Living the Dream whilst Organising in Your Workplace

Four female members of ILGWU Local 221 drinking coffee as they picket
Kheel Center Four female members of ILGWU Local 221 drinking coffee as they picket CC BY 2.0

In this episode of Living The Dream, Dave (@withsobersenses ) chats with Carmen about the Workplace Organising 101 training she recently provided in Brisbane. Carmen talks about the purpose and structure of this training, its relationship to anarcho-syndicalism and reflects critically on the contribution it can play to developing our collective power and overcoming capitalism.

Organisations mentioned include:

Brisbane IWW

Freie Arbeiterinnen- und Arbeiter-Union (FAU)

Music by Dolly Parton and Marianne Faithful

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2 thoughts on “Living the Dream whilst Organising in Your Workplace

Add yours

  1. Thanks Dave & Carmen, another very interesting podcast and an important discussion. In the spirit of solidarity, I have a few questions/concerns/suggestions. Firstly, I’m not sure about the distinction between ‘base unionism’ and ‘capitalist unions’. If the main differences are about how decisions are made – how democratic unions are and who ‘represents’ workers – while you may not ‘lead with ideology’, it’s important to clarify the anarcho-syndicalist organisational model this training is based on and any long-term strategy to construct more democratic structures. In relation to this, I found some of the terminology/approach a bit concerning e.g. ‘conversation arches’, ‘make them feel empowered’, ‘inoculating workers’ and ‘identifying social leaders.’

    Unions are a reflection of capitalist society and those described as ‘capitalist unions’ have been stifled by capitalist states and strict industrial laws. The attacks on unionism have been incredibly effective – importantly because they’ve come from both outside and within the union movement. So, it’s hardly surprising that the workshop participants struggle most with the current industrial legal framework – as a tamed union movement and the authoritarian workplace laws, police and jails remain firmly in place. So, some more discussion about how the current laws restrict union strategies and how we can challenge and circumvent these laws, rather than just “work within” them, is needed.

    I was glad to hear some discussion of “a broader interpretation of work’ and the connection between ‘wage labour’ and ‘community struggles’. As Carmen says; ‘when you come to a workplace workers say they want less isolation and more solidarity’ and these are crucial, but not just within the workplace. Traditional unionism is outdated and unable to represent many casual/precarious workers, students, the unemployed, cash-in-hand workers, the poor, the mobile and flexible workers on short-term contracts, all of whom actively participate in social production and wealth creation. Any mapping of the workplace and the social connections of ‘workers’ needs to recognise the ‘social factory’ and the crucial role of ‘affective labour’ and should reflect an understanding that economic, political and social struggles are intertwined. It is often the merging of union and social movements, where workplace struggles are social struggles and social struggles are workplace struggles, that are most powerful.

    As you know I was happy to hear that this interview was again conducted in a café. This venue highlights what’s happening right now in Wollongong around some of the issues you’ve discussed, as you can see from the article and Illawarra Mercury editorial I’ll post below. Here we have traditional unions/the local union peak body, individuals, a group of students, journalists, the local legal centre, media outlets, etc. taking practical action to expose and address important workplace concerns. Now we’re faced with questions about how we can expand the social struggles around these concerns – e.g. the information is being widely shared, the businesses are being shamed, there are growing calls for boycotts, etc. – what are the best long-term strategies that help to build social connections, solidarity and common class activities in order to resist, refuse, challenge and escape capital?

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