I took IWW’s Organizer Training 101: Build the Committee course in January when the opportunity to take it in person at my local GMB presented itself. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but had a vague sense of wanting to “do more” or at least learn more when it came to labor organizing and aligning myself with the values and operations of my fellow workers, not just at the IWW but in society in general; this has been a larger pursuit for me for the last decade or so, and I find myself, increasingly so the older I get, constantly searching for lenses through which to focus this desire to help things get better. When I joined the IWW I was hoping I was signing on to a cause that could take this impulse to the next level, so naturally organizer training seemed like a foundational building block.
I’m not exactly sure that I’m the ideal candidate for organizer training. I am self-employed, a contractor who works from home and never sees fellow workers, someone who files his 1040-SR every three months (uh, roughly) and can’t take sick days, has no health care, and enjoys zero job protection and exists entirely at the whim of some faceless middle manager in accounting. Well, wait, maybe I am the ideal candidate for organizer training. I may not be able to directly affect my own work environment, but I can certainly help others articulate and define their own needs and concerns, and learn to advocate for them effectively even if I’m not actively changing my own material conditions. And that was the attitude I took with me to Rhizome House in January.
I have spent a lifetime enduring forced retreats and dry, corporate “learning sessions” or “retreats” where the primary lessons learned involved crafting a plausible excuse for not attending; I have also been to weird raves in the desert involving flamethrowers and a head full of peyote. I wasn’t sure which way this one was going to lean but I was hoping I wouldn’t have to inveigle a revolt this early in my IWW tenure.
Thankfully the Fellow Workers from Detroit were competent, professional and dedicated to keeping the operation on rails. Right from the start I sensed that this marathon sessions, 14 hours over two days, was going to zoom by. Starting with the basic assumption that “You are a worker, and as a worker you are a person who deserves rights, and that begins with the right to organize,” we plunged into the work of building a committee at your own workplace, starting with yourself and slow expanding outward.
The trainers worked together nicely, building points off of each other respectfully, and always allowing comments or differing interpretations from attendees. Frankly it was a lot of information to get through, but at each stage where a new concept was introduced, we were broken into small groups (or more often simply asked to turn to the person sitting next to us) and asked to roleplay the situation that had just been examined by the instructors. And from both sides of the conversation. So not only were we absorbing this information by actually acting it out, we were usually being tasked with seeing the opposite viewpoint, so we could empathize better with people who might not want to hear the message. Usually these roleplay sessions involved recruiting people at your workplace to discuss issues involving that office or shop without coming off as a heavy-handed labor goon, or just as importantly, without tipping off management that an attempt to organize was underway and setting off their alarms too early in the process. We learned the delicacies of introducing what should be normal but still and too often in this country reads as “radical,” this idea that all workers deserve protection and dignity, into a capitalist ecosystem that, as always, defines value purely on the basis of profits and ignores that profits are created by people.
Anyway, I now know that you can foment a workplace revolution in a Subway sandwich shop thanks to our trainers. I am fairly confident after this training that I could convince a crypto tech bro to demand better material conditions.
Continuing on from the one-on-one sessions, we later broke out into larger groups, including one where we staged a walkout on an unsuspecting boss who had just eliminated workplace breaks. That was wildly cathartic and I thank one trainer for allowing me to focus decades of suppressed boss rage on a fellow worker by proxy for a few minutes.
The team-building is real, btw. Take OT 101 and you’ll swiftly reach a point where you’re ready to fall on a grenade for these people you just met 27 hours ago. I would have walked past you on the street yesterday and today we’re the crew of the IWSS Intersectional, on a five-year mission to organize all the things.
The pacing, again, was perfect, the segue from one section to the next presented in a logical, comprehensive way, and weirdly super orderly for prima facie anarchists. Like watching a fish walk, but maybe that’s a skill we’ll all need to teach ourselves to get through these strange times.
Thanks again to our Fellow Workers for guiding us through the basic building blocks of organizing principles, thanks to the FWs at Northeast Ohio IWW GMB for setting it up, and thanks to the workers that make up the IWW most of all.