Good meeting procedure is probably the most basic tool in the organizer’s kit and the building block for any form of collective action. A good meeting helps a group of people – small or large – to accomplish more than they could as individuals. Without a democratic and efficient way to make decisions, people can do little more than burn themselves out and reinforce the idea that fighting the boss and authorities is impossible and that the labor movement is nothing more than one useless meeting after another.
Rusty’s Rules of Order are the official set of meeting polices and procedures of the IWW. Rusty’s Rules are a simplified version of Robert’s Rules of Order, a guide to parliamentary procedure still in use today. The following introductory guide will clearly and simply explain how to understand and participate in meetings which use Rusty’s Rules, what an IWW meeting agenda looks like, how to write a proposal, how to facilitate a meeting, and much more.
Good meeting procedure is something we all can learn. It’s not that hard, and not that boring or unpleasant. In fact, when compared to bad meeting procedure it’ s downright fun and exciting. Something an old Wobbly taught us is to always conduct your meeting as if there were a hundred people there, to be ready when the times comes when there are a hundred people there. A lot of groups start to fall apart or cease to be democratic when hey get past a dozen people, because they don’t make the jump from the little group of friends that functions in a loose style to the larger-group ways of working – the IWW has been able to grow exponentially in the 15 years by taking good meeting procedure seriously.
It is important that every member understands how to fully participate in meetings so that we can put our heads together to find the best solutions. The idea that “we are all leaders here” has been with the IWW since it’s inception. That doesn’t just mean no bosses telling us where to go, what to do, and how to do it. It also means we have to decide those things for ourselves, together. How will we know what is best? Good meetings are a basic building block to union democracy today and industrial democracy tomorrow.
Many of us have little or no experience with a functional and healthy large democratic group when we receive our first Red Card , but we must remember that learning the proper methods of conducting large-group democratic decision making and collective work is how we learn to run the world. Like it says in one old Wobbly cartoon: “Organize now! Organize right!”. This is what following Rusty’s Rules of Order allows us to do.
ROTATING MEETING ROLES
The Chair is essentially the host of the meeting. The Chair calls the meeting to session, reviews the agenda, keeps track of those wishing to speak and calls upon them to do so in order, keeps the meeting on track with the agenda, keeps order when there are disruptions, enforces meeting procedures, and calls the meeting to adjournment.
The Recording Secretary is responsible for keeping detailed minutes, or notes, of the meeting and sending those notes to the branch through the e-mail list. They must record the wording of proposals, votes cast on proposals, if proposals pass or fail, nominations for officers or committee members, and votes on elections and are encouraged to take additional relevant notes regarding reports and discussions. The meeting minutes taken by the Recording Secretary, once approved, become official record, so it’s important that they are detailed and clear.
The Card Conductor is tasked with checking the standing of all members by viewing their red cards. They must report the number of members in good and bad standing and the number of guests to the Chair and Recording Secretary and update them on the standing of any members who arrive late. If a member at a meeting does not have their red card on them, the Card Conductor may ask that member who they last paid dues to and, if that delegate is present, the delegate who last took a member’s dues may vouch for that member’s standing. The card conductor is also tasked with assisting the chair in counting votes and keeping time.
SAMPLE MEETING AGENDA
- Call to Order – The chair officially begins the meeting and the recording secretary records the time.
- Elect Card Conductor – The card conductor checks the membership standing of all present and makes sure that a quorum, or 5 members in good standing, is present so that official business can begin. The number of members in good and bad standing and the number of guests is recorded by the recording secretary.
- Introductions – Everyone in the meeting introduces themselves with their, name IU, and any official positions held.
- Song – A song from the little red songbook is nominated, voted on, and sang by those attending the meeting.
- Reading of Last Meeting’s Minutes – The recording secretary reviews old business, new business, and elections from the previous meeting, reading only motions, noting if they passed, and who was elected to which positions.
- Review & Approve Agenda – The chair reviews the agenda as it stands and asks if anyone has an ‘Order of the Day’ prepared or any additional items of new business so they can be added to the agenda at this time. If members have additional items for new business they should be written down and passed to secretary for accurate recording. If an Order of the Day is suggested, it is voted on.
- Reading of Communication and Bills – Any bills or official communications are presented at this time
- Reports – officers, delegates, and committees present their reports on the previous month’s activity.
- Old Business – Any items of business tabled and/or unaddressed at the last meeting are revisited now.
- Order of The Day – If an order of the day was chosen, it is discussed here. An order of the day is a topic of conversation or an immediate issue which is discussed at length by the branch without a proposal on the floor. A time limit is chosen, generally 10 minutes, and motion must be made to extend time if the discussion is to continue past that limit.
- New Business – Items of new business are read, discussed, and voted upon. If new committees are created or new delegates are nominated, they should be added to agenda under nominations and elections. Anything which is tabled to the next meeting should be included in that month’s agenda under ‘old business’.
- Nominations, Elections, and Installations — A Chair and Recording Secretary are always elected for the following month. An Audit committee which meets immediately after the meeting is also always elected. Any positions to be filled for newly created committees or fellow workers nominated to be delegates are voted on at this time. When officers terms are ending or officer positions become vacant, officers are nominated during this time at one meeting and voted upon at the following meeting.
- Review of the Meeting — the recording secretary reviews old business, new business, and elections from the meeting, reading only motions, if they passed, and who was elected to which positions. A vote is held whether or not to accept the minutes as read.
- Critique of the Meeting — Anyone in attendance may speak on how they felt about how the meeting went and offer suggestions for improvement or note what should be continued in future meetings.
- Good and Welfare — anyone attending the meeting may present upcoming events, items of personal concern, and anything that didn’t fit into the rest of the meeting.
- Adjournment – The chair announces they will entertain a motion to adjourn and, if moved, there is a vote on whether or not to end the meeting. If the motion passes, the recording secretary notes the time and the meeting comes to a close.
PROPOSALS & AMENDMENTS
A Proposal, or Main Motion, is an official suggestion concerning business to be carried out which must be seconded, discussed, and voted upon in order to pass and become official policy.
Proposals are comprised of two sections, the ‘whereas’ section and the ‘let it be resolved’ section. The “whereas” section should clearly and informatively convey why the proposal is important and why the membership should vote to pass it. The “let it be resolved” section should establish the steps to be taken to address the issue outlined in the “whereas.”
A motion can be made by any member at any time, having been recognized by the chair. Once a proposal has been made, it must be seconded, or else the motion dies. Once a motion is seconded, it is ‘on the floor’ which means that discussion must focus on that motion until it is called to question and that anything that doesn’t pertain directly to that motion is out of order, and must be cut off. The maker of the motion may, however, withdraw the motion at any time before a vote is taken. Exceptions to this rule are, procedural motions (see the next section) or a motion to amend the main motion on the floor.
An amendment is a secondary motion to edit the language of a main motion which is currently on the floor.
A friendly amendment is an amendment which, once proposed, is immediately accepted by the fellow worker who proposed the main motion, immediately changing the language of the main motion accordingly, without a vote on the amendment. If an amendment is accepted as friendly, discussion continues on the main motion as it now stands (with the amendment included).
An unfriendly amendment is an amendment which, once proposed, is not accepted by the fellow worker who made the main motion, and must be discussed and voted on separately from the main motion. If a proposed amendment is considered unfriendly, it must be seconded. If it is not seconded, the floor returns to the main motion. If it is seconded, the floor is given to that amendment and all discussion must pertain only to the amendment until it is called to question. If the amendment is called to question and passes, the motion is changed accordingly, and discussion returns to updated motion. If the amendment is called to question and does not pass, discussion (and the floor) returns to the original motion.
Discussion on motions and amendments continues until all relevant opinions have been heard or until a motion to call to question (and end discussion) is made, voted upon, and passes. A motion to “call to question” is a procedural motion, which will be explained further in the next section. Once a motion has been called to question, the vote is taken, counted, and recorded in the minutes and the motion becomes an official decision or policy.
PROCEDURAL MOTIONS AND POINTS OF PROCEDURE AND PRIVILEGE
A Procedural Motion is a motion regarding the process of the meeting, not business at hand. Procedural motions take precedence over any other items of business and are immediately given the floor. Like main motions, procedural motions must be seconded to be considered in order and voted on to pass and become official procedure. Examples of procedural motions include:
- Motion to Table: to defer an item of business to the following meeting. When an item of business is tabled, it is moved to the ‘old business’ section of the agenda at the following meeting.
- Motion to Refer (to a committee): to move an item of business to a different venue, typically a committee. Referring to committee is appropriate for large or specific projects which can be more appropriately completed by a small working group than a large business meeting.
- Motion to Call to Question: to end discussion and bring an item, generally a motion or amendment, to a vote, whether or not fellow workers are on stack to speak. If no Fellow workers wish to continue discussing an item of business, it may be called to question by acclamation, or if there is no opposition, without a vote.
- Motion to Call to Close/ to Adjourn: to officially end the meeting
- Motion to Recess/ to take a break: – to pause to meeting for a stated period of time so that fellow workers may use the bathroom, smoke, rest their minds, etc, after which the meeting will continue along the agenda as previously approved
- To Overrule the Chair – to challenge or overturn a decision of the chair, generally on procedural matters.
A Point of Procedure (or a Point of Order) is a suggestion as to how to better carry out the business of the meeting. Points of procedure are not motions, generally do not need to be voted on, and should only constitute a short interruption of the meeting. Points of Procedure may, for example, point out that the speaker is not addressing the business at hand, that the chair has overlooked some part of the process,
A Point of Privilege is a clarifying question or statement or request for accommodation. Points of Privilege may, for example, point out that people can’t hear what’s going on or be used to ask a question regarding specific facts related to the matter at hand.