Organising at work: some basic principles
The following is a list of what successful organisers say are the most important principles to remember:
Organising begins when people question authority. Someone asks, "What are they doing to us? Why are they doing it? Is it right?" Encourage people to ask, "Who is making the decisions, who is being forced to live with the decisions, and why should that be so?" People should not accept a rule or an answer simply because it comes from the authorities, whether that authority be the government, the boss, the union - or you. An effective organiser encourages their fellow workers to think for themselves.
Almost every experienced activist agrees that "The most important thing about organising is personal one-to-one discussion." Leaflets are necessary, meetings are important, rallies are wonderful, but none of them will ever take the place of one-on-one discussion. Frequently, when you have simply listened to one of your fellow workers and heard what is on his or her mind, you have won them over because you are the only one who will listen. When you talk to Linda at the next desk and overcome her fears, answer her questions, lift her morale, invite her to the meeting or take her to the rally - that is what organising is all about.
Find the Natural Organisers
Every workplace has its social groupings of colleagues and friends. Each group has its opinion makers, its natural organisers, its instigators. They are not always the loudest or most talkative, but they are the ones the others listen to and respect. You will have gone a long way if you win over these natural organisers.
Get People Involved in Activity
Life is not a school room and people do not learn simply by going to meetings or reading leaflets. Most people learn, change, and grow in the process of action. Will you take this leaflet? Will you pass it on to your friend? Will you sign this petition? If you want to develop new organisers, get your colleagues involved in the organising.
We Are the Union!
The point of organising is not only to get individuals involved, but to join them together in a solidarity conscious group. We want to create a group which sees itself as a whole: Will you come to the meeting? Can we get the whole department to visit the boss together? Can we count on all of you on the picket line?
Activities Should Escalate Over Time
Ask people to become involved in activities of increasing commitment and difficulty. Are you willing to wear a union badge? Will you vote for a strike? Are you prepared to stand on a picket line? Are you willing to be arrested? Some union campaigns have included hundreds of people willing to go to jail for something they believed in. For many of them it started with that first question, "Will you take this leaflet?"
Read more about taking direct action at work...
Organising is about changing power relationships, the balance of forces between management and workers. Confrontation with the employer has to be built into the escalating activities. If people are not willing to risk upsetting the boss, they won’t win.
Win Small Victories
Most movements, from a small group in one workplace to massive social protests grow on the basis of small victories. The victories give us confidence that we can do more. They win us new supporters who now realise that "you can beat the boss". With each victory the group becomes more confident and therefore, more capable of winner larger victories.
Be Prepared For Setbacks
Nothing runs smoothly in life, and organising is no exception. If it doesn’t succeed at first, be patient. Circumstances always change with time, new people come and go. Perhaps in a few months time your fellow workers will be more interested than they are at present. Sooner or later your employer will do something which will help that process.
Don’t Forget The Outside World
Conflicts between workers and their employers have a large influence on the confidence of other workers to stand up for themselves. It is in our interests to build links and networks of support with workers employed in other companies and industries, for through standing together we will greatly increase our ability to win more control over our lives.
Produce Your Own Publicity
This is the best way of getting your message across, but don’t forget to let your fellow workers get involved in its production.
Read some tips on publicity and media...
Have A Sense of Humour
Don’t be deadly serious in everything that you do: organising can and should be fun. Use cartoons, songs, jokes and stories. Try and relate your publicity not just to the harshness of reality but also to your aspirations and desires.
Organising is Everything
Organisation need not be overly formal or structurally top heavy, but it must be there. A telephone tree and a mailing list may be all the organisation that you need, but if those are what you need then you must have them. Make sure your organisation is directly democratic, and any specialised positions you have, such as secretary, are instantly recallable. The last twenty years have supplied many examples of reform movements which fought hard, made some gains and then disappeared, simply because they didn’t stay organised. As one union organiser, Bill Slater, says, "Only the organised survive."
Read more general organising tips...
Don’t Organise Alone
Contact the Industrial Workers of the World, or other radical workers and join up with other working people who will be more than willing to help you. The IWW, or other libertarian groups can also provide resources which will be of vital importance in any organising drive, no matter how small. Together we can do the things that we cannot do alone.