The IWW - a good idea? Practical?

195 posts / 0 new
Last post
Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 12 2006 12:44
The IWW - a good idea? Practical?

Admin - Split from the What union are you in? thread

knightrose wrote:
I'm a NUT, but I've been thinking of joining the IWW, too.

Anyone got any thoughts on the value of the IWW?

Should suit you. But it's not a real union you know.

Serge Forward's picture
Serge Forward
Offline
Joined: 14-01-04
Mar 12 2006 11:06
knightrose wrote:
I'm a NUT, but I've been thinking of joining the IWW, too.

Anyone got any thoughts on the value of the IWW?

I've just this weekend joined the IWW. Valuewise, I guess it's what we make of it. The IWW is open to many possibilities, whereas the Trade Union bureaucracies always have an excuse for doing nothing and are very limited in their possibilities - but I suppose that's in their nature, isn't it.

Anyway, you can stay in the NUT (if you have good reason to do this) but still be in the IWW.

The way I see it, if you're in a non-union shop, then if you want to get things organised, the IWW would be the only thing worth the effort. However, if you are in a unionised workplace, the IWW could be a way of bringing together the most militant workers to act as a workplace resistance group.

Seems to me, to be a win win deal!

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 12 2006 11:11

Does this mean the AF has changed it's position on unions?

Quote:
Unions by their very nature cannot become vehicles for the revolutionary transformation of society....Even syndicalist unions are constrained by the fundamental nature of unionism.
madashell's picture
madashell
Offline
Joined: 19-06-06
Mar 12 2006 11:16

Hows about we quote that in full, Steve?

Quote:
Unions by their very nature cannot become vehicles for the revolutionary transformation of society. They have to be accepted by capitalism in order to function and so cannot play a part in its overthrow. Trades unions divide the working class (between employed and unemployed, trade and craft, skilled and unskilled, etc). Even syndicalist unions are constrained by the fundamental nature of unionism. The union has to be able to control its membership in order to make deals with management. Their aim, through negotiation, is to achieve a fairer form of exploitation of the workforce. The interests of leaders and representatives will always be different from ours. The boss class is our enemy, and while we must fight for better conditions from it, we have to realise that reforms we may achieve today may be taken away tomorrow. Our ultimate aim must be the complete abolition of wage slavery. Working within the unions can never achieve this. However, we do not argue for people to leave unions until they are made irrelevant by the revolutionary event. The union is a common point of departure for many workers. Rank and file initiatives may strengthen us in the battle for anarchist communism. What's important is that we organise ourselves collectively, arguing for workers to control struggles themselves.

(parts in bold my emphasis)

Serge Forward's picture
Serge Forward
Offline
Joined: 14-01-04
Mar 12 2006 11:27
Steve wrote:
Does this mean the AF has changed it's position on unions?
Quote:
Unions by their very nature cannot become vehicles for the revolutionary transformation of society....Even syndicalist unions are constrained by the fundamental nature of unionism.

I think not. As you said earlier, the IWW isn't 'a real union' (assuming by this, you mean something that fits the established trade union model) and this can only be a good thing.

The AF has been talking about workplace resistance groups as part of it's industrial strategy for a few years and it seems to some of us, the difference between the IWW and our notion of 'workplace resistance groups' is virtually... nothing!

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 12 2006 11:46

I meant the IWW is really a propaganda group agitating for a revolutionary syndicalist union. It cannot defend its members in the workplace which is why IWW members also stay in reformist unions.

Fair enough if AF members feel that joining the IWW fits into your industrial strategy, as I said I think it does suit.

knightrose
Offline
Joined: 8-11-03
Mar 12 2006 11:55

My views are probably known by loads on here, so I won't bother rehashing them.

But there has been a lot of talk in the AF about industrial organisation - spurred on in no little part by certain comments made by certain posters from another unnamed federation on libcom - which was something we'd had on our agenda for the last couple of years and had been unable to agree on.

From my own point of view, I'm in favour of getting into something that tries to unite all workers, not something that splits them into capital defined categories.

So i'm hopefully meeting someone from the IWW in Oldham to talk things over. I'll be going into it trying to find out what it's all about.

Incidentally, I've no doubt that we'll agree a common policy at our conference.

martinh
Offline
Joined: 8-03-06
Mar 12 2006 13:09
knightrose wrote:
From my own point of view, I'm in favour of getting into something that tries to unite all workers, not something that splits them into capital defined categories.

Aren't we all? Save it to say though that no one actually means "all workers" when they say it, they just differ on the level of agreement that workers must have in order to "unite".

I guess this also means the IWW have stopped trying to work out exactly where on Father Hegarty's Wheel everyone fits? And don't bother with all that anachronistic Industrial Union stuff?

Or am I missing what you're getting at?

Regards

Martin

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 12 2006 13:15

I like the idea of the IWW, but I don't think trade unionism based on personal politics is a good idea. Certainly not at this moment in time.

How could you unionise a place you were working if everyone there had to be an anti-capitalist? It seems a bit silly. I mean the best you could hope for is that these people just forget the whole aims of the union and joins anyway, but then what's the point of having the revolutionary aim?

knightrose
Offline
Joined: 8-11-03
Mar 12 2006 13:18
Quote:
How could you unionise a place you were working if everyone there had to be an anti-capitalist? It seems a bit silly. I mean the best you could hope for is that these people just forget the whole aims of the union and joins anyway, but then what's the point of having the revolutionary aim?

But that's the problem with the solfed networks too, isn't it?

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 12 2006 13:20
knightrose wrote:
Quote:
How could you unionise a place you were working if everyone there had to be an anti-capitalist? It seems a bit silly. I mean the best you could hope for is that these people just forget the whole aims of the union and joins anyway, but then what's the point of having the revolutionary aim?

But that's the problem with the solfed networks too, isn't it?

No, because they're not unions. At present now they'll be more like propaganda networks for an anarcho-syndicalist union - and admittedly so.

Solfed has never pretended to be a union. The IWW does.

knightrose
Offline
Joined: 8-11-03
Mar 12 2006 13:27

Which means that they'd like to be in the position that the IWW is in?

I can't see the problem you identify as being any different for either type of organisation.

Nick Durie
Offline
Joined: 12-09-04
Mar 12 2006 13:35
Quote:
How could you unionise a place you were working if everyone there had to be an anti-capitalist? It seems a bit silly. I mean the best you could hope for is that these people just forget the whole aims of the union and joins anyway, but then what's the point of having the revolutionary aim?

Entryism.

Surely historically that's what went on with the IWW in the US (there's no way their mass organisation was all united around anti-capitalism, just that the IWW was for all workers and that it wanted to see the end of the wage labour system; once someone's in the organisation and they see it benefitting them then they'll largely just go along with whatever happens to be being pushed), or even if you look at it from that angle the development of the ILP and communist parties in Britain circa 1910s and 1920s.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 12 2006 13:38
knightrose wrote:
Which means that they'd like to be in the position that the IWW is in?

What, being a tiny propaganda group pretending to be a union? SF could do that if they wanted.

Quote:
I can't see the problem you identify as being any different for either type of organisation.

Eventually, yes I'd agree, but you can pick your time to start an anarchosyndicalist union. The CNT in Spain in 1908 seemed sensible for example

knightrose
Offline
Joined: 8-11-03
Mar 12 2006 14:01

As I said, I'm only asking. I've not got a clear view yet.

But I don't see much difference between the two in terms of who you have to accept as members. I'm sure real anarchist syndicalist unions have exactly the same problem.

My main problem with the whole industrial union business is the idea of syndicates self-managing industries. (He says, throwing something new into the pot).

Serge Forward's picture
Serge Forward
Offline
Joined: 14-01-04
Mar 12 2006 14:11

I think the main difference is this (and they're not mutually exclusive).

To be in an anarcho-syndicalist union, you technically have to be sympathetic to anarcho-syndicalism (though in practice, this never happened in the mass anarcho-syndicalist unions).

The IWW on the other hand is, pure and simply, for workers - obviously those with a more militant orientation would tend to be members.

This means that in the present social and economic climate, it would be easier to organise militant workers in the IWW rather than in Sol Fed's industrial networks. That's not to say that this is easily done for either organisation.

Nick Durie
Offline
Joined: 12-09-04
Mar 12 2006 14:16
Quote:
As I said, I'm only asking. I've not got a clear view yet.

But I don't see much difference between the two in terms of who you have to accept as members. I'm sure real anarchist syndicalist unions have exactly the same problem.

My main problem with the whole industrial union business is the idea of syndicates self-managing industries. (He says, throwing something new into the pot).

This is bordering on 'thought' really - maybe the admins could move it.

Have you read the IWW constitution - it's a work of genius. I sat and read it for hours, made neither head nor tail of it, and pondered what it must be like when, because you have 100,000 workers in one industry organised you set up an industrial branch or something. One of the cheeriest things I'd read in a while.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 12 2006 16:25
Serge Forward wrote:
I think the main difference is this (and they're not mutually exclusive).

To be in an anarcho-syndicalist union, you technically have to be sympathetic to anarcho-syndicalism (though in practice, this never happened in the mass anarcho-syndicalist unions).

The IWW on the other hand is, pure and simply, for workers - obviously those with a more militant orientation would tend to be members.

Not true - it's a political grouplet, and to join you have to want the abolition of the wage system, capitalism and the state and "industrial democracy".

Where's the evidence that it's "easier" in the current climate? Surely the fact that there are tens of thousands more members of anarchosyndicalist groups than IWW ones proves this wrong?

knightrose:

Quote:
My main problem with the whole industrial union business is the idea of syndicates self-managing industries. (He says, throwing something new into the pot).

Dunno what this means, but it sounds suspiciously like a straw man to me based on a false idea of an anarcho-syndicalist blue-print...

madashell's picture
madashell
Offline
Joined: 19-06-06
Mar 12 2006 22:10
John. wrote:
How could you unionise a place you were working if everyone there had to be an anti-capitalist? It seems a bit silly. I mean the best you could hope for is that these people just forget the whole aims of the union and joins anyway, but then what's the point of having the revolutionary aim?

I suppose you could argue that the organisational structure of the IWW is more important than it's anti-capitalism. If you can call it a union, then it's a union run by it's membership, with a federal structure.

OliverTwister's picture
OliverTwister
Offline
Joined: 10-10-05
Mar 12 2006 23:22
Serge Forward wrote:
Steve wrote:
Does this mean the AF has changed it's position on unions?
Quote:
Unions by their very nature cannot become vehicles for the revolutionary transformation of society....Even syndicalist unions are constrained by the fundamental nature of unionism.

I think not. As you said earlier, the IWW isn't 'a real union' (assuming by this, you mean something that fits the established trade union model) and this can only be a good thing.

The AF has been talking about workplace resistance groups as part of it's industrial strategy for a few years and it seems to some of us, the difference between the IWW and our notion of 'workplace resistance groups' is virtually... nothing!

I really hope this is the case. Your above post leads me to think that my recent political evolution is not just me being crazy, as those are almost the exact ideas I have.

there's no real revolutionary group which can participate in the IWW the same way in the US (i'm not sure what i think about this); NEFAC for the most part are dismissive, though quite a few of us from CTC (the NEFAC supporter collective in Atlanta) have joined in the last few months, and some of the main organizers from the old Northwest Anarchist Federation are now Wobblies.

Anyways I hope the AF decides to strategically start organizing through the IWW, and that they also put together a good position statement on this as a reference for the rest of us anarcho-communists and left-communists who are wobbbly (or wob symp).

OliverTwister's picture
OliverTwister
Offline
Joined: 10-10-05
Mar 12 2006 23:25
Steve wrote:
I meant the IWW is really a propaganda group agitating for a revolutionary syndicalist union. It cannot defend its members in the workplace which is why IWW members also stay in reformist unions.

Fair enough if AF members feel that joining the IWW fits into your industrial strategy, as I said I think it does suit.

http://www.iww.org/en/node/2208 - Starbucks must rehire fired baristas, among other things. That's as of this past week, so if you hadn't heard that's understandable.

OliverTwister's picture
OliverTwister
Offline
Joined: 10-10-05
Mar 12 2006 23:30
knightrose wrote:
As I said, I'm only asking. I've not got a clear view yet.

But I don't see much difference between the two in terms of who you have to accept as members. I'm sure real anarchist syndicalist unions have exactly the same problem.

My main problem with the whole industrial union business is the idea of syndicates self-managing industries. (He says, throwing something new into the pot).

Loren Goldner, a left-communist writer who is extremely admirant of the Wobs, has written a good piece on this: http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/program.html

Loren Goldner wrote:
Once again, in conclusion, the usefulness of such a basic program, much of which can be quickly implemented by working-class power, is that is cuts through the appearances of the deep distortions of fictitious development since at least World War II. It cuts through the debates about “forms of organization” (party, class, councils, soviets). We don’t want soviets and workers’ councils in finance, insurance, real estate, and many of the other sectors mentioned which exist only because the system is capitalist; we want to abolish those sectors.
JDMF's picture
JDMF
Offline
Joined: 21-05-04
Mar 13 2006 07:48
OliverTwister wrote:
Steve wrote:
I meant the IWW is really a propaganda group agitating for a revolutionary syndicalist union. It cannot defend its members in the workplace which is why IWW members also stay in reformist unions.

Fair enough if AF members feel that joining the IWW fits into your industrial strategy, as I said I think it does suit.

http://www.iww.org/en/node/2208 - Starbucks must rehire fired baristas, among other things. That's as of this past week, so if you hadn't heard that's understandable.

i dont think anyone can deny what IWW is doing in US, very inspirational and exiting stuff!

What we are discussing is the situation in UK which is very different. In UK IWW has struggled to get anywhere, and the main reason (IMO) is that it is not an officially recognised union, so can't defend its members using whatever small means are there in current system. I dont know about other countries, but in finland you do not have to register to be a union and be entitled to all the same protection and legal rights as your average mainstream union gets. But in UK it seems very different indeed.

I used to be heavily involved in IWW in the past and tried to organise my fellow workers in IWW but that was bloody hard work. In retrospect perhaps that was for the best - i didn't know about this issue of being legally recognised stuff.

Anyways i wish all the best for IWW in UK and hope it will kick off the ground - though i think chances for a syndicalist industrial union would be better with a name and umbrella with less historical package.

But if you are a union, be a proper one, or at least let everyone know what is missing. Otherwise you end up causing more trouble than worth for workers, which is what may have happened in Hull. Otherwise just better join sol fed wink

ftony
Offline
Joined: 26-05-04
Mar 13 2006 10:08

i think there is definitely a big difference in IWW UK and IWW USA. i must say, the legal recognition thing does seem to be pretty plausible. i think if it was recognised as a 'proper' union there would be more members- even non syndicalist members, even non-anarchist members. i'm not particularly syndicalist - more communist - but i joined because i think the workplace (or studyplace in my case!) is still an important area for organisation not only of those of the same class but also as a way of nurturing a radical community. If you know there's someone who is a member of some organisation then there is a certain social identity that suggests some sort of anchor: 'he's a wobbly'. 'what's a wobbly?'. 'well they've ot a website...' etc.

Quote:
But if you are a union, be a proper one, or at least let everyone know what is missing.

perhaps so. it's a bit of a problem with anything smallish- how to assert your particular way of looking at things to a large audience when there are relatively few?

out of interest, what's the membership like in the UK? hundreds? thousands?

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 13 2006 11:13
ftony wrote:
out of interest, what's the membership like in the UK? hundreds? thousands?

I think this highlights a problem when people are really so far out in their conception of the size of the IWW. Also you may find that anarchists not in a majority of the membership.

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 13 2006 11:13

I think the title of this thread is misleading. Forming a militant workplace union is a good idea, better than the TUC ones. I have nothing against the IWW in the sense that I would work alongside them if I actually came across members. I disagree with their politics though.

Historically unions in this country are not organised on ideological lines and this has always presented a problem for those of us who seek a different kind of union. Pre-WW1 there was a chance that new forms of workplace organisation could emerge but that was lost. If things do change and we see the formation of new unions on ideological lines then there would be a place for an anarcho-syndicalist union and an IWW type union (as well as socialist/communist/conservative unions).

On the continent unions are organised on ideological lines but there are no IWW unions in Europe as far as I know or anywhere else (except for Australia & Canada?)

I think this is due to the IWW being a product of the distinct nature of the historical development of the American political system and union organisation. That’s why it has always has little success organised outside of certain countries.

The type of union the IWW wants will suit some anarchists. It also suits some Marxists and other socialists. That’s fine; it’s just not for me.

madashell's picture
madashell
Offline
Joined: 19-06-06
Mar 13 2006 12:35
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
madashell wrote:
If you can call it a union, then it's a union run by it's membership, with a federal structure.

So it's an anarcho-syndicalist union then?

Aye, if you can call it a union at all wink

E2A: My point was that the IWW would be great if it actually acted as a union (instead of being a propaganda group, as it is at the moment) regardless of it's ideological trappings, because it is run by the membership and thus not controlled by full timers with their own political agendas or what not.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 13 2006 13:06
ftony wrote:
i think if it was recognised as a 'proper' union there would be more members- even non syndicalist members, even non-anarchist members.

In that case, what's the point then of having the political goals of the union?

madashell wrote:
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
madashell wrote:
If you can call it a union, then it's a union run by it's membership, with a federal structure.

So it's an anarcho-syndicalist union then?

Aye, if you can call it a union at all ;)

Well most people would define "union" as a permanent organisation to defend+ advance the interests workers in workplaces, so it would be a union. Tommy Ascaso - that's not necessarily "anarcho-syndicalist" though. A-s unions by definition have anarchist goals.

I think a more useful model, as people have hinted at - is the self-managed structure of the IWW, without the ideological baggage, like the base unionism of Italy - CUB, COBAS, Sud in France, etc.

gentle revolutionary
Offline
Joined: 31-10-04
Mar 13 2006 13:14
Quote:
hmmm more like 60 and mostly on paper.

Not true, about 150 (146 definitely, but the Northern delegate – incidentally also an AFer – claims its even more).

And there certainly is a lot of potential for growth – more so than most libertarian organisations as the US IWW (I think the biggest libertarian organization in the US) shows. San Francisco for instance has 150 members, and Portland had about 250 members a couple of years ago.

Quote:
How could you unionise a place you were working if everyone there had to be an anti-capitalist? It seems a bit silly.

It would be silly if it was true. History and even the contemporary IWW in the US (or the 3000 Sierra Leone miners who organised with the IWW in the 90s, but were crushed or fled during the civil war) shows this isn’t true. You only have to agree with the working principles of the organisation.

Quote:
but you can pick your time to start an anarchosyndicalist union

SolFed is unlikely to ever become a functioning union. I think the fundamental flaw of SolFed’s approach (apart from placing too much importance on propaganda – ie being a political/propagandist rather than economic organisation – whereas the whole point is in organising workers along direct democratic lines and fighting against the bosses) is that it is too narrow ideologically and actually doesn’t accept people who aren’t already anarchosyndicalists - when again, the whole point is in bringing people over to libertarian ideas through struggle and direct experience.

Quote:
Where's the evidence that it's "easier" in the current climate? Surely the fact that there are tens of thousands more members of anarchosyndicalist groups than IWW ones proves this wrong?

Firstly, the approach of these unions who organised tens (and hundreds) of thousands of people (or even millions) is much closer to IWW’s approach than the SolFed’s. Secondly, unfortunately I don’t think these unions are really in the tens of thousands (even the moderate CGT only has about 50 000 members, and a much bigger influence apart from its membership for sure).

Quote:
In UK IWW has struggled to get anywhere, and the main reason (IMO) is that it is not an officially recognised union, so can't defend its members using whatever small means are there in current system

The recognition has been a major problem (no legal protection for the workers), but we’re getting close, a few months at least as it seems we have actually fulfilled all the legal requirements, but they are trying to stall it of course.

Quote:
the IWW is really a propaganda group agitating for a revolutionary syndicalist union. It cannot defend its members in the workplace which is why IWW members also stay in reformist unions.

The IWW definitely can and does defend its members. The IWW in America does it all the time, and something a secretary working in the parliament IWW job branch said just yesterday disputes the claim business unions are here to “do the job”. It wasn’t the mainstream union that did anything to help them (they were actually extremely condescending and tried to persuade them to drop the case), while the IWW internationally started a solidarity campaign.

Quote:
I think this is due to the IWW being a product of the distinct nature of the historical development of the American political system and union organisation.

This is a common misconception, IWW being merely a “foreign import” with no connection to the British libertarian labour movement, although it has existed in Britain in some form or another ever since 1905.

The IWW in the British Isles definitely has a much longer and more substantial history than SolFed if that’s what you’re aiming at. See http://www.iww.org/en/culture/chronology/international.shtml (doesn’t cover new things, like the Edinburgh parliament job branch we have).

I just came back from an IWW conference in Edinburgh last weekend, and was pleasantly surprised by the state of the IWW in Scotland, which has our strongest groups today – Edinburgh & Glasgow. There are a lot of problems, but things are moving in the right direction. There has been a 30% growth in British Isles membership in the last year, we have revived Bread & Roses which should be out for May Day or sth like that, we’re moving closer to getting listed and recognition, the London group has been re-established and is standing on its own feet, with various possibilities (including a recent offer by a refugee activist to get about a 100 refugees to sign-up with the IWW, which we’re investigating and preparing for in terms of translations etc.). One of our weakest spots at the moment imo, the website, is also going to be brought into order. Our focus is on:

a) organising the unorganised into a libertarian union

b) building a militant network of dual carders active in their own business unions (see The Role of the Dual Carder in the IWW - By Joshua Freeze - http://www.iww.org/culture/official)

ftony
Offline
Joined: 26-05-04
Mar 13 2006 13:18
Quote:
In that case, what's the point then of having the political goals of the union?

i think it's possible to agree with the ideals and tactics of the union without being anarchist. remember workerism and autonomism aren't exclusively anarchist principles. i'm sure there are plenty of people in other unions that don't exactly agree with their union's constitution.

Quote:
hmmm more like 60 and mostly on paper.

i assumed there wouldn't be more than a few hundred but it's so hard to tell. i'd say though, that there are plenty more than 60, i'm sure i've met at least thirty since i came to london! but yeah, it seems that a lot of people are members but don't really do anything in the union.

it seems like a pretty normal thing to be in a union and not do anything in it unless it directly affect you- it's just a mindset that unions are there to help you as an individual.

Steve
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Mar 13 2006 13:19

gentle revolutionary - do you still consider yourself a member of SolFed?