Autonomous Organizing Committees in the workplace
north america / mexico |
workplace struggles |
Thursday May 19, 2005 23:17 by Patrick Star - NAF - Northwest Anarchist Federation (USA/Canada)
Workplace organising is not just about joining a union
At my old job, if we had formed a workplace committee that fought for everyday issues we faced at work we would have been able to win more support for the union organizing effort we were undertaking. If my co-workers had been able to feel a sense of power at work, a voice, hope, instead of despair and futility about the issues at work, then we would have seen it as the next logical step to form an official union while still carrying out our on the job direct actions. The way I see it, the best way to take collective action at work and to win the dignity, respect, and material gains we deserve is to form an autonomous workplace committee made up of only our co-workers and controlled by us.
What the hell are we supposed to do make our lives better, to be able to afford our rent, buy healthy food, keep warm, and be able to go to the doctor if we're sick? I say we gotta fight back, we have to demand dignity, respect, better wages, and a healthcare plan we can afford. It sounds like a vauge solution to fight back, but within this article I hope to demonstrate from experience and discussion with others how we can fight back and win.
Autonomous Organizing Committees
Every day at work we get shat upon. Whether it's the paycheck that
barely covers our rent, random discipline and discipline for doing
our jobs the way that makes sense to us but my not fit into company
policy, or strait up not being treated by our bosses with respect and
not being able to have dignity in our work. Unfortunately, our lives
revolve around work. We spent the better part of a quarter of our
lives at work, one third of our lives recovering from work and
getting some sleep, and the other fraction is spent on worrying about
work, money, buying groceries and keeping the heat on.
Some where in there we are supposed to enjoy life but most of the
time we're too tired to do that, so we zone out in front of the TV or
drink ourselves to sleep. The fact is our lives are controlled by
bosses and politicians. Most of the time it's more comfortable to
just throw up our hands and say fuck it, this is how it's always
been, I'll just try to make the best of it.
It seems to me this is a defeatist way of going about our lives.
So what the hell are we supposed to do make our lives better, to be
able to afford our rent, buy healthy food, keep warm, and be able to
go to the doctor if we're sick? I say we gotta fight back, we have to
demand dignity, respect, better wages, and a healthcare plan we can
afford. It sounds like a vauge solution to fight back, but within
this article I hope to demonstrate from experience and discussion
with others how we can fight back and win.
Often the easiest solution is to try and get a better job, hell,
that's what I just did and now I'm making a couple dollars more an
hour. I got no complaints about that. Yet, the same shit that pissed
me off at my old job is still going on at my new job. For example, at
my new job we don't get to take two ten minute breaks a day, we just
work straight through to lunch, and even then, we only take a 15 to
20 minute lunch. By the time I get off work, I'm so damned tired that
all I want to do is go home a sleep and just try and make it to the
At my old job, we didn't get breaks either. We were so
understaffed due to high turnover that we were all expected to work
overtime and, well, I would go home tired and just try and make it
through till the weekend. It's the same shit and at some point we're
going to have to dig our heels in and fight. I tried fighting back at
my old job through the company grievance procedure. I was given a
disciplinary action because I was put in a situation by my supervisor
when I was the only one at the job site and a crisis developed and I
had to choose between ensuring the safety of someone from another
person or leaving medications unattended (I was a social worker in a
group home for developmentally disable folks). It was a damned if I
do, damned if I don't type of situation and I got written up for it.
When I went through the company grievance procedure, they told me
the situation didn't merit me going through the grievance procedure.
I still got the disciplinary action. The point being, company
grievance procedures are set up by the boss and they can say whatever
the fuck they want and decide on the grievance however they want.
There's no way to fight back through a process set up by the company.
You are also alone when going through a grievance procedure, it's you
versus the company, and trust me, the company's gunna win.
So then what, how the hell are we supposed to fight back?! I don't
claim to have the best answer, but I do know from experience and from
talking to other labor activists that we must fight back together
collectively. We can't take on our bosses alone cause we'll be fired
or told to get back into line. In the realm of collective action on
the job, there are a couple of avenues we can go through to get the
basic things we need in life and potentially even more.
Flipping through the yellow pages, you can find a list of official
unions that can help ya organize you and your co-workers into a state
recognized and somewhat protected legal bargening unit. If you do
this, depending on the union that applies to your line of work, you
may or may not win a collective bargening contract that may or may
not better your wages, health insurance, grievance procedure for
discipline, and solidarity among your co-workers.
I'm not going to argue against forming a union at your work, hell,
that's what I was involved in for the last six months, until I quit
that job so I could get a job that would hopefully get me into a
building trades union, which a more of a career move than a stance on
workplace organizing. The thing about official unions is this: day to
day you still get shat upon, you still probably wont have a network
of co-workers who will stand behind you when you confront your boss
about this or that issue that's particularly pissing you off.
The other problem at stoping our efferts in the official union
realm is that we have to play by the rules of labor law, which are
really the bosses rules, not ours. Hell, the National Labor Relations
Board is so fucking right wing that it's sickening. Don't get
pessimistic though, it's not a choice between having a union or not
having a union. It comes down to this: If we want to fight our bosses
and win we have to have a solid grouping of co-workers who are
creative and dedicated to having each others backs when the shit
comes down the tube.
What I'm proposing and what you probably are already doing in a
less organized way is a workplace committee of you and your
co-workers that fights and wins, a group that disregards what anyone
but you and your co-workers want. Fighting for your interests on the
job, fighting covertly, publicly. Fighting by everyone taking a 10
minute break without asking the boss, fighting by everyone fudging on
their time cards by 15 minutes, fighting by refusing to put ourselves
in physically and emotionally dangerous positions, fighting by
organizing a union, and by telling the union bureaucrats to either
step in line behind us or to get lost.
A workplace committee can take on many forms. It can be everyone
getting together and going to the bar after work to plan a direct
action for the next day, like taking that ten minute break we deserve
(not to mention its required by law). It can become more developed
and have an official structure and develop campaigns around issues of
pay, health care, internal official union issues like democracy, and
it can even plan solidarity actions for the strikes of our fellow
working class sisters and brothers.
At my old job, if we had formed a workplace committee that fought
for everyday issues we faced at work we would have been able to win
more support for the union organizing effort we were undertaking. If
my co-workers had been able to feel a sense of power at work, a
voice, hope, instead of despair and futility about the issues at
work, then we would have seen it as the next logical step to form an
official union while still carrying out our on the job direct
actions. The way I see it, the best way to take collective action at
work and to win the dignity, respect, and material gains we deserve
is to form an autonomous workplace committee made up of only our
co-workers and controlled by us.
A lot of folks got the idea that you either have to form a union
or never stand a chance at changing our lives for the better. I don't
see it that way. It's not an either or type of decision. We can have
our cake and eat it too. If we organize workplace committees we stand
a chance of fighting back and winning. If we don't, we'll either
continue to be shat upon by the bosses, union bosses, or both. In my
next article on workplace organizing I will talk about the experience
of workplace committees in the past and present and the potential
they hold for the future.
From Firebrand No 3
Firebrand is a newspaper for rank and file workers in Portland.
It's aims are building the power of rank and file workers and
fighting the bureaucrats, bosses, and politicians who are our
To view the paper online, go to
download the PDF version from
Firebrand is a publication of the Firebrand Collective, a member
collective of the Northwest Anarchist Federation.