Union Shop: Consider a "Salt-free" Meal w/ MK Lees
MK Lees, contributor and regular editor of Organizing Work, joins Laborwave Radio to discuss the strategy of "salting" a workplace to boost a union campaign, and the need to refine this practice for optimal impact.
Among topics discussed in this episode is a response to the claim that salting is the best strategy for revitalizing a militant labor movement, and how salting done well abides by understanding that a salt cannot substitute for a committee of rank and file workers.
The article, "Salt: The Flavor, Not the Meal," published in Organizing Work formed the basis of our conversation. Read it at https://organizing.work/2020/06/salt-the-flavor-not-the-meal/
Please support Laborwave Radio by subscribing to our patreon at patreon.com/laborwave We have gifts depending on the tier you join, and exclusive access to our archives and Discord server.
Leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, it helps our content reach new listeners.
I really appreciate your article that you wrote for organizing work on salt, the flavor, not the meal, clever title, by the way, to thank you before really digging into the contents of it. I feel like what I was hoping to talk to you about is just general conversation around salting as a union organizing strategy, and maybe some of its limitations, some of the advantages and just go wherever we want to go. But before diving right in just for our listeners, maybe you can provide like a description or definition of salting. So what is salting?
2 (2m 18s):
Yeah, sure. I mean, I think it's fairly simple idea. Although I guess in that article, I did kind of problematize, I think some of the assumptions about what people think it means. I mean, typically it's a word used to describe somebody intentionally taking a job with a purpose of organizing it. So that's, I think the generally accepted idea of what salting is. And then I do point out a difference in that, in, in that some people are often thinking that salting means I need a job. And so I'm going to take this job that I would have taken otherwise. And then I'm going to organize the job when I get to the job, which I think is, is a little bit of a different thing than usually what we mean by salting, which is like reorienting the priorities of your life.
2 (3m 8s):
A lot of times to go use a specific tactic to boost the campaign in some way, which I think is a little more of a precise definition of what salts.
1 (3m 19s):
Yeah. And it's pretty common amongst unions, right? So like mainstream unions use salting, the IWW is amenable to assaulting. I think what was really interesting about your article is that you focus specifically on a case study of Jimmy John's and the salting strategy use there. So I want to talk like, just in the broad sense first, just kind of zoom out before really getting into the nitty-gritty of salting because there's a debate, even though it's a common tactic, there is clearly a romanticized version about salting can accomplished. And I think that the debate goes effectively like this, particularly amongst socialists salting is how we built the labor movement in the first place.
1 (4m 4s):
A bunch of radicals just inserted themselves into key strategic industries on their backs. They like radicalized their co-workers and built unions. And today that, that needs to be the strategy. Again, saltings the way forward. And that's how we can organize Amazon, organize the key logistics chains, organize the entire country and like turn it into a socialist utopia. So what do you think about that argument? Like what is your take on salting as a strategy? Just in the broadest sense,
2 (4m 34s):
I guess in the first place I would say I understand the logic and I probably believed something similar at some point until I saw some of the problems that potentially emerge out of kind of that line of thinking, which we can talk about. My history is not tip-top in terms of whether I can answer this question of was that the thing that built the labor movement, but I have a do I do have a suspicion that that's a pretty incomplete picture of like what the real strategy was that built the labor movement. And I think there are even, you know, some good case studies on, on organizing work, organizing.work, the website that I wrote the piece for that take a look at and kind of demystify some of the things we think about how organizing happened even back in the teens, like with the Lawrence strike, for example, and sort of, I think what the popular imagination and the labor movement is sometimes about like how something like that happened in the wobbly, like descended onto the city and then kind of galvanized everybody called big meetings.
2 (5m 39s):
And, you know, there was this massive strike that we were able to win for a variety of reasons. When in actuality there was years of organizing going on. That was just the type of stuff that you don't hear about. And you don't see because it's more interpersonal and it's building things that take place on the job that have these little successes and these little failures and that build upon the failures that came before them and culminate in sort of a big historical moment that everybody talks about. And, you know, I, I don't know that I'm qualified to necessarily argue against that theory outright based on a bunch of case studies that I have, but I do think it just, it, it might, my suspicion is that it's a very incomplete picture and it's also, I don't know, I have a lot of feelings about it and I, I, I don't know.
2 (6m 31s):
I'm curious to see where we go in this conversation, but like, to me, it also just has this kind of, I don't know, something egotistical about it or something that like, Oh yeah, elitist. Yeah. It's like, we're the people that are going to solve everything. You know, if we can just go bring our enlightened ideas to the working class, like I know people don't think that consciously, but like that's sort of embedded in the strategy there, which I think is, is sort of like if that's what we're relying on, I have, I have less hope if that's the case. You know, I, I'm much more of the opinion that your average everyday person, whatever that means. It's not really even a thing. Right. But like you're consciously non-radical workers out there that can they're, they're the ones that collectively can change the world.
2 (7m 13s):
And it's more a matter of like accompanying people to use sort of the like Scott and Lind kind of idea, and offering whatever tools we can to people that just like help to clarify an organizing situation. And then things can happen that way potentially. And people can learn things, all kinds of different ways. It doesn't necessarily come from us on the left. So yeah, I, I, for a variety of reasons, I'm, I'm dubious of like having that be the lens that we, we look at things through. Yeah.
1 (7m 44s):
I wonder if we kind of share common ground here and that for me, this kind of waxing poetic claim about what salted can accomplish and why it's necessary. Like I mentioned, it does smack a believism, but it also seems to approach organizing from the perspective of, we need to educate and enlighten the masses. Like the problem is that people have backwards ideas. The working class is clearly ignorant around radical politics and socialism, and if they just knew the facts of the matter, if we could just enlighten them and give them like a clear political line, then we would win, you know? And I think there's some grains of truth to, you know, popular education is important obviously, but I'm more of the mind that you have to build organizations with power.
1 (8m 31s):
And it's really just about building, working class power through organizations. And that doesn't necessarily mean you start with the grand enlightened, you know, Marxists that comes into the shop for, and just gives everybody a class analysis.
2 (8m 45s):
Yeah, certainly no argument there, you know, it makes me think of something that came out around a similar time on organizing work, Marianne Garner's review of the angry class power at zero hours. I think the book is called and just talking about that, they did a lot of stuff that was similar to like it, it had a lot of parallels to me of the kind of Marxists who would, and when the seventies kind of went from being students to me and like, Oh, we got to get back into the factories. And it was, it was all about like designing the best leaflet and the best newsletter and presenting the best analysis. And that would kind of draw people to your cause and galvanize people. But in the book, at least my reading of the book through the review of the book, you know, this was, this was not a, not a winning strategy and often surprising that like it didn't result in more people like doing stuff and coming to the meetings and she has a good line in the review.
2 (9m 41s):
That's like, you, can't something like leaflets, can't listen to people, you know, only people can do that. And it's, you know, I think that's, that's the thing is organizing is all about relationships and you don't build relationships with big political ideas. You build relationships with small interactions with people on a one-to-one basis. So
1 (10m 1s):
Well, and I think that brings us to, as I mentioned briefly, Jimmy John's as a good case study and one that, you know, makes up the bulk of your article and organizing.work. So what's interesting about this is that you have a totally different assessment of it than some of the other articles I've read that called Jimmy John's the success story arguing as an endorsement of salting that Jimmy Johns shows that salting is the strategy that works and is going to rebuild the socialist movement. Can you give us kind of a rundown of the Jimmy John's organizing campaign with the years, it was where it took place, the union that was involved, but also your take on how effective the strategy of salting at Jimmy John's was
2 (10m 44s):
Sure, as a caveat, I was not part of that campaign. I was, I was close to a lot of people who were very close to it. And then I, I did some interviews after the fact. And so I'm, I'm gathering what I could from the primary sources that are out there. First of all, I would say in terms of things that I think the campaign did well or that were kind of good things about it is that it was an attempt to be, I think the right kind of ambitious for our organization, for the IWW in that a lot of, a lot of campaigns at the time were kind of like taking a single shop that would come to us often, very small shops. And sometimes we would win.
2 (11m 24s):
Sometimes we would lose, we were experimenting with different, you know, alternate forms of organizing that weren't prioritizing recognition in the contract as a goal, sometimes mixed with more traditional campaigns, but it was kind of haphazard and also just like falling victim to the, to the problems of organizing in a small shop where it's like, if you've got 10 workers at a shop and, you know, you lose one, you just lost 10%, you know? So it, it took on, I think what was kind of the size target to punch just a little bit above our weight class in, in a chain that was in a piece of a chain, like a franchise chain of sandwich shops within a particular kind of bounded geographical area, where they had like a lot of organizers.
2 (12m 10s):
And so they thought, okay, we can, we can put our resources to use in a way that can really up our game and potentially like create a large enough target that we can really do some stuff. So I thought, I thought that was cool. And then I think the union learned a lot from that about how to create good public relations. I remember being impressed at the time with the professional quality press releases that were coming from the workers and it's a classic technique, but I think they did it really well of these regular flyers that would have pictures of workers faces from the committees. And then each time a new flyer would come out up more faces on it, and it would just get bigger and bigger.
2 (12m 54s):
You see this big cloud of workers, faces and lots of quotes about like, why they were involved. Again, like those were kind of stepping things up from where we were at at the time. I think, you know, as a side note, we can come back to the PR campaign. Also had some problems in terms of whether the PR matches what's actually going on in the inside. And maybe that relates to kind of some of my criticisms of it, I guess, before I go there, the, the rest of the summary of the campaign is that a member had been organizing his shop since probably around 2005, you know, stops and starts some successes here and there got a little bit of heat again, and then a bunch of folks from the IWW at the time and friends, all kind of decided now's the moment.
2 (13m 42s):
We're all going to go take applications for jobs at different Jimmy John's stores. And we're going to launch like a campaign with a bigger scope. So they started going in and they started building committees. There's like five salts may. I mean, the term salt here is also gets a little fuzzy because there was also like, you know, the original guy that was working there. He was an IWW member before he was working there. Does he count as assault? It kind of was his job, but the point being that at some point along the way, there was this problem at the core of the organizing in that the people who were doing the heavy lifting of doing a lot of one-on-ones with other workers and, you know, the sort of administrative things that come along with organizing, like keeping minutes and meetings and interfacing with the branch and potentially talking to the NLRB and things like that, that all just was starting was really just handled by the people who were either the salts or who were the IWW activists.
2 (14m 49s):
And they had, they were unable to branch out beyond that. And I don't think that was intentional, but it is the kind of thing that that happened. And then is exacerbated. I think once they made a decision to file for an election at, at the bargaining unit of, of several stores, kind of all within the twin cities limits, what happens then is you just sort of get on this track of a timeline and you are fighting to get the vote when it comes time to hold the elections. So pressure really ramps up cause you have this kind of do or die moment. You're either going to win the vote or you're not going to win the vote.
2 (15m 31s):
And I think when that pressure added to the situation, it just, it just compounds an already existing problem, which is that they weren't really able to build robust committees in the shops. But in the meantime, they do have a lot of people doing things. It's just that from the outside, you might not know that most of those people were folks who were already that level of active and most of whom came from the outside and then took the jobs. So it's this kind of thing where it almost becomes like, you know, it, it petered out for a variety of reasons. They narrowly narrowly lost the election.
2 (16m 14s):
It was a really sad day. They kind of missed it. They missed it by two votes. The boss did a bunch of ULPs, which they contested and then the election got overturned. But by then, you know, there wasn't like there wasn't enough support to ramp up for another election. And the bosses knew this as part of the strategy, right? As things fizzled, there still was a time like around that time where it's like, you've almost got a zombie union where you've got the, the folks that were starting to get involved, starting to form the basis of a committee, kind of dropped out and you're left with a shell of salts and a couple activists who can kind of keep things going, but is there really a union there?
2 (16m 54s):
You kind of have not built anything past where you started and really it comes back to sort of, what is the whole point of doing any of this? What's the point of labor organizing in general? The point is to develop capacity that wasn't there before, right. Is to develop a independent structure that workers can use to fight the boss and win and grow bigger and draw more and more people in and create something that wasn't there before. If that's our measure, Jimmy Johns was a failure by that measure. There's other measures where I think it was successful. I mean, I think if you measure by just kind of like having, having a lot of experience in a short amount of time that can lead to lessons that you take to other campaigns, you know, there was a couple people that were drawn in from that campaign that I think went on to stay Wobblies, although for the amount of, you know, workers involved in that unit kind of a disappointing few from, from where I was sitting.
2 (17m 55s):
And again, like maybe that's, you know, that's, that's a problem. Anyway, that, that goes to sort of the core of what I, my argument was is that salts, well, they can be a useful tactic if we're deploying them in, you know, responsible ways. They also carry with it, this, this danger that you can have an illusion of progress when not as happening. So that's kinda what I was trying to point out when I wrote about them.
1 (18m 23s):
One of the things you highlight in the article is that the perspective you're bringing into this as the perspective of a wobbly, right? The IWW perspective, which as a labor union, the idea is that the working class builds its own organization and minister, is it right? It's not a professionalized and bureaucratized business union, like not top heavy on the staff side. And what I like is that you highlight too that this idea that the salts go in and they kind of substitute themselves for the committee or they're in the lead of organizing. If we in the IWW have a critique of professional staff, as the problem with professional staff is they can easily come into a campaign and run it and administer all of the logistics of it and take over the strategizing and basically make workers the backend of their plan.
1 (19m 16s):
How is salting, where we basically substitute for committees and take charge of things any different than that. That seems to also be really important to the critique and the quote here that I really like is you right? Most radical say they believe workers can and should run the world. But too many times we don't behave that way when it comes to our own organizing. So that really seems to be the meat of the matter is who do we think is actually going to change power in the workplace? Yeah.
2 (19m 45s):
A few thoughts about that. I mean, yeah, in the first case, I really wanted to just highlight the point that you can't get away with a critique of staff-driven organizing just by saying, well, these Wobblies work there, they don't, they're not getting paid by a union for their, you know, the paycheck's not coming from a union, it's coming from a boss, just like a regular job, but it's not really a regular job though. Is it like, again, if it is, that's kind of a different scenario, but like if you're going in there to boost the campaign and like, I mean, this is the thing that the IWW says a lot and is like, well, I mean, part of it comes from a practical problem, which is that like, we are it low dues, scrappy, DIY kind of workers helping other workers kind of organization by.
2 (20m 48s):
And so we can't afford to have a whole bunch of staff, right. That's just like, we don't have a financial model that supports that kind of organizing. So it's like, okay, well we can do this. We have the boss pay the workers or wages, but if that's what we're doing, that we've also got to be careful of like all the other stuff that goes along with the staff critique. So anyway, I think, I think we're on the same page for that. And then, yeah, I wonder if, you know, part of the issue with these problems that emerge from salt, heavy strategies is actually kind of a subconscious belief that workers are not going to do it themselves. And we might say, we think that, but deep down, we don't actually think that.
2 (21m 30s):
And it also might STEM from like people just not being very good at organizing sometimes like, like it's, and it's, that's not really a knock on, let's not meant to like slam organizers out there trying to do this. It's really fucking hard. And like, it's a skill that you learn over time to be able to have a conversation that moves someone to action. I often think this is a problem of the left that it's like, well, I had a one-on-one with that person and it didn't work. So like, therefore I have to go do the work that I was trying to get them to do. And
1 (22m 10s):
Therefore one-on-ones don't work at all. Right.
2 (22m 12s):
Or, yeah, exactly. And so like, no, it's the, it's the wrong conclusion being drawn it again, like even if, a lot of times that's a, that's a subconscious process that goes on for people. Cause I don't think a lot of people, you know, most Wobblies are not going to be like saying that stuff out loud, that it's just sort of a computation that happens. It's just like, it happens a lot in different forms of organizing where it's like, we know the steps to like achieve what we want. We know the organizer training one-on-one one-on-one and we're trying to do it, but when it's not working, it can get very frustrating and lead us to take these different shortcuts and salting sometimes comes as a shortcut.
1 (22m 52s):
Well, I think sometimes the pressures of a campaign to make it to where you want to just keep moving things forward and you get desperate and moments of stagnation and even decline to try to just substitute for the work, just take over and then hope that you can reverse engineer all the gaps that, you know, you were missing along the way. And you'll just get to the finish line. So now it never works that way. No, definitely.
2 (23m 16s):
Well, it seems like it's going to work and then it doesn't, it doesn't work and I've been, I've been there too, you know, I think we've all been there. Like then when you do this work and you look back and you're like, yep, that was the moment I was too caught up in. We can't lose momentum or it's going to die. So let's just skip this step and it'll probably be okay, we'll just roll the dice. So almost never is.
1 (23m 38s):
Oh yeah. And I'm, I'm, I've been guilty of this too. So nobody, nobody is free from this failure. Yeah. There's another part of this that I wonder it's gonna clearly be speculation, but you did point out and I have heard the strategy more recently with salts is that a lot of times they tend to be people that are recently out of college, like new members of the DSA recently out of college or whatever, it might be like newly radicalized people are like fresh out of school that don't have much practical organizing experience that tend to be the salts. And maybe that's part of why there's this kind of subconscious thing, like you're saying where they just don't actually trust the workers to do the work or they don't really have a conception of the working place of the working class being capable of self-administering its own organization.
2 (24m 26s):
Yeah, it's weird. Right. Like I went to the factory and then like the workers didn't trust me. So like they probably don't know what they're talking about. Yeah. That, that is the thing. And again, like full disclosure, I totally was one of those guys. I like, I got out of college and I went and took a job at a boiler factory. I didn't, I didn't really have any plans. I didn't know. Like I didn't actually implement anything that's succeeded or failed. Eventually I just got laid off because there wasn't enough work. But yeah. I mean, I think, I think that certainly is like, I just in general, like just thinking back to that time in my life and I just didn't, I didn't know anything, you know, I even having been through the organizer training, like the organizer training is one thing, but it requires going out there and trying to test the material and trying to like stand on your own two feet and do things that are really uncomfortable and have conversations that fail.
2 (25m 30s):
And it's only with that kind of work that you actually end up knowing how to do it. So again, I'm not like I'm not totally down on salting and I see some places for it, for college students or otherwise. But I think, you know, the more you kind of go into anything related to organizing with the understanding that like, you just, you don't know how to do it yet. And you're really learning from people, including your, and maybe especially your coworkers, like the better off you're going to be.
1 (26m 5s):
Well, I'd like you to say it too. It's not all to dismiss entirely salting as a tactic and a strategy. It's more to learn from the lessons, take case studies and get better at what we do. So you do offer a very tangible advice on how to tweak and define salting in a way that can make it productive to our organizing. So I'd like, I'd like to talk about those specifically. So the one thing you already touched on, but maybe you could just clarify briefly is that we should probably have a better definition of salting. So you write, if you just need a job and you're already a wobbly, that's not really the same as salting. Do you want to elaborate any more on that?
2 (26m 47s):
Yeah. Well I would say, you know, it, doesn't, it's, I think of the idea of, you know, this concept of we organize the worker, not the job, which I think is overstated. Sometimes we do both, but like with the concept of like, there's something unique about the IWW as a union, which is that it, when you join it, you take it wherever you go for, as long as you are down with the preamble, you know? So whatever job you're at, you continue to be a member of the union. So that's why I think of that. Even if you're technically not a wobbly, but you have that philosophy of like, whatever job I'm at, I'm going to be doing some kind of organizing.
2 (27m 27s):
That's just like a way of being that is like a wobbly way of being, I don't know if that answers your question, but like, that's kind of, to me, I just basically saying like, let's call that something else. Let's not call it salted.
1 (27m 38s):
Cause you say that salting is more ad hoc, right? It's like a temporary tactic that we should use to help boost and advance campaigns. Right. And on that note, you say kind of jumping ahead of some of your other pieces that something is better used to augment pre-existing campaigns. Do you want to talk more about that?
2 (28m 1s):
Yeah, so, and I think that goes along with another point I make, which is like for a specific, like to get past specific obstacles. So it's just a suggestion that like maybe instead of thinking about salting as a way to jumpstart a campaign, we should think about it as a way we, we should think, look, be more creative and look for other ways to jumpstart campaigns. And then if we can get them off the ground and we run into a very specific obstacle that salting would solve, it might be a more useful tactic. For example, just a very common one. We ended up in a workplace that has different departments and one of the departments is mostly Spanish speaking.
2 (28m 42s):
Then we do have a very kind of like external obstacle right there that if we have someone who's willing to salt who speaks Spanish, that can bridge the gap from an existing committee, from a different department to at least get the communication going, you know, and expand that way. Or if we're in one location of a job that has multiple locations or multiple stores in a franchise, and we feel like we need to expand to get the necessary power to win our demands. That's like a, you know, a geographic obstacle. We don't have anybody over there. So we didn't send out if somebody over there that's generating contact information and connecting new organizing to an existing committee, but kind of the principle behind it goes back to the idea that we have to.
2 (29m 29s):
And I think this is a bigger principle that can be applied to so many lessons that I feel like are really important is to think about what exactly constitutes success and you know, early on in organizing, I think we have to be very clear that success means very specific things. It means getting a complete contact list. That's a success identifying organic workplace leaders. Like that's a success once you've done it. If you can S like successfully figure out that social chart and then actually building a committee of workers, not salts who are meeting and starting to decide things, and then themselves getting trained and doing, one-on-ones like, that's the real kind of nucleus.
2 (30m 16s):
Like, that's the goal when we can start to say, okay, now we are succeeding at the things we've set out to do. And that's the thing that I feel like oddly often, most often gets missed and people talk about there's a campaign here. And like in our branch in LA, we never say that we don't, we never call anything a campaign until there's an actual committee that has met like three weeks in a row. It's like, okay, now we can call this a campaign of some kind. But like, yeah, there's a campaign because I had a one-on-one with a coworker to me it's like, you're, you're not even quite there yet. So it's like, that can also be something where it's like, it clarifies the salting issue, which is that just having activity doesn't mean that we've got the thing that we want.
2 (31m 4s):
And if we've got the thing that we want, then salts become helping that thing grow and become more successful, not substituting for it.
1 (31m 13s):
Right. Which relates to a couple other points that you make that seem pretty connected is that salt should not lead the campaigns. Like what you're saying. They shouldn't substitute for themselves for the committees. And also they need to be part of plans that others are in on is how you say it. So do you want to talk a little bit more about that? Like, I think what you're saying is that not only should they not lead, but the fact that their salts should be transparent.
2 (31m 37s):
Yeah. And that's tricky because when do you tell people about the fact that you are assault and I don't know that I have great advice there, although that'd be a very interesting question to think about in general, I've tried to be very upfront about that. So, you know, in, in the most recent campaign I was helping with, we did try to get a couple salts in and we succeeded with one and not the other, but again like that was a small committee was built already. And there was a meeting where I was like, Hey, there's this thing called salting. And this is what it is.
2 (32m 19s):
And this is potentially how it could help. What do you guys think? Should we do this? And everybody was very enthusiastic. And they said, yes, we'll, we'll help get these people jobs. And, you know, we can spread the work around a little bit. And so that's also like a different picture, you know, then it's like the committee itself is, is debating a tactic and then using it and knowing right up front that people will be coming in. And then it just becomes, you know, sometimes awkward when the committee grows. And then there's new people on the committee who didn't know that this person was assault. And then you have to have that conversation, but hopefully you've built enough trust through one-on-ones at that point to find the appropriate time to fill people in on that.
2 (32m 59s):
But yeah, I think that's the best way to sort of give an example of like what it means for people to be defining their own plans. And when you start with salts, it's, it's difficult, you know, it's difficult to get there and there's all these pressures and temptations to do it the reverse way. Cause you're the union on the job when you start there and you're already making all the decisions.
1 (33m 21s):
Well, another thing that you point out that I really like a lot is that you argue the priority for salt should be to gather information. Right. And I thought on that note, what I would like is if you wouldn't mind sharing how you had your own personal experience salting on the job, where you were asked to transition into a different job category specifically for the purpose of getting information. So can you talk about that experience and why it was so vital to the campaign?
2 (33m 50s):
Sure. It's pretty simple. I was a bike messenger. The campaign was ongoing, a little bit of extra information about it was that it started as kind of a city-wide campaign. It's kind of started from, you know, more of a top level because that industry is so kind of messengers flow from employer to employer and there's this kind of culture in the industry. And then at some point I just decided that like, I'm going to stop helping from the outside and I was not working at the time and I'll go ahead and get a job. And I'll be, I'll be trying to build something at one of these companies.
2 (34m 33s):
Well, some of the other people that are involved, they're building it. Other ones turned out that like me doing that was actually the only thing that ever really built to real actions. So, but that's an interesting other lesson along the way. But anyway, so I was, I was working as a biker and at some point successfully helped to build a committee and then a dispatcher job opened up who are the folks that kind of tell everybody where to go, where to pick up the packages, where to deliver them. There's two of them at this particular job and they're on walkies all day, just kind of dispatching the orders. And they, the company asked me that like asked me if I wanted to do it. And my first reaction was like, no, it's kind of management E although that's really debatable in that industry.
2 (35m 19s):
And I was like, I got a thing going here, you know, is this going to take me away from folks? But then some of the folks on the committee, we were just starting to get organized and go in and they were like, take the job. Like we want you in there because you'll be in the office. We never get to even, you know, go through that door and you'll be able to like feed us information. Like, what are they, what are people talking about? And like, what kind of information can we get? And I, you know, within like a couple of weeks, there was a binder that had like everybody's phone number on it. And all of a sudden we had a complete contact, which like we were struggling to get, you know, and then we could just go, we could go house, visit everybody.
2 (36m 1s):
We could go like talk to people. We didn't even, nobody had ever even met. So, so yeah, that was a win, but it wasn't the end of it either. I mean, like I would hear bosses commit. ULP is like, you know, next to me. And when there were job actions, I would see their reactions, like even just their emotional reactions and be able to tell workers about it and giving them a feeling of power. There was just all kinds of little, little like bonus pieces of information that helped the campaign tremendously. It wasn't something I particularly wanted to do, but you know, even not knowing then kind of some of the perspectives I have on salting now that may have helped me to avoid some of those pitfalls that maybe I would have fallen into some of those things myself, you know, that certainly was a temptation all the time to, you know, do the work for other people.
2 (36m 50s):
And that was a way where it was like, it kind of forced a situation where the folks that were the bikers, like they had to do it, they had to do it themselves. You know, I couldn't be, I, I literally couldn't be out there on a megaphone or anything, like, cause I was the sleeper agent on the inside. Like they were like, no, we don't want anybody to know about you ever.
1 (37m 10s):
Hey, I think if I was going to be a salt, that would probably be the scenario. I'd like the most to get, to be a double agent, like really put on a different like manager perspective and personality and like one space and just act like a total different person.
2 (37m 22s):
Yeah. Honestly, not me. I hate that shit. It made me so anxious all the time. It took years off my life. I think I lost like, you lost a lot of my hair like around that time because it's so not me. I'm not like, not like a deceptive person. I hate that kind of thing. There was one, one experience that just, this is kind of funny side tangent was that there was another company on the South side of the loop that like we had, we had a couple of contacts over there and they were trying to get something going. And I got a call one night from one of them that was like, you got to come down here and talk to these guys. And it was very like unclear what was going on, but I could hear a lot of shouting in the background and he's like, yeah, we're talking about the union.
2 (38m 6s):
You've got to come down here. Like I got everybody red flags already, but so I go, so I like, I think I like jumped on my bike or something. And I went down to this place and started basically trying to put out fires. Cause it was basically a big argument about like, should we be part of this union or should we not, not a situation you want to get in. There's nothing good going to come out of this. I basically tried to like talk to who I could diffuse the situation, maybe set up a one-on-one at some point. Like, I don't know. I probably was also all over the place. Nothing came out of it. But the funny thing was that I went to work the next day as the dispatcher. And right next to me, the owner of the company is talking to like the CFO or something and saying like, yeah, the unions got somebody down, outside, outside comment messenger.
2 (38m 55s):
Like he was out there last night. And then like, she was like talking to people in the room about like whoever this guy was. And I was like, I wonder who that guy was. It was like the department, you know, I'm right. I'm right there. Standing, sitting right there. Huh.
1 (39m 11s):
Well, I hope you put on your best to Caprio impression for that moment.
2 (39m 14s):
Yeah. This hand does not shake.
1 (39m 19s):
Well, the one other piece of advice that you give for salting that I think is important that we haven't touched. We've kind of touched on it a little bit. I just want to flush it out more because I think it's also probably one of the ones that maybe you have the most charged feelings about. I think I do too, is the beware of the tourists. So when you're salting watch out for those people that are just kind of like looking for an adventure is maybe more, just an exciting escapade for them. So why is that an important piece of advice for people to know and to watch out for?
2 (39m 48s):
Yeah. I mean, I think it's something to watch out for in any circumstance, regardless of salting, it's just not conducive to, it's not a mentality that's conducive to successful organizing, which is a slow patient, mostly boring often demoralizing process. And when somebody's coming in looking to have some kind of adventure and possibly be the hero, it's not going to be good and it's going to be especially bad if we are having these other problems and trusting them to be the, the brains of the, of the campaign at the shop, which brings up another point too.
2 (40m 29s):
And I think it's worth mentioning and they'll come back to this, but that there's another danger that's occurring to me now just organizationally is that once you're working at the job and you're the point of contact for that campaign or that organizing you also often kind of, because of in the IWW case sort of, because of our structure, you are suddenly lent a credibility and kind of a form of kind of social and organizational power with that, that also can be a problem. And that's goes back to, I think my point about like salt should be part of a plan and salt should be like reporting to somebody right. There should be some accountability mechanism there. Yeah. It's just, if those people are serving as sort of the brains of the operation and kind of doing all the work, then if things are going slowly, folks like that are just much more likely to make bad decisions and skip a bunch of steps and do something that gets everybody fired just to rush things forward.
2 (41m 29s):
And also I think I, I bring up at some point that especially if this is also combined with the fact that you just graduated from UCLA last year and you, in your mind, you made this big sacrifice to, instead of going to grad school, you're going to go work at taco bell. Then at some point, most people that are coming from that background are going to be like, I wasn't planning on being here like five years down the road, like, let's get going guys. Like, can we just do something so I can fucking quit?
2 (42m 9s):
And that's like not a good place to be making decisions from.
1 (42m 13s):
Well, and I think one of the other dangers too, is that, you know, you don't want somebody that's just looking to like, have like a cool rap sheet, you know, like, Oh, I just want to like get on a strike line and get to be able to put that down in my, my biography. I'm writing about myself already. You know, just kind of like, like you said earlier, just it's kind of an egotistical perspective to bring into the organizing that can genuinely be damaging in the long run.
2 (42m 39s):
You know, at this point in my life, I, I, I really avoid people like that. So I forget that there are a lot of folks out there like that who like are looking to, to, to put some of this work on their LinkedIn profile or something. And a lot of times like jumpstart their career as a staff or somewhere else and use the IWW as a junior apprenticeship program for their, for their future staff job. So, yeah, that's a real problem too. Yeah.
1 (43m 7s):
I'll be honest. You know, I meant like labor organizing can be a career. It can be a pretty comfortable one. So that could be a way that you step into that career.
2 (43m 17s):
Don't step on it. Don't step on workers, heads on you're on your way to that career, I'd say
1 (43m 22s):
Right. Well, I think that we've had a pretty fleshed out and full conversation about salting, I guess, to just kind of bring us to a conclusion I would want to ask, have you seen salting in places be really effective? Like maybe we can leave on the note of, we've gotten this good advice about how we can calibrate salting to get us farther and organizing we've we've leveled a lot of critiques about where it can go wrong. Are there any examples that come to mind where you've seen salting done really well and effectively? Yeah, I hope that's not the worst question I asked.
2 (43m 57s):
No, no. Yeah. Cause I have no, the answer is no, I never seen it. No, yes. I do have a few examples. I mean, I do think in my case, I like in the, in the messenger campaign, it was effective, you know, in the ways that we talked about, I think it was effective because I had had some failures under my belt already and I adhered very strictly to the organizer training steps. And it was anytime that I didn't, that things went wrong. So I knew by that time that like, if it was just me or just me and a couple other people, we were not winning yet. We needed to build to a majority.
2 (44m 39s):
And I also knew, and I think also by disposition, like I'm not somebody who likes to be in the limelight and who likes to be like out there giving speeches, I'm much more of a, in the background, nuts and bolts kind of one-on-one relationships and try to get, try to get somebody else to give the speech, you know, and that's, again, that's like more by personal disposition even than by good organizing principles. Although it is, it doubles as a good organizing principle. And then I would say, you know, I do have a couple of examples recently. They're more like non-public campaigns, but I worked on a grocery campaign that, you know, was ultimately not successful.
2 (45m 22s):
But for a moment we did have assault who did the things that I tried to argue for, which is we add assault who was there specifically because he was fluent in Spanish. And he was able to help us build a majority Spanish speaking committee, which we wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. And then in that same campaign, we also got assault in a different grocery store in the same chain who was very young, not great social skills. And we did not like deploy them as somebody to build a committee, but rather to take a photograph of the employee call list on a wall.
2 (46m 2s):
And it was also something where this person, like, they were also just like really directionless in their life. And like when they got this thing, we just like gave them so much praise. And they were like, I did something to like help people. And it was great, you know, like that was that, that was sort of the end of it. And it was just like a, a really good use of the, of the tactic. And then in a campaign I worked on in a museum, which is the one I mentioned where the committee was kind of deciding to use this tactic again, the committee was built, it was growing and then assault joined with who she was able to just take a little bit more of the work and very kind of humbly and with the direction of some of the external organizers kind of provide her own insights from her campaigns that she had been involved in, in the past and occasionally chime in at meetings, but leave the space for other folks to have the discussions in committee meetings, make their own decisions again, sometimes just like make mistakes and, and yeah, it was just a very small supplement to something that was already growing and had its own kind of independent existence.
2 (47m 16s):
So yeah, I think in those cases, those things were pretty useful. I, and I would even venture to say that in that most, that latter campaign things would have been perfectly fine without assault, which is another thing to think about. There might be times where we just don't need them at all. And I think some people in the IWW anyway, might not recognize that that's a possibility, like I think, and I used to have this mentality too, of like, if you've got a campaign going, you find anybody who needs a job, get them a job over there. But now I, I, I, I don't think that way, you know, it's, it's really only like, is there a very specific need and are we going to be able to avoid all these pitfalls? And sometimes like, I would favor just like not using the tactic at all.
2 (47m 59s):
So in general, you know, those, those very small, specific needs, I think, is the time to use them otherwise consider a salt-free meal.
1 (48m 11s):
Well, I think that's a perfect ending of this conversation. I really appreciate the time that you've given folks should check out the article. That was the basis of this conversation. It's called salt, the flavor, not the meal on organizing.work. Our guest has been MK Lees. Thanks again for joining the labor wave and hope we can have you again, sometime
2 (48m 31s):
It was my pleasure. <inaudible>.