Forth in the series: On Organizing
Planning and Opportunity
The vast majority of movement work today is reactive. In part that is a result of the defensive posture of the labor and social movements but it is also a reflection of the political culture of our organizations.
Many unions especially treat the historic decline in membership as a succession of surprises: one dissatisfied member, decertification campaign, runaway shop, or lost election at a time. Yet when each crisis calls forth the most expedient, narrow, legalistic, managerial and apolitical response possible we can only blame ourselves. Conventional union politics has failed us. We need bold conscious plans.
Without action plans and intentional campaigns union officers and staff avoid accountability, play house politics, and settle into business as usual.
Effective organizers on the other hand “plan the work and work the plan.” While we can never predict the future — and trying to is an all-too-common waste of time — contingency planning is essential. Create a scenario based on your best guess and another one based on your second best guess. Avoid the rigid certainty of the soothsayer or ideologue. Embrace the tactical flexibility of the revolutionary.
You can never, nor should you, avoid reacting to events or seizing opportunities, but working according to plan allows for better preparation and encourages organizations to envision a means of anticipating political problems with political solutions.
That does not mean rigid adherence to past decision but it does mean that you have a text to revise, a yardstick to measure your progress, a way of learning from mistakes, and a hypothesis that can actually promote and guide experimentation.
Planning does not prevent mistakes or bad luck; in fact they will be your constant companion. Instead, get to know them well; one day they may introduce you to success and good fortune.
Good action plans are not produced solely by the work of a few leaders and staff. Strategic planning is an excellent opportunity to practice union democracy and convene a union-wide discussion on the union’s future. Open ended discussion is necessary to discover new ideas and enlist the members in making the plan work.
Good action plans are also not scholarly reports or policy recommendations or wish lists. A lot of precious time and energy have been wasted on formulating pious wishes and lofty desires. Strategic thinking may involve history, analysis of current conditions, or statements of desired goals but strategy is primarily characterized by a proposed course of action.
Strategic questions ask: “how do we win?” How do we create the transition between what is and what ought to be?
An effective strategy proposes how existing consciousness, resources, and capacities can be marshaled to achieve a range of political ends. Strategic plans try to answer the hardest questions of all—what to do next and how to do it.
Start with an inventory of your resources, match them to goals, plan the next step and you will be on the way to reenergizing your organization.