In Part II of this series, we spoke with Lindsey S., a member of the Industrial Workers of the World who is a dual-carder in the Service Employees International Union. A dual-carder is a worker who has membership in two unions. Some people may wonder why a worker would opt to be in two unions at once. The Role of the Dual Carder by Joshua Freeze describes this relationship best.
“The IWW is building a different kind of union than the one they have at work. Business unions often have unresponsive and undemocratic bureaucracies. They frequently take the position that the union is a partner with management and that capitalism or at best, state socialism, is the ideal economic system. Members of these traditional unions join the IWW in part because it gives them another vision of what a union could and should be.”
Lindsey has been a member of the IWW since 2016, and a member of SEIU since January 2022. Lindsey believes in abolishing the capitalist and wage systems, and also mentioned that because the IWW is willing to organize anyone, it is the only union they know of that includes sex workers. They later joined SEIU due to their belief in sharing the values of solidarity, mutual aid, and direct democracy, as well as supporting unions in general. Lindsey mentions there is a lot of bureaucracy in SEIU and that they only reach out via email about supporting “get out the vote” measures and even occasional politician endorsements. Regardless, they feel the benefits are worth the dues they pay, but they do feel that SEIU could be more democratic and involve workers in decisions more. Lindsey also has organizing experience from being a grad student, and it was this work that ultimately motivated them to stay with the IWW. The IWW is direct, democratic, and caring, and Lindsey hopes that workers in the IWW will continue to reflect these principles that we so constantly preach.
Industrial Worker: Hi Lindsey, can you tell us what union you are a member of?
Lindsey S.: I am a dual-carder. I’m a member of the [IWW] and I’m also a member of SEIU, Local 2015.
IW: And for how long have you been a member of each union?
Lindsey: I’ve been in the IWW since 2016, and I have always been in good standing. I’m very proud of that. I’ve been in the SEIU since January of this year.
IW: Alright, that’s interesting. I have not talked to many dual-carders yet, so I’m wondering, which union did you join first and what led you to join a second union?
Lindsey: I joined the IWW initially, because I believe in abolishing the wage system and capitalism and believe in the syndicalist approach to managing and ordering society, and now as a prefigurative project in anticipation of how we will have social order post-capitalism. Therefore the IWW is an organization in line with my values and the kinds of politics that I want to see as well as the kind of labor organizing and tactics that I believe are appropriate for anti-capitalists. As I said, being a militant anti-capitalist is sort of the union that was most in line with my values at the time. In particular, I have a number of friends and partners who are sex workers or involved in or have been involved in the sex industry. And as far as I know, the IWW is the only union that organizes in that industry. It felt like a good union to try to support and to work with in attempting to organize.
At the time, I was trying to organize my fellow grad students. That ended up not working out. I have continued to try to participate and try to bring the principles that I’ve learned through organizer training to the work sites that I’ve been in over the years as well as to community organizing. As for the SEIU, I recently, last November, started work doing in-home care-giving in California, where I live. It’s a state-run program, called the In Home Support Service, and the SEIU has already organized people that do in-home care through the State program as well as other kinds of nursing hospice care. The SEIU Local 2015 is explicitly for State Care Workers. Our state supports care workers true and through. I joined primarily because first of all, I try to support unions wherever they exist. I am an anarchist. The kind of anarchism I find compelling is “Especifismo” and one of the tenets of that is called “Social Insertion”. [In Social insertion,] you participate in any kinds of activities, organizations, and so on, not in an attempt to make them anarchist necessarily, but to bring those values of solidarity, mutual aid and opposition to hierarchies, and bottom-up democratic organizing to all those places, to be a militant presence there. Given the current ongoing labor movement that is sort of surging, [I felt I could] be something of a presence in this union to help work with other rank-and-file members and try to help push for more democracy [and] more transparency within the union.
I believe Especifismo comes out of South American anarchist organizing. Also, the benefits that you get through SEIU 2015 are very good because of the huge amount of money that they have and the resources they have. The amount of organizing that they’ve already accomplished, particularly in this area, with the people that are employed by the state, you have a lot of leverage and they have managed to get very good benefits for members covering tuition for undergrad programs. If I want to become certified as a Certified Nursing Assistant, they would cover that. [I get] life insurance, health insurance, and free consultation with lawyers, lots of great benefits. At least they advertise you can get them. Because this is a field I want to continue working in and would like to keep developing, continue training, and get various certifications and so on, the ability to have financial support through the union to do [so]. That was very attractive to me.
IW: For sure and how much are your dues in both the IWW and SEIU?
Lindsey: Yeah, so [in the] IWW [it] depends on my financial circumstances. I know it is on a sliding scale. Most of the time I’ve been either a student or unemployed. So I’ve been at our sub-minimum level. Now I believe I’m at whatever the normal one is. It’s around $20 a month or something like that. I have it all set up automatically so it’s all automated payment. SEIU 2015 dues are a percentage of your paycheck. I believe the number is around $50 or $48 or something like that per month.
IW: Okay, and it just gets taken out of your paycheck.
Lindsey: Yep. Automatically.
IW: I know you’ve talked about the benefits that you receive from SEIU and it sounds like it’s really generous. How are these decisions made? Do you play a part in what the union negotiates for?
Lindsey: In theory, in practice, there has been very little outreach from the union to me. I get occasional emails asking to get people to support fundraising or showing up at the state capital for actions and so on. But there’s very little communication actually about these things. Part of that is just because due to personal circumstances, I’ve had a lot of family shit going on lately. And so it’s been hard to find the time to reach out and call but I have been surprised by how little interest there appears to be from the union. Bureaucracy, I suppose would be the best word for it. Trying to loop me in or get me connected. I haven’t received any information about whether there are local meetings or voting online or anything like that, which has been, to me at least, pretty disappointing. Because again, as I said, part of why I joined was to connect to other people in the union and to, you know, build those connections within the labor movement.
IW: For sure. I know you’ve mentioned organizing training with the IWW in the past. Do any of the principles that you’ve learned or any of the skills you’ve gained from those trainings play a part in any sort of actions you’ve done at work? If you’ve participated in anything like a march in the boss or something like that, or [signed] a petition?
Lindsey: In this workplace, [and] in this work situation, no. Due to the nature of in-home care-giving, I don’t really have co-workers at the places where I work. It’s me and the client who I take care of, at least in this particular situation. In these circumstances, there’s the issue of who counts as “The Boss” because my client is the one who hires me to work for him. But the person who pays my checks is the State of California. So, it’s an interesting situation. I don’t want to say it would be totally in-organizable if it hadn’t already been. I don’t really know the history of how SEIU 2015 was established in the first place.
IW: Yeah, it would be interesting to find that out.
Lindsey: I have done those sorts of things in previous locations, and as I said there were attempts when I was in grad school. I was working with some other some of my fellow students to try to organize the student body. As I said, that didn’t really get off the ground. We didn’t quite get to the stage of the actions, like marching on the Dean in this case. But myself and the other couple of people who were are still are IWW members, but we’ve all gone our separate ways. We did have regular meetings, we tried to connect with other students, and built, you know, the mapping and stuff. We used a lot of those tools. Unfortunately, in that particular situation, we were starting that right when COVID hit and then that threw a monkey wrench into a lot of stuff. Although as I’m sure we are all aware, COVID provided the impetus for organizing in a lot of other spaces.
IW: I’ve talked with other fellow workers about this too, the idea that even if you attempt to organize and you’re not able to have successful actions, workers often will debrief after. Were you able to debrief with the other grad students, about possibly what went wrong? Is there anything that you all learned that would be helpful in future organizing?
Lindsey: Yeah, in that particular situation, we were students. So we’re sort of consumers of the product of the school but also most of us worked for the school, whether as Teaching Assistants, in the school library or in other situations. I don’t know how much all this stuff is particularly unique, but the pressures of student life of trying to balance grad students’ work with the demands of research, writing and coursework and you’re trying to do organizing on top of that. It’s very difficult to just do that without having additional support. There were some issues, my impression is that this has changed in the culture of the branch where that was happening, but there’s very little support that I at least saw or received from the local branch of the IWW. So that was a little disheartening. Especially because that school was a commuter school. A lot of people just didn’t live nearby. If you’re trying to organize at a school with grad students, where people are living two to three hours away in every direction, that’s very difficult.
One thing that was good that we did try to do, I think we absolutely could have done better. I think this would have significantly helped our chances is connecting with the Security Guards, the Janitorial Staff as well as the Teachers, especially the Adjuncts. Not people who are more, you know, on the tenure track. There’s an issue because of how school administration is done, it’s not exactly a traditional worker-management situation necessarily, but because a lot of those more established Professors who might have more freedom to do more “controversial things” I suppose, like, trying to help students organize a union, are also involved in hiring and firing decisions. They’re on committees, you know? They have a lot of power over us because they are Advisors.
They’re the ones who determine whether or not we graduate or move on in many circumstances or they’re on our dissertation committees. Trying to do the kind of solidarity or industry-wide organizing in a university setting has a lot of very interesting and unique challenges. I do think we were biting off more than we could chew at that point. But there’s still a lot of potential there. One of the problems we ran into is, and I’ll admit I this is something I’ve struggled with, is people who are involved in it more for ideological reasons than for specifically trying to improve their workplace conditions. So a lot of people are very happy to sing the songs and fly a red flag, but doing the actual work, not so much. That was an issue.
IW: And are you referring to the people who were attending the university with you or people within the IWW?
Lindsey: Yes, students. I like to sit down and talk about it sometimes, especially if you have students that are already more Left-Wing and you sort of talk about the labor, the history of the IWW, and our values and approach. They can get really on board with all that, but then, when you realize there’s actually hard work involved that isn’t glamorous “raise the black flag and declare the commune” stuff, the romance fades out of the activity. Sometimes some people who are more in it for that drift away, and as much as I love the zeal and fire that a lot of my fellow students, especially the younger ones had, that wasn’t really enough to carry off a full organizing effort on its own.
I don’t say it to be particularly judgmental or anything, it’s just the reality. Everybody’s young, and the younger students like undergrads have got tons and tons of stuff going on, in addition to work, school, and trying to maintain a healthy social life. And so at some level, it’s understandable. But it is hard. I don’t know if you’ve listened to the old Utah Phillips records, but he talks about the old Wobblies, it was a lifetime commitment to actually do the very difficult work of organizing in much more difficult circumstances and they succeeded. They were able to pull it off, more often than not, and you have people who are ostensibly adhering to those same values that are either unable, or unwilling, to make the kind of both the emotional and physical commitments to the work.
I would rather have someone who isn’t as read up on the internal conflicts of the First International, or isn’t necessarily a big fan of Socialism, but is actually willing to put in the time and effort. There are many reasons why this isn’t it and why it’s an issue. Accessibility is an issue. Like I said, being physically spread out across half the State is an issue. But there are things that again, thinking in retrospect, we could have done, that would have helped things. Physical accessibility for disabled students, we had a lot of disabled students. We had a lot of students. There were families. They’re married. They had their partners’ children and so having childcare available would have helped. I think that that’s a big thing that we don’t really think about or talk about that much. Again, in those circumstances, different populations and older graduate students like me, people that are in our thirties or forties, maybe already have a home or a job. And you also have the younger undergrads, you know, seventeen through twenty, it’s a different crowd. I do think accessibility makes it a lot easier to be able to commit. So that is something that would have been better.
IW: Yeah, one of the things that struck me about our organizing training when I took it for the first time is that it is a lot of work to organize your workplace. You don’t just go in and release the union. You’re doing the work yourself and building those relationships. I’m wondering if more people took our organizing training early on if that would help. So that people who are willing to commit know what they’re committing to and possibly aren’t biting off more than they can chew.
Lindsey: Yeah, I think that definitely would help.
IW: I agree with you on the accessibility and that’s something that I think the IWW itself could work on by making our events and meetings much more accessible and inclusive. What do you think an ideal union would look like?
Lindsey: Oh gosh. I don’t even know how to answer that. Honestly, if the perfect union was out there, I wouldn’t join it because I’d ruin it. I think that it’s gonna be a constant struggle to do better and I think being able to be reflective on our failures to adhere to the values that we purport to adhere to is as important as having democracy. For some value of that term as possible, you know. It should be as complete as possible, a bottom-up kind of organization, from the people to the people. I think that the union should be in the hands of the workers themselves, those who are forming the union. And that is something that is definitely not true in the business unions like the SEIU, which I am a part of, where you have professional administrators. As I said, it’s been hard to get ahold of people because there is so much that is tied into fundraising. Promoting different politicians and so on. It’s one of the reasons again why I joined the IWW because [it] at least purports to be a democratic union, of the workers for the workers.
IW: The SEIU is promoting politicians?
Lindsey: I have received “get out the vote” stuff from them and emails. I don’t think they’ve endorsed anyone in particular, but it’s one of those things where you can read between the lines of what they’re saying. At least that’s been my experience. And it might just be because of how closely the particular piece of the SEIU that I’m in works with the state government that they’re much more concerned about having many more democratic mechanisms in place for people. You know, if the rank-and-file members, who are the union, participated in decision making, I think [that] would be better.
I think that with the IWW in particular, I know, having attended some of the General Conventions and looking through different resolutions that have passed and stuff, I know that there was an attempt, or at least it was a resolution that was passed to revise the Constitution. Especially because I believe there was a time when membership dropped really low and now it’s been sort of skyrocketing. I think there are some changes that might need to be made in how we run and administer things to make it much more closely aligned with the values articulated in the preamble, and I think that would be a good change.
IW: What was the attempt to revise the Constitution?
Lindsey: I believe that there was there were issues with even just basic things of wording and making sure different parts don’t contradict each other. I don’t have it in front of me so I can’t give you a direct citation but I believe there was a resolution, either three or four years ago to go through and clean up some of those things and also propose changes to some of the structure of the administration to make it more a democratic.
IW: This sounds different than the one I was remembering, which was to have legal counsel go through it with the General Executive Board and review.
Lindsey: That might be what I’m remembering and I’m just misremembering some aspects of it. But that would be certainly getting things cleaned up so that the Constitution is internally consistent. I think at the last General Convention, things went pretty well. I was very happy with most of how that happened. I know there were a lot of issues with the GEB and you know, I certainly have my own opinions about that, with everything that happened. I think greater transparency and greater decision-making power in the hands of the rank-and-file are good things and I don’t think any particular change would make us perfect, or the ideal union, but I think that [we should be] trying to continue to move forward, reflect on our feelings and learn from them and improve. It’s a constant struggle, but I think that’s what we need to do.