Having the Hard Conversations
Jane McAlevey on Fight for 15, labour's crisis of strategy, and the difference between organizing and mobilizing

McAlevey, Jane; Rozworski, Michael
Date Written:  2015-10-04
Publisher:  Jacobin Mag
Year Published:  2015
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX18567

An interview with labour organizer Jane McAlevey on labour's crisis of strategy and the difference between organizing and mobilizing. McAlevey discusses what ails the labour movement, problem with the terms "public" and "private" sector, and why we need to stop ignoring the rank-and-file.



I’m fine to talk about globalization till the cows come home. We know it’s there; we know it’s a problem. The question is, what are we doing about it?

I want to focus on a debate that we can actually change. If we do change our strategy, I think we can win again. The reason I pound so much on internal movement failure is because it’s in the movement’s control. We’re not going to change the direction of global trade tomorrow. What we can do tomorrow is sit up as a movement and decide we’ve got the wrong strategies.

The key strategic pivot we have to make is having a ton of faith in the capacities of ordinary rank-and-file workers and in the ordinary intelligence of workers. We have to prioritize our strategy on teaching, skilling up, and training tens of thousands of workers how to fight.

Organizing isn't rocket science, but it is a serious skill and a craft. We have to build an army of people in the field who can actually contend with capital on the local level. Not talking to workers and having a strategy that fundamentally avoided workers for several decades is what we need to change and what we can change.

we need to worry less about how we talk and worry more about listening. We stopped listening to workers and that's part of disregarding the intelligence of ordinary people.

The steps to a good organizing conversation, to a one-on-one, are a framework to how we can be talking collectively as well. There, it's 70-30: 70 percent listening and 30 percent talking. Even the 30 percent talking is really agitational; it's a series of specific questions that allow people to begin to self-analyze the crisis in their life.

The framework of the conversation is so important. People have to engage in self-discovery through face-to-face conversation. It’s not Facebooking, it's not tweeting, it’s not any of this crap --those are mobilizing tools. Organizing tools and an organizing conversation are literally about a process of self-discovery. People begin to systematize and analyze what's going wrong in their life.

I was having this conversation with some people from the climate movement recently, and I challenged them on organizing. They said that the climate is going so fast that their job isn't organizing -- they're all mobilizing. Everywhere I go, in every sector of the movement, people say that everything is so urgent that they're just mobilizing and someone else has to worry about organizing. That is the problem: everyone is focused on mobilizing.

the problem when we're doing just a mobilizing model: all we're doing is talking to the already-convinced and we're not doing base expansion. Real organizing is about focusing on people who are not yet convinced and not yet involved in our movement.

We have to do several things to rebuild a powerful movement. One, we have to focus on the people who are not yet with us, and we're not reaching them through Facebooking and tweeting.

There are very few places where people are actually trying to figure out how to have live, face-to-face conversations that allow for self-discovery by the working class. And where it is still happening, it tends to be in the labor movement. So for all the criticisms that it's easy to heap on the labor movement, there is at least still real organizing going on.

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