Industrial Worker (October 2012)

Articles from the October 2012 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

For paper subscription info, please visit the IW page at

For a PDF copy of this issue, check here

For the works: report from the 2012 IWW General Convention

An account by Ryan G of the 2012 IWW General Convention in Portland, Oregon.

Over 75 fellow workers from around the world descended upon Portland, Ore., this past Labor Day weekend, Sept. 1-2, for the 2012 IWW General Convention. The Portland General Membership Branch hosted this annual gathering of IWW members, providing housing, food and social gatherings for all attendees.

Over the course of two days, assembled delegates at the IWW General Convention were responsible for representing their branch in this important decision-making body of the union. Many different proposals were heard, debated and decided upon, all of which seek to implement changes to the IWW Constitution. These proposals will soon be mailed out to every IWW member in good standing in the form of the referendum ballot. Fellow Worker: as an IWW member, you have the right to directly vote on these changes!

We heard reports from many of the mandated committees throughout the union. A highlight was hearing reports from the Organizing Department Board (ODB), as well as the Organizer Training Committee, that the union’s developmental program of workplace organizer training is alive and well. In addition to hosting dozens of Organizer Trainings (OTs) throughout North America, the ODB is also busy at work preparing for an upcoming IWW Organizing Summit next February. We also watched a great video produced by the Work People’s College and heard about plans to continue this educational institute.

Finally, delegates and members alike were able to nominate fellow workers for various union offices, such as the General Executive Board, the General Secretary- Treasurer and many others. Most offices will feature candidates appearing on the upcoming referendum ballot, again, giving all IWW members the opportunity to directly appoint their General Administration.

Being in meetings for 8 to 10 hours a day is never easy, but despite the sometimes grueling procedures and business, there was a strong air of camaraderie and responsibility amongst delegates. This spirit was perhaps aided by the amenities of the venue: a space featuring comfortable tables and chairs, catered food service, wireless internet and air conditioning!

In addition to all the constitutionally mandated business, the General Convention is also an opportunity to meet up faceto- face with our co-organizers, friends and fellow workers. These personal bonds are invaluable in building a culture of solidarity and understanding amongst various regions where the IWW has a presence. To this end, the Portland IWW coordinated social events to accommodate the General Convention in-between sessions.

A Solidarity Party was held at the Red & Black Café on Friday evening, featuring music from Brendan Phillips (son of the late Utah) and Portland’s own house band, I Wobble Wobble. The Red & Black Café is a collectively-owned and operated business and has been an IWW union shop since 2009. It was fantastic to be able to spend the evening in an explicitly IWW space, especially when it came time to sing rousing verses of all the great IWW songs.

After General Convention business concluded for the day on Sept. 1, attendees were whisked away in a school bus (driven by an IWW driver!) to a bowling alley, where we proceeded to “Bowl The Union On.”

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 2012)

The IWW General Convention adapts to a new era In Portland

An article by Ryan G about the differences between the IWW's General Assembly and its General Convention, which replaced the GA in 2008.

The IWW General Convention is the annual opportunity for our members to propose amendments to the IWW Constitution, debate resolutions which signify union policy or general political sentiment, and to make nominations for the General Administration in the coming year. However, the way Convention operates is still very new to the current generation of IWW members, having only voted as an organization to adopt the model in 2008.

Previous to that year, our annual constitutional convention was called the General Assembly. In this format, which was utilized for the last several decades, voting privileges in the proceedings were based on “one member, one vote.” This model seemed to work well during this period, as the union was only composed of 200-500 members internationally, at most.

The IWW began to grow exponentially beginning in the late 1990s. This period signified the union’s transition from a grouping of labor militants seeking mainly to keep the IWW name and ideals alive in the movement, into a blossoming of younger members who took those ideals and began actually applying them to workplace organizing. Coupled with this new wave of IWW workplace organizing came the growth of IWW membership beyond the United States, particularly in Canada and Europe.

Suddenly, the union was expanding both in numbers and in geographical representation. This organizational development posed new challenges for the General Assembly system. It became apparent that the greater mass of votes required to pass a resolution or proposal was largely influenced by the regional location of the meeting. For example, if the Assembly was held in a large city, the host branch and/or neighboring branches would constitute the largest majority of attendees. With the “one member, one vote” system, branches from locations further away had difficulty making their voice and vote heard on an equal footing, as typically only one or two members could afford to make the journey.

Unfortunately, there were a few instances where this imbalance was exploited by members seeking to “control” the outcome of voting by the Assembly. I remember one General Assembly in particular where I was in attendance. During the debates on various proposals, several dozen or so members went outside the hall for a break. On several occasions, during critical votes, somebody would run outside and quickly herd them back into the building just prior to the main motion decision. These individuals could easily be heard instructing members to “Vote yes! Vote yes!” They would then vote, in some cases not having any idea what it was they were voting on. Simply by their numbers, members were able to “pack the vote” and control the motion.

As the IWW was developing internationally, and after experiences such as the one previously mentioned, it became clear to many in the union that we were quickly outgrowing the General Assembly system. The idea began to emerge that a more representative model was necessary, in order to enfranchise branches who would need to send members over greater geographical distances in order to participate. Again, the critical element of this was that branches should have equitable representation regardless of the distance between their home cities and the location of Assembly (which alternated from year to year, mainly in the United States).

Out of this necessity, the General Convention system was developed and approved by the IWW membership in the 2008 General Referendum. The Convention model establishes voting rights to branches based upon the number of members they retain in good standing. A branch with 10-29 members is allotted one delegate, a branch with 33-59 members can have two delegates, a branch with 60-89 members can have three delegates, and so on. While IWW members are allowed to attend the Convention and have voice in the debates, only delegates elected by a chartered IWW branch are allowed to vote.

This structural shift has produced a refreshing balance of representation between the IWW branches in attendance at our annual constitutional conventions. Branches are able to discuss the proposed constitutional amendments in advance, and instruct their delegate(s) on how to vote at Convention. Additionally, a branch can raise funds toward the cost of sending their delegate to the proceedings, which helps ensure that members with limited financial means are given the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. In this way, there is much more of an incentive for branches to send a delegate to convention; there is a proportionate balance of voting ability based upon the number of members in a branch, not their geographical proximity.

Significantly, all amendments to the IWW Constitution approved by delegates at Convention must then be ratified by the membership in a referendum. The greater decision-making power in the union ultimately rests directly with the membership at large.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 2012)

Reds riot at steel mill: 75 years later

Mark R. Wolff on the 1937 Memorial Day Massacre, in which police fired upon striking CIO workers.

Although the United Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) won a contract from the largest steel company, U.S. Steel, in 1937, the “Little Steel” corporations— including Bethlehem Steel Corp., Republic Steel Corp., Youngstown Sheet and Tube, National Steel Corp., Inland Steel Co. and American Rolling Mill Co. Republic Steel—refused to recognize the new union. In May 1937, steel workers from these plants struck for union recognition, including the workers at Republic Steel on Chicago’s South Side.

The “Little Steel” corporations were controlled by its anti-union chair, Tom M. Girdler. Under his direction, Republic had stockpiled a large accumulation of weapons to be used against strikers.

SWOC s t ruck at Republic, Youngstown Sheet and Tube and Inland all at once in a broad front. On May 26, 1937, 25,000 workers went out on strike. Inland Steel and Youngstown Sheet and Tube closed in response, but many Republic mills remained opened, including the Chicago South Side plant, where about half of the 2,200 workers went on strike. In defiance, Republic Steel shipped in food and bedding so their scabs wouldn’t have to cross the picket line.

On the first day of the strike, the Chicago police went right into the mill and pushed out the union men. Then they tore into the picket outside the plant, making the workers move to a location two blocks away, while arresting some of them. The next day, the police, who had joined the remaining workers inside the plant, came out and beat picketers with their clubs, shooting their guns in the air. During the confrontation, the strikers’ sound truck was demolished, and women strikers were beaten and sent to jail.

The SWOC strike committee called a meeting in response. On May 30, 1937, over 1,000 strikers and picket supporters, many of them women and children, gathered at Sam’s Place, a bar near the Republic Steel plant that became strike headquarters.

There, SWOC organizers and reps from Amalgamated Clothing Workers outlined the history of the national labor movement in support of the right to organize, and how the passage of the Wagner Act by the Roosevelt administration had helped.

According to the SWOC leadership, membership increased from less than 100 members in 1936 to over 75,000 members, despite anti-union efforts by the corporations. The SWOC leaders compared the pickets at Indiana Harbor plant that were without incident to the police tactics that violated the Wagner Act at Republic Steel.

Resolutions against police conduct were approved by the assembly of strikers. From the floor of the assembly, a motion was made that strikers should form a line to set up a picket outside the plant. From Sam’s Place the assembly lined up behind two American flags. One version of the story is that they went directly in a paradelike fashion to an open field outside Republic Steel, some in their Sunday dress, some setting up soup kitchens in support of a rally. A platform was constructed from which families could hear speeches as they picnicked. Girls led IWW fight songs. Another version is that marchers followed the procession behind the flags down Green Bay Avenue on the South Side, but the route changed to a dirt road across a prairie at 114th Street and Green Bay, and that they were cheering the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). At this point they were met with a police lineup of over 200 police.

Photographers from the local papers arrived in time to take photos of the confrontation of strikers and picket supporters in the prairie where they had assembled as they were confronted by the cops.

Police officials yelled expletives at them, calling them “communists” and demanding that they leave. Picketers shouted back that the police barrier violated their rights and the Wagner Act. Some accounts claim members of the strike-support crowd heaved rocks and other objects at the police.

Onlookers, such as David Krech, a researcher in psychology and member of the social democrat organization, New America, witnessed 10 people being shot and 80 being wounded, as the Chicago police opened fire on the “symbolic picket line” of steel workers and their wives and children in holiday dress. Krech and his New America comrades had supported the pickets from the start, only to witness the police violence.

A Senate investigation would later show that police had used weapons from the stockpile at Republic Steel along with their own issue to shoot directly into the rally and onlookers. As police shot at workers killed and injured at the picket be prosecuted.

A “Paramount News” photographer had used newsreel photography to record events that day, but the story was suppressed by Paramount. An investigation conducted by the St. Louis Dispatch revealed the censorship of the footage that eventually was used as evidence in the Lafollete Civil Liberties Commission investigation into the massacre by the police.

Seventy-five years later workers marched in procession to the location of the plant to commemorate the mass murders and pay tribute to the strikers. People met at Washington High School on 114th Street in Chicago for an educational event about the massacre. U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. joined the discussion. Panelists and discussion participants walked to the site of the killings, across the street from The Zone Youth Center and placed a wreath.

According to journalist Gregory Tejeda, the Illinois Labor History Society showed newsreel footage of the police beatings at the event. It was explained that at that time, a coroner’s jury in Cook County found all 10 deaths to be “justifiable homicide.” Not a single police officer was prosecuted.

Jackson described at the event how the 1937 Memorial Day travesty was called a “labor riot” caused by “red communists.” He outlined his plan to introduce legislation to raise the minimum wage and also to pay tribute to the 10 union members who died 75 years ago.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 2012)