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More Wobbly Theory!

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Pennoid's picture
Pennoid
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Dec 11 2013 04:05
More Wobbly Theory!

Have folks had a chance to read this yet? Thoughts?

http://wobblyism.blogspot.com/2013/12/wobblyism-revolutionary-unionism-for_10.html

Quote:
Toward Synthesis, and Something New

Each step the class struggle takes forward owes itself to the step taken before it. As Rosa Luxemburg related waves of struggle in revolutionary Russia in her essay The Mass Strike, each wave recedes but leaves “sediment” behind for the next wave to rise from. As it is for Wobblies. The last few years of struggle have washed to shore a great deal of sediment packed full of invaluable "nuggets" of organizing wisdom. Revolutionary organizers would do well to mine these nuggets out, analyze their content, and synthesize the best of it. They can compare these nuggets from different waves of struggle and single out some similarities which they can apply to practice. They test them, share them with other organizers, synthesize what they learn, and develop a distinct, transmutable organizing approach - or method - over time. We believe that we are beginning to establish this method now.

Let us clear the air ahead of time and say that we don’t believe that an organizer can apply the exact same practice to any and every situation and expect the same results. We could not seriously claim to have a “copy and paste” approach to organizing, even if that’s what we set out to do. To be gratuitously clear, we do not set out to do that. But a revolutionary in any setting acts in that setting according to some core values. The way those values are implemented will vary with the circumstance, but all the more successfully when done in concert with other revolutionaries in other unique settings. Thus we attempt to establish an organizational methodology for revolutionary workers at every place in the economy.

While we’re at it, let’s nip some other misunderstandings in the bud. This essay critiques different organizing approaches that we have seen play out in practice. We make no bones about this. However, without these approaches, and without the practical experience that came of them, we would be in no position to advance new ideas. Indeed, while we critique certain organizing approaches, we are also critiquing ourselves. It is the spirit of camaraderie, synthesis, and the further development of the IWW and the class struggle generally that motivates us here.

The period the working class is in right now represents a historical marker for struggle. It is plainly evident that the IWW is experiencing a crux as well. This crux presents itself in the worldwide arena, and the workplaces Wobblies organize. From here, there are many different directions the IWW can go. Before embarking on one or a number of different directions, we propose a collective pause to reflect and look ahead through a grounded, pragmatic lens (of course, with a revolutionary compass).

In the following pages we attempt to dissect the varied stages of growth the union has progressed through since its revitalization, focusing on the period of the 1990s to the present. Understanding what truths can be extracted from previous practices, while minding which theories and strategies impinged progress is crucial to evolving the way Wobblies organize. We will analyze three dominant paradigms that have taken root over the last several decades in the IWW to foster an understanding of their benefits and limitations - both theoretically and as shop-floor practices. These are: Radical Service Unionism (RSU), Solidarity Unionism (SU), and Direct Unionism (DU). On the shoulders of these prior practices, we argue for a new paradigm built on Revolutionary Unionism (RU). The methodology that underlies this model of organizing and the steps we think need to be undertaken for its implementation will follow.

klas batalo's picture
klas batalo
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Dec 11 2013 16:53

Overall I really like this new piece and it is a breath of fresh air considering it is coming from more left communist / autonomist Marxist worker organizers in the union. It's a breath of fresh air to me for a few reasons, unlike many Marxists of the more Leninist variety in the union it completely rejects what they call Radical Service Unionism, as well as the less fortunate aspects of Solidarity Unionism, as they say:

Quote:
"Without additional components of leadership development and political co-education along revolutionary Wobbly lines, we will not be able to push the virtues of SU into a higher stage of Wobbly organizing."

This is important ground because it is left Marxists coming out in favor of revolutionary unionism, much like the council communists, and so this could prove for a fruitful alliance with anarcho-syndicalists and anarchist communist revolutionary unionists in the IWW.

After that though I do think their summary of what brings us closer to Revolutionary Unionism could be tied in more with the better features of Solidarity Unionism and Direct Unionism as the basic core to build off of. I do think they pay respects to this, but I think it could more cohesively fill it out so I'd do something more like:

Wobblyism 1.5: Characteristic Features required for moving towards a model of Revolutionary Unionism

1. Organizing aim and method based on a revolutionary trajectory and workers’ self-activity
2. Target-based network of militants based in Wobbly workplace committees
3. Collective direct action yields class consciousness
4. Industrial unionism / cross sector/ supply chain organizational strategy
5. Contracts are Contractualism (Reject both as one and the same)
6. Integration of leadership development (“reproducing the organizer”) and political co-education into everyday workplace struggle

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Dec 12 2013 19:33

I like the snippets i've read, and look forward to reading it properly and offering comments once i'm on the other side of a series of deadlines I have to meet.

By the way Klas, i'm appreciating in various postings your open approach toward appropriating the elements you find most valuable in different historic tendencies. A great deal of people can be hostile to this, and it is important to shrug it off when people attempt to put ideological patriotism first, instead of consideration of an idea on the basis purely on whether it stands in argument and struggle. Revolutionary political circles are often permeated with a great degree of 'guilt by association with foreign ideas', and all this tends towards is stagnation.

WIth regard to the point on 'political co-education' - i'm interested in finding out what this means? If it is explained in the article(s), don't feel the need to post about it, i'll investigate it myself when I get time. My immediate gut feeling would be that it would be education of workers by political militants, wrapped up in a fear of education of workers by political miliants, but this is perhaps a hasty judgement to make given i haven't read the piece yet. Just to clarify, I don't think political education is necessarily wrong as long as it is approached in a smart fashion and people recognise it is in fact an injection of consciousness and are careful to encourage the development of the ability of the worker to think critically for themselves (which I think most militants would agree is a good thing).

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Dec 12 2013 07:57

I like "Wobblyism" very much. I thank the Fellow Workers who wrote this.

This essay parallels much of what I've been advocating for a decade. I want to digest it more but here's some initial observations/rantings.

1) On a purely aesthetic note: It's a bit academic reading. That in itself isn't bad, but could have been clarified of jargon and cut a bunch of words. eg: "Revolutionary Unionism and the Trajectory of the IWW: Staking Out a New Organizing Tradition" could be "Building a new Organizing Tradition". Strunk and White should be our Read Book.

This is a bit of a problem I see in the IWW right now, an explosion of acronyms and jargon, and a weird clinging to formal meetings terminology eg All motions starting with "Where as", etc. My pet peeves.

2) The 30's era discussion is weak. Industrial Unionism was a broad trend. There were many Indistrial Unionisms before the CIO. Brewers, both Mine Workers (United Mine W and Western Federation M/Metal Mine), International Longshore Workers U, Lumber Workers IU in Canada, One Big Union, WIIU, TUUL/WUL, IUAW etc. I recommend Savages' Industrial Unions

We also should investigate the "wall to wall" Class unionism of the OBU, IUAW and the IWW's AWO.

We mimic the Leninist's propaganda when the CIO is discussed. As Root And Branch points out, the CIO was promoted by FDR as "the best insurance against a sit down strike".

The AFL actually had a bunch of interesting organizing (I think Lynd goes into in Alternative Unionism).

As well there were some interesting craft unions like Mechanics Educational Society which led so many wildcats during WW2.

We should be pluming history for interesting examples that might be applicable today.

The main point here is we need to decimate the Leninist arguments and quit repeating them.

3) Most important is asking what the hell "abolition of the wage system" means.

The Lassallean nature of Social-Democracy - the mindset that socialism is foremost a transfer of ownership, so working class must organize to participate in the parliament, unions taking on businesses, cooperatives, etc. Those like Bernstein saw this happens through a series of reforms. Others, like Lenin saw it coming from insurrection.

The revolutionary Marxists around Eleanor Marx, Wm Morris, etc and the anarchists around Kropotkin saw the new world as a different system, not a change of administration. If we don't get a clear(er) idea of where we want to go, all the discussions devolve into discussions of changing administration. Sticking to a vision of the cooperative commonwealth as worker run capitalist enterprises leads to "Radical Business Unionism", etc.

4) The examples/discussion/lessons in this discssions need to be international and not just US

klas batalo's picture
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Dec 14 2013 20:43

i appreciate you bringing up the stuff about wall to wall organizing IUAW etc.

fnbrill's picture
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Dec 15 2013 04:09

yeah. It looks like there's enough interest in the branch in PDX that we'll be having an informal discussion around it.

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Dec 17 2013 02:25

Also in the library: http://libcom.org/library/wobblyism-revolutionary-unionism-today

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Dec 9 2014 17:32

Fnbrill can you recommend any texts on "wall to wall unionism" a la AWO? I've read about the IUAW in Rachleff's Hard Pressed in the Heartland a few years back, gonna look into it again. In addition to Kornbluh's stuff on AWO.

fnbrilll
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Dec 9 2014 18:38

The best, albeit dissident, wall to wall view of the AWO is Walter Nef's

https://libcom.org/library/history-400-awo-one-big-union-idea-action

A first person history written from the perspective of it's main organizer. Nef was pretty bitter over the "industrialization" which happened in 1917 (18?). Nef's is an important conversation.

I'll try and dig up some materials on the OBU in Canada/US as well. Unfortunately not much decent history has been written about them. The standard text being written by a right-wing historian.

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Dec 9 2014 18:49

IUAW was actually closer to Nef's concept of a class union. Breaking units into industrial unions was particularly a bad idea when it comes to organizing a very precarious type of worker...a relevant point today. IUAW was a One Big Union on a community (town) basis.

I've not read this piece yet.

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Dec 9 2014 19:08

I'm sympathetic with the view that a class union is a preferable form of organization for today. It's interesting however that so many of the IWW's contemporary fights take the form of "brand" union/organizing. I'm tempted to point to the CIW which has it's limits organizationally, but basically has been pushing for higher wages for Farmworkers through focused campaigns on certain brand targets. It seems like this could be itself an example that the I.W.W. could follow, if it could adopt something like a organization wide acceptance of this effort. All of these thoughts are admittedly half baked, but it's the gist of my current intellectual feeling.

What comes to mind for me is the failure or dissolution of the FRWU effort in the I.W.W. Why did that happen? What failed to coalesce? What is needed?

Partly I think there needs to be a clarification of what our organizational resources *actually* are, as in, how many "organizers" do we have and where? We need to have an organizational definition of organizer. Someone that is comfortable spending time talking to workers, who can agitate and educate. These are not things that we can leave completely willy-nilly or informal. Or anyway that is another inkling that I feel. I'm open to the fact that I'm wrong, I'm sort of brainstorming here. But wouldn't it make sense to at least have some degree of accountability of "organizers" and also a way to target their efforts? As in, let's adopt a set of plans xyz to accomplish certain tasks/goals. Organizers in their local capacity should agitate and organize around xyz issues and coordinate efforts as such.

To my knowledge, a lot of work doing this co-ordination, happens by the organizers trying to organizer their local areas, which diverts their attention and effort. Maybe our coordinating bodies are not effective? It could be a combination of MANY problems, of course.

Not sure what the answer is, on how to better organize/coordinate efforts. :/

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Dec 9 2014 19:24

I've skimmed thru it. I thought the part towards the end where the authors lay out their model has a lot of good practical information.

Their historical section is weak. CIO's organizers mostly did not come out of IWW background but TUUL. After all, in 1934 TUUL had 150,000 members & IWW had had maybe 10,000 members at any one time since the split in 1924. In addition to TUUL there were 200,000 workers in socialist-led independent unions in 1934. These were mostly self-organized, usually with radicals of some sort in the workplace acting as some sort of catalyst. Of course it's true that CP in the '20s was still quite influenced by the syndicalist past of its members, and this affected how TUUL organized, but with Leninist hierarchical tendencies creeping in.

This piece adopt the currently fashionable terminology of "class composition" but it is ambiguous. On one hand, it suggests organizers be aware of sociological composition in workplaces & the town -- such as ethnic or racial or gender etc. But has second meaning of "behavior towards others in the class", that is, current level of "class consciousness". The older Marxist term "class formation" I think was clearer because it lacks this ambiguity.

I think the supply chain model is important in the sense that organizes are encouraged to think strategically & seek out targets based on socio-economic realities....strategic importance or size of target, restiveness of workers etc.

But in the '30s the main thing wasn't the importance of a particular workplace but the level of class support at that time....as reflected in things like general strikes. So there is also the need to be thinking about how to encourage cross-sector links & solidarity....something sorely underdeveloped in USA. Because of the dominance of service work nowadays, I think one way this can be done is via the links between workers & the customers/clients, as with bus drivers/riders, or teachers/parents/students. There is actually a current tendency in this direction even in business unions.

I realize the "form/content" distinction is popular in left-communist circles but i find it hopelessly vague. It's true of course that the content of worker power can't be defined as a form, "workers councils," but as a reality of collective control, rooted in solidarity & deliberation.

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Dec 12 2014 14:50

Syndicalistcat, can you recommend anything on the IUAW?

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Dec 12 2014 23:32

There is a very good essay on IUAW by labor historian Pete Rachleff. It was included in Staughton Lynd's anthology "We Are All Leaders" and is also a chapter in Rachleff's book on the Hormel strike "Hard pressed in the heartland" (a brief but excellent account of that important strike).

If you Google the name of Frank Ellis, you may come across an oral history interview that was done with him in the '70s. Ellis was the IWW butcher who was the architect of IUAW.