The march on the boss is an essential tactic among solidarity unionists and one that we teach in the IWW’s Organizer Training 101. It’s a handy weapon to have in your arsenal because it creates a direct confrontation with the boss and it can be pulled off with a small number of participants. As such it leaves plenty of room for escalation tactics if your demand isn’t met. As an Organizer Trainer for the union, I’ve seen march on the boss roleplays dozens of times in the classroom and I’ve participated in a handful at my own workplaces. While there is some room for creativity, there are certain aspects that need to be done right or else things can go pretty wrong. Before you try a march on the boss, I recommend you take the OT101 to get the full rundown, but for the sake of this article I want to talk about what makes it effective and why.
What is a March on the Boss?
Simply speaking, a march on the boss is when a group of workers spring a meeting on an owner or someone in management. The workers give a testimony about their working conditions, present a demand and then exit. Sometimes it happens in a more private setting like the boss’ office, but at other times it can happen in a more visible area like a dining room in a restaurant or in the middle of the shop floor in a warehouse.
Why is it effective?
In the OT101, we constantly use the phrase “shift the balance of power” when talking about organizing. In our workplaces, every aspect of the job is organized by the boss and so as we go through the steps of a campaign we slowly chip away at that control and begin to take some of the boss’s power for ourselves. Under normal circumstances, workplace communication flows from the top: bosses will schedule meetings during the times they designate, they set the agenda and decide who gets to speak and when.
A successful march on the boss uses the element of surprise to take away that power. We don’t tell the boss that a meeting is going to happen, the meeting just happens to them unannounced. We march in, say our piece and then exit quickly. In doing this, we control when the meeting happens, we control what gets said and by whom, and we control when the meeting ends. It may only last two or three minutes, but in that period of time the workers are in control over the workplace:
|March on the Boss
|Boss schedules the date and time for the meeting
Boss sets the agenda
Boss does most, if not all, of the speaking
Boss presents new and updated policies
Boss closes meeting
|Workers schedule the date and time for the meeting
Workers set the agenda
Workers do most, if not all, of the speaking
Workers present demands
Workers end meeting
How to do it effectively
It’s important to remember that the point of doing a march on the boss is not to have a discussion, it’s about shifting the balance of power such that the committee is asserting dominance and thus putting the boss in a submissive position. Giving the boss an opportunity to speak helps level the playing field in their favor and we don’t want that. We take power for a short amount of time rather than having a lengthy discussion or debate.
In order to do this, we need to have clear roles. There should be committee members who signal when to start and when to end, another to declare the demand, someone to interrupt the boss when they try to interject, and a testimonial giver who states why they are personally affected by the issue and to add some emotional pressure to the action. And most importantly we need to role play, role play, role play! There are all sorts of unexpected things that can happen during a march on the boss, so it’s important to have all of our moving parts in sync before we take action.
Some other points to consider
When I was organizing at the “Moby Dick” restaurant, we did a march on the boss and presented a list of demands, The boss followed up by capitulating on some of these demands, meeting us part of the way on others, and flat out denying the rest. This caused a lot of confusion for the committee because different workers had different feelings about each issue and so trying to go back and re-agitate everyone was difficult. It also made escalation tough because certain tactics make sense for individual demands and not others. We still claimed victory on winning achievements, but in hindsight we could have done more if we were more focused. In hindsight, I think we should have thought of a better escalation plan ahead of time and matched each individual demand with a particular tactic within that plan. Part of this is covered in the OT101, but we go more in depth in the OT102 so you should take that training as soon as you can!
Management has us attend all sorts of meetings. Workplaces have pre-shift meetings, daily meetings, monthly meetings, department meetings, in-person meetings, online meetings and any other sort of meeting one can imagine. Oftentimes, workers want to plan actions at one of these meetings. I can’t make a universal declaration about whether or not this is effective, but it is important to emphasize that a key factor in what makes a march on the boss so powerful is the element of surprise. So disrupting a company meeting might have its merits, but to fully shift the balance of power we want to make as much of the action happen on our own terms, including who initiates it.
The march on the boss is a great tactic to inject some steam into your campaign and can be an effective starting point for an escalation and recruitment campaign. But this article won’t fully prepare you. Make sure you take the IWW Organizer Training 101 and 102 as often as possible, role play with your branch and committee members, and make sure to plan your next stages ahead of time so that you are always several steps ahead of the boss!
Contact the IWW today if you want to start organizing at your job.
If you are a member in good standing and wish to take the Organizer Training 101, please email the OTC. If you would like to request a group OT101 with your GMB, job branch, or coworkers, fill out this form.
Cover art by x364181, 2022.