Why Consensus Decision-making Won't Work for Grassroots Unionism

Wetzel, Tom
Date Written:  2009-01-01
Year Published:  2009
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20504

Wetzel contrasts consensus decision-making with democratic decision-making to explain why the latter is more suited to activist groups.



Syndicalists have always supported a form of direct democracy based on majority rule. Like most American unions, the Industrial Workers of the World officially endorses Robert's Rules of Order -- although some of their smaller branches use a stripped down version called Rusty's Rules. The point to taking a vote is that it enables an organized group to come to a decision that expresses the collective will, even when there is some disagreement.

This doesn't mean that all decisions are made by voting. In grassroots organizations based on majority decision-making, it often happens that most decisions are made without taking any vote -- especially in smaller meetings. That's because people are often able to come to agreement just by discussing the issue or proposal.

As a mass organization, a union will inevitably tend to have a diversity of viewpoints. On the other hand, the ability to reach agreement is helped by the shared circumstances. The members of a base union -- such as a grassroots union in a particular workplace -- are working class people who share common subordination to a particular employer, or they work in the same industry. Although different jobs or departments may have special problems, and some groups may experience particular forms of discrimination, they share the general conditions of that workplace. Many will have personal connections with other members from working together. This makes it easier for members to take up the form of "we" consciousness involved in making collective decisions in a union.

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