The answer to most workplace and union democracy problems is the same: you have to organize with your coworkers. Easy to say, harder to do. With no staff, nobody on the union payroll, everyone working their regular jobs, how can you build and sustain an organization that is democratic and participatory? How can you spread the work around so it doesn't all fall on a few people? How can you keep track and hold people accountable? How can you avoid burnout and keep the group open to new people?
In this activity participants learn how to use a worker-to-worker network by setting up and using a simplified network over the course of a workshop, conference or retreat. The activity is followed by a presentation on uses of the worker-to-worker network in the Teamsters reform movement and a discussion of the potential usefulness (or not) of this organizing tool to their work.
Good on both ends: for groups that are starting out and want to organize effectively, avoiding some common problems; as well as for groups that have gotten into a rut and are having trouble reaching out, or bringing new people in.
WARNING: this activity has to be tailored to the specific group and context. The write-up here is based on a particular scenario: a group of about fifty people meeting over the course of a weekend to discuss how best to reorganize their activist group.
Number of people:
Five to ten "coordinators," one "main coordinator," and twenty five to fifty people for them to talk with one-on-one. (Ratio of one coordinator to five people.)
Handouts and sample forms for the worker-to-worker network (so people don't have to try to remember all the mechanics).
Big paper, markers.
Roughly four hours of workshop, separated by enough time for participants to carry out their tasks. This write-up is based on an organizational retreat of activists and staff that ran from Friday evening to Sunday noon. The activity started Friday evening and picked up again Saturday afternoon. [[check with Charley]]
Before the workshop, identify a central question that is of interest to all participants in the larger event, in our example the question was, "why do we participate in this group?"
Step One - preparing the network
- Facilitator explain and motivate -- why are we doing this?
- to learn an organizing technique by using it,
- to explore the theme identified ahead of time (in our case: "why do we participate in this group?")
- Facilitator states the objective: to organize ourselves such that, by tomorrow afternoon, we will have had one-on-one discussions with every participant in this event on our chosen question ("why you do you participate in this group?")
- Facilitator explains the process. How will we do this? Each person in this group -- with one exception -- will talk with a set of five people, one-on-one. Take notes, if that seems appropriate. (Sometimes taking notes can discourage the other person from speaking.) Tomorrow afternoon we will meet again to share what we learned and discuss both the content and the process. The people who do this are called "coordinators."
- One person will serve as the "Main Coordinator." This person will not do one-on-one with the others, but instead will take notes for the group and keep track of a) the tasks the group has decided to carry out and b) the assignments of each coordinator. (Note: it's good to assign this role to someone who usually wants to do everything themselves, someone at risk of burnout.)
- Facilitator explains the basic idea of the worker-to-worker network (see handout)
- Basic assumptions (concentric circles of commitment and participation)
- How it works (building and using the network)
- How to set it up (map the group, assign people)
- Troubleshoot (you do this after the network is running)
(NOTE: stick to the basics of the network; no need to talk too much about why to use such a network or how to manage it once it's running -- this will come later in the agenda)
- Coordinators group sets up the mini-network:
- Make list of people in the workshop/conference and their relevant information (areas of work, language, other).
- Assign five participants to each coordinator, based on functional criteria, types of activity, other criteria--discuss this, we also want to maximize cross-group contact and we want people to speak with people they don't know as well. (Note: good question to ask coordinators: "What is the best way to assign people?")
- Group reviews tasks and assignments: is the task realistic? Can it be measured/assessed? How will we know if we have been successful? Once the mini-network is set up, the coordinators have Friday night and Saturday morning to do their tasks. Will our current arrangement work?
- Check in: any concerns? Any questions?
Step Two: Action
During the rest of the evening and in any free time the next day, coordinators talk with their assigned members, taking notes (where appropriate). Otherwise, they participate in any other activities that are scheduled.
Step Three: Coordinators report back
Whole group: in the afternoon the coordinators hold their report back meeting while the other event participants observe, using the mosh pit format. (See Activity 5.1 the Mosh Pit for the write-up of this format.) (Note: in the example below the people who participated in the mosh pit were not just the workshop participants -- the people who were coordinators -- but everyone in the retreat, because the subject of the retreat was how to restructure their organization.)
The main coordinator sits with her/his fellow coordinators and leads them in a three part report back and discussion process:
- first, a quick go around, coordinators report back on who they talked with and what the people said, based on their notes;
- second, the coordinators comment on what they learned from the comments and what it was like talking with people one-on-one (facilitator or a participant takes notes on a flip chart.)
- third: the main coordinator reviews the results and checks in with each coordinator on accountability--"did you talk to each person, if not, why not?, what obstacles did you run into? what can you do to talk to them? do we need to change network? other issues?"
- Once the first group is finished, participants in the second circle, who have been observing, have the opportunity to comment on the inner circle's discussion--addressing either/both the technique (the worker-to-worker network) and the content.
Step Four: about the worker-to-worker network and its uses
Back-loaded presentation on what the worker-to-worker network is, how has it been used, its promises and pitfalls.
- Whole group: facilitator asks participants to briefly reconstruct the worker-to-worker process as we just experienced it. Make sure every step is included, from the choosing of groups to the report back and assessment. Facilitator or other participant takes notes on big paper. (The steps will include things like: group was selected, group met to form coordinating committee, assigned roles, charted contacts, assigned contacts, defined task, defined measurement/accountability, checked in on task, did task, reported back, checked in on accountability and content. Have people add any missing steps...)
- Presenter (could be facilitator, should be someone knowledgeable about the subject) explains the background of this tool and how it has been used. (Note: the information presented should be backed up with handouts, so people can go over the information later. The purpose of the presentation at this point is not to read the handouts but to quickly give people an idea of the potential scope and application of the network and to raise some issues.)
- Pair discussion: turn to the person next to you and discuss this question, "is the worker-to-worker network a tool you would like to use in your activism?"
- Go round, by twos (one person from each pair): in a few words, is this a tool you would like to use? Facilitator takes notes.
In this simplified version, the network has three roles: main coordinator, coordinator, and the people the coordinators talk with one-on-one. In its full form, the network has four basic roles: main coordinator, coordinator, activist, and member (the people the activists talk with one-on-one).
The next step is for participants to discuss how to adapt the network for use in their own organizing.
If you did this activity as a two-part workshop in a much larger event -- for example a conference -- you would want to frame the coordinators' task differently -- it would be more useful to imagine it as an initial organizing effort in which the top priority is just establishing contact and finding out what people think about a given question. The report back (workshop session) would then be more like a committee meeting of the coordinators, without the added layer of observers (though people who has not attended the first session of the workshop, could play that role).
The worker-to-worker network is one tool that could be introduced in Activity 3.2 Interviewing the Activist.
Charley MacMartin and I used the version described here in a weekend retreat we facilitated for staff and active members of BAJA -- the Baltimore Alliance for Justice in the Americas. See the attached draft agenda...
[MN version of TDU member-to-member...]
Credit: DRAFT PLAN for June 11 BAJA RETREAT by Matt Noyes/Charley MacMartin adapted from "Running a UPS-Style Contract Campaign, How to maximize our power by building member-to-members networks." David Pratt, Teamster Rank and File Education and Legal Defense Foundation.