The employee activist's complaint

The employee activist's complaint:  how to fight capitalism with capitalism

In recent years, we live in a crisis of activism. Many organizations struggle to recruit and engage new members. We only have to look at our own membership rate, that fluctuates with the seasons, and the difficulties encountered when the time comes to take action to realize that the[1] The IWW is coming, her too, the effects of this same crisis. Although the explanations for this phenomenon can be polysemous, most people recognize that, more generally, this situation is linked to a crisis of collective action. Faced with increasingly corporatist unionism, some activists simply no longer hear the call to mobilization. As a solution, the right thinkers of this world, of which some belong Wobs, found a revolutionary solution to this problem: paid activism! I know, I know… this debate has been going on for ages and is constantly brought to the forefront, and in a nauseating way, in our collective discussions. Even though many of us are losing patience with these endless senseless exchanges, I believe it is important that we pause for a moment to settle this matter once and for all so that we can, in the future, focus on our common goal: force social transformation by dismantling capitalism.

At first glance, this proposal may seem simple and consistent with the values ​​of our organization. After all, work done is work that deserves to be paid. Quite simple, is not it…? Sadly, This is not the case. If some members, of which I am part, oppose paid activism, it is that this proposition clashes with the deepest values ​​that inhabit us and causes cognitive dissonance[2] more than we can tolerate. Beyond the ideologies that oppose each other in this debate, I believe it is important to contextualize it in order to highlight certain more technical obstacles to consider before establishing paid activism in an organization like ours.

For many years, I got involved in my “imposed union”. Army of leftist fervor, I thought I would be surrounded by people who share my values ​​of solidarity, of mutual aid and concern for the common good. Through defeats and frustrations, I eventually realized that the rise of individualism, combined with the Rand formula, have ensured that modern unions are nothing more than corporatist institutions aimed at maintaining the status quo while convincing the working class to accept corporate mediocrity (believe me, this mediocrity is even more ironic when you work for the public or parapublic service). Our elected union officials have become navel-gazing civil servants more concerned about their re-election and their bonuses than the common good.. So I made the choice, to counter the torment of my union cognitive dissonance, to disengage (although I cannot unaffiliate) from my home union to get involved in my chosen union. Like all of you, I make the voluntary and conscious gesture of paying my monthly contributions because I believe in it and not because this amount is automatically deducted from my pay. So you understand that, when our members come up with “innovative ideas” such as paid activism, I can't help but be wary of the creeping corporatism that has already engulfed many so-called left-wing institutions.

The arguments against paid activism are numerous and of several types. As a starting point, I propose that we revisit the founding principles at the base of our organization. To do this, you will have to go and collect your little red notebook entitled Préambule, constitution & general regulations of the industrial union of workers[3] that you keep carefully under your pillow. I invite you to read the first sentence of this document, cornerstone on which the IWW rests: The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. By agreeing to pay some of our members, who would in fact become our “employees”, don't we become bosses? By supporting the idea of ​​paid activism, Are we not voluntarily becoming what we despise most?? maybe I'm a little naive, but I find it difficult to see how we will be able to continue to campaign for the abolition of employers while being a boss.

By continuing to read the preamble (1 page – 6 paragraphs – 10 phrases – 27 lines), you will notice that in addition to all the times we can infer the thing, it is textually mentioned at 2 times that our first demand, to eliminate capitalism, is D'ABOLISH EMPLOYEES. Are we really going to pay people a salary so that they can campaign for the abolition of wage employment?? How are we going to chant, with complete credibility, «Down with wage-earners! » while paying a salary to our activists…? Let us recall here that, during his university studies, the great leftist Pierre Carl Péladeau felt so challenged by the Marxist doctrine that he changed the spelling of his name to Pierre Karl... This is proof that bosses can be socialists !!! As a solution to this problem, I propose to save the time it would take for us to radically redefine who we are in order to better fulfill our role as boss and to use the same technique as this great man who inspired us so much.: let's simply change the c for a k in Kapitalism and conclude that we have achieved our dream of social transformation. At the same time, it will also be necessary to change the spelling of credible to kredible, and coherent for koherent… You see, it's all arranged!

For many, the debate ends here. When we recognize that financial compensation for our involvement in the IWW is diametrically opposed to the founding principles of our organization, the debate becomes obsolete. However, I can't help but ask the question: what is the interest of a person in getting involved VOLUNTEERLY and of their own free will in an organization which aims to abolish wage employment while demanding a salary for this same involvement?? Why seek to modify an organization incompatible with our ambitions so that it corresponds to our ideals rather than simply looking for another organization which better corresponds to our vision of the world?  It's about as relevant as handing out leaflets about veganism at the Calgary Stampede. (you Calgary, there yet, I do not know anymore!). However, the distinction between activist and employee is very clear. My work is what I do. My activism is who I am. Even though I love what I do, that I feel pride in my profession, and that I chose to work in a sector that matches my personal values, my work does not define me. I don't live to work; I work to live. For those who are wondering, I am going to take the liberty here of saving you the costs of a consultation with a guidance counselor.. There is a profession where you can defend your ideological positions to your heart's content while earning a very good living. All you have to do is fill out the membership form available on the AQL website. (Quebec Association of Lobbyists) and voila! On the other hand, of grace, when it's done, please at least make sure that you are not applying for a job with an organization that will ask you to make representations aimed at your self-abolition…

Notwithstanding that paid activism is antithetical to our intrinsic values, a good number of technical obstacles present themselves to us. Continue, if you really want it, reading your little red notebook. You will notice, like me, that a complete rewrite of our regulations would be necessary. Although I do not wish to make an exhaustive list of inconsistencies caused by the “salaryist” demands of certain, a few examples still deserve to be highlighted.

In the first place, remember that article II of our general regulations, relating to membership, specifies that in order to be eligible, members of our organization must adopt goals and principles consistent with those of the IWW. Even more, it is stated that actions clearly harmful to solidarity or in contradiction with the objectives and principles of the SITT-IWW can lead to the exclusion of a member. I believe here that the incompatibility has already been widely demonstrated beforehand and that we agree that paid activism is not part of our objectives or our principles...

Thereafter, the article III, relating to our structure, reminds us of the importance of democratic organizational practices and transparency on the part of the organization. Concerned about wanting to protect us from corporatism, our union is run by volunteers and not by an employer party. What will happen to this democracy when we have to manage our employees? How will we be able to maintain the principle of equal rights cited in Article IV when we have established a hierarchical management structure between members?? It's true that role-playing games are popular, but I'm really not sure how we are going to play the role of unionist and boss simultaneously. I imagine it would be a bit like trying to sing Bohemian Rhapsody solo.

As if the absurdity of paid activism had not been sufficiently demonstrated, let's keep scratching this sticky wound a little longer. Article VII of our regulations warns us against the use of our universal label. As we have determined that our stunning purple symbol will never be delegated to employers, our merchandise committee risks finding itself in embarrassment since the second the first paycheck is signed, we will all have to give up our favorite t-shirt. Anyway, like paragraph c) of article II of page 15 specifies that no member of the SITT-IWW can represent a corporatist union, we all just voluntarily sent ourselves to the penalty box (insert slow clap and recall procedure here).

So far, the arguments raised are more related to the ideals and collective values ​​that we wish to convey. Sadly, ce genre d’argument, no matter how well worded it is, do not join the fauxchists, or this new militant bourgeoisie which, under the guise of socialism, only reinforces a capitalist system aimed at maintaining power in the hands of the ruling class. So, as there is no question here of recognition of workers' rights, but of maintaining the privileges of certain, I will allow myself to respond to the capitalist greed of the salary demands of our volunteers with a capitalist argument. Although present worldwide, The IWW currently only has about 12,000 members.. Let's assume that all our members are up to date with their contributions and that they contribute, on average, 22$ per month (which is not the case but let's go with a favorable estimate), our global annual budget, all branches combined, represents approximately $3,000,000. Although this sum may seem enormous for simple workers, we can see that our budget is actually smaller than the expense accounts of many CEOs (nonon Pierre Karl, not you; we know that you are a Marxist). Once our operating costs are covered, it is not difficult to guess that the amounts available are very limited. Add to this the salary of militant parasites seeking to cannibalize our organization with salary demands., the amounts remaining for our collective actions would be comparable to the average salary paid to people incarcerated in private prisons in the United States. At this pace, we will quickly become comparable to a corporate organization such as Autism Speaks, where the majority of expenses incurred are in salary, in advertising and fundraising campaigns while less than 4% of their annual budget is used to help people on the spectrum and their families. In light of this simple mathematical calculation, the question is valid: in an organization focused on the common good, isn't paid activism becoming the most opportune way to miss our target?? How is allocating the majority of the collective resources we have to a few individuals not capitalism in its simplest expression...?

All that being said, it seems clear to me that in addition to making our mission useless, paid activism only solidifies the capitalist labor relations we oppose. Furthermore, this only reinforces the increasingly corporatist positioning of organizations and accentuates the division of labor. Finally, in addition to diverting the debate from the real issues, to siphon financial resources from an already precarious organization, the innovative solution of paid activism will only have served to invalidate the very essence of our existence and exacerbate the crisis of activism. For my part, if this proposal were to be accepted, as long as I contribute to maintaining a system that I hate and become a caricature of myself, my last act before terminating my membership in the IWW would be to insist that all of our employees be women. Like this, we will be able to save 30% on our payroll. Pierre Karl will have something to be proud of us.


[1] The use of the feminine is a deliberate choice. Deal with it or talk to your therapist.

[2] And psychology social, cognitive dissonance occurs when people are confronted with information that is not consistent with their beliefs.

[3] It would be interesting if we thought about revisiting this name. Firstly, the use of Workers refers to a dichotomous model which is, in my opinion, outdated and disconnected from the multiplicity of gender identities of our members. Beside, the systematic prioritization of the masculine in our texts only reminds female workers, in a very subtle way (as if society was not already fully responsible for reminding us of this), that we will always be one step behind our male colleagues.

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  1. […] and the difficulties encountered when the time comes to take action to realize that the[1] The IWW is coming, her too, the effects of this same crisis. Bien que les explications à ce phénomène […]

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