I live and work in an ocean side town that used to once be a vibrant fishing and industrial center. Now most of that is gone, and a majority of the economy caters to visiting tourists who want to stroll down the boardwalk and visit small food, gift, and entertainment shops. That is where I work, and where I’m trying to organize. Most of these shops here are service oriented and have fewer than 30 employees. When trying to unite the people in struggle, it is essential to have a large number of people “in the loop.” In previous generations, more people worked in large factories. With workers now more dispersed in service sector jobs, we still have to find a way to unite people. I have tried to develop an approach to organizing that addresses the particular nature of the situation around me. It is probably relevant to other situations in the United States. This approach centers on a conversation and a routine.
What do I mean by conversation? Well to me, a good conversation has its base in three main aspects—listening, questioning, and responding.
Listening requires actively focusing on someone’s speech and body language. Doing this is not only a sign of respect. It is also the foundation of making good conversation. Through listening you can begin to understand what it is someone wants to say. And this can be better helped by the second aspect of asking good organizing questions. Sometimes questions change the initial topic you were discussing, and that’s fine. However it is important to reorient the speaker back to the main point eventually. You can direct the conversation with questions to get back to the initial point.
The last aspect of the conversation—the response—comes after listening and understanding. The response is a great time to introduce a pro-worker idea or solution to the conversation. These ideas show the basis to not just face problems as individuals, but to bring people together to discuss their common experiences on similar jobs, and helps to demonstrate their common interest in fighting for change. It also shows that just even when there are hardships along the way, we can support each other in these necessary struggles and overcome the hardships as a group. By centering your response on the original topic, your understanding of their opinion, and your pro-worker views, you can create a gateway to talk about other issues that you don’t already know about or couldn’t observe without help.
Developing a routine is also vital to continuing the organizing effort. As much as you want to talk to everyone, or as much as you’d like to avoid talking to anyone, mass organizing needs you to become stable and consistent. Nobody likes a flake, so make sure you aren’t over-extending yourself in a way that can come back to bite you. But also don’t be afraid to push yourself outside of your “comfort-zone.” The struggle is real and there are a lot of powerful social norms which push us to “stay in our place.” Ultimately these norms serve the ruling class and function as a way to divide and conquer the poor and oppressed people. So, while it may feel awkward at first to go out of your way to talk with other people about the struggle and getting organized, with time it will feel more comfortable and you will even develop better ways of communicating ideas.
For many of us service workers, we are forced into uncomfortable interactions with strangers daily. So try to go beyond the typical confines of a customer service interaction and engage with workers in a friendly way. Make an observation or talk about a common thing, and don’t be afraid. I recommend using your breaks to make a circuit of the same shops every single day, or every day that you work. In a typical day I tend to go to the same candy shop and Indian café and talk to the same people. It’s important for me to talk them about organizing not just because these folks are my friends, but also because I know that we can work together to improve all our lives in a revolutionary way.