It is well known that there is strength in numbers; this is obvious in struggles across the world, from past to present. Sectarianism, however, along with separatism and plain apprehension, often keep us from wielding that collective strength and putting it to good use. How many of us have listened or sung along to the famous IWW song “Solidarity Forever” full of optimism and a sense of camaraderie? Are we not to some extent hypocritical then when we get to the line: “Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one?”
We recognise that isolated we are weak and feeble, thus incapable of bringing the change we want to see in the world, but still our unity at most amounts to May Day when we march together with our distinct flags and banners and signs. There are many of us who struggle because we have the hope for a future in which we all exist in cooperation, and proclaim “workers of the world, unite!” yet we stay in our own organisational bubbles.
Perhaps this is in part due to the past when labour organisations were much larger, revolutionary events felt imminent, and ideas had to be vigorously debated. Distinctions had to be clearly set. While debate is still very much important today, we must realise that in our current conditions we have more to gain as general workers and activists than to lose when our organisations cooperate.
Let’s be clear, organisational cooperation is far from meshing or mixing together, for cooperation simply means we work together in the same general direction where our aims connect while maintaining our differences and autonomy. Our distinct tactics and strategies, aims and principles, ideologies as a whole remain completely intact. The point is to focus our struggles, where they are possible, in a united fashion so that they may deliver a greater blow to the powers that be. So, whereas coalitions can help build relationships between organisations on common issues and campaigns, organisational cooperation implies that along with the important addition of also being active on the ground and in the streets together.
Despite what many would like to ignore, we — organised workers and activists — are weak in numbers. Without those numbers we are incapable of the mass actions in the streets needed to bring real change, not to mention people outside our organisations are less inclined to join us when they see us lacking in support. Cooperation allows for diverse causes to find common ground with a solid backing, showing the wide reach of the organisations involved to onlookers, and fortifying our collective potential for bringing about real change to the world we all live in.
In addition to strengthening ourselves in the above mentioned way, we should recognise that there is strengthening ourselves through practice. Often when we are in isolated groups of two dozen or less we may have small actions (meetings, discussion groups, workshops, paper selling, etc.), but we are not as capable as putting into practice those ideas of ours which rely on larger actions. So, when organisations act in cooperation each organisation is capable of putting their larger theories into practice, for when the organisations are together they can bring out more people. Thus, through trial and error, learning, growing, and so strengthening.
The Retail Action Network has worked on developing a place for such organisational cooperation, where we can all come together in a relaxed environment and discuss ideas as well as our future plans. It’s a monthly event with food, discussion, and entertainment that varies from month to month. This event, that happens every second Wednesday of each month, is called Working Class Wednesday. The main aim of it is to strengthen community in as broad a manner as possible, across all divides, while also getting people to think about the injustice they experience so we can all look for methods to confront and change them. And although RAN may lead these evenings, we must make it clear that Working Class Wednesday is to be a community event, not a RAN event.
Being a community event, organisations of all sorts are welcome to cooperate in its planning and running. Organisations based on workers’ rights, refugees, drug addiction, LGBTQ folks, legal advocacy, disability, homelessness, education, and more. Whether reformist or revolutionary, an organisation consisting of two or two hundred members, Working Class Wednesday can be an event we’re all able to cooperate in. Here members of different organisations can come together and share ideas and energy in a setting of mutual care and entertainment. It’s an area perfect for post-meetings, decompressing, and strategising upcoming actions. This all while our unique organisations work collectively to make the night run smoothly for all the workers and activists there. Such collaboration for a community event can be seen as training or rather a step closer to further cooperation out in the streets.
We have no time to lose; we are all in this together, we ought to be building connections among each other, across differences of tactics or strategies, goals or philosophies. None of us can expect to bring true, lasting change in this world when we act alone. We are social beings, let us be social, let us share ideas, and let us build a new world together. The Retail Action Network, with Working Class Wednesday, is but a small part in this international struggle aimed at a better world for all, however we will do everything in our power to help develop the cooperation necessary to reach such a horizon. For the time being, each of us from all types of social justice organisations must recognise that cooperation is a dire need, without which we are isolated and severely limited in our potential for making real change. Organisational cooperation, therefore, is a step towards making a difference in our world. So, let us rise together, giving each other a hand or arm of support, and begin taking such a step that will in time lead to mass strides in the future.