The Advantage of Organizing in a High Turnover Workplace
Everyone knows that there are immense challenges to be faced when organizing in a high turnover workplace. Co-workers come and go within months, sometimes weeks, leaving very little time to develop the bonds of trust and solidarity necessary for class struggle at the workplace. Further, because almost no one who works there has long-term plans of staying there, any and all injustices and poor pay can be swallowed with the phrase “it’s not forever.” At least, it’s not forever for any given individual, but the poor pay and injustices will be inherited by the next unfortunate worker. Not exactly the kind of attitude you need for creating working class militancy. Even if struggle does begin to emerge, because the bosses are terribly used to replacing workers, the bosses can simply fire the whole group engaged in struggle.
In spite of all of these problems, there is an absolutely immense advantage that I believe has been overlooked which can be located in one of the tremendous disadvantages of union organizing which typically involves a fixed workplace or industry.
Classically, one of the problems that unions have posed is being walled off from the rest of the working class. Once a successful union is established for a certain trade or industry, once desirable pay and hours have been won, and once job security guarantees are in place, what use do the workers of this trade or industry have for class struggle? The fight is won, go home and collect the benefits soldiers. Struggles which have had wide-ranging benefits for the entire working-class, political struggles, have typically transcended simple union struggles. Unions were, to be sure, an important part of the struggle for the eight hour working day, for the civil rights movement, for publicly funded health care, against various wars, and many other political struggles, however, these struggles took on a new character. Mass tactics such as general strikes and workers’ councils were needed to fight these battles. In order to successfully carry forth the struggle on a new, higher, plane it was necessary to create linkages between workers of different industries. The attitude of sacrificing general interests for specific interests that unions can breed is extremely harmful to creating those linkages.
In steps the high turnover workplace. Organizing a union might prove extremely difficult in this environment, but creating a general workers’ organizing committee focused on creating working class solutions to working class problems becomes relatively easy. The high turnover workplace is the perfect ‘seeder’ center. The low pay and managerial abuse associated with high turnover workplaces generates working class discontent which can be harnessed by the organizing committee to select individuals particularly disaffected to start participating in the committee. The committee can, of course, attempt to engage in struggles at the high turnover workplace, but it is more likely that as workers are shed from the workplace the committee will find itself with a large variety of in-roads to other workplaces. These in-roads are important because the human material which has gone on to other workplaces is organically linked to the low pay and injustices still being experienced at the original high turnover workplace through the committee. While it becomes possible for this style of committee to act in a strictly economic manner through workplace specific struggle, it is much more immediately a political organ given that it has come to have connections and linkages to various workplaces.
Speaking personally, I am in the midst of attempting to organize such a committee. At present, we are having our first experiment with an individual who is associated with us and has moved on to a new workplace. Organically they will likely remain connected with us through a book club we are starting and our semi-frequent game nights. It is also likely that they will at some point be invited to our committee proper. Worth noting, however, is that our association is still in its infancy; thus far we have essentially functioned as an information clearing house for work related issues.