One Big Union – Industrial Workers of the World

One Big Union - Industrial Workers of the World

“Trade Unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers. The IWW offers a different vision.”

By Minnie Stacey

Founded in 1905 and known by many as The Wobblies, IWW is an international union with 100 years of history in class struggle. In early August I attended a talk by UK IWW organiser Dave Pike who said ‘Capitalism sucks because the employing class and the working class have nothing in common’. He spoke of people suffering from ‘boss lust’ while being oppressed and that employers tend to promote bullies. Dave explained that the IWW is about skills, ‘Every single member is an organiser and a rep, and can get training – the experience of winning is a good way to gain confidence’.

IWW unites people across different workplaces in industrial union branches, with dues based on monthly take-home pay. Bosses are not allowed to join but anyone industrious can. A third of IWW’s members are cleaners and many work in construction, as baristas, in fast food, healthcare and education. The union claims to be rooted in real democracy and grassroots action through ‘revolutionary industrial unionism’. It encourages workers to organise, and provides advice and assistance with disciplinary or grievance hearings. Believing that direct action builds pressure on an employer, in solidarity IWW urges everyone in a branch to support every worker, to create a powerful approach to casework and bad publicity for companies. However, the amount of legal and financial support both activists and members with contractual issues receive compared with traditional trade unions is questionable. Also, hierarchies and company buildings exist as gated communities, and oligarchic-owned mass media is propaganda – all genetically modified to resist dissent with poisonous police-state protectionism.

Labels for pay levels in a workplace point to the delusion of some being ‘worth’ more than others in a financial belief system – IWW aims to move away from wage differentials based on hierarchies on the take from people who many a CEO, director, middling manager and senior may call ‘support staff’ or their ‘team’. A sustainable world based on production run by workers for the benefit of all is the union’s overall aim. Along the way, workers organising together can improve pay, working conditions and health and safety. A first step may be getting a living wage in a restaurant chain.

Seeing bosses and bureaucrats as an unnecessary expense and burden, IWW is a volunteer-driven union. It doesn’t seek employer recognition and maintains independence by not affiliating to any political parties or movements. But IWW’s aim of mass recruitment must come up against trade unions being already established in the bigger companies, and their understanding the value of collective bargaining in negotiating and reaching agreements. It will also come up against competing unions’ turf wars in the smaller companies. Barring outright revolution, moving from a system of mercenary capitalism towards working together for shared goals on a living planet calls for government that represents the interests of the masses, which may include workers’ co-operatives as an alternative to profit-driven business.
It was the IWW’s famous folklore hero and agitator Joe Hill who declared ‘Don’t mourn, organise!’, when facing execution in 1915 for what many believe were trumped-up charges, as a warning to others considering trade union activity. In saying this, he was playing down the anarchic element of IWW’s anarcho-syndicalism – a term which is contradictory in itself.

Marxist dialectical materialism says conditions determine consciousness. Do we wonder therefore why politics is currently being energised from the ground!?!?

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