy, direct action, and like unions is that the contract and labor law itself. And just the culture of being in a union in general and being in a workplace is always the opposite of these ideas. It's always the opposite of these practices. I don't know Nick, if you want to share, have, have you had any successes with this like model of grievances? Cause I know this has been like something you've really wanted to cultivate.
2 (54m 19s):
Yeah, no, I, I ran for grievances and our union because I wanted the experience of like trying to, trying to work on that aspect. Right? Like when you, when you talk to organizers about getting an organizing job, they're like, you know, if you're going to apply to work for a union, have you run a, an affiliation camp campaign, have you run bargaining, have you run grievances? Like those are the big three. Right. But they, those, those events skillsets. So I was like, you know, I'm a, I'm skeptical of the grievance mechanism and U S labor organizing, but I'll try it out. And yeah, it's been like months of people being just as suffering, like extreme financial burden because our employer can't file documents on time or, you know, won't make their business centers do their shit on time.
2 (55m 5s):
And basically when it comes down to it as the grievance officer, like I'm there saying like, this totally sucks. Like this is terrible, you know, like organizing conversation, right. Like validate and, and, and everything. But yeah, it's incredibly frustrating that everything that we file comes back with either you didn't file this on time because we, the union couldn't have known this was an issue when it happened or, Oh, well, this person, they ended up getting back pay a few weeks later, so we don't have to do anything about it. So we're just going to dismiss your, your grievance. And like, I'm, I'm really sorry to him because like the three of us keep basing this, like in our, our experiences in the same union. Right. And I'm trying to keep it more abstract, but like in the case of like working with, I'm sure there are other unions like this, especially if we can get like more like Burgerville workers, union, and like fast food unions, although, you know, unions actually help our employee retention.
2 (55m 58s):
But when you have this built-in turnover where you have grad employees who are here for two years, or they are for four years or every once in a while you get someone like me or Andrea, heres who was here for like six or seven years, you have the built-in turnover. So you, like Alex said, you don't have the historical knowledge and you lose your organizers every couple of years, but you also have this, we have this weird status within the university where we're thought of as students and employees in to, in separate spaces, doing activities. And so we have a grievance process, but we have a grievance process within like an employment relationship where our employers can say this issue that you're experiencing, that doesn't have to do with your contracts that has to do with you being a student. So you can't eat.
2 (56m 38s):
Like we're not even going to entertain this as an issue that we would like actually take on as your employer.
0 (56m 46s):
Yeah. And then like you spend all your time mired and just trying to figure out the details of labor law, the specifics of the grievance process, doing everything to the letter. And I think I'll share this and then we can move on to maybe a conclusion here. Cause we have been discussing this for a little while, but little anecdote for you all a crushing moment. In my experience as a staff organizer was when I was helping process a grievance of one of our members, previous member, I really liked this person. They were pretty rad, definitely had like good politics and they weren't really actively involved, but they were, they had a specific grievance that they were seeking counsel with. And I had met them a few different times to kind of talk them through. It gave some advice and they found it really helpful.
0 (57m 27s):
And at one point they turned and looked at me after all this like information sharing and like what the process is like and so on. And they asked me, why aren't you a lawyer? And I just was completely demoralized. Like everything, everything I had been doing, must've been wrong up until that point. Like that was the worst possible thing. This person thought they were like flattering me. And I think it was just genuinely curious about like, you seem to know so much of these intricacies, why don't you like become a lawyer? I was like, Oh my God, I've completely abandoned my roots. This has all become mechanical and automatic for me. And I, it was, it was just such a clarifying moment. And they were just watching me completely confused by my exasperated response.
4 (58m 11s):
Well, actually I think you should run for Congress. I have a question for the group if that's okay. Yeah,
2 (58m 20s):
Yeah. And it's on moody. So like it's bringing everything back. Right. But like, if we look at this article where moody plays sickly, his premise, right. Is that socialists exist in the United States, but they're not close enough to the working, the working class labor movement. And like, so his whole project is how do we bring these two groups together? And a big part of that is building a labor party. Like I think everybody on the call, I'm like, yeah, like Joe's got a, Wobbe a Wobbe picture up as their profile picture, like as IWW folks where we have this labor tradition where we're adverse to cooperating with political parties or like being a part of that arena as much, like, what do y'all think about his argument? But the way forward towards socialism is to get everybody working together, like in a political arena.
4 (59m 3s):
Well, I've been thinking about this quite a lot because you know that you only have so many shackles to spend in terms of dues elsewhere and I've been short on some cash. And so I, you know, I'll be honest. I, I forgot to pay my dues Ty WW one month and then I have kept forgetting. And whenever I remember, I'm like, well, maybe I kind of want to keep that 12 bucks for now. And where can I put it once I get full-time work, there's an organization called socialist alternative. They have branches a lot of places, but they have a very successful, very powerful political office here in Seattle, where they have pushed. And one on the $15 minimum wage, that was the socialist alternative party and Congress and city council member Seamus wants doing she and socialist alternative work so closely with all the labor unions here, they work closely with all different community organizing groups.
4 (1h 0m 4s):
They passed the Seattle green new deal. They got an Amazon tax, which now the state is trying to overturn the state is fighting the wins of the socialist city council member to try to prevent dual taxing of businesses. And this is a tax on just a few businesses that is generating tens of millions of dollars for the city of Seattle that can be put towards social good. So there is power. And I think that my biggest critique of DSA is in seeing what has become possible. And in today, today there was a rally because the right wing has or organized through the court system, a recall campaign, right?
4 (1h 0m 46s):
Democrats love to talk about democracy, but now they're trying to recall her because she used her office to support black lives matter. And they're trying to roll back the Amazon tax. They're trying to roll back the 10% cut to the police that the socialist city council member was able to get forth. There were people from Ireland, MPS, socialist MPS from Ireland on the call, speaking saying that as socialists, the win of outright socialist candidates in the United States is inspiring and needs to happen. And I think in terms of, I think what the conversation that maybe Alex can prelude to, to the, the spectrum conversations that are saying well, what does it mean for the DSS? I'm not sure if it means investing so much in the democratic apparatus.
4 (1h 1m 30s):
And I think it looks like seeing what has worked, who is winning and building on that. So in thinking about where I can put my small amount that I have dues, I'm really looking at local organizations that are, even if it's a school board member, right. Even if it's a city council member in a smaller city or in the 15th largest city, getting an outright opposition to Democrats who have a stranglehold on our urban centers, I see it as powerful. And it's very clear why UAW four, one, two, one which represents 6,000 graduate postdoc and undergrad workers at university of Washington has been really strong in supporting Shama savant and socialist alternative because that, that intersection of issues of the fight for 15 and the Amazon tax are worker issues.
4 (1h 2m 22s):
Those are working class issues. And you know, it surely was not some business leader of the union that said, well, maybe we should leverage some of our support, even though UWU is out of the district that Shama represents many of members of course live here, but it is the mutual shared liberation of that labor union in this town, their survival and their ability for their children, their partners, their spouses, to get decent jobs for their friends and comrades who are houseless or homeless to get housing. The mutual liberation is there. And I see the literal successes outside my door of a socialist city council member.
4 (1h 3m 6s):
And so I think the abandonment of the political arena and of the outright socialist party and have one that's more than cosplay, like a real socialist party winning is a critique I have of organizing to support democratic socialist Democrats. You know? So I, I think it's good. I think there's power.
0 (1h 3m 28s):
Thank you for that comrade. I guess I'll just share like, honestly, on the question of political parties, for the most part, I guess I've gotten to the point where I'm fairly like agnostic about them to outright. Just, I don't think the word, I don't know. I don't know how to say it more delicately than that. This, this is my, my quick view of the situation. When you're talking about a capitalist system, I think the workplace is the central power structure of that system. The relationship between worker and boss is the embodiment of capitalist power relations right there. Like that is the greatest disparity and inequality.
0 (1h 4m 10s):
It's right there. Now. I'm not saying that that doesn't mean other struggles don't matter like outside of the workplace, but I'm just saying it's like an arena that stitches together. The entire social fabric is work and wages at somewhere down the line. You have somebody, if it's not, you, you have somebody in your family, your relationships, whatever that relies on a wage that allows you to reproduce yourself socially. Like you ha you can't survive under capitalism without wages. Meaning work is an imposition that everybody feels in some way. And the power that bosses Lord over workers in the workplace is extreme. So what I don't understand about conversations like the strategic thinking around political parties is if we are able to build up a rank and file network of union members or, or worker organizations powerful enough to defeat their bosses and actually gain concessions at one of the most concentrated sources of power in capitalism, why would we build up all that strength and muscle to just surrender it to a political party?
0 (1h 5m 14s):
That's going to act on our behalf in a different arena. It's like we shift sideways or actually become the background of the class struggle that we have been winning. Like, I, I, that's what I don't understand about it. So it's like, why not just prioritize like focus if we can win in the workplace, why would we not continue focusing on winning in the workplace and trying to scale that and expand that outward? I guess that's where I come down on it now. I don't think that means that you can ignore the state, but I think it means more specifically, in what ways do we choose to go into combat with the state? And I think that what you're saying, Andrea makes more sense to me is like at most maybe we were run local politicians here and there have some kind of small-scale parties, but I want to give my dues monthly to a socialist alternative or the DSA over the IWW.
0 (1h 6m 10s):