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Wednesday, November 26 2014 @ 04:54 PM CST

Average Wobbly Time

Labor

Sometimes organizers behave like jerks towards members with bad ideas, which is counterproductive. Just as often, people hesitate and look the other way in response to bad ideas. This response is a mistake. It misses the importance of what I like to call “Average Wobbly Time.” Every Wobbly decides somewhere along the line to commit to the IWW.

Average Wobbly Time

By John O’Reilly
Industrial Worker - January / February 22013

Sometimes organizers behave like jerks towards members with bad ideas, which is counterproductive. Just as often, people hesitate and look the other way in response to bad ideas. This response is a mistake. It misses the importance of what I like to call “Average Wobbly Time.”

Every Wobbly decides somewhere along the line to commit to the IWW. For many of us, our commitment started with an organizer inviting us to a one-on-one meeting before we even knew anything about the union. Making a commitment to follow through and sit down with an organizer is the beginning of a long process of making further commitments to the organization. Actions such as taking out a union card, attending meetings, taking on responsibilities in our campaign and branch, talking with other workers and encouraging them to get more committed—all of these tasks come from and build on our commitment to the IWW. It’s this intense attachment to the union, its members, and its ideas that makes IWW members so remarkable and so exciting.

At some point, we become committed to such a degree that we put time into the union on a regular basis. Early on, that may be one hour every two weeks, about the time it takes to have a one-on-one or go to an organizing committee meeting. At some point, and it’s hard to tell exactly when, many members absorb the union into their lives. It becomes a given that they will regularly allocate a certain amount of time to thinking about and doing work for the union. If we stop and think about it, and we may not realize it explicitly, each of us has a certain average that we tend towards. That average may go up when we get excited about a struggle or project or it may go down when we’re feeling burned out. As long as we’re committed to the union, there is some kind of average. That’s Average Wobbly Time.

Sometimes, there are members who are committed to the union but are unable to find projects to work on. To put it another way, what happens when a passionate, committed Wobbly wants to do work for the union but doesn’t have any good ideas about what to do? In some cases, it means that the member in question seeks out their fellow workers and asks them for suggestions on how to participate more. Sometimes it means that the member gets less excited about the union and allocates less time to it. Sometimes the result is that the member in question starts spending a chunk of Average Wobbly Time pursuing bad ideas.

So how do we deal with this dilemma? Committed members are going to spend a certain amount of time on union work every week. If no one gives them good ideas, they may go off and pursue bad ideas. Our task is to provide leadership. It may be as simple as suggesting good ideas to someone who hungers for more, such as saying: “Fellow Worker, I notice that you have a lot of energy and have been coming to all these meetings recently. Some of us have been talking about starting a new organizing campaign, would you like to sit down and talk about that?” By directing their attention toward a task that’s clearly focused on organizing, we can simultaneously fulfill that member’s desire to spend more time on the union and build up the forces dedicated to an organizing goal. By building a culture of good, organizing- directed tasks, we provide leadership and make it easy for excited members to plug into them.

As stated above, many Wobblies often look the other way when some of our fellow workers pursue bad ideas. Often, experienced Wobbly organizers do not want to crowd newer, inexperienced (but enthusiastic) members by telling them how to spend their time. It’s intimidating to be honest with people. As a result, Wobblies often stand by and watch other people go off in a direction that does not make any sense and is likely to fail. Telling someone that their energy is being misspent is difficult, but ignoring the conversation disrespects our fellow workers. True respect means being honest with someone about their ideas and not just standing by while they pursue what we think is an obvious failure. This hesitation to step in sometimes results in individuals or groups spending hours working on a project when they clearly had other options that could have been much more useful.

This is a call for organizers to actively provide perspectives and build relationships with members so that the conditions that allow time and resources to be wasted on bad projects do not develop. If we push for what we think are good ideas and are honest about bad ideas, we treat our fellow workers with respect. This will also get people to work on better projects, resulting in less wasted time and resources. It’s intimidating to be honest, but it’s the right thing to do. We need to do what’s right, not simply what’s easy or comfortable. Understanding how Average Wobbly Time works is one small part of the larger struggle towards an organizing- based culture that fosters democratic and revolutionary unionism. And that is a kind of unionism that respects each member by being truthful and supportive.

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