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Immigration Series, chapter 1 : Rise and Misery of Roxham Road

I admit it, I have a passion for extreme sports. I love whitewater kayaking, I had a blast when I tried kitesurfing and I'm just waiting to finish my studies to have enough time to devote myself to roller derby. But decidedly, the extreme sport that makes me experience the most strong emotions, it’s the absolutely endless race to find your way through the ever-rebuilding maze that is our immigration system. You probably won't believe me, but I swear it's really exciting!

Since Canadian immigration policies are a headache for absolutely everyone, including myself, I decided to make a series of articles aimed at popularizing all this. If all goes as planned – but please, don’t expect too much – I hope to finish a text on temporary immigration status and human trafficking and to lay another on the history of racist immigration policies since confederation. I am also open to suggestions. I like challenges and I am a bit proud, bring it your trick question!

Short, we are going strong with a topic that is far too hot for my text to remain up to date for a very long time, and I named: Safe Third Country Agreement and Roxham Road.

Hope this helps you understand the issues better.!

A few basic notions by way of introduction

  1. No one is illegal. Never.

People are sometimes without status or papers. Sometimes they don't have the right papers, but they are never “illegal”, because not being in an irregular situation with regard to one's immigration status is an administrative offense, not criminal. Exactly like a parking ticket. On the other hand, it is a criminal offense to hire people who do not have a work permit. It can sometimes even be seen from the angle of human trafficking in certain circumstances.. We will see this in more detail in the next edition.!

  1. Extremely few people arrive in Canada undocumented.

This is partly due to the geographical location of the country.. Indeed, unless you go through the United States, only land border with Canada, it is absolutely necessary to take a boat or a plane to come to the country. Or, unless you come in a container on board a cargo ship – we are talking about twenty people a year over the last few years. 5 last years1 – you will need at least a passport and a visa (working, study or tourism)2 to be able to board these transports and finally enter the country.

People who are without status in Canada have to very, vast majority already had legal authorization to be here and lost it along the way. This also applies to people crossing the border on foot from the United States.. This is my next point.

Roxham Road, a specter that haunts conservatives

The Roxham Road which, in another life, dreamed of being recognized across the country for being the gateway to the incomparable Parc Safari, is now rather famous for being the main gateway to Canada or the United States – depending on which way you take it3 – for migrants in search of a more stable life.

Indeed, passing said park, Roxham Road narrows into a kind of country road surrounded by houses far apart from each other separated by fields and patches of forest. The path continues in the same way on the American side before becoming a busier road again a few kilometers further on.. On the border between Canada and the United States: nothing. No official border post, only an RCMP command post and a mound that appears to be artificially constructed to mark the border.

Source RCMP Post : Google Map, 26 January 2023

End of Roxham Road on the Canadian side. Source : Google Map, 26 January 2023

This crossing point is by far the most popular among migrants., first and foremost for practical considerations. Indeed, rare are the border areas not controlled by customs officers that are crossed by an almost complete road. To cross elsewhere without facing a customs officer, you have to walk several kilometers without landmarks in the forest, which increases the risk of getting lost along the way.

Now, why people want to avoid going through customs? Contrary to messages bombarded by the anti-immigration right, it's not because these people have more "things to hide" than others.

To fully understand the origin of the popularity of Roxham Road, we have to go back to the very troublesome era of the War on terror decreed by the United States in the aftermath of the attacks on 11 September 2001. Thumbing up on the rumor that the attackers of the twin towers had joined the United States through the Canadian border – a myth that will later be dismantled – the Republicans of George W. Bush campaign for increased border control. It was felt that the Canadian border was a sieve for foreign nationals looking for work in the United States..

In this context, Canada and the United States signed theAgreement Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America for Cooperation in Determining Refugee Status Claims by Third-Country Nationals4 often referred to simply as the “safe third country agreement”.

Don't be surprised, this agreement, among other things, on the principle already well known at that time in Europe of… “safe third country”. Basically, this principle establishes the responsibility for the processing of asylum applications for the first State deemed safe which would have been crossed by foreign nationals during their migratory journey.

for example, a person from Latin America who would have visited the United States, then crossed to Canada before seeking asylum, would be automatically refused and sent back to the United States to process their application.

At the twist, is that the agreement provides an exception to this obligation for people who cross the border on foot without crossing a border crossing. So if we take the previous example, the person from Latin America could have their asylum file processed in Canada if they go through… Roxham Road!

Passing by this road, migrants know that they will not encounter customs officers, but they also know that RCMP officers will be on the other side to accommodate their asylum application from the first minutes of their stay in Canada.. Reason why people who cross there should not be qualified as "undocumented".

They are asylum seekers.

Until the March Biden-Trudeau deal 2023, the RCMP officers who were sent to this area did not have the mandate to determine whether the persons crossing had valid grounds for seeking the protection of Canada. They also had no right to send people back to the United States.. They therefore had to transport the migrants to what they call the “Immigration Monitoring Center” in Laval., read: a newly expanded prison. But do not worry, on the site of theCanada Border Services Agency we are assured that the dining rooms of the Laval prison are spaces with natural light5. #Canada, #PaysDesDroitsHumains, #Monk.

from jail, the identity of applicants will be verified. If they are not notorious criminals in their countries of origin, they will be released after some time with a temporary status until their request for protection is analyzed on the merits one to two years later, in front, there Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

[I had written a very long piece on the course of these kinds of hearings, but I realize that it probably does not interest anyone but me, so I'll spare you all that. To get a better idea of ​​what these audiences look like, I invite you to read the excellent novel Boat people by Sharon Bala, translated into French under the same title. It's describing! For the others, just know that the process is terribly painful and traumatic for victims of violence. You should also know that the procedures are very expensive and that on average 30% files are rejected and therefore go to appeal6.]

The Biden-Trudeau agreement, a shit show populist flavor

First thing to know: the entire safe third country agreement is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court. This saga began in the first year of Trump's tenure in the United States. With its migration policies cowboy, Canadian advocacy groups stopped viewing the United States as a safe country for migrants and questioned the constitutionality of the deal that no longer respected, in their eyes, the charter of rights and freedoms. Hearings are over, a decision should be made shortly.

So do a hill on the side it is not particularly necessary since everything could be redone in a few months.

That said, the Biden-Trudeau agreement that came into effect on 25 mars 2023 confirms the rigorous application of the agreement on safe third countries. So, it closes the loophole that allowed asylum seekers to circumvent the agreement. For simplicity: Yes, the side deal technically closes Roxham Road with a few exceptions, especially for unaccompanied minors (on average 4 per day), people with family in Canada or people facing the death penalty in the United States (no joke!)7. Other applicants will no longer be able to, until further notice, enter Canada through this crossing point to seek asylum.

But hey… immigration is never that simple.

The Biden-Trudeau agreement provides for a new exception: if people cross from the United States and manage to avoid being caught by the authorities in the 14 early days, they will be able to seek asylum in Canada. How will they be able to prove the exact time of their crossing to have access to this measurement? It remains a mystery! I am so looking forward to the case law that will analyze evidence based on the veracity of the plaintiffs' Tim Horton receipts... Big legal candy!

Finally, the new agreement provides that Canada will accept 15,000 more migrants this year from the “western hemisphere”. What does all this mean? What status will these people have?? Will they be here temporarily or permanently?? They will be asylum seekers or refugees? Honestly, it's really confusing! Even Minister Fraser refused to elaborate on this…

Refugee or asylum seeker?

Finally, the distinction between the status of refugee and that of asylum seeker is often the subject of confusion.

You should know that you cannot apply for asylum from abroad. As we have just seen, people seeking asylum in Canada must do so once inside its borders. So, contrary to the media discourse presenting asylum seekers as “irregular migrants”, know that there is no “right” or “regular” way to claim asylum. When your life is threatened… well you go crazy! No matter how and usually without much thought or planning. Many asylum seekers are fleeing individual persecution, such as violence by armed groups (gang, drug traffickers, to be threatened for being on the wrong political side, etc.), gender-based violence (domestic violence, forced marriages, sexual mutilation, honor killings, etc.) or homophobic violence (death threats, torture, conversion therapies, etc.).

In the reverse, refugees are people who have taken all the legal steps to obtain the protection of a State before traveling to it. These people therefore arrive in the country with all the right papers to rebuild their lives here.. Refugee status is usually granted to people who are collectively threatened, by a war, for example. All refugees are sponsored, either by the government, either by community groups. They are responsible for financially supporting refugees during their first year and must provide them with the necessary to meet their basic needs.. In doing, the number of refugees accepted per year is limited.

Interesting fact, the choice of files accepted by Canada is eminently political. During the war in Syria, practically only people of the Christian faith have been able to settle here. In this context, no wonder the Ukrainians had priority over the Afghans…

Persistent myths about asylum seekers

  1. They get paid for the all-inclusive hotel

Once they get out of the detention center, asylum seekers can be supported by organizations that offer temporary accommodation. We are talking about stays of a maximum of 3 weeks, the time that migrants find accommodation. I don't know who finds accommodation in 3 weeks in Montreal… Got there, it's a miracle! Hosting resources are indeed overwhelmed, but not because we are invaded, only because all the governments of the last decades underfund social services. Short, there is no space, which forced institutions to requisition hotels to temporarily house migrants. We are not talking here about luxury hotels offering room service. We are talking more about large families in one room, no kitchen or any cooking facilities. Short, nothing adapted to the needs of newcomers.

  1. They are “job thieves” and “BS” at the same time!

Once released from detention, asylum seekers can apply for a permit to have the right to work. Currently, this permit takes approximately 9 months to arrive. Waiting for the precious document, migrants cannot work, but they are allowed to apply for social assistance benefits. The vast majority of them would prefer to work as soon as they arrive, but they and they just can't do it.

Furthermore, let us recall, that the needs of asylum seekers upon arrival are important. They and they literally start from scratch with only a few clothes in their backpack. So you have to buy furniture, appliances, winter clothes for kids, kitchen items or any other necessities in addition to food and accommodation. It is certainly not with 923$ per month for a single person or 1431$ for a couple that we manage to do all that.

Many people will therefore be tempted to work “under the table” to meet all the needs. Or, without a work permit, migrants often inherit the most arduous and dangerous jobs, generally for ridiculous wages, in addition to risking getting caught by the authorities8.

Nevertheless, these people are often perceived by local workers as a threat to their own working conditions. Before talk of the supposed “labour shortage” took up so much space, these workers were often referred to as “job thieves”. Now we say rather that these last eras are putting downward pressure on wages because they are ready to accept anything.

The solution here the gang, it is solidarity between workers against the bosses. Nothing else!

  1. Everyone doesn't even speak French

Yes, asylum seekers have the right to francization and yes, during the months following their arrival, I can guarantee you that everyone goes to class because as long as they don't have the right to work, as well get a few extra pennies with the services for learning the language in addition to acquiring skills that allow you to find a better job afterwards.

Pis, all asylum-seeking children go to school in French, it's only been a few months, they become the interpreters of their parents, when they have. You will try to teach your mother yourself that she has cancer when you have 12 years. It's rough in ostia!

What do we get out of all this??

First, whatever the situation at the border, when people feel in danger, they will find a way to pass. No matter how high the walls, the length of the desert or the depth of the sea. It's no use trying to stop them. Worse honestly, you would probably do the same if you were in their shoes.

The advantage we had before the Biden-Trudeau agreement, it was that we could know more or less exactly the number of people who entered the country without going through a border post. Now, we can expect that the number of people who settle in Canada without papers without taking steps to regularize their immigration situation will jump. If all this fine anti-immigration world had the impression that we had lost control of our borders, they are not ready for what is to come.

Finally, seek asylum, it is a difficult process, often humiliating, always precarious. Asylum seekers too often end up in the worst, but oh so essential, jobs. The best we can do is stick together.


1 Government of Canada, Asylum 2018, On line, https://www.canada.ca/fr/immigration-refugies-citoyennete/services/refugies/demandes-asile/demandes-asile-2018.html (28 mars 2023) I advise you to take a look at all of this., It's really interesting!

2 Generally, people who come from “global north” countries do not need to apply for a tourist visa before traveling. The stamp affixed in the passport by a customs officer on arrival acts as a visitor's visa.

3 For reasons of efficiency and clarity, this text will focus only on migrants who transact from the United States to Canada. Be aware, however, that the migratory flow is important in both directions.

4 Agreement Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America for Cooperation in Determining Refugee Status Claims by Third-Country Nationals, 5 December 2002, on line : https://www.canada.ca/fr/immigration-refugies-citoyennete/organisation/mandat/politiques-directives-operationnelles-ententes-accords/ententes/entente-tiers-pays-surs/version-finale.html

5 Canada Border Services Agency, Immigration Holding Centers, On line, https://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/security-securite/ihc-csi-fra.html (12 January 2023)

6 Immigration and Refugee Protection Board, Refugee Protection Division Statistics (SPR), On line, https://irb.gc.ca/fr/transparence/cartable-ccp-nov-2020/Pages/pac10.aspx?=undefined&wbdisable=false#:~:text=La SPR a réglé un,rapport à l'exercice précédent (28 mars 2023)

7 Government of Canada, Agreement between Canada and the StatesUnited on third countriesandrs, On line, https://www.canada.ca/fr/immigration-refugies-citoyennete/organisation/mandat/politiques-directives-operationnelles-ententes-accords/ententes/entente-tiers-pays-surs.html (28 mars 2023)

8 On this subject, I invite you to watch the documentary “Essentiels”. It gives a good idea of ​​the conditions in which these people can work. https://www.telequebec.tv/documentaire/essentiels


The inverted pyramid

An organizer and a worker describe a direct action campaign that reaped great victories and then collapsed for lack of a solid foundation.

Anyone who has already taken the organizational training 101 You ITS-IWW (OT101) will be familiar with the organization pyramid shared below. If you've never seen it or need your memory refreshed, she goes as follows: A narrow point of “direct actions” is laid on a broader level of “democracy in the workplace” (for example, meetings), himself laid on an even broader floor of “colleague relations” (built through face-to-face discussions) ultimately resting on a foundation of “knowledge of one’s workplace” (who works there, how are the places divided, etc).

This pyramid is sometimes opposed to another going “from the bottom up” and in which a few highly motivated workers start taking direct action before (or instead) to build a solid organizational base.

There are several reasons why this other pyramid can be attractive: One is that for many workers who do not trust their persuasive skills or the ability of their colleagues to help them organize their workplace, concrete and successful direct action seems like good evidence to show their colleagues. that “collective action, it works !». Another is that building a well-established committee takes a lot of work., often boring, while the rapid recourse to direct action is exciting and sometimes leads to the gains that were the reasons for wanting to organize in the first place.

In return, an obvious reason to oppose this method is that direct action is likely to fail if there is not an organization behind to support the small group (what, after all, is the reason why it is necessary to organize at the beginning). This is a very good observation. However, there is another problem, much deeper still, which is that even if the action(s) works, without the rest of the pyramid, there is little to do to use this or these actions to create a sustainable solidarity or organization, and without them, all gains are likely to be very short-lived. Their duration will ultimately depend much more on the will of the bosses to withdraw them or not than on the strength of the organization to maintain them..

To illustrate this point, I would like to share with you an example from an organizing campaign that I supported and written by the organizer himself:

I inadvertently used the bottom-up pyramid model when I was a “baby organizer” working on her first campaign. I was relatively new to the IWW and although I had attended a few trainings on how to have organizing conversations and read a few books, I had not yet been able to do an organization training 101.

The company I worked for was a family business in which the different members of the family each had their own department as an independent company despite occupying the same building.. Instead of seeing this structure for what it was, i.e. an attempt to separate employees, I rather perceived my department as being the totality of the company for which I worked. So I started having one-on-one conversations with my co-workers who I felt were the most receptive and receptive to organizing our middle.. Although I had a general idea of ​​the social cartography of my environment, I had not thoroughly analyzed the social and influence relationships before starting.

I left the seasonal aspect of the business, the fact that it closes every winter, blind my judgment and justify a fast-track approach for this organizing campaign. So I managed to get three of my six colleagues together to do a “march on the boss[1]on a few key issues including hours and wages. I didn't know the IWW taught a specific walkthrough for this tactic in OT101, but we were lucky and my boss's response didn't work. We had unknowingly proceeded relatively as the training suggested., for example by making specific requests and giving a deadline. However, during this march on the boss, one of my co-workers raised issues that I was unaware of because I had not taken the time to speak to her adequately. Alas, none of them have been solved.

Nevertheless, a few days after our march on the boss, we have been successful on several important demands: First, everyone except the foreman got a raise. Secondly, the workers had control of the schedule that they were able to do without constraint from the owner or the foreman, except for his own schedule. Thirdly, we had complained that employees were cut off before the end of their day and that they often missed hours and this practice stopped. Finally, we wanted a feedback on the previous summer's "dollar days" program that had lost us sales and we got it.

In the moment, I was in ecstasy! I proudly recounted our successes at the next meeting of the organizing committee of my local branch., then the questions began to tumble : “What exact questions did you ask your colleagues during one-on-one meetings? What did they say ?Since I hadn't bothered to take detailed notes, I was not able to give exact answers, so I couldn't bring back much of what I had learned to the rest of the group. “Did during the march on the boss you did X, Y and Z, as we were taught ?"I just didn't know we had an optimal path forward for this tactic..

As the season drew to a close, the campaign gradually dismantled. I understood that one of the three participants had sexually harassed the others throughout the summer. That the boss had installed new security cameras and that had a chilling effect on our campaign. That he told everyone working under the table that he should now declare their wages. That he himself had met single people who were then suspicious of us. He finally accused me of wanting to create a union and threatened me.

Meanwhile, realizing my mistakes, I had tried to collect contacts from people I knew and to have one-on-one meetings with employees from other departments.. Sadly, the cat was out of the bag and my colleague member of the organizing committee best placed to talk to them (because she had already worked in these departments) was now far too intimidated to take a chance.

I ended up having to move and I didn't come back for the following season. Another person I had organized could not return either due to health issues. Another came back and kept her raise but no longer wanted to organize the business. I had no other contacts to keep this campaign alive and it died.

With hindsight, I can identify the key factors that made me choose to go too fast in this campaign.

Lesson learned: No to adventurism !

I wanted to accomplish something before the season ended because I wasn't sure I wanted to come back the following year. I finally understood that it is better to organize a job in which you plan to stay for a few years because you will not be tempted to do things too quickly. We must remember that the reason for which we organize ourselves is to make our job a work environment in which we will want to stay and which we will hold on to and that, even if we can't stay there, that's not a good reason to try to go too fast. It is better to start or even complete the physical and social mapping of our workplace, to have information on the employment process and then to find someone to replace us and continue where we left off, whether it is an internal person or a “salt[2]».

I was also anxious to prove my worth to other members of the branch and I believed that deviating from the course of action was necessary because of the particularities of my work environment.. In reality, if we want to impress people in the IWW more broadly, building a sustainable and winning committee will accomplish much more than anything else, but especially, the only people we should really want to prove anything to are our co-workers. Union organizing is a risky business and our colleagues deserve an organizer who is dedicated to sticking to best practices and using methods that have proven themselves over time.. Almost everyone believes their workplace is unique, and indeed almost everyone seems to have unique conditions that justify deviating from the process., but every time someone does, the same problems occur.

I had a very adventurous vision of union action. I thought it would be great to make a march on the boss, everyone stop working, do a sit-in or whatever other action, then get earnings and honestly, it was ! But we must remember that we cannot organize ourselves alone.. We have a duty to integrate our colleagues and follow the strategy with the greatest probability of building a sustainable committee capable of improving our working conditions in the long term.. Participating in direct actions is one of the most exhilarating experiences in the world, but that's not why we do it. We do it to create a lasting counterforce on the floor. Rushing into direct action before you have created a solid foundation is not the way to go..

And yes...

What if spontaneous direct action was bound to happen, whether we participate or not ?

Sometimes, and especially in a "hot shop[3]», a group of workers may decide to confront their supervisors or stop working, slowing down or complaining about unreasonable orders from bosses in a way that affects the business. If sufficient organizational capacity has not yet been created to conduct direct action responsibly, we probably don't have enough either to stop/redirect one that could go wrong.

In such a situation, our best option is often to join the action and offer the best of our support and leadership to ensure that the action is successful while minimizing the risks to our colleagues. This kind of situation can get carried away very quickly and it is very likely that we only have time to discern who is the person with the most influence on the group and ask them a few key questions such as: “What should the boss be asked to do/change/stop ? How long do we give him to do what we ask him to do? ? Who else might want to join this action ? Are we talking to the right supervisor? ? Does he or she have the power to do what is asked of him or her? ? Who else should be part of this conversation ? What do we do if one, one or all of us are fired ? What do we do if he targets one of us as the leader? ?

Texte original: Organizing Work
Translation: Maxime K.

[1]Direct action in which a group of workers goes, without warning, meet a superior to address requests.

[2]A salt is a person who will work in a company only to organize/syndicate it.

[3]A hot-shop is a work environment in which one or more issues crying out(s) agitate the employees a lot, which often leads to spontaneous but ephemeral actions.


Lessons to be learned from a failed action

Before taking action, we must identify the obstacles that stand in our way. A computer technician tells us his story.

I've been supporting unions and criticizing capitalism and big business for a long time.. However, I had never dared to act concretely, until recently. To do this, I met organizers and organizers of the SITT-IWW, I participated in an OT101 and I put my new knowledge into practice by trying to take action and organize my workplace. My organizing campaign is still in its infancy, but I recently participated in my first action and would like to share some of my thoughts.

I work in IT security for a large mortgage services company in the Midwest.. It's a questionable ethical company., but I tell myself that by helping to secure the data that is already in their possession, I protect current customers and do not help the company to attack new people. This is not concrete rhetoric, but it gets me through my days.

The lack of flexibility is one of the biggest annoyances of my job.: we are not allowed to work from home. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been forced to switch to telework due to health restrictions, but as soon as these have been lifted, we had to go back to the office. I am relatively new to this workplace, but colleagues who have been there for a long time told me that before the pandemic, our employer allowed telecommuting on occasion. I've also heard senior executives talk about it.

Since we came back to the office, the company has implemented increasingly severe measures to force us to present ourselves on site. Now, we have the choice between coming to the office or taking a day off. Sans exception. They don't care that we're uncomfortable spending our days in crowded auditoriums, without wearing a mask being compulsory and without being able to keep a safe distance from each other. Without surprise, only managers and their friends are exempt from this obligation.

Our employer also sent a memo to team leaders to tell them not to reveal the number of cases of COVID-19 among employees.. Even if a person tests positive, she still has to go back to work. Short, the company is even less flexible than before the pandemic and the ban on disclosing the number of cases has the effect of putting the health of employees at risk.

This regulation was already causing discontent among employees, but recently, it's a snowstorm that came to test our patience. Heavy snowfall was forecast for two days: all schools closed, and the media was strongly suggesting people stay off the road and stay home if possible. Despite this, our employer wrote to remind us that working from home was prohibited, and that people who did not show up to work during the storm had to take a day off or not be paid.

People worried about driving in storms were even suggested to sleep in a hotel near the office.! The company had negotiated a special rate for the occasion, but the room still cost more than most of us make in a day. This announcement was published on the company's internal portal, in a section where it is possible to leave comments. Several employees criticized this perverse initiative, and one person wrote that the situation was “dystopian”. She was fired immediately..

My colleagues were outraged by this decision. An employee from another team approached us to offer us all to take time off the next day., and thus leave the company understaffed. He told us that several people were already planning to do it and he encouraged us to join them.. Colin*, one of my colleagues, was really up for it and he got the other five team members to follow him.

I was very excited, since I had already thought about doing this kind of action. I had also identified Colin as one of the leaders of our group when I did my social mapping.. He's a big mouth and he's often the one who starts conversations. When the time comes to choose an activity to do as a team, his colleagues often tend to accept what he offers.

But I lacked confidence.. I had just started to organize my workplace and I had not yet had one-on-one meetings with Colin and with my other colleagues., and even less with members of other teams in the department. We talked about our problems as a group, but it ended there. Ideally, I should have waited before doing something like that., but Colin was up for it and he strongly encouraged the others to get on board. Conditions seemed favorable, the action itself was small scale and quite realistic: it had to include my team of five and other employees in different teams. So I said I was in too, and I created a group on Signal for me and my colleagues (with the exception of our team leader) can communicate.

This is the plan we agreed on: we were going to write individually to our team leader on the morning of the storm to tell him that we were going to work from home (and if he or she refused, that we were going to take a day off). We were going to use the Signal group to share the messages we sent and their responses., to help us keep our spirits up and to prevent any of us from feeling isolated.

Four of my five colleagues were on board; the other refused to participate. I was excited about this little collective action and went to bed with a shiver of excitement.

But the next morning, things started to go wrong.

Colin is the first to enter the office: he arrives around 6:30, then the others arrive between 7:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., and i start at 9am. By shifting our schedules in this way, we make sure that there is at least one person on site for a good part of the day, while allowing us to work as a team for a few hours. Due to his schedule, Colin was going to be the first to write to our team leader.

On the other hand, he wrote to us around 6:30 a.m. to tell us that the road conditions were really bad. Another colleague, Danielle, asked him if he had arrived at the office and he replied that yes. I wrote to the group to tell them that I was planning to call our team leader and tell him that I was going to work from home (and take a day off if he refuses). That's what I did, just like another colleague (Roger). Danielle did not answer, but when I contacted her at the end of the morning, she told me that she had decided to go to the office since Colin, the big mouth of the team, had flinched. My last colleague, Jackie, was opposed to the action from the start and she returned to the office as planned.

I must admit that I was a little disappointed with my colleagues: only two of us did not return (me and roger), while the others (Colin, Danielle and Jackie) went∙I work. From what I understood, It happened much the same way in the other teams. Ultimately, we have not been punished for our actions, but our absence did not really hinder the work in our company and we did not manage to make any concrete gains.

I was mostly frustrated with Colin's attitude, who encouraged the team to take action and who capitulated first. I decided to let this irritation dissipate before going to talk to him and tried to be empathetic and understanding.. I approached him a few days after the events and asked him for his views on the action: « Hey, Colin, How are you doing? I would like to understand what happened on your side. I had the impression that you were enthusiastic about not coming back to the office? ».

Colin was clearly uncomfortable. I reassured him by telling him that I was not angry and that I did not blame him, but that I wanted to understand what had happened. He then told me that he and our team leader were practically neighbors, and that he was afraid of looking bad to him if he decided not to return. I told him that I understood his concern and that we were going to have other opportunities to take action.. I did a similar follow up with Danielle and Roger, and I told them that other opportunities were coming.

What do I take away from all this??

First, even if the action was overall a failure (fewer 50% colleagues participated and we did not achieve our objectives), we have made some gains in terms of communication: the trust and honesty we have in each other has helped us organize, and the Signal discussion group allowed us to coordinate while helping us build a sense of togetherness outside of our workplace.

Secondly, this action taught me a good lesson on the leaders. Colin was indeed a leader within our team, but I absolutely did not expect him to bow to our team leader, and I had not done any inoculation to prevent this.

Thirdly, I remember that it is essential to carefully plan our actions and to plan all the steps in chronological order: who will act first? Who is likely to get reprimanded first? How to make our colleagues feel that we will support them if they take action? Can I anticipate obstacles (p. ex. relations, vulnerabilities) that could prevent a leader from acting as intended?

Fourth, this action taught me that all actions, as minor as they are, must be organized carefully. The action in question took place at the very beginning of the campaign and even though we agreed on the issues we wanted to address, we were not organized enough to act in a coordinated way. Short, "to be angry" and "to be able to take concrete actions to improve the situation" are not synonymous; it is not for nothing that agitation is the first step of AEIOU, while the formation of a union is the last.

fifth, I remember that our actions must be based on a solid organization and not on flukes: the course of our action depended on the road conditions, which are unpredictable. The weather forecast predicted a snowstorm, but it turned out to be much less intense than expected. The risk that employees would chicken out and decide to go to the office anyway was very present, which introduced some uncertainty among our colleagues.

Finally, I am happy to have participated in this action. I obviously would have preferred that we win, but we have a lot to learn from our failure and I will keep those lessons in mind in the future.

*All names are fictitious.

Article original de Organizing Work

Grievances Suspended, health care workers turn to direct action

An anonymous source describes the direct actions employed, during the public health crisis in Ontario, by long-term care home workers now that grievances are on hold.

The 17 mars, Premier Doug Ford has declared a state of emergency in Ontario. For most people, il était interdit à présent de se réunir en groupe. Les centres commerciaux et les lieux publics ont été fermés, et les travailleurs et travailleuses ont été contraint.e.s de rester à la maison à tenter d’imaginer comment se nourrir et payer les factures ; mais pour le personnel de la santé, ce fut autre chose.

La déclaration d’urgence a suspendu une grande partie des conventions collectives dans le secteur de la santé. Pour l’employeur, ceci veut dire que toute les mesures de restriction des horaires, affectations, lieux de travail et tâches, ne sont plus en vigueur durant la pandémie. Toutes les vacances et tous les congés ont été annulés, au point où – lorsqu’ils ont été interrogés – les employeurs ont déclaré qu’ils pensaient maintenant avoir le droit, en vertu de la déclaration d’urgence, d’annuler un congé de maternité s’ils le souhaitaient, tout en espérant que ce ne serait pas le cas.

Les mécanismes habituels qu’utilisent les syndicats pour régler les problèmes en milieu de travail ont subi beaucoup de dommages collatéraux. L’arbitrage accéléré, où un syndicat peut demander à la Commission des Relations de Travail de l’Ontario de nommer un arbitre et de faire tenir une audience dans les 30 days, n’est pas utilisé actuellement. La CRTO échoue de façon routinière à répondre à ces demandes, de sorte que la disposition peut tout aussi bien ne pas exister. En temps normal, un ordre d’exécution de travaux dangereux peut être résolu par un refus, et en contactant le ministère du Travail pour qu’il mène une enquête et se prononce face à la sécurité des travaux requis. Depuis la crise du COVID-19, ce ministère contacte en premier lieu la direction, parle ensuite aux travailleurs et travailleuses, et termine en affirmant publiquement qu’il n’y a pas de problème. Les employeurs ignorent simplement les griefs parce qu’ils savent qu’ils le peuvent. Les représentant.e.s syndicaux ne peuvent pas visiter le lieu de travail, car ils ont été classé.e.s comme «visiteur.e.s non essentiel.le.s».

Dans certains lieux de travail, c’est désastreux. Sans visite d’un.e représentant.e syndical et sans réunions de griefs, certain.e.s travailleuses et travailleurs estiment que le syndicat n’existe pas en ce moment. Les gestionnaires en profitent pour dire aux employé.e.s que les syndicats ne peuvent les aider et qu’ils ne seront à nouveau pertinents qu’après la pandémie. Les membres appellent leurs représentant.e.s syndicaux en les implorant d’agir mais rien ne se passe puisque les méthodes habituelles sont suspendues.

Pour d’autres lieux de travail, however, c’est une chance de progresser en poussant encore plus loin les gains réalisés dans le passé. Ces unités, même si elles utilisent aussi la procédure de règlement des griefs, ne comptent pas uniquement sur elle pour faire avancer les choses. Certaines de ces unités ont une longue histoire d’action directe, d’autres fléchissent leurs muscles pour la première fois… Mais toutes ont su améliorer leurs conditions de travail !

Je voudrais partager deux de leurs histoires. L’une est une unité déjà combative ; l’autre est une unité où ils commencent à réaliser que la lutte paie. Les deux employeurs resteront anonymes.

Planification et Affectation

La première unité est une maison de soins de longue durée qui pratique l’action coordonnée pour réaliser des gains. Dans le passé, ils ont mobilisé les résident.e.s et leurs familles pour lutter contre les décisions de gestion impopulaires telles que la sous-traitance. Bien avant le COVID, ils se regroupaient déjà régulièrement pour refuser collectivement de permettre à l’employeur de remplacer les postes à temps plein par des quarts de travail supplémentaires à temps partiel. Dans un certain nombre de cas, lorsqu’un.e employé.e a été injustement suspendu.e, ils ont collectivement refusé d’accepter de pourvoir au poste suspendu pour envoyer un message à l’employeur. Sometimes, cet.te. employé.e suspendu.e a même été ramené.e au travail avant la fin de la suspension afin de maintenir les effectifs en place.

Les travailleurs et travailleuses de ce foyer de soins continuent de faire des gains malgré la suspension actuelle d’une partie de leur convention collective. L’un des éléments de la déclaration d’urgence est une ordonnance stipulant que tous les travailleuses et travailleurs de la santé ne peuvent travailler que pour un seul employeur. Lorsqu’un gestionnaire a essayé de profiter de la déclaration d’urgence pour mettre en œuvre un horaire de 12 heures extrêmement impopulaire, plus de la moitié des employé.e.s de cette unité se sont regroupé.e.s et ont dit à leur gestionnaire que si cela se produisait, ils iraient travailler dans un autre établissement de soins, obligeant le gestionnaire à revenir sur sa décision.

Dans un autre cas, des travailleurs et travailleuses ont été déplacé.e.s dans l’établissement pendant leur quart de travail, envoyé.e.s d’une unité non-COVID à une unité aux prises avec le virus, puis retourné.e.s à l’unité non-COVID pendant le même quart de travail. Après une brève discussion avec la direction, ils ont été menacé.e.s de licenciement pour abandon d’emploi s’ils refusaient de retourner dans une unité non COVID pendant le même quart de travail. Après avoir discuté de la situation entre eux, ils sont retourné.e.s voir leur gestionnaire avec un ultimatum : soit le mouvement entre les unités s’arrête immédiatement, soit chaque travailleuse et travailleur renvoyé.e dans une unité non-COVID pendant le même quart de travail appelle la Santé publique et signale une exposition aux COVID. Ils savaient très bien que la Santé publique les mettrait en quarantaine pendant 14 jours avant de leur permettre de retourner au travail, ce qui causerait un énorme problème – dû au manque de personnel – pour le gestionnaire. En travaillant ensemble, ils ont pu atteindre leurs objectifs malgré le démantèlement de la procédure de règlement des griefs.

Équipement de Protection Individuelle (EPI)

Dans une autre unité sans histoire d’action directe, les travailleuses et travailleurs commencent à réaliser leur pouvoir. Lorsque l’ordonnance d’urgence a été rendue, les gestionnaires ont déclaré aux délégué.e.s syndicaux que le syndicat n’était plus pertinent et ne le serait qu’après la pandémie. Des griefs ont été déposés et ignorés. Les délégué.e.s syndicaux ont approché la direction pour parler des problèmes, et on leur a dit de s’en aller et de revenir après la pandémie. Ne voulant pas attendre pour faire face à ces problèmes importants et urgents, ces employé.e.s avaient besoin d’un autre plan. Des réunions ont eu lieu (virtuellement, of course) et un plan d’action a été convenu.

Le premier point à traiter pour ces travailleurs et travailleuses était l’accès aux EPI. Le médecin en chef de la Santé publique a ordonné que les EPI soient facilement disponibles, mais leur employeur mettait des bâtons dans les roues. Un masque à procédure unique était fourni à leur arrivée au travail, et s’ils avaient besoin d’un autre, ou d’un masque N95, ou de blouses, ou de gants, ils devaient s’adresser à un.e responsable. Le directeur posait beaucoup de questions pour ne pas accéder à leur demande. Plusieurs fois, on leur a dit qu’un masque N95 coûte 7 $, ce qui devrait être le dernier souci à avoir en matière de sécurité. Il se trouve que la gestionnaire de soir, chargée de garder et de distribuer à contrecoeur l’EPI, n’était pas elle-même une agente de santé, mais travaillait dans un rôle de soutien auxiliaire. Une nuit, deux employé.e.s se sont approché.e.s et ont demandé des EPI supplémentaires, ce qui a été refusé. Un.e des employé.e a remis à celle-ci une copie de l’une des directives du médecin en chef de la Santé publique, qui excluait spécifiquement tous les visiteurs et travailleurs non essentiel.le.s des foyers de soins de longue durée. La gestionnaire a demandé en quoi cela était pertinent, et l’autre employé.e a déclaré: «Nous sommes trois ici, mais seulement deux d’entre nous sont des employé.e.s essentiel.le.s. On peut procéder de deux façons : soit vous donnez l’EPI à tout employé.e qui vous le demande ; soit on vous fait renvoyer chez vous dès maintenant en appelant la Santé publique si vous refusez de partir. » La gestionnaire a appelé (et réveillé) son propre directeur, et le directeur s’est présenté sur les lieux pour tenter de dissuader les travailleurs de l’EPI qu’ils avaient demandé, mais ils sont resté.e.s fermes. Finally, la direction a cédé et le lendemain matin, une nouvelle directive a été envoyée à tous les travailleurs et travailleuses les informant que «par mesure de précaution», les EPI seraient distribués gratuitement.

Un autre levier que les travailleuses et travailleurs utilisent sont les médias. Leur lieu de travail a été mis en évidence récemment dans les nouvelles, et ce n’est pas positif. La direction, qui essaie normalement de contrôler ce que les médias peuvent dire sur cette entreprise, est dépassée par les évènements. Les employé.e.s l’utilisent régulièrement pour contester les décisions de la direction concernant les politiques de dotation et de quarantaine. Lorsque la direction met en œuvre un changement, les travailleurs et travailleuses ont un rendez-vous virtuel pour répondre à une question: est-ce stupide maintenant ou est-ce que ce sera stupide à six heures, aux nouvelles? Cette phrase a fait son chemin, et les gestionnaires ne savent pas comment y répondre.

Alors que quelques travailleuses et travailleurs parlent ouvertement aux médias, beaucoup d’autres sont plus réticent.e.s. So, un.e porte-parole qui n’est pas employé.e par l’entreprise a été sélectionné.e pour transmettre aux médias des informations sur ce qui se passe à l’intérieur de la maison de soins de santé. Dans la salle de pause, il y a une télévision qui est généralement réglée sur l’une des chaînes d’information locales. A few weeks ago, un gestionnaire a bloqué toutes les chaînes d’information par dépit. Pour contourner ce problème, les travailleurs et travailleuses organisent des visionnements sur Facebook pendant leurs pauses, assis à six pieds l’un.e de l’autre dans la salle à manger, sur leur téléphone portable, le volume bien audible. Durant cette pandémie, la direction a commencé à faire allusion à la discipline pour – comme elle le dit – «rétablir l’ordre» au travail, mais elle ne peut pas faire grand-chose sans se mettre dans une situation pire qu’elle ne l’est déjà.

Cette unité prend conscience du pouvoir de l’action directe et commence à comprendre son pouvoir sur les lieux de travail. De nouveaux leaders commencent à se mettre en place. Certain.e.s représentant.e.s «officiel.le.s» tombent en déroute, tandis que d’autres jouent un rôle de premier plan dans l’action directe collective au travail.


La conclusion que l’on peut tirer est simple. Les conventions collectives, les griefs, les arbitrages et les canaux syndicaux officiels peuvent être utilisés pour atténuer certains des dommages qu’un mauvais employeur peut faire aux travailleuses et travailleurs, mais ils ne peuvent pas tout régler. Non seulement ils sont imparfaits de par leur conception, mais ils peuvent être suspendus ou rendus inefficaces très facilement par le gouvernement en place.

Les griefs peuvent être retardés mais pas l’action collective directe. Les conventions collectives peuvent être suspendues, temporairement, comme dans ce cas ; ou même de façon permanente comme c’est arrivé au cours de l’histoire ; mais l’action collective directe s’inscrit toujours dans le présent. Les lieux de travail où les travailleuses et travailleurs ont érigé un rempart, ou ont une une histoire éprouvée d’action directe collective, se portent beaucoup mieux pendant la pandémie que ceux qui n’en ont pas.

How to Resist Special Back-to-Work Laws

Postal workers in Canada staged rotating strikes in early winter 2018 when, following a special law of the Federal Government, they were forced togo back to work. Since that time, the negotiations were subject to arbitration, which led to two extensions. Postal workers had also been subject to a similar law in 2011, under an article that was later proven to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada. However, this case law failed to prevent last year's strike from ending in the same way.

Workers today face all sorts of impromptu legislation that interrupts their strikes, of the Taft Hartley article in the United States, that prevents support strikes, New York State Taylor Law, which effectively prevents public service workers from going on strike. Severaladvanced that unions must challenge these laws in order to turn the tide on these draconian laws and actualize union activism in order to fight for real gains in the workplace. But how do you get there when the penalties and obstruction fees are so high? In the case of Canada Post, some workers are subject to fines of $1,000 a day simply for taking part in the strike.

I spoke with Roland Schmidt, Local President 730 of the postal union in Edmonton. Workers in this section have established a method of disobeying back-to-work laws and fighting against the establishment of new laws of the same kind. These direct actions begin by building a balance of power in their workplace and then disperse into a larger training program..

How do these direct actions, in your workplace, did they start?

In 2011, our local branch has had a very positive organizing experience with several activists who fought against a mandatory overtime regime. Tangiblement, this meant that if we were short-staffed, the corporation could force letter carriers to stay on the job. Instead of hiring the necessary staff, bosses could therefore use these measures to force employees to stay at work until the tasks were completed. We called this measure ‘force back’. Workers would have finished their usual route, and then had to follow up with another hour and forty-five more minutes, be another person's road. If it happened once or twice in a few months, All right, we would have just made a little more money. But the, this exception to the rule happened three times a week. Fighting against this measure has been a real springboard for activism in the local. Field work committees have emerged, coordinated refusals to apply the bylaw and stood together against the corporation. A campaign has emerged across the city, bringing together all the suppliers of all the stations. We organized mass meetings. Canada Post recanted on threats of suspensions and changed its methods of organizing its employees and the problem was solved!

Based on our experience, we have developed a course called ''Taking back the workfloor’’ (Reclaiming your workplace) which was largely inspired by the training given by the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), a labor organization that has always been responsive in supporting the postal union when our rights are violated.

Ironically, in the same period of time when we were entering the outbreak of a strike, (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper threw us aspecial back to work law. This legislation has really deflated our troops. We didn't have an action plan to fight the law. Following this event, our section has entered a long period of inactivity which only recently ended, in the last 6 or 8 month.

There is still a lot of misgivings and concerns that have not been addressed – we still have issues around workplace structures and understaffing that result in injuries to a quarter of our members every year. Following last year's law, our members were pushed to the limit, resulting in a departure from the usual union process. I was part of a small group of activists in Edmonton and we decided that we had to openly assume that all union procedures – grievances, arbitrage, the judicial system, the constitution – let us down. We need to get back to fighting to revive CUPW activism.

I was an officer in the organization at the time, and we brought out this course to train people through these issues. Our group has grown, from 5 person to 30. We finally decided to go completely, and I became president of our local in June (2018). We fully recognize the limitations of union bureaucracy, but we thought that we could use this platform as a lever to promote an organizing campaign among all postal workers.. Since I am no longer a postman, I spend most of my time at the union office and so I can spend half of my days visiting different Canada Post buildings to explain why the union spends its time losing its fights, why we still receive strike-breaking laws and why union organizing is the best way to counter these measures. Together we can turn the tide and put pressure on the company. I wasn't sure how the workers would react to my ideas, but, with the help of other activists, people enlisteda lot and we filled our classroom 6 times in June, with 20 people every time. This mass of people represents the core of our new contingent of organizers and we now had representatives in every area of ​​the business.

We had several direct actions in seven of our eleven main workplaces, thus involving new workers in direct actions; confront intimidating bosses, address payroll issues etc.. With direct action, we were able to see a major improvement in our working conditions within a few weeks, when we had not seen any change in several years.

Are you afraid of penalties, following all these direct actions, considering that you are subscribed to the back-to-work laws?

This is a very present concern. Some people believe that it is not really important to consider fines, but the reality is that with the majority of our members, This is an issue not to be taken lightly.

Many of our actions take place around the fact that our collective agreement gives us the right to complain. Let's say you have a bullying boss - like last week, there was a section of 25 workers at a site who struggled with a harassing supervisor who systematically fell on their heads. He wouldn't let people leave until the very last minute., which is largely badly received since it is necessary to put at least 5 minutes to cross the huge shoppe. They got tired of filing grievances against this supervisor and 20 of the 25 workers marched to the Director’s office to urge him to listen to them. The latter left the premises and the workers told him “We'll wait for you until you come back."He eventually came back and they were able to explain all their problems with the Supervisor in question to him.. The manager then reprimanded him and the supervisor even apologized to the workers.. Since that time, he seems to stand straighter and act with more respect.

The company then issued disciplinary letters to all the workers on the pretext that they had stopped production for half an hour.. We fought against this disciplinary measure. As part of my duties as President, I said: ‘’We made use of our right to complain. The director fled his office, thus lengthening a meeting that could have lasted only a minute.Even though we have stopped production, why didn't they bring us the law ? There were several times when they could have put it back in our face, but I think the bosses are afraid to add fuel to the fire.

In Rosedale, one of the largest mail sorting centers in Edmonton, there was an error in the categorization of a certainflyer, the bosses therefore insisted that it be delivered individually to everyone. This request added up to 4 additional kilometers of walking for already overworked letter carriers. I was still a postman at that time and we made amarch on the Boss saying '' You need to re-classify this flyer.The management of this station then ordered that we still issue the flyer. Rather than comply, the workers went to the vote on the subject and voted no. Now, the management told them ''We will have to carry out disciplinary measures. but we all laughed in his face. of the 60 people who refused to distribute theflyer, only 5 were targeted and received a one-day suspension. Normally, we would have received a suspension of 5 days for such an act of blatant insubordination. Considering that we had twice received a direct order and still refused to obey.

This incident would have been another opportunity to use the Special Law against us that the employers did not take.. Why didn't they and why aren't they tougher on the workers who participated? We think it doesn't take much to scare them.

What is the course about?Take Back the WorkFloor ?

AEIOU form date (Shake, Educate, Inoculate, Organiser, Unit) teaches workers how to build a support team in their workplace. Performing workplace mapping often increases the register of potential allies.. How to organize a meeting of colleagues. We also do a lot of role-playing and simulations of meetings and potential confrontations – all in a day of 8 hours.

We try to convince as many people as possible since we want to recruit more widely than from people who are already ideologically convinced.. We register people according to their working hours. They participate with other colleagues who share the same kind of tasks and the same rank. Ensuite, we ask them if they would like to continue their union involvement, and then relegate them to Facebook groups, Signal as well as email list.

We have been so successful that all different levels of our union have been excited to take our course. We are part of the prairie region – Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – and the rest of the region seems inspired to join the effort as launched in Edmonton. Other locals ask us why such a program does not exist for them and them. We therefore share our organizational methods with other locals – Lethbridge, Grande Prairie Saskatoon, Winnipeg. So, we therefore send our trainers to the various premises to give the course but also to train other workers so that they can then be autonomous. We help them look like an alley so that their premises can then be managed by themselves. With these different premises we can even create regional organizing committees – a first for our union!

How the CUPW National reacted, did he even react?

It's hard to say. With regard to the trade union organization as such, it is interesting because we are facing a success never seen before. We have almost tripled our levels of participation in the Monthly Meetings, resulting from the immense participation in the organizing committees, to groups of volunteers, to everyone who shares our progress on social media. All these things that get people reacting on our Facebook page where groups across the country are starting to question 'why is this kind of activity not emerging elsewhere?’’

It is difficult to determine whether these people, au national, are also skeptical because they did not initiate the movement and are now embarrassed , sort of, to join it so late, or if it is because they are totally opposed to our methods. I like to compare unionism to a bird. A wing is only procedures; put the bars on the T's, handle grievances, arbitration, consultations etc.. The other wing represents the Field Organization. Our union has relied only primarily on its procedural wing since 1985. It was then that the penalties and fines awarded to strikers changed from prison penalties to the back-to-work laws we know today.. Ensuite, the strategy changed based on the following reflection : ‘’We are the specialists in our field, we are the ones who are going to have much better evidence for the arbitration.” The idea was probably not to demobilize the workers., but this drive to emphasize procedure came at the expense of collective solidarity. The danger is that once we get used to thinking about trade unionism this way, it becomes hard to believe that it can exist in any other way. I do not want to ascribe malicious intentions to procedural unionists, but I believe that we can draw our collective strength from accepting that there are many visions and approaches worth considering. I understand that someone who has spent their entire career filing grievances might feel threatened by members who are fond of another strategy.

 I saw that you have decided to survey your members regarding the issue of compliance with the back-to-work law. Why did you decide to do this and what was the result of this survey??

It's interesting because while we were planning the campaign and providing union training to our members, they were already looking at the situation wondering ''How are we going to fight against that?

The roads of a department were being reassessed. It is a practice that occurs every 4 or 5 years, depending on the number of packages and letters. Even if the number of letters keeps decreasing, the quantity of packages, she, increases faster, thus creating more work for our members. Our collective agreement does not have a clear clause in relation to these assessments of our roads and does not require the employer to provide us with exact numbers.. This numbers, provided by union observers, are sent to Canada Post, which adds them to its algorithms and then gets mixed and twisted in some incomprehensible way. We asked them to show us their calculations, but their response has always been : ‘’If you are not happy, file grievances.As an answer, we circulated a petition throughout the city by almost every letter carrier, 800 people, by asking for the exact figures and the creation of 3 new positions ; requests based on calculations of our own figures. We threatened the CEO of Canada Post with an escalation of pressure tactics if P.C did not respond to our demands. Basically they were going to cut 8 posts, but ultimately cut only 3. We have therefore succeeded in preserving 5 positions through our organization – although any cuts are, in our opinion unacceptable.

A mass meeting was organized where 120 workers came to support the workers of this department saying ''How are we going to increase the pressure, while being subscribed to back-to-work laws that put us at risk of fines of $1000 per day?’’ Since no one can afford to pay such fines, we wondered ''Do we have enough support to fight so that the fines are not enforceable? ‘’  And we collectively decided that we didn't have the manpower to escalate the pressure tactics.. It was too big for us, at this moment ; we needed more support.

I was asked to organize a referendum in October. So I went to all of our Edmonton branches with ballot boxes and ballots, ashort presentation about our working conditions, the back-to-work law as well as plenty of examples of times when our rights did not have, and are not, taken seriously by the employer. I also insisted that there was no right or wrong answer – in case the workers did not want to disobey the law. After all, we want a realistic solution, not idealistic. The result of the vote, through the city, was in favor of disobeying the back-to-work law at 83%. However, this disobedience was conditional on the support of the whole local, in addition to national.

Ensuite, I wrote an open letter on behalf of the local, “We need to get out of this endless cycle of back-to-work legislation.and we insisted that nothing differentiates us from other letter carriers in the country, here in Edmonton. If someone were going to ask these same questions across Canada Post, our colleagues would probably agree with us. So, so the national helped us extend our referendum outside of Edmonton.

We had our first call with the national union at the beginning of November then a second last week. In their defense, they were honest up front that they couldn't really stand disobedience of scab laws. I don't see anything wrong with being honest about it. If we had $20 millions, half of our members could have defied the law for just one day ; and that's really not enough. But the idea has always been that if we wanted to be successful in our campaign, it's not because some of us can afford the fines, but because we would have such a large workforce that these fines could never possibly be implemented.

The national did not have the financial resources to support us, and was not prepared to make public outings in favor of disobeying the laws, but was very encouraging and present for our campaign. So they very elegantly got away with the idea of ​​the referendum.

On the other hand, if you want to do civil disobedience, it is not necessarily by going through the national and waiting for permission that you will succeed. It is rather on the ground of the cows, in theshoppes that this kind of thing will escalate. A good way to think about it is to manage your local problems, then regional then eventually it will be easier to have this kind of conversation at the national level.

Even if the national is not thrilled with the idea of ​​our mistrust, at least he's not hindering our campaign. For anyone who has ever had todealer with big trade union centers, this is already a victory. It is often our own organizations that limit our potential.

How do you plan to expand your approach?

We know that other levels of the union – regional, national- are not going to embark on such a program without having more than enough proof. So in Edmonton, we just focused on the process. We keep planting seeds and hoping something takes root. If you give the right tools to workers whose rights are being bogged down, it is inevitable that they will use it. More, the rumor about our successes begins to spread. Social networks have helped us a lot on this front..

I also had the pleasure of sharing our stories in aeducational forum where I shared that Edmonton would be willing to share their tools and even send trainers to anyone interested. At once, we have had several responses from other locals and will lend a hand in the new year. If remote sections pay the fees, we can even send our trainers by plane to train other colleagues and quickly allow them to organize themselves independently. We believe that all these grassroots actions across other locals will inspire regions to join too.

It's impossible to have too many trainers. I will continue to promote my course as long as there is demand. If union actions multiply, the stigma around these methods will surely diminish and more workers will lend themselves to them. The longer we continue building this organizational model, the better prepared we will be for the future, no matter the situation, be it laws or indecent working conditions. Because that's actually what awaits us. It is the logical continuation of the whole history of the working class. So we have to keep our focus on the organization. Disobeying back-to-work laws is the only way to push the labor movement in the right direction and keep things from getting worse.

If it's just a department in Edmonton, they are going to fall on you at full speed. But the whole town? One of the things I insist on in my presentation for the referendum is trade union organization as the starting point for any protest movement.. It's inevitable. And these workers will start something magnificent. But it's one thing to dream about it, and another to organize accordingly.

Article Original de Organizing Work
Translated from English by Elizabeth Stone
Mars 2020

Why require a minimum wage of $22/h?

We will be told that we exaggerate : what to ask for a minimum wage of 22$ time is unrealistic, utopian or that it just doesn't make sense. Some unions have recently demanded a minimum wage at 18$ /h. This proposition, based on IRIS studies, is not interesting. Comme le dit un de mes camarades: « il faut le dire quand les centrales font de la bonne job ». So, good job aussi aux militant.es de la FTQ qui ont tracté au métro Frontenac il y a quelques semaines pour informer les travailleuses et travailleurs des changements à la loi sur la Santé et sécurité au travail. C’est important de laisser ses intérêts corpos de côté et d’aller vers les gens. Vous êtes plusieurs dans les centrales à pousser dans cette direction, sans doute à contre-courant, lâchez pas.

Pour ce qui est de la revendication du salaire minimum à 18$ /h, c’est malheureusement trop peu. Devant les coûts exorbitants des loyers, l’explosion des prix sur la nourriture, le prix de l’essence qui coûte les yeux de la tête, 18$ /h, de l’avis même de certain-es qui travaillent pour des miettes, c’est trop peu. Surtout que les grands patrons de ce monde n’ont fait que s’enrichir depuis le début de la pandémie. C’est sans parler des tas de subventions qui ont été distribuées aux entreprises privées en laissant de côté les gens qui en arrachaient le plus: les travailleuses et travailleurs de premières lignes, du milieu communautaire en passant par les épiceries, qui ont dû rentrer au travail dans des conditions difficiles et inhabituelles. On ne parlera pas non plus des gens sans-emploi, des personnes assistées sociales, des gens sans statuts et celles et ceux vivant dans la rue qui ont le plus souffert de la pandémie et du manque de ressources. L’Organisation populaire des droits sociaux se bat depuis des décennies pour un revenu minimum garanti. C’est étonnant de constater que cette proposition n’est pas davantage prise en compte par les syndicats et partis politiques. Faudrait les écouter.

C’est sûr que l’argent ne règle pas tout. Mais ça demeure une des ressources les plus essentielles pour survivre dans ce régime capitalisme. Avoir un bon salaire permet à des gens d’avoir un meilleur espace de vie, d’avoir accès à de meilleurs aliments, d’avoir accès à des p’tits plaisirs aussi banal que d’aller au cinéma. Avoir un bon salaire et des bonnes conditions de travail, être reconnu.es comme travailleurs et travailleuses ou tout simplement comme personne à part entière, c’est important aussi pour la santé mentale et la santé en général. Au cas où vous ne le savez pas, les boss et les riches vivent plus vieux que nous autres… Bref, l’argent ne règle pas tout, mais permet d’espérer vivre un peu mieux, plus longtemps…

As you know, le IWW n’est pas un syndicat partisan. Nous avons aucune ligne de parti. Certains de nos membres sont communistes, d’autres anarchistes; certains sont sociaux-démocrates. Bien que nos membres soient libres de leur choix politique, nous n’appuierons jamais, comme organisation, un parti politique, whatever. L’histoire du parlementarisme et des partis politiques, de gauche comme de droite, ont démontré leur incapacité à changer radicalement le mode de vie des gens ordinaires. Worst, les leaders des partis politiques ont tous plus souvent qu’autrement nui au bien commun par diverses politiques mises en place. En revanche, nous sommes un syndicat qui se bat dans le quotidien pour améliorer les conditions de vie des gens par des actions directes et de l’auto-formation. On n’est pas parfait, mais on essaie de proposer des solutions qui aideront les travailleuses et travailleurs les plus précaires. Revendiquer un salaire minimum à 22 $ /h, et tenter d’amener nos camarades à lutter pour cette revendication, c’est une solution susceptible d’aider concrètement, here and now, les travailleuses et travailleurs qui en ont le plus besoin.

Venez prendre la rue avec nous le 1is May 2022 au métro Papineau dès 12h30 pour revendiquer, among others, un salaire minimum à 22$ de l’heure.


Un texte original du Blog des Wobs du Communautaire


Morgan M takes a look at the wave of strikes in Italy in light of the coronavirus pandemic and government and industry responses, interviewing an activist firefighter in a local grassroots union. Image: Workers at TNT FedEx facilities in Genoa and Bologna on strike 7 avril pour des conditions plus sûres.

Lorsque le COVID-19 a frappé l’Italie, le gouvernement a tenté d’isoler les personnes tout en laissant rouler l’économie. Alors que le gouvernement interdisait les rassemblements et soulignait l’importance de l’isolement, il poussait également les travailleurs à continuer de se présenter au travail, quelles que soient les conditions. Cette contradiction a provoqué une vague de grèves sauvages à travers le pays.

En Italie, le Travail se négocie généralement à deux niveaux: les accords sectoriels fixant des normes industrielles et les accords spécifiques fixés à une entreprise particulière.

Il existe trois grandes confédérations syndicales (comme la CSN, la FTQ, et la CSQ) ainsi que deux petites confédérations de droite. Les trois grandes confédérations sont la CGIL, qui est la plus grande et affiliée au Parti Communiste ; la CISL qui était chrétienne-démocrate ; et l’UIL qui était affiliée au Parti Socialiste.

Au niveau national, les confédérations syndicales négocient avec laConfindustri, qui représente les employeurs et le gouvernement dans une sorte de partenariat social triparti.

Au niveau de l’entreprise, il existe des « conseils de travail » qui représentent les travailleurs. Tous les syndicats qui ont le soutien de plus de 5 % des employés (il n’y a pas de formule Rand comme au Canada) peuvent participer au conseil. Il existe deux types de conseils où la force du syndicat dépend de la largeur du membership au sein de l’entreprise. Les deux types diffèrent selon que les syndicats nomment les délégués syndicaux ou que les employés les élisent.

in parallel, il y a les syndicats Cobas – lesCOmités de laBASe (syndicale). Il existe de nombreux syndicats Cobas, allant des très petits à ceux qui comptent entre 40 and 50 000 members. Ils fonctionnent de manière similaire au Syndicat Industriel des Travailleurs et Travailleuses-IWW en Amérique du Nord, c’est-à-dire organisés en dedans et en dehors de la structure légale du travail. Le SI Cobas a attiré l’attention pour avoir su organiser des grèves dans le secteur de la logistique. Le SI Cobas fera souvent grève jusqu’à la fin (jusqu’à ce qu’une résolution soit atteinte) par opposition à la grève limitée, qui est une tactique plus courante.

Sadly, les différentes directions syndicales des Cobas se voient souvent comme des rivales et ne font pas grèves ensemble.

J’ai eu la chance d’interviewer Mariopaolo, un pompier et militant de la base du syndicat Cobas «Unione Sindacale Di Base» (USB), au sujet des grèves qui s’y sont déroulées. Il y milite depuis quelques années, luttant pour que l’USB demeure hors des accords nationaux afin de maintenir sa liberté de faire grève. Il est également actif dans une coordination de militants Cobas de la base, encourageant l’unité d’action entre les différents syndicats Cobas.

Lorsque la pandémie a éclaté, l’Italie a commencé à isoler des individus dans le nord du pays. Pouvez-vous expliquer la réaction de la classe ouvrière à la limitation des actions des travailleurs et travailleuses ?

En Italie, comme dans la plupart des pays – en particulier ceux où le capitalisme est âgé – la classe ouvrière est depuis des années marquée par une passivité générale.

Dans cette passivité générale, un gouvernement décidant de limiter la liberté d’action des syndicats n’est pas considéré par la plupart des travailleurs et travailleuses comme un problème. Indeed, si nous ne sommes plus habitué.e.s d’utiliser un outil de protestation (strikes, assemblées, piquets), lorsque celui-ci nous est retiré, on ne le remarque qu’en principe: dans les faits, on ne remarque plus son absence.

Il y a cependant eu des exceptions. Friday 4 mars, ArcelorMittal – le plus grand aciériste du monde, propriétaire à la fois de Bethléem et de Republic Steel aux États-Unis – a conclu un accord avec le gouvernement sur les plans de licenciements et les congédiements dans ses aciéries en Italie. À l’aciérie de Gênes, le syndicat FIOM-CGIL – le plus grand syndicat des métallurgistes et des travailleurs et travailleuses de l’automobile en Italie – a convoqué une réunion d’usine le 9 mars, ce qu’ils peuvent faire à tout moment pour des questions syndicales. ArcelorMittal a interdit la réunion en invoquant le décret d’isolement social que le gouvernement avait publié ce jour-là. Le syndicat FIOM de l’aciérie a répondu qu’il allait déclarer la grève et organiser une réunion à l’extérieur de l’usine. Les jours suivants, however, la propagation de l’épidémie s’est considérablement aggravée, ce qui a conduit à la révocation des assemblées.

Il convient toutefois de préciser que ni le décret gouvernemental du 4 mars ni les décrets ultérieurs n’ont interdit les grèves. Therefore, par crainte de contagion, c’est-à-dire pour défendre leur propre santé, les travailleurs et travailleuses ont déclenché une grève dans de nombreuses usines au cours des jours suivants.

Le gouvernement a-t-il rendu obligatoire le travail dans les zones d’isolement ?

Le gouvernement n’a pas arrêté les activités essentielles avant le 23 mars (nous y reviendrons plus tard). Les premiers cas ont été découverts 21 février dans 10 petites communes de quelques milliers d’habitants de la province de Lodi (en Lombardie, au sud de Milan) et dans une petite commune de la région Vénétie. Le gouvernement a fermé ces 11 municipalités en tant que « zones rouges », d’où personne ne pouvait ni entrer ni sortir. Comme il s’agissait de petites municipalités, il était difficile pour les entreprises qui y étaient situées de poursuivre la production car une partie plus ou moins importante de leur personnel habitait d’autres municipalités ; et ces travailleurs et travailleuses ne pouvaient donc plus accéder à leurs emplois dans la zone rouge. Notons aussi que ces entreprises n’avaient plus accès aux matières premières et produits semi-finis nécessaires à la production.

However, la situation a changé le 9 mars, lorsque le gouvernement a créé une zone rouge beaucoup plus étendue, qui englobait l’ensemble de la région de Lombardie et 14 provinces d’autres régions.

Par le fait même, le gouvernement a élargi son contrôle face à la circulation des personnes et la limitation des manifestations, réunions et rassemblements à un tiers du territoire national. Mais comme aucun arrêt de production n’avait été annoncé, les entreprises des 11 zones rouges de la municipalité d’origine ont pu reprendre la production.

La même chose s’est produite le 11 mars, lorsque le gouvernement a étendu la zone rouge à l’ensemble du territoire national.

Ces mesures visant à étendre les restrictions de circulation et d’assemblées ont commencé à inquiéter les travailleurs et les travailleuses, ce qui a eu pour effet de les faire déclencher des grèves dans bon nombre d’usines.

Des grèves se sont propagées dans tout le pays. Précisons que ces dernières n’étaient pas instiguées par les dirigeants des syndicats du régime (CGIL, CISL, UIL – les centrales syndicales qui signent les accords nationaux), ce qui ne s’était pas produit en Italie depuis de nombreuses années.

The 14 mars, face à cette situation, les syndicats du régime ont signé un accord avec le gouvernement et la plus grande organisation d’industriels italiens (la Confindustria) visant non pas à arrêter la production non-essentielle, mais plutôt à garantir des mesures de sécurité pour les travailleurs et travailleuses.

Les décrets du gouvernement ont établi des mesures obligatoires pour atténuer le risque de contagion. In several cases, les syndicats ont utilisé ces dispositions légales pour imposer des licenciements temporaires aux employeurs en attendant la mise en œuvre de ces mesures, comme le prévoit le protocole du 14 mars.

Où les syndicats et les entreprises ne sont pas parvenus à un accord sur les licenciements temporaires, des grèves ont été organisées. In some cases, les syndicats ont déclaré qu’il ne s’agissait pas de grèves mais « d’abstentions de travail ». Il va sans dire qu’une grève n’est rien d’autre qu’une abstention collective de travail. However, cette distinction a probablement été utilisée par les syndicats – et les travailleuses et travailleurs – dans l’espoir que des allocations de chômage seraient versées, comme le prévoient les décrets gouvernementaux.

Comment la vague de grèves a-t-elle commencé? Étaient-elles spontanées? Provenant des syndicats Cobas? De l’intérieur de la CGIL?

Les grèves ont commencé à se multiplier lorsque la gravité de l’épidémie est devenue apparente. Elles sont également le produit de l’escalade des mesures gouvernementales, of 21 February 11 mars.

Nous devons préciser ce qu’est une « grève spontanée ». Certainly, les travailleurs et travailleuses ont exercé une pression pour faire grève. In many cases, ils et elles ont trouvé le soutien des délégués d’usine [délégués syndicaux] des syndicats du régime, qui ne se sont pas opposés aux grèves. Certaines des structures régionales des syndicats du régime ont proclamé des grèves générales. Ce fut le cas de la FIOM (CGIL- automobiles et métallurgie) en Lombardie, au Trentin et à Turin; et le cas de la FILCAMS-CGIL-CGIL (le syndicat CGIL du commerce, des services et du tourisme) à Gênes.

Ce sont les dirigeants nationaux des confédérations – la CGIL, la CISL et l’UIL – qui n’ont pas organisé le mouvement de grève afin de stopper les activités non-essentielles à plein salaire. Ils n’ont pas appelé à une grève générale nationale multisectorielle et le 14 mars – alors que l’épidémie avait déjà montré toute sa gravité et fait des milliers de victimes dans le nord de l’Italie – ils ont signé le protocole susmentionné.

Les syndicats de base – SI Cobas, USB, CUB, ADL Cobas – ont appelé à des grèves nationales dans certaines industries et, the 25 mars, l’USB a appelé à une grève dans toutes les industries, à l’exception des travailleurs essentiels.

However, ces syndicats n’ont pas la force de promouvoir de véritables grèves générales, même au sein des industries corporatistes, à l’exception de SI Cobas, situé dans la logistique. Même après les 8 and 11 mars (avec l’extension de la zone rouge d’abord à l’ensemble de la Lombardie et ensuite à l’ensemble du pays) et la multiplication des grèves qui résultèrent, les grèves nationales des syndicats Cobas n’ont pas réussi à impliquer une partie importante des travailleurs et travailleuse. Cela est dû au fait que les syndicats du régime – bien que soutenant les grèves qui ont eu lieu au niveau corporatiste et au niveau régional – n’essaient jamais d’unifier les grèves au niveau national. Furthermore, même dans cette situation propice à la mobilisation des travailleurs et travailleuses, les dirigeant.e.s des syndicats Cobas ont refusé de faire corps et n’ont cessé de se faire la guerre.

Comment ces grèves ont-elles été organisées?

Les grèves sont l’expression d’un mouvement de base de la part des travailleurs et travailleuses qui, face aux appels du gouvernement à rester confiner, se sont retrouvés contraints de se rendre au travail avec un risque évident de contagion. Les délégué.e.s syndicaux étant soumis.e.s eux-mêmes à cette double contrainte, cela explique en partie leur large soutien aux grèves.

On another side, le manque d’unification des grèves n’aboutissant pas à une grève nationale de toutes les catégories de travail, visant non seulement à ne pas exposer les travailleurs au risque de contagion mais aussi à obtenir le plein salaire, a empêché l’extension des grèves. Ces grèves se limitant ainsi aux zones où l’épidémie était la plus importante, où les travailleurs étaient aux prises avec le choix « santé ou salaires ».

La CGIL et d’autres syndicats cherchent à travailler avec des entreprises, comme le fait l’UAW aux États-Unis (ou les grandes centrales du Québec). Si je comprends bien, la CGIL a essayé de travailler avec l’industrie mais n’a pas réussi et des grèves sauvages ont alors éclatées ?

La gravité de l’épidémie s’était déjà clairement manifestée le 8 mars. Face à la généralisation des grèves, le protocole signé par les dirigeants nationaux de la CGIL, de la CISL et de l’UIL – avec le gouvernement et l’industrie – a permis de reporter la fermeture complète des secteurs économiques non-essentiels autant que possible. Ce protocole prévoyait que la mise en œuvre des mesures (de santé et de sécurité, et de confinement) se fasse de concert entre l’entreprise et les syndicats dans chaque secteur de production. Le protocole prévoyait également une suspension temporaire de la production, avec des fonds de chômage destinés aux travailleurs et travailleuses, si aucun accord ne pouvait être trouvé. Si tel était le cas, le syndicat se réservait le droit de déclencher une grève.

So, les syndicats du régime ne s’opposent pas aux grèves, mais se réservent plutôt la possibilité de les organiser. En revanche, les syndicats ont permis au gouvernement de reporter la suspension des activités non-essentielles jusqu’au 25 mars, 11 jours plus tard.

Le respect des règles de confinement (des accords entre le syndicat et l’entreprise) était possible dans les entreprises où les syndicats du régime avaient une force suffisante et où les délégué.e.s étaient combattifs et combattives.

À la fin, les travailleurs et travailleuses de la plupart des petites et moyennes entreprises – où travaille la majorité de la classe travailleuse d’Italie – sont laissés à la merci des patrons.

Un texte original de Organizing Work.

Organizational advice that I would have liked to receive ago 10 years

L’auteur, who preferred to remain anonymous, worked as a field organizer for the largest public service union in the United States, before becoming a teacher in a large urban area. Il fait aujourd’hui de l’organisation avec collègues et étudiant.es autour d’enjeux relatifs à l’accessibilité de l’éducation et l’obtention de permis de conduire pour migrants sans-papiers.

Je me suis mit à réfléchir à une série de conseils que je me donnerais, si je pouvais parler au jeune organisateur que j’étais il y a dix ans. J’ai tellement appris au courant de cette dernière décennie et j’ai aussi commis beaucoup d’erreurs. Alors voici ce que j’aurais aimé entendre il y a dix ans, basé sur mon expérience personnelle, ainsi que mes propres erreurs. Sure, ces conseils me concernent toujours aujourd’hui; je ne suis quand même pas devenu un organisateur parfait.

  • Il est important de s’organiser autour d’objectifs clairs, réalistes et qui représentent des points progressifs qui nous permettent de mesurer l’avancement et le succès de notre campagne. La sensibilisation et les réjouissances à elles seules ne nous permettent pas de mesurer ces choses là. Il faut s’organiser autour de choses tangibles qui ont un impact direct sur la qualité de vie et de travail des gens.
  • Participer aux manifestations n’est pas l’épicentre de l’organisation syndicale. Sometimes, ce peut être de bons moments, mais il ne faut pas se laisser croire que ça compte comme ‘’faire quelque chose’’ de constructif et mettre son énergie à sauter de manif en manif.
  • Écouter les opinions et l’apport des gens autour de soi. Écouter leurs idées en premier. Vérifier où ils et elles en sont, quels sont leurs problèmes et enjeux au lieu de deviner et d’anticiper ces derniers.
  • Éviter de s’organiser seulement avec des personnes issues des mêmes sous-cultures et scènes culturelles en marge desquelles nous sommes issu.es. Le résultat d’une telle organisation va créer un effet d’exclusion auprès de personnes qui ne viennent pas des mêmes milieux.
  • Ne pas se laisser emporter dans les théories super idéologiques et dogmatiques. La majorité des personnes se foutent des chicanes idéologiques qui ont eu lieu en 1936 ou de tes divergences politiques avec un tel ou une telle. Bien que ce soit intéressant comme passe-temps et que la théorie et l’histoire peuvent nourrir des idées, thegauche est parfois trop obsédée avec l’idéologie comme identité. Démontres plutôt ta méthodologie au travers de tes méthodes d’organisation.
  • Respecter le processus collectif en travaillant au travers de désaccords et en planifiant collectivement.
  • Cogner aux portes, décrocher le téléphone et faire des appels; contacter les gens sans toujours passer par les réseaux sociaux.
  • Être constant.e, comme un riff de drum. Être à l’heure et tenir parole sur ses engagements.
  • Ne pas fermer la porte à certaines personnes suite à un accrochage ou un différend idéologique. Ne pas laisser de camarades derrière ou oublier certaines personnes. Les gens ne sont pas une ressource inépuisable.
  • Inclure et aller vers des personnes qui ne sont pas déjà en position d’autorité. Too often, les organisateurs.trices vont instinctivement vers des personnes qui ont déjà beaucoup de capital social et donc plus d’autorité.
  • Le pouvoir est dans lashoppe, pas dans le bureau. Voir les rangs tels qu’ils sont sur le plancher des vaches.
  • Pas besoin de demander la permission.
  • Rester proches des travailleurs.ses.
  • Participer à construire les compétences d’organisation des étudiants.es. Considérer les étudiants.es comme des adultes et même des camarades de luttes, tout en sachant que tu es leur professeur. L’essentiel est de bâtir de vraies relations, fais-les rire.
  • Ne pas avoir peur d’être en désaccord, mais ne pas devenir odieux.se pour autant.
  • Ne pas se laisser accaparer par toutes les fioritures de l’organisation. Bien que les affiches, les tracts et les info-lettres sont de supers outils, on ne mérite pas de dessert avant d’avoir mangé son assiette!
  • Organiser la classe ouvrière, pas la gauche.

Article original dOrganizing Work.
Traduit de l’anglais par Elizabeth Stone


Let's find other solutions than the strike!

Rasmus Hästbacka and Kristian Falk, of the Swedish trade union SAC (Swedish Workers' Central Organization, or Central Organization of Workers of Sweden), argue for a third way between the “consensual fundamentalism” of Sweden’s dominant union bureaucracy and the “idealization” of rank-and-file strikes: we need to relearn how to put pressure on our workplaces.

Let’s find alternatives to striking
1970s SAC poster: "You do the work! You have to take part in the decisions! »

What defines a trade union movement?? It is a movement made up of colleagues who stick together and act together. It must be distinguished from the union bureaucracy represented by elected officials and union officials perched far from the base and paid separately from the workers.. In the Swedish labor market, the trade union movement takes the form of small scattered islands in the shadow of the big trade union bureaucracies. These islets include the Syndicalist SAC, the Swedish Longshoremen's Union and some local labor branches within the LO central bureaucracies (Landsorganisationen i Sverige or Swedish National Organization), TCO (Central Organization of Salaried Employees or Confederation of Professional Employees) and SACO (Central Organization of Swedish Academics or Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations).

Revival of the Swedish trade union movement is hampered by “consensual fundamentalism”: senior union officials focus on building consensus (consensus) with employers through collective agreements but for decades, employers are increasingly neglecting the interests of workers in favor of the search for this consensus. The labor market is deteriorating in Sweden, and working conditions begin to resemble those of the beginning of the 20e century: there are dangerous working environments, very low wages and simply criminal employers.

As unionists, we do not reject legally binding collective agreements. In fact, at SAC, we are currently testing a new collective bargaining strategy. But we always emphasize that it is the collective struggle that gives collective agreements their value..

Romance strikes

While senior LO officials, of TCO and CESO suffer from consensual fundamentalism, the grassroots opposition often suffers from an obsession with the strike. Within the popular labor movement in Sweden, we often hear a call for big strikes, even a general strike. The use of strikes has grown in response to the questioning of the Swedish employment protection law, the proliferation of low wages and attacks on the right to strike. In 2019, groups attempted to organize a symbolic strike to highlight the climate crisis, but to our knowledge, no workplaces have been closed.

We must recognize that we ourselves, CAS members, sometimes let this obsession with the strike win us over. U.S. too, we tried to rush a few. The strike in defense of the unemployment insurance funds in 2006, which were attacked by the Swedish government, is an example. It ended in a painful defeat.

The frequency of strikes in Sweden has actually been very low since the early 1990s. 1990 and the call to strike tends to be a fantasy. The organizers of these so-called strikes idealize the French strikes, or those of Sweden before the Second World War. But the all-out strike should not be fetishized, and it has no value if it does not lead to results. This vision of the struggle is part of the fallacious myth that the strike is still the employees' best weapon..

An important fact, but little known, is that the unionist SAC has historically been skeptical of strikes. This was expressed from 1910 in the Manifesto to the Workers of Sweden, published by the SAC. Workers' struggles must not be reduced to an "arms crossed" struggle, it says in the Manifesto, and "that time is over, where it was enough to throw the shovel and the plane aside and impose our conditions on the employers.. According to trade unionists, strikes are often costly, long and can easily be ruined by scabs and lock-out. Swedish employers have often responded with lock-out of solidarity in many industries.

The objective of lock-out was not only to win the ongoing struggle. Political scientist Peter A.. Swenson talks about a longer term goal:

The lockouts enabled the ruling class to mold the unions into partners in the regularization of the labor market. The union leadership, which is closely linked to the Social Democratic Party, did not oppose the movement desired by the employers. What stood in their way, it was the lack of control over decentralized militancy in the ranks. Therefore, […] trade unionists sometimes welcomed lockouts or threats of lockouts. The employers' whiplash gave them an ideologically consistent pretext to intervene against disruptive grassroots activism.

During the golden age of strikes, in the years 1920, Swedish trade unionists have become even more skeptical of “all-out” strikes. Unionists have focused the struggle internally on union employment services (employment offices) and on increasing the influence of workers on the way workplaces are run. The internal struggle could take the form, for example, collective slowdowns. Union employment services could also stipulate that employers must follow the order and conditions dictated by unions when hiring workers.. When these services were effective, they allowed workers and the unemployed to pursue common claims against the employer party.

Increase the pressure

In SAC education programs, we have learned to emphasize that the road to successful strikes is usually a long one. Workers can simply start by speaking up, for example by asking to have their say on the schedules. Ensuite, they can have a petition signed to ask that the employer pay for their work uniforms. If the workload is high, the next step may be to ask for more people to be hired. If management is unresponsive, maybe it's time to start refusing overtime.

It takes time to develop the ability to lobby employers. We end up forgetting it by focusing all our attention on implementing epic strikes. Our colleagues must learn to win small battles before seeing if they are ready to take the next step.

We present below a series of means of pressure that contribute to strengthening the ability to strike. These options impose four different types of pressure: morale, psychological, economic and legal.

1) moral pressure

Exercising moral suasion means that workers appeal to the will of bosses to do what is right according to their own moral compass., or the desire to be seen as fair in the eyes of staff. for example, workers can question decisions made at staff meetings, conduct employee surveys and critique management actions in their local union newspaper.

Moral suasion is humiliating for bosses. of course, but it often happens that the bosses do not care about being perceived as unfair and that they and they do not perceive this pressure as a punishment. In such cases, moral suasion will have no effect, but psychological pressure might do the trick.

2) psychological pressure

Psychological pressure is shamelessly putting bosses in hot water. The goal is to disturb them. for example, unionized workers could send warnings to bosses who treated their co-workers badly. According to Swedish labor law, only employers can take disciplinary action, but that does not prevent the union from issuing written warnings to bosses and informing all employees..

Another example is to sow discord between bosses.. Employees can try to ally themselves with bosses who are receptive to worker demands and oppose bad bosses together. Workers can also visit senior managers to persuade them to put pressure on their subordinates.

Another variant of psychological pressure is to distance oneself from management. The bosses are then made to understand that the workers do not want to have anything to do with them until they come up with sensible solutions.. They and they could, for example, boycott the company party, organize Christmas dinners without the bosses or give up a business trip.

3) Economic pressure

Workers can certainly exert economic pressure on their employer by lowering their income or increasing their expenses., but they can also do it by playing the leadership game. How can this be done ?

One method is to scrupulously follow all the rules. This is called a “work to rule”, because it allows workers to remain in their workplace while significantly extending the time required to complete all tasks.

We can also think of “union subcontracting”. This means that pressure is put on an employer through another employer who has some connection with the first one.. for example, if a labor dispute arises in a cleaning company that works with other companies, the management of the cleaning company may be put under pressure by a union notice sent to client companies.

The best-known forms of economic pressure are strikes and blockades. Strikes generally cause a complete stoppage of work, while blockages lead to the interruption of certain parts of the work process. In Swedish labor law, blocking is also called “partial industrial action”.

Blockages come in many forms: refusal to work overtime, refusal to perform certain tasks, refusal to use certain work tools, refusal to participate in business trips, blocking the transfer of the labor force between different workplaces within the same company, refusal to deliver goods to certain companies, blocking the hiring of new and new employees (new employment blocked), etc.

Blocking the hiring of new people is a call for solidarity from job seekers: they are asked not to accept employment in the workplace until the conflict is resolved. Swedish law stipulates that job seekers then have the right to neutrality, which means that the public employment service must not refer jobseekers to this workplace.

Another method, called "good strike" or "good blocking", originated in the customer service industry. It consists of offering consumers a cheaper or better quality service at the expense of the employer.. It can be done, for example, by having employees only perform tasks that directly affect customers and ignore other tasks.

The struggle through the unions affects the means of production. It can be combined with actions on the part of consumers., whether the people who own the means of production call for such actions. Boycotting is a well-known method, but its opposite is less so. Unions can offer certification to employers who meet certain requirements and recommend the public to buy from them: this is what we could call a “union label”.

4) legal pressure

legal pressure, as for her, relevant when employers violate laws and agreements. According to Swedish labor law, legal remedies are mainly exercised by individuals and it is up to the union to initiate a process of collective bargaining under the codetermination law (The Co-determination Act). However, it is better for staff to keep things under control in the workplace and combine legal pressure with other types of pressure.

Reviving the labor movement

A strike is the result of a long process. Over this one, workers may find that other actions work better than striking in their workplace. Ultimately, it's the results that count: the goal is to create a better society and a more ethical professional world.

Within the SAC, union officials have a duty to help locals who decide to strike, even if they are skeptical of the strike. Locals are also well advised to think carefully about the chances of winning a strike before undertaking one.

The organization of work is not always a long calm river, but humor generally strengthens the fighting spirit. In his memoirs, Swedish trade unionist John Andersson tells the story of a wage dispute at the port of Gothenburg in 1912.

In response to longshoremen who had slowed down, foremen had been sent to the holds to compensate for losses. The workers then responded by working even more slowly and singing the Christian hymn. The prince of darkness descends ("the devil descends"). and, when the exhausted foremen started to climb the ladder to get out, the workers sang Your clear sun rises again ("Your glorious sun rises again in the sky").

Rasmus Hästbacka is a lawyer and member of the Umeå local branch of the SAC. Kristian Falk is an economic historian and member of the Enköping-Heby section of the SAC. Another version of this article was posted in Swedish.

Original text by Rasmus Hästbacka and Kristian Falk for Organizing Work
Translation: Alex V. et Florence M. for SITT-IWW Montreal.

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A History of SITT-IWW Organization Formation

Marianne Garneau presents the development of the IWW's unique training program and its innovative approach to union organizing.

IWW trade union training is virtually unique. It consists of two intensive two-day workshops. These workshops are open to any member or worker to teach them the skills needed to organize their workplace.: information gathering, the contacts of their colleges, one-on-one encounters, the construction of an organizing committee and the collective treatment of problems. The aim of the first workshop, "Organizational Training 101: Build the committee ”, is to ensure that any participant — with no previous organizing experience — can undertake their own organizing campaign at work and even organize a modest direct action with their colleagues to settle a grievance or obtain a concession. The second workshop, the "Organization Training 102: The Committee in action", presents a systematic approach to dealing with grievances based on action in the workplace, as well as the practical details and strategic issues of maintaining a shop committee.

Its curriculum is not designed for personnel employed by power plants, but good for workers, in order to teach them how to organize their workplace without the intermediary of paid union staff. The ultimate objective of the SITT-IWW approach is to build a structure whose actions are mainly carried out by the workers concerned., through a committee representative of the workplace, where decisions are made horizontally and who is able to organize direct actions on the floor to resolve grievances and secure new gains. This approach is an alternative to the steward system and the standard bargaining process, grievances and arbitration, that takes place away from the work floor and relies on lawyers and other professionals. The position of the IWW is that in addition to the fact that this process is expensive and slow, its purpose is to limit actions in the workplace, especially those that cause disruption to the economy of the business or society . To resume their language: "Work now, file a grievance later. »

It is for all these reasons that the formation of the IWW is exceptionally democratic compared to other trade union formations.. It is also democratic in its structure, since its objective is to train future trainers. Any member can attend the trainings and then apply to take a certification course and become a trainer. The program is overseen by an elected committee of five trainers and is remarkably stable and able to ensure its sustainability., considering that it is entirely run by volunteers and has a limited budget (trainers are reimbursed for the cost of travel and receive a small per diem). Its capacity has been increasing systematically — in number of trainers and in frequency of training given — since its inception, almost ago 20 years, thousands of people have been trained. This accessibility and this horizontality are among the most popular and appreciated aspects of the IWW., as well as the cornerstone of the union's most effective organizing campaigns.

The design of the IWW organization formation is an interesting story, because it follows the establishment of a unique approach to the union in recent decades. For a long time, following the loss of Cleveland heavy machinery premises in the 1950s, the union was struggling with an almost non-existent presence in the workplace and with volunteer activist members (anyone except a boss can take their "red card") that there were only hundreds. Each time the IWW attempted to reinvest itself as a labor organization, its approach was borrowed from that of traditional unions and the results were mostly disappointing. What motivated the training program was another form of "back to business" in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as the IWW began to organize campaigns again. The program was an attempt to provide best practices for standalone campaigns, then marked by cycles of expansion and weakening.

Initially, the IWW again borrowed educational materials and technical knowledge from traditional unions thanks to dual-carding members who worked as organizers or delegates in other unions, and thanks to members who had been trained by other unions, as by the "Organizing Institute" of the AFL-CIO. Through a set of scattered techniques and strategies, supplemented with a political critique of labor law, the union saw the birth of its shop committee system by developing a qualitatively different approach to the organization of workers' power.

 The "fight for gains" approach, not for recognition ” situates the IWW on the margins of the trade union world, as it always has been, but this is how he finally found his revolutionary roots by rejecting collective agreements and cooperation with employers. " The IWW does not recognize any rights to bosses ", said Big Bill Haywood to the Commission on Industrial Relations of the US Congress in 1915. "We say that no union has the right to sign an agreement with the bosses...because it is the inherent mission of the working class to overthrow capitalism and take power in its place. Throughout its long period of dormancy — as collective bargaining agreements containing clauses on the right to strike and clauses on employers' rights became normalized — the IWW maintained that the labor law was not a gift to society. working class. However, it was a somewhat abstract position, since the union had no distinct alternative in terms of organization and few active premises.

Although in recent decades, other unions have become more cynical about the National Labor Relations Board and the courts, the IWW remained unique with a workplace bargaining model separate from certification votes, certifications and conventions, nor is it based on funded activism or electoral coalitions, but relies instead on worker power in the workplace.

The following is the story of the IWW's conception of its own organizational formation and general trade union approach as it has evolved over almost five decades.. I begin with organizing manuals distributed to members in the 1970s and conclude with the latest developments of the current program.. This research is based on a review of every training manual the union has published since the 1970s., on archival material such as the newspaper Industrial Worker and the General organization bulletin, as well as a dozen detailed interviews with members, former and current.

Prehistory of today's program: Organization pamphlets and manuals from the 1970s to 1990.

« A Worker’s Guide to Direct Action » (1974)

Prior to the development of in-person training led by the Organizer Training Committee, members had access to several pamphlets and organization manuals, posted by members and available at headquarters or local branches.

One of them was "A Worker's Guide to Direct Action"., a pamphlet of 15 pages that briefly described tactics like slowdowns, work to rule, sit-down strikes, sick leave strikes and whistleblowing. This pamphlet was in fact an abridged reissue d’un pamphlet published by Solidarity in the UK in 1971. The IWW version presented these tactics as an alternative to two things: the "slow and clumsy" grievance procedure, where "a dispute goes through a series of meetings and ends up being decided by an arbitrator, usually a lawyer or a professor" and the "long strikes", which "cost too much and are too exhausting to be used often". Furthermore, the pamphlet notes that “the AFL-CIO-CLC executive…hoards large strike funds. »

The pamphlet has been reprinted and very modestly updated over the years, for example by the Lehigh Valley branch in the 1990s, who rewrote the introduction to describe the historical origins of the labor law framework, which would aim to contain the class war, and to define direct action as "guerrilla". The pamphlet was also republished by the Edmonton branch in the 2000s under the title "How to fire your boss"..

Although the use of actions on the floor is consistent with the historical approach of the IWW, these writings are addressed to individual workers and do not contain advice for the restlessness or development of one's co-workers, nor for the construction of a camp and even less for the resistance to the reprisals which follow the direct action. The pamphlet notes that to use its tactics, you have to have " organization at work ", at least in the sense of a "general agreement that working conditions must change", but the colorful examples quoted out of context are somewhat ambitious, maybe even irresponsible.

Organization manual (1978)

Another series of pamphlets—this time written by members of the IWW—were published in the 1970s.. There is an organization manual and a negotiation manual.. « The problem of growth — how to reach people and organize — dominated the convention [from 1971] », according to the memoirs of Ottilie Markholt, a longtime labor activist from the Pacific Northwest, but at the time a new Wobbly. A femma with the deceptive air of a grandmother who was in fact a hard-line trade unionist », according to a posthumous tribute published in the Industrial Worker thirty years later. According to Markholt, in light of this new priority, « a group of delegates met informally to plan the writing of an organizing manual for the IWW… The convention approved our plan and appointed me coordinator.“The group has”reflected on the problem of member-organizers with an ever-growing circle of correspondents», including Fred Thompson, emblematic figure of the IWW. The group has produced a manual for 23 pages that will be sold by the headquarters.

 From a practical point of view, the manual includes the usual good advice of the time in terms of organization: he advises getting a list of workers — though without providing much technical advice — and making house calls. He emphasizes the importance of direct contact, but also discusses having big meetings to tell workers about the union (the use of mass meetings for the development of contacts has been abandoned in the current training program: these meetings are too permeable to leaks and are often limited to what in the industry is called the lowest common denominator). The manual soberly advises to create a committee representative of the entire workplace - therefore "each department and/or shift" and "each ethnic and racial group".… balanced in terms of age and gender according to the proportions of the workplace ”. He insists on the fact that the union "must be a majority movement or it will be nothing" and on the importance of developing "democratic working rules".

The manual replicates traditional trade union approaches, including the campaign to win a certification vote. Most of his advice focuses on the use of alternative means such as picketing or striking to win a certification vote or legal recognition. (today’s trainers would argue that gaining legal recognition through these other means still opens the door to formalized working relationships). The section on union busting focuses on legal certification-blocking tactics used by management. A membership card template is included.

It is fascinating to see this focus on accreditation despite the presence of the following disclaimer:

Contrary to the official myth of liberal unionism, the right to organize and bargain collectively has not been codified… out of love for the working class. Rather, this legislation was passed to contain the growing rebellion of trade unionism… Therefore, although you can meet friendly investigators and attorneys at NLRB regional offices, you are essentially under the control of a hostile judiciary.

In fact, a long section at the beginning of the manual laments the IWW's recent capitulation to the labor relations framework. He maintains that in doing so, the union has lost sight of its fundamental intuition: worker power is based on worker action, not government intervention:

In recent campaigns, we have ignored the fundamental difference between the IWW and all other unions: recognition of the class struggle and the fact that the only way to end it is to abolish the wage system. We presented ourselves as a bargaining union with cheap dues and officers with little or no pay. We attributed the failures of other unions to bureaucratic and/or corrupt officials.

The authors make it clear that other unions are not corrupt because of the moral shortcomings of their officers, but because these unions are prisoners of a government framework that ties the hands of workers :

Conventional unions are based on the premise that labor and capital are partners, with the government as arbiter, in a class collaboration system that will benefit both parties… By recognizing the right of the government to arbitrate the partnership, these unions are giving up their only real source of strength, economic power…

Local officials reflect these contradictions. They can be very honest and sincere people, but they are immobilized by these contradictions. Even if they themselves understand the class struggle and would really like to see their locals negotiate on this basis, they just can't accomplish much against the weight of the rest of the union.

Once again, the authors point out the absurdity of thinking that the IWW can participate in the labor relations system without falling into the same traps as other unions. Their manual emphasizes the fact that participation in this legal framework is tantamount to abandoning the founding idea of ​​the IWW.:

We tried to cut the IWW in half and separate the preamble [who asserts that the working class and the employer class have nothing in common and that the wage system must be abolished – MG] and the union as a vehicle for obtaining immediate demands. In fact, our campaigns now say: "Forget those visionary ideas. We believe it, but we don't expect you, ordinary workers believe it. Just think of us as an outright union for now. “We tried to sell ourselves as a union which is good, young, poor and clean, in opposition to a union which is bad, vieux, rich and corrupt. These campaigns were uniformly doomed.

In other words, worker action directly at the point of production is essential to building working class power and securing its demands, and that is exactly what the NLRB system has worked to make disappear. By adopting this system, the IWW can't do better.

This organization manual confronts us with the contradiction of a lucid analysis that recognizes these constraints, but who resolves to advise IWW members to pursue the same legalistic strategies as other unions. While the IWW had set itself the goal of tearing itself away from historical insignificance and reorganizing workplaces, the union did not yet have a model to achieve this. In this first manual, the strategy did not match the goal — the practice was disconnected from the theory. There was no way to institutionalize the idea of ​​a worker-led or class-based organization. The IWW did not yet have its own organizing program.

Collective Bargaining Handbook (1978)

The organization manual was published at the same time as a 33 collective bargaining pages, also edited by Markholt and presumably also written largely by her.

There is also a reflection on the power of workers in its introduction.. It presents bargaining as fundamentally a struggle for control of the workplace and its conditions.. Despite this, the advice that follows are fairly orthodox and technical documents relating to the definition of the accreditation unit and the three categories of security clauses, working conditions and remuneration. It is recognized that the constitution of the IWW prohibits the deduction at source of dues, because " the increased efficiency does not compensate for the loss of personal contact between the members and the union ".

Generally, the trading manual is somewhat unrealistic, disconnected from what would be necessary to apply his advice: workers power. for example, a note explains that "reducing working hours without reducing wages should be a long-term goal for all trade unionists" and suggests that "to start, you have to try to go to a week of 30 hours with 5 days of 6 hours" — without really developing a strategy that would allow you to develop sufficient bargaining power to make your company an exception in its sector, even in the economy.

Updates to these manuals

These two manuals have been updated over the years, but not really on the successes or failures of the union's campaigns. The trading manual was updated in 1983 by Paul Poulos and Rochelle Semel, two longtime members from upstate New York, who also wanted the IWW to get "serious again" and start organizing workplaces and negotiating contracts. At that time, the union was mostly made up of radical activists — union-oriented anarchists and communists, union officers subscribing to the class struggle, alumni who remembered the golden age of the IWW, stubborn supporters and sympathizers. The total membership of the union was a few hundred, at most.

Poulos and Semel removed Markholt's introduction to the power struggle between workers and management. Other technical sections have been added (for example on probation periods) with templates for the wording of each section of a convention.

However, it is not certain whether the negotiation manual or the organization manual was used. The IWW managed to win a few accreditations and negotiate a few conventions in the 1980s: University Cellar Bookstore, le People’s Wherehouse (a grocery warehouse) and Leopold Bloom's Restaurant in Ann Arbor; Eastown Printing à Grand Rapids ; SANE and Oregon Fair Share in Portland; and recycling plants in the San Francisco area. With the exception of the People's Wherehouse (which lasted ten years) and recycling plants (who still have IWW conventions to this day), most of these campaigns were short-lived, often ending when the business closes. Many other attempts at accreditation, often accompanied by a strike, just failed.

In 1988 a one 1994 or 1996 (records are imprecise), the organization manual is updated, incorporating feedback from across the union. This most recent version has moved away from the model of the organization of a majority to file a request for certification, noting that "much can still be accomplished by a small group on the floor that strives to mobilize colleagues around particular grievances and coordinate direct action campaigns…While the earlier version recognized the various legal tactics available to management to subvert or defeat a union certification vote, updates took a harder line, noting that

even when you "win" thanks to labor laws, you end up losing — endless hours are spent pursuing the case, momentum is lost and power shifts from the workplace to the corporate courts. Although it is useful to know the law in order to make informed decisions on all possible options, the workplace remains your true source of strength.

He acknowledges that the unfair practices complaint process sometimes takes "five or seven years before resulting in a “victoire” complete. At this moment, the union was almost certainly disbanded and most of its activists found other employment. This is most likely a reflection on the IWW experience at Mid-America in Virden, in illinois. In 1977, the IWW recruited six of the seven workers there and called for a certification vote:

the long march through the courts sees union members dwindle in numbers, until there was only one left in June 1978… Two years later, in the fall of 1980, all appeal procedures having been exhausted, Mid-America finally agreed to recognize the union and begin negotiations. At this moment, of course, the union was no longer present in the workplace… The Industrial Organization Committee… [has sent] letters to current Mid-America employees informing them of the campaign and suggesting that the IWW negotiate on their behalf. There was no response and Virden's campaign was consigned to history.

This experience repeated itself in almost exactly the same way decades later, when in 2013, the IWW won an accreditation vote at Mobile Rail Systems in Chicago, only to lose all presence in the workplace (relatively small) during the negotiation of the collective agreement. The union eventually agreed to drop the campaign in 2020.

However, although this version of the organizing manual was more critical of legalism in labor relations, and even if it recognized " the possibility - and even the legality - of fighting for specific grievances, or even to ask for union recognition, without going through the NLRB ", most of his advice was geared towards formal accreditation in anticipation of contract negotiation.

Implementation of the current training program

It should be noted again that these manuals do not appear to have been used much. En1996, the year the organization manual was apparently last updated, there were several high-profile IWW campaigns. However, the members of these campaigns interviewed by the author did not declare having used it, although some have known about it. The Wobblies groped their way through their heady campaigns, guided by the advice of sporadically present members, with mixed success.

Always in 1996, the IWW narrowly lost a legal accreditation vote at Borders Books in Philadelphia. An organizer at the center of the campaign was fired and a high-profile national campaign was launched to protest the dismissal and boycott the channel, with strong participation from more than a dozen branches of the IWW. In stride, a series of new campaigns have emerged – at the MiniMart convenience store in Seattle, at Applebee's in New Orleans, at Wherehouse Entertainment in the San Francisco area, at Snyder's Pretzels in Pennsylvania, at Sin Fronteras Bookstore in Olympia and several Portland businesses.

Alexis Buss, a member from Philadelphia who later became general secretary-treasurer, said: "After Borders, we only got crumbs, and people had no other way to get involved. The nature of a union was always assessed in light of the question: “How many contracts do you have?” »

She was often sent personally to assist in these campaigns. John B, who later served on the Organizers Training Committee, described the situation as:

We had several national campaigns, very public, very visible, which totally imploded… these were essentially situations where workplaces were already under high pressure, then three guys would stand on a table shouting: “workers of the world, unite!” before being fired on the spot. Alexis looked into these campaigns and developed a training day dedicated to best practices in organization.

According to Buss: "We tried to take the time to learn and improve after each failure. » She began to organize one-day workshops for campaigns and branches:

Let's say you have a [censored name] from Applebee's contacting your branch, what are you doing? You don't give them membership cards or pamphlets about how bad their boss is telling them: " Good luck, kid. " So, we really wanted to try to build a workplace committee… We tried to explain the shortcomings of the external organizers who did the organizing work, the dangers of not having a committee, the risks of ignoring social leaders at work…

A little after, a group of four members of the IWW began to seriously collect documents from the traditional unions. It was about Buss, de John Hollingsworth (Steward in Ottawa of OPEIU local 225 at the time and researcher hired by the Canadian Association of University Teachers), de Josh Freeze (member of the Amalgamated Transit Union and later steward of the Association of Flight Attendants) and Chuck Hendricks (of Baltimore and later Connecticut, became a UNITE HERE organizer). Hendricks recalls that the group "began collecting AFL-CIO training materials, of UNITE HERE and other unions to create an organizing manual" and "trainings on the model of a school class".

Hendricks was among a number of Wobblies who attended the AFL-CIO's "Organizing Institute". This three-day workshop allowed to acquire the necessary skills to carry out a " home visit ", especially with the use of role-playing games, after which the successful participants were recruited by the unions. This role-playing class model has become the basic structure of Organization 101 training..

So, the IWW found the original core of its training program in other unions: gather contacts, socially and physically map the workplace, identifier les leaders, have individual conversations with colleagues following the AEIOU scenario (Shake, Educate, Innoculer, Organize and ”Unioniser”). An analysis of the difference between the IWW and other unions has been added. (no paid staff, no political party affiliation, no deduction of contributions), as well as a critique of labor law and a "chronology of an unfair practices complaint" written by Buss, intended to warn participants of the slowness and inefficiency of legal processes.

The first Organization 101 training was held in Portland in August 2002. According to the report of the Organizers' Training Committee at the annual convention:

Forty members came from across the western United States for a weekend of formal talks, presentations and role plays. We covered topics ranging from developing contacts, activists and leaders in workplace mapping; encourage colleges to take on more responsibilities and tasks in negotiations; challenges of high-turnover workplaces to U.S. labor law… Without a doubt, the most frequent comment we received in the ratings was that there should be more roleplaying. The trainers agree and for most future training, their place will be considerably enlarged.

In the years that followed, other members of the IWW often coming from a more traditional unionism have developed other modules: two Minneapolis organizers who both had experience with AFSCME designed a captive audience meeting and "One Big Organizer" exercise in which participants take turns asking questions to a potential union member, to stir it up and educate it. Generally, the evolution of IWW organization training has moved it from a lecture format to a popular education model.

So, from 1996 at 2003 about, the training program has been consolidated, moving from informal workshops run by Buss to a formal program run by the Organizers Training Committee. This committee has written and updated a training manual, coordinated training and accredited new trainers. When the committee structure has actually been put in place, she became a stable resource that no longer depended on Buss' talents, who had since moved on to other projects.

However, since it had borrowed heavily from traditional unions, this organizational training program still bore the hallmarks of traditional approaches in its early days. MK Lees, who would become a trainer and sit on the Training Committee for Organizers, recalls taking his first Organization 101 training in Chicago in 2002, while organizing bike couriers with the Chicago Couriers Union of the IWW. “Training continued to progress towards solidarity unionism… She was very critical of the organization as part of the NLRB, but she always had one foot in both worlds. It provided that it could be used for the organization via the NLRB or not ” — as for bicycle couriers, classified as self-employed and not as employees — "but many examples were drawn from legal accreditation campaigns. » Even if it did not train or encourage participants to apply for accreditation, the narrative of the two-day training culminated with a public outing from the union, as accreditation campaigns do. The workshop also presented the "stages of a campaign" culminating in a "recognition strategy" followed by "negotiation" — the IWW essentially presented a traditional approach that bypassed the NLRB.

In other words, the union was still forging its own approach to organizing.

Field applications and program reviews

From 2003, the organizational training curriculum begins to evolve in light of the experiences of the IWW campaigns.

Even though the Organization 101 training never advised filing an application for certification and instead warned participants against labor law, this lesson came to fruition with the credentialing campaigns in Portland in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2003, Portland published a document entitled "Learning from our mistakes", a look back at four different campaigns: a bicycle courier company, two separate grocery stores and a non-profit community organization. The conclusions are unequivocal: " The NLRB has slowed down the organization "; “The NLRB bureaucracy slowed down the process, slowed our momentum and took up a lot of time for several people "; " We did not consider the campaign without NLRB accreditation "; "We failed to recognize that direct unionism worked well without NLRB accreditation"; "The organization has focused on the certification vote rather than worker issues and fighting for concrete gains"; "Things to avoid in the future: have a vote with the NLRB ”; "Using the NLRB ; " Seek official union recognition "; " Aim to obtain an official collective agreement "; " Abandon the democratic construction within the organizing committees to focus on the immediacy of an accreditation vote ". For a campaign where accreditation was won: " The real problems were not addressed during the negotiation "; " The union was more of an idea than a reality ". "Things to do differently next time: more direct action unionism tactics ”. " Experimenting with more minority/direct trade unionism tactics ".

However, le Starbucks Workers Union, launched in New York in 2004, et le Jimmy John’s Workers Union, launched in Minneapolis in 2010, initially sought formal recognition by filing applications for accreditation with the NLRB. The former abandoned this campaign when a judgment declared that the accreditation unit must include all stores in Manhattan. The runner-up narrowly lost a certification vote, and even though that result was later overturned by the NLRB, the union never filed a petition again.

However, as these campaigns progressed from store to store and city to city, they have increased their ability to use direct action tactics at work to achieve gains, including floor mats, tip jars, temperature controls, schedule changes, toilet breaks, increases, paid holidays, the end of employer intimidation and the reversal of certain layoffs.

Since campaigns were more successful with direct action than with legal approaches, the training program has developed further in this direction. Workshops, sometimes given in addition to the training 10, became in August 2010 a full-fledged 102 course: " The committee in action ". Nick Driedger, former member of the Organizers' Training Committee and veteran "dual-carder" of the IWW at Canada Post (see below), notes that the program was created following the concretization of several efforts in organization of the IWW:

The 102 was created after the establishment of a dozen workshop committees in different workplaces. So we started developing a system to collect issues, target the appropriate manager level and bring claims to fruition in a concerted manner (direct action grievance procedure). Emphasis has been placed on creating committees that can last for the long term; some of our committees have existed for about six years.

The training consisted of two parts. The first is tactics March on the boss, where several employees confront a boss about a particular policy or the treatment of employees. First an exercise requiring detailed written answers, this training was transformed into role plays with assignment of roles (lookout, applicant, switch, etc.) and where the trainers took on the managerial role.

Another section of 102 was a section titled " Parts of a Direct Action ", dividing it into ten parts. Among others: " Requirement ", "participants", " witnesses ", " target ", " tactics ", " the results ". This section highlighted the importance of escalating pressure. Furthermore, remarks were made on the difference between "workplace contractualism" and the IWW approach, now called "solidarity unionism". The training discussed referees who make decisions without consequences for their own living conditions, agreements that make most strikes illegal and postpone the treatment of many problems until the next round of negotiations, of these agreements which "make workers lose power during the duration of the contract, usually through clauses prohibiting the right to strike and promoting management rights, and by the recognition of the employers' legitimacy in spirit, in practice and in law ”. The training opposed this model to that of the " workshop committee ". She also discussed onboarding new hires, effectiveness of staking, dealing with retaliation such as dismissals and having good meetings.

As the campaigns multiplied and the training program gained popularity, sections on direct action have been integrated into training 101, which was offered much more frequently than the 102. For its part, the 102 program has become a systematic study of the maintenance of committees and a comprehensive process for handling direct action grievances. The grievance procedure was developed after the success of the "dual carding" campaign at Canada Post in the early 2010s. IWW members within the Canadian Union of Postal Workers created and led a training program titled "Taking Back Control of the Work Floor". Their method was to identify social leaders on the floor and send them through training., using CUPW education infrastructure. Still Driedger:

We have provided these trainings to approximately 160 people and then added them to a text message list…to ensure coordination between shop committees… We have achieved great victories, especially when we forced Canada Post to hire 200 people as management attempted to cut positions through March on the boss style actions involving approximately 2000 workers [and] when we reversed a 30% wage cut for rural letter carriers through a four-day wildcat strike. D’innombrables March on the boss, with blows 8 at 120 workers at a time, have won demands ranging from changes in disciplinary measures to the application of seniority in the selection of delivery routes, through the stoppage of compulsory overtime (which we ended for about 1000 workers for about six years, while it was a widespread practice everywhere in the posts for decades before).

The Course 102 grievance process now included a grievance triage and prioritization activity, as well as an exercise where workers had to be told that their own grievance cannot be dealt with at the moment. The training also addressed issues of democratic accountability related to horizontally worker-led campaigns.

Latest developments

The last revision of the 101 program was spread over the year 2018-2019. It was again the result of new experiences: feedback on the success of the IWW campaign at Ellen's Stardust Diner and the challenges faced by other IWW campaigns.

At Ellen's, the workers went public with their union in August 2016. Management retaliation was felt in the staggering number of 31 unlawful dismissals within the next five months (16 in one day). The union ended up winning the case by reversing the layoffs and winning back wages in a settlement overseen by the NLRB. However, the campaign survived—and the settlement was imposed—thanks to sustained organizing efforts, including the recruitment and training of other workers and the continuation of direct action campaigns in the company, in addition to pickets and pressure campaigns on the issue of reinstatement. Meanwhile, the union has achieved an impressive series of victories, including a new scene, security measures, a breastfeeding room, an increase in staff, substantial repairs, raises for cooks, divers and hosts, and an end to unpaid repeats and tip theft, all without official recognition or negotiation. All of this was made possible by faithfully adhering to existing 101 training guidelines and putting in place a formal structure — union membership and dues payment., elected leadership positions, meetings and motions, a budget. This structure is a counterexample to non-NLRB campaigns which tend to be loosely organized affairs revolving around strong personalities.

In light of this experience, training 101 has been revised to remove the original "campaign timeline" that culminated in the "public release". MK Lees and this author have written two articles in an attempt to summarize the lessons learned from Stardust. The first is called « Do Solidarity Unions Need to “Go Public” ? » (Do the Solidarity Syndicates need to go public?) and underlined that this process was only a vestige of a certification campaign during which the management is officially informed of the union effort and which, from the experience of the IWW, only resulted in retaliation and loss, while the permanent struggles based on grievances did not suffer this kind of decisive backlash.

The other article, « Boom without Bust: Solidarity Unionism for the Long Term » (Explode without bursting: Solidarity Syndicalism in the long term) , was a reflection on how the IWW could maintain its model of non-contractual solidarity unionism in the long term, now that he had a few models to do it. (It must be recognized that the IWW campaigns at Jimmy John's and Starbucks themselves lasted ten years., but they were not very structured and over time, they relied more and more on advertising and the media and less and less on presence on the floor.) The article described the stabilizing organizational characteristics of the Stardust solidarity union. The training program, For its part, refocused on recruiting workers as full members in good standing, and on adopting a systematic approach in general.

The section of the training 101 on employment law, then became an incisive presentation, albeit relatively long political and historical context of the Wagner Act and Taft-Hartley, is now reduced to an inoculation against complaints of unfair labor practices and a general warning against legal procedures. This almost two-hour section has always been very controversial: she was either the most beloved, be the most hated of the participants in their evaluations, but the trainers responsible for reviewing this section realized that its length effectively contradicted its message, to know: set aside labor law and focus on direct action.

Training 101 now ends with a note on "committee sustainability" and "next steps", advising on how workers can "level up" in their campaigns without pulling the trigger on a certification vote or going public to reward their organization, whether envisioned as a triumphant moment or a desperate move to reverse a dip in energy. Rather, we suggest: " to increase the number of members " and "to take care of greater demands ".


The IWW's training program now matches its political rejection of class collaboration and its cynicism about labor rights. However, it was not developed in an ideological or "a priori" way; on the contrary, it gradually condensed about 25 years of experience in real campaigns.

While his original material was borrowed from traditional syndicates, it now stands out in every detail. The AEIOU version of the IWW, for example, is focused on direct action and not on signing a membership card. The program aims to develop broad skills and class consciousness in all workers. The rating scale indicates whether a worker actively contributes to the campaign by participating in one-on-one meetings, direct actions or administrative work, or if his support for the campaign goes beyond words (at the other end of the spectrum: workers passively or actively opposed to the union effort).

This approach also reflects the very structure of the IWW.: very low contribution rates which generally do not allow the financing of paid staff, committees and boards of directors made up of volunteer members, and campaigns in low-wage sectors, with small circles and high turnover, such as retail, fast food, restaurants and call centers, where union members tend to work and where other unions generally do not attempt to certify bargaining units for obvious cost-benefit reasons.

However, not all IWW campaigns subscribe to the approach of solidarity unionism (and this article has only touched on a fraction of the campaigns of the last five decades). There are still certification and convention campaigns within the union, in addition to other organizational models, which is made possible by the fact that the IWW is very decentralized. The 2010s saw a series of accreditation and recognition campaigns — 18 sure 20 have been formally successful — which have resulted in the closure of several of these stores or the disappearance of the union presence in a few years. Le Burgerville Workers Union (BVWU) in Portland, which ran a conventional campaign from the start and is now entering its third year of trading, now asks the rest of the union to allow him to sign a clause prohibiting the right to strike, currently prohibited by the IWW statutes, and has already committed to a grievance arbitration system (where the losing party pays!). This reflects the contradictions, as the first organization manual said, to try to build workers' power within the legal framework of labor relations. In other words, the experiences of the IWW campaigns, even those that do not follow the pattern set in the current organization formation, always reflect the lessons and warnings distilled into its program, if only negatively. But the union as a whole, thanks to its solidarity union model, has passed the stage of a "negotiating union" which is only differentiated by its "cheap dues and the absence of paid leaders". Finally, the union can once again put its revolutionary ideals into practice.

Original text by Marianne Garneau, Chair of the SITT-IWW Department of Education Council and Editor of the Labor Think Tank Organizing Work.

Translation done in January-February 2022 by Felix T. Member of the Montreal local SITT-IWW.