The law of parliamentary procedure is one of the chief tools of democracy.*) Developed through more than five hundred years of practice in democratic institutions, it has been adapted and refined to protect the rights of minorities, absent members, and the constituents of representative bodies.
In the first heyday of the I. W. W., most union members were familiar with the basics of parliamentary procedure from experience in the union, in religious congregations, and in other organizations. You'll see that if you read the Proceedings of the Founding Convention, or the sample minutes provided on this site.
Today, most Wobblies are unlikely to have much contact with organizations that operate according to traditional parliamentary law. This site is offered to provide you with a basic introduction to parliamentary procedure so that your meetings can be run with the greatest efficiency and the most protection for the rights of members.
Many of us are familiar with other procedural traditions, such as the consensus process used by many activist and religious groups, and the therapeutic process used in therapy groups, support groups, and some twelve-step programs. These traditions are well-adapted for the purposes of those groups, where there is a strong common bond, it's important for each person to speak her or his mind, or the main goal of meetings is to enhance the well-being of all its members.
Union business meetings have a very different purpose: namely, to get business done in the most efficient way, so that the members can get out of the meeting and do their real work, while at the same time ensuring that decisions get made fairly and with respect for the rights of those who are not in the majority.
It is possible for the rules of parliamentary procedure to be abused, just as with any other rules; but that usually happens only when most members of the assembly don't know the rules or how to use them. If everybody has equal knowledge of parliamentary law, the rules do what they're supposed to do: ensure fairness in the process of democratic decision-making.
The following pages contain information that will help you understand the basics of parliamentary law. Make yourself familiar with them, and use them in your meetings. Then nobody will be able to abuse the process or control a meeting against the will of the majority. These are the tools of democracy. Learn to use them right, and they will serve you and the union well.
Yours for the One Big Union,
Secretary of the 2001, 2002, and 2003 General Assemblies
1 August 2004