I am very much in sympathy with the long, thoughtful, intelligent two-part comment by English Jerk [I really have trouble adjusting to the weird names perfectly sensible people adopt on the internet. It is, I am sure, a sign of age.] The distinction between the two forms of union action is very valuable. I am not above nostalgia for the Wobblies [and, as an educator, for the once vibrant tradition of worker education.] I have two responses.
First, as I have a number of times argued, I think -- following Marx's example -- it is valuable to spend some time trying to understand the direction in which modern capitalism is developing all on its own. As I suggest in my paper "The Future of Socialism" [on line somewhere], the inner logic of capitalist expansion leads it not in the direction of small, autonomous economic units, but rather in the direction of huge internally planned aggregations of capital, whose inner decision processes, in their structure but not in their aims, looks very much like a planned economy. This happens because it is necessary to capital accumulation and profit, and can therefore be expected to continue, even in the face of efforts by the state to limit the potentially destructive consequences of such aggregation. We emerge from a financial crisis with bigger banks, not smaller ones, for example. What conclusions can we draw from this observation, assuming that it is true? I fear that in this case, the old Scottish proverb, "many a mickle makes a muckle," does not apply. The world economy is now so enormous that it has plenty of room for collectives, worker owned firms, and other small-scale experiments in non-capitalist economic organization, but I simply do not see how bringing such experiments into being and making them work, for all that it is a worthwhile effort in its own right, will move us toward the replacement of global capitalism. I very much fear that the more likely result is that some enterprising capitalist will find a way to market the effort and make a profit from it [think Whole Foods].
The second response is this: despite all of that, English Jerk's impulse is, I believe, right. The only thing we can do is try, as imaginatively as we can, in our daily lives, to search for ways of being that embody as well as proselytize for our ideals and dreams. I am old, and not likely to start a collective or much of anything else, but many of you who read this blog are young, and have lifetimes in which to make this idea real.
A caution, born of that long lifetime of experience. Thinking is easy, so we tend to think big, since it takes no more energy than thinking small. Acting is hard, and it takes all the energy we have to do just a little something. Now changing the world will take the actions of scores of millions of people, no one of whom will be the crucial actor in all of this. So find a way of embodying your ideals in your actions that you enjoy. If you do, you will keep at it not only during the exhilarating times when things seem to be on the move, but also during the long winters of discontent when everything seems to be going the wrong way. There are lots and lots of things that need doing: helping to organize a union, writing pamphlets, standing on street corners, raising money, making bombs [well, maybe not making bombs ;) ]. All of them are necessary. I, for example, like writing books and I like raising money, but I hate standing on street corners or taking part in marches. So I do what I like and can do reasonably well, hoping that in some small way it will advance a larger cause.
I think of social change as being like an avalanche, not like brain surgery. In brain surgery, one slip or false move and the patient dies. In an avalanche, rocks and trees and dirt are tumbling down a hillside, helter skelter. If you are one of the little clots of dirt [as almost all of us are], what matters is that you are rolling down the correct side of the hill, and thus adding your tiny weight to the avalanche. In this life, we really cannot ask for more than that. With luck, you will meet some nice people rolling down the hillside with you.