So the last article concerned labor law. But we need a workplace organization capable of enforcing the minimum standards of the law. Without this organization the boss can violate our rights, manipulate and control us collectively and pretty much do as he/she wishes with us. When we organize to enforce the minimum standards, we not only improve our conditions and sometimes wages, but we also create, in the process, the bare-bones infrastructure that makes bigger and bolder actions and campaigns possible. The ability to enforce our minimum rights is a necessary precondition to gaining the ability to increase our rights as well as wages. If we are going to sell our ability to work, at the least we should be paid well, and have some say in how our labor power is used. If our rights go unenforced, they are one step from being abolished since no collective, organized force exists to make those rights a reality, there will be no force to prevent those in government who are beholden to our bosses ( all of them )from doing away with those rights. This means less say in how our labor power is used by our bosses.
So how do we build an organization capable of this? First off, we need to discard the idea that we need to have the full workplace, 100% in our union before we are able to carry out actions. It’s just not true. Don’t get me wrong, it is always better to have as close to all of the workers in a workplace as possible. But it is not necessary. Even in strongly organized workplaces it is usually a minority of workers who carry out the day to day tasks of organizing actions and campaigns. The minimum number of members necessary is dependent on the tactics used or are planned on being used in the future. A good objective to aim for would be to have 15% of the workplace as fully active members. So if you work in a factory with 1000 workers, you would aim at having 150 members. This would be a strong organization and the reason why is that each member would be responsible for less than 10 nonmembers, thus the organizational burdens and duties are equally shared and no one is overwhelmed. We would have an effective and efficient organization stronger than the company’s supervisor to worker ratio most likely. We would be able to pull off activities such as leafleting, newsletter distribution etc. quicker than management can stamp it out through divide and conquer or carrot and stick tactics. But we can still pull off actions with less members ( say 5 even ), that can lay the foundation for building our numbers. A petition hardly ever works as far as gaining any concessions from a company. From this perspective it is a weak tactic. And it generally is. But nonetheless, people generally see it as a legitimate means of struggle. From that perspective, the success of a petition is the number of new members gained through the collection of signatures. And it does not generally require a large number of members to pull off a petition action. If you had five people in your group and each member got 10 signatures, you would have 50 signatures. If all five members recruited one other member to help with the petitioning you would gain an additional 50 plus 5 new members bringing you to 10 members and 50 signatures. Etc. then you would organize a new group to present the petition ( may be outside groups can help here). The Point is that you may only be strong enough to pull off small and weak actions. But those actions are the stepping stones to larger organization if planned correctly.
So this leads into the next question. How do we get to that 15%? Through actions like above. Petitions, parking lot rallies or meetings etc. You will only build power through actions. You may occasionally and marginally recruit new members by just asking or preaching to the choir. But actions change people. Activity breeds more activity especially when they are victorious. The best course of action is to set yourself, as a group, a strategic plan. The ultimate goal being the 15%. When achieved , you should set yourself a new strategic plan for bigger goals. Your first big milestone should be 7.5%. Half The minimum necessary. So again in a factory of 1000 workers, we would set our sights on 75 members. But that is still a little ways off. So let’s shave that down even. 25 members would be a better and less overwhelming short-term goal. If we only have five members what would it take to pump that up to 25. We could do a petition campaign and recruit , say ,five more people. Maybe do a leafleting action a couple of weeks after the petition and gain five more members which would put us at 15. That would be good. But all the while the boss will be focusing his efforts against us. All of those actions should be done. But we should also be keeping our eye out for more drastic opportunities. Those are the ones that will gain the respect of coworkers. Directly resolving coworkers grievances through confrontations with management. Once we hit our milestone of 25 members it then becomes necessary to engage in more drastic actions if we are to gain members in larger numbers proportional to our size. at that point petitioning ( or whatever median or average tactic makes sense in your workplace) will no longer be enough. It could still be used for some issues, but it will no longer be the primary tactic. You will have to find another, more aggressive one, that fits your size. But not one so militant that it will alienate you from the rest of the workforce, unless they are up for it. You will have to feel these things out.