The struggle in our workplaces is some of the most direct organizing that working class people can do, creating power directly at the point of economic production. Unions, the collective strength of workers, have the ability to grind the economy to a halt and completely re-establish how power and resources are distributed. For decades the labor movement has been under attack, but a new generation of union radicals are coming forward with a revolutionary vision for how we can take back our power in our everyday lives.
Doug Geisler has been an IWW member and union organizer for twenty years, and how now created a roleplaying game to teach people exactly how they can organize their workplace. We talked with him about where the labor movement is at, how Millenials can push it further, and what his game Beat the Boss is going to accomplish.
For people who did not grow up in a union family, or do not have a foundation in organizing in their workplace, what is a union?
A union is a group of workers that have the same employer that comes together to change what they hate and keep what they love at work. A union is defined by the relationship between workers and bosses. It seems simplistic but history and law have laid so many complications on this relationship that people on the outside can be confused or afraid of the unknown. That complication is probably by design.
Why was there such a decline in labor unions in the U.S. over the past forty years?
To me, there are two reasons for the decline: 1) labor was full of itself and turned inward. It ignored trends in business that eroded the edges of their domain. It ceased taking audacious steps to organize new industries in new ways. 2) a close coalition of business and social actors assessed, in the mid-60’s, that a vast pool of comfortable labor (high buying power baby boomers) and a growing labor pool of people of color would begin questioning the foundation of capital (and capital’s ties to American christianity) and took every opportunity to demolish a thinking, allied working class’s attempts to gain freedom.
Why do you think Millenials are turning back to organized labor?
My generation grew up on the very tail end, the bottom of the barrel of the class victories that the previous generation won and cemented in the Post-war detente. Millenials have found that the barrel is empty. The new paradigm for capital (gig work, monetizing fun, etc.) has stripped away all patriotic dressing from the debate. The cold war is over and communism is no longer grounds to invalidate someone’s argument.
What is Beat the Boss intending to accomplish?
Roleplaying games, especially thanks to talented improv-ers and the world’s most popular RPG, have become more accepted. Gaming offers the opportunity to experience new points of view. That builds empathy. I’m getting the game out there to encourage people to become comfortable with union organizing. After nearly 20 years of organizing there are patterns to this interaction. Pattern and experience builds comfort. There are best practices and lessons directly related to (and learned from) the field that are reinforced by the rules of the game. After creating a campaign or running one that the community produces players should see opportunities in their own work lives.
Additionally, when more creative people put their minds to the problems of workers new, innovative ideas will come to light. The fight for justice can end up stodgy.
Do you think gaming can be a center of reigniting workplace organizing?
Gaming and workplace organizing have key elements in common: a core group of people come together to collaboratively solve problems; both talk out resolution; and it’s difficult to find time to schedule a meeting.