In part 1 of our political education session on No Shortcuts, we summarized chapter 1 and discussed what Jane McAlevey describes as the three avenues that make up activism: advocacy, mobilizing, and organizing. How can ordinary people fight for and win improvements in their workplaces and communities in the 21st century’s “new guilded age”? McAlevey’s response is both simple and radical; old but also new. Here’s out notes on the discussion.
The whole text can be found here. It’s a great read!
Discussion Questions / Reflection Points
Does anyone want to share something that stood out to them? Want to elaborate on your idea or someone else’s?
- Differences between organizing on the one hand, and mobilizing and advocacy, and how advocacy doesn’t empower the working class at all. Since McAlevey asserts in the book that only organizing taps into the power in numbers that lies with the workers.
Is power the ability of one group to exert control over another?
I don’t know that McAlevey has a comprehensive theory of power. Beverly Silver wrote a book Forces of Labor which has a lot of interesting analysis on power or labor and capital. Framework = labor can have structural power in the workplace, marketplace power by virtue of having skills needed by the employer, and associational power that they gain by being collective.
I don’t know if I agree that having and using power are different things. The point of organizing is to build that power, which is a key step. We can imagine or theorize where power lives, but unless we organize it will not be present. I found her emphasis on power analysis and mapping interesting.
- Power mapping and analysis allows organizers to help establish targets. But the failure here is that power mapping alone doesn’t do anything to shift where power lies. She emphasizes that power analysis is almost never done by and on ‘ordinary people’, to see where their power lies.
- “What is almost never attempted is the absolutely essential corollary: a parallel careful, methodical, systematic, detailed analysis of power structures among ordinary people who are or could be brought into the fight.” (p. 4)
Back in the early days of PTA, some people did a power mapping. For example, we would look at an AC Transit Board Member and took a look at who could have influence over them. This is very different, because this looks at who is trusted in the workplace, who are the shop stewards, etc… She mentions in the podcast that those folks (organic leaders) are not often active organizers. They are trusted colleagues who people rely on when they are in situations
In the chapter she discusses having “the biggest possible war room”. She shares a chart which shows how workers are often not at the center of power analysis, but merely a side effect.
“When they see that three of their own ministers and two of their city council members, and the head of the PTA … serve on commissions and boards with their CEOs, they themselves can begin to imagine and plot strategy.” (p. 6)
This is a visualization of ordinary people finding their own power, together.
The purpose of power mapping is not just to have a target, but also bringing people together against a common enemy. It offered people education and a chance to participate in this larger fight
How do organizing, mobilizing and advocacy interact with power differently?
- In the book she describes advocacy as professionals lobbying, filing suit or waging PR campaigns to make peoples lives better. This is basically the idea that the elites are there to make the lives of the working class a bit better and we can pay professionals to beg them to do it for us.
- Mobilizing would try to build a more grassroots campaign, but would still end up begging the current power structure to help us, or perhaps vote in a new head to the current power structure.
- Organizing, however, would gather ordinary workers, teachers, community members into a coalition that can demand changes and shift the balance of power towards the majority.
Lets say we’re all rank and file workers: would a petition effort be mobilizing or organizing?
A petition can be a vehicle for having a lot of organizing conversations with members, or it can just be a mobilizing tool. The main difference would be to what extent are you talking to people who aren’t already interested in the issue or fight. It’s only organizing if you’re convincing people who aren’t already convinced. It’s expanding your base.
McAlevey described mobilizing as a tactic. She de-emphasized specific actions like rallies as the end goal, but rather a tool in the change process. Another question we have is: Did you experience a shift in understanding in some aspect of organizing? How might that change your own organizing?
- I will say briefly that the biggest project that I worked on was the hazard pay campaign. I ran social media, and Jane really down plays the use of social media. So that kind of stuck out to me.
- Something that I noticed was that I have been reaching out to people just to talk, to learn about what is happening in people’s lives. More of an emphasis on 1-1s.
- In the podcast she says you shouldn’t try to change people’s minds. You should strive for them to come to their own conclusions. 70-30 rule (listening 70%, talking 30%), mostly providing factual information.
- She discusses the importance of questions. She proposes the question: if you could change 3 things if your workplace, what would they be, as a great opener. She doesn’t shy away from posing hard choices. Ex: will striking hurt your patients? How else could you make change? What do you think your manager will say when they know you are going to strike?
Anything else that stuck out to folks about the text?
- What really resonated with me was how McAlevey stated clearly that labor movements are not really considered in understanding how change happens in this country. Civil rights movements are studied extensively, but they happen in concert with labor movements. Labor has won immense, lasting gains for ordinary people’s lives.