Organising in and after COVID-19: Part One

by on 18 April 2020

Five things we can do to aid our organising in the present

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A look at some of the things that workers can do to organise and campaign whilst the Coronavirus lockdown continues.

With the global Coronavirus crisis rolling on, one thing that we are seeing more clearly than ever is the battle lines of the class war. As much as some would like to promote a myth of “national unity,” with the country pulling together to weather the storm, the fact is that the bosses are still trying to fatten their wallets or minimise their losses at the expense of the working class. Organisation is more crucial than ever.

Here are five things we can do to aid those organising efforts in the current environment.

1. Go beyond meetings

With social distancing and more people than ever working from home, one of the first lessons that the movement learned was to do meetings virtually. Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Jitsu, and more are being utilised on a regular basis. If anything, it feels like we’re having more meetings than ever before.

But as important as meetings are, they were never all that we did. If they can be conducted virtually, what else can? Essentially, anything which involves people getting together. There’s no reason that we can’t use the tools for video conferencing to hold rallies, seminars, workshops, surgeries, social events, and more. We just need to think outside of the box and be a bit creative.

2. Make e-activism more targeted

Long before Coronvirus reared its head, there was an overabundance of e-activism to be found. There was a petition for everything, and most of them went nowhere.

That doesn’t mean that without physical activism we can’t do anything. It just means that, like the most effective physical activism, we need to pick our targets and work out our strategies. Mass emailing, phone and more general communication blockades, and other e-activism which doesn’t simply “send a message” but causes actual disruption are worth exploring.

Particularly with the increase in production being done digitally, the opportunity for digital disruption has only increased.

3. Build open networks, not closed committees

With more people looking to get actively involved in unions and other working class organisations due to the uncertainty of the crisis, now is the time to build mass participation. In the trade unions in particular, there is a tendency to keep information in closed circles and have small numbers acting on behalf of much larger groups – often without telling that larger group what is happening on their behalf, much less including them in the decision making process.

The increased use of digital communication makes it easier to disseminate information more widely. We should be using this to open out, build networks, get more people actively participating, and look at how this can be used to increase democracy, particularly direct democracy. There will always be the need for committees and working groups, and to delegate tasks, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do so from a much wider pool of willing activists who have a much greater say than they did before.

4. Share your knowledge as widely as possible

Another thing the crisis has emphasised the need for is succession planning. If a key activist is out of the picture due to shielding or illness, and somebody else can’t pick up their work easily, there’s clearly an issue. Another thing we have to be doing by virtual means at all times is education: sharing our knowledge and skills, mentoring others, continually bringing through our own replacements.

5. Don’t be afraid to fail

A lot of what we’re doing now is brand new territory. Even if we’re doing the same things we’ve done before, but in a slightly different way, that can be daunting enough. Unfortunately, another common trait of the trade union movement is to fall back into familiar territory for fear of failing when we try something new.

But we should be not just unafraid, but actively willing to fail. It’s this willingness to try new things and to advance our methods via trial and error that allows us to adapt and evolve our organising, and it’s more crucial now than ever that we do that.

Coming soon, part two: Five things that will improve our organising when the crisis has passed.