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Talking Union Shop: Solidarity Unionism & the IWW w/ the One Big Podcast

Laborwave Radio and the One Big Podcast collaborate on this episode discussing the particulars of solidarity unionism in contrast to business unionism.

We dig into the various tenets of solidarity unionism; its emphasis on direct action over contracts, focus on the workplace and industry over legal strategies and electoralism, and the prospects for dual-carding in a shop represented by a business union.

One Big Podcast is the official podcast of the Ypsilanti IWW, listen to the podcast and find out more about the branch at

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Natural Child- Sure Is Nice


You're listening to the Laborwave radio neighbor wave radio is an independent podcast sustained by subscribers on our patreon. So if you enjoy this show and want to support us, go to forward slash labor wave and become a patron. You can also support us in non-monetary ways by subscribing to our podcast on SoundCloud or Apple podcasts and Spotify, and leave us ratings and reviews because that helps us reach new listeners. On this episode, we're joined by the one big podcast, the official podcast of the Ypsilanti IWW.

0 (44s):

And we're talking about solidarity unionism in contrast to mainstream unions and business unionism. We cover a lot of ground in this episode, as well as a lot of strategic questions, including those related to dual carting, the ability to inject solidarity unionism into an existing AFL CIO business type union, and some of the challenges of solidarity unionism. We have lots of upcoming episodes, a series of discussions on Kim Moody's the rank and file strategy ended up episode with historian Peter call about the life and times of Ben Fletcher, a black wobbly from Philadelphia, and one of the main organizers of the legendary local eight, the dock workers union that had a strong hold over Philadelphia for solid decade.

0 (1m 26s):

That more coming up on the neighbor wave I'm fellow worker, Jason, or from the Ypsilanti IWW.

1 (1m 35s):

I'm a fellow worker Derek also from the <inaudible>.

0 (1m 40s):

Yeah, and I'm fellow work at Alex. I'm a member of the Philadelphia IWW. So I like one big podcast. I like that one big podcast focuses a lot or focuses specifically on IWW unionism. I was hoping that we could start creating some like definitions around solidarity. And, you know, as I'm explaining it to listeners that maybe don't know as much, maybe you're wanting to learn more and also maybe have their doubts about its effectiveness. So what what's like a good working definition just to begin, like if I, if you're going to explain solidarity unionism to somebody, how would you explain it? Let the teacher Derek take this one. Yeah.

1 (2m 19s):

So, I mean, I think that's a really good question. And it's a question that I deal with pretty regularly when I meet with workers to talk about like what our model and the, the answer to that question. Like the most concise answer I guess I would come up with is workers talking to one another and to being willing to stand up for and with one another around issues in their workplace, I think that's a pretty good, basic operating definition. Any other thoughts on that one?

0 (2m 51s):

It's just, it's it's unionism based on having someone's back, it doesn't care about legal stuff. It doesn't care about contracts, although you can work towards those things, but it's rooted in together. We've got this. Yeah, I think it's a good baseline to start. I wonder how it would start offering a different perspective on unionism versus some of the more mainstream conventional forms of unionism. Like if I'm talking to a new worker and I say solidarity union is, is about having your coworkers backs and trying to win things immediately that improve your lives. I think it would be fair for them to say, how is that any different than organizing with like the AFL CIO?

1 (3m 33s):

I think it's, I mean, I think it's a pretty substantial difference actually. So I think we just talked about this recently in a, in a podcast ourselves. And so I was actually meeting with workers recently about, about this very topic. And these workers have been pushing real hard for like, when do we reach out to the UAW or when do we reach out to UFC FCW or, you know, so they gave me like this laundry list of unions and, you know, I don't go to meetings with workers to bad mouth business unions, because it's not an effective strategy to organizing them.

0 (4m 0s):

It just happens naturally.

1 (4m 3s):

That's right. I mean, I do basically, you know, I, I did tell them essentially, please, you know, if you're going to go away, go to a different union, don't go to UFC, w don't go to this other union, but there are some unions that might do better, et cetera, et cetera. But like their question was, well, what makes you different? And so my, my answer to that is really what, what we do is we build relationships with workers and in my experience organizing and seeing how other unions do organize, like they talk a big game about solidarity. They talk a big game about like, we've got to build up worker issues, but I've watched UFC UFC w come into a workplace and tell workers what their problems are.

1 (4m 45s):

I've seen UFC w come into a workplace and offer their cookie cutter contract that was offered from an entirely different working context that D didn't even address half the problems that those workers were trying to generate. And actually even more the point I have seen some of these unions kind of come in and, and these unions ask questions. Like some of these organizers come in and they'll ask questions, like, what are your issues? What are your concerns? And I thought somebody even taken notes in some cases, right, where it's really just like letting workers vent and then, and then they come in with their strategy and their opinion on what the main issues are and what we can tackle. And I don't know if that's universal to every trade unions organizing methodology, but one of the workers that I was talking to recently about this model, as I explained it to them basically said, so if I'm getting this right, it sounds like your building, like a grassroots sort of workers campaign from the ground up to get us talking to each other and figure out what our issues are and teach us how to solve our own problems.

1 (5m 46s):

And the answer was, yes, that's exactly what we're trying to accomplish here.

0 (5m 49s):

Yeah. With the IWW it's we don't want you to be in our union. We want you to become our union. We don't want to just show up, take, all right. Here's the thing we're going to do. We want to be like, all right. Every workplace is different. You guys know it better than we do. So let's turn you into us. You organize the worker. Yeah. Yeah. It's funny hearing you talk about this. I just reminded of how often I get frustrated with the kind of appropriation of radical union rhetoric from mainstream unions and business units, particularly around like the ceremony of singing solidarity forever. But if you listen to the lyrics of that song, like they're powerful lyrics. Like I still think if I just read it as like a text, it's like, damn these lyrics are good.

0 (6m 33s):

This is all like revolutionary spirit. And they sing that song at every convention of a business scene unit, every meeting, you know, a general meeting and they embraced none of the attitude or spirit of it. And I'm usually the grumpy guy in the corner that won't stand and sing and hold everybody's hand because I hate the fact that they steal that rhetoric, but don't embrace the spirit.

1 (6m 56s):

Well, it's like, it's like, it's like people who write emails and they're, and it's like a, it's like, it's like just an email to a union member. And at the end of it, they sign it in solidarity. And you're like, I don't understand what are we in solidarity around? You just asked me a question and it's just like a point of rhetoric at this point. Right. It's it is the, it is the play acting of solidarity that, that, that sort of insinuated itself everywhere. It's virtue signaling that we are in fact in a union together and we have solidarity. And my question is always, if I get into an argument with my boss and I've got a problem, can I call you? And you're going to come out to this meeting with me. And the answer more often than not is probably, I don't know, does it fit in my calendar?

1 (7m 36s):

Do I have the time for it? Let me, let me check. Sorry.

0 (7m 39s):

So I sent you a request for 50 bucks in solidarity, I guess. I think it would be good to just offer kind of a rundown of what you could expect as a worker. If you tried to organize, you know, a new union with a conventional mainstream union versus the solidarity union approach. And I think in the beginning, there might be some similarities in that, you know, a trade union comes in and they really do have to like train you on how to talk to your coworkers, get that going, learn the issues and really build something from the ground up. But that is always channeled towards the long-term view of this campaign is heading towards winning legal recognition, getting an election that you win a majority vote so that we become the exclusive representatives of these workers.

0 (8m 26s):

And then eventually we go into negotiations and when your contract and the contract becomes the premise of existence for the union. So like, even if you start by building up the organizing muscles of the workforce, it's always intended towards the end goals, winning recognition, winning a contract. And then the contract becomes the thing that you're fighting to enforce at all times. What, what would you all describe as the difference in a solidarity union approach?

1 (8m 52s):

Yeah, I think that the solidarity union approach, and I think you're right at the, at the very beginning, if you call the IWW, if you call the, you know, the AFT or UFC w or somebody they'll send someone out to talk to you, right, you'll have an initial conversation. I feel like upfront one of the chief differences that happens is a business unit is always running a cost benefit analysis, right? And, and again, I can't speak for every union. I think like the FCIU for example, which is, you know, commonly known for some of their militancy and, and being a little bit more left of center than a lot of other trade unions. But the, but the FCIU will go in and help organize in a lot of places.

1 (9m 32s):

They spend a lot of money on organizing campaigns. So that might not be the case with them, but for a lot of business unions, they're running the cost benefit analysis. And that part of that analysis is how much money are we going to get in dues out of this place? How organized are the workers already and how much money are we going to have to pour into this campaign in order to win successful unionization? And so that I think is a part of the calculus for most trade unions, as they come in, I've been involved in a couple of conversations, actually, where they come in and they, like, they tell you every week that we come out, we expect to see the numbers of this grow and grow and grow in it. And if they're not, we're going to stop showing up. At some point, the IWW model is similar in that we will send somebody out to talk to you or even a group of people that come out and talk to you in some cases.

1 (10m 20s):

But, but we're not going to stop showing up, right? Like if you have an interest in organizing, and if you have an interest in doing the work, we're not here to collect dues money from you, we will encourage you to join the IWW. But our dues structure is very limited. It's very tiny. It's like what? Six, 11, 22 and $33, depending on where you fall in that salary range. And we're going to be there regardless like the, the IWW model of organizing, or at least the way that I enacted is relational. Like I'm here to build a relationship with you. I'm here to get to know you, your concerns help you learn to organize, and I'm going to be here for the duration. And here's how you reach me. Here's my personal phone number. I work a full-time job.

1 (10m 60s):

I might work multiple jobs, but if I'm not available, one of our other folks will be available. And we build a relationship. I had a worker recently telling me after like a year of not hearing from them, despite having been there, organizing with them a little while ago, they came out and said, Hey, we're ready to restart this union campaign. We'd love to go with the IWW. And, you know, I was just, you know, w w well, well, why what's changed? And you know, one of the things that you highlighted was, you're a person that we've talked to. We know you, we you've been here to support us. You always answer our questions. So you're so, so if you're the IWW, here's who we want to go with. And so that's relationship building, which is core to solidarity, unionism, and core to how we start campaigns as well.

1 (11m 41s):

I feel like, yeah,

2 (11m 43s):

A lot of human relationships in general are based around just showing up. Like, it's so hard to get people as a guy who used to be a punk rock musician, and it's so hard to get people to just show. And that's what the Iwo like, alright, we got 50 people in this branch. We need bodies at this picket line, or we need, and like constantly showing up. And that will get you much farther than just all right, how much dues money is here.

0 (12m 6s):

I sympathize as a fellow, former punk. The other thing that I really do think is important to add to this conversation around the distinction with solidarity. Unionism is a certain power analysis that's embraced within the solidarity union attitude. And I think that that's a power analysis that focuses on the workplace as the primary arena of struggle. It might look on the surface, like business unions will focus on the workplace trying to organize the shop, right? They sideline the workplace in a lot of ways, too, through contract negotiations, through electoral ism, you know, through endorsing candidates for the democratic party and whatnot, and try to fight a lot of legal battles.

0 (12m 47s):

The solidarity union model understands that the workplace is the center of capitalism, right? This is like where the biggest and most starkest power differential exists between worker and boss. And that's the place where we need to focus our strategies on organizing and winning concessions from the boss. What'd y'all agree with that.

2 (13m 9s):

Totally. I just talked to on, on my other, other podcast for my radio show, I talked to my friend Preston, who's from Canada, and he's also in the IWW as a member at large right now. And we had talked about this for like, where you can make the most change in someone's life. Isn't in the ballot box. I'm not a all or nothing kind of guy. Like there's a lot of shades of gray, like sure, go vote. If you want to. And like, you know, try to change things at the big scale. If you want to change your life right now, you can organize your workplace because that's where your money comes from. And that's, if you do a livelihood right there. So if you change, who's paying your bills or like you fight against who controls that spicket, you're going to change your life and your coworkers lives faster than, you know, every two years voting for blue, no matter who.

1 (13m 55s):

Yeah, I think, I mean, I think that, that, that, that does really jive with me, but I also think that, so I'm, I'm, I believe in a diversity of tactics. Right? And so I, I think that certainly we focus not only in the workplace, but the IWW model is industry-wide as well. Right. So sure we can build power at, at like a local restaurant, but workers are gonna have the most power when we recognize that we have power over all of main street, because if one workplace shuts down, we can shut them all down simultaneously. Right? Like all of us can just walk out. So that's the kind of power I think the IWW is going for is like industrial power, not just at a individual work site, because the bosses band together all the time to build their little coalitions and, and their, and their networked relationships with one another and workers are siloed restaurant by restaurant or grocery store by grocery store.

1 (14m 51s):

The thing that I think is important to remember is that Jane Mick LV sort of model of unionism, I don't know how popular she is in all IWW circles. And I don't think that she's the adult be all of organizing, but I think she raises really good points. And those points are that an issue for workers is a union's issues. Right? And so, so like, that's the reason that the, I think that's a good reason why the IWW has an, has a history of being anti-fascist because fascism ushers in like unfettered capitalism and really dangerous power dynamics that makes it more difficult and dangerous for workers to organize for better working conditions.

2 (15m 30s):

That's a preview of an upcoming one big podcast episode.

1 (15m 35s):

And then also like, like tenants rights, the fact that workers struggle to pay rent, especially like in our area and Arbor Ypsilanti, where there's a housing crisis as exists. I think in plenty of other areas in the country, housing prices are becoming outrageous. Rent is becoming extremely expensive. And, and how, and how do we support people? Who's landlords who are also direct beneficiaries of, of capitalism are also oppressing us and, and just destroying people's lives. And so just the boss by another name, just a boss by different name, no landlords in our union. Right. So, so I think, I think it's really important to, yeah, the work site is like our principle place of struggle, but where that, where that struggle intersects with our worker's lives in enough of a way to make organizing a struggle.

1 (16m 24s):

I think we also have an obligation to engage in solidarity unionism there as well.

0 (16m 29s):

Yeah. So even our conception of the work site is more expansive and dynamic than how it might conventionally be discussed and described also, in addition to no landlords, it's no cops in the union. Right. That's right. I was hoping that we could talk a little bit more concretely about why these are the tenants of solidarity unionism, like what makes it advantageous to deemphasize the role of contracts and union organizing? So one of the tenants of solidarity unionism is that you don't need a contract to win improvements on the job. Like you don't have to rely on a contract for your existence as a union. Why do you all think that matters? Like why is that one of the tenants?

2 (17m 8s):

I think it's a solitary, unionism is powerful because it's simple, but a morphous, so it can change and fit into any workplace, any condition, as long as you just do the simple thing of joining up together and being there for each other, then, you know, all the tactics and all the contracts that can come later, as long as you got this very simple look, if anything happens, everything goes down, we're all going down together. You can do a lot of things.

1 (17m 34s):

I think that that's true. I also think that solidarity unionism allows us to, I mean, one of the cool things about it, right, is that, is that it doesn't give a shit about, about legal law definitions of who we can organize. One of the coolest, one of the cool and great things about solidarity unionism. And this is one of the things that I find in workplaces too, you know, not all of our managers are bad people like, like managers are often caught in a really difficult in between where they're basically doing what they're being told they have to do. And even if they want to help workers, like it's like their job or other, they do what the, what the owner says or they get fired. And so solidarity unionism actually allows us right.

1 (18m 15s):

To engage with our managers in a union that encompasses them because we're not defined by labor law. We're making demands for all the workers in this workplace. It allows like independent contractors to band together and to make demands of their employers as well, or for our, or for our unit to encompass those, those independent contractors. And so solidarity unionism, the very amorphous nature that Jason mentioned there, I think is really integral for how we can build those relationships and how we can, how we can draw our own lines as workers about who we are working to better, our working, who are, who are working to better our working conditions for, I, I think that that's really important.

1 (18m 60s):

The other part in part, I think, is so much more important than the, than the old than the kind of contract model is that the contract model to me leaves to be rocked bureaucratization right. That is the sort of inevitable entrenchment of the contract campaign is one of worker experts in the contract who becomes a new layer of bureaucracy between you and the boss,

2 (19m 22s):

Just hiring your own boss. You're just,

1 (19m 25s):

Well, at least you get input into it, I guess, assuming that your union practices reasonable democracy, but the important, the other important thing about solidarity unionism is it requires constant organizing, right? Like, like workers build these structures. And then we have to work together to maintain them and, and our campaigns to better our workplace kind of come and go as those as those campaigns, as those sort of campaigns develop as those issues develop up. And hopefully you've developed those relationships, you've maintained your organizing committee, and you're still talking to each other to have each other's backs as these issues develop and take off.

1 (20m 6s):

And so I think that the solidarity unionism model really encourages us to maintain those relationships and to keep that sort of militant organizing engine going, even if this isn't the contract here,

2 (20m 19s):

That, and without a contract, it's scarier for bosses because they don't have it on paper. They don't have it handle on rules. And like, you just did something in one, something you get in and you're just sit back and go, we could do it again for something else. And like, th there's nothing preventing us just, you know, right. Because the contract often limits the activity of a union through like management rights causes and union rights clauses. Absolutely. I it's also about

0 (20m 48s):

Strategy too, right? Like what I think is really important to just be very sober about is the strategy of a contract campaign creates a lot of challenges. So like we were talking before we recorded about the experience of workers that no evil foods, well, what they witnessed when aiming for the longterm strategy of winning legal recognition and a contract before they started getting engaged with the IWW was that that's on the terrain that management's very familiar with. That companies are very familiar with. As soon as you go public and announce yourself that you want a union and you file for election with the NLRB that aggressive anti-union campaign just takes off.

0 (21m 29s):

And it's non-stop, those workers were subjected to 14 total hours of captive audience meetings. I've heard experiences of people on campaigns where for months, every single day, there are anti-union consultants in the workplace.

2 (21m 44s):

It's like literally people's jobs to stop unions.

0 (21m 47s):

Exactly. And they're well versed in it. And they have a lot of more powerful leavers to pull and crushing unions when they attempt to go that route, that strategic route.

2 (21m 58s):

Yeah. So if you're coming at them from like the sideways direction of, Oh no, we don't want to contract, we just won't work until you've changed this thing, then they're going to be like, wait, what do you mean? What do you mean? I was already for the other thing.

0 (22m 9s):

Yeah. I, I think that the union busting playbook is actually pretty voided because so much of their playbook is standardized around fighting business unions. The other part of it that I think is important strategically is after the contract. So like winning a contract is hard enough implementing the contents of the contract is extremely difficult. And I can't stress that enough. Like you were saying Derek about the bureaucratization of unions. It's not because of any ill intentions it's because when you get a contract, I've had this experience personally, you have to fricking become an expert at labor law to understand the, this obtuse language and all of the legal mechanisms that exist to give loopholes to the company and servicing grievances.

0 (22m 55s):

It's like, you just, there's all these traps. So if you don't know that contract inside and out, you basically become an informal lawyer. You do, you have to, you have to have like an attorney's mind to get through this stuff and try to implement it

1 (23m 8s):

All these traps. And, and so you have to build like a grievance team that is effective at identifying these problems and then, and then going through the whole grievance process. And so it not only requires you to build this bureaucracy to manage the contract, but it also requires a lot of resources because if you have to take something to arbitration, eventually you're going to want more than informal lawyers that are taking that to arbitration. And so it can get very expensive very quickly. I know labor attorneys, for example, whose hourly rate is like $200 and that's, and that's, that's a little outrageous. Our, our branch

0 (23m 46s):

Was just looking into having a lawyer on retainer. We're like, Ooh, we'll have like $500. I'm like, that buys an hour. All you need on the IWW contract license to know, whereas, and therefore be it resolved. Yeah. And so I, and so, so

1 (24m 0s):

I agree with all of that. I think all those are really good points. And I think throwing the boss off their game is such an incredible and like useful exercise at times. So we were at, we actually had a successful, we had a successful campaign. We got to the point to where workers wanted to have a legally recognized union. So we dropped cards. They, we took them all to negotiate, even the way the IWW negotiated. Right. We didn't bring lawyers into the room. We, they, they had an attorney who probably thought this is going to be easy peasy, but we did open bargaining, right. And open bargaining. There's a great, like every member of the local unit was invited out and participated actively in the contract negotiations. When the, when the bosses were like, who are your leading negotiators?

1 (24m 40s):

The answer is all of us.

0 (24m 42s):

We're all captains here, baby. And they

1 (24m 45s):

Threatened like unfair labor practices. And, and we were, we were, we were just kinda like, I mean, okay, we're here to negotiate, but our negotiating team is like very fluid. And so we did. And so they found the entire exercise, very frustrating. And like the contract language that we were negotiating was very like very basic. I know there's a lot of traps in this, but like, they basically just wanted to negotiate a better employees handbook. And that's fine. I guess if that's, if that's what you, as workers want to do and you want to have a weigh in on that. And so I think that, I think that there's a lot of importance in the way that we, as workers can negotiate without establishing all of these sort of bureaucratic processes and sort of just work, work together now to account, to accomplish problems as, as they're popping up.

1 (25m 30s):

And, you know, if you want to form a union, if you want it from like a legally recognized union, that's going to put some constraints on you. As I think you've highlighted who can be in your bargaining unit, what is that bargaining unit? How wide, how wide is your bargaining unit going to be a while you can't include managers anymore? You can't, you can't include any of these, any of these independent contractors. And, and then all of a sudden, you know, who are you negotiating them for? Who's on that team. You're going to be subject to a lot more like, like unfair labor practice charges from the employer, honestly, being unaffiliated with the contract campaign in a lot of ways, frees us to make, to make a lot of demands that we probably couldn't have made otherwise

0 (26m 9s):

And exercise direct action. So I think that's one of the key factors of solidarity. Unionism makes it so powerful is that it recognizes that direct action gets the goods and you don't have to just wait around forever before you start making demands. If it's about scheduling break times more regularly. And that's the thing that most people want, why should we have to wait three years down the road before we get our first contract before we can have regularly scheduled break times? Well, not, well, not only that, but like even beyond

1 (26m 38s):

Break times, you know? So the graduate employees union at the university of Michigan, they, they do like this thing that's becoming kind of popular amongst like certain, certain union groups where they're doing like social justice bargaining, right. And they're like, they're arguing to abolish police on campus. And in some pretty like, like militant, leftist ideas, actually that I was a little surprised to see come out of an AFT local graduate students or otherwise. But like in the long run, they're a union governed by labor law. And those subjects are non mandatory subjects of bargaining. You can't legally strike over those issues. You can't legally demand the boss bargain about those issues. And at the end of the day, geo was pushed.

1 (27m 22s):

Cause they did strike. They struck anyway, they went on strike like big, like, like big action as a part of a trade union. But at the, in the long run, they, they had internal pressure from like AFT bureaucracy to stop that strike because they were going to lose a lawsuit. They were definitely going to lose a lawsuit. Like, and people were asking like, we're asking now, like, do you really want to abolish the police? Maybe we can just make them a little bit more friendly. Maybe think I went flowers. Yeah. And so there was a lot of pressure on the union bureaucracy to kind of drop it. And, and they did right in the long run, like right as a, PivotTable like right at the pivotal moment, when they, when they had engaged, like dining workers on campus, residential advisors, all non-unionized staff and they were coming out and they were striking and they were refusing.

1 (28m 12s):

And then geo was like, well, we got to stop guys. But if you're not in that model, if you're in a solidarity union, you want to make social justice demands about like, like sexism and racism in the workplace. You want to talk about like the security guards or when the police are called or how you reach out to like authorities, you have more power collaboratively as workers where the, where the boss can't file an injunction against your union for, for being loud and angry about the injustices in your workplace. If you want to push those issues, you collectively, as folks can do that,

0 (28m 47s):

But direct action gets the goods. But also that you are, you're personal. You're looking for, you know, like you don't have to wait for someone to come around to save you. It's very much a that Daniel Johnston lyric, do yourself a favor, become your own savior. That's the motto. There's a lot of agency in it. Yeah. And what you're talking about with like the geo strike, I got a chance to talk to one of the workers there and they did some impressive organizing. I think it comes back to what you were saying about J McElravy before is that she had some pretty good Oregon organizing tips and strategies. That advice her model is really kind of like, let's see if we can push business unionism to the limits, see how far you can push a labor law and stretch it to its limits and see if we can't break this machine within its confines.

0 (29m 33s):

And I think that there's some merits to that. Some insights that are interesting, but it also seems like there's, we're kind of running into, as this is becoming a more generalized and more popular approach to unionism that is clearly got a lot of limits. And I don't know that they can actually be busted open. They're trying to stretch labor all to its limits. But you know, it's also, like I was saying before, I'm a, I'm a proponent of attacking from all directions. So like tech from the inside tech, from the outside tech, from the ballot box, did direct action burned down a Starbucks. It's great. Just do it all at once. So if I can't put out every fire. Yeah, I definitely, I agree that I think it's a good thing to see unions that are already within a business union context, trying to push the limits of that paradigm of unionism.

0 (30m 18s):

And I want to see that spread. I want to see strikes spread, even if they're under AFL CIO affiliates, fine. A union is better than no union, but I just think it's good to also be clear about the limits that also reminds me, I was reading in preparation for us talking. It was really good article by Roger Williams that was printed originally in regeneration magazine on solidarity unionism and DeWalt carding. Well, one thing that they said that I thought was really interesting was that solidarity unionism is kind of like a perfect archetype. It's like an ideal type, but it doesn't always fit perfectly in every context, because sometimes you're in a context where there's already an existing union. So you can figure out how to map onto an existing union, a solidarity union approach.

0 (31m 4s):

They also talked about how minority unionism is a thing that's embraced and that there might be affinities. There, there might be ways to kind of do a solidarity union approach simultaneously with other types of union approaches. What do y'all think about that?

1 (31m 18s):

The IWW historically has found duel carding to be an unsuccessful method of spreading a militant unionism. I'm not strictly opposed to reformism as a methodology, right? But like you're looking at like the labor notes model of organizing, for example, I don't know if anyone is familiar with labor notes, but labor notes is basically founded out of like reformist movements in the UAW. They've been heavily involved in Teamsters for a democratic union. Let's talk about Teamsters for a democratic union. A like what almost 20 year olds.

0 (31m 50s):

I think, I think like 40, I mean they started in the seventies, right.

1 (31m 53s):

It's been around for a while. And, and, and let's talk about where that movement is. No offense to teachers. Cause I think Teamsters does some good stuff sometimes, but like they've been trying to post Jimmy Hoffa Jr. For how long

0 (32m 5s):

Tech DECA hits and he's, and he's still around

1 (32m 7s):

Very long time. Still around recently, the, the U the ups, the ups contract that was pushed forward, turned down like told no by the membership and the teacher said, but you know what? You didn't hit this specific rule in the contract, which means that we get to override you. So like, my question is, okay, reformist, unionism, how's that working out for you? And I'm not going to poopoo people who want to do that. And, and you know, I'm a dual Carter. I think that if people want to do a card and they want to push and they want to push reformism in their union and they want to bring people into the IWW, or they want to build it like a militant wing that pushes member to member organizing, I'm a hundred percent in favor of that.

1 (32m 53s):

But so long as the channel, the channel of bureaucratization exists, like that's, that's the framing that we're starting in, right? Like we're not starting on a framing where it's like, let's rebuild the union. Let's, let's rebuild our union democracy. We're starting in the same, in the same framing that our goal is to just change the current leadership of this union or, or to maybe increase stewards who like, it's really kind of like tapping into the current structure that exists in a lot of these places and then just rebuilding it or putting the right people in the right places. And honestly, there's a reason why unionism in the United States of America over the last 60 to 80 years has seen declining engagement, Washtenaw County, where we are had 66% union density, 66% union density.

1 (33m 45s):

It's at less than 12 in 2020 that's ridiculous trade unions have dropped the ball on organizing. They've dropped the ball and engaging membership people look at the UAW and go, why are your members voting for Donald Trump? And the UAW doesn't know because they don't know their own members, right? They aren't out there developing these relational, the kind of one-to-one conversations. And the problem is is that if you want to reform that structure, you're always going to be reached channeled into bureaucracy, right. You're always going to be rechanneling worker energy into that bureaucracy. You're still going to have a president and a vice president and trustees and stewards. It's difficult to get workers who are already framed and thinking of the union in those terms, into thinking of it as like, just tear it down and rebuild it into something entirely different.

0 (34m 34s):

There was a thing I just saw, or there was a meeting or something about the second side of the UAW years and years ago in Hamtramck that was like fighting racism in the UAW. And like, yeah, thank you. I couldn't remember that. So many anachronisms and like fair. I thought that was super interesting where it's like, no, we're just, we're going to be in the same, like a, typically we would be in UAW, but we're just not, we're just going to do our own thing where it's much more radical.

1 (34m 59s):

That was the revolutionary union movement. And the drum was specifically the Dodge revolutionary union movement. And there were several other iterations of that as well.

0 (35m 8s):

I'm glad you mentioned that because when you were talking Derek that's, what I was thinking of is models like that. Where I recently had a conversation with Tom Wetsel who wrote some really good articles in black Rose about, you know, solidarity, unionism, Cinequest unionism. It's something that he pointed out about the dual carding strategy. That's been a failure so far is because like, what you're saying, Derek is it's often been construed as a way of reforming existing business unions. What he offered was that actually they shouldn't try to even engage with the existing union at all. What they should do is form a completely independent committee of workers and use that committee through like a solidarity union approach, Cinequest depression, whatever, and any moments where they have an opportunity to intervene and like union elections, you know, contract ratifications push back on like any of the capitulations of the business union.

0 (36m 5s):

Fine. But their primary orientation should be towards basically forming a completely new union within the shell of an existing union. I thought that was really interesting. I don't know if Derek, you think that that's something that you would agree with too.

1 (36m 18s):

It's really hard. So like my, my question, whenever I, whenever I hear things, like, I think it's, I think it's a great idea. It's an interesting model and I'm really into it. So one of the questions I have is what are the allures of power, right? Because like, because becoming a union leadership often brings with it like a certain amount of prestige, it often comes with a paycheck and so access to some more resources. And so what happens if like you intervene in, in union contracts and you push back and maybe your union goes to war with you, but, but eventually somebody says, Hey, you know what, Derek, why don't, why don't you run for vice president? We'd love to have your voice like that rechanneling occurs.

1 (37m 0s):

Right. And then, and then like, so drum, for example, the revolutionary union movement, I think existed from like the late sixties to the early seventies. It's like a very short period of history. And it's hard to kind of maintain these movements because the, the, the structure, the bureaucratic structure of the union is likely to outlive the revolutionary energy that workers have, unless that energy can, can be sustained. And if you're one of those workers and you're a key worker, just like, and this is the same of the bosses employee, right. And I think this is such an interesting thing to observe is that it just like, just like the bosses would do to workers who were trying to form a union.

1 (37m 40s):

If, if one of your union leaders are like, yeah, Derek, you should run for vice president. We'd love to have your voice and your concerns on the, on the union board or a trustee or some bullshit like that. And Derek has any in clean of like reform reform can save us. Yes, I can bring our issues there. And I've got these people who are powerful. Boy, you, you become vice president, you get elected or a trustee or whatever it is, you get elected. And then all of a sudden your you're not just, you're not just facing the pressure from the outside anymore. You're now a part of that institution and institutional pressure, institutional inertia, all the kind of leavers of power that you kind of now have access to where you convince yourself that you can make use of them to better things.

1 (38m 26s):

Like it becomes a very salient argument to you. And without meaning to be cynical. I think that humans tend to take the shortest path to ground. That's called gravity Derrick. It's what the thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Jason. But I think, I think that tends to be our process and it's not universal, but like the principled, the principled person is a person that is real, but principals become more difficult to maintain when you're given comfort, right? When you're given access to power, when you're given access to resources, all of a sudden abolishing wages for union officers becomes difficult to argue when you're making $10,000 a year off the union, because now you're cutting off your own access to resources.

1 (39m 16s):

And that's what I think, I don't know if that's what happened to the revolutionary union movement, right? I can't claim to have enough knowledge of how they kind of ended to know what happened there, but that's my concern with all reformist movements is you have to have enough people who are essentially the leaders of that group that are principled enough to say no to peace offerings from union leadership, giving them access, direct access to power and, and money. And then it, and then also continue that movement as the, as the unions inertia kind of slows to the point that you can effectively make that change. Cause that's going to take time and energy.

1 (39m 56s):

And if you don't have that, like it's going to Peter out. Yeah.

0 (39m 59s):

And that, that strategy is the, if we can't beat them, absorb them. If we just bring them in, then it'll suck the fight out of them. It's an effective strategy.

1 (40m 9s):

Well, the bosses use it when we're organizing. And they're like, Oh, well, how about you get promoted to manager or here's a better salary for some of you, but not all of you. And so I don't mean to poo poo it, right? So, I mean, I think that, I think that if people want to invest energy in that I will do what I do everywhere that workers want to organize. And that is stand with them. Like, let's talk about how we organize. Let's talk about how we make it happen. But inoculation is always important in every organizing effort. Right? And I think being honest with them about what the uphill battle they're facing looks like is really important. And that is an uphill battle.

0 (40m 41s):

What I get frustrated about with union presses in general is this kind of unwillingness to be self-critical to just cheerlead for any little thing that happens. Like we got a historic union settlement, we got 2% raises, you know, stuff like that. I see it all the time and it just drives me up the wall. I get why they're doing it. Look, we fought really hard and everybody's wearing a pin. I mean, you want to boost the morale, you know, of workers in general. I get that. But I also think it's important. Just like what you all are offering is just very sober analysis of like the challenges and limits and the pitfalls of these things. I think this has done a really good conversation. Maybe kind of bringing us towards a conclusion. What do you all think the IWW approach and orientation towards the AFL CIO should be?

0 (41m 25s):

Do you think it matters to have a strategy towards the AFL CIO? Do you think we should have one in, like, what should it be if we should, I mean, historically stopped stopping a positive

1 (41m 34s):

Outlook. You can say that I bought a lot of stuff historically. That's true. I do feel like it's. So the question is really interesting to me because I feel like the IWW has been like, we're not, we're not quiet about our distaste for a lot of trade union practices, but I feel like the AFL CIO has, has kind of fallen out of our direct line site. And maybe that's because the AFL CIO often makes itself irrelevant posting via team means, and then taking them down because it's a little too radical. Ooh. I didn't even know they posted again. It was, it was a couple of years ago, someone, someone posted a Ghia team meme and they'd like within an hour and a half, it was down.

1 (42m 15s):

So, but anyway, I think so we have like the Huron Valley area, labor Federation here in Washington County. And we at the local MCI WW have talked about like joining them as a community group, like not an affiliated union, but just as a community group engaged in the labor movement. But like, have you ever listened to like trade unionists, talk about the labor movement all the time. So there was a moment in a meeting with like here on Valley labor Federation folks where somebody uttered the words there was, there was like a challenge of like whether or not whether or not we, they should represent like both of these seats on some board.

1 (42m 56s):

And, and somebody had proposed that maybe we should take one and then invite somebody engaged in like the local labor movement, not in a formal union to take the other seat. And the answer was no, we are organized labor. We are the voice for all workers. And, and considering are like 12% or 12% penetration in the area. I consider that a very arrogant statement to make. I think that our goal is for workers to speak for themselves. Like the IWW is not here to speak on behalf of workers. Our goal is to get workers, to actually build the labor movement. Like workers have to get up and, and make their voices heard. And it can't just be channeled through the group of like upper middle-aged folks who have survived the union bureaucracy long enough to get appointments to the AFL CIO boards and committees that it can't just be the people who have organized formal, legally recognized unions.

1 (43m 54s):

And so like the IWW stance towards the AFL CIO should pretty clearly be as militant towards them as they are towards, towards the bosses that we encounter. We like we should be pushing for a $15 minimum wage. We should be pushing for wages that workers can survive on, or that's $15 as a benchmark or higher. We, we should be pushing for medical benefits. We should be, we should be pushing for no sexism in the workplace. No, no racism in the workplace. We should be pushing for workers owning their workplaces, right? And like, not, not, not trying to sensitively walk around which trade unions have a problem with our current statement on sexism, in the workplace.

1 (44m 42s):

And, and my last kind of dig at all this, it was like the biggest problem I have at the AFL CIO is how much money they spend on elections. Like if there's one thing I can tell you in my experience in the quote, unquote labor movement these days. So there's no sense of community. There's no sense of solidarity. Workers don't know each other. They don't participate in bullying leagues or baseball leagues. They don't come out to the charity fundraisers. They don't donate to the packs. They don't come out to union membership meetings, or even like executive council meetings. Like you have like a core group of activists who come up, but the union is not the life of the members. They, they like they're disengaged from it. And the AFL CIO, his response to this is that's fine because it actually helps the union bureaucracy maintain its current position.

1 (45m 29s):

The people who are there supporting the AFL, CIO can stay in charge and they become this kind of wing of the democratic party. And, and nobody can challenge that because they don't have the relationships to actually challenge that power structure because the union has been de emphasizing those relationships in their unions for 80 fucking years. And the AFL CIO is like I said, basically, a wing of the democratic party rant, almost done. I promise. And, and so, and so you have this, you have this like this weird paradox where we're like the democratic party hosts labor day, the democratic party hosts labor day and invites the AFL CIO out to it. What the fuck is that relationship?

1 (46m 9s):

Why isn't the AFL CIO hosting labor day and inviting workers to it. And if the politicians want to come, okay, you can come and shake some hands, but this is not your platform. It is ours. We are the workers. We own this platform, but we've given them our icons and let them play with our icons. Like we are synonymous. And the IWW, I think, has an obligation to take those icons back. These are our days, these are our workers. This is our voice. It is not the voice of Richard Trumka or Jimmy Hoffa Jr. Or Randi, Weingarten. What do workers need where workers are? And that's not a question. I see the AFL CIO asking publicly while they ask us for money to fund the next democratic candidate.

2 (46m 55s):

Also like the reason to be militant is long-term goal, right? Like if the long-term goal is to end capitalism, we're going to need it. Can't just be the IWW. It's going to take more than us. And in order to do that, we have to make other left-wing groups be more in line with that goal and like push them to be better. When you go after someone that's not from a place of, Oh, we're better than you. Fuck you, blah, blah, blah. It's more like guys. That's what are you doing? You're staying stale. You're staying still. And like letting them win. We got to keep moving forward. I like the, I don't know

0 (47m 30s):

If I can, I don't know if I could add one, I guess I would say in terms of the orientation towards the AFL CIO and by the AFL CIO, I'm basically using that as interchangeable with business unions in general. I do think what y'all have been saying is fair to point out and remind people is that 12% is actually an inflation of the numbers. We don't even have 12% union density in this country, but that means that the overwhelming majority of workers are not in unions. So there's a lot of terrain that the solidarity of union spirit can emerge out of. So maybe even like trying to focus too much on like what the AFL CIO is doing is another trap that we can avoid. Like, I think there's a lot of non-union unorganized workers, non-unionized workers to reach and to meet.

0 (48m 14s):

And the AFL CIO, like you said, they make a cost benefit analysis. A lot of them are going to fall under that. So maybe we don't even need to care too much about putting any energies towards being high antagonistic to them. And we could just focus on the good organizing work.

1 (48m 28s):

Yeah. I mean, I think that's fair. It's not really worth fighting the AFL CIO. They're going to spend their money, how they want or, or necessarily even those trade unions. So I, I do my best to not dog or rag on specific unions. You're doing a great job. Thank you.

0 (48m 44s):

The podcast is fair game.

1 (48m 46s):

That's right. That's right. But you know, when I'm working with Oregon, when I'm working with workers, like, like I'm not sitting there being like, Oh, you know, this union is terrible. This union is terrible. The AFL CIO, his model is, is, you know, outdated and hasn't won us big victories. It's cause it's not, it's not, it's not really worth it. Like it's not worth to. So division amongst workers, it's not worth it to engage. Like if you meet someone who's really passionate about the UAW, like, like I'm not going to organize workers by telling that worker how much, how many problems I have with the UAW model, right. It's not effective. What we have to do is always be there to build relationships. We have to do to help workers build structure. Like if the Huron Valley early ever Federation in our area wants to do something and the IWW can engage.

1 (49m 30s):

And it allows us to talk to workers and, and engage in a way that isn't giving money to the democratic party. I'm not opposed to that. I think that where we stand up with workers, with other people who also want to stand up with workers, we should do that. And, and that's just relational organizing as well. And I'm perfectly okay with building those relationships out.

0 (49m 52s):

Yeah. And if, if you say like AFL CIO to the average person, that could be like Alf, CIA, I don't, I don't, you're talking about, so just focus on the work. That is a good point with that. I think this has been a really good conversation. This has been a cross collaboration with labor wave radio and the one big podcast. How can listeners listen to one big podcast? Where can they find y'all? You can just search one big podcast on all your podcasting apps that do it through anchor. I've been doing podcast stuff for a long time, and boy has it gotten easier? You just have to know how to code. So yeah, anchored, IFM just search one big podcast. You can find it anywhere. Same goes for labor wave radio. And we got a website, labor wave,

0 (50m 33s):

All the episodes are there. Find us on SoundCloud and Apple podcast. Yeah. And we also have a website IWW, do believe that's it. It was really fun. We used to do this again in the future. There's a lot more to talk about. Absolutely.

3 (50m 58s):



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