What’s Your Five Year Plan?

Courtesy 5yearplan.org

In my first post on this blog, “Getting Your Second Five Year Card: Six Tips for Life-Long Wobblies“, I encouraged Fellow Workers to strategize ten years ahead for the organization. Here’s what I put as some of my goals:

“Put in concrete terms, I think an achievable membership figure for 2024 would be 10,000 in North America. (Though I worry if this is too modest, considering how much has changed in the last ten years?) This is ten times our current membership, but the organization would look far different. Right now in North America we have 51 branches with a median size of around 11 members. Only five branches have around 50 or more, and are constantly involved in actual workplace struggles, becoming a pole of attraction in their city, such as the Twin Cities, Bay Area, or Portland. (I used the information from GOB #7 2014, and assumed ten members for each of the ten branches whose information was not reported.)

For a union of 10,000 members, let’s assume 100 branches with a median size of 100. Some larger, some smaller, some cities with multiple branches. That means we’d be present in a lot more cities; it also means that in a lot of the cities we’re present in, we’d be well established, rooted in local labor struggles, and attracting workers who are interested in building a radical labor movement. If you start to imagine what this would look like, it becomes clear that our current structure cannot scale, and would collapse under all the weight. We’d have to move to something where responsibilities are both more collective and devolved.”

After reflecting on it for a few months, and discussing with other fellow workers, I think I was right to promote long-term planning, and to think in materialist terms about what our organization should look like. I also think I was right to ask if I was being too modest. I think that if we had the collective ambition, invested the resources, and had a resilient structure which could scale quickly, we could meet these goals in five years rather than ten.

So here it is. Here are my measurable goals for what I’d like the organization to look like on January 1, 2020 in the US:

  1. 10,000 current dues paying members;
  2. All members are in branches or pre-branch structures (no at-large membership);
  3. Four new members for every one who leaves;
  4. 100 cities where we have an organized presence, with a median size of 100 members;
  5. A yearly average of at least ten new chartered branches, and less than one dechartered branch;
  6. Three or more cities where we have at least 500 members;
  7. At least 20 branches and 1000 members in the South;
  8. At least 50 cities where we have stable offices or union halls;
  9. Three or more industries where we have a stable, organized network or caucus of at least 100 established militants, with the resources and organizational support to influence thousands of their fellow workers;
  10. Fully bilingual: a Spanish-language publication appearing at least quarterly, Spanish web presence, Spanish-language trainings, live interpretation at all national meetings, at least 10 branches which are significantly, if not majority, Spanish-speaking;
  11. Allied non-profit foundation for publishing & education with an annual budget of at least $500,000, and appropriate staff;
  12. Less than 1 out of 10 officers resigning before the end of their terms;
  13. An average of twenty new articles every month on the website, with at least two-thirds about active workplace struggles that IWWs are involved in, and web traffic 10x higher than whatever we currently have.

OK. These are concrete, measurable goals. They require a plan to get there, and a lot of work. For example, in the US we currently have ~800 members in branches, and ~400 at-large members. Getting to 10,000 could be done in four years, if we doubled in size every single year. Considering that our US membership is roughly the same as it was when I joined in 2005, that’s a tall order.

I have plenty of thoughts about concrete steps we can take to move in this direction, which I’ll turn into a post next week. I’m not putting them in this post, because I’d like to invite others to think about how we could implement these or similar goals, and because I also want to begin the discussion by talking about goals before strategy and tactics.

So, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the very concept of creating five-year goals for the union? Are some of the goals too ambitious, or not ambitious enough? What measurable goals do you think are missing from this list, or which ones should be removed? Can we complete a five year plan in four years? Have it out in the comments.


10 thoughts on “What’s Your Five Year Plan?

  1. I was trying to overlook the Stalinist overtones of the whole Five Year Plan concept – until I saw the thoroughly Stakhanovite “Can we complete a five year plan in four years?” 🙂

    Having said that though, planning and being ambitious for the IWW are all good – as are your specific goals. I suppose the question that needs to be asked is how these are to be achieved in practice.


  2. Yes, all joking aside, the five year plans in the USSR were a way for the capitalist state to extract as much value as possible from the the workers. My historical sympathy lies with the workers who counter-planned on the shop floor to keep as much control over their working lives as possible, and the reference here was tongue-in-cheek.

    This post was very much an attempt to ask “Where do we want to be?”, and attempt to provide a possible answer. It’s meaningless without asking “How will we get there?” I do intend to suggest concrete steps to take, but I hope that others will as well, and wanted to let both questions raise their own discussions.


  3. This is refreshing to see. A methodical, measured, long-term approach to an issue in the union.

    I’m a young, and fairly new member of the IWW. I’m still getting my bearings on the culture of the broader union, the issues that face us, and currents inside the union and how they approach any of it.

    I think it would be really exciting to see 10,000 current dues paying members in the union.

    With those 10,000 members, what would you like to see them doing? Do you think 10,000 members is a number of card holders necessary to do something in particular, or is the number chosen for a different reason?

    Love some of the other proposals, too. A more robust publishing arm of the union, and a badly needed spanish speaking contingent.

    Toward the OBU.


    1. In one sense 10,000 is an arbitrary number. Why not 5,000 (4x our current US size) or 20,000? I’m going with 10,000 because I think it is both extremely ambitious, and achievable. Many of the steps we would need to take would also apply to even getting to 5,000, whether we agree on those steps or not. Many of the results that we’d see with 10,000 would also be possible with 5,000, such as more widespread branches, more organizing branches, more resources put into Spanish. But 10,000 is round, and I do think that it’s imaginable to achieve in 5 years.

      As for what they’d be doing, lots of things. I would like us to have more long-term rank-and-file industrial networks, of people working stable, living-wage jobs and organizing for power at them. More public-facing activity would also be important (debates, leafleting workers, etc).


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