Depending on what you read or hear, a lot of organizing literature has there own 5 step program for one-on-one organizing conversation. Most are pretty much the same, and run along the same principles. So I am going to try and break them down for you.
First Step: “Say Hi”
You have to start by opening up a conversation. That sounds easy, but for some it’s not. Especially when you are going in with some sort of intent. With that being said, don’t start with intent. Talk to these people and get to know them as people and as co-workers. Chances are you are working side by side with these folks. By having a simple conversation to find out who they are and what they care about is the best way to initiate a conversation about organizing. People have a tendency to give up pieces of information that you can use later during just normally conversations about whatever.
Second Step: Listen
This is a key ingredient for an organizer, listening. To quote Margaret Wheatley – “The world is giving you answers each day. Learn to listen”. This is another one that sounds simple but again people have a hard time doing this in a constructive way. There are two types of listeners in this world, “Passive” and “Active“. In short, it’s the difference between listening to hear, and listening to understand.
Passive listening is not much different from just hearing. You are technically listening but your mind has a tendency to drift. Whether it’s searching for your next big rebuttal to their topic or thinking about what you’re eating for lunch. Either way, you tend to lose motivation for listening, and/or start to consider the information unimportant and shrug it off while maintaining social “politeness“.
Active listening is the single most important/useful listening skill for an organizer. In active listening an organizer is genuinely interested in understanding what the other person is thinking and feeling. You are active in understanding before responding with your own viewpoint. It helps to restate or paraphrase your interpretation of their message back to them for verification and/or feedback. That is what makes it different from passive listening. This process shows that you are listening to their concerns and understand their perspective on an issue or situation. This will give your co-worker a feeling of trust and help to build the understanding that you are there to help.
Third Step: Questioning
Questioning is probably the hardest part. At this stage you should have built enough trust and gathered as much information as you would need to start to engage in some probing questions. There are literally tons of scripts you could use for various situations. You can find some here. I just want to go over some basics to get you started. At the end of the day you are going to have to feel this out on your own and practice. Every situation will be different. You will need to keep an open mind, be flexible and adaptable. Don’t give your co-workers the third degree. Ask fact based questions like; “How long have you worked here”, “What do you do” or “Walk me through a typical day for you”. This will give you information to use moving forward. Then move to probing questions like; “What do you like the most about working here” or “Based on your experience working here, what would make things better to work here”.
Forth Step: Educate
Most of what you are doing is educating your co-workers. Educating them about their rights as workers under state and federal laws and how representation by a union can help resolve disputes and issues on job sites with their employers. A good resource for this information is found here. Most of your co-workers have never looked into what their rights are. Having this knowledge on-hand is essential when trying to prove your point. It also helps in drawing your point of how representation can help in facilitating the exercising of their rights. Being represented by a union empowers a single employee to stand on the fundamentals of those rights and gives us all a greater voice so we don’t have to absorb them alone. You can easily then transition into a “Vision” of your union, which can show workers your perspective of how things could be better with representation. You could then ask, “Who decides when the schedule changes (a specific problem)?” , “What happens when you and your co-workers bring (their specific problem) to management?” , “Do you know how (their specific problem) could be different if you and your co-workers organize a union?” The ideal is that you are using contrasting statements to show how representation can make the changes they are looking to make and how power relationships in the workplace shifts when workers form a union.
Forth Step Continued: Inoculate
Inoculation is a bit different. In the sense that you are essentially preparing an employee for different scenarios that may present itself in the future by their employer. Much like a doctor gives someone a flu shot so your body is prepared for the real thing. If you are not ready or get thrown off guard, you will not be prepared and could suffer as a result. Knowing what to expect with a response or plan in your pocket before it happens gives you a greater advantage. Some questions to ask to inoculate workers could be something like; “What do you think your boss/employer will do when you and your co-workers start to organize a union?” and “Why do you think your boss/employer will fight against your organizing a union?” The ideal here is to address the worker’s concern. Set the context for why the employers will fight. Remember, If your Employer doesn’t think that a union is necessary, then why are they trying so hard to stop a campaign from happening? Discuss the possible tactics the boss may use and redirect the worker back to the issues that they are concerned with.
Step Five: Assess/Agitate
Now that you have their full attention and you’ve managed to stir them up over their issues. Now it’s time to challenge them to change it. Ask them something like, “Are you ready to stand with your co-workers to be represented?” Remind them that nothing will change if nobody acts. By sticking together they will have the power to make the changes they want and that they have the right to do so. Directly link the action you are asking the workers to take to their issues. Help them make the connection and see how taking this action with their co-workers will get them closer to addressing their issues. Change takes action. Workers are stronger together.