Friday, February 7, 2014

Day by Day

By Leo

We often report on our experiences as IWW’s, but rarely do we detail our organizing as it appears in real time, often routine, mundane, and void of bold pronouncements or public attention.  Below I provide a weeklong snapshot of my life as a revolutionary union organizer, AKA a Wobbly.

A commitment to revolutionary union organizing is one that few share and fewer understand. Due to our predominantly clandestine work (campaigns can last for years before they surface in the public eye) Wobblyism is not an identity we wear on our sleeves, yet is integrated into every facet of our lives.  We organize direct confrontations with capital at the point of production--in our own workplaces. Consequently, our livelihoods--the means of securing basic necessities for ourselves and our families--are constantly in the line of capitalist fire.  We take what we do very seriously.

Organizing campaigns are not fleeting political projects or phases of our youth. Our individual trajectories generally reject professional aspirations and identities; instead we choose an unflinching commitment to a method of organizing that demands an incredibly difficult and relentless negotiation with life under capitalism.

Many of us have made very difficult choices to make organizing a priority.  Some of us have left or forgone higher paying jobs to organize at a specific target, others have left graduate school to focus more intensely on a campaign. Each one of us has been pushed by another unit member to make difficult decisions that affect each of us and those we’re close to.

There are many necessary roles and responsibilities in the IWW, but there is arguably no position that meets the commitment, intensity, and range of skills required to be a revolutionary union organizer. Able to adapt to diverse terrain and make appropriate adjustments to difficult contexts and scenarios within the class struggle, Wobbly organizers function much like a special operations force within the broader working class.  

This level of dedication requires tremendous patience, emotional intelligence, and mental stamina, in addition to continued skill training, political education, and field experience. Above all it requires an intense commitment to your Wobbly organizing partners. Our organizing unit is a tight knit community, the nucleus of our shared experience, a "Wobblyhood" built on shared aims and responsibilities. We understand and respect the fact that our individual actions have a direct and significant impact on our unit and the IWW more broadly.  

What is written below accounts for the pace and discipline of day to day organizing. More personal conversations with friends and family would color the austere perspective, but I believe this captures the intended purpose fairly well. At any given time I’m maintaining a mental calendar that requires having a more well rounded picture of where I want to be years from now. My day to day and weekly calendars are a collection of my priorities that include family, friends, organizing, exercise, and leisure.  We all have different priorities that limit what we choose to do and therefore, who we choose to be. I sacrifice nothing. I choose to make organizing a priority because I am a Wobbly, but not in the sense that C. Wright Mills could ever know. Mine is not a political identity. It is a visceral drum, beating from my heart and coursing through my veins.  

MON 1/20/14

My daughter is an exceptional organizer.  At 18 months she is my alarm clock, efficiency hound, and priority manager. While the quantity of my time diminished with her birth, the quality and focus of my organizing has sharpened. Time is more precious so I make sure appointments are necessary and fruitful in their intended respects.  My conversations are fewer but more deliberate and therefore, thoughtful. I plan more and I’m more prepared. Caring for her gives me confidence in myself and challenges me to be better in every respect.

7:00: Baby B is up. Coffee. Breakfast. Take the dog out. Shower. My wife Teresa has a 9-5 gig and has MLK Day off.

No one really talks much about romantic partnerships and the impact organizing has on them, but it’s an absolutely critical issue. Whether partnerships involve two (or more) organizers or one, it is imperative that both partners are on the same page regarding each other’s expectations. This seems like common sense adult behavior, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Our organizing unit has experienced an incredible variety of partnerships, each with their own unique interpersonal challenges, along with those challenges that bear on the unit as a whole. What we’ve learned is that in order to avoid confusion and conflict, partners need to clearly articulate their expectations and commitments. We all know inoculation wins campaigns, but it also strengthens our closest and most important relationships.

9:00: Teresa and I are training for a 10K so we head to the beach for a run with B and the dog.

11:00: Home from beach. Clean house--my mom is visiting from out of town for a few weeks. Make lunch and put the baby down for an afternoon nap.

12:30: Receive a text from Valerie, a co-worker and committee member on the periphery* of our campaign. I asked her yesterday (Sunday) if she would do a 2 on 1 with me with another co-worker named Wendy, but she texted to say she has too much homework and likely won’t be able to make it.  Valerie is a 19 year old chinese worker and full-time college student.  She was politicized on campus through the ISO.  She enjoyed learning about the different political struggles they discussed, but found some of their members, along with their meetings and methodology, too alienating and abstract.

*In our campaign, in addition to the numerical assessment scale for individual workers we’ve informally starting using different terminology to help us assess and categorize groups of coworkers.  

Periphery is a term we use to describe a group of co-workers who are part of the workplace committee or just outside it.

Base refers to workers who compositionally represent the bulk of the labor power on the shop.  In retail, this is more easily distinguished by the workers who, for one reason or another, are anchored to the workplace. The base is the target audience of our organizing. If the base doesn’t move, it means we need to re-evaluate what we’re doing.

Workplace Committee is a term with which everyone is familiar. I started using the term Organizing Unit to draw a distinction between the group of IWW organizers who initiated, researched, planned, and who continue to our campaign--half of which were recruited from the shop floor during an earlier phase.  These organizers are cadre level Wobblies in ways that we don’t equate with workplace committee members (e.g. high commitment, experience, training, consciousness, etc).  This is not to say that there are sharp boundaries between these groups. In reality, this is much more of a mental grouping for assessment and pushing purposes. However, it has allowed us (the organizing unit) to push people (both in workplace committee meetings and in 1 on 1’s and 2 on 1’s with the periphery) with greater efficiency and accessibility, without becoming demoralized that our organizing unit isn’t growing.  

Union is the amalgamation of these different groupings of workers, complete with their varied levels of development, and participation. The extent to which these groupings are organized (and their possession of leverage) will continually determine their power to win and enforce demands, not the quantity of Red Card holders in a particular shop, campaign, supply chain, or industry. Currently, the IWW’s approach to membership (more generally, but especially in the context of point of production organizing) is at best a major red herring, at worst a significant obstacle toward the development and growth of our organization.   

14:00: Punch in. Begin thinking about who I need to speak with about the escalation plan.

The escalation plan derives from a petition and demand presented to management by organizers from our unit along with several committee members and periphery workers.

15:00: I notice my direct manager is absent from the floor and quickly have a conversation with a key worker in the department about the escalation plan. Get her to confirm her participation. She is very agitated about the issue and expresses genuine enthusiasm and sincerity for taking action win our demands. We talk more generally about the increasingly precarious nature of the industry and its effect on conditions in our shop.

15:30: Correspond with FW Cal about salting into my shop. Make plans to discuss in person at organizing unit meeting later in the week.

16:00: 10 minute break. Make arrangements to pick my mom up from airport tomorrow. Send email to unit regarding agenda items for meeting.

17:00: Ask Mary (an important social leader) about getting both our families together to BBQ with other co-workers.

Mary is a 40 something originally from Nicaragua with 3 kids who has worked at the shop with me for many years. She is in a very small but critical department in our workplace. Her husband works at a supply chain target connected to our campaign. We have opposite schedules and rarely see each other so these opportunities are rare and important.

18:00: Lunchtime run. Check in with Valerie for a few minutes before clocking back in.  She has a lot on her plate (mom is trying to emigrate from China, full-time college student, and recent beef with co-worker) and said she can't commit to committee meetings regularly, but wants to try and be supportive and participate where she can.

20:00: Conversation with another key social leader “El Padrino” regarding the escalation plan.

El Padrino has worked for this firm for many years in multiple facilities. He is a 50 something Mexican worker with family members who also work at the firm and has many roots in the community. His social connections extend to every department in our workplace. He has attended committee meetings and helped plan actions. He once led a walkout at a restaurant that fired him.

21:00: 10 minute break.  Sitting in break room on my phone next to a new 20 something black guy (1 of 8 black workers out of a shop of approx 175) who is also on his phone. Have internal conversation with myself about getting off my phone and making conversation. Decide not to because I’ve never spoken to him and at this point it seems too forced and artificial to make chit chat. And I’m tired.

22:30: Punch out. Walk part of the way home with Scott, a 40 something Southeast Asian by way of India worker who has lived in the States for the last 20 years. He is very sweet, at times obnoxiously so, and he is not an organizing priority at this point for many reasons. We discuss our respective futures at the job and he informs me that I’d make a good manager because I know how to talk to people.

23:00: Get home and everyone is already asleep. Glass of bourbon and write for this snapshot. Update our escalation tracker spreadsheet. Tracker includes a list of key workers, who is assigned to speak to them, whether a 1-1 or 2-1 has been conducted with this person, that person’s response to participation, and brief notes about the conversation.

24:00: Lights Out.

Tuesday 1/21/14

7:00: B up. Coffee. Breakfast. Shower. Teresa dog duty.

7:30: Teresa leaves for work early.

8:30: Grocery shopping with B.

10:00: Pick up mom from the airport.

12:00: Make lunch and put B down for a nap.

14:00: Punch in. Receive an organizing brief from FW’s Tom and Helen who worked the morning shift.

15:00: Have a conversation with Monica who apologizes for not meeting up previous Saturday with me. She had to check out a room for rent.  Her house was foreclosed on last year. Monica is a 40 something queer, recently single, former union hotel worker from El Salvador. She is a key social leader in our most strategically significant department. She has participated in several shop floor actions, has a no-nonsense attitude and a fighting spirit.  

Bathroom break to text my cousin (who runs marathons) for training tips. He says shorter shorts are key. Not sure I’m ready for that.

16:00: Set up a lunch meeting with Wendy for Saturday, with the intention of inviting family, unit, and possibly periphery members. Would like use this opportunity to discuss the escalation plan with Wendy and to try and push someone on the periphery to learn how to do a 2 on 1.  

Wendy is a 50-60 something Chinese worker. Has a great sense of humor. Works at this firm for minimum wage because husband lost his job at Sysco. She has an MBA in engineering and worked in that field for many years. Has 4 brothers in each corner of the globe. Lived in Canada for several years. Has a family reunion in China every other year. She constitutes part of a very small base for one of the biggest departments thats is dominated by part-time, highest turnover positions. Saturday will be my first 1 on 1 with Wendy and my mom and baby will be there too, at her request.

18:00: Lunchtime run. Pull calf muscle.

19:00: Introduce myself to Frank, a new 40 something Chinese worker. Ask another worker in Frank’s department, Mark, about his young son.  I’m struggling to find a stronger connection with this department. Geographically its very isolated from the rest of the shop, and it is compositionally very homogenous which doesn’t invite the cross-pollination of conversation that occurs amongst workers from other departments.

22:30: Punch out. Tired. Sore.

23:00: Home. Lights out.

Wednesday 1/22/14

6:00: B up. Coffee. Breakfast. Shower.

7:30: Teresa off to work.

8:30: Go to park with Mom, B, and dog.

9:00: Get update from FW Tom who is also working to organize the BBQ with Mary.

12:00: Lunch. B down for a nap. Mom off to buy a dress for my brother’s upcoming wedding. Work on this piece.

16:00: Head out to buy baby clothes, take dog on a walk and get groceries.

18:00: Wednesdays I take care of B the entire day.  Due to childcare needs I cut back to 4 nights of work during the week, so Teressa makes her dinner, gives her a bath, and puts her to bed most nights. When Teresa gets home on Wednesdays we’ve both spent a full day on the job. While I understand that she does the night time routine with B alone most nights, and as much as I love spending the day with B, I often feel like “my shift is over!” as soon as Teresa walks through the door. I can only imagine what full-time stay at home parents struggle with in their own routines. Grandma is here this week, so life is good until..   

...Teresa gets home and asks about the dog, whom she notices isn’t responding to her hello’s. “Oh my god!!” I yell. I left the dog tied up outside the grocery store! Sprint down to the store. The pup is fine, but I’m angry at myself and still shaken up. Teresa often grills me for not being “present” and I got to admit that sometimes I feel like my mind is like a computer that has too many programs running and too many windows open at the same time.

19:00: Send birthday wishes to my father-in-law per Teresa’s reminder.

19:30: Roast a chicken and talk with mom about "organizing" family members to build confidence and push relatives in positive ways.

21:00: Watch one of Teresa’s favorite movies “How to Make an American Quilt.”

22:30: Lights out.

Thursday 1/23/14

6:00: B up. Breakfast. Shower.

9:30:: Drop B and mom off at park. Go to Costco for diapers.

11:00: Lunch. B nap.

12:00: Work

13:00: Have a conversation with a FW who used to be very involved in the campaign but decided to step back. She is being nudged to go into management and the fact that I’m not confident she’ll reject that path leaves me feeling depressed.  10 minutes later I have a very positive conversation with Howie about the escalation plan and confirm his participation. Instantly I’m out of the dumps.  No matter how many times I remind my rational self that we’re playing the long game and that there are going to be lots of ups and downs, I can’t seem to avoid the emotional roller coasters. I’m not sure that I would want to though.

Teresa and I exchange about having another baby. We’ve discussed this a lot recently. I took B to our campaign meetings every week beginning when she was only a few months and she continues to be a staple during 1-on-1’s and occasional house visits. Becoming a parent has limited my time as an organizer but this has actually allowed Teresa and I to focus our priorities.  I feel like I spend much less time “socializing” or “going out” on impromptu excursions and more time on planned engagements with people we care about.

14:00: In a shop as big as ours, there are no words to describe how comforting it is to see Wobbly faces during your shift. I’m particularly lucky today.

15:00: Monica comes up to me to discuss drama in her department and despite her excellent English for a second language speaker, we’re not able to fully connect on the higher level nuances that we want to convey to each other.  Not speaking Spanish is a huge achilles heal for me and our unit given the composition of our campaign and region. FW Tom is currently taking Spanish courses to be a more effective organizer and I applaud that commitment.

15:30: FW Kim gives me a quick briefing on her assignments regarding the escalation plan so I can relay them to the unit. She’s several months pregnant and headed off to an out of town baby shower, but still managed to create* several key conversations with coworkers.  Kim turned down a better paying well established worker owned collective gig to fight on the front lines with us so it’s no surprise that despite the incredible added daily strain of pregnancy, she’s a model of Wobblyism par excellence.

*FW Hilda said we “create conversations” as organizers and I thought that this is a spot on way to describe what we do on a daily basis.  It takes huge amounts of emotional intelligence to repeatedly initiate, navigate, and successfully carry out difficult conversations.  But in doing so, Wobblies learn to create new social spaces--ones that are more positive and supportive for co-workers and thus more conducive for building solidarity and class power.  

Get an update from Tom who has been in contact with FW’s interested in launching a potential sister campaign on the east coast.  Also receive a quick brief from Hilda on two 1 on 1’s she had regarding the escalation plan.

16:00: Lunch run. I’m looking forward to these runs now. They break up my work and challenge my mental toughness.  Workplace organizing beats you up mentally and sometimes, despite being surrounded by coworkers I’ve known for years and Wobblies who I’d fight to the death for, I occasionally feel very isolated and alone. I guess this feeling is similar to what Stan Weir wrote about in his essay “I am lonely.” Maybe the feeling is a bit different for everyone, but I’m sure it’s there, if you’re doing it right.  That said, this is why it's imperative we train and develop new organizers with the right skills and expectations. Without the support from a solid organizing unit, no campaign will succeed and organizers will abandon their call to duty.

17:00: Set up a basketball session with long time periphery worker named Sam and confirm that committee member Manny will be going to the upcoming BBQ with his family this coming Sunday.

20:00: Punch out.

20:30PM: Bourbon, recap day with Mom and Teresa.

21:00: Work on this piece.

23:00: Lights out.

Friday 1/24/14

6:00: B up. Breakfast. Dog out.

9:00: Check on emails union wide IWW projects. Receive update on regional policy differences from a dormant midwest sister campaign.

10:00: Teresa off to work. She’s been pulling 10 hours days due to the cyclical nature of production at her job. I punch in at the same time.

14:00: Lunch run.

16:00: Thinking about what it looks like to maintain power on the shop floor in high turnover environments, before, during, and after campaigns “go public.”

14:00: Punch out.

14:30: Take train to organizing Unit meeting

21:30: Home. Work on this piece.

24:00: Lights out.

Saturday 1/25/14

6:30: B up. Dog out.

8:00: Go on a walk with Mom, Teresa, and B. Coffee!

9:30: All of us head to the park. B gets multiple kudos from other parents about being tougher than the boys. That’s my girl.

11:00: We all meet Wendy for lunch at a hole in the wall Vietnamese spot. Wendy has to work at 12:00 so we talk shop very briefly. I brief her on the escalation plan and she is all for it. She came with gifts for each of us. The baby got a stuffed monkey. She loves monkeys. Teresa and my mom received hand-knitted slippers that Wendy had made and I got a bottle of aftershave! Wendy has a daughter at the UN in NYC and a High School teacher here.  She was on time, and this meeting mattered.

12:00: I go back home to put baby to bed, do laundry, and a movie. Mom and teresa go shopping.

16:00: Go for another walk. Pick up stuff to make a salad for tomorrows bbq with periphery workers.

19:00: B dinner, bath, bed.

20:00: Dinner with Mom and Teresa.

22:00: Lights out.

Sunday 1/26/14

7:00AM: B up. Hard to get out of bed. Breakfast. Coffee. Dog out.

9:30: Take Teresa to the airport for a work trip.  Head to Mary’s house for the periphery worker’s BBQ.

11:00: BBQ turns out to be a great success. We’ve tried to organize large events in the past and many turned out to be too artificial and resulted in poor turn out. This was perfect. Mary's husband Raul works with two organizers from our unit at a different facility connected to this campaign. Recently Mary has become increasingly concerned with her future at work due to economic and scheduling factors. She leaves the house at 2:00 every morning and doesn’t get home until 18:00 due to work and school schedules.  Raul and Mary works opposite schedules and they rarely see each other during the week.

After we left the BBQ my mom commented that she wasn't quite sure what she was allowed to say to people about me because she said so much of this organizing seems so cloak and dagger.

Tom and his wife Amy came along with Manny, his wife Paula, and his young daughter who is B's age. These are the kinds of social events that strengthen a lot of the ongoing relationships.

15:00: Back home. Play with B. She missed her nap but she’s cool. Get stuff for dinner.

16:00: Set up meeting to get feedback on this piece with unit member Keith. Set up meeting to talk about mentorship programs with several other unit members next week.

18:00: B dinner, bath.

19:00: B to bed, make dinner for Mom and I.

20:00: Grammy’s. Work on this piece. Start online traffic school…

Monday 1/27/14

Management concedes to a major demand. Escalation plan called off. Celebrate the victory. Plan for the next battle...

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