Industrial Worker newspaper

Partial archive of articles from the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World.

Originally the voice of the IWW in the Pacific Northwest during the 1910s and 1920s, the Industrial Worker eventually became the main official English-language publication of the union, which it continues to be today.

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For a partial PDF archive of issues, check here



Industrial Worker (February 17, 1917)

Articles from the February 17, 1917 (Vol. 1, No. 45, Whole No. 45) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Ten barrels, who drank it all by C.E. Payne

-Fighters trials for Seattle by Charles Ashleigh

-Workers build it all, bosses own it all!


-Two constructions workers! Two roads!

-Notes, news and comments on industrial struggle

-Great progress in Spokane district

-Uncle Sam is some exploitor

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Industrial Worker (February 17, 1917).pdf5.99 MB

Industrial Worker (February 24, 1917)

Articles from the February 14, 1917 (Vol. 1, No. 46, Whole No. 46) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Stool pigeons last resort

-Prisoners fight war hysteria

-Everett prison conditions and industrial news by C.E. Payne

-Editorials: Is industrial unionism a crime; I.W.W. and war; The war makers; A sidelight on capitalistic morality; Too much gold?

-Everett news

-San Pedro waterfront

-Atlantic M.T.W. make own menu

-News, notes and comments on class war

-Hill memorial at Los Angeles

-Progress M.T.W. on two coasts and lakes

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Industrial Worker (February 24, 1917).pdf5.56 MB


Industrial Worker (March 3, 1917)

Articles from the March 3, 1917 (Vol. 1, No. 47, Whole No. 47) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-A fight, not alone for liberty of seventy-four, but freedom of workingclass

-Intense, bitter, cruel by W.D. Haywood

-Guarantee of defense by Forrest Edwards

-Gunmen attack pickets, kill and injure

-Harry Feinberg

-Prisoners write Everett jail conditions and activities

-Adolph Ersson

-A monstrous farce tragedy by Attorney Fred H. Moore

-Story of unequaled barbarity and lawlessness! by C.E. Payne

-Strange acts cause for alarm by Morris Levine

-A message by W.D. Haywood

-Editorials: "Constructive murder" of justice; Something wrong!; International class solidarity

-"Can't read that stuff on the streets of Everett"

-Life of following migratory work

-Life meant struggle and revolt to Jack London

-Everett struggle is part of human evolution to freedom by C.E. Payne

-The battle of Everett by John E. Nordquist

-Moulding sentiment against prisoners by Charles Ashleigh

-Are you worth fighting for? by Charles Ashleigh

-Is there a class struggle?

-A segment, a miniature of what labor is enduring everywhere, all the time by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

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Industrial Worker (March 3, 1917).pdf10.5 MB


Industrial Worker (April 7, 1917)

The April 7, 1917 (Vol. 1, No. 52, Whole No. 52) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-The defense begins presentation of case by Charles Ashleigh & W.C. Smith

-Editorials: A record of continual growth; The real perspective; Quit lying, that's all!; A little premature; Anti-war propaganda used in trial

-Defense begins giving evidence

-Warning to American workers

-How to abolish war

-Organization opportunities Kansas oil fields

-News, notes and comments on class war

-Mooney protest meeting

-Big conference of M.T.W. Great Lakes

-Why leave California?

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Industrial Worker (April 7, 1917).pdf3.02 MB

Industrial Worker (April 14, 1917)

Articles from the April 14, 1917 (Vol. 2, No. 1, Whole No. 53) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Everett barbarity revealed in evidence by Charles Ashleigh

-Editorials: Industrial vs craft unions; Anti-capitalistic, anti-militarism; Does he want to educated employees; Don't wake em up

-Gurley Flynn's visit to California

-And these say the I.W.W. is immoral by C.E. Payne

-News, notes and comments on class war

-M.T.W. convention

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Industrial Worker (April 14, 1917).pdf5.26 MB

Industrial Worker (April 21, 1917)

The April 21, 1917 (Vol. 2, No. 2, Whole No. 54) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Story of savagery graphically developed by Charles Ashleigh

-Editorials: The real murderers are exposed; Not blaming the I.W.W.; A market factor

-First organized, now strike

-Everett business wants more loot by C.E. Payne

-News, notes and comments on class war

-All lumber-workers should organize

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Industrial Worker (April 21, 1917).pdf2.51 MB


Industrial Worker (May 1, 1917)

The May 1, 1917 (Vol. 2, No. 3, Whole No. 55) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Conspiracy bubble punctured by Charles Ashleigh

-Everett thuggery and working class heroism

-The dreamers part in human history

-Message and mission of the proletariat by Wm. Thurston Brown

-Bosses murder conspiracy torn wide open

-Wait! When corpse sways steel trust

-Editorials: May Day, our labor day; Not for Red Cross to double cross

-Seattle's May Day

-Funds needed for defense

-The "International" as sung on other May Days in other lands by Charles Ashleigh

-A radical mystic by Justus Ebert

-Want not change of masters, change of industrial system by C.E. Payne

-M.T.W. situation

-Capitalists hell-brew is generating social revolution

-Comments on progress of industrial battle

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Industrial Worker (May 1, 1917).pdf4.83 MB

Industrial Worker (May 8, 1917)

The May 8, 1917 (Vol. 2, No. 4, Whole No. 56) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-I.W.W. trial nearing end by C.E. Payne

-Editorials: Internationalism, real, vital, unquenchable; Should not kick; Not beggars

-Wonderful progress everywhere

-An opportunity to go to jail

-Internationalists meet

-Big I.W.W. dance at Everett

-Conditions which caused revolt on drives

-News, notes and comments on class war

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Industrial Worker (May 8, 1917).pdf2.36 MB



Industrial Worker (September 24, 1927)

The September 24, 1927 (Vol. IX, No. 38, Whole No. 562) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Europe resents U.S. bigotry by Heber Blankenhorn

-Canada needs harvest army

-Buffalo workers prepare for big membership drive

-Colorado miners call for test of strength Oct. 8

-New field for 310 delegates opened at Bend

-Lumber workers ask wage raise, propose changes

-The new red hunt in America

-History of American labor movement

-Shall we judge prosperity by wealth of few by George Speed

-Why Lumber Workers should demand more wages

-Duluth is scene of active meetings on industrial unionism

-Strikebreaker threat fails to phase teamsters

-Fletcher holds rousing meetings in New York City

-Why men strike is discussed on new worker book

-Delegates needed in logging camps of Mont. district

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Industrial Worker (September 24, 1927).pdf4.57 MB


Industrial Worker (October 1, 1927)

The October 1, 1927 (Vol. IX, No. 39, Whole No. 563) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Colorado miners granted wage increase; will confer

-Deportation of all naturalized citizens urged by war veterans

-Fourteen miners held at Cheswick after police raid

-Pullman company makes big profit off porter's tips

-I.W.W. strikes of past show need of watching A.F. of L.

-Editorial: Industrial union and the coal mine workers; Help the Colorado miners win

-Thompson tells need of strikes

-Big crowds hear Buffalo talkers

-How job sharks extort fees from helpless workers

-Phil Engle dies after injury in street accident

-J.P. Thompson tells why I.W.W. is revolutionary

-Italian Wobs to have new office

-Radicalism not confined to any particular class

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Industrial Worker (October 1, 1927).pdf4.6 MB

Industrial Worker (October 8, 1927)

The October 8, 1927 (Vol. IX, No. 40, Whole No. 564) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Governor refuses troops in coming Colorado mine strike

-Serious problems face convention of farm workers

-Farm machiner displaces hands by fifty percent

-Playing the fame of production

-Reason revealed why lumberjacks should organize

-Alaska salmon canneries

-Left wing labor urged to support Colorado strike

-Oakland, Calif., past, present and prophetic

-The Communist Party gone blooey!

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Industrial Worker (October 8, 1927).pdf4.82 MB

Industrial Worker (October 15, 1927)

The October 15, 1927 (Vol. IX, No. 41, Whole No. 565) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Miners plan strike series; superintendent is acquitted

-I.W.W. members appear in case as prosecutors before the bar

-Discrimination to be met with repeated strikes in Colorado area

-Wages and hours are low and long in steel industry

-Playing the game of production

-Portland announces program of lectures

-Seattle labor to hold annual Debs memorial

-Woman discovers right to labor denied 'elderly'

-Physical test used as means to black list

-Thompson tells how proletariat is hope of world

-Chinese seamen pledge support, I.W.W. sympathy

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Industrial Worker (October 15, 1927).pdf4.81 MB

Industrial Worker (October 22, 1927)

The October 22, 1927 (Vol. IX, No. 42, Whole No. 566) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Walsenburg hall raided!

-A.W.I.U. 110 reports good showing among farm workers

-San Francisco to hold meeting for Colorado strikers

-Labor's "bloodstained trail"

-Three columns of poetry

-Federationists chase 'reds' but patronize scabs

-Militant labor of Japan thumbs nose at company

-Ellis lectures on evolution to Portland crowd

-I.W.W. lines up Colorado beet, potatoe workers

-Longshoremen strike in N.Y.

-Montana pole gang strikes

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Industrial Worker (October 22, 1927).pdf5.12 MB

Industrial Worker (October 29, 1927)

The October 29, 1927 (Vol. IX, No. 43, Whole No. 567) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-8,000 miners strike as C.F.I. gunmen start reign of terror

-Colorado mines completely tied up as I.W.W. and sympathizers out

-"We're with you", women pickets shout in Colo.

-Mass meeting held in rain in Seattle, Los Angeles woman gives her all for strikers

-Sacco and Vanzetti: is the case closed?

-Shall we call it propaganda or education?

-Advantages of the six hour day

-Job news

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Industrial Worker (October 29, 1927).pdf5.02 MB


Industrial Worker (November 5, 1927)

The November 5, 1927 (Vol. IX, No. 44, Whole No. 568) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Conference called!

-Miners clamor for membership cards in I.W.W.

-Masters growing desperate in Colorado

-Latest developments in Colorado miners strike

-Agricultural workers convention

-Rousing talks in San Francisco for coal miners

-Behind American flag, girls march against mine guards in Colorado

-Mooney reported refusing parole in pardon demand

-Australians boycott U.S. goods in Sacco and Venzetti protest

-Picture story of the Colorado miner's strike

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Industrial Worker (November 5, 1927).pdf4.73 MB



Industrial Worker (May 24, 1930)

The May 24, 1930 (Vol. XII, No. 21, Whole No. 701) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Eastern miners welcome I.W.W.

-Sikh warriors join revolt Mahatma Gandhi

-Mother Jones and John D. Jr bury hatchet

-Lumber work continues slack

-Ohio shows the way!

-Miners turn to the I.W.W. for real unionism

-Tom Mooney exposes Sutherland

-Communist speakers are convicted

-Craft strike loses against united bosses

-One Big Union of Capital

-The immigrant woman and her job in America

-Bootlegging jobs

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Industrial Worker (May 24, 1930).pdf5.86 MB

Industrial Worker (May 31, 1930)

The May 31, 1930 (Vol. XII, No. 22, Whole No. 702) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Politicians broadcast lies

-Organ of the Communist fakers repeats its stock of slanders

-M.T.W. delegates wanted in New York

-Young scion of capitalism to help in Russia

-Editorial: Emotionalism vs. power

-Unemployment census figures may be phoney

-Interviewing T-Bone Slim

-Chicago will celebrate 25th anniversary

-Cities of India flame in revolt

-Supreme Court rules against company unions

-The I.W.W. in Colorado

-Centralia case again before parole board

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Industrial Worker (May 31, 1930).pdf5.53 MB


Industrial Worker (June 7, 1930)

The June 7, 1930 (Vol. XII, No. 23, Whole No. 703) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Discontent seethes on harbor

-Wage cuts may force shingle weavers strike by C.E. Payne

-Big Snake cuts wages again to $4.75 per day

-Court reverses C.S. conviction in Ohio cases

-Why men are out of work

-Germany puts up tariff wall on Russian grain

-Baxter's Buckshots

-Editorial: Discontent

-Young awaits court report in Mooney case

-"Safety last"

-Spokane shark to repay cost for fake "jobs"

-Regimenting the youthful mind

-'Charity' graft in free meals in Vancouver

-General slump on Grays Harbor

-Marx in a nutshell by Covami

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Industrial Worker (June 7, 1930).pdf5.25 MB

Industrial Worker (June 14, 1930)

The June 14, 1930 (Vol. XII, No. 24, Whole No. 704) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Mine factions fight for power

-Press junket in the interest of coal barons

-Ariel job is "slaughter house"

-Aged and infirm displace Mex. on Calif, beet farm

-Rail men demand 30-hour week

-Editorial: The one way out

-Baxter's Buckshots

-Detroit bazaar wins approval

-New gods for old

-Capitalism and the Anzac

-Campaign to be waged against injunctions

-The scissorbill and the Wobbly

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Industrial Worker (June 14, 1930).pdf2.61 MB

Industrial Worker (June 21, 1930)

The June 21, 1930 (Vol. XII, No. 25, Whole No. 705) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Harvest workers organizing drive

-Georgia cases go to trial in Atlanta June 19

-Governor Young promises prompt action in Mooney case

-Tee-Bone Slim hits the straw belt in Kansas

-Prosperity hits the charmed land

-Bosses block laws to relieve unemployment

-Editorial: The mechanism of unemployment

-Baxter's Buckshots

-Forever by Covami (a.k.a. Covington Hall)

-July 4th picnic in Chicago at Beyers Grove

-110 conference at Ellsworth, Kan.

-A journalistic jackass by Radix

-Open forum in San Francisco

-Cops and American Legion suspend constitution

-Aliens do work on California bonanza farms

-Chairy: a commercialized graft

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Industrial Worker (June 21, 1930).pdf5.56 MB

Industrial Worker (June 28, 1930)

Articles from the June 28, 1930 (Vol. XII, No. 26, Whole No. 706) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Coal barons prepare to cut wage

-Lewis machine and operators co-erce miners

-Sale of arms to Soviet Russia stopped by U.S.

-No family men wanted at Ariel

-Annual drive of harvesters sweeps north

-Detroit auto industries close for two weeks

-Atheists can't testify in New Jersey

-Editorial: The power behind the law

-Baxter's Buckshots

-International affiliations versus organization

-New copper mine opens Sept. 1st at Leavenworth

-Boulder Dam is health menace

-Filipinos are moot problem in California

-Reactionary influence of craft unions

-Man starves on Calif. highway

-An appeal from the Swedish I.W.W.

-California the "Beautiful and damned"

-Law perverted to terrorize Calif. strikers

-Indian police lash Gandhists with leather

-Things seen and heard on the skidroad

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Industrial Worker (June 28, 1930).pdf5.19 MB

International affiliations versus organization

A response by Del. T-O 46 to an article by Paul Mattick that appeared in the IWW newspaper, Solidarity.

ASPUDDEN, Sweden, June 4.—(To the Industrial Worker.)—In Solidarity numbers 20 and 21 appeared an article under the heading: "On International Affiliations" by Paul Mattick with which I am going to take issue. In the latter part of the article he says that the future of the I.W.W. is assured, but further down he modifies that statement by stating, that it does not mean that the class organization will be a part of the present I.W.W. with headquarters in Chicago.

Further down still he says that the tactics of the European proletariat depend in its experiences. And from that he deducts that the I.W.W. in Europe will only remain an effort—nothing but an effort.

By using just a little logic we can tear those statements to shreds. If the future of the I.W.W. is assured, why not join it and be consistent? If the experiences determine social and economic actions and not present needs and realities why start an organization like the A.A.U.? Would not the craft unions as they are suffice? They embody experiences of the workers as well. He says that we must reckon with the traditions and prejudices of the European proletariat, but as an I.W.W. with the necessary educational qualifications, he must know, if he is honest, that traditions can and must be transferred to more modern movements and the prejudices directed in other directions that against a new and growing movement like the I.W.W.

It is precisely what all those well wishers are doing, they are subtly living on the old traditions and prejudices, because it entails too many sacrifices to handle them in a scientific manner.

To an I.W.W., any national organization, however, revolutionary in abstract principles (and they of necessity must be abstract in a nationally restricted organization of the workers) is an upholder of old traditions and prejudices of the workers which are bound to be in opposition to the I.W.W.

In the last analysis all those traditions and prejudices are rooted, not so much in the minds of the workers as in the economic status of all the many different kinds of paid officials, from the Christian socialist down to the officials in the A.A.U. and the Syndicalists' organizations. Every worker, group of workers, craft union group of workers, nationally organized group of workers has a fund of traditions, regardless of whether they live and work in Europe or in the U.S. The only worker who has I.W.W. traditions is the worker who is or has been a member of the I.W.W., and his store of traditions is dependent on the length of time he has been a member of the I.W.W. The I.W.W. being the most modern form of the working class organization, it follows that these traditions are the best for the working class and hence must replace all the others.

Prejudices which, I take it, are a biological necessity, existing and functioning for the purpose of protecting the individual, the craft group and the larger nationally organized proletarian , can not be abolished, but they can be given another and more useful direction by I.W.W. education and organization. Instead, also, of being merely a passive well wisher of the I.W.W. and by so being, in daily practice directing the workers prejudices against the I.W.W. , he ought to be brave enough to take a stand against them. To sum up: if the working class today stands in need of such an organization as the Industrial Workers of the World, which it does, then it is up to an I.W.W. who is convinced of that need to be consistent and fight it out.

My advice to all members of the I.W.W. is this: don't sell part of your intellectual store to any group, give it to the working class; it needs it, and badly, too.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker, June 28, 1930 (Vol. 12, No. 26, Whole No. 706)
Typed up for by Juan Conatz


Industrial Worker (July 5, 1930)

The July 5, 1930 (Vol. XII, No. 27, Whole No. 707) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Wage scales in Harvest "fixed"

-Medical graft in state relief

-Unemployment data of census are worthless

-Another labor bank venture goes haywire

-Editorial: The tragedy of industry

-"The marshal will cut your hair" by T-Bone Slim

-Baxter's Buckshots

-Bosses' share of production is not reduced

-The killings at Peshawar

-Picnic July 6th favored by gods

-Doughnuts and devil doctors in Kansas City

-An analysis of graft

-Western Pac. and Big G to start work in Calif.

-Job news

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Industrial Worker (July 5, 1930).pdf5.2 MB

Industrial Worker (July 12, 1930)

The July 12, 1930 (Vol. XII, No. 28, Whole No. 708) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Billings pardon turned down

-Lewis and Howat fight it out in Illinois mines

-Wallace mines are closed down

-Injunction vs. John L. Lewis is contained

-Natives replacing Filipinos

-The "law" and the proven facts

-6 hour day favored by Montana A.F. of L

-Editorial: The Billings decision

-The warrior wind by Ralph Chaplin

-Baxter's Buckshots

-Industry more deadly than a battle field

-Lumber output drops in N.W.

-Landlord takes land and labor of Colorado farmer

-The Georgia trials by A North Carolina Worker

-Stalin gains in power as threat of war impends

-Fisher body workers strike brings out troops

-Stalin overcomes Right Opposition

-An analysis of graft

-I.U. 110 sends out call to workers

-Job News

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Industrial Worker (July 12, 1930).pdf5.14 MB

Industrial Worker (July 19, 1930)

The July 19, 1930 (Vol. XII, No. 29, Whole No. 709) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Lewis loses out in Illinois

-John McDonald, Mooney witness shows up in Baltimore, Maryland

-Moclips strike still on

-Move to bar Russian lumber from U.S. as convict made

-Editorial: The six hour day

-Baxter's Buckshots


-"Red" issue in injected into Russian church row

-Stalin will not be Russian Premier

-Service for nothing

-110 raises wage from $.,50 to $4 in Sutton, Nebraska

-A pamphlet with a potent punch

-An analysis of graft

-Salt Lake still stealing labor under vag law

-Thompson gets comrades' goat in Vancouver

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Industrial Worker (July 19, 1930).pdf5.16 MB

Industrial Worker (July 26, 1930)

The July 26, 1930 (Vol. XII, No. 30, Whole No. 710) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Organization struggle on in harvest

-Plain words of Britt Smith on the Communists

-Prison made twine to bind wheat

-John MacDonald comes back to tell his story

-Auto mechanics and teamsters strike in Butte

-Editorial: The intellectual squid

-Baxter's Buckshots

-State police club and beat Flint strikers by Claude Erwin

-Women and girls do farm labor while men do housework

-Railroad bull takes property of card member

-An analysis of graft

-Wages 'jippoed' down to 'normal' in copper belt

-Job news

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Industrial Worker (July 26, 1930).pdf5.19 MB


Industrial Worker (August 2, 1930)

Articles from the August 2, 1930 (Vol. 12, No. 31, Whole No. 711) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-War vets parade in Portland is not acclaimed

-Sadism in Seward

-Editorial: Government and gangsters

-Backster's Buckshots

-False reports of work in Utah are given out

-"Millionaire hobo" passes

-Portland cops harass workers

-"Communism" not a name only

-Twelve hours to hunt jobs in Hastings, Neb.

-New railroad to begin work in mid-August

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Industrial Worker (August 2, 1930).pdf2.21 MB

"Communism" not a name only - Recidivus

A scathing article by Recidivus about the Workers Party of America, the legal, above-ground party of the Communist Party USA during the early to late 1920s.

"Communism" not a name only: Workers Party is not a communist party, but a reactionary group of politicians and opposing it is not "fighting communism"

by Recidivus

There is an impression among certain groups that the I.W.W. is opposed to communism and is fighting it. As proof of the fact, these persons cite our antagonism to the Workers' Party. We refuse to give it the unmerited credit of being a communist party or even communistically inclined. We fully agree with James P. Thompson that the "Workers' Party is unscientific, reactionary, opportunistic and hypocritical"

We do not have to take Thompson's word alone. The Communist leader, Losovsky, an influential member of the Third International, when the American Workers Party was crying the slogan, "Save the Union", sent forth a stinging bawl-out from Moscow to the American leadership of the party, characterizing their "left-wing movement" in the A.F. of L. as a "metophysical concept without foundation in fact". That was in 1928. Was this true, or didn't the great one know what he was talking about?

Every intelligent member of the Industrial Workers of the World—the majority of our members—believe in communism. They hope for it and are forever fighting for it. But if communism means what the party of frauds, fakers, shysters, careerists and opportunists tell us it is—a movement to "save the poor farmer" and petty bourgeoisie; if it means standing in the way of the industrialization of backward countries by crying "down with imperialism", and here in America shouting "Smash the Trusts", and "Down with the chain stores", we do not want any of that brand of communism. But that is not communism.

We of the I.W.W. are opposed to the party's slimy tactics of injecting themselves into strikes to disrupt and split the workers' forces as they did in the coal strike of 1927-1928. This was characteristic of their tactics in all strikes. We are also opposed to their agent-provocateur activities in urging defenseless workers to violence and in staging demonstrations in places they know full well result only in broken heads, workers' lives ruthlessly taken and more victims for the gallows tree—while their self-appointed leaders reap the only gains to be got while safely ensconced in safety zones.

Again we sat we are not fighting communism in our opposition to the Workers Party. We are trying, rather, to build communism thru the intelligent teaching and tactics of the I.W.W. We want no union that is subordinate to the tricksters of a political party. Karl Marx never said or wrote, "Bourgeoisie of the World, Unite!" We have no places in our ranks for snus peddlers, "poor farmers", or any of the class that Marx said were logically the bulwarks of the old society.

The Workers Party should be more truthfully known as the Wrecking Party. It has come like a blight among the workers of America and whatever it has touched, it has wrought more harm to them than all the other powers that be. If the leadership is not being paid for their blighting influence and activities, it is scabbing on the finks that are. Other similar organizations have made as much noise as the Workers Party; but, if they are remembered at all, it is not with credit to them.

The idea of the One Big Union is now too well grounded to be uprooted. The toilers will yet march from mill, mine and factory and back to them victoriously under the banner of the I.W.W. which is equivalent to saying their own collective selves intelligently, militantly, revolutionarily and scientifically organized.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker, August 2, 1930 (Vol. 12, No. 31, Whole No. 711)

Typed up for by Juan Conatz

Industrial Worker (August 9, 1930)

Articles from the August 9, 1930 (Vol. 12, No. 32, Whole No. 712) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-Butte strike ends in betrayal

-Estelle Smith's story confirms original alibi of Warren Billings

-Editorial: The state, and a harlot

-Baxter's Buckshots

-60 cent wheat makes hoosiers see red horror

-Fruit pickers wages fixed by bosses' union

-Amsterdam corpse moves to Berlin

-Youth in tears is given work fire fighting

-Trains swarm with jobless seeking work

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Industrial Worker (August 16, 1930)

Articles from the August 16, 1930 (Vol. 12, No. 33, Whole No. 713) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-Billings to be heard Tuesday

-Passing of the rubber tramp by William Patton

-Death of Fellow Worker James McInferney is expected hourly

-Loren Roberts to be freed is latest report

-Farmers fight organization

-Salt Lake drag under "vag" law releases six

-Editorial: State capitalism vs private capitalism

-Baxter's Buckshots

-Ford hires back 80 percent but speeds 'em up

-The menace of unemployment

-Comical party stages another farce tragedy

-Starving men get in battle over religion

-Conditions of Ry. extension will be hi-ball

-Job news

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Industrial Worker (August 23, 1930)

Articles from the August 23, 1930 (Vol. 12, No. 34, Whole No. 714) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-"Honor" codes revealed in quiz

-James McInerney is dead

-Memories of James McInerney

-Billings undergoes grilling at Folsom but few new points are brought out by the quiz

-Police brutality at Minot, N.D.

-Editorials: Class codes of "honor"

-Baxter's Buckshots

-Promise not to cut wages is not kept by bosses

-Sawmill workers speaks up

-International relations of the I.W.W. by Joseph Wagner

-Moral censors ban scientific medical work

-Job news

-The crisis in labor history

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Industrial Worker (July 18, 1931)

Articles from the July 18, 1931 (Vol. 13, No. 29, Whole No. 761) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Raid on IWW at Boulder Dam

An article from the July 18, 1931 issue of the Industrial Worker describing the arrest of IWW member, Frank Anderson, who was organizing workers at the Boulder Dam (later called Hoover Dam) project.

Raid on I.W.W. at Boulder Dam

Fellow Worker Frank Anderson and others are in city prison

Charge is "vagrancy" but is merely formal and preliminary to effort to stop all organization work among the workers on the six companies job

LAS VEGAS, Nev., July 11.-- The arrest of Fellow Worker Frank Anderson, by the authorities of Las Vegas and the continued arrests of all unionists on the Boulder Dam job is preliminary to a major struggle for the right of organization which now hangs in the balance. Instead of being placed in the county jail, conditions are so crowded in that capitalist pen for the impoverished slaves that he was turned over to the city police and lodged in the local hoosegow. The local press comes out with a scare headline, "I.W.W. Group At Boulder Dam Revealed." The "revelation" is rather belated, seeing that the I.W.W. has worked openly here as elsewhere to organize for enforcement of the safety laws which are being flagrantly violated and whose violation has already resulted in making a death trap of the operations of the Six Companies. Many lives have already been sacrificed thru cave-ins and explosions which would never have occurred had there been the slightest effort to enforce the safety laws of Nevada.

The Las Vegas Age, local capitalist sheet says this morning:

A search of the person of Frank Anderson brought to light a voluminous array of credentials, letters of introduction, membership cards, dues stamps and a copy of the Industrial Worker official newspaper of the organization.

Upon being turned over to the city police, Anderson was immediately questioned as to his previous activities. He appeared to have no fear of the consequences of his arrest and talked freely to authorities.

Anderson, who is twenty-eight years old has been working at the dam as a truck tender in one of the tunnels at the river camps, admits having worked there for the last seventeen days, and spending his off-shift time in organizing the workers.

He stated that he had recruited twenty-one new members in the last month and had already called one meeting of the I.W.W. at the river camp. He also stated that there were about three hundred members at the river camp and approximately a hundred at Boulder City.

Anderson is an American citizen, born at Rohnerville, Humboldt county, California. He states that he has been an active worker for the organization since 1923. For the past time, before coming to Las Vegas, he had been working at Nyssa, Oregon for the Shea Construction company.

When asked what he would do if released, he said he would be forced to stay here and continue his organization work until he was stopped, at which he would secure counsel and make a test case of the matter under the Nevada laws.

Asked as to his work at the dam, and the reasons he had for discontent, he stated that his principal objection was that there was no cold drinking water provided the workers. He also maintained that for a man working on the night shift there was no possibility of sleeping during the day. Questioned as to his respect for the law, he added that Six Companies were not themselves obeying Nevada laws with regard to labor provisions.

The charges against Fellow Worker Anderson so far are the usual "vagrancy" although the authorities admit that he has worked regularly and is in possession of funds of his own earning. Threats to turn the case over to the federal authorities for investigation have been made but just what they would have to investigate is unknown as no law on the statute book, altho that does not deter the lawless authorities from pursuing their usual lawless tactics where labor organization is concerned.

The arrests as well as the conditions at the Dam have been thoroly suppressed by the capitalist press. They are of the most abominable character. Bad food, bad housing, dynamite stored in the boiling heat until the nitro-glycerine runs and bunches up causing it to explode when being tamped as has occurred repeatedly. Death after death has been the result and many injured are now in the hospital. The company exploits the men, paying them in "coupon" books redeemable at the company store where exorbitant charges are made.

The I.W.W. will fight this case to the limit and face any charges made. Its work of organization is needed and has been conducted openly and above board. It is to be hoped that there is enough fighting spirit left in these workers at the Dam to act at once in defense of the right of organization.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker July 18, 1931 (Vol. 13, No. 29, Whole No. 761)
Transcribed for by Juan Conatz


Industrial Worker (February 21, 1931)

Articles from the February 21, 1931 (Vol. 13, No. 8, Whole No. 740) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-Unemployed movement launched: Seattle takes preliminary steps toward organizing the jobless

-Victims of raid to go to trial under C.S. law

-Editorial: Machines vs nature

-Baxter's Buckshots

-Suppressing Einstein

-Third Party possibilities

-Neglect of law causes death of big hill miner

-Second month of Work Peoples College term marks progress

-Job news

-Sea faring conditions grow worse

-Los Angeles in favor of merging

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Industrial Worker (May 28, 1931)

Articles from the May 28, 1931 (Vol. 13, No. 21, Whole No. 753) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-Job-mab mobs at Boulder Dam

-Longshoremen ranks unbroken in lake ports

-Bakers strike in Duluth and Superior, Wis.

-Alaska is no longer a klondike

-Famous authors petition for Mooney pardon

-Rejoice and be glad

-Editorial: "Prayer, action and sacrifice"

-What duty to I owe to England? asks Chaplin

-Baxter's Buckshots

-The company regrets

-Theater owners proven to have framed bombing

-The crisis of capitalism

-Careless blast kills workers on Hoover Dam

-Craft unionist can't answer a pointed query

-Job News

-Jap miner sits on chimney to help win strike

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Industrial Worker (June 13, 1931)

Articles from the June 13, 1931 (Vol. 13, No. 24, Whole No. 756) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-2,000 Harlan miners evicted

-A.W.I.U. 110 prepares big drive

-Prompt action of I.W.W. stops cold wage cut

-Militia fire upon Swedish strikers

-Brutes make war on hungry children

-Editorial: Wanted, a brain

-Baxter's Buckshots

-European labor conditions

-Jury aquits four union men in Sacramento

-Roger Babson vs Karl Marx

-Job news

-Bath house at Boulder Dam is river

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Industrial Worker (July 18, 1931)

Articles from the July 18, 1931 (Vol. 13, No. 29, Whole No. 761) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-Raid on I.W.W. at Boulder Dam: Fellow Worker Frank Anderson and others are in city prison

-The fight is on at Boulder Dam

-Sweltering and dying at Boulder Dam

-Detroit turns 850 homeless out to starve

-Tear gas used in Rhode Island

-Montana farmers face starvation

-Indian revolt traces to low wages of native

-Chinese miners slow down on job

-The fear of reality

-Can't keep good men in the pen. in California

-Job news

-Mr. Hoover's 20-year plan

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Industrial Worker (March 8, 1932)

Articles from the March 8, 1932 (Vol. 14, No. 60, Whole No. 793) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-San Jose leads off in 6-hour move

-Boulder Dam Job continues to take toll of workers lives

-Harlan mines cut wages of all employees

-Detroit's ringing challenge

-Jobless seek to enlist in Chinese army

-Editorial: A capitalistic hock shop

-New York plans new campaign

-Thompson and Cogan debate opportunism

-Mother Mooney speaks in N.Y.

-Jas. P. Thompson to make tour through East

-Bad conditions in Norway but syndicalism gains

-The I.W.W. tells its own story by F.W. Thompson

-Bull pen for union men on Boulder Dam

-Relief bills to be vetoed is indicated

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Thompson and Cogan debate opportunism

An article by x22063 describing a 1932 debate between Fred Thompson of the IWW and J. Cogan of the Communist Party USA-aligned Trade Union Unity League, in Duluth, Minnesota. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker, March 8, 1932 (Vol. 14, No. 60, Whole No. 793).

Thompson and Cogan debate opportunism

Instructor at Work Peoples College takes Communist advocacy of unemployment insurance to the cleaners in Duluth

DULUTH, Minn.—The question of unemployment insurance was debated for two and a half hours, Sunday afternoon, between J. Cogan, of the Trade Union Unity League and F. W. Thompson of the I.W.W. In order to have the debate it was necessary to accept the Communists' terms of meeting 'in their hall'; this was to be regretted as the interest in the question was such that there was not seating capacity for all who wished to attend. The question as stated was: "Resolved, That the workers should fight for unemployment insurance".

Cogan, in the opening speech for the affirmative, first of all pointed out the ravages of unemployment the world over. He argued that unemployment insurance was not a reform, but a means of focusing the struggle for revolution; that if provided action by which the working class could learn how to do things as they did them in Russia; that it brought about the solidarity of the workers on the job and off the job. He urged that it built up a revolutionary force by bringing in the little business men and the poor farmers. He argued the necessity for making a political struggle based on economic needs, asserting that in the good old days of the I.W.W, Bill Haywood had organized hunger demonstrations to parade to the seats of government!

In his opening speech for the negative .F.W. Thompson established four points. First, whatever degree of unemployment insurance is established by a capitalist state, will be done by and for the capitalist class. Second, the records necessary for any such system, must necessarily, especially in open shop America, constitute a 100% federal blacklist system. Third, the unemployment insurance, [WORD UNCLEAR] mischievously misleading to the working class. It is the view that the capitalists are responsible for the present 'depression and that the capitalists can fix it up; the view that out of the Soviet Business Men's Delegates in Washington and the state capitals can come relief from the ills of capitalism. Fourth, there are much better means for accomplishing the object of the proposal—security of livelihood for the working class. The only real security, he said, will come when the workers take the world and use it; meanwhile he urged the education of workers, as opposed to their mis-education with political opportunism, the industrial organization of those on the job, and the formation of a mighty picket line of the unemployed, to work jointly for shorter hours, higher pay, resistance to speed-up that our class may increase strength until it has the power to take the world and use it. Nowhere' in such a program does a demand for remedial legislation fit.

These opening statements were followed by questions from the audience ranging fronm what to do with policemen's clubs to why "Wicks" are ditched front Dakota freights. In his rebuttal. Thompson answered some thirty odd-such questions then dealt with the arguments of his opponent. He pointed out that in Russia, employment for all had been found under the Communist dictatorship, and that this had been established, not by demanding such sops as unemployment insurance, but to the tune of the slogan "All power to the workers". He ridiculed the notion that such a bill as the communist demanded, providing union rates for all unemployed, would ever be obtained from any capitalist legislature, and argued that this demand, stripped of its revolutionary trimmings,, amounted to the old opportunistic hog-wash.

In rebuttal. Cogan met the charge of reformism with the argument that they were not asking, they were demanding, and that they were not asking for sops, but for something that the capitalist class could not give them. He stated that it would be damaging to the workers on the job to form picket lines of the unemployed, for then the boss could figure out how to make more wage-cuts, and urged that hunger marches were very educational, for the workers who joined them found their real enemy somewhere en route, and lost their faith in him.

Whatever else may be said of the debate, it was conducted in an orderly fashion and a fairly hilarious time was had by all.


Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker March 8, 1932 (Vol. 14, No. 60, Whole No. 793)
Transcribed for by Juan Conatz


Industrial Worker (October 11, 1932)

Articles from the October 11, 1932 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Education for all is object of Work Peoples College

An article describing the purpose of Work Peoples College, an school run by the Industrial Workers of the World in Duluth, Minnesota until the 1940s. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 11, 1932).

Education for all is object of Work Peoples College

I.W.W. institution offers unequaled opportunities for sound proletarian education to all wage workers

DULUTH, Minn. — What is Work Peoples College? It is a residential, co-educational school, run by radical workers for radical workers. Its object is education for emancipation. It wants to impart such useful information as, an understanding of the present social and economic system, and of the trend of its development; the major experiences of all phases of the labor movement; the results of labor tactics studied in relation to the social and economic environment; and the necessary "practical" subjects to make use of this information in writing, speaking, organizing.

What distinguishes it from other workers' schools?

It is the only residential school in America with a frank Marxian approach to social and economic question. It is entirely divorced from inter-class liberalism, free from flirtations with fossilized union structures, free from leisure delusions as to the surce of profits and the workings of the capitalistic system.

At the same time it is a school, realizing fully the difference between education and propaganda. It is not impartial in the class struggle, but recognizes the need for dealing with facts objectively that we may have a factual knowledge of the system and circumstances under which we fight. It makes full use of the great advantages of residential tuition to co-ordinate its various studies to yield a well-rounded working class view of life.

What does this school offer you?

No mater what your object in life may be, you need to understand this world. It is the purpose of the school to equip you for efficiency in the most important thing in life —the class struggle; but the increased ability to think clearly and to express yourself fully is an asset everywhere in life.

Work Peoples College offers you knowledge of the things that matter. It offers you facts upon which to build your vision of the world that you are fighting to create. It offers you competent instruction on the tactics of the class struggle. It gives you training on such subjects of practical application as mathematics, grammar, journalism, public speaking, typing and bookkeeping.

The methods of instruction used provide opportunities for general self-development. Its facilities enable you to take up special research work under competent guidance on any phase of the social sciences in which you may have special interest.

All this is yours in an environment that offers the goodfellowship that should exist between rebels battling in the same cause, the material surroundings appropriate to such study, and the sports facilities required to balance intensive study.

What are the requirements of the school?

The school is open to all workers who will use its facilities for the purpose stated. There is no requirement as to previous education. Classes are so arranged that workers who long since left some early grade of the public schools and graduate students alike can study effectively. Instruction is very directed to meet personal needs.

For further information address Work Peoples College, Box 39, Morgan Park Station, Duluth, Minn.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 11, 1932)

Transcribed for by Juan Conatz


Industrial Worker (December 27, 1932)

Articles from the December 27, 1932 (Vol. 14, No. 102, Whole No. 835) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-Communist heckling threatens to become free speech menace

-Gulf ports marine transport workers feel need of union

-Industrial Worker bazaar in Chicago was colorful affair

-I.W.W. group recieves six month sentences in Sioux lookout

-Tear gas puts an end to strike in Maryland penitentiary

-Underground victim at Boulder Dam is old time hard rock miner

-Editorial: Activity means life

-The "One Big Family" plan is proved a poor substitute for union

-Political action does not help German slaves; wages are cut to bone

-Lenin was wrong by Covington Hall

-Work Peoples College starts on its twenty-sixth successful year

-Review of class war developments in Spain, syndicalists active

-The need for a labor press

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Industrial Worker (January 3, 1933)

Articles from the January 3, 1933 (Vol. 14, No. 103, Whole No. 836) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-Paupers of Boulder Dam learning hatred born of desperation

-Marine Transport Workers of New Orleans urge seamen to organize

-IWW's get six months sentence. No defense witnesses or attorney

-Open shoppers fear "Baby Hoboes" may be contaminated by IWW

-Editorial: The I.W.W. and the four hour-day

-Present order is doomed by modern machinery says Scott

-"The Kangaroo Court" to be presented by I.W.W. in Seattle Hall

-Tom Mooney makes appeal to labor from his prison cell

-Minneapolis slaves are asked to picket politicians, not boss

-Politicians put skids under strike of Berlin transport workers

-Women are forced to work longer hours and for smaller pay

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Industrial Worker (January 10, 1933)

Articles from the January 10, 1933 (Vol. 14, No. 104, Whole No. 837) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-I.W.W. coal miners in Colorado win demand for checkweighman elected by loaders on the job

-Gen. Def. Committee thanked for efforts to raise Xmas relief

-Boulder Dam slaves put 'on the spot' by 6 co's carelessness

-Garrison Mills is next rebel miner to go to trial in Harlan; another bluegrass jury chosen

-Sioux lookout I.W.W.'s held incommunicado by Canadian jailors

-Financial bloodsuckers grow fat on misery of working class

-Editorial: Technocracy and the I.W.W.

-Jobless buying power by T-Bone Slim

-Canadian road camp slaves are strongly urged to join I.W.W.

-Exploiters in Australia seek to put iron heel on I.W.W.

-Seismograph: the weekly record of cracks in the system by Work Peoples College

-Another zigzag: Communist "tactics" in the International of Seamen and Harbor Workers

-Scientist predicts end of capitalism within three years

-Work Peoples College developing fine crop of youthful rebels

-Angelo Rossi dead

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Industrial Worker (January 17, 1933)

Articles from the January 17, 1933 (Vol. 14, No. 105, Whole No. 838) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-Canadian "justice": Sioux lookout cases are rank frame-up

-Industrial Workers' unemployed union conference in Chicago

-Forced labor program urged on unemployed 'for God and country'

-A.L. Benson tried and convicted by blue grass jury

-Western coal miners face poverty thru lack of union

-Police refuse permit, I.W.W. seamen hold meeting without it

-Edward Quigly, well-known agitator dies of T.B. in California

-Editorials: The proof of robbery; Also the machine process; Has technocracy a plan?

-Lines of least resistance by T-Bone Slim

-Boulder Dam slaves riled at sky-pilots' efforts to whitewash

-"A man to man talk": about the marine transportation industry and its workers

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Industrial Worker (January 31, 1933)

Articles from the January 31, 1933, Vol. 14, No. 107, Whole No. 840 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-I.W.W. coal miners win full demands for honest weight

-Auto workers win decisive victory big concessions

-Class war prisoners angered at attitude of International Labor Defense

-Coal miners giving IWW warm support in Colorado fields

-Wobbly reports on Ramie, Wonder plant of tehcnocracy

-German unemployed to get union pay and 40-hour week

-Editorial: That technocratic "dictatorship"; Industrial vs political objective; The right men for the right job

-Politics at Boulder Dam is tangle of cheap intrigue

-European syndicalism and the I.W.W.

-Political actionist's red tape obstructs instead of helping

-Seismograph: the weekly record of cracks in the system prepared by Work Peoples College

-I.W.W. coal miners in Colorado building strong organization

-Technocracy and political humbug by Jack Kenney

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European syndicalism and the IWW

A 1933 reply by Ralph Chaplin to, seemingly, Spanish anarchist Maximiliano Olay, about the differences between the CNT and the IWW.

The editor of the Industrial Worker was recently taken to task for stating the I.W.W. position in regard to European anarcho-syndicalism. The critic, objecting to two or three paragraphs in an editorial (now included in the new I.W.W. pamphlet, the 'General Strike') proceeds to point out that "the editor is not up to date on the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Europe, and especially in Spain," and that, "he fails to specify clearly where they (the I.W.W. and anarcho-syndicalist movements) differ, being satisfied with general statements which reveal a lack of knowledge of the development of anarcho-syndicalism."

The editor of the Industrial Worker is willing to concede, for the sake of this discussion, that Olay knows more about the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Europe and Spain than he does. Olay, being a Spaniard, Spanish speaking, and familiar with the literature of the labor movement in his own country, has a decided advantage in this respect.

Even at that, the facts seem to be against Olay. According to an International Working-Men's Association's publication, (1933) the Spanish syndicalists have only within the last few months changed fom the trade to the industrial form of organisation.

All the Conventions of the International insist upon the necessity of reorganizing the revolutionary labor movement on (the industrial) basis. One of the countries that had remained outside this scheme, and which had stuck to the "trade" union principle, was Spain. Yet, even there, at the Extraordinary Congress of the National Confederation of Labor, held in Madrid in June 1931, i.e. barely two months after the overthrow of the Monarchy, the reorganization of the revolutionary unions of Spain on the principle of Industrial Federations was carried by an overwhelming majority of the 600,000 workers represented at that Convention.

It is significant to note that, even now the Spanish syndicalists are not organized into One Big Union like the I.W.W. They are merely united nominally on the basis of "federation" similar to the A.F. of L.

This, however, is not the important point in dispute. The critic is incensed at a couple of paragraphs, only one of which he takes the trouble to quote, and that merely in part. The full text follows:

...the European anarcho-syndicalist movement and the I.W.W. differ considerably by reason of the fact that the I.W.W. is the result of a later and mature period of industrial development.

It is not so much a question of how the Spanish unions are organized as it is WHY they are organized that way.

If one will read the statement carefully and not with impetuous haste, as Olay seems to have done, it will immediately be seen that what the writer had in mind is not [WORD UNCLEAR][WORD UNCLEAR], or any other kind of comparison between the merits of the I.W.W. and the anarcho-syndicalists as organizations, BUT A COMPARISON OF THE ECONOMIC CONDITIONS WHICH BROUGHT THEM INTO BEING. As to what the editorial "implies" or how Olay "understands" it, that is quite another matter, and one for which the editor can hardly be blamed. After all, Olay is not a member of the working class and it is only natural that as non proletarian theoretician he is perhaps too prone to confuse matters of theory with matters of fact. His impatience to have the anarcho-syndicalist position explained in detail is understandable also. But this, in the small confines of a 48 page pamphlet covering such a multitude of material was obviously impossible. It took Olay two full columns to reply to a couple of carelessly quoted paragraphs, and in spite of that, his precise meaning is still lost in haze!

Needles to say the editor of the Industrial Worker has considerable admiration for the accomplishments and courage of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists. Neither their theories nor their actions need defense as far as either the I.W.W. or the editor of the Industrial Worker are concerned. If the membership of the I. W. W. were to be transplanted, to Spain it is possible that many of them would line up solidly with the anarcho-syndicalists as the only Spanish organization resembling to any extent their own. But the fact remains that we of the I.W.W. are not in Spain, confronted with the problems of organizing Spanish industry. We are here in the United States of North America; confronted with industrial problems which belong distinctly and exclusively to this part of the earth's surface.

And it is these distinct and unique differences of local and industrial development which have, and must of necessity, made the American I.W.W.'s concept of organization structure and tactics for a proposed General Strike dissimilar in scope and detail from those of any other country. There is no criticism from the I.W.W. as to the theoretical structure of the anarcho-syndicalist unions either for the present day struggle or for the administration of industry. These things may, and perhaps do, fit Spanish conditions to a 'T'. The point is that they would NOT be entirely suitable for a country as highly industrialized as the U.S.A. which not only make possible but require the use of both a different organization structure and different tactics particularly in such a major industrial offensive against the capitalist system as the General Strike. Anyone who can understand industry at all can understand exactly what is meant. The mere theorist will still be in as much of a haze as ever.

A brief glance at few comparative figures as to the relative industrial development and technological importance of the two countries may possibly help to make this point clear. And please keep in mind that this comparison is intended for no other purpose than to show the set-up with which Spanish and Yankee workers respectively are confronted. This is the actual evolutionary material out of which the two movements grew and to which they must of necessity conform both in theory and practice.

Spain has a population of roughly 22 millions, 45 per cent of which is said to be illiterate. The area is about 197,000 square miles, 90.04 percent of which is used for agricultural purposes. This, on the face, of it would indicate that Spain, in the modern sense, can hardly be classed as an industrialized country. The entire mining industry employs less than 175,000 in prosperous times, working with comparatively antiquated equipment. Fisheries, employ about 25,000 workers and the manufacturing industry absorbs in 'normal' times less than 200,000 actual workers. To compare the transport of Spain of that of the U.S.A. would be like comparing a toy train to a modern super power steam freight carrier. Spanish import and export business for the prosperous year, 1928, amounted to only $775,000,000 and the available water power represents 6,000,000 K.W. of which 1,261,000 is developed.

As to the U.S.A. available water power is 26,000,000 K.W. with about 7,000,000 developed. Spain produces about 6,000,000 tons of coal against 545,000,000 in the U.S.A. The import and export of the U.S.A. amounted to about $10,000,000,000 in 1928. Agricultural activities in the U.S.A. cover a total of 505,000,000 acres with a population of 27,000,000, which although it is only slightly greater than Spain is still less than 22 percent of the American total. In manufacturing, the U.S.A. employs (or did employ) 9,000,000 wage earners working in 187,000 establishments with a primary installed horsepower of about 40 million and valued at 65 billion dollars.

The above rather sketchy contrast will reveal the real difference between the problems of the I.W.W. and that of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist movement clearer than any amount of purely theoretical discussion. The figures are as accurate as any available to the editor of the Industrial Worker at the present moment. The matter of financial control would throw a great deal of additional light on the matter of the I.W.W.'s centralized rather than federated industrial union organizational policy. But space does not permit us to go into it here.

The I.W.W. position is, and always has been, that syndicalist unions in other countries, when confronted with a similarly ripe industrial and technological development, be forced to these conditions in theory and practice just as the I.W.W. has been forced to conform in the U.S.A. To expect us to adopt or agree with, for use in our immediate or ultimate struggle, the policies of the Spanish syndicalists is almost as foolish as to ask us to adopt the policies and tactics which brought Communist capitalism in Russia. Similarly a General Strike, as I clearly proved in the new I.W.W. pamphlet, would require different tactics and organizational support and coordinated effort than in any Continental or South American country.

The I.W.W. stands unqualifiedly for the abolition of the wage system and the inauguration for a new social order based on the principle of industrial freedom. It believes that the impending crisis can be handled adequately only by the working productive and technological managerial army of production - in other words by the working class, and without the services of politicians, or outside meddlers. It is in the field to day, as it always has been, not only to create a unified, fighting industrial organization for the purpose pf helping to abolish the present rotten system, but also to build up a clear-thinking, willing and disciplined force capable of helping to keep the wheels of production in operation when capitalism shall have been overthrown.

-Editor, The Industrial Worker

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker January 31, 1933, Vol. 14, No. 107, Whole No. 840
Transcribed for by Juan Conatz


Industrial Worker (February 7, 1933)

Articles from the February 7, 1933 (Vol. 14, No. 108, Whole No. 841) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-6,000 auto workers strike in Detroit

-Workers at Boulder Dam 'gyped' again by wage-cut experts

-Ben Fletcher ill

-Editorial: Machinery vs men

-New I.W.W. pamphlet the "General Strike" discovered by press

-Robot typewriter ready to displace myraids of stenos

-The General Strike: a review and a critisism by Covami (a.k.a. Covington Hall)

-An appeal to marine workers by D.N.

-Unorganized miners helpless to combat hunger and poverty

-Seismograph: the weekly record of cracks in the system prepared by Work Peoples College

-Comrat Sam slays technocracy

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Industrial Worker (February 14, 1933)

The February 14, 1933 (Vol. 14, No. 109, Whole No. 842) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-Strikers close down Hudson Body plant

-Too many "isms" and not enough action in worker's trouble

-Unorganized slaves in Washington are beginning to think

-Utah miners paying dreadful price for lack of strong union

-Revolt in breadline brings improvement

-Direct action by farmers defeating mortgage sharks

-Editorial: So you're out of a job!; Up against the real thing; Don't you think it's time?

-Turning the cat loose? by T-Bone Slim

-Jobless on increase under Mussoloni's anti-labor fascism

-Technocracy group fired from Columbia for urging 4-hour day

-"Back to the land" or forward to freedom: which?

-Revolutionary Spain: unionists vs politicians

-Work Peoples College youngsters study and frolic

-Seismograph: the weekly record of cracks in the system prepared by Work Peoples College

-Non political industrialism: a bitter pill for theorists

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Strikers close down Hudson body plant

An article by L.B. about the strike at auto-parts manufacturer, Briggs, in Detroit. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker February 14, 1933 (Vol. 14, No. 109, Whole No. 842)

Strikers close down Hudson body plant

Three thousand more join strike, strong picket lines organized, demand pay raise and overtime

Picket lines undaunted by snow and bitter cold. Auto kings firm but strikers more determined than ever. Scabs have hard time.

DETROIT, Mich., Feb. 7.—Strikers from Briggs Plant Oust Communists in meeting today. Three thousand Hudson Bay workers walk out. Hudson main plaint shut down. Strikers demand twenty per cent wage increase and time and a half for overtime.—LOUIS GRACY, JOHN TARAZUE, JACK KENNY

Detroit, Mich., Feb. 6.—The strike of auto workers at Briggs body plants has passed into its third week with strikers still holding out. The entire strikebreaking machinery of Detroit and the State of Michigan—press, police and employer's associations—has been brought into play against those unorganized but determined strikers. The majority of the 6,000 men and women, however, who walked out of the four Briggs slave-houses here, Jan. 23, refused to return to work.

Police Guard Scabs

The company-set deadline for striking employees to return to their jobs with guaranteed base rates much lower than the strikers demanded was passed Monday, Jan. 30—picket lines still intact at all plants and would-be scabs excluded. Since then ruthless strike-breaking tactics have been employed to disrupt the picket lines and demoralize the ranks of the strikers. This offensive of the Briggs bosses was directed especially at the Highland Park Plant. Here most of the Ford bodies are manufactured and Briggs officials, spurred on by Ford Motor Company's threat to start producing their own bodies, were desperate in their attempts to establish a flow of the much-needed bodies to River Rouge assembly lines.

Highland Park police, state police, and fire department hose brigades were concentrated at Highland Park Plant's main gate. Stragglers from the ranks of the unemployed, degenerate from long unemployment, were encouraged to take advantage of Briggs wide-open employment office by this imposing array of "law and order" forces. Under escort of heavy police guard, they were ushered through the dwindling line of Highland Park Plant pickets and hired in as workers in almost every department of the factory. These scabs were booed by pickets and sympathizers who thronged Manchester Avenues but no direct action was taken to prevent scabs from entering the plant all during the day. Scabs who left the plant at the end of the shift, however, were set upon by groups of strikers as they attempted to board streetcars. During the next couple of days several scabs were severely beaten by infuriated men on strike and several arrests were made. Briggs management protected these scabbing slaves by billeting 900 of them right in the plant.

Finally the picket line at Highland Park, which at the beginning of the strike numbered 2,000, was entirely disbanded. Company officials claim that the plant is completely manned, that many of the strikers have returned to their old jobs and that loads of Ford bodies will soon be escorted by squadrons of motorcycle cops to Ford River Rouge Plants daily.

So far, practically none of the 40,000 men laid off by Ford Motor Car Company because of the strike at the Briggs plant have been called back to work. Members of the Strike Committee, moreover, maintain that most of the metal-finishers, the division of body builders who started the walk-out, have refused to scab. Metal-finishers are about the most highly skilled workers in the whole body-building process. Without an adequate department of these workers at the Highland Plant, no bodies can be completed—even for Ford.

The strike at the Highland Park Plant cannot be considered a dead issue by any means. Encouraging rumors are filtering through the ranks of the Briggs workers still picketing at the other three plants, that attempts to organize and strike on the job are being made in departments of the Highland Park Plant. Organized, these men may soon join their fellow workers in a final effort to win the original strike demands for all concerned.

The strike at Murray Body Plant failed to make headway. Most of the 4,000 men who went on strike last week have gone back on the job. Leaders of this abortive strike are making every effort to organize Murray Body men for a real strike in the near future.

Picket Line Intact

Strikers at Mack Plant, whose ranks numbers four thousand, still maintain their orderly picket line day and night. Toward the end of last week, scabs hired in at the Highland Park Plant were rushed through the Mack Plant gates in buses under police escort. Strike-breaking tactics of the auto bosses have called forth reprieves from strikers and sympathetic unemployed of the East-end community in the form of minor acts of violence. About 300 men charged a truck load of panels as it left the plant Wednesday. The driver was pulled from his seat and the panels scattered over the street. Saturday noon three streetcars which had been filled with scabs at the factory gates were stoned by a crowd of angry people a few blocks from the plant. All the windows of the car were broken and several scabs were injured. Mounted police charged down the sidewalk and dispersed the mob. Now a strike zone has been marked off both sides of the plant and the police line has been increased. Men wearing Briggs badges are allowed through to take their place on the picket line, which is still functioning 2,000 strong despite the zero weather. Officials at the Mack Plant have dipped into the slush fund maintained by the employers' associations of Detroit auto bosses for strike-breaking purposes. They have equipped an unoccupied wing of the plant with double-deck cots and a full-fledged cafeteria. 1,300 strike-breakers are now being accommodated by this set-up and so are saving their hides. Residents of the community remain friendly to the strikers and their cause.

Bosses Refuse Hearing

The Briggs officials still refuse to arbitrate with the strikers as a group. They even snub the overtures of the mayor's sky-piloted "Fact-Finding Commission" whose preachers have offered to act as mediators. Repeated attempts of the Negotiations Committee to gain a hearing have been met by deaf ears on the part of the Briggs brothers.

W.O. Briggs, president and big-muscle man of the Company, is busy issuing high-handed manifestos to the local papers:

...I repeat, this strike can end in only one way, so far as I am concerned—upon the basis of the traditional American policy of free contract between employer and employee. This cause we will maintain in defense of every other American industry as well as our own.

At a conference with R.M. Pilkington, Commissioner of Conciliation of the U.S. Department of Labor, Wednesday, Judge W.F. Connoly, Briggs big-shot coupon-clipper, said it was "a long standing policy of the Briggs company not to recognize any labor unions."

Politicians Squabble

These comic chimpanzees are staging a regular circus for those in the ring-side seats.

Edward J. Murphy, Judge of Recorders Court, scored Mayor Frank Murphy for "permitting police to lock up strikers." Murphy claims the city is following a "hands off" policy.

"The strikers don't like them," naively complains Rev. Ralph Higgins, chief "fact-finder" of the Mayor's Commission, to Chief Dan Patch of Highland Park, regarding State Police.

Norman Thomas in a lecture here intimated that the powerful position of Judge Connoly, Briggs Treasurer, in the Democratic Party of Michigan, may have considerable to do with Democratic Governor Comstock's reply to Chief Patch: "State Police will remain as long as you need them."

Politicians from the Communist Party are playing a strong hand for the favor of the Briggs strikers and the Detroit proletariat in general but are queering themselves with the rank and file as well as most of the outstanding men among the strikers by too much ballyhoo.

Rank and File Carries On

The majority of the 6,000 men and women who went out on strike are far from feeling that their struggle against starvation wages and Briggs brand of industrial tyranny will end in defeat. The dogged determination with which the Mack Plant, from which 4,000 of the strikers come, is evidence that the rank and file have plenty of fight left for carrying on the battle. The weather is freezing cold and it snows, but these courageous men and women take their turn at marching in the picket line. This Mack Plant line, which during the day reaches a strength of 2,000, is an inspiration to the strikers—to all Detroit workers who have seen it in action. Great credit must be given to Robert (Slim) Darrow, who came from the ranks of the strikers at Mack Plant as captain of the picket line, organized this fine picket line and has been its leading spirit since the strike began. Cornell, Mush and Johnson have also been doing excellent work, according to opinion current among picketers, as rank and file leaders of the Strike Committee.

Families of the Briggs strikers are holding out with aid of relief administered by their strikers own relief organization. At present they are also being aided by donations of food and clothing collected by members of the Detroit Council of Labor Youth Groups. The Council has plans under way for other relief activities.

The rank and file carries on. The metal-finishers, key men among the body-builders, are still out solid. Public sympathy remains with the strikers. Relief is reaching the strikers' families. The main picket line is still intact. The Briggs auto workers-strike determined to go back on the job with demands won, ranks organized.


Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker February 14, 1933 (Vol. 14, No. 109, Whole No. 842)

Transcribed for by Juan Conatz

Revolutionary Spain: unionists vs politicians

An article by 'Vizzittelly' on the situation for revolutionary syndicalism in Spain. Originally appeared in the [i]Industrial Worker[/i,] February 14, 1933 (Vol. 14, No. 109, Whole No. 842).

Occasionally the old Madrid Socialists put their senile heads together to devise new laws and devise more intrigue and intimidation through which they hope to suppress the revolutionary unions of Spain. But invariably these clandestine efforts against the working class are quickly shattered by the united action of the syndicates, whose splendid fighting qualities has aroused the admiration of all the militant workers.

Before the fascist De Rivera became dictator of Spain, the number of the revolutionary syndicalists there was put up to a million. De Rivera rode into power en he arms of the blackest reaction of Europe; the Spanish Catholic Church, the "very poor but very haughty" nobility and the degenerated members of the royal house. The Dictatorship was necessary. The "scum" was to be suppressed by all costs and De Rivera was the man. During the comparatively long period of the dicatorship the syndicalist element seemed to have been stamped out, but in reality it was only the revolutionary cry that was muffled, for with the passing of the dictatorship, in a very short time, the syndicalist unions numbered again to hundreds of thousands of members. This proved again the contention that the C.N.T. (the National Confederation of Labor) is too deeply rooted in the soil of Spain and in the hearts of its proletariat, and it will triumph.

The membership of the National Confederation of Labor—which embraces all revolutionary syndicalists—is put up to one million and three hundred thousands. It publishes many regional weekly and bi-weekly papers, also two daily papers of large circulation - The Solidaridad Obrera and the C. N. T., which is the official paper of the Confederation.

Syndicalism, as it is exemplified today by the C. N. T., differs in many respects from the pre-war syndicalism and the classic French type of it. One of these differences, and which will ultimately effect the whole structure of the C. N. T.—is that he syndicates must not be abolished, as was their prewar position, but they must retained and strengthened and be the units of production and distribution and the deciding factors of all social questions. Naturally, once upon such theoretical grounds the C. N. T. will more and more orientate towards more centralization and Industrial Unionism.

Deeply involved in the affairs and workings of the Confederation is the F. A. I. (Iberian Federation of Anarchists). This federation is claimed to have about 800 to 1000 groups, each group averaging six or five members.

According to these Anarchists the relations of their groups towards the syndicates is simply one of guidance and propaganda. That is, to keep the unions from falling into the hands of politicians and keep said unions on the revolutionary line. However, the contacts between the syndicates are more than ideological as it was shown by the expulsion of Pestana, the erstwhile secretary of the C. N. T. The case of Pestana and his group is interesting. Ostensibly his expulsion was occasioned by theoretical errors on the part of Pestana and his group. According to the F. A. I., Pestana flirted with the socialists and had become a conservative. The facts are, however, always Pestana stood against any outside control of the union no matter who they may be. He demanded even from the anarchists to keep their hands off the syndicates and fought against them, sometimes, just as savagely as he fought the communists. For a while the squabble seemed as if it would split the C.N.T. and as yet the matter of the relations of the F. A. I. to the C.N.T. have not been settled. All the editorial boards of the papers are now Anarchists and they also hold the most strategic positions of the unions.

Other organizations in Spain are the U.G.T..—Socialist--and the Communist Trade Union Unity Committee, which was organized for the sole reason of "penetrating" the syndicalist unions..

The socialist U.G.T. at first collected a large membership, but it was quickly discredited to the eyes of the workers for it became apparent that the sole aim of the socialist unions was to scab the syndicalists out of existence. Now the U.G.T. has not more than about 156,000 members.

As to the T.U.U.C. (communist) its membership is put to from 2,000, but the strength of this organization can better be judged, by the total circulation of their papers—the "Frenter Roho", which has a circulation of about 2,000 and the "La Masa" with a circulation of five to six thousand. There is still other group in Spain, the Troskyites.

Small as these groups may be, under the mask of friendship they have caused much harm within the C.N.T., and especially the one controlled by the "official party" which sabotaged all the efforts of the Spanish workers for no other reason than that they were directed by other organization than the communist "leadership".

Presently the eyes of all militant workers, tired of looking at the hopeless sterility of Russia, have sifted towards the other extermity of Europe. A syndicalist revolution in Spain holds possibilities. The reverberations of it may shatter the exclusive and conservative barriers of the English Trade Unions. It may even arouse from its stupor the once very militant French syndicalism. Portugal will surely go with Spain, so will Northern Africa. (The C.N.T. has organizers in those parts). And who knows, syndicalism is not dead in Italy, either.

But on the other hand, will the black crow of Italy shut its bulging eyes at a conflagration in Spain, only a short distance away? During the last riots in Spain, Mussolini said, "I can land 150,000 black shirts in Spain in 24 hourw." Or will the militaristic and reactionary present day Spain abide the company of a red Spain.

But the' revolution in Spain holds probably far greater possibilities than these. The future developments there may swerve the labor movement into a different course. Continuous, abortive efforts or an unsuccesful revolution may be the death-knell of present day syndicalism.


Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker February 14, 1933 (Vol. 14, No. 109, Whole No. 842)
Typed up by Juan Conatz for

Work Peoples College youngsters study and frolic

A short article about the activities of Work Peoples College, an IWW run school in Duluth, Minnesota. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (February 14, 1933, Vol. 14, No. 109, Whole No. 842).

DULUTH, Minn - Does the studious atmosphere at Work Peoples College give the students headaches? We'll say not. The class in labor drama takes the sad story of Mr. Peel in the famous 33rd chapter of Capital Volume I and dramatizes it. You know the story:

Capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons, established by the instrumentality of things. Mr. Peel took with him from England to Swan River, West Australia, means of subsistence and of production to the amount of 50,000 punds sterling. Mr. Peel had the foresight to bring with him besides, 3,000 persons of the working class, men, women and children. Once arrived at his destination, 'Mr. Peel was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water from the river.' Unhappy Mr. peel who provided for everything except the export of English modes of production to Swan River!

The drama class is also busy with T-Bone Slim's new masterpiece, "The Uplifters", a comedy on the charity racket. They are putting their heads together to scheme apropriate action for the lines that portray the T-Bone-Marxian analysis of capitalism.

Another student persists in trying to sing the opening lines of the 32nd chapter about the historicaly tendency of accumulation to the tune of the Irish Washerwoman; another tries to reduce it all to rhyme as well as reason - but the less said about these aspects of the case, the better. Anyway we actually do study, even though at times we do find outlets for extra energy. Should we let enthusiasm drag, all we need do is look out the window at the empty silent steel mill to start us anew. - O.K.L.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker February 14, 1933 (Vol. 14, No. 109, Whole No. 842)

Transcribed for by Juan Conatz

Industrial Worker (February 21, 1933)

The February 14, 1933 (Vol. 14, No. 110, Whole No. 843) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).


-Detroit strikers rally for victory

-Six gangster crowd gives 'buy American' plan full support

-Canadian courts do the expected thing; conviction upheld

-Editorial: Why jobs are scarce; Dividends vs wages; Machinery: friend or foe of man?

-Politicians line up solid against industrial ideas

-Wobblies were sent to U.S. penitentiary for predicting this

-Some famous radicals of history

-If you want it, fight for it!

-Seismograph: the weekly record of cracks in the system prepared by Work Peoples College

-While workers starve, the parasite class is "sitting pretty"

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Industrial Worker (March 21, 1933)

Articles from the March 21, 1933, Vol. 14, No. 114, Whole No. 847 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Content includes:

-Big IWW drive is on in Detroit

-Coal barons start drive to railroad striking miners

-War-mongers attempt to to militarize bands of unemployed youths

-Miner's wife praises G.D.C.

-Important defense meeting for Chicago

-C.P.R. slashing pay of Canadian rails

-Irish railway strike is still unbroken; tactics become rough

-Editorials: Machinery, past, present, future; Science, court of last appeal; The bread and butter problem solved

-Capitalism finished by Covington Hall

-Miners in Illinois are losing patience with gun-thug rule

-Stirring mass meeting held in Oakland, California

-Solidarity at Swastika mine

-No jobless relief; Chilean slaves sent to hills for "gold"

-Big bankers get cash as banks go crash

-To the miners of Kentucky

-Youth of America driven into crime by curse of poverty

-Capitalism starves able-bodied workers but rewards idiots

-Can technocrats survive attacks of capitalism

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Big IWW drive is on in Detroit

An account of the Briggs strike in Detroit by L.B. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker March 21, 1933, Vol. 14, No. 114, Whole No. 847.

DETROIT, Mich., March 14. — The vanguard of the rank and file of the Briggs strikers are lining up in the Metal and Machinery Workers Industrial Union of the I.W.W. The I.W.W. came into the field at the end of last week in response to a call for a bona fide industrial union from these leading spirits among the rank and file. A strike headquarters for the Metal and Machinery Workers Industrial Union 440 has been opened up at 121 Victor in the strike zone just a block from the main gates of the H.P. Plant. Here men and women who are active in the strike are coming every day and signing up for red cards.

Several mass meetings were held last week at the Woodmen of the World's Hall near the strike headquarters. Speakers from among the strikers are being developed at these rallies. F.R. Cedervall, I.W.W. organizer who has addressed many meetings throughout the City of Detroit in behalf of the strikers, is a regular-speaker at these mass meetings. His remarks from the platform are very well received by the strikers. The mass meetings have been well attended and the new members are catching on to Wobbly songs very quickly.

The Highland Park Plant was shut down Monday, March 13. Strikers are making visits to the home of these ignorant workers who are now laid off with the purpose of teaching them the lesson of labor solidarity so that they will join in with their fellow workers in the I.W.W. instead of returning to the H.P. slave house should Briggs call them back to work.

Several educational meetings have been held by the new members. Members of the I.W.W., schooled in the principles of industrial unionism, are carrying on a vigorous man-to-man educational campaign among the ranks of the strikers. New members are eagerly reading the new I.W.W. pamphlets, "One Big Union" and "The General Strike" and selling them to their fellow strikers.

Metal Finisher Recovers

Bert Blancett, the metal finisher from Mack who was kicked in the groin so badly by H.P. Cop No. 7 in the fracas at the North End plant February 28 that rupture of the bladder was feared, has been discharged from the Receiving Hospital.

"I'm on my feet now," says Fellow Worker Blancett, "though I feel weak, I'm more determined than ever to carry on my part in the strike."

Since Blancett is no longer able to march on the picket line dike to his injury, he is working on legal defense with Paul Gonzer and Ben Linsky of the General Defense Committee, to see that no strikers are rushed through on framed-up charges.

A striker found a rusty gun in his cellar two weeks ago. Being broke, he took it down to a pawn shop to see if he could borrow a dollar on it. The pawn broker took one look at it and told him it wasn't worth a cent. Five minutes later, as the striker was walking down the street he was picked up by a police cruiser. After being held incommunicado for nine days, he was released with a warrant to appear in court March 15 on a concealed weapon charge.

Darrow Resigns

Robert (Slim) Darrow, whose excellent work as organizer and general captain of the picket line has gained so much approval for the Briggs strikers from the citizens of Detroit, resigned from the job of General Picket Captain. In his letter of resignation Darrow accounts for his action as follows:

"After considering things carefully for the past five days and with full knowledge of what I am doing, I hereby consider that the only way to keep unity and solidarity in the rank and file is to tender my resignation.

This act on my part is for the good of the strike, as I feel that I am not needed on the picket lines any more."

With compliments to the Strike Committee for their efforts in trying to bring the strike to a speedy close and to the men who worked with him on the picket line, Darrow tendered his resignation as General Picket Captain "with deepest regrets". Darrow is still serving on the Strike Committee and is now devoting most of his energies to relief work.

Briggs is gradually laying off men at Mack Plant. Employees who are being let out find notices in their final pay envelopes signed by Henry Hund, General Manager, which explain that Briggs cannot continue to manufacture bodies when nobody is buying cars. General Manager Hund thanks his scabs for their cooperation. Strike-breakers cannot produce bodies for Ford and Chrysler, it seems.

Ford's giant plant at River Rouge shut down tight as a lid Friday, March 19. Henry Ford, as Briggs' chief customer is able dictate low contract terms for bodies. He is in this way indirectly responsible for starvation wages Briggs employers recieve. Henry Ford is getting the boomerang now.

The men and women still out on strike at Mack Plant are carrying on as usual with determination. Since Mayor Murphy decreed picketing legal, picket lines are marching at both gates. A new and spacious hall a few blocks from the plant has been secured for office headquarters and regular mass meeting place. "R-r-revolutionary" politicians from the Proletarian Party are delivering pep talks this week to 4,000 fighting men and women who are carrying on the strike.

Attorneys affiliated with the Socialist Party in Detroit have drawn up plans for an "independent industrial union"/ According to these plans, a president and ten vice-presidents along with a board of control will lead the Briggs strikers and workers of the auto industry to salvation.

Personnel Men Get Busy

The Personnel Department of Briggs Mfg. Co. is being revised, according to reports originating from executives at the Mack Plant. Two experts from New York are replacing the present Personnel Director and Employment Manager for reorganization purposes.

According to the text-book definition, personnel administration "plans, coordinates, and directs all human relations within a plant to the end that production may go on at a minimum of friction and with due regard for the genuine well-being of all members of the organization".

Apparently members of this new personnel department all wear blue uniforms and nickel-plated shields. Through the windows of the Employment Building at the Mack gate where the Personnel Department is housed, they can be seen toying with their scientific instruments (black-jacks and revolvers) for "directing human relations". Ex-Judge Connoly, Briggs Treasurer, seems to be filling the rule of Personnel Director—laying plans for more efficient hiring and placing of scabs and more arrests and convictions of strikers "coordinating" the McClellan precinct police force with the Briggs employment office "to the end that production may go on with a minimum of friction". Connoly is shaking up Murphy's cops—"with due regard to the genuine well being"—of the Briggs organization. To date Director Connoly has succeeded in getting precinct officers who were slow at fixing charges on strikers replaced by uniformed yes-men who are imbued with "the spirit of co-operation."

Wobbly Programs for Strikers

A benefit dance for the Highland Park strikers will be held at the I.W.W. Union Hall, 3747 Woodward Ave. Saturday evening, March 13.

Jacob Margolis, brilliant orator and authority on the labor movement, is coming from Pittsburgh to deliver an address at the I.W.W. Union Hall, Thursday evening, March 16. His subject will be of a general nature—"Must we Wait and Starve?"

Ralph Chaplin and F.R. Cedervall will explain the "I.W.W. Way Out" to strikers and other workers at Northern High Auditorium, Sunday evening, March 19.


Originally appeared in Industrial Worker, March 21, 1933, Vol. 14, No. 114, Whole No. 847
Scanned and OCRed by Juan Conatz for



Industrial Worker (July 17, 1934)

Articles from the July 17, 1934 (Vol. 17, No. 24, Whole No. 916) issue of the Industrial Worker.

Editorial: "In defense of the state"

An anti-state editorial, probably written by Ralph Chaplin. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (July 17, 1934)

Murder, violence, treachery and deceit have written the history of the State with letters of blood across the ages. "Give your taxes to the State, your loyalty to the State, your life to the State." These have been and are the slogans hammered into the dull brains of the unthinking multitudes since man first learned to degrade and exploit his fellow man. "The people must be governed at all costs and under all circumstances", was the claim. And so, from the days of Caesar to the days of Stalin, the workers have been gouged, butchered, betrayed and left helpless in the face of their enemies. And the end is not yet. The I.W.W. takes the position that the State is as useless and out of place in the modern world as would be the stone axe of the paleolithic cave man. And this includes not only the State dominated by kings, nobles and aristocrats and the State ruled by politicians, lawyers and businessmen: it includes also the State dominated by commissars or dictators.

What is needed at the present time is the administration of things rather than the government of people. The scientific administration and control of industry by the functionally competent elements of the working class would not rest upon a base of clams authority and class robbery. It would not call for bloodshed, violence and duplicity to keep it going. Workers have proved that they are capable of running railroads, mines and factories without slit each others throats. But with diplomats, statesmen and politicians it is different! That is one reason why diplomats, statesmen and politicians are becoming increasingly unpopular throughout the world.

The free and classless society of the future—the Industrial Commonwealth—will simply be the intelligent administration of the machinery and resources necessary to sustain human life or a given Continental area. For the first time in history it will give the people of the earth a chance to live, grow and develop to full stature under conditions which favor abundance, rather than scarcity, tolerance, rather than hatred, and growth, rather than destruction.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker July 17, 1934 (Vol. 17, No. 24, Whole No. 916)
Transcribed for by Juan Conatz



Industrial Worker (September 11, 1937)

The September 11, 1937 (Vol. 19, No. 30, Whole No. 81) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

CONTENTS include

-Railroad track men go on strike

-Quebec textile workers win in historic strike

-Southern textile magnates use violence and fear as means to control workers

I.W.W. college announces winter session courses

-Lewisism ties hands of Iron Range miners

-The C.I.O. bubble will burst when the workers learn what has been dished up for them

-Union official brutally beaten by police

-Editorials: Don't forget the class struggle; The great deception; A smoke screen

-Popeye is a scab, boycotted by many

-440 Notes Cleveland

-Nazi propagandist boasts of brutal attack on woman

-Liberals join in fight to defend civil liberties

Industrial Worker (September 11, 1937).pdf2.46 MB

Industrial Worker (September 18, 1937)

The September 18, 1937 (Vol. 19, No. 31, Whole No. 82) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Picket lines going strong in strike of I.W.W. extra gang men against wage cut

-Cleveland IWW to show Spanish Civil War film

-French workers are godparents to Spanish kids

-Fake union gives up past gain for phony contracts

-Exradicals rediscover rank and file as mud-slinging in CIO-AFL rivalry grows worse

-General Electric stooges organize vigilante legion

-Toledo teachers win job security

-Yucatan indians get plantations

-There's opportunity at Ford's for those who want to build a real workers organization

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Industrial Worker (September 18, 1937).pdf2.48 MB

Industrial Worker (September 25, 1937)

The September 25, 1937 (Vol. 19, No. 33, Whole No. 83) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Lumber barons try to impose company union on loggers to head off real organization

-Capitalists of all countries concur in moves to establish fascism throughout world

-Slow down tactic gets quick raise

-Hollywood sends help for Spain

-The first requirement for a job at Ford's is speed

-Can makers enjoy sit down strike

-Foreign fascism is weak in U.S.

-Cleveland 440 notes

-Cleveland steel strike continues

-Wall Street continues to get rich harvest from war trade in spite of export prohibition

-Politicians bore into N.Y. unions to dig up dirt

-Soap boxers expose Communist Party relief, defense racket

-Negros in prison for self-defense

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Industrial Worker (September 25, 1937).pdf2.46 MB


Industrial Worker (October 2, 1937)

The October 2, 1937 (Vol. 19, No. 33, Whole No. 84) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Drivers picket San Francisco docks, warehouses as leaders in inter-union war spit fire

-Covington Hall to teach at Work People's College

-Effort to steal Ohio foundry from IWW through framed election fails

-New farmer vigilante group is born in Washington fruit belt, IWW plans organization drive

-Painters pledged to fight militia strikebreaking

-Wobbly lumberjacks fight bad conditions in Northern camps

-Strange are the ways of man in a strange world by T-Bone Slim

-The world as it is

-One killed when Mexican workers oppose fascists

-Big C.I.O. Ford organization drive must wait while leaders promote political programs

-Civil liberties union protests southern peonage

-Negros to hold national congress

-We agree: the CIO is neither red or a threat to capitalism

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Industrial Worker (October 2, 1937).pdf5.98 MB

Industrial Worker (October 9, 1937)

The October 2, 1937 (Vol. 19, No. 34, Whole No. 85) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

This issue scanned for as part of an effort which was made possible from funds donated by our users.

Industrial Worker (October 9, 1937).pdf6.14 MB

Industrial Worker (October 16, 1937)

The October 16, 1937 (Vol. 19, No. 35, Whole No. 86) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

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Industrial Worker (October 16, 1937).pdf6.13 MB

Industrial Worker (October 23, 1937)

The October 23, 1937 (Vol. 19, No. 36, Whole No. 87) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

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Industrial Worker (October 23, 1937).pdf5.89 MB



Industrial Worker (January 13, 1940)

The January 13, 1940 (Vol. 21, No. 43, Whole No. 203) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-No compromise on war issue!

-Pipelines carry flow of profit

-Women workers worst exploited, lowest paid

-Socialist city bosses prefer cheap labor

-Frisco waterfront farce shows up phony leaders

-Should share equally in all there is by T-Bone Slim

-Company union independent, court rules

-No truce in class war even when bosses change attitude toward unions

-This is not a war for freedom!

-Union holds one election in 18 years

-Of Men and the World: an open letter to Gurley Flynn

-So-called revolutionary Mexico government helps fix wages at peon level

-British libertarians voice opposition to war talk

-IWW is road to freedom, defense against dictators

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Industrial Worker (January 13, 1940).pdf5.52 MB

Industrial Worker (January 20, 1940)

The January 20, 1940 (Vol. 21, No. 44, Whole No. 204) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Prepare for Lakes IWW drive!

-IWW workers win sixth raise at Cochrane Brass Co. plant in Cleveland

-British cooperatives divided on war issue

-Learn about militancy from women by T-Bone Slim

-Dies seen as potential Hitler

-Rat Hynes testifies

-Labor in belligerent nations

-You can improve your job by taking it easy

-Court rules employer need not sign contract

-College Professors demand junking of Dies Committee

-Chief political watchdog of capitalism speaks up

-Bossetto thanks GDC

-E. Goldman speaks at Winnipeg

-Crucible steel strike action still curbed by CIO union leadership

-Latest NMU agreement is rank open shop sellout

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Industrial Worker (January 20, 1940).pdf5.75 MB


Industrial Worker (February 10, 1940)

The February 10, 1940 (Vol. 21, No. 47, Whole No. 207) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

This issue scanned for as part of an effort which was made possible from funds donated by our users.

Industrial Worker (February 10,1940).pdf5.46 MB

Industrial Worker (February 17, 1940)

The February 17, 1940 (Vol. 21, No. 48, Whole No. 208) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Bringing ore from Chile for mills of Bethlehem is no cinch for seamen

-Duluth youth 26 per cent unemployed

-Cleveland IWW smokes out boss who tries to hide behind AFL

-Communist union seeks to save prestige by claiming to be dual to MTW of IWW

-Reno Hughes, rebel, buried in Baltimore

-War time slavery is a sign of new dark ages

-Negroes got slight break in AFL union

-IWW basketeers headed for 1940 championship

-It's baseball writers who play fast game by T-Bone Slim

-Efforts of AFL fizzle on Minnesota Iron Range

-Canadian war profits soar

-Columbia Records accused of working girls 92 hours

-IWW has real union for seamen

-AFL union fined in trust case

-Am. Stove Wobblies cure foremen of annoying habit

-14 WPA strikers get jail

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Industrial Worker (February 17, 1940).pdf3.89 MB

Industrial Worker (February 24, 1940)

The February 24, 1940 (Vol. 21, No. 49, Whole No. 209) issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Lorain IWW authorize strike

-California's scrambled politics mix groups in mess of confusion

-County to fingerprint employees

-War brews revolt in Australia

-Chicago to give Industrial Worker benefit March 9

-Brass band can't drum up jobs

-13 women in WPA strike freed; one goes to jail

-6 more unionists indicted in anti-trust drive

-Capitalist system is top-heavy by T-Bone Slim

-Many New York cops drop fascist order

-Letters to the Editor: Use war to clean up by J.K.

-Won't know a Communist when they see him

-5,000 take strike vote at Intl. Harvester

-Shopmen try to make craft unions work

-Capitalism and culture by Peter Lane

-Ball players draw $15 jobless benefit

-"Free enterprise" leaves textile workers high and dry in ghost towns

-Mud Mountain conditions call for Wobbly action

-Striking masons win strike at Masonic Temple

-Men now living will see end of old social order by Scott Nearing

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Industrial Worker (February 24, 1940).pdf3.91 MB


Industrial Worker (October 1976)

Articles from the October 1976 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Digging into IWW history: South Africa – John Philips

A brief history of the South African Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) by John Philips. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 1976)

This pioneering article sheds light on the early impact of the IWW in South Africa, and on early black strikes and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU). While not altogether accurate (for example, the ICU claimed to have white members, and David Ivon Jones was not part of 1920s night school where workers wrote “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains, and a world to win !”, and the IWW influence continued well after 1920), it is a commendable account.

“Sifuna Zonke ! they cried. – “We want the works!”. In that society most infamous for its racism and most implacable in its hatred of “reds”, the IWW once tried to organize revolutionary industrial unions of class-conscious workers from every race, tribe; and religion.

South Africa in the early 20th Century was another of those rapidly industrializing nations where the rising alienation and militancy of wage workers gave rise to bitter and bloody class struggle. Given the peculiar structure of South African society and the nature of the introduction of industrialization there, it is perhaps not surprising that most white workers put theirs efforts into craft unionism – and political action which ensure, through “job reservation”, that their black fellow workers, would never compete in skilled trades.

Here was a land so reactionary that the Labour Party demanded “equal pay for equal work”, not daring to question unequal work. Yet by 1911 Fellow Worker Archie Crawford, editor of Johannesburg’s Voice of Labour, toured the United States, speaking under IWW local auspices about (among other topics) “Industrial Development in South Africa”. By the time of the Palmer Raids, his organization was being destroyed by the South African Government.

Inspired by a successful strike of white municipal employees, Johannesburg’s “bucket boys” demanded raises of six pence (some say one shilling). They stopped taking shit until they got what they were after. The Government gave them what for.

“Native police” were used as scabs. When it became apparent that these were only sufficient to keep public facilities open, 152 “night soil workers” were sentenced under the “Masters and Servants Act”. Under the provisions of this act (which is still in force) workers have fewer legal rights than the slaves of many human societies.

All 152 workers were sent back to work under an armed guard of spear-carrying Zulus and gun-toting white bullies. Those who tried to escape were shot down and those who refused to obey orders were lashed until they obeyed.

Meanwhile, African miners went on strike. With no organized union or central committee among the workers, it was a relatively simple affair for the police to isolate the various compounds and inform each group separately that the others were scabbing. It was quite another matter, however, to convince the workers to actually scab, even when white miners were still going to work.

Although the Government refused to make public the methods it finally used to break the strike; it is known that police breaking into the Village Deep Mine Compound murdered eight Africans. Bayonets are alleged to have been the most potent arguments driving Africans back underground.

Who got the blame for all this? You guessed it :the One Big Industrial Union, which was credited with introducing the subversive notion of strikes to a heretofore “contented” African population.

The Government charged five Africans and three Europeans with having fomented the strike. Thanks to the extensive legal knowledge of Fellow Worker SP Bunting the prosecution were soon made to look like fools. The IWWW had not been urging these workers to strike; they had been urging workers NOT to strike until they had a tighter organization and a strike fund that could support them.

Like many expatriate employers, the IWW had failed to understand African society. Many African unions have no membership rolls and few dues-paying members. But if the workers decide to strike, woe to the employer who thinks that the union doesn’t represent his workers, or that lack of a strike fund will drive his slaves back to work! The extended family could help its members stay out on strike indefinitely.

The case became so embarrassing for the Government that the Attorney-General refused to prosecute. Luke Messina, a Government infiltrator, confessed to having signed a false affidavit. Although the case never went before a jury, the financial impact was more than the union could bear, even though it shared costs with the African National Congress (ANC).

David Jones left to start a night school for Africans where they learned to write on their slates: “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains, and a world to win!” But the IWW had died. Africans soon organized a union of their own.

The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union of Africa (ICU) was founded In 1919 by Clemens Kadilie [sic.]. It organized workers of all industries into one big union. Its constitution was based on that of the IWW, but with one important difference: No whites were to be allowed to join!

John Philips, XS30043

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 1976)

Originally posted: September 11, 2012 at South African Anarchist & Syndicalist History Archive

philips-digging-into-iww-history-south-africa-industrial-worker-oct-1976.pdf632.89 KB


Industrial Worker (December 1994)

Articles from the December 1994 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

IWW delegate attends European syndicalist conference

An article by Jeff Shintz aout a conference hosted by the Swedish syndicalist union, SAC, in 1994.

European syndicalists were to carry out a series of actions Nov.4 to protest attacks on the working class throughout Europe. A joint leaflet and poster on the theme *Solidarity Against Social Exclusion* were distributed across Europe, with space for local organizations to add local info.

The Nov.4 action was decided at a European syndicalist conference at Osstersund hosted by SAC (Swedish Workers Central-organization). Conferees agreed that our movement must define what we want and don't want, and represent our visions as an alternative to the compromises of the gutless mainstream unions.

The conference was held along with SAC's 25TH Congress. Independent unions participating were Russia's KAS (Anarcho-Syndicalist Fed.); Regional Trade Union Assoc. of Lithuania; Spain's CGT (Gen. Confed. of Workers); LAB-Basque; France's CGT-Corr; Portugal's A Bathalia; Norway's Lonnsslaven; Italy's UNI-COBAS; and SAT (esperantistas).

I was able to travel to Sweden to attend Anarkistisk Massa and the SAC Congress. The 3- day Anarchist Fair outside Gothenburg was a marvel of organization. A soccer field was turned into a small village through volunteer labor. A huge circus tent provided space for tables, including a bar and music stage. Smaller tents
housed debates, speeches, eating and meetings.

Numerous reports covered the broad range of political and cultural concerns. Discussions on workplace organizing, developing alternative economy and culture, anti-nuke work, feminism, anti-fascist organizing, along with lots of music were going on from 10 a.m. to midnight. My talk on the IWW drew about 60

Participants addressed questions: how do we deal with the crisis presented by capitalists; how do we reach a range of people; what does outrage, vision and culture have to do with media. One participant, a leftist journalist, burned his leftist bridges by publishing an attack on anarchists in the national daily he works
for. Taking note of the controversies around feminism and separate space for women, this journalist sought to portray the diverse group of Swedish anarchists as anti-free thinking, anti-free speech and dogmatic.

Evert Ljusberg, an anarchist singer and story teller who is popular in Sweden, performed on the last day. Evert is Sweden's Utah Phillips, and the crowd loved him. Saturday night about 1 a.m., Stockholm's Mollys took the stage and cranked everyone up with their unique Icelandic-Irish-Swedish-Ska rock. This band named for the Molly Macquires is irresistably danceable.

An anarchist from Texas joined me for the pilgimage to the boyhood home of Joel Haaglund, better known as Joe Hill. The building is now maintained by SAC as a museum with Hill memorabilia. Most of the space is used as SAC offices while a garden provides open air meeting space.

The talk on the condition of unions in America was attended by students and workers. I demonstrated the foolish American rightwing metaphor, that individuals should "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." Doing that meant I had to fall on my ass, folks laughed and a reporter with camera requested an instant replay.

The SAC Congress was held in Osstersund, a town in the center of the country with 3 military bases, a university and a large lake with a legendary Loch Ness type monster. On Saturday we marched
to the town square; black and red flags and boisterous singing syndicalists took over the sunny summer streets.

I was honored to be the international guest invited by SAC to address the public meeting, which opened and closed with music by Billy Shamrock. Mattias Gardell of the SAC International Dept. spoke on the historic important role of international solidarity from IWW and other unions in launching the Swedish syndicalist

Many delegates from several countries praised the Industrial Worker newspaper, saying they reprint articles from it. The_Wage Slave World News_ didn't always make sense to Swedes and Russians, but they praised the IWW for using humor.

We have sisters and brothers who appreciate the IWW, in Sweden and elsewhere. Folks who want to build a libertarian socialist world where working folks, not capitalists, are in charge. Small steps of informal solidarity help along the road to revolution in our life times.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 1994)
Taken from spunk,org


Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

Articles from the November 1995 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Around the union

A round-up of IWW activity. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

Wobblies in Wales

The IWW was invited to send delegates to what was called a "Peoples Parliament" at the former Welsh Parliament at Owain Glyndwr House, Machynlleth, Dyfed. Bob Mander went as our delegate on 16 September, armed with a poster and some IWW leaflets.
About 40 people turned up representing various left wing organisations throughout Wales. The speakers on the platform included a Scottish Nationalist, a campaigner against open cast mining, and a campaigner against water privatisation. The meeting was chaired by a member of Faner Goch (Welsh Socialists) and bilingual translation facilities were provided. There were many Welsh nationalists in attendance, some seeking a Welsh Assembly with the United Kingdom and others seeking total independence.

After the official speakers the meeting was thrown open for discussion. A green anarchist gave a very good speech more or less saying "Why delegate to politicians what you have the ability to do for yourselves" and advocated direct action.

Bob spoke on behalf of the IWW:

"Bob Mander, delegated on behalf of the Aberystwyth IWW,

"Comrades, the evils the speakers have described are the evils of capitalism. That is the enemy we must eradicate. You believe that you can do this through the medium of a Welsh Parliament, but I would warn you that if you are granted a Welsh Parliament, it will only be because the ruling class see it as an expedient that in no way threatens the underlying social system.

"In considering a Welsh Parliament you must take into account the nature of so-called representative government and the corrupting nature of power, for you will be bringing into being a mechanism whereby every political opportunist and con man will be enabled to jump on your back.

"If a society is to be run in the interest of its people it necessitates their active participation in the decision making, for you can only trust what you can control. Therefore to achieve a truly socialist form of society it must be built from below up, it cannot be conferred by politicians, that is why we in the IWW say we must build the framework of the new society in the shell of what we have got, and this must be built industrially.

"Political rights and social justice do not originate in parliaments, rather they are forced upon parliaments from the outside, and even with their enactment into law there is no guarantee of security, for as the Mexican revolutionist once said:

"'Remember whatever a government gives you it can just as easily take away, but what you take by your strength you can hold by your strength"

"Hasn't your experience of the English parliamentary system taught you anything? All politicians are con men and racketeers."

Here the meeting broke up for a tea break, the second session was to discuss practical measures to bring about a Welsh Parliament so Bob left.

Footnote: Bob is a 75 year old veteran of class warfare. He was one of a handful of revolutionaries in Britain who launched the revamped British section of the IWW in 1947, and was active in the dockers strike. Bob was also involved in the Syndicalist Workers Federation and the Direct Action Movement. On Thursday 12 October, national Poetry Day in Britain, Bob was found outside a local bookshop in Aberystwyth reciting IWW poetry to the assembled masses.

Lehigh Bingo Owners Settled

Ten minutes before a NLRB hearing on unfair labor practices was to begin, the operators of Boulevard Bingo offered a settlement, under which they are to pay $6,800 in back wages to the three fired workers and drop their harassment law suit against IWW organizer Lenny Flank. The workers agreed not to demand reinstatement. This marks the end of a two-year struggle by workers at the bingo parlor to win decent conditions, a struggle in which one of the co-operators was barred from continued involvement in running the bingo parlor, and in which the suviving partner repeatedly demonstrated his complete contempt for workers' rights.

Joe Hill, Political Song Celebration

A celebration of Political Song celebrating the power of music and song in struggles for liberation, equality and justice and commemorating IWW songwriter Joe Hill on the 80th anniversary of his death will be held November 17-19th in Sheffield, England. The program includes a series of labor films and a play, The Dream of Joe Hill, beginning Nov. 8, and two days of music and workshops on Saturday Nov. 18 and Sunday Nov. 19. Day time programs - including Cor Cochion, Eurydice, Leeds People's Choir, Nottingham Clarion Choir, Raised Voices, Rotherham Red Choir, Velvet Fist, Wendy Corum, Annie Dearman & Vic Gammon, Dave Douglas, Claire Mooney, Mick Parkin, Liz Ounstead and Janet Wood - are free, while there is a charge for featured performances by Leon Rosselson, Frankie Armstrong, Dick Gaughan, Quimantu, Roy Bailey, Labi Siffre, Abdul T-Jay and the Rokoto Band. Workshops will be led by the IWW's own Fred Lee and others. For registration, tickets or information, write: Raise Your Banners!, 106 Osgathorpe Road, Sheffield S4 7AS or telephone 0114 253 4453.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

Leading us to defeat - Fred Chase

An article by Fred Chase about the issues in the Detroit newspaper strike. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

I'm feeling frustrated. I'm trying to figure out the proper roll for a militant rank and filer in a major labor struggle when the union "leadership" is less than militant. As a Wobbly I of course believe and advocate that only direct action can produce results. There I part ways with the "leaders" of the unions involved in the Detroit newspapers strike. They seem willing to play by the laws established to protect the interests of the ruling class against those of the working class.

As a Wobbly I also believe and advocate that only the workers directly involved in a struggle can and should determine the appropriate tactics. As a supporter of the striking newspaper workers, I can only do what they want me to do to help them. There I part ways with the "leaders" of a leftist sect who are trying to set themselves up as the vangurd of the struggle.

A court injunction has been imposed against mass picketing at the Sterling Heights plant where most of the scab Detroit newspapers have been printed. Prior to the injunction thousands of strikers and their supporters blocked trucks from leaving the plant to a point where the Detroit Newspaper Agency was not meeting its contract with its advertisers for timely delivery of the paper. Some weekends home delivery of the Sunday morning paper didn't occur until Sunday evening when most readers found the Saturday sports scores more than a little stale. Even prior to the injunction Teamster "leaders" were out on the line telling the militant picketers to let the trucks roll rather than risk a confrontation. Then the picketers basically told the "leaders" to go to hell; and the trucks didn't roll for a long time. Since then the injunction has been imposed and the "leaders" have agreed to honor it, without any vote from the rank and file. And a rank and file used to following "leaders" has acquiesced.

A sizeable support coalition has developed consisting of rank and filers from other unions including the Wobblies, students, political activists, and church people. It has overwhelmingly called on the leadership of the six striking unions to defy the injunction. I have to believe that the membership of the striking unions would hold the same position if they were asked. Hopefully pressure from the coalition will force the union "leaders" to rethink their position or better yet to ask what their members think.

The other set of would-be "leaders" is called the Strike to Win Committee, a front group for a vanguard political sect, not to be named here because they have already been the victim of red-baiting by Teamster "leaders" and I don't want to play into that game. They would determine the course of the strike by putting themselves out front, again with little input from the strikers. They call for defying the injunction. So do I. They've engaged in some militant but foolish actions such as throwing things at the Vance security guards and taunting the cops when they didn't have the support of the rank and filers. Some of their actions have given the DNA fuel for a propaganda campaign about the "violence" of the strikers. Of course the DNA propaganda doesn't speak of the use of clubs, tear gas, and pepper gas by the cops, of arbitrary arrests, of the police lieutenant in Sterling Heights who was forced to resign when he was filmed kicking a picketer who lay helplessly on the ground. But the actions of the Committee have not helped in a struggle where consumer support is still a crucial factor and where many a consumer may decide to buy or not buy the paper, to shop or not shop with scab advertisers based on which side looks like the victims and which the culprits. Until the militance and solidarity of the strikers is such that it can stop production, the good will of the consumers is vital.

These same vanguard "leaders" leafletted inside schools in Sterling Heights calling the students to the picket line to trash the goons and the cops. This alienated parents, both consumers and strikers.

In an effort to distance themselves from these characters, and finding a convenient patsy to take the heat for some confrontations in which the participants were in fact militant unionists, "leaders" of the Teamsters have taken to red-baiting, even suggesting that the Committee is infiltrated by Vance Security agents provocateur. "Leaders" going after "leaders," neither group thinking about what's best for the members.

So I plod along on the picket line. I'm "polite" to customers shopping at the stores of scab advertisers as I try to persuade them, with fair success, to shop elsewhere. And I'm muttering under my breath as I think of words attributed to Emiliano Zapata which should ring in the ears of the strikers. "You've looked for leaders. There are none. There is only yourselves."

[The Detroit News is owned by Gannett Publishers, the same company which produces USA Today. If our readers chose to visit their local USA Today box and leave them a message about the strike, it's doubtful that the striking newspaper workers would have any objections. The Union "leaders" have made no comments about expressions of consumer outrage.]

--Fred Chase, General Secretary-Treasurer

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

Newspaper bosses feather their own nests - Michael Betzold

An article about the changes at the Detroit Free Press by Michael Betzold, a striking columnist. Originally appeared in The Detroit Union. Reprinted in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

I laugh when Detroit Newspapers spokesmen moan about how union featherbedding is holding their profit to $1 million a week. Unions get accused of featherbedding when companies automate jobs and workers fight to keep positions. At production plants, newspaper unions have offered to cooperate in job reductions, but management wants quicker cuts.

My Webster's says featherbedding occurs when an employer is forced "to pay more employees than are needed for a particular operation or to pay full wages for nonproductive labor or unnecessary or duplicating jobs."

Detroit Free Press management has made a science of that. About 15 years ago, when I first stuck my nose into the Free Press city room, there was an army of people reporting and portraying the news and a handful of decision-makers. News drove the paper and news filled the paper.

In the 1990s, reporters and photographers are overwhelmed by an army of suits who massage and package the news. New species of managers spawn every week, all with a single imperative: to meet. Only the pushiest news can get through the meeting blockade.

It starts with a morning news meeting, where top editors concoct story ideas that often involve minor events in their pricey neighborhoods. That's why you see stories about fish flies in Grosse Pointe but rarely read about fights over land use in Romulus.

In mid-afternoon, the same editors meet again to spin out bizarre variations on their morning ideas, often based on what they overheard at lunch at the Detroit Club. At other times, they meet to plan weekend stories and project stories, to devise new types of training for staff members, to reorganize beats and departments, to kiss the right cheeks and to dream up new reasons for meeting. They frequently disappear for weekend retreats and return abuzz with new agendas.

To get a major story into the paper, a reporter must engage in "team building," an endless series of meetings whose purpose is to massage the egos of various department heads and subheads. Stories get in the paper not on news values, but because the proper twits were tweaked. Good stories get killed or trimmed for lack of face time with the right people. While union members are working to get news into the paper, in the bloated ranks of middle management the only mandate is to meet management goals. It's a huge make-work project.

A while back the Free Press created the inventive position of Editor for Change. About nine months later, I bumped into her. I asked he what she did on her job. She replied: "I haven't figured it out yet." And they say unions make the paper inefficient.

I have a solution to the strike: Put all the managers in a huge conference room with plenty of feathered beds, lock the door and throw away the key. Give the rest of us a fair raise, get out of our way and let us put out a paper again.

Originally appeared in The Detroit Union. Reprinted in the Industrial Worker #1585 (November 1995)

Industrial Worker #1586 (December 1995)

Articles from the December 1995 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Review: Rebels Against the Future by Kirkpatrick Sale & Addison Wesley

A review by John Gorman of Kirkpatrick Sale & Addison Wesley's Rebels Against the Future. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1586 (December 1995).

Rebels Against the Future, by Kirkpatrick Sale, Addison Wesley, 1995 $24.

Kirkpatrick Sale is writing, first of all, about the English Luddites of the early 19th century and, secondly, of their successors today. But the title is a bit misleading. Both groups represent not "rebels against the future (emphasis mine)," but rebels against a future; one for which they never voted, and one where their interests were never seriously considered. As Sale puts it, "They (the Luddites) were rebels against the future that was being assigned to them by the new political economy taking hold in Britain, in which... those who controlled capital were able to do almost anything they wished."

With inflation, brought on by a 20-year war with Napoleon, raging, crops failing, wages falling and unions illegal, craftsmen in the heart of England from Manchester to Nottingham to Leeds rose in carefully coordinated assaults on factories and the machines they contained. Faces blackened and armed mostly with their own tools, they struck terror into the hearts of the newly powerful industrial capitalists.

Secrecy and surprise were the Luddite watchwords. Although not every raid succeeded, England was in an uproar from the first attacks in 1811 until the movement petered out in 1815. Many suspected Luddites were arrested, some were hanged, and others transported to penal colonies. The authorities finally succeeded in restoring order only by sending more troops to the heartland than they had sent against Bonaparte in Portugal. But they never succeeded in penetrating the movement, finding its leaders or understanding its structure. Indeed the convolution had no parallel since the mysterious "Great Society" of the 14th had plunged England into turmoil.

The history of the Luddites was, of course, written by the movement's enemies and "Luddite" entered our language as a synonym for a blind opponent of progress. Sale corrects that picture, helping us to understand that these "machine breakers" were not merely trying to keep their own incomes up, but were also fighting against the destruction of a way of life that had sustained them and countless other craftsmen for centuries. The skilled worker who had provided "good gods" at a fair price working at his own pace in his own house was being replaced by the wage slave toiling his life away in horribly unhealthy factories for 12 or more hours a day for a pittance that was his only alternative to starvation. In a few decades, the Industrial Revolution reduced a third of England's population to a destitution that saw 57% of the country;s children dead before the age of five and a laborer's life expectancy reduced to 18 years.

On the practical level, Sale notes, the Luddite movement was a failure. The new machines proliferated, skilled craftsmen were economically destroyed, and Dickensian misery stalked the land. But the Luddites did succeed in raising the "machinery question" which has never gone away - i.e., what is the cost of "progress," and who shall pay it? Ever since the Luddites took up their hammers, blind faith in the "onward and upward" has been tempered by a realism that sees, as Sale says, that "whatever its presumed benefits... industrial technology comes at a price, and, in the contemporary world, that price is ever rising and ever threatening."

While Sale's history is interesting and enlightening, the most useful part of his book for those who want to understand the present comes in the discussion of the neo-Luddites of our own time. Like Ned Ludd's bands, they too are rebelling against a future they never made, one where the cost-benefit ration of technology is heavily weighted in favor of the already rich and powerful with machines that have left 40% of the work force in disposable jobs, devastated the Earth and reduced much of the Third World from poverty to abject misery.

The neo-Luddites reject the myth that any technology is politically and morally neutral, holding that technology that goes beyond the laboratory into the world is the technology that benefits the ruling class. Therefore, the introduction of any technology, the neo-Luddites demand, must be subject to the consent of those who will be most affected by it. If the machines are economically, ecologically or culturally destructive, alternatives must be sought. If none can be found, the old ways continue.

Where Sale becomes uncertain, however, is in his advice on what is to be done to win this veto power. In this sense, he ends where he should begin. Perhaps because most unions have been so slow to recognize this threat, let alone combat it, Sale sees little value in mass action, believing that "the nation state, synergistically intertwined with industrialism, will always come to its defense, making revolt futile and reform ineffectual." Yet many of the instances he cites when the onward rush of "progress" was stopped or diverted, as in France and India, depended on mass protest and mass action, often of the more drastic sort.

Sale seems to prefer a kind of individualized philosophical resistance founded on spiritual traditions of long standing, such as those that have protected the Amish and some Native American tribes from being sucked into a culture of greed. But he does not tell us how the rest of us not so blessed are to acquire the ideological ammunition to fight this war. Books like Sale's are clearly part of that supply, but even the author is far from certain they are enough.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1586 (December 1995)


Industrial Worker #1589 (March 1996)

Articles from the March 1996 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Black bus workers fight "plantation" conditions - Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin

An article by Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin about discrimination in the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1589 (March 1996)

Ralph Williams is a city bus driver for the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) in Chattanooga, Tenn. He has worked for the bus company for almost ten years, and in that time has seen all kinds of racial discrimination, both in hiring and disciplinary practices. He has seen every Black worker who spoke out against company policies harassed and fired. Conditions are so bad that Black workers call CARTA "the plantation" and chafe at being treated as nothing but slaves. In 1993, however, all this began to change when a Black worker - James Jones, who was fired because of his wife's civil right activism - wouldn't take his dismissal lying down and filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This was apparently the first such complaint filed, and it shook up the company and its racially biased management.

Jones then began to encourage other CARTA employees to complain about the many cases of racial discrimination and to take their cases to court.

Ralph Williams was one of those who did so. He had already filed a complaint with a city "Human Rights" agency, and this simple act of filing a grievance earned him the eternal hatred of the CARTA management. They targeted him for harassment and job termination; on one occasion they said to his face that they would fire him "just like James Jones." However this threat did not intimidate Ralph. He began to keep a daily journal of the acts of management harassment against him and send it to EEOC and other agencies as proof of illegal retaliation. But nothing was done to protect him.

In 1994 Ralph filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against CARTA for discrimination and harassment. The company then began to follow him on his routes, scream at him over the two-way radio, and file a series of bogus disciplinary reports which caused him to lose days off and paid hours. They hoped to pressure him to give up and resign, or to pad his record with false reports which would justify his firing. None of that worked, however, and Ralph continued to report for duty each day without fail - and with a smile on his face! Company officials were extremely frustrated because they had never had anyone fight them so hard, and yet remain so cool in the face of their outrageous daily provocations.

Ralph held on for years, and he began to organize on the job. He got other workers to file complaints when they were mistreated, including a number of Black women subjected to sexual pressure from the corrupt "union" president and a company vice president. He enlisted a number of labor-based groups to write complaint letters. And it did stop the severity of the harassment for a while, but then management got desperate to stop this on-the-job unity and really bore down on anyone who stood up. Some people unfortunately folded and went into a shell, and some sold out entirely.

Even though the harassment by the company wore the women down and they dropped their EEOC charges, Ralph never wavered. In 1995 he and a group of Black passengers, organized as the "Chattanooga Bus Riders Union," filed a complaint with the federal Department of Transportation alleging that the bus company was engaged in racial discrimination in its employment and disciplinary practices, routing and overall operations. The complaint asked that all federal grants earmarked for the company be terminated.

After the DOT failed to act, the Bus Riders Union and several CARTA employees filed a lawsuit in federal court charging these same issues, and seeking a court injunction against a proposed fare hike which would hurt poor and elderly riders. This really marked Ralph for harassment by management, and he was given a number of bogus disciplinary reports along with numerous days off without pay, and told that if he did "anything else" against company rules he would be summarily fired.

Even in the face of this threat, Ralph continued to organize. He filed a complaint for unfair labor practices against the company and its lapdog "union," local 1212 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, with the National Labor Relations Board, and filed another lawsuit over the harassment. Seeing that they would never stop him by legal means, someone sympathetic to the company decided to use outright terrorism to shut him up.

In the early morning hours of January 5, an arsonist spread gasoline on his front porch and set his house on fire, literally burning it down to the ground. Fortunately Ralph was not there that night or he might have been killed in his bed. An arson investigator from the fire department told him it was definitely arson. He asked Ralph who it was he had made so mad? Ralph told him "only those clowns I work for." The cops and FBI refused to investigate. In that small town the cops tend to cover up for the dirty work of prominent citizens, killer cops and major corporations - especially when it comes to the rights of Black people.

Of course, Ralph does not know who actually committed the fire, but he knows who had a motive: his employers at CARTA and the company labor union. Ralph has lost everything he owned, but he continues to fight on even in the face of new threats to his life. He wants to install a new union and drive out the corrupt union officials, so a real union would bring an end to these types of injustices against workers. Ralph is very strong, but he should not have to fight alone. Everyone of us who believes in racial justice, and that a worker has a right to organize and protest company misconduct on his job, should join in his fight.

Many workers in Chattanooga are even more frightened now to say anything because of this act of terrorism,. Clearly he needs our help, and we should give it to him. The terrorists cannot be allowed to succeed in silencing this symbol of the best that unionism is all about. If he is crushed the workforce there has no hope at all.

What can you do?

1. Write, fax, or telephone a complaint to CARTA company management to protest this harassment of Ralph Williams and other Black/female workers. Send these complaints to the head of the company and to the union at the same address: Tom Dugan, CEO, CARTA,1716 Wilcox Avenue, Chattanooga TN 37404 Tel: 615/629-1411 fax: 615/698-2749

2. All of Ralph's furniture, food and clothing, along with his word processor and papers, were destroyed in the fire and must be replaced. Send funds to Ralph Williams at: Workers Aid Fund, c/o Atlanta WSA, 673 Wylie St. SE, Atlanta GA 30316-1162. Please send funds in U.S. currency only.

3. Write to Ralph and tell him you stand with him in this fight, send copies of your protest letters to: Ralph Williams, 2506 E. 3rd Street, Chattanooga TN 37404

Let's take a stand against racism and the harassment of workers!

-- Lorenzo Komboa Ervin

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1589 (March 1996)

Ontario general strike wave builds - Len Wallace

An article by Len Wallace about a possible general strike in Ontario. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1589 (March 1996).

Despite wind chill temperatures of minus 30 Celsius, some 15,000 workers rallied in the streets of London, Ontario on December 11 last year in the first attempt at a city-wide general strike. The strike was called for by the Ontario Federation of Labour as a weapon against the increasingly reactionary policies of the Progressive Conservative provincial government.

Business in the city of London was brought down to a trickle as protesters marched in two rallies that converged at the city's fairgrounds. City bus services were cancelled as transit workers did not report for duty. Picket lines went up the evening before at a GM diesel plant, Ford plant in Talbotville and CAMI car assembly plant in Ingersoll and kept 9,000 workers off the job. Production was also shut down at other plants including the Canada Post sorting plant. Federal, provincial and municipal government offices functioned only with skeleton crews.

At the Fairground rally workers were encouraged to extend their protests across the province by leaders of the Canadian Auto Workers and the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Bob White, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, brought greetings of solidarity from striking workers in France. Politically charged music was provided the entire day by musicians volunteering for the event.

The next city targeted for strike action was Hamilton - steel centre of the province. It is taking place over a two-day period, Feb. 23 - 24, at the same time the Progressive Conservatives are holding their convention.

Debate has been heavy within the Ontario Federation of Labour leadership over the strikes. The Steelworkers are reluctant to place so much emphasis on industrial action and indicated that they would not shut down Hamilton's steel mills. They have continued to push the legislative road to organized labour's predicament through support for the New Democratic Party.

The Canadian Auto Workers and some public service unions have argued, however, that reliance on the NDP is a dead end at this crucial stage and that nothing is left but opposition at the job level. A compromise was finally reached with the USWA agreeing to join the strike and giving prominent New Democrats a major role.

Meanwhile, local labour assemblies are taking matters into their own hands as the government begins to ram through Bill 26, the newest piece of legislation designated as "the bully bill."

This new bill forces massive changes to 44 existing provincial statutes. Under the guise of supposedly paring down big government, the bill will transfer and extend significant power to municipalities, allowing them the right to hire and fire teachers, cut funding to conservation authorities and social agencies, contract our firefighting to private enterprise, impose user fees, all with little or no public input.

While former governments at least made a pretense of being democratic in allowing public input, this bill will be rammed through the legislature by a majority Conservative caucus after only two weeks of public discussion. Local labour councils and community organizations have been staging protests at all cities where hearings are held. As part of that protest, 40,000 teachers from across the province staged a demonstration at the doors of the Ontario legislature in Toronto to voice their opposition to the bill.

More and more sectors of society actively oppose the government's actions. The course of events is changing the political landscape of the province. Public sector workers have been forced into an activist role. (This month, thousands of Ontario Public Service Employees Union members may be forced into a strike.) Teachers have entered the fray. Medical professions have spoken out and even small business organizations are nervous and shake with growing threats of radical strike actions from labour's ranks.

While the New Democrats desperately paint themselves as the "see, you shoulda voted for us even though we screwed you" good guys and Liberals sniff at the edges of the workers movement trying to pass themselves off as the friends of labour, the public is disillusioned with politicians of every stripe.

The strike in Hamilton will be different from the one in London, revealing very different approaches to where the movement should proceed. In the process, however, more workers have become radicalized and are calling for strike action in more cities and across the entire province.

-- Len Wallace, X304149

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1589 (March 1996)

Shut them down - Jon Bekken

A collection of short comments on then current events by Jon Bekken. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1589 (March 1996)

As Gannett and Knight-Ridder's (owners of the Detroit News and Free Press ) strike-related losses approach $150 million, the giant media conglomerates show no sign of backing down. "We're going to hire a whole new work force and go on without unions," Detroit News editor Robert Giles said, "or they can surrender unconditionally and salvage what they can."

The publishers appear to be winning. Yes, circulation is way down; advertising is down; and the union-published Detroit Sunday Journal is being well-received. But in any starve-out strike, Gannett and Knight-Ridder start with a huge advantage - they can drop a couple hundred of million bucks on union-busting and cover the losses from their other newspapers, magazines, billboards, TV stations, etc. As long as they can keep their scab papers on the streets - and in the face of anti-labor injunctions, the newspaper unions have essentially given up on stopping the scab papers - they will eventually come out on top.

So something needs to be done. There is growing support for a national labor march on Detroit to support the striking newspaper workers. But we don't need more symbolic marches, replete with politicians mouthing pious platitudes about the "little people" (leprechauns, grab your wallets).

We've done plenty of marching in recent years, and all it's given us is sore feet. We need direct action at the point of production to hit the bosses where it hurts - in their pocketbooks.

There are in the neighborhood of a half-million union members in the Detroit vicinity - more than enough to effectively picket the printing, editorial and distribution centers and shut the scab papers down. It can be done - and sustained - as long as necessary, if the unions (and members) are determined to turn back the union-busters.

Union Scabbing

A few weeks back an appeal ran in the New York Times pleading with other workers to honor building workers' picket lines. "This is your strike too," the full-page ad explained. "If you cross a picket line, you hurt the members of Local 32B-32J and you hurt the members of your union. You hurt yourself too...

"The old truism `an injury to one is an injury to all' was born in times of turmoil and every union is facing times of turmoil again... The reason unions became successful in the early years of this century was because working people banded together. The spirit of unionism was alive in every worker's heart... It didn't matter what union was involved, when a picket line went up, no union member crossed." (emphasis in original)

One could quarrel with their history (the AFL was built on union-scabbing), but the basic premise is sound - Union scabbing must stop!

The labor movement is weak today. But we aren't so weak that we have to stab our fellow workers in the back in a desperate scramble for the occasional crumb the bosses dangle in front of our noses. If workers once again begin taking picket lines seriously - refusing to do scab work, refusing to haul scab cargo, refusing to service struck employers or struck job sites, refusing to do anything whatever to aid the bosses while they are trying to crush our fellow workers - we are strong enough to make it stick.

Some unions did honor the 32B-32J lines, and the bosses had to scale back their give-back demands. But it's time to stop battling the bosses with both hands tied behind our backs, blindfolded, playing by their rules...

Mickey Mouse Beats Workers

While the U.S. and other governments turn a blind eye to labor repression in China, the State Department is threatening substantial penalties if the Chinese authorities don't crack down on pirated movies, CDs and computer software. It seems Mickey Mouse has much more pull in the corridors of Washington than do workers...

Dollars for Democrats

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says the federation will spend $35 million in the 1996 election campaign in behalf of 75 targetted candidates. The AFL is meeting this month to formally endorse President Clinton's re-election.

Sweeney, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, has been wandering the country offering olive branches to the employing class. He might do better to borrow a page from our French fellow workers, who apparently know what to do when they find themselves under attack...

Public Safety

The New York Times (2/10/96) criticizes Guinea's government for its incompetence, "unable to achieve such elementary results as paying salaries on time or keeping the streets safe from policemen..." It's nice to see our paper of record finally admit that people need protection from the police, rather than the other way around.


As we go to press, another rail accident, this time in New Jersey, has killed two engineers - one of whom had been working for 14 hours - and a passenge. We've had a string of such "accidents" in recent months as rail companies have slashed train crews and increased working hours in an all-out war against the dreaded feather-bedding.

Not that the bosses are against feather beds, mind you (one need only visit the management suites to see that they have no objection to a little luxury). But the thought of paying a few "extra" workers to keep an eye out for safety gives them indigestion...

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1589 (March 1996)

From the desk of... - Fred Chase

A column by Fred Chase comparing elements of the 1960s civil rights movement with the Detroit newspaper strike. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1589 (March 1996).

"I ain't scared of your jails cuz I want my freedom." In honor of Black History Month there was a fine retrospective on the radio yesterday about the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee during Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964. Of course it mentioned the murder of three civil rights workers there, Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. They were about my age, young men at the time. I was just coming into political consciousness. They already had theirs. I had just engaged in my first demonstration in Ypsilanti at Eastern Michigan University, a support march for the freedom fighters in the south. I knew I wanted to be involved in bringing about change. Those murders made me very aware of the potential price of freedom.

"I ain't scared of dying 'cuz I want my freedom!" the voice on the radio sings defiantly, but with a detectable tremor that tells me the singer was indeed scared of dying but wasn't going to let that deter him from his goal. And the former SNCC activists on the program told of how every once in a while they would be very scared of dying, but would suppress it by plunging back into their organizing. My personal heroes scare easily, but they don't deter easily.

Someone sent a postcard to General Headquarters recently. It has a picture of Mother Jones on it. She is quoted saying: "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living." Well, I'm not a praying man; but I do honor the dead while I'm fighting for the living. And those three names are branded into my consciousness. I can only imagine how many others were radicalized by their sacrifice.

They were part of a seminal movement. Their courage and that of thousands of others like them brought the beginning of the end of segregation. Of course it didn't end racism. That's a struggle which will no doubt always be with us. But they're part of a long line of people from the beginning of human time who have risked all for principles like freedom and justice. Their example inspired others to risk in other movements for the same principles. They were no doubt inspired by the risks of those who came before them.

I'm getting the feeling that a seminal movement today may be the struggle for economic justice.

And one of the key battlegrounds may be in Detroit where the strike against Gannett and Knight-Ridder drags into its 7th month. Detroit remains a relative stronghold in the U.S. labor movement. Close to a quarter of a million people in Southeast Michigan are Union. I have to wonder if that isn't the reason Detroit was chosen for this particular battle. If Gannett and Co. can bust the six striking unions at the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, in the back yard of the UAW, in an area of Teamster strength, it will promote the illusion that they are invincible. And that will send a message of encouragement to other corporate giants that, if they haven't done so already, now's the time for the final drive to crush the unions.

Each of the Detroit papers has reported more than $50 million in losses and expectations of losing tens of millions more because of the strike. Yet a spokesperson from Gannett shrugs. The corporate giant which publishes U.S.A. Today can lose 50 million in Detroit and still report corporate profits of 70 million for the year.

Former Governor George Wallace of Alabama will be remembered for posturing in a schoolhouse door to block racial integration, his infamous comment: "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!" George was proven wrong because of the courage of people like Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman. If people like them decide it's time to take a stand in today's struggle, the suits at Gannett and Knight-Ridder will be proven wrong as well.

There's talk of efforts to get the AFL-CIO high mucky-mucks to come back to Detroit to lead a march in the spring. And there's talk of using that march as a springboard for massive civil disobedience against the papers. There's even talk of promoting a general strike in Detroit. That kind of talk was starting to be heard last September when thousands of strikers and their supporters stood up to Sterling Heights cops and Vance Security goons at the Detroit News plant. It faded with the imposition of an injunction against mass picketing which the leaders of the striking unions decided to honor.

Now the NLRB has ruled the unions have engaged in an unfair labor practice by harrassing scabs. The Gannett spokesman says he hopes this will encourage the unions to change their tactics. It's certainly time to change tactics. The ones determined to be acceptable by the powers that be are bound to lose the strike for the workers.

So maybe it's time for civil disobedience and general strikes. And maybe talk of these or other actions shouldn't be limited to Detroit. Gannett is everywhere in the U.S. If it succeeds in busting the Detroit strike, it will use its deep pockets to fight the unions at its papers across the country. Of course we all know that the general strike is a romantic dream, an impractical theory. That's what I was taught in school. Apparently French workers aren't as well schooled as those of us in the United States.

The "leaders" of the striking Detroit newspaper unions don't seem likely to take any action which might put them in jail or put their treasuries in jeopardy. If it is to happen, it will come from the rank-and-file workers who have had enough, who are ready to say "I ain't scared of your jails, goons, injunctions cuz I want my freedom, want my freedom, want my freedom NOW!"

See you on the picket line.

Fred Chase

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1589 (March 1996)


Industrial Worker #1605 (September 1997)

Articles from the September 1997 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Job Corps workers hold the fort - Alexis Buss

An article by Alexis Buss about an IWW campaign at Job Corps, a government-run trade school. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (September 1997)

Despite desperate attempts by the management of the Keystone Job Corps Center in Drums, Pennsylvania, to stop the IWW union organizing effort, our campaign continues stronger than ever. In the past month, two delegates on Keystone have signed up enough members to charter an Industrial Union branch, student employees have made trips to learn how to be union organizers, and daily reports on the antics of their bosses are called in to the Philadelphia General Membership Branch.

The unfair labor practices of the Keystone Job Corps Center are being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board and the Federal Labor Relations Authority. In arguing for our charges to be dismissed, Job Corps insists that our fellow workers are "students," not employees entitled to protection under the law. A shocking claim indeed, as Job Corps in their own publication Job Corps In Action (Winter 1997) applauded Centers for describing the young people on their Centers as employees. The article quotes Deb Kelley, a manager of an Oregon Job Corps Center, as saying, "At the beginning it is explained to student employees that the entire center is their work site. Every staff person is their supervisor. They are on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week." With hours that long, no wonder our campaign is catching on so quickly.

Keystone Center now chooses to play a linguistic game to cover up its disgusting union-busting activities. What they seem to forget is that even if it turns out our fellow workers aren't defined as "employees," they still have rights - unlike other American workers they will be protected in their practice of free speech and freedom of association. The IWW is on the Center, and our presence will continue to grow no matter what.

Kere Harcourt, a union activist who continued to organize even after Matt Wilson and Joe Marra were suspended for ten days after their first meeting with IWW representatives, was "medically discharged" in late July. Kere had been complaining to the infirmary on the center for more than a month of cramps and severe pains in her stomach. She was told for over a month that she was fine, given water and Motrin, and sent on her way. On Thursday, July 24, Kere was rushed to a hospital in the nearby town of Hazelton for emergency surgery. Her gall bladder had swollen to four times its normal size, encroaching on her appendix, which had to be removed.

Kere called the IWW Philadelphia Branch July 27 to let us know what happened and that she was told she had six months to recover and if she was not better within that time, she could not come back. The IWW began a campaign that night to demand that 1) Kere be reinstated to the Job Corps program whenever her doctor says she is again medically fit, 2) full medical coverage be extended to Kere while she is on leave, 3) the infirmary is investigated by an independent third party, and 4) that all employees of the Keystone Center are authorized to call for 911 ambulance service. Your help is needed to ensure that the Keystone infirmary is held accountable to its charge of providing quality health care to the young people on the center and that Kere Harcourt is reinstated.

Scissorbills on parade

A letter to the editor of the local paper in Hazelton, PA, the Standard-Speaker was printed August 6. A Keystone student employee wrote in to insist that the Job Corps helps to "prepare them for their future."

Curiously, her letter begins, "I am writing in response to an article about the Keystone Job Corps Center that was displayed in your newspaper a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately I do not have a copy of it." When the Standard-Speaker published articles detailing the reasons the union drive was started - the wrongful suspensions and harassment of our activists, the illegal firing of Matthew Wilson, the center security classifying and confiscating our organizing materials as contraband, and the shameful incompetence of the Keystone infirmary staff - all copies of the newspaper were confiscated. Even an article on Keystone's management's unwillingness to bargain in good faith with the union representatives for the residential advisors was censored.

If Keystone would honestly like to prepare the young people on their center for the future, one of the first steps is to develop their critical thinking skills and not control their ability to receive information. Another preparation for the path that the young people are put on by Job Corps after they receive training for low paying, highly competitive jobs is training on how to organize a union - training the IWW is glad to provide.

A 56-page appeal of FW Matt Wilson's termination was filed August 7 at the Office of Job Corps, Region III in Philadelphia. Matt was terminated July 8 by Keystone Center Director June Boswell. Her reasons for terminating Matt have yet to be fully explained; only one sentence and one multiple choice answer on a Job Corps form were provided to Matt for him to base his appeal. It is quite clear that Matt was vindictively brought before the Keystone Center Review Board, a panel of center staff that makes disciplinary recommendations, on unsubstantiated charges in retaliation for his efforts to organize for the IWW. Instead of detailing her real reason for firing Matt, Boswell claims in a July 8 Separation/Transfer Notice that Matt was dismissed for "violence," even though there was not a single shred of evidence presented at his hearing to justify such a claim. The process of termination at Keystone is a circuitous one where the Center Director, who acts as judge, participates in the prosecution. Boswell intentionally denied Matt enough time and information to prepare a defense. She helped compose a memorandum to the Center Review Board to recommend his termination before evidence was even presented. And after the Review Board made its ill-founded decision to terminate Matt with "completion status" (similar to an honorable discharge in the military), Boswell changed the termination classification to "disciplinary discharge" when his appeal of the Center Review Board's decision was heard. This action cost Matt $500 of his readjustment money, which is given to Job Corps student employees when they leave the program.

Who knows how far this appeal must be taken before it lands on the desk of a responsible party which can see Matt's termination for what it really is: as described in his appeal, "an undisguised act of bias and retaliation." As we go to press, Matt's appeal is on the desk of Lynn Intrepidi, the Deputy Regional Director of Job Corps Region III, who is to convene a Board to review his argument and make a decision by mid-month. While we don't hold out much hope in Intrepidi's ability to do the right thing since her office directed Matt's suspension in the first place, the merits of his case and his wonderful record on the Center can't be ignored, even by union-busting Job Corps bureaucrats.

The risks that the organizers in the Keystone Job Corps Center have taken are enormous. They're willing to risk not only their jobs, but also their homes, as the Keystone Center is where they reside. Many of our organizers signed up for Job Corps because they used to have nowhere to turn and wanted to make a better life for themselves. Now, in their efforts to make a better life for themselves and their fellow workers on the Keystone Center, they turn to the IWW. We're there every step of the way and then some -- and will stop at nothing to secure their right to form a union.

-- Alexis Buss

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (September 1997)

Industrial Worker #1606 (October 1997)

Articles from the October 1997 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Details on 1997 IWW General Assembly

A reportback of the 1997 IWW General Assembly. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1606 (October 1997)


Fred Chase was the sole nominee for General Secretary-Treasurer. Several candidates were nominated for next year's General Executive Board: Tim Acott (Portland), Laure Akai (Moscow), Monica Berini (Oakland), Alexis Buss (Philadelphia), Bright Chicezi (Sierre Leone), Dan Fisher (Tennessee), Liam Flynn (Berkeley), Miriam Fried (Philadelphia), Mark Johnson (Seattle), Steve Kellerman (Boston), Fred Lee (Leicester), Morgan Miller (Portland), John Persak (Seattle), Penny Pixler (Chicago), Bob Rivera (Michigan), Michael Reinsboro (Los Angeles), Scott Rittenhouse (Los Angeles), Robert Rush (Berkeley), Nathan Smith (Asheville), Bob Tibbs Jr. (St. Louis), Pete Wilcox (Honolulu). Note that many candidates have not yet indicated whether they wish to stand for election, nor has eligibility been verified, so the actual ballot will not include all nominees.
Members will also choose between Asheville (North Carolina), Boston, Detroit, London, Madison, Portland (Oregon) and Toronto for the 1998 General Assembly, and vote on whether to hold the Assembly over Labor Day weekend or in May.

Assembly Resolutions

Delegates approved a proposal urging each Branch to take responsibility for covering the full cost of providing services to members, even if this requires special assessments or fundraisers, and a motion calling on the General Executive Board to convene a committee incorporating representatives from countries where the IWW has significant membership to develop more effective international structures and communication. Another motion reaffirms the IWW's boycott against Borders Books and calls on IWW branches to step up organizing efforts against the bookstore chain.
Several proposals were sent to referendum vote of the membership, including a constitutional amendment to clarify minimum dues payments from overseas Regional Organizing Committees, a reorganization of the union's General Defense Committee, and to require IWW branches to furnish copies of all external communications to the IWW Archives at Wayne State University. (The text of the latter specifies that this would include email, web sites, and other non-traditional media; how this would be implemented is unclear.)

Another proposal being sent to referendum would amend the IWW Constitution to clarify the conditions under which non-waged producer cooperatives could be recognized as IWW shops. The proposal would require such cooperatives to not undermine wages in the industry, to honor all unions' boycotts and strikes, and adhere to democratic internal practices.

Also being sent to referendum is a proposal to eliminate the IWW's long-standing practice of imprinting dues stamps to indicate the category of dues (minimum, regular, maximum) being paid; a practice essential to enabling Branches and the General Administration to audit the records of union delegates and ensure that all dues collected are actually paid to the union. Similar proposals have been raised repeatedly over the past few years, with proponents claiming the current practice somehow places a stigma on low-income members. Others insist the current practice is essential to ensure accountability for union funds and protect against misappropriation of funds. This will be the first time members have been asked to vote on the issue.

The full text of all referenda will be published in the September issue of the IWW's General Organization Bulletin.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1606 (October 1997)

Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

Articles from the December 1997 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Mersey dockers reject surrender

An article about the Liverpool dockers dispute. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

After more than two years on strike, the Liverpool dockers have once again confirmed their resolve to stand by union principles, voting overwhelmingly against taking [sterling]28,000 bribes to abandon the Torside dockers (who were fired for refusing unpaid overtime; the Mersey dockers were locked-out when they honored Torside dockers' picket lines) and give up the fight for all their jobs. Fewer than 75 dockers would have returned to work under the proposal. Only 329 of the nearly 500 dockers involved in the dispute were permitted to vote in the ballot ordered by TGWU officials, and only 97 of those voted to give in.

Mersey Docks & Harbour Co. responded with an announcement that it would send each docker a form to sign abandoning their jobs in exchange for the [sterling]28,000 payment.

In the midst of an exuberant picket celebrating the No vote a policewoman instructed a steward to get off the grass and stop shouting at scabs behind the perimeter fence. Fifty pickets quickly crossed the road to join their colleague and an Inspector told his junior officer to move away.

A few days later, traffic in and out of the Port of Dublin came to a standstill October 28 as Liverpool dockers blockaded the main entrance for an hour. When the Gardai arrived the dockers began to circle the roundabout, further disrupting traffic before marching to the Coastal Container terminal where many workers came out to join them and all work stopped for 30 minutes. At the Irish Ferries berth, dockers refused all work on the "Coastal Bay," a Coastal Container vessel owned by Jungerhans.

Dublin handles more Liverpool ships than any other port in the world, including frequent services on Coastal Container Line which is 100 percent owned by MDHC and also serves Belfast, Greenock and Cardiff.

Michael O'Reilly, incoming ATGWU Regional Secretary for the Republic of Ireland, said his members were "trying to show our solidarity and continue a long association with the Liverpool dispute. We are seeking the support of our colleagues from other unions in the Port of Dublin."

In Liverpool dockers are once again confronting the Operational Support Division (riot police) of Merseyside Police on the picket line. Evidently, this is Mersey Dock's response to the democratic decision of sacked dockers to reject their "final offer." Rather than open negotiations, they have called on the authorities and the media to back up their claim that the dispute is now "over." OSD officers prevented picketing of one gate 12 November to enable traffic to enter. Pickets succeeded in closing off the other two main entrances to the Port of Liverpool.

In Oakland, California, where pickets repeatedly blocked efforts to unload scab cargo from the Neptune Jade, loaded in MDHC-operated Thamesport, in October, employers are dragging identified picketers into court on charges of violating a court injunction barring effective solidarity actions. The bosses are also suing for economic damages.

On Oct. 28 the San Francisco Labor Council unanimously adoped a resolution reasserting their support of the Liberpool dockers, and "defending workers rights to picket and exercise their first amendment rights to speech and freedom of association." The resolution condemned the Pacific Maritime Association's lawsuit for damages and an injunction as an effort to intimidate workers and urged contributions to the legal defense of the pickets, at the Liverpool Dockers Victory Defense Committee, P.O. Box 2574, Oakland CA 94614.

When the Neptune Jade arrived in Yokohama October 15, dockers refused to unloadthe seven containers which had been loaded in Thamesport and were supposed to be unloaded in Oakland. But about 200 other containers were loaded and unloaded in Yokohama. Two days later Kobe dockers also resued to unload the containers.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

Wobs fight Quaker union-busting

An article by Alexis Buss on an IWW campaign at a Quaker-operated office building in Philadelphia. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997).

Management of Philadelphia's Friends Center, a Quaker-operated office building which houses many Quaker and progressive organizations, has begun a plunge into the depths of union-busting in order to prevent four part-time front desk staffers from organizing with the IWW. Fortunately, the unbecoming attack on workers rights has not gone unchallenged - more supporters linked to the Friends Center come forward every day to encourage recognition of the union.

The four workers, who work evenings and weekends, sometimes in shifts of more than ten hours, decided to join the IWW and seek a binding contract which would secure their job and improve working conditions. They asked for voluntary recognition from their supervisor, Peter Rittenhouse, on September 2nd. Rittenhouse asked the front desk staffers to drop the union, but passed the final decision on to the Friends Center Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors met without being able to come up with an answer to the demand for voluntary recognition. A second meeting was called for September 25th, and front desk union member Susan Phillips asked permission to attend. She explained to the Board of Directors that not only had she and her fellow workers joined a union, but that they are the union and had no reason to reconsider their position. The front desk staff are organized and want come to the table as equals with management to negotiate a fair contract. Many members of the Board of Directors asked Susan questions, and she left the meeting with the understanding that in a few days they would decide their course of action.

Strangely, on October 1st our fellow workers received a letter dated September 17 (eight days before meeting with Susan) stating, "the Board of Directors of Friends Center Corporation is saddened by the realization that some employees feel it necessary to organize themselves as part of a larger labor organization in order for their concerns to be heard and to obtain redress for grievances. As a matter of conscience and faith, we believe that no persons should need an intermediary when discussing concerns, but rather should be able to gather `in the light' to discuss them... It is in the spirit of our belief in `continuing revelation' that we respectfully ask that you reconsider your proposal." This response, one so unfortunately typical of employers that have turn out to be among the most notorious union-busters, was somewhat unexpected after Susan's thoughtful explanations during the September 25th meeting. While citing Quaker principles of openness and free discussion, the Board totally disregarded the most fundamental points the union members were communicating to them.

The Philadelphia IWW filed a petition for an election with the NLRB two weeks after the Board of Directors issued their decision. At the hearing to determine an appropriate bargaining unit, management's attorney argued for including five more workers in the unit. One of the five isn't even an employee of the Friends Center - he wears a Willard uniform and works for a private contractor repairing heaters and air conditioning units at the Center. The Friends Center lawyer took exception to Wobblies' snickering at his absurd suggestion. Another employee management attempted to include supervises the front desk staff.

The Friends Center management, while claiming to be driven by a mission of conscience, has chosen to take full advantage of American anti-labor laws. They stubbornly insisted that we include workers into the unit who do completely different work and have clearly indicated that they have no desire to join the union. These workers share no community of interest with the evening and weekend staffers, and should not be forced to choose to either join the union or stand in the way of their co-workers who want to organize.

Having no faith in the NLRB's willingness to help us keep our unit intact, we tried for many hours to negotiate a settlement. The IWW and management decided on an unusual compromise: if the union can get five authorization cards (one more than the number of part-time front desk staffers) by mid-December, the Center would voluntarily recognize the entire unit management proposed, minus the private contractor.

The front desk staffers, joined by other Wobblies, have leafleted gatherings at the Friends Center to encourage support for voluntary recognition of their union. More than 700 fliers have been distributed in the past week generating an overwhelmingly supportive response. The Philadelphia Monthly Meeting called a "Threshing Session" which called for their representatives on the Board of Directors to reconsider their position. Dozens of supporters wearing bright red IWW buttons attended a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the American Friends Service Committee's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize. Quakers and progressives in Philadelphia and around the country have expressed their solidarity by calling the Friends Center.

Your help in our effort to win recognition is appreciated. We're asking that the Friends Center Corporation voluntarily recognize the union of the four evening and weekend front desk staffers and that they stop trying to include workers in the unit who have clearly expressed that they have no interest in organizing. Contact John Blanchard, Chairman of the Board, and Peter Rittenhouse, Executive Director of the Friends Center, by writing Friends Center Corporation 15th & Cherry Streets, Phila. PA 19102, fax: 215/241-7028, e-mail: For more information on the campaign, call 215/724-1925 or e-mail

-- Alexis Buss

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

Borders workers need union... but which one?

An article about a UFCW campaign at Borders Books. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

Workers at the Lincoln Park, Chicago Borders approved a UFCW-negotiated contract 29 to 8 October 1st, nearly a year to the day after they voted to join the union. While the UFCW was quick to put union security clauses and dues checkoff on the negotiating table, the issue of workers' pay was put on the back-burner, generating a little confusion at signing time. Borders insisted that they had agreed to a 3.5% pay increase per year, the UFCW said it was a 4.5% increase. Borders caved in, so workers can look forward to an extra $11 or so in their pay each week, before taxes. This pay increase was already in place as a "merit-based" raise, which was seldom denied to employees.

Workers also won the right to work 40 hours per week, as they need all the hours they can get since the average starting pay is $6.25 an hour. Borders had previously scheduled shorter work weeks to discourage overtime. Employees also received a $150 lump sum signing bonus which will be paid in February 1998, and a grievance procedure has been put into place.

Miriam Fried, who was on the IWW organizing committee while she worked at the Center City Philadelphia Borders in 1996 (until she was fired for union activity), said, "I'm disappointed by the results because it falls short of the major goals we had when working on our drive." At the foundation of most of the Borders drives is a demand for a living wage - a pay rate which most employees in retail never see. Borders management made their position clear in an April 1997 company newsletter: "If you desire an enjoyable job while you figure out what to do with your life, this is a good place to be. But if you try to make a career path out of something which can never be a well-paying job, you will be up against an impossible task because of all of the economic constraints in the retail industry."

While many workers at Borders take on second jobs to make ends meet, Borders CEO Robert DiRomualdo was paid $24 million in 1996. Modest in comparison to DiRomualdo, but still dwarfing the wages of their members, the top six International UFCW officers combined earn over $1.4 million, with huge expense accounts at their disposal. It is disgusting to ask workers who take home around $190 in pay for 40 hours' hard work to allow $35 - $40 a month in dues to be taken directly out of their pay, and then have greedy union bureaucrats live high off the hog. Miriam, who remembers the excitement that drove the organizing effort which she was a part of, says, "I hope that the workers at the other locations can maintain the solidarity and enthusiasm needed to get a good raise and that everyone remembers the power of direct action."

Between the time that workers in Chicago voted the union in and when they signed the contract, there was a 45 percent turnover, some of which was due to management's blatant antagonism towards pro-union employees. A local Chicago weekly reported in April that a worker was terminated for allegedly stealing a piece of pita bread from the in-store cafe. Where was the union for this worker? Where was the organized solidarity to prevent incidents such as this from becoming standard behavior at Borders Incorporated?

On the same day that the Chicago contract was signed, the UFCW launched a campaign calling for Borders management act neutrally when they are approached with a request for union recognition, and to drop the union-busting law firm of Jackson, Lewis, Schnitzler and Krupman, which was brought on board to fight the IWW effort in Philadelphia and has been Borders' attorneys ever since. Needless to say, Borders declined to agree to these demands. While this strategy seems absurd to a union like ours which believes that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common, UFCW is paying for ads in national magazines to beg for crumbs.

It stands to reason that UFCW should expect Borders to be neutral while they organize, since the UFCW has remained more or less neutral when Borders attacks its workers.

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

The Teamsters election: another lesson in corruption - Eric Chester

An article by Eric Chester about corruption and bureaucracy in the Teamsters. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

As we go to press, a U.S. monitor has just barred Teamsters president Ron Carey from standing for re-election, finding him personally responsible for illegally funneling union funds into his campaign. This article was written before the announcement:

The continuing saga of the Teamsters epitomizes the bankruptcy of business unionism. While the recent strike at UPS gained extravagant plaudits from the liberal press, the narrow reelection of Teamster president Ron Carey has begun to come unraveled. Not only has Carey's victory been voided, with a new election scheduled for mid-March, but the new "reform" AFL-CIO leadership is in danger of going down with Carey as the ramifications of a massive scam become clearer.

It would be all too easy to minimize the reports of corruption leaking out into the mainstream press. After all, with the White House selling access like the peddlers of fake Rolexes on the streets of New York, perhaps we should expect the same shady maneuvers from union bureaucrats. But this would denigrate the many years of organizing at the rank and file level, as Teamster truck drivers who had become fed up with mobsters and their pillaging of union pension funds sought to regain some control over their union. Unfortunately, the final result of the Teamster reform movement has been to chuck one set of parasites for another smoother and more sophisticated set of wheeler dealers.

In 1976, Teamsters for a Democratic Union emerged from the consolidation of three small opposition groups, with Ken Paff, a socialist activist, as coordinator. While the situation seemed bleak, a huge bureaucracy with its own goon squad, there were some bright sides as well. The leadership's idea of defeating a rank and file opposition never went beyond physical threats and red-baiting. Furthermore, the Teamsters were under intensive scrutiny for their blatant connections to the Mafia. In addition, the deregulation of the trucking industry, one of President Carter's gifts to the working class, had crippled Teamster power and put wages and working conditions into a free fall.

All of this came to a head in July 1989, when a federal judge placed the Teamsters under trusteeship. The court appointed an elections officer to supervise the next two elections. At this point TDU confronted a critical choice. It could have opted to nominate its own slate of candidates, thereby presenting the rank and file with a genuine choice. Instead TDU decided to back Ron Carey, a local union president and a business unionist with a reputation for honesty. With its opportunistic decision to go for the quick win TDU became the junior partner in a new Teamster leadership.

Carey won with 48 percent of the vote when the Old Guard split its potential vote by backing two different candidates. Over his five-year term in office, Carey has moved cautiously on almost every front. A UPS contract from 1992 was signed without a strike, and with very little gained. When Teamsters were forced into a bitter strike by the Detroit newspaper moguls, Carey and the Teamster board did little, leaving the strikers struggling to survive. The best thing that can be said for the new Teamsters is that it took organizing the unorganized as a serious priority, and yet even here it relied on friends in high places to overcome employer resistance.

The old regime had been an anomaly within the AFL-CIO when it came to playing practical politics. From 1972 through 1988, the Teamsters endorsed every Republican presidential candidate but one. Although Carey had been a nominal Republican prior to his election, the nucleus of his supporters and advisors were oriented toward the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. During the 1992 Democratic convention, Clinton and Carey met privately to discuss Teamster support. This close working relationship deepened after Clinton's victory. Indeed then Teamster political director William Hamilton wrote an internal memo informing the higher echelons of the hierarchy that "we ask for, and get, on almost a daily basis, help from the Clinton administration for one thing or another."

In the spring of 1996, after more than four years in office, the new Teamsters leadership was confronted with another election. This time the Old Guard united around James Hoffa, an obscure lawyer with virtually no track record, but one very important asset, his father's name. That spring, Carey's advisors were stunned to discover that Hoffa had a very real chance of winning. Carey had failed to deliver, and the rank and file knew it. Furthermore, Hoffa was garnering large contributions.

Confronted with a crisis, the Carey camp responded with yet another maneuver. Carey's campaign manager, Jere Nash, worked with Martin Davis, a political consultant who had been acting as liaison with the Democratic National Committee, to devise a plan to funnel large sums of money from the Teamsters treasury into the coffers of the Carey reelection campaign. To hide the true source of the funds, Nash and Davis decided to arrange a series of swaps, creating paper trails showing funds moving from the Teamsters to worthy causes. The money would then flow through a network of intermediaries before flowing back to the Carey campaign, or to one of the firms handling direct mailings or telephone blitzes aimed at the Teamsters membership.

Nash and Davis were eager to cooperate with other operatives skilled in the complex stratagems needed to hide large contributions that violate election laws, and they knew just where to look. In May 1996, Davis approached the Clinton campaign with his proposal. The Teamsters would give hundreds of thousands of dollars to Democratic state committees, and in return the Democrats would solicit friendly contributors to divert some of their donations to the Carey campaign.

High officials in the Democratic campaign structure have been quoted as saying that there was nothing wrong with them advising wealthy donors to aid a friendly union president, and yet the election rules governing the Teamsters election were quite strict. Federal law prohibits employers from contributing to union election campaigns. Needless to say, most big time contributors to the Democratic Party are employers.

As the Dec, 10 election date approached, Nash and Davis became more desperate as Carey's defeat seemed increasingly likely. They reached out to a whole array of progressive organizations, seeking to involve them in swap schemes. The AFL-CIO leadership joined in, with a significant portion of a huge contribution from the Teamsters to Citizens Action, a consumer advocacy group interested in electing a Democratic majority in Congress, passing through the office of Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL. In addition, Trumka and other high AFL-CIO leaders are reported to have provided bags of cash to Carey campaign aides. Union leaders have the power to hire and fire, and thus are categorized as employers under the federal law covering contributions to union campaigns.

As this whole sordid mess has unfolded, Carey has steadfastly maintained that he knew nothing. Indeed he has gone so far as to say that if there is "a victim, I certainly am the victim." So far three people, including Nash and Davis, have detailed their involvement to a federal grand jury. Nash and Davis have made it clear that Carey was a knowing participant. Carey's own personal secretary has said that Carey personally approved the $475,000 contribution to Citizens Action. Carey's denials have all of the credibility of the czar's protestations in olden days. The Little Father was so busy watching out for the interests of the poor and downtrodden that he was unable to keep track of the misdeeds of his advisors.

Ultimately, it would appear that the scheme moved more than a million dollars of Teamster funds to third parties, with most of this returning to the Carey campaign. By the end of the campaign, Carey had reported spending more than $3 million, with more than one million of this total listed as coming from anonymous sources. Hoffa raised about the same amount, with $1.8 million coming from unidentified donations.

The Hoffa camp engaged in its own efforts at unethical, and perhaps illegal, efforts to raise money. Bob Wages, the president of the Oil and Chemical Workers, has stated that he was approached by a Hoffa aide, with Hoffa present, and asked to get behind the winning candidate, or risk Teamsters members crossing Oil and Chemical picket lines. When Wages asked for more details, the aide urged him to solicit firms with union contracts for contributions to the Hoffa campaign.

The Teamsters election became a microcosm of the last presidential campaign. With Carey tied to the Clinton forces, and the Old Guard looking to the Republicans, the same corrupt practices were in full swing, as both sides searched for friendly corporate contributors. All of this would be depressing enough without the vocal presence of TDU. This supposed caucus of union militants has given Carey uncritical support throughout the entire debacle.

Battered by the election scandal, Carey supporters have extolled the recent UPS strike as a milestone, the first large step in the creation of a new and revitalized trade union movement. Certainly the 15-day strike marked a significant improvement over decades of quietly accepting one concession- filled contract after another. Nevertheless, the Teamster leadership was never prepared to shut UPS down for a lengthy strike. Instead, it relied on the Clinton White House to cajole UPS from hiring scabs for long enough to disrupt deliveries to the point where the corporation retreated from most of its demands for further givebacks.

The resulting contract was not a disaster, but it was also far from a major victory. For instance, current part-timers, 60 percent of the UPS workforce, received sizable pay increases. Yet with rapid turnover and a five-year contract, the true cost of the contract hinges on the starting wage rate for part-time workers. For 15 years, and this includes the last contract signed by Carey, this rate had been stuck at $8.00. The new contract raises this rate to $8.50. A fifty cent increase represents a total gain of 6 percent over five years. Thus, the real wage of a new part-time UPS worker, allowing for inflation, will continue to fall throughout the life of this contract. This hardly represents a momentous victory.

Neither Carey nor Hoffa deserves our support. We need a very different union movement than either of these bureaucrats will promote. We also need to build opposition caucuses that stand for more than an end to wholesale corruption and the direct election of union officers. As TDU so dramatically demonstrates, without a firm commitment to a radical program, reform caucuses can deteriorate into mere apologists for the more liberal wing of the union bureaucracy. We need to project a vision of a union movement that will mobilize across industries for militant actions that can win future confrontations such as the Detroit newspaper strike. We also need to say loudly and clearly that as long as unions continue to rely on their influence with political bosses working people will continue to see their living standards spiral downward.

-- Eric Chester

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

We need the right to strike!

An article written within the context of the Detroit newspaper strikes about the obstacles facing effective strikes. Originally appeared in Battleground Detroit (October 1997), a publication of the Action Coalition of Strikers and Supporters (ACOSS). Reprinted in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)

As with Gannett and Knight-Ridder in Detroit, employers everywhere are increasingly resorting to lockouts, production by scabs during strikes, and the permanent replacement of strikers.

Anti-labor laws like the Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin Acts are unjust. They outlaw the measures we need to make strikes effective (including mass picketing, workplace occupations, secondary boycotts, solidarity strikes, and general strikes) and help shift the balance of forces in favor of the corporations.

The labor movement needs to win the right to strike by forcing the government to repeal the Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin Acts and all the other anti-labor laws and to prohibit any interference in the right of workers to strike, picket or occupy our workplaces, on our own behalf or in solidarity with other workers. We need legislation that will guarantee the right to strike, and prohibit employers from hiring scabs as temporary or permanent replacement workers or operating their businesses during a strike.

One way to accomplish this is to mobilize direct action by the unions to make the anti-labor laws unenforceable, particularly organizing political strikes as necessary to back off the government.

Corporate attacks on workers

Corporations like Gannett and Knight-Ridder have tried to maintain their profitability by automating, speeding up and laying off workers in the industrial centers, gutting health, education and social welfare programs, attacking the legal rights and social position of women, racial and national minorities, and immigrants, and shifting production to low-wage regions like the southern US and low-wage countries like Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Korea and China, where repressive governments often add to the "favorable business environment."

A central problem for the labor movement is that the corporations have again made strikebreaking and union-busting key elements of their strategy, not only in poor countries and regions, where this has always been the case, but also in the industrial centers. Driven by their own competition and taking advantage of the competition among workers, the corporations increasingly are trying to crush all resistance.

In the U.S., the corporations, with government support, more and more often reply to strike threats with lockouts and to strikes with continued production by scabs and the permanent replacement of strikers. From PATCO to Hormel to the Decatur "war zone" of Staley, Firestone and Caterpillar to the Detroit newspapers, strikebreaking and union-busting are becoming the norm for U.S. labor relations.

Militant tactics still can win

There are exceptions to this pattern. Where workers are able to stop highly profitable production, even a very large corporation may decide that a lockout or strike is not worth the cost, as in the recent UPS strike and the UAW strikes at GM and Chrysler. But in most cases, if the corporation is big enough and determined enough, the traditional strategy of withholding labor in a particular bargaining unit, even supplemented by a consumer boycott or "corporate campaign," is not enough to win.

The labor movement is still quite strong, however. Key components of industry are still organized, and the unions have tactics that can win against even the biggest, most determined employers. These are the tactics that built the industrial unions in the 1930s and 1940s: mass picketing, workplace occupations, secondary boycotts, solidarity strikes and general strikes to back off the government when it tries to interfere.

If the Staley workers had been able to stop the scabs with mass picketing, occupy the Decatur plant, threaten Tate & Lyle with secondary boycotts and solidarity strikes at all its operations worldwide, and block government interference with the threat of escalating general strikes, they would have won within 72 hours. The same applies to the Detroit Newspaper strike.

Not surprisingly, all these tactics are illegal. Having been forced to make major concessions to the unions in the 1930s, reflected in the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act and the 1935 Wagner Act, the employers moved as soon as they could to outlaw the unions' most potent weapons. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act and the 1959 Landrum-Griffin Act codified their key victories, supplemented since then by a stream of court decisions, administrative rulings, and arbitration awards tracing the labor moment's retreat into business unionism.

Unions today must win the right to strike by nullifying the anti-labor laws and redressing the balance of economic forces. We must learn from the employers. Their method is to divide and conquer by bringing their concentrated economic, legal, and police power to bear on separate groups of workers. They begin with the more vulnerable sectors of the working class: African Americans, Latinos, women, youth, the unskilled, the unorganized, and the unemployed. When they take on the unions, they try to limit the conflict to one bargaining unit at a time, although behind that employer stands the corporate empire of which it is part and behind that the employing class as a whole and the government that serves it.

The unions must overcome the divisions the employers exploit by organizing the unorganized, starting from the current base of industrial, government and skilled workers and reaching out to workers in the South, service workers, the unskilled, Black and Latino workers, women workers, youth, and the unemployed. We must rebuild the labor movement from the ground up, with a strong presence on the shop and office floors and active democracy in the union halls. And we must bring the power of all the unions and all the workers to bear in any struggle, making a reality of the principle, an injury to one is an injury to all.

The right to strike will be won first of all on the picket lines and in the streets. The bosses will not give up their power voluntarily. Workers will win their rights only by exercising their power. The labor movement must free itself from the illusion that it can overcome unjust laws by obeying them.

So long as the employers and the government can keep the unions fighting bargaining unit by bargaining unit and obeying the anti-labor laws and injunctions, they can continue to inflict defeats which rob us of the public support we would need to repeal the laws and end the injunctions. The unions will repeal Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin and end injunctions only by making them unenforceable.

Originally appeared in Battleground Detroit (October 1997), a publication of the Action Coalition of Strikers and Supporters (ACOSS). Reprinted in the Industrial Worker #1607 (December 1997)


Industrial Worker #1616 (October 1998)

Articles from the October 1998 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Worldwide labor solidarity: the bosses worst nightmare

An article about the Pacific Maritime Association's attempt to identify those who picketed and refused to unload a ship in solidarity with locked-out Liverpool dockers. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 1998).

The Pacific Maritime Association is continuing its efforts to compel IWW member Robert Irminger to name each of the dozens of workers and supporters who picketed Yusen Terminal in the Port of Oakland, California, last Fall in solidarity with the locked-out Liverpool dockers. The bosses' association is also demanding the identity of everyone with whom FW Irminger communicated regarding the picket and detailed descriptions of those communications, and a list of all organizations with which he is associated.

"A lot of the information I don't have," Irminger notes. "Word got out through the radio and just through an informal network, and people just came down on their own initiative and joined in the picket line. So obviously I didn't know a lot of the people, but of course if I did know their identities I would not divulge them."

Irminger, who is also San Francisco Region chair of the ILWU-affiliated Inland Boatmens Union, served as picket captain during the three and a half days of picketing. After word got out that the Neptune Jade was due in port, several activists showed up early on a Sunday morning, meeting longshoremen with a picket line when they arrived to work the ship around 7:30 a.m.

"Ordinary workers see the sense of solidarity," Irminger told the IWW General Assembly, and so they refused to cross the line.

When an arbitrator rejected FW Irminger's contention that he was a representative of the Liverpool dockers, the longshoremen refused to cross the line on health and safety grounds. The arbitrator agreed, a ruling that was repeated several times over the next three days. But the arbitrator ruled that there was no longer a health and safety issue when police showed up in force to break the picket line.

The longshoremen still refused, "saying they do not cross picket lines with an armed escort, and especially with an armed police escort, citing the murder by police of six strikers in the 1934 maritime strike on the West Coast."

The Neptune Jade then fled for Canada, where longshoremen again refused to cross a picket line, and for Japan, with no more success, before being sold in Taiwan.

While Superior Court Judge Henry Needham has cleared most defendants of the PMA charges, he has allowed the suit to proceed against Irminger on the grounds that he bore particular responsibility for the action as picket captain. Irminger's only role as picket captain was to act as liaison with the arbitrator and police, and that he had no authority over the other pickets. He has already been subjected to hours of questioning by PMA attorneys who, Irminger says, seem incapable of realizing that informal structures exist and that he and others acted on their own initiative.

"The corporate world does not have a clue about solidarity," he said. "They think there has to be someone at the top giving orders."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, perhaps running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Pacific Maritime Association has been turning to the courts with increasing frequency in the past two years. Part of the shippers' strategy is to engage the ILWU in as many lawsuits as possible, forcing the union to divert funds and energy to the courts.

Dockers closed San Francisco area ports for half a day July 22 and rallied at the courthouse during an attempt by the PMA to subponea documents about the picket from the ILWU. Judge Needham ruled in the union's favor three weeks later. The bosses had threatened to sue FW Irminger and other pickets during the action, but he didn't believe them.

"They don't sue you for picketing, for god's sake," Irminger said. "But they do sue you, particularly when you're effective." Dockworkers wield enormous industrial power, he noted, and "the shipping bosses' worst nightmare is the port workers working together, coordinating their efforts."

The defense campaign has drawn wide support, "highlighting the fact that you bring out the best in people when you have a militant struggle," Irminger said.

Irminger placed the lawsuit in the broader context of a global assault against dockworkers' unions over the past 15 years. Shipping bosses are privatizing ports and smashing unions around the world. Dockers are facing massive automation, speed-up and sub-contracting of support functions in an effort to break their industrial power.

The Liverpool dispute which prompted the picketing of the Neptune Jade ended with the loss of the last organized port in England. West Coast Mexican ports were privatized a few years ago, and the military occupied them when workers struck. A similar scenario developed last year in Santos, Brazil, the largest port in South America. This year's Australian strike was another battle in this war. And dockers have come to recognize that they can rely only upon their fellow workers for support in this global class war. And workers are learning their lesson.

When workers picketed the Los Angeles docks last summer to block unloading of scab cargo they had no picket captain to be sued. And ultimately the scab-loaded cargo had to be returned to Australia.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 1998)

IWW Assembly looks to future

An account of the 1998 IWW General Assembly. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 1998)

Organizing dominated a packed agenda at the IWW's 1998 General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, over the Labor Day weekend. More than 87 members attended, making this year's the largest such meeting in many decades.

General Secretary-Treasurer Fred Chase reported that membership has more than doubled since the 1995 Assembly, and is up 34 percent from last year. Over the last year the IWW has chartered Industrial Union Branches in Sedro Woolley, Washington (construction), Toronto (public service), Portland (entertainment and public service), San Francisco (marine transport) and Winnipeg (general distribution). Fourteen new General Membership Branch charters have been issued, and several new charter applications are in the works.

The IWW now has members in 12 countries, with the largest concentrations in Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. There continues to be strong interest in the union in Latin America and Africa. This international growth offers exciting possibilities for building an IWW truly capable of taking on the bosses on a global level, but it also raises financial and organizational issues which the union will continue to grapple with over the next year.

Indeed, the strains of our rapid growth were evident throughout the Assembly. So many branches were represented that the time allotted proved insufficient to allow for reports on the abundant organizing and other activities now underway despite the firm but understanding efforts of co-chairs Missy Rohs and Tim Acott. More than two dozen proposed constitutional amendments and other resolutions also overwhelmed available discussion time, and an ad hoc committee was appointed to continue the process of reviewing and refining these proposals before they are presented to the membership for a union-wide vote.

The highlight of the two days was probably the talk by IWW and ILWU member Robert Irminger, who is facing a lawsuit in retaliation for his alleged role in organizing picketing of the Neptune Jade last year in solidarity with Mersey dockers. Irminger was singled out by the bosses because he served as picket captain during the four-day action. (See report above) He told delegates that IWW members played an critical role on the picket line, constituting half the pickets at one point. The recent organization of the San Francisco Bay Ports Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union 510 Branch is, at least in part, an outgrowth of our efforts to build solidarity for the Mersey dockers in their long struggle.

The ongoing drive at Skagit Pacific in Washington state was also reported on, as was the recent organization of IWW branches in Edmonton, Alberta, and Victoria, British Columbia. Fellow Workers from Austin, Texas, reported on their successful fight to force a local developer to pay some $28,000 in unpaid wages to 125 mostly undocumented workers there.

Members broke into smaller groups Saturday afternoon for more focussed discussions on organizing strategy, working within the business unions, constitutional revision, international structure, the Industrial Worker and other topics. Sunday morning, we broke into industrial meetings after nominations were completed. Maritime workers from San Francisco brought copies of their new newsletter to spark discussion. Many Wobs work as casuals on the Oakland docks, and the MTW is undertaking health and safety training to educate casuals on their rights.

Public Service IU 670 workers discussed organzing within the already largely unionized public sector, which has many legal restrictions including making strikes illegal and not being able to bargain over pay. 670ers also discussed the nature of working for private and publically funded non-profits, where workers are often expected to make wage concessions and other sacrifices for a "common good" which the bosses do not allow them to shape the vision of. Because of the nature of IU 670, it was generally agreed that the democratic principles of the IWW would be embraced by others in the industry, especially non-profit workers and government employees saddled with undemocratic or lazy unions. We will be developing literature to address this issue.

Education workers shared stories of efforts to organize their workplaces and discussed the prospects for iwwue-based organizing where there was little prospect of winning a job branch or job control in the near future. Education workers at the University of Memphis are launching a local newsletter as part of their efforts to organize the campus' low-paid workers. Other meetings brought together construction, restaurant and entertainment Wobs.

Spreading the word

A proposal by the Literature Committee to develop an indexed archive of material to better support organizing drives was approved, while a workshop on international issues proposed that the IWW return to our earlier system of regional administrations. The Radio Committee reported that the first episode of the "Soapboxing the Airwaves" show has been produced, and that several stations have agreed to air it. Future programs will be distributed on compact disk.

The Internet Committee reported on the dramatic growth of the union's online resources, which now includes six servers in three countries. While the network makes possible a much wider geographical distribution of IWW information, the burden of maintaining it falls fairly heavily on the shoulders of a few branches and individual members. FW Deke Nihilson noted that the small number of volunteers maintaining the network leaves the system vulnerable, and called for volunteers to take on a variety of support tasks ranging from helping members get on-line to more advanced technical support. Nihilson also noted the need for increased financial support, both to maintain the existing service and to enable the San Francisco Branch to secure more band-width to accomodate growing usage.

And the Organizing Strategies workshop discussed the different conditions facing organizers in the U.S. and Canada and the need to provide better training and support, particularly for first-time organizers. Participants agreed that the key to successful organizing was not winning Labor Board certification, but rather establishing a functioning union presence on the job. Even where the union remains a minority presence, real improvements can often be won through workplace struggles and the union can build legitimacy and broader support. A variety of strategies for sharing organizing skills were discussed, including regional tours, training sessions incorporated into regional meetings, and videotaped presentations on labor law and organizing tactics. Participants also discussed the need for more reflection on our organizing efforts, perhaps in the form of a regular section in the General Organization Bulletin.

Members attended from Austin TX, Boston, Butte MT, Cincinnati, Detroit, Edmonton, Eugene OR, Gainesville FL, Hawaii, Louisville, Memphis, Mendocino, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Monterey, Olympia WA, Philadelphia, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, The Dalles OR, and Victoria. Greetings were received from the British Isles, Baltimore, Greensboro NC, Lancaster PA, New York, Tacoma, and Washington D.C.

IWW members can look forward to a bulging referendum ballot next month, addressing issues ranging from a dues hike to changes in the provisions for membership eligibility to our international structure.

Members will also be asked to endorse the I-99 International Solidarity Conference being organized by fellow workers in the San Francisco Bay Area for June 1-5. The sponsors hope that the conference - open to all who agree that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common, that the working class should take over the economy, and that workers must organize into unions to fight the capitalists - will replace factionalism with mutual aid, and explore the possibilities for coordinated international efforts against our common enemy, the employing class. Many other proposals were left on the table for further debate and discussion.


Fred Chase and Alexis Buss accepted nomination for General Secretary-Treasurer. More than three dozen candidates were nominated to serve on next year's General Executive Board, and are currently being contacted to verify eligibility and to determine if they accept nomination. Nominees include: Joshua Freeze (Austin), Morgan Miller (Portland), John Persak (Seattle), Denny Henke (Memphis), Monica Berini (San Francisco), Kevin Brandstatter (Swindon), Mark Damron (Cincinatti), Fred Lee (Leicester), Nathan Smith (Asheville), Liam Flynn (San Francisco), Mike Garcia (Salt Lake City), Mickey Valis (Atlanta), Dennis Georg (Butte), Rick George (Eugene), Heather Harmon (Mendocino), Harry Siitonen (East Bay), Susan Marsh (San Francisco), Chris Wall (Seattle), Bob Rivera (Michigan), Mark Janowitz (San Francisco), Colin Dewey (San Francisco), Penny Pixler (Chicago), Hillary Yothers (East Bay), Jason Justice (East Bay), Malini Cadambi (East Bay), Jen Kortright (East Bay), Steve Kellerman (Boston), Pete Wilcox (Oahu), Robin Walker (East Bay), VT Lee (Florida), David Christian (Atlanta), Frank Devore (San Francisco), Eric Chester (Boston), Obo Help (San Francisco), Mike Reinsborough (Los Angeles), Bob Helms (Philadelphia), and David Collins (East Bay). Several other nominees declined on the floor.

Nominated to edit the Industrial Worker for the next two years were Jon Bekken, a Detroit, Michigan-based collective, and Brian Wiles (San Francisco).

Members will also choose between Memphis, Tenn., and Winnipeg, Manitoba, for the site of the next General Assembly.

On a personal note, it seemed clear to your editor that we will need to rethink how we handle our Assemblies, given our ongoing growth. Requiring that resolutions and proposed constitutional amendments be circulated to all branches well in advance of the Assembly could have made it possible to resolve many wording issues in advance, and perhaps to consolidate proposals addressing similar issues. Similarly, by more strongly encouraging advance registration for the Assembly, it would be possible to mail out agenda packets a couple of weeks in advance, so that delegates would arrive already familiar with the content of the reports and proposals to be considered. These modest changes might lead to more focussed discussion, and reduce the inevitable confusion resulting from trying to address proposals which many delegates are seeing only for the first time.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 1998)

Protections for pottymouths - Alexis Buss

An article by Alexis Buss on the legal protections existing for union stewards to swear at their employers. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1616 (October 1998)

During a contract negotiation session last month, management's lawyer saw fit to loudly say "bullshit" over and over while we addressed the issue of the boss' duty to bargain about pay rates and pay equity. We decided not to engage this lawyer in a cursing war, and instead called for a caucus. The workers were alarmed that the lawyer would disrespect our position in such a way, and asked me if it was legal to curse at us. And indeed it is. So long as they actually bargain the issue, the boss and lawyer can curse up a mighty storm all they want.

Then I brought up the advantage to us: we've got that right, too. Not only at the bargaining table, but our shop stewards, once a contract is in place, would have identical protections. All of a sudden folks were volunteering to be stewards so that they could exercise this very right.

I have heard many stories of stewards being suspended or even fired for insubordination after cursing or ranting at a boss during a grievance meeting. Arbitrators and the National Labor Relations Board will generally find in the steward's favor because it is generally understood that unless there is extreme profanity tied up in violent threats, workers have a right to get angry while trying to resolve a problem. Stewards do not have a legally protected right to threaten or insinuate violence, or carry out a violent act in a grievance meeting, but cursing is not in and of itself considered violent.

Here's a review of cases that refer to stewards' rights to let their temper loose on a boss: At makeup and perfume giant Max Factor, a steward called the boss a "twerp" and was protected in 239 NLRB 804.

Imagine the poor, thin-skinned, quivering boss who was so offended by being called a twerp that they had to wade through over probably two years of litigation to justify firing a steward for using the relatively obliging language.

But it gets better for our fellow workers who learned to defend workers' rights from listening to that George Carlin album with all the dirty words. In a case at the United States Postal Service (250 NLRB 4), a postal worker steward called the boss a "stupid ass" and was legally protected. A steward called a foreman a "fucking incompetent asshole" at United Technologies (274 NLRB 504) during a grievance meeting and was protected. At Consumers Power, a steward told a manager boss "I don't give a fuck who you call" when the manager said he was going to call to verify facts and was protected in 245 NLRB 183. And at Severance Tool Industries (301 NLRB 1166) a steward called the company president a "son of a bitch" and got to keep his job and smile at the S.O.B. for years after.

Related cases include Synadyne Corp., (228 NLRB 664), which articulates the steward's right to point their finger at their boss and shake it around. Call your boss a liar in a grievance meeting, and it's ok, too (Hawaiian Hauling 219 NLRB 765), apparently even if it's not true. Another case to do with heated exchanges is an additional one from our friends at the United States Postal Service which provides for a "cooling-off period" after a heated exchange (250 NLRB 4). The case says that workers should not be expected to be totally robot-like and have the ability to switch our emotions from high to neutral in a matter of seconds.

Again I must reiterate that the cases above are rights only for stewards in shops where the union is recognized and has a collective bargaining agreement - so non-union stiffs don't be confused! Cussin' for you ain't a right, it's a duty. And my advice would be that it's a duty better done under your breath when the boss is well out of hearing range. Non-union workers are employees-at-will, and cursing can be considered insubordination which can, among a million other things, get you legally fired and sometimes even denied your unemployment benefits.

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1616 (October 1998)

From the desk of the General Secretary-Treasurer

An article by then General Secretary-Treasurer of the IWW, Fred Chase, on the state of the union after the 1998 General Assembly. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1616 (October 1998)

Just got back from General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, to face an omigod pile of mail on my desk. It could have been worse. Fellow office workers Robin Hood and Carol Igoe beat me back to General Headquarters and took care of most of what had arrived during our absence while I took an extra day to visit one of my two darling daughters who lives just across the river from Portland.

This year's assembly was another good working vacation as most of them are. I always come away inspired by the good work Wobs are doing, warmed by renewed acquaintances with those who have been at it for years and revitalized by the new acquaintances made. With 88 Wobs registering, it was one of the largest assemblies in our 93 year history. I'm told that even when our membership was in the tens of thousands assemblies were generally small delegate affairs rather than mass gatherings. The growth in numbers and in the volume of business has many of us thinking it may soon be time to go back to the delegate system and longer assemblies. The number of regional assemblies has been growing recently. Those may be a substitute for mass General Assemblies, saving participants travel time and expense.

Overall the tone of the '98 assembly was extremely positive. Participants in disputes generally treated each other with the respect due to Fellow Workers. Observers and workers at the assembly said they were impressed with our democratic process. May it always be so.

Many of us were delighted to spend an evening at a local bar where most of the musicians and comics were Wobblies. One of the few sore spots in the weekend was that nearly a dozen of the Wobs at Assembly were too young to enter the bar. When our membership was aging rapidly a decade ago we didn't have to worry about such things. Being an organization which welcomes and unites workers from their teens on up is a nice problem to have. Apologies were extended and word will be passed on to the hosts of the next assembly that we need to have facilities which are accessible to our younger members.

Information presented at Assembly indicates it has been another good year to be a Wobbly. We've been on an upswing for several years now, with each new year surpassing the successes of the previous. Since last September we've added 13 new branches, more than half again as many as we had then. Many of them are industry based rather than General Membership Branches. We find ourselves getting back to the industrial organizing structures which didn't fit too well when we were smaller. Membership has more than doubled in the past 3 years. It promises to be more than triple what it was in January of '95 by the time this year is over. The rate of growth has been doubling from year to year.

New members in Poland and Italy are forming Regional Organizing Committees. Membership and industrial organizing are on the increase in Canada and the U.K. as well as the U.S.

The advances are due to the hard work of Wobs in the field. Expanded distribution of the Industrial Worker and heroic efforts to maintain email lists and web pages have made us visible to more and more folks who thought we had died decades ago. Wobs are making contact with new members and linking them up with other Wobs to form branches. And we're synergistic. Effective activity breeds more of the same.

I'm winding down my fourth annual term in this office. As a position appropriately structured to serve the membership rather than consolidate power for the office holder, election often falls to the first volunteer. For the first time since 1993 there will be competition for the position of GST. That's good for the union. Democracy requires choices. But I can't bring myself to think of an election as putting me in competition with or opposition to Fellow Worker Alexis Buss of Philadelphia. We've been supportive comrades to each other in too many struggles in the past few years. If she gets elected I'm confident she'll do an excellent job. If I do, I'll continue to try my best. In either case I'm optimistic that the Once-again-getting-Bigger Union will continue to prosper.

The work continues. Discussion of issues have abounded on the internet since Assembly. New organizing efforts keep coming to light. New membership applications arrive with practically every report to General Headquarters from our delegates. Seldom do I go through a day without thinking it's a good day to be a Wobbly. I fully expect that the coming year will be a good year to be a Wobbly. During that year I expect to see a lot of you on IWW picket lines. And a year from now I look forward to seeing a lot of you once again or for the first time at the next General Assembly.

-- Fred Chase, General Secretary-Treasurer

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1616 (October 1998)

The IWW on the job: job control

A short article about Portland IWW about job control. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1616 (October 1998)

WHEN THE IWW builds a presence on a job site or in a specific industry it should be a very different thing than the presence of a business union. The IWW is as completely different from the other unions as night from day, and its methods and results should be just as different. With a business union, the focus is on the contract, the NLRB decision to grant bargaining power to the union. With the IWW, the whole point of the exercise is Job Control, direct worker control over the job site, taken as far and as deep as can be done. It's a different goal that implies a very different approach.

The tactics that work best for job control don't always make great copy. A strike is news. Lots of high drama and noble resolve, a dramatic sellout and a lot of suffering and human interest. A quickie wildcat strike, however, is over before you know it, gets the job done neatly and precisely with a minimum of high drama and human suffering, and makes no real story at all in the paper. Much less a slowdown, or a threatened but never carried out wildcat action that gets best results without any publicity or embarrassment. Nothing is more subtle and less newsworthy than the gradual establishment of dual power on the job. It's a total yawner to the press, and the best thing going to the workers on the job. So, you don't read much about the real Wobbly stuff, neither in history nor in the news.

The tactics that get the job done directly aren't that dramatic. Go slow. Sit down. Work to rule. The open mouth. The usurpation, through efficiency and good sense, of the functions of management, often without the boss even noticing. To run the shop well and get the work done at a safe, reasonable pace, while gradually establishing certain practices of safety, rotation of tasks, relief from boredom and repetitive motion injury, gradual lengthening of breaks, elimination of involuntary overtime - these things aren't splashy, but they get the job done. That is, if the job to get done is establishing job control for a long term better life. It's subtle, infectious and insidious - and it's a real threat to the boss and his pals all around the world.

Organize IWW on your job today and every day, for job control, for workers' power, for a better life, and let the NLRB tend to the business unions while they tend to themselves and the bosses' best interests. Job Control is the real menace to the status quo. how well does the status quo serve you and your needs?

Work for a better life. Establish workers' job control. Join us!

-- Portland IWW

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1616 (October 1998)

The IWW constitution: union democracy

This is the fourth and last in a series of articles (based upon a 1990 series by Jon Bekken) offering an overview of the IWW Constitution. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1616 (October 1998).

This is the fourth and last in a series of articles (based upon a 1990 series by Jon Bekken) offering an overview of the IWW Constitution. While the Preamble offers a concise statement of Wobbly philosophy, the Constitution spells out the structure and workings of the organization.

As we have seen, the IWW proposes to organize all workers, throughout the world, into a single organization built along industrial lines. But such an organization would be of little use to its members were it to be run by professional bureaucrats, gangsters or politicians. Thus the IWW Constitution includes a number of safeguards designed to protect the rights of all IWW members and ensure that the members continue to run the organization.

Union Democracy.

We see every day how undemocratic union structures enable union bosses to enrich themselves at the membership's expense, to impose lousy contracts and working conditions, and to terrorize anyone who stands in the way of their autocratic reign. Business unionists justify such practices by claiming they are necessary to the efficient conduct of the organization. Union leaders, they explain, are invaluable experts who deserve compensation for their special skills, and who need the latitude to pursue policies that will promote the best long-term interests of the members, whatever short-term sacrifice must be made.

The IWW membership has no patience for such pretensions, knowing full well that it is the membership upon which the organization depends for its strength. The Industrial Workers of the World exists in order to fight for democracy in our everyday life on the job. This cannot be accomplished by subjecting ourselves to dictatorship in our union.

The IWW Constitution is designed to protect against any clique running this union to suit themselves:

* No officer can be elected for longer than one year, or for more than three successive terms (unless qualified candidates cannot otherwise be found). This protects against entrenched leadership, and guarantees that all officers must regularly return to the job floor to earn their living. It also guarantees an informed rank and file, as many members will have served as officers at every level of the union. Although it is not written in the Constitution, long-standing union policy (and the state of our finances) ensures that officers are paid no more than the average pay of the workers they represent. Most officers serve with no compensation whatsoever.

* IWW officers are required to make monthly reports on their activities to the membership, including financial reports. Rank-and-file committees audit the financial records on a regular basis.

* All officers - from Branch Secretary to General Secretary-Treasurer - are elected by secret ballot on which all members they represent may vote. Any officer can be recalled by majority vote, and any 15 paid-up members can initiate a recall ballot. In addition, members are guaranteed the right to bring charges against union officers, and to appeal any decision all the way to referendum vote of the membership.

* No powers are given officers except those needed to carry out the membership's instructions. Strikes can not be called, or called off, by officers - this can be done only by the members concerned. Settlements can be negotiated only by committees of the workers involved. No IWW officer can meet with employers except in the presence of the committee, thus preventing backroom deals.

Each branch and Industrial Union has the right to choose its own delegates and officers, and to veto any organizer appointed by the General Executive Board for their jurisdiction. While the Board can visit branches and audit their accounts, it does not have the authority to impose trustees or otherwise impose its will, so long as the branch in question is conducting itself in accordance with the provisions of the IWW Constitution.

To the contrary, the membership can impose its will on the General Executive Board. The IWW Constitution provides that membership referenda and the annual General Assembly (open to any paid-up member) are the IWW's highest decision-making bodies. IWW officers are elected to implement these decisions, they cannot overturn them. Indeed, although IWW national officers and paid employees can speak during Assemblies, they are not allowed to vote.

* Any 15 paid-up members (also the General Executive Board or the Assembly) can initiate a referendum on any issue. The Constitution requires that these questions are presented to the membership for voting in a timely fashion, after proper notice so that members can discuss the issues and circulate their views throughout the union. Ballots are counted by rank-and-file members, elected by the branch(es) operating in the city where headquarters is located.

* The union's mechanism for handling union funds also protects democracy by keeping the power of the purse in the hands of the membership. The IWW rejects the "check-off" system of dues collection, where employers take union dues out of the workers' wages (just like any other tax) and hand them over to union officials. Such a system tends to discourage direct, regular contacts between union members and their elected delegates, reinforces the notion that dues are just another tax, and involves management in internal union affairs.

When union treasurers get their check from the company they rely more upon its goodwill than upon the support of the membership. After all, if management refused to issue the check, the officers would be out of a job. Without dues check-off the way dues are paid is a direct barometer of the members' satisfaction and involvement in the union (or lack thereof). Officers who don't do their job will face lagging dues payments and delinquent members.

Instead of the check-off, the IWW requires that union dues be paid directly to the delegate on the job, or the local delegate where the job is unorganized. Dues stamps are issued in exchange for all funds received. All delegates are required to report to the branch on a monthly basis and can have their accounts audited at any time.

* No mandatory assessments or dues increases can be levied except when approved by a referendum of those who have to pay them.

* Union dues and initiation are kept as low as possible. Union funds can be spent only on legitimate union expenses - they cannot be spent in behalf of politicians, for sick or death benefits, etc. The IWW has always believed that its treasury should be kept in the members' pockets. In this way we guarantee that the members can decide (though voluntary contributions) which causes they will support - and we protect against the court injunctions and fines which so often force unions to capitulate in order to save their benefit funds.

Such funds, necessary though they may be, are best kept entirely separate from union control. Instead the IWW has always insisted that workers be paid their full wages in cash, leaving them free to join mutual aid societies or to make other arrangements that are not tied to any single employer or union. This protects against injunctions and court seizures of funds, and against the common practice whereby workers lose their pension plans and other benefits when employers go bankrupt or terminate workers just before they become eligible for pensions.

* IWW members are guaranteed the right to bring charges against local or international officers, or against individual members, and to have these heard by a committee of rank-and-file members. The Constitution scrupulously guarantees the rights of charges parties to notice of the charges against them, a neutral hearing panel, and to appeal. Both charged and charging parties are guaranteed the right to appeal the outcome of any charges proceeding to the general membership.

* The IWW Constitution outlaws the sort of "amalgamated locals" which group together workers from disparate industries and localities - sometimes covering two or more entire states. It is not uncommon in other unions for workers to have to spend two or more hours travel time if they wish to attend their union "local" meetings. The IWW Constitution provides that Branch charters can be issued only when it is "feasible for their members to meet together." This prevents a small clique from avoiding membership control by creating sprawling locals so vast that few members can realistically attend meetings.

* The IWW Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, nationality, creed, color or sexual preference. Only paid officers of trade or craft unions, politicians, managers and bosses, and those "whose employment is incompatible with the aims of this union" (such as sheriffs and union-busting consultants) can be barred from membership. Otherwise, any worker who agrees to abide by the IWW Constitution is eligible for membership.

A worker-run union

The IWW is organized on the principle that working people must control, and are capable of controlling, their own organization - and ultimately all of industry. Our procedures for realizing this goal were developed over more than 90 years of activity in diverse industries and under often difficult circumstances.

Because of our insistence on union democracy and membership control, the IWW has more than once survived the arrest and imprisonment of its entire "leadership." It is easy to incapacitate an organization that is run by one person or by a self-perpetuating Executive Board - all one need do is buy off or lock up those in charge. But an organization composed of members accustomed to making their own decisions and running their own affairs is much harder to control or to crush. Such a membership guarantees democracy, by refusing to tolerate any infringement of its rights.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1616 (October 1998)

Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

Articles from the November 1998 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Around the union

A round-up of short articles on IWW efforts and campaigns. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

Winnipeg grocery workers go IWW

After a bit of a bureaucratic run-around from the Manitoba Labour Relations Board, the IWW's General Distribution Workers Industrial Union 660 has been certified as the representatives of the Harvest Collective grocery store in Winnipeg. Only two of 22 eligible workers voted against the union.

Management has been informed of their obligation to bargain with the IWW. Harvest workers are paid minimum wage and work part-time hours that keep them in grinding poverty.

Detroit Truckers

Detroit Wobs have signed up a majority of workers at a small trucking company, and have secured agreement from the boss to begin negotiating. They are also meeting with workers at a local restaurant, where a few Wobs were hired in only to learn that conditions were not what they ought to be and so proceeded to fan the flames of discontent amongst their fellow workers.

Aussie Wobs join fight

Members of the Melbourne IWW group joined a protest Oct. 4 in memory of Semira Adamu. The protest was part of an international day of action calling for an immediate halt to all deportations, closure of all deportation camps, and papers for everyone.

The conservative Liberal-National Party regime has been returned to national Government, but with a reduced majority to push their Goods & Services Tax on all food etc onto the electorate. Several pollies have lost office, including the infamous Pauline Hanson and David Oldfield from the One Nation Party of bigots.

The conservatives' union-busting - most spectacularly the War on the Wharfies - will continue. Civilian Conscription (Work for Dole) is to expand. The Jabiluka uranium mine on Mirrar aboriginal land will be pushed on. So more "trouble coming everyday" expected.

-- Margaret

Chicago IWW going good

Chicago Wobs joined the locked-out projectionists on the picket line again Sept. 13, picketing the Webster Place shopping center where a Loew's Cineplex is located. While Local 110 members picketed the main parking lot, Wobs held forth as the read-guard, handing out leaflets urging fellow workers to boycott the union-busters. Getting people to roll down their car windows to take a leaflet as they approached the lot was not always successful, but we did manage to hand out quite a few, and honking horns from passing motorists.

Gauging the success of the boycott is difficult as management is handing out free passes left and right, so many movie-goers are getting in for free. As of this writing (Oct. 4) there is still no end in sight.

A week later, on Saturday the 19th, we joined up with nearly 40 members and friends of the Nicaragua Solidarity Committee to picket a Hyundai auto dealership in support of striking Han Young auto workers in Tiajuana, Mexico. The Korean-owned Han Young plant welds chassis exclusively for Hyundai Precision of America. Workers have been on strike since May 22 in pursuit of their first contract, after their vote for the independent October 6 Han Young Auto Workers Union was ignored by management and the Mexican government. Hyundai is Han Young's only customer. If enough pressure can be brought to bear on them perhaps they will, in turn, put pressure on Han Young to settle with its workers.

We wound up a busy September with another "Discussions with the Wobblies" forum. The topic this time was "Art and Revolution," with Wobbly veteran and fairly well-known artist Carlos Cortez. Carlos spoke on the importance and power of visual art in getting across the revolutionary message and showed several slides of some of his poster work.

In the discussion that followed, we discussed the particular value of mural art and the respect these works of art elicit from the community, even taggers often leave these pieces alone. On the other hand, the powers that be will often go out of their way to destroy murals that challenge the status quo, as was the case with the mural on the wall of the union hall in Austin, Minnesota, which the UFCW bureaucrats had sand-blasted to wipe out all memory of Local P-9's struggle against Hormel and the UFCW. It was also pointed out that the intended meaning of images can be altered by context and text, as when billboard messages are altered by activists or when a firm appropriates an "alternative" cultural icon and turns it into a marketing tool. The turnout was half non-Wobs, and a good discussion was had.

Our next forum, Oct. 28, features Penny Pixler leading a discussion on the revolutionary potential, or lack thereof, of modern technology.

-- Mike Hargis

Loblaws stores `help' Wobs spread anti-hunger message

What was supposed to have been a short 15-minute leaflet distribution turned into a 90-minute educational event when Loblaws executives, private security and Metro Police descended on the Bathurst/St. Clair store to try to prevent customers from receiving flyers about the grocery chain's role in perpetuating hunger in Ontario.

After police threatened arrest and insisted that Toronto Action for Social Change members are all banned from Loblaws property, Matthew Behrens and Laurel Smith decided to continue their flyering on the sidewalk until darkness fell. A team of Metro police in a cruiser and police jeep, teamed with two carloads of private security and Loblaws executives, re-inforced the message that Loblaws is not interested in opening a dialogue on ending the root causes of hunger in Ontario.

As they have throughout their month-long Fast to End Hunger and Homelessness, TASC members leafletted the Loblaws store to draw connections between the corporate grocery chain's practices and growing hunger in Ontario. Those practices include glowing support for the Tories, unpaid deferred taxes of over $56 million, paying President Richard Currie in excess of $8 million in 1997, and profiting off food drives by selling at retail prices goods which people donate to the food drive.

Behrensbarely stepped into the parking lot before he was accosted by two plain-clothes security (videotaping his every move), a Loblaws executive, and Debbie Regina, Senior Manager of Loss Prevention at Loblaws, who immediately ordered him off the property. He was then joined on the sidewalk by Laurel Smith, doubling the size of the action. This threat did not go unnoticed by Loblaws, and within minutes the police jeep marked "Supervisor" for 13 division was on the scene.

"We decided that since Loblaws contributes to so many thousands of people going without supper every day in this province, that we, along with the Loblaws executives would all be a little late for supper," said Smith.

"We handed out a lot more leaflets than we expected to, a lot more people saw our message from the street, and we had some good conversations with customers who were disgusted to find police vehicles in the Loblaws parking lot defending corporate hypocrites from two people armed only with pieces of paper. Thanks to Loblaws, what could have been a disappointing and disheartening vigil turned into a really good educational event."

Loblaws has had 10 members of TASC (IWW IU 670) arrested at prior anti-hunger events, often in the middle of food drives. Among those arrested have been the Easter Bunny and three bunny helpers, Santa Claus and two elves, Robin Hood and a schoolteacher who stopped to read a leaflet after he finished shopping. All go to trial in November, December and January.

Solidarity with Han Young workers

Philadelphia IWW members joined activists from Delaware County to picket a Hyundai dealership in Springfield, Pennsylvania, October 10th. The picket was called in support of Mexican Han Young maquiladora workers, who are currently on strike because management refuses to negotiate a contract. Han Young is a contractor for Hyundai.

The Campaign for Labor Rights organized an east coast tour for Jamie Garcia Barron, a striker from the plant. During his Wob-hosted stop in Philadelphia Oct. 1st, Barron told stories from the ongoing struggle to win recognition for a union independent of the government. Government-controlled unions have attempted to raid the drive with no success, and three times workers at Han Young have voted in an independent union. When the company illegally tried to maintain production with scabs, strikers borrowed the company's fuses and stopped production. Government officials have defied federal orders and torn down strike banners, declared the strike "non-existent," and put out arrest warrants for union leaders.

Workers from the Mexican plant are returning from a solidarity visit with Hyundai workers from Korea, who also recently went on strike. The workers from Han Young have made an international appeal to hold Hyundai accountable for the conditions in the maquiladora and look forward to making solidarity links across the globe.

-- Alexis Buss

`Labor Day' in Lancaster

The Lancaster, Pennsylvania GMB made its second annual appearance at the Lancaster Labor Council/United Way Chili Cook-off. Our vegetarian tofu chili didn't win, but we got out several IWs and fliers for the Han Young Workers tour. The big hit of the afternoon was our brand-new red IWW T-shirts.

East Bay workshops

The East Bay IWW is holding a series of workshops at their office at 2022 Blake Street in Berkeley on Thursday Nights at 7 p.m. Upcoming sessions include:
October 29th - Dead Martyrs Night: a workshop/party for "In November We Remember" featuring histories of various Wobbly Class War prisoners and victims of capitalist murderers.

Nov. 12th - a discussion of the various proposals on the November IWW ballot.

December 24th - Wobbly Carol-In. We'll take to the streets and visit the hot shopping districts to sing Wobbly-ized Carols to remind shoppers of the exploitative and capitalist nature of the holiday season.

January 14th - History Workshop

Jan. 29 - Forum: What is Syndicalism?

Future workshops may include Contract Negotiations, Website Design, and Video Activism.

Regional Meeting in B.C.

The new Victoria, British Columbia, GMB is hosting a regional IWW meeting November 14 and 15th. Please contact them in regards to desired agenda, housing, etc.
The Victoria IWW can be reached at 250/360-9803, or POB 8283, Victoria BC V8W 3R9

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

A Wobbly Martyr's Grave - Bob Helms

An article by Bob Helms about finding the former home and grave of Martynas Petkus, a IWW member who was shot and killed by police during a strike in 1917. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

I am pleased to announce that the grave and the home of fellow worker Martin Petkus (Marciionas Petkeviczia)1, a Lithuanian sugar worker and Wobbly who was shot to death by riot police during a sugar strike in Philadelphia, have been located.

On February 21, 1917, a strike had been going on for several weeks, led by IWW, at the Franklin and McCahan sugar refineries. The bosses at both companies were bringing in African-Americans as scabs, and each night the police would escort the scabs home from the plants, located along the Delaware River at the foot of Reed Street.

At 5:30 p.m. such a group came out and was met by about 30 strikers' wives led by Florence Sholde, 32 years old, who threw pepper into the faces of both the scabs and the police. The crowd grew and the confrontation escalated into a pitched battle of bricks and pistol shots, involving hundreds of union supporters. FW Sholde was arrested for inciting to riot (police agents supposedly had spotted her earlier in the day urging militant action at a meeting), and scores of people were injured on both sides, but Martin Petkus was killed by a single bullet in the chest and fell across a railroad track. He lived a few blocks away at 131 Tasker Street - the house is still standing today.

The news reports say that he was one of the striking Franklin workers, that he was "known among them as a giant of strength and courage," and that the police found an IWW membership card in his pocket. He was recognized by all as a leader, and accordingly his funeral was a formidable event.

Petkus' body lay in state at the Lithuanian National Hall (still standing), which was the headquarters of MTW IU #510 at that time, and on February 26th he was carried to St. Casimir's Lithuanian Catholic Church, a dozen or so blocks away, with a crowd of about 10,000 accompanying his casket. Little girls wearing red dresses sold red carnations to union supporters.

Over 200 African-American IWW longshoremen who were out on a sympathy strike walked behind their slain comrade in a group, with red carnations on their lapels. When the funeral mass was over, about 1,500 people went in a train of vehicles to Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, about five miles distant in the western suburbs. Holy Cross is on Baily Road, and our man is in "Section E, Range 9, Lot 27, Grave CR."

The grave is marked by a black granite cross bearing the names of the Wobbly martyr and a younger brother who died the following year. The inscription is in Lithuanian. FW Petkas was 28 years old.

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

  • 1. libcom note - he was also known as 'Martynas Petkus'

Free (Radio) Speech Fight 1998 - x345417

An article by x345417 about a pirate radio conference in Washington, DC that a number of IWW members attended. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

Over the weekend of October 4-6 micro-power radio broadcasters gathered in Washington DC for a weekend of workshops, networking and action dubbed "Showdown with the FCC."
IWW members from New Hampshire, Washington DC, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Tennessee were present throughout the proceedings, in a display of the continuing networking of Wobblies in the Free Radio/Free Speech movement. Which makes plenty of sense considering the history of the free speech movement, in which the IWW played a pivotal role in the early 1900s by defying laws outlawing public speech (by "undesirables") which resulted in thousands of wobs filling up the jails to the point that the laws were changed in city after city around the country. Add to that the radio programs that IWW organizers used in Detroit in the 1930s, the recently organized IWW International Radio Network, and the syndicated IWW radio show, "Soapboxing the Airwaves," and you have a great reason for Wobs to come to DC to fight for free speech.

On Sunday, workshops were held on topics including how to work transmitters, the current legal situation, organizing strategy, public relations, and a new station being started in D.C. Afterwards, a free dinner was served followed by a Community Cabaret in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, where local performers broadcast hip-hop, tango, bluegrass, poetry, spoken word and folk music to the community over Radio Libre, 97.5 FM. The broadcast was in Spanish and English, with calls going out to garner community support for an upcoming "anti-INS raids" protest.

On Monday morning, a debate between micro-broadcasters, lawyers and FCC officials took place at the Freedom Forum, an organization in DC. Shortly afterward, the "free speech fight" and march took place, with about 200 people marching from DuPont circle to the FCC and NAB buildings, illegally broadcasting throughout, daring the FCC to make an arrest. Surprisingly, the goons who have shut down over 200 community radio stations in the past year dared not show their faces, even when the issue was brought to their front door.

This was taken as a major victory by the militant crowd of broadcasters who as a result were emboldened as they marched on to those who really pull the strings of free speech: the National Association of Broadcasters. The crowd approached the NAB building,and easily took the plaza in front despite security attempts to stop it. Amidst slogan-chanting and street theater, the NAB flag was brought down and a Jolly Roger (skull and crossbones) hoisted in its place.

16-year-old Gainesville resident Boni Ramey, who came up to D.C. with the Gainesville IWW/Free Radio Gainesville contingent, was scapegoated although the flag was not in her posession. She was handcuffed while the NAB and DC police debated what should be done with her.

Meanwhile, IWW members stayed around for support while the rest of the demonstration moved along. A security goon tried to pick a fight with some of the IWW's present but was sarcastically told that a fist-fight couldn't protect corporate radio interests. The guard looked embarrassed and awkwardly walked away. Eventually Ramey was taken to the juvenille division for processing where they said she would be let go without charges.

IWW members located Free Radio D.C./D.C. IWW member Chuck Munson who gladly navigated the way to the station where she was picked up. After her rendevous with the corporate radio elites, Boni said that she is interested is interested in the IWW because of our history of fighting for Free Speech, and is currently considering joining up. The new IWW-wide radio show "Soapboxing the Airwaves" (currently on the third edition) was also promoted to interested people throughout the duration of the event, and will be featuring the event in the third edition.

Soapboxing the Airwaves can be heard on Free Radio Memphis, Free Radio Gainesville, Free Radio Twin-Cities and on the internet at

-- X345417

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

From the desk of...

A column from Fred Chase, then General Secretary-Treasurer of the IWW, on a member who had been imprisoned for a protest at the School of the Americas. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

This squeaky old chair I'm sitting in doesn't move a lot; but some days it can be the seat for a rollercoaster of emotions. One day at the end of September I was going through the mail as usual, recording delegate reports, logging in new members. On that day we reached a new 47 year high in membership. Our numbers dipped to their lowest in 1961 after our last large shops in Cleveland left to join the CIO rather than face McCarthy-era political repression when the IWW's General Executive Board refused to sign loyalty oaths. I guess the Board members figured they owed their alliegance to their class, not to a government which would want to crush them for their ideas. Some things don't change.

The rollercoaster reached apex as I thought about our growth and increased activity in recent years. Then I opened the next letter and the rollercoaster took a dive. It was from Fellow Worker Bill Bichsel from the Catholic Worker house in Tacoma ,Washington. He was catching up on his dues and notifying me of a change of address. The new address is a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon. Bill's going to be there for 18 months for nonviolent protest at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Bill isn't the first Wobbly to go to prison for exercising his freedom of speech. He won't be the last, another thing that doesn't seem to change much. But he's the one who's in there now; and that weighs heavy on my mind. I did some time in the early '70s for destroying selective service files, so I feel some affinity.

The U.S. government - hell, all governments - commit so many atrocities it's hard to know which ones are worth going to prison to fight. And it's frustrating to know that with a rational judge Bill would have gotten a slap on the wrist. Because he faced an irrational one he'll spend 1 1/2 years behind bars. I can feel some affinity for that too. Our sentences in the '70s were between 5 and 10 years. The next year another group did the same thing and got 1 year suspended sentences and a commendation from the judge for their actions. Ahh the vagaries of "justice."

Bill sent along some information on the School of the Americas, appropriately dubbed the School of the Assassins by its opponents. Colombia was experiencing the murder of a trade unionist every other day in the early '90s. In 1996 that number increased to 253. Of 247 Colombian military personnel cited for human rights violations, 124, 50% were graduates of the School of the Assassins. SOA training manuals advocate the use of torture, execution, false imprisonment and extortion. More than 500 SOA graduates have been implicated so far in human rights abuses. The SOA trains 900-2,000 soldiers a year from Latin America and the Caribbean. They are taught combat skills, counterinsurgency, sniper fire, military intelligence, commando tactics, and psychological operations - not to defend their borders from invasion but to make war on their own people - specifically religious leaders, labor organizers, educators, students and others working for the rights of the poor.

SOA attendees, guest speakers, members of the SOA hall of "fame" include Major Luis Felipe Becerra Bohorquez. He led a massacre in which 20 union farm workers were pulled from their beds, lined face down on the ground, and shot in the back of their heads. General Henan Jose Guzman Rodrigues allegedly aided paramilitary death squads responsible for at least 149 killings. He's in the SOA hall of fame. Etc, etc...

With NAFTA, Latin American countries import jobs that used to be done for higher wages in the U.S. and then use SOA graduates to prevent attempts to unionize. Any opposition or call for reform is likely to get the proponent killed.

So Bill Bichsel has made a good choice of where to take a stand. While I'm extremely saddened by his sentence, I'm extremely proud to call him Fellow Worker, Fellow Wobbly. Keep him in your thoughts. Paraphrasing our General Defense Committee slogan, Remember, Fellow Workers, he's in there for us. We're out here for him. Some generous Wobs have already assured that Bill's dues will be paid during his incarceration. The best tribute to Bill for his courageous stand is to work for the closing of the School of the Assassins. For some that means direct action like Bill's. Every new person who faces an outrageous sentence tweaks society's conscience just a bit more. That leads to the end of wars, to the end of segregation, soon to the end of the School of the Assassins.

If you are into petitioning government you can urge senators and representatives to support Senate bill 980 / House bill 611 to close the school. SOA Watch is planning what has become an annual demonstration at Fort Benning soon. They can be reached at 706/682-5369. Wobblies from Atlanta and Gainesville are making plans to attend.

Meanwhile, Bill, know you are in our thoughts. Being in prison for the working class is walking the picket line 24 hours a day. We're looking forward to the day when we will again see you outside on the picket line.

-- Fred Chase, General Secretary-Treasurer

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1617 (November 1998)

Industrial Worker #1618 (December 1998)

Articles from the December 1998 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

The fight against overtime - Jon Bekken

An article by Jon Bekken about the effects of overtime on workers. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1618 (December 1998)

The average work week in the United States has been growing for years, as employers schedule workers for more and more overtime, lunch breaks vanish, and weekends increasingly become a distant memory.
In many plants, bosses have turned to 12-hour days or six- and seven-day weeks in order to increase production without hiring new workers. Even in white-collar jobs, the 8-hour work day has practically disappeared. Meanwhile, millions of workers struggle to get by on part-time work or no work at all.

There are no hard statistics on how often bosses force workers to take overtime, but overtime hours are definitely on the rise - the average worker now puts in 5 hours a week, an all-time record - and mandatory overtime is increasingly at issue in labor negotiations.

The issue has come up in several recent strikes, including General Motors, United Parcel Service, CP&I Steel and several communications companies. "Employers are attempting to force more labor out of their current employees rather than create new jobs. That's the bottom line," said labor consultant Jim Grossfeld.

Even workers who once welcomed overtime as a means of compensating for stagnating wages are getting fed up.

After 24 years of fixing phone lines, Baltimore lineman Joseph Bryant was fired by Bell Atlantic last year for refusing overtime because he needed to pick his two children up after school. "I was just trying to balance the overtime," he said. "When you've got kids, you can't just leave them."

Bell Atlantic insisted that Bryant should have hired someone to take care of the kids, so he could be available to work scheduled overtime two to three days a week. With the support of his union, Bryant won his arbitration 18 months after he was fired from his job. But workers without union contracts or the means to survive lengthy arbitrations often do not dare question their bosses' demands.

Overtime robs parents of time with their children and strains marriages. It causes fatigue, stress and other health problems. It keeps millions of our fellow workers on the streets, even in the midst of what the bosses say are good economic times. And it steals our free time - time that workers fought for in often-bloody struggles over the last 150 years.

When 35,000 members of the Communications Workers of America struck US West in August, their complaints included forced overtime that frequently meant 60-hour work weeks. Workers won a cap on mandatory overtime at 16 hours per week next year and eight hours per week beginning in 2001. The new Bell Atlantic workers' contract said they can't be forced to work back-to-back six-day weeks and, for most of the year, they can refuse to work more than 10 hours of overtime per week.

But that begs the question of why we are forced to work any overtime at all.

In France, the 35-hour work week is now the legal norm. Many U.S. workers have won union contracts setting the work week at 30 to 35 hours. Increased productivity and new technology mean that far more dramatic reductions in the work week are possible, if we're organized to demand them.

The labor movement was built on the struggle for shorter hours. It's time to return to that tradition and fight first to reclaim the 8-hour day, and then to renew the push for substantial reductions in the work week. It's our time, and the bosses have been stealing it for far too long.

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1618 (December 1998)


Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

Articles from the January/February 2001 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Berkeley recyclers organize IWW - Steve Ongerth & Bruce Valde

An article by Steve Ongerth & Bruce Valde about an IWW campaign at Community Conservation Centers in Berkeley, California. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001).

Recyclers at Community Conservation Centers in Berkeley, California, have unionized into the IWW and have been pressuring management to sit down and negotiate with them. Signed union authorization cards representing a super-majority of the workers were presented to management on Dec. 27 by a group of workers and union representatives. Management refused voluntary recognition of the union and the union reps were physically assaulted. A very tense situation took a strange twist when the police arrived and informed management the union organizers would be allowed to complete their work on the property.

Workers at CCC, also known as The Buy Back, have been organizing for three months, seeking better working conditions, better pay, more vacation time, specific skill level definitions, and more democracy on the job. CCC workers started talking union when IWW members at curbside recycling in Berkeley signed a new contract. Word spread that the curbside contract was a good deal for the workers and the organizing drive picked up momentum through the efforts of a union rep and a curbside worker who left curbside to work at the Buy Back. One crucial concern is health benefits for workers' families. Presently health care is available only to the workers themselves. The lowest-paid workers at the Buy Back are making $8 an hour, which during economic boom times is scandalous. Additionally, CCC workers want a union to gain respect on the job. They say there hasn't been much up to now.

CCC general manager Jeff Belchamber agreed to consult with the union, but ultimately refused to recognize the union or to agree to abide by federal labor laws. The workers brought signed cards to the National Labor Relations Board in early January. The election is scheduled for Feb. 7. As of now management has yet to engage in blatant union busting tactics. Management did turn the list of eligible voters over to the IWW and the NLRB on schedule.

Workers are still asking the Community Conservation Centers board of directors to voluntarily recognize the union and immediately begin negotiating a union contract. If they refuse, organizers are confident that they will win the NLRB election set for Feb. 7. It appears that the board is split on the issue of voluntary recognition and has so far opted for the election process.

Buy Back workers have been meeting with union organizers once a week to strategize and prepare for the election. Wednesdays are union solidarity days. Last Wednesday, every worker was given a sticker that said Union Si or Union Yes as they entered the plant gate. They wore the stickers all day. Wednesday is also the day of the week that the election will take place.

The union, NLRB and management have agreed to a 45-minute election period Feb. 7th. The facility will shut down early and management will leave the property.

CCC will become the second recycling shop represented by the IWW in Berkeley. The IWW also represents the curbside recyclers at the Berkeley Ecology Center. The Buy Back is where curbside recycling is unloaded and sorted. Individuals can also recycle their plastic, glass and metal at The Buy Back and receive cash.

Javier Ceja, Buy Back worker and strong union supporter put it best. He said simply, "The union benefits us all, for our families and for ourselves."

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

Detroit newspaper strike ends in ignominious defeat - Mike Hargis

A short article by Mike Hargis announcing the end of the Detroit newspaper strike. Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001).

After five and a half years, the strike against Detroit's two major dailies has ended - and ended badly.

The strike by 2,500 unionists against the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News cost the papers an estimated $200 million, as circulation dropped by a third. Yet it was the unions that in the end cried uncle. Of the settlement, announced on Dec. 17, a union representative indicated that the unions didn't salvage much, "But it's better," he said, "to have a contract than no contract at all."

At 2 percent, the wage improvements are about half the current official rate of inflation. Moreover, wages have been slashed for some workers. For example, mailers (Teamsters) who once earned $16 an hour are now paid about $11 an hour. About 185 workers are waiting for openings before they can return to work; and if the companies have their way, 200 more will not be rehired at all.

The unions also agreed to an open shop, meaning that scabs hired during the strike and new employees do not have to join the union or pay agency fees for the cost of representing them as a condition of their employment.

Of course things didn't have to end this way. Early on unionists from all over Detroit turned out to the picket lines to stop delivery of scab-produced newspapers. But the unions capitulated to court injunctions and abandoned effective picketing in favor of a boycott, which failed to force the bosses to settle. Now that the battle is over the unions have agreed to help the papers to rebuild circulation in exchange for bonus money.

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

No honor, no dignity, no justice - Larry Skwarczynski

A short article by Larry Skwarczynski about the end of Detroit newspaper strike. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001).

Detroit was once another name for solidarity - unionism - unity - standing up for working people's dignity. No more!

Whether it is fighting for a living wage for unjustly fired and locked-out workers, for diverse union membership, for education and health care, for community needs and for respect, union leaders have the responsibility to their members and their community to foster justice. Instead, they have decided their interests are the same as the companies', betraying workers' struggles as they get all they can for themselves and fight to stay in control.

After five-and-a-half years on the street, the Teamsters union - the last to hold out - surrendered totally rather than face Gannett's racketeering lawsuit, the ongoing drain on strike funds, and the difficulties of prolonged struggle. Gannett told the unions it would never take the fired workers back, and demanded a vote before Christmas.

The contract had nothing for the fired or locked-out workers, nor did it offer back wages or seniority. It took away $5 an hour for all mailers, while giving one percent pay hikes and the chance to grovel for merit pay to others. There's no sick leave, and scabs can not be bumped from their positions. TheDetroit newspapers will be scabby, open shop sweatshops.

Many workers were outraged and walked away as the Executive Board said it was the worst contract they had ever seen but told us to ratify it anyway. The vote in the 1,138-member Teamsters Local 372 was 139-46, in the 255-member Teamsters #2040 it was 36-33. The other unions - the Newspaper Guild, Printers, Pressmen and Engravers - broke rank months ago, settling for equally bad contracts.

During the strike/lock-out, some religious leaders and politicians rallied constantly against the newspapers' union-busting, but now who speaks when union sister and brother turn their backs on the fired and locked-out left without? At the end of January their benefits will be cut off and workers with years of seniority will be left scrambling for whatever jobs they can find.

Gannett pulled its RICO suit off the table in exchange for the unions promising to tell all that the strike is over and everyone who canceled their subscriptions in solidarity with the workers to restart. I, as a most active participant, see no honor, no dignity and no justice - only corruption, deceit and treachery.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

Against the Summit of the Americas

A resolution from the General Executive Board of the IWW supporting the planned demonstrations at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001).

Whereas on April 20-22, 2001, the Summit of the Americas will convene in Quebec City; and,
Whereas the government and business concerns attending this Summit plan to begin establishing the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA); and,

Whereas the proposed Area would, in essence, expand the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to cover all of North, South and Central America and the Caribbean, with the exception of Cuba; and,

Whereas the documented effects of NAFTA in Canada, Mexico and the United States include increased unemployment, depressed wage levels, weakened environmental regulations, increased consolidation of industry through corporate mergers and buyouts; and numerous harms to the working class in these countries in result of these conditions; and,

Whereas the Industrial Workers of the World has affirmed since its founding in 1905 that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common; and,

Whereas the groups and individuals comprising the Summit of the Americas Welcoming Committee/Le Comite d'Accueil du Sommet des Ameriques (CASA) and the Anti-Capitalist Convergence/La Convergence des Luttes Anti-Capitalistes (CLAC), along with many others, have called for international solidarity in resisting the Summit of the Americas;

Therefore be it resolved:

That the IWW condemns the Summit of the Americas as another act of war by the employing class against the working class of the Americas; and,

That the IWW pledges to resist implementation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and

That the IWW supports those who stand in resistance against the Summit of the Americas, and encourages IWW members to join in demonstrating their resistance to global capitalism.

IWW General Executive Board, January 2001

For information on protests in Quebec City, e-mail: web: tel: +1 514 526-8946 post: 2035, St. Laurent Boulevard, 2nd floor, Montreal, Quebec H2X 2T3 Canada

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

Around our union

A round-up of IWW news. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001).

Montreal Wobs win union recognition

The recently organized Montreal IWW now claims 15 members and should be applying for a branch charter soon. The two workers of the CFS-Q (a student union) have joined and are preparing to negotiate their first contract.The IWW is also close to securing a majority at a local vegetarian grocery, and has several Wobs working at a large marketing research firm.

They have also been busy translating IWW literature into French, and have distributed 1,000 copies of a "Direct Action Gets the Goods" newsletter.

IWW organizing Pitzer College

The General Executive Board has chartered an Industrial Union Branch for faculty at Pitzer College in Claremont, California. The Pitzer faculty began organizing in October, and now have more than a third of the faculty signed up and have begun reaching out to faculty at nearby colleges.

A member of the Boston Education Workers IU 620 Branch met with several Pitzer Wobs in January, discussing strategies for reaching majority status and possibilities for organizing effective solidarity actions for Pitzer faculty and cafeteria staff (who have been struggling for union recognition for several years).

Industrial union organizing summit

The East Bay (California) IWW hosted an industrial union organizing summit the weekend of October 15th, which kicked off with a discussion of industry-wide versus individual shop organizing. In the long run, participants agreed, organizing industry-wide is the more practical approach.

Other discussions addressed the challenge of how Industrial Union and General Membership Branches can more effectively support each other. Although the IWW generally begins by organizing GMBs and working to build Industrial Union Branches from that base, Seattle and Portland began with industrial campaigns in the food service and nonprofit sectors with some success.

Participants were interested in targeting a few industries, such as education, restaurants, construction, and transportation, for organizing. This will require developing issue-based campaigns and networks of activists as we work to build a base in these industries capable of making our presence felt.

Another union café

Workers at Madison's Café Assissi lined up in the IWW in December, bringing the number of job shops in the city to three. (The other two are Lakeside Press and the UW Greens Infoshop, an independent educational resource center.) The café serves natural foods, and has a space for performers and film showings. It is the only unionized coffee house in Madison.

Boston actions hit sweatshop labor

Several members of the Boston IWW joined demonstrations outside Niketown and the Gap December 16, joining over a hundred protesters with our banner and exhorting passersby in Boston's toniest shopping district to take a stand in solidarity with our fellow workers overseas.

We were soon joined by a horde of police who decided the Wobblies were blocking an entranceway too effectively and shoved us aside. Police were much rougher with a follow-up demonstration the next week, preventing protestors from congregating on the public sidewalks in front of the stores.

IWW elects general officers for 2001

In balloting last month, IWW members have voted to re-elect General Secretary-Treasurer Alexis Buss to serve a second one-year term. The 2001 General Executive Board will include: Sam Adams (Minneapolis), Jeff Brite (New Orleans), Mark Damron (Cincinnati), Joshua Freeze (Austin), Breeze Luetke-Stahlman (Lawrence), Mickie Valis (Atlanta), and John Persak (Seattle). Jon Bekken (Boston) was elected to edit the Industrial Worker.

The International Solidarity Commission members will be Liam Flynn (Baltimore), Ron Kaminkow (Chicago) and Peter Moore (Ottawa). Eric Chester (Western Massachusetts) is first alternate.

Elected to the union's Conflict Mediation Committee were Bill Bradley (Portland), Heather Hall (Winnipeg), Robin Hood (Detroit), Betsy Law (Louisville), and Mona Tapp (Louisville). Mark Damron will also serve as secretary of the General Defense Committee.

The IWW's 2001 General Assembly, at which members come together to discuss union policy and nominate officers for the coming year, will be held the first weekend in August in Boston, Massachusetts.

Constitutional amendments to reorganize the General Defense Committee, streamline the union's election process, and speed the issuance of recall ballots in the event that members petition to remove an officer were approved. A proposal to make it more difficult to press internal charges against union members was defeated.

Farewell, Fellow Workers

Fellow Worker David Miller, who lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills near the old Gold Country, died Dec. 14. He rejoined the IWW about 18 months ago. Last time I spoke to David, he was looking for suggestions on how to organize loggers at Sierra Pacific Industries to try and oppose clear-cut logging.
Fellow Worker Dave Johnson, formerly of IU 510, Marine Transport Workers in San Francisco, is dead at 57. A deck-hand at Red & White, he was a great guy, always friendly and amiable.

They will both be missed.

-- Steve Ongerth

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

When binding arbitration doesn't bind - Alexis Buss

An article by Alexis Buss about how binding arbitration favors employers. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

The IWW has always taken a dim view of arbitration, recognizing that no union ever won something from an "impartial" arbitrator that it was not strong enough to win through its own power. Arbitration promotes the illusion that problems at the workplace can be resolved through an appeal to fairness or to some objective standard of the exact degree of exploitation and degradation the worker should have to endure. Fundamentally, it is based on the premise that the interests of the workers and the bosses can be reconciled, if only by an outside "expert" who dispassionately weighs the evidence for both sides.
So, Wobblies are reluctant to entrust individual grievances to the hands of an arbitrator. But the notion of letting an arbitrator decide the conditions under which all of us will work is even more repellent, and I don't know of an instance where an IWW branch has ever agreed to do such a thing. However, many unions are not as particular as we are, and it is not uncommon - especially in the public sector, where there are often fairly severe legal limitations on striking - for unions which have been unable to reach a contract agreeing to submit the matters in dispute to binding arbitration.

As just one example of the narrow-minded, class bias typical of arbitrators, who are most usually chosen from the ranks of lawyers, consultants and others who will never have to work under the conditions they impose, Arbitrator Frank Keenan recently dismissed a grievance from Steelworkers Local 14734 on behalf of a worker suspended for three days without pay. His crime? Giving the finger to management in a photo snapped to commemorate his fifth-year anniversary. The arbitrator ruled that "conduct disrespectful of supervisors and the institution of the Company" is grounds for discipline. When's the last time you heard of a supervisor or a CEO losing pay for being disrespectful of the workers on the line?

Quite often workers have emerged from these arbitrations vowing "Never again," yet unions don't simply repudiate the results of an arbitration process into which it had voluntarily subjected itself, no matter how repugnant. The bosses, it seems, are under no such moral compunction.

Last year, Hawaii public school teachers submitted their salaries to binding arbitration after years of stagnant pay. The arbitrator agreed that some measure of relief was called for, issuing an order giving the teachers far less than they had asked for during bargaining. The state government has simply refused to pay up, claiming that it doesn't have the money (though it has no difficulty finding the funds for an endless series of tourist-oriented boondoggles).

Closer to home, for me, Philadelphia firefighters have long been demanding compensation when they are exposed to Hepatitis on the job, a serious disease which has hit many firefighters in recent years. The city has refused, and so the matter went to arbitration as part of their new contract. The arbitrator figured that when firefighters were injured on the job, they were certainly entitled to compensation. The city simply refused to accept the arbitrator's ruling, instead rewriting the contract to suit its own tastes and imposing that on the firefighters. The firefighters sued, but as usual the courts ruled that workers have no rights that the bosses are obliged to respect, and overturned the arbitrator's award for sick leave for workers ill with the virus.

If workers refused to follow an arbitrator's ruling (or a court ruling, for that matter) on the grounds that they couldn't afford it (they, after all, have to pay rent and childcare, pay for our food and medical bills, etc.), the back-to-work orders and contempt of court jailings and firings would hail down on their heads until they lay battered and bleeding on the street. But the bosses can pick and choose what orders they follow. Binding arbitration, it seems, is binding only on the workers.

-- Alexis Buss

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

Review: The New Rank and File by Staughton and Alice Lynd

A review of by Joshua Freeze of The New Rank and File by Staughton and Alice Lynd. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)

The New Rank and File by Staughton and Alice Lynd, ILR Press (Ithaca, NY), 2000. Available from IWW Literature Dept. for $15.95.

It's rare that a sequel exceeds the original, but in The New Rank and File, Staughton and Alice Lynd have at least equaled their 1973 Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working Class Organizers. In an inspiring series of pieces by rank-and-file activists and organizers from many sectors of the labor movement, the Lynds demonstrate the type of grassroots approach that the labor movement needs if we are to achieve the strength needed to win against a global, wealthy and well-armed foe.

Directed at two groups, rank-and-file workers and young people dedicated to service to the labor movement, the book directly takes on the ideology of business unionism. Condemning old guard and reformers alike, the Lynds write in their introduction: "These leaders are committed to what labor historians call `business unionism': the goal of signing collective bargaining agreements complete with management prerogative and no-strike clauses; the dues checkoff as the means of funding union bureaucracies; the protection of jobs in one's own nation at whatever expense to workers in other countries; and the capitalist system as the desired context of all of the above. Therefore the labor movement must find ways to be more visionary, more inclusive, more democratic, and more willing to take risks than the union movement can be expected to be."

The book is divided into four sections, each titled with a line from Ralph Chaplin's "Solidarity Forever." "The Union's Inspiration" shows stories of union organizing, both for new shops and to win demands, demonstrating the effect of direct action as opposed to primary reliance on labor law and government agencies. "The Ashes of the Old" examines the recent context of globalization, capital flight and disinvestment. "Anywhere Beneath the Sun" takes a look at unionists outside the US and the need for the labor movement to be transnational if it is to fight modern capital. Finally, "In Our Hands is Placed a Power" presents rank-and-file unionists fighting and winning battles by creating horizontal support networks either without or in opposition to the leadership of their business unions.

Those from the IWW school of unionism will see their reflections in the workers of this book. Far from viewing unions strictly as a tool to get better pay and benefits for their members, they show that solidarity and the vibrancy of working class culture is what makes a union, not the contracts or officials.

The story from Mia Giunta, an organizer for United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers in Connecticut demonstrates this best. UE organizers were not sent from place to place, but would set down roots in an area. "The organizer took part in the negotiations at the place he orshe had organized." She says "I was a better `organizer' because I was also a `servicer' and a better `servicer' because I was also an `organizer.'" At one factory she helped organize, they had a radically different response to a reduction in work. Instead of laying off the workers with the least seniority, "Somebody suggested, `we'll all work a few hours less each week. That way everybody can stay. Everybody can have health insurance.' And they took advantage of the vacation and maternity leave, and that became the tradition at that factory."

Ed Mann, who passed away in 1992, and to whom the Lynds dedicate this book, worked in steel mills in Youngstown, Ohio. He was a member of the IWW and of the Workers Solidarity Club, a militant retirees organization. Mann believed that workers have "too much contract." He believed the proper way to solve problems was direct action. "I think the first three months I was there [on the open hearth], they must have had ten wildcat strikes. `We want rubber tire wheelbarrows.' ... `We want a relief man.' ... `We want cold water.' ... `We need safety masks today.' `Hey somebody got burned. We want safety jackets or we aren't going to work on those furnaces.'

"The grievance procedure wasn't working. That's why we had wildcat strikes. We weren't going to get tied up in paperwork. The wildcats didn't last long: a day, two days at most, maybe eight hours."

An activist in the Hebron Union of Workers in the West Bank of Palestine provides a contract for one of their workplaces, that not only provides for certain rates of pay and workplace insurance, but also: "On the ninth day of each month, there is a general strike against the occupation. If on that day the worker can not come to work or is late coming to work, nothing will be subtracted from their pay," and "Transportation to and from work must be paid by the employer." This union has only volunteer executive committee members and, "in each factory the union deals with the employer, not by someone from here [the executive] going to discuss for them, but by a committee of the workers themselves."

Martin Glaberman tells a funny story from the Dodge Main plant in the 1970s: "There was a joke in Hamtramck, where the plant was located, that an optimist is a Dodge worker who brings his lunch box to work. Day after day, some department would wildcat, and by the middle of the day the plant was shut down."

And on and on, the worker tell their stories. They're not all victories and these rank-and-file activists do not have stars in their eyes about their work, but the stories do provide hope and a reminder that we are not alone in the class struggle. The Lynds have done a fantastic job of pulling together workers into a book that provides innumerable examples of strategies that work, not in someone's theory about organizing, but in actual jobs. If you want to read about the IWW's ideas, then read this book.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker #1630 (January/February 2001)


Industrial Worker (January/February 2003)

Articles from the January/February 2003 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

Human guinea pigs "band together" and win a pay hike

Two accounts by human lab rats who undertook successful strike action for better pay.

[This article by Robert P. Helms originally appeared in The Industrial Worker of January/February 2003. Some of its phrasing was edited to make it more accessible to the non-guinea pig readers of that labor newspaper, and that has been preserved here.]

I am one of the hundreds of thousands of healthy people in the United States who serve as paid volunteer test subjects in clinical trials that determine the safety of experimental drugs. Our work falls between the legal status of a hospital patient and a temp worker. Our compensation is based on the time involved, how many procedures are needed, and how invasive and discomforting the procedures will be. We pay taxes on our earnings as "independent contractors," and our relationship with the research facility lasts only as long as the "informed Consent" document stipulates. However, we are not discussed as employees in medical literature. Instead, the focus is on protecting (or failing to protect) our rights and safety, just as though we were hospital patients.

In early December 2002 I entered a study at Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson Hospital, in a group of 20 men. We were given low doses of an anti-anxiety drug (enough to cause some drowsiness but too little for a mood change). We were obliged to defecate in a basket so that the staff could search through the stool for the remains of the drug tablet. A catheter tube was also inserted into a vein and we gave about 15 blood samples during each period. The diet was regulated so that we all got the same very dull institutional meals.

The schedule had five sections in which we stayed in the hospital for four days, and then we were released for 36-hour periods, except for the break over Christmas and the New Year. We were obliged to refrain from drinking alcohol or using any other drugs (not even aspirin or vitamins) for the entire duration of the experiment which, with pre-screening and follow-up appointments, lasted seven weeks. The hospital was conducting the experiment for Merck Pharmaceuticals, the company seeking government approval to market the new drug.

Because the experiment was fairly long and called for an unusually distasteful procedure, the recruiters invited only the most experienced and reliable guinea pigs on their list. A newcomer to the trade is prone to misunderstand the whole affair and not complete a study for any of a hundred reasons. I've done at least forty studies at Jefferson alone, and most of the others had as much or even more experience than I do. Three of us happen to know each other well, and most of us knew each other slightly from earlier studies.

I was also known both to the other volunteers and to the Jefferson staff for my journal Guinea Pig Zero, which deals with this very subject. In 1996, in fact, I evaluated Jefferson as the best of six research units for its respectful, excellent staff. My high regard for the place has not changed since then, but now they have policies regarding me: the journal and its anthology are not allowed in staff work areas and they may not buy publications directly from me. I don't mind, because other units have barred me entirely from their premises.

The pay we originally agreed to for this study was $3,350. Before the first segment of the study was over, every one of us agreed that the pay was too low. As veteran lab rats, we knew that the rate should hover around $200 per day, with some variation from one facility to another and the details of a given study. During the screening period, some staffers could not deny that the pay should have been higher, and guinea pigs were comparing it unfavorably to other ongoing gigs in the area. We all knew of stories where lab rats had done something to pressure the company for more money or better conditions, so our situation provided a good opportunity for a concerted effort. A few dates into the study, I wrote up one-page memorandum that respectfully said we wanted to re-negotiate the package and thought we should get $4,500.

When gathering signatures and pitching it to management, I took pains to avoid giving the impression that the argument was coming mainly from me. Another guy walked the paper around the ward, and I signed my name in the middle of the list. Within a day or so we had all but one man's name on the sheet, and the lone holdout went to the boss after we had handed it over and asked to see it so that he could sign it too. Thus he went from being the most shy to being one of the boldest among us. When we made our presentation to the head nurse and the unit director, about six of us did the talking.

When the job was planned, it was to spread over a longer period in the fall season and be all over before Christmas. The breaks were to be three days long and each week was to have the same schedule. Various delays occurred, but the sponsor still wanted the job completed in 2003, so the schedule was compressed into a much shorter period (the staff wound up doing long overtime shifts and often sleeping at the unit). We volunteers were now expected to refrain from drinking through the whole holiday season. The feces collection exposed us to unpleasant smells that had not been considered in the compensation. An old fringe benefit had been phased out before this study began: the volunteer telephone was now restricted to local calls instead of allowing long-distance on the "honor system." Despite all these changes, the payment had not been adjusted.

Other strategies were used to boost the pressure. We kept referring to better-paying studies that would soon begin within a mile of Jefferson. This meant that some of us could drop out mid-way through the study, screwing up the science and causing a major financial catastrophe for the researchers. Anyone who bolted would be paid pro rata for the time he had put in. I suggested we ingest flexible vinyl propaganda scraps, so that the staff would find little notes reading "more money" in our poop, but many found the idea too vulgar –- go figure!

We were promised a yes-or-no answer before the holiday break, and the bosses assured us that they basically agreed with our request. It remained for them to get the drug company to agree. The promised deadline neared, and tension increased as unrelated issues came up. Two guys were caught breaking the dietary rules by burglarizing a cabinet and gobbling down snacks between meals. Staffers remarked that those guilty of such bad conduct didn't deserve a bonus. In response, we loudly talked about pulling a hunger strike or refusing to eat outside our rooms, in order to keep the pay issue clear of any other concern.

On the evening before the first sub-group was to leave for the holidays and we guinea pigs were making more and more noise about being blown off, the unit director summoned everyone to the lounge for an announcement. They had gotten the nod from Merck two days earlier, but they had only just received a signed agreement over the fax machine. The payment would be increased by $800, which is less than we asked for but plenty of money. We all cheered. Before the meeting broke up, the head nurse emphatically stated that we could not just "band together" and put the sponsors over a barrel in the middle of an experiment. She said that this was an unusual case, and that she herself had miscalculated the figure because of special circumstances.

Over the years I have been asked whether human guinea pigs would start a union, and I've said that it's logistically farfetched and that we would suffer a lowering of status if we were to be included under the Labor Relations Act. Patients and lab rats hold a stronger hand in the courtroom than workers do, and the effort I have just described would have been a failure had it been aimed at union recognition or had we used a union rep to speak for us. However, the head nurse was wrong when she said we couldn't do this again. The guinea pig workforce may be too fragmented and fluid to form even an unofficial union, but the drug industry is extremely cash-rich and competitive. This makes the industry able to throw a bone to small groups of savvy volunteers.

The victory at Jefferson demonstrates that healthy lab rats certainly can and should "band together" and demand changes in their contracts when the need arises.

Human Guinea Pigs Organize and Win

[This article by Dave Onion appeared in defenestrator (Philadelphia's anarchist newspaper) and the PhillyIMC website in April 2003.]

The drug study is familiar to many Philly anarchist activists. Often with too much going on to be able to work regular jobs, some of us find ourselves choosing the alternative exploitation of leasing our bodies to huge pharmaceutical companies as human guinea pigs for monetary compensation.

Early December, right after the start of a study to gain the multinational drug company Merck FDA approval for a yet-to-be-released anxiety medication, 20-odd subjects of the study got together in the lounge of Jefferson Hospital's Clinical Pharmacology Unit and complained angrily about the nature of the study we'd just started. Though it initially seemed to pay near average ($3300), the study was much more intense than any of us had expected. For one, it stretched out over Christmas and New Years (during which time we were allowed no alcohol or coffee) with the first period ending immediately before Christmas making most guinea pigs' Christmas preparations especially difficult. Our single day off every four days was near worthless free time considering we would spend the day scrambling to catch up on our daily lives and then not even be allowed to hit the bar afterwards. On top of this, our "PK days" every four days were grueling, with blood draws nearly all day. Also the pay, once we'd calculated our hourly wage equivalent, was a measly $6 an hour. Further vexation came from Merck. As one of the largest and richest corporations on the planet (raking in over $8 billion in profits in 2000), Merck was cutting costs in the unit to the point of trying to scale back on $5 meal tickets given to guinea pigs after a screening (usually after fasting from the day before).

The study was made up, for the most part, of seasoned veterans in the study world, including three anarchist activists, though most of us knew each other from past studies. After some discussion, during which our feelings of getting screwed proved mutual, Bob Helms, Philly's local anarchist historian (also in the study) drafted up a letter to Merck demanding an additional $1500 for the study. The letter cited our pay, the intensity of the study and reminded Merck we were aware of the going conditions and pay rates for other studies going on. The one guinea pig who wouldn't sign on later enthusiastically asked for the letter back after some subjects suggested to him the possibility of appropriating his unearned scab pay on the way home from the bank. Now everyone was on board. The letter was sent off to Merck via the unit's head nurse with a verbal message that a good number of us were seriously considering not returning for the second leg of the study if our demands weren't met, in effect putting hundreds of thousands of Merck money on the line.

In the meantime, despite the relative misery of consistently terrible food, TV over-saturation, bruised arms from failed subcutaneous vein searches, the study became territory for unusually interesting interactions, partly inspired by the unusual conditions of guinea pig work place class struggle. A good amount of dialogue took on a very political character. Represented in the study were blacks, whites, Moslem, anarchist, Christian, queer, a number of let's just say "extreme heteros," even a belligerent right wing capitalist (with a weakness for civil liberties). With CNN and the insane president looming constantly on the screen, the seemingly inevitable war against Iraqis became a constant theme of discussion, with near unanimous agreement that the boy king was off his rocker. At one point frustrated with a near total abstention of imperialist fervor in the study, our capitalist friend (incidentally very enthusiastic about our demands to Merck) left the room screaming "Is there not one fucking American in this study?" Another brief moment of inspiration came while watching In the Name of the Father, a film on the struggle of a Irish man framed as an IRA combatant. Mostly taking place in prison with a theme of struggle for justice and prison conditions, the film was a constant reminder of our own situation. Life in a drug study is strangely reminiscent of life locked up. The aesthetics, the boredom, the covert exchange of small (in our case, food) items, the people you meet ... (though food at CFCF [a city jail–- Ed.] is without a doubt better than that at Jefferson). Given the nurses' un-prisonlike treatment of us, our voluntary status and that we were getting paid for this, we tactfully refrained from a "unit riot."

It was some time before we heard back from Merck. As a fair number of us were seriously considering walking out for more profitable or simply less grueling activity, we wanted an answer before the end of the first period. As this date approached, guinea pigs became increasingly restless and we started talking about ways to step up the pressure. One suggestion was to ingest notes reading "more money" which the nurses would be obliged to fish out of our shit. But many of the nurses, already working long hours and with their own beefs with Merck (having to retrieve half digested pills from our shit for instance) were on our side. And for the most part we mutually recognized each others' conditions. Some were starting to feel the head nurses were stalling or simply hadn't even passed on our note. Finally, just a couple days before the end of the first period we were called into the lounge and the announcement was made that Merck agreed our study deserved better pay and would add an extra $800 to our checks. Needless to say, we were jubilant. Not quite the $1500 we'd asked for, but most of us expected less if anything at all.

Taken from the Guinea Pig Zero website:


Industrial Worker (April 2005)

Articles from the April 2005 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Philly retail workers build solidarity union - Jon Bekken

An article by Jon Bekken about the South Street Workers Union, an effort to organize food & retail workers in Philadelphia. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2005).

The IWW-affiliated South Street Workers Union is organizing retail and food service workers along Philadelphia's South Street corridor, implementing a model of solidarity unionism focused on helping workers create their own shop floor and district-wide organizations to confront low wages, poor working conditions, and the lack of workplace rights.

Since the union began organizing in August 2003, the South Street Workers Union has organized health, tax and workers' rights clinics; social events; a district-wide grievance committee that has helped workers claim unpaid wages and develop strategies to improve working conditions; and organized a campaign against proposed mass transit fare increases and service cutbacks.
Seventy union members and supporters marched down South Street February 27, demanding support for mass transportation funding -- culminating a two-week campaign in which they approached business owners along the strip asking them to sign a letter to the legislature demanding adequate transit funding.

The SEPTA system faced a $49 million budget shortfall, which it planned to meet by raising cash fares from $2 to $2.50 (on the way to $3), and slashing night and weekend service.

The cuts and fare hikes were averted the next day when the governor diverted highway funds to cover operating expenses through June.

Marchers stopped at five of the seven South Street businesses that had refused to sign the letter, gaining two more signatures to bring the total to 99. The march ended with a short rally where the letters were delivered to State Rep. Babette Josephs, who told the crowd that as the only member of the legislature who didnÕt own a car, she recognized the importance of mass transit.

"If we saw this kind of protest in every shopping district," she added, "the legislature would find a way to solve the transit crisis."

South Street workers depend on mass transit, delegate Andrew Rothman noted, adding that proposed fare increases "would be devastating to people who are living at or below the poverty line." Marchers echoed that sentiment, chanting "Raise our wages, not the fares."

The march was covered by three television stations and in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The South Street Workers Union's next event is a tax clinic, where accountants will be on hand to help workers prepare tax returns and claim the earned income credit many are entitled to because of their low earnings.

Most South Street workers earn little more than minimum wage (and some not even that). Although the corridor -- which includes a mix of chain stores and locally owned businesses ranging from small boutiques to large, multi-level stores -- is one of Philadelphia's busiest shopping district, its wages are sometimes lower than those paid in other parts of the city.

One owner monitors workers from her home with surveillance cameras. Another operates a 2,000-square-foot store with just one worker per shift. What these businesses have in common is low wages, benefits that run the gamut from inadequate to non-existent, and high turnover as workers jump from one crappy job to another.

The union was formed to help change these conditions, and currently has members at eight stores along the corridor. It has helped workers at a national franchise outlet end management's practice of demanding unpaid clean-up time, and defended workers threatened with losing their jobs. Several members also traveled to Brooklyn to build relations with workers involved in a similar campaign among immigrant workers there.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2005)

Originally posted: May 11, 2005 at

Industrial Worker (September 2005)

Articles from the September 2005 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

AFL-CIO splits: business unionism in crisis - Jon Bekken

An article by Jon Bekken about the 2005 split in the AFL-CIO that eventually became the Change to Win (CtW) Federation. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (September 2005).

The AFL-CIO suffered a devastating split as it celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding July 25-28, with three unions representing nearly a third of its members quitting, and two others refusing to participate in its biennial convention. The Teamsters and Service Employees unions withdrew on the eve of the convention; the United Food and Commercial Workers quit the Federation as delegates were leaving Chicago.

The Change to Win Coalition kicked things off with a high-energy press conference packed with union staffers. The presidents of all six CWC unions - SEIU, Unite-HERE, Teamsters, UFCW, Laborers and United Farm Workers - spoke to an enthusiastic crowd, but the surface unity quickly dissolved when things got down to specifics. Four Coalition unions boycotted the AFL convention, two said they would participate. The officers were unwilling to say whether their unions would formally quit the AFL-CIO; the decisions trickled in over the next few days.

While CWC representatives said the split was over the need to "restructure" the Federation to focus resources on organizing, the closest thing to a specific illustration of differences on offer was when SEIU President Andy Stern contrasted the wording of the AFL leadership's and CWC's resolutions: where the AFL-CIO resolutions employed the word "should," the Coalition used the word "shall." Such momentous differences can not help but inspire a movement.

AFL-CIO officials, meanwhile, scrambled to hold things together in back rooms as a succession of politicians delivered stump speeches from the podium, chasing after what remains of a very lucrative gravy train.

There was no debate over the future of the labor movement, or over anything else of import. AFL officials agreed at the last minute to a resolution calling for the "rapid" withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq rather than face a floor fight. Rather than allow a contested election for officers, they cut a deal with veteran labor writer Harry Kelber in which he withdrew his candidacy in exchange for three minutes at the podium. (An attempt to rule him ineligible fizzled when Kelber produced records documenting his union membership.) Reports on the AFL's substantial stock portfolio took up time badly needed to develop a vision of unionism that recognizes the reality of the current class war. Politicians mouthed empty platitudes about unity while AFL-affiliated airline unions prepared to scab on the independent union representing Northwest mechanics.

Faced with the loss of $30 million a year because of the disaffiliation of the Service Employees, Teamsters and Food and Commercial Workers, delegates approved a 4 cent increase in the monthly per capita tax each international union pays the AFL-CIO. The convention also made permanent a special 8 cent per capita assessment earmarked for the AFL's political program. Much of this money will be used for the 2006 congressional and 2008 presidential elections.

Resolutions that had been proposed in an effort to placate CWC unions were also adopted, including establishing a more powerful Executive Committee dominated by the largest affiliates and creating Industry Coordinating Committees to oversee organizing targeting and set contract standards among unions in industry clusters.

Although the Coalition unions put forward a 10-point program they claimed would position the labor movement to rebuild its industrial power, in the end the debate collapsed into an argument over how much money unions should pay to support Federation activities. The larger unions that formed the Change to Win Coalition said the AFL-CIO should rebate half of their dues money to fund strategic campaigns to organize new members (not that the UFCW or Teamsters do much of that). AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the federation should increase spending on organizing, and also spend even more on politicking. But neither advocated any fundamental change in how the AFL does business, even if they did hold very different views of who should run the operation.

Former United Auto Workers regional director Jerry Tucker noted "how shallow, myopic and unplugged from today's worker reality the so-called debate has remained... This has been a ping-pong match between guardians of a failed legacy - a faction fight to see who can best restore business unionism and labor's junior partnership with capital."

Leftists who've entertained visions of Change to Win as a scrappy ground-level organizing outfit should have been discomfited by Hoffa's talk of "staffing up" and professionalization of organizing (even if that might be a welcome contrast to the patronage hacks who have been in charge of the Teamsters' pitiful organizing attempts), but now that Change to Win has hired 55 public relations specialists and appointed as its executive director Greg Tarpinian, who's made a career of "consulting" for some of the Teamsters' most calcified old guard, it's hard to talk about challenging the status quo with a straight face.
Former AFL-CIO staffer Bill Fletcher notes that the entire debate misses the point: "Our unions suffer from a profound conservatism, a failure to recognize the kinds of changes that are going on... We have to be prepared to talk about something we've been afraid to say out loud - that capitalism is harmful to the health of workers. Something is fundamentally wrong with the priorities of this society, and we have to be courageous enough to say so."

Meanwhile, the business unions continue their collapse. Less than 8 percent of private sector workers are now unionized, and it seems unlikely that the UFCW's brand of minimum-wage unionism is going to inspire many workers to risk their jobs by unionizing. Neither side in this heated debate called for more internal democracy (something notoriously absent from the unions that dominate the Coalition), or offered any vision of how a just society should be organized. There was only the faintest hint of recognition of the need for international solidarity to confront an increasingly global economy.

There was a lot of talk about more independence from the Democrats on all sides, but the only concrete difference between the Coalition "reformers" and the AFL-CIO is that the "reformers" are giving more of their money to Republicans. Direct action and solidarity were not on the agenda, and for all the talk of the need to reform labor laws neither side appears to have given any thought to how to build a union movement that helps workers to organize on the job and defend their interests without the official recognition that is increasingly hard to get.

In short, it's business as usual at an AFL-CIO now much smaller than it was a month ago, while the Coalition unions are moving to launch a competing federation that, if anything, looks to be more boss-friendly than the one they have left.

The merger of the Congress of Industrial Organizations into the American Federation of Labor fifty years ago marked the end of an experiment in which business unions tried to adapt the tools forged by the IWW. In the process, they built unions in many sectors that were generally undemocratic but did deliver better wages and benefits in exchange for channeling workers' rebellion into safer (for the bosses) channels. With the merger, those unions that refused to surrender the vestiges of a broader social vision were left in the cold, and most soon collapsed or were absorbed into the business unions.
So workers have little reason to mourn today's split. But neither is there cause for celebration. Neither side in this bureaucratic struggle has anything to say to workers struggling to revive the labor movement.
Labor councils' rebellion

The Afl-CIO has backed down on orders to state and local labor councils to expel locals of the seceding unions. Sweeney acted in response to a growing rebellion from councils that would have been crippled by the expulsion order. Some suggested they might become independent rather than expel unions that, in many places, form the backbone of local labor councils.

Instead, the AFL is creating "solidarity charters" under which independent unions will be allowed to join labor councils if they pay a 10 percent "solidarity" surcharge. However, their members could not be elected to top office. It is unclear whether this compromise will be sufficient to quell the rebellion.

New labor federation forming

Three unions that withdrew from the AFL-CIO have announced plans to launch a new labor federation Sept. 27 in Cincinnati. The SEIU, Teamsters, and United Food and Commercial Workers are expected to participate. The Carpenters, which withdrew from the AFL-CIO in 2001, may also attend.
Three other Change to Win Coalition unions - the Farm Workers, Laborers, and Unite Here - remain in the AFL-CIO. Unite Here has been a leading Coalition member but is unlikely to quit the Federation, if only because its Amalgamated Bank relies heavily on union deposits and could be bankrupted if AFL unions withdrew their funds. The Communications Workers pulled $60 million earlier this year as a warning shot.

Some independent unions have expressed interest in the new grouping, but appear to be waiting to see how it develops.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (September 2005)

Originally posted: October 9, 2005 at

Industrial Worker (October 2005)

Articles from the October 2005 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Katrina: social tragedy benefits exploiters, devastates workers

An article by Jon Bekken about the management of Hurricane Katrina relief. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 2005).

Hundreds of thousands of workers face untold misery after they were displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and the flooding that wrecked much of New Orleans in its aftermath. It may be months before many of those displaced from coastal Louisiana and Mississippi are allowed to return to what remains of their homes. However, things are looking much more promising for business. Owners of office space throughout the Gulf Coast region are doing record business; hotels are charging top dollar for shabby units; oil companies are enjoying windfall profits as the wonders of capitalism transform their damaged (and fully insured) refineries and drilling platforms into a price bonanza for energy suppliers.

Stock prices for major contractors Halliburton and Baker Hughes - which also have been making out like bandits from the carnage of the Iraq war - skyrocketed as they joined in the scramble to profit off this tragedy. A Sept. 6 story in the New York Times celebrated the business opportunities, even as it cautioned that some "are wary about seeming too gleeful in light of New Orleans' misery."

"I always hate to talk about positives in a situation like this," Tetra Technologies CEO Geoffrey Hertel told the Times, "but this is certainly a growth business for the next 6 to 12 months." Tetra repairs oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

Let no one believe this was a natural disaster. The hurricane itself may have been a force of nature, although most scientists who study the earth's changing climate believe that the frequency and intensity of hurricanes has increased sharply as a result of global warming - that is, as a result of the capitalists' reckless plundering and destruction of our planet. (Similarly, the flooding was worsened because the government has for years ignored environmentalists' warnings that the wetlands and harbor islands needed to buffer New Orleans from storms were being destroyed.)

But there was ample opportunity to evacuate before the hurricane struck, and even more time before the flooding that caused the bulk of the carnage. Hundreds of thousands loaded their possessions in their cars, grabbed some cash, and headed out of town to wait the storm out. A few refused to leave their homes. But tens of thousands had no choice. They did not have cars in which to make the journey, nor funds with which to buy fuel (the price of which was already skyrocketing), nor credit cards with which to book a hotel room in some strange city, far from family and friends. This was a private-sector evacuation, open only to those with the economic means to participate. The poor were left to fend for themselves, as best they could.

To be sure, the city told them to take shelter in the Convention Center and the SuperDome, but once there they were abandoned to their plight, without food or water or medical attention. Quite simply, to those who make the decisions in this society their lives were of no importance and they were left to die.

But they refused.

People broke into stores and took what they needed to survive. (Some, it seems, may also have taken some of the luxuries which had long been denied them.) They shared what they found, and treated each other's injuries as best they could.

In the hurricane's aftermath, the media spread lurid reports of looters shooting down rescue helicopters and raping children in relief shelters. Most of these reports turn out to have been fabrications. The NPR radio show "This American Life" broadcast interviews with hurricane survivors prevented from escaping the disaster zone by armed police looking to keep African-American survivors out of their white suburbs. "Thank God for the looters," one conventioneer said, noting that they not only provided desperately needed food and water but also ferried children and sick people to evacuation centers.

Meanwhile, as people were dying in New Orleans of dehydration and disease, state officials pulled police and National Guard from rescue efforts; instead, they were given "shoot to kill" orders and dispatched to protect property.

We saw two contrasting visions of society in this disaster. Thousands rushed to aid the victims, not asking if there was a buck to be made but rather doing what they could to respond to the urgent human need. People opened their homes to refugees, traveled into danger zones, and emptied their pockets. Meanwhile, gas stations and hotels raised prices to take advantage of the desperate refugees, while politicians left those unable to escape New Orleans to die.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency turned back truckloads of bottled water even as thousands of survivors had gone for days without food or water. FEMA officials ignored reports of thousands of people jammed into the New Orleans Convention Center and on overpasses throughout the city, told the Red Cross to stay out of the city, and left people to die until media coverage forced them to take action.

The one million people from New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast suddenly tossed out of their jobs by Hurricane Katrina are now fanning out across the South and the rest of the country looking for work. In San Francisco, a few have been hired to scab on striking health care workers. Others can hope for work rebuilding the highways and buildings leveled by the storm and flooding. But most were low-wage workers in the casino and tourism industries, filling jobs that will not exist until the region is rebuilt. Before the hurricane hit, nearly a fourth of New Orleans residents lived below the poverty line.

Concerned that the bosses might have to pay too much for that reconstruction work, President Bush has waived a federal law requiring construction contractors receiving federal funds to pay prevailing wages to their workers. Employers have long sought to repeal Davis-Bacon Act requirements, claiming taxpayers could benefit by sending construction work to the lowest bidder and paying rock-bottom wages. Eliminating prevailing wage requirements also has the advantage of creating huge cost differentials between unionized and non-union contractors, effectively replacing union workers with workers who lack union protection and so must cut corners and do slip-shod work to meet the bosses' demands for more profits.

As always, there is money to be made (and votes to be hustled) off human suffering. These parasites will be with us so long as we tolerate an economic system based upon greed and exploitation.

But we can see the basis for another system in the actions of those who continue to reach out to aid those in need. As always, they are the vast majority, but it is the parasites who hold the levers of power. In this time of crisis, we must of course extend our solidarity to our fellow workers; but let's also ask why we continue to tolerate an economic system that inflicts such misery on so many.

A directory of grassroots organizations in New Orleans, Biloxi, Houston and other affected areas providing immediate disaster relief to poor people and people of color can be found at

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 2005)

Originally posted: November 2, 2005 at

Solidarity is key to win Northwest Airline strike - Jon Bekken

An article by Jon Bekken about the 2005 Northwest Airlines strike. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 2005).

Northwest mechanics and cleaning crews remain solidly united as their strike against massive concessions that would cost most workers their jobs enters its second month. Unable to entice strikers to cross the picket lines, Northwest began hiring permanent replacements Sept. 13, and has contracted out nearly all of its cleaning work.

Delta and Northwest airlines filed for bankruptcy Sept. 14, after unions balked at the carriers' demands for another round of deep pay cuts, lay-offs and other concessions. While Northwest has said it will refuse to deal with the mechanics during the bankruptcy proceedings, this stance is illegal.

In the most recent round of contract talks, Northwest said it was willing to keep only 1,080 mechanics' jobs; most mechanics and all aircraft cleaner and custodian positions represented by the union would be outsourced, eliminating 3,181 positions that existed before the strike. Northwest had originally demanded "only" 2,000 lay-offs, so it is clearly feeling emboldened by the way other union workers have been waltzing across the mechanics' picket lines.

Even though it would cost more than three-fourths of its members their jobs, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association negotiating team said it was willing to present Northwest's proposal for a vote, but ultimately withdrew from contract talks when Northwest refused to offer an acceptable severance package for the workers who would lose their jobs and insisted on intolerable working conditions for the survivors of this industrial carnage.

Although dozens of baggage handlers, ground crew and flight attendants have honored AMFA picket lines, massive union scabbing has allowed Northwest Airlines to keep its planes flying with a mix of 1,200 scabs, about 350 managers who are licensed mechanics, and outside maintenance firms - even if at such a heavy cost that the carrier has been pushed into bankruptcy.

The Machinists and pilots unions have directed their members to scab; the independent Professional Flight Attendants Union (which only represents workers at Northwest) officially supports the strike but is not honoring picket lines. The Teamsters have told their members they are on their own as far as the picket lines go, but have had the decency to cancel staff travel plans on the struck carrier.

Since the strike began, the AFL-CIO has issues mealy-mouthed statements of support for the workers, while refusing to support the strike itself. On the eve of the strike the AFL issued a memo warning that, "AMFA may ask CLCs and State Feds for support: food banks, money, turnout at AMFA picket lines and at rallies etc. StateFeds and CLCs should not provide AMFA with such support, unless the national AFL-CIO instructs them to do so." Far from encouraging solidarity, AFL-affiliated unions have been doing all in their power to disrupt local solidarity efforts.

The newly independent Change to Win Coalition unions, which include thousands of airline workers in their ranks, have made no official mention of the strike.

Meanwhile, the CWA-affiliated Association of Flight Attendants is trying to raid the independent union which represents 9,600 Northwest flight attendants, making not-so-veiled threats that other airline unions will scab should they be forced to strike, leaving them to fight alone just like the mechanics. This threat might be more persuasive if AFL-affiliated unions had a better record of honoring each others' picket lines.

Northwest is demanding more than $150 million a year in concessions from the flight attendants, including outsourcing international flights to cheaper overseas crews and hiring nonunion crews to work small aircraft. The changes would eliminate more than half of flight attendant jobs.

Growing solidarity

Despite attempts to isolate the Northwest strikers, solidarity actions are slowly taking root. Thousands of strikers and their supporters rallied across from the Northwest hangar at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International airport Aug. 27, including many uniformed Northwest flight attendants. The flight attendants' union president spoke at the rally, and the union is encouraging members to join solidarity rallies and defending flight attendants who have been fired for refusing to cross AMFA picket lines.

The United Auto Workers have donated $880,000 in strike relief funds. In an implicit rebuke to other unions which have been actively undermining the strike, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said, "Northwest Airlines' behavior toward AMFA is blatant union-busting and an insult to every American worker. The UAW is proud to offer this support to AMFA members."

Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have been joining AMFA picket lines on the West Coast, and labor councils in Alameda County, San Francisco and Northwest Oregon have passed motions of support. (The IWW has also adopted a resolution, which is published on page 6.)

Hundreds of supporters joined striking mechanics at San Francisco International Airport on Labor Day. Airline mechanics and flight attendants from American Airlines, United Airlines and other carriers not only joined the rally but spoke in solidarity. Most significantly, IAM strikers and local union officials joined the rally. The Machinists' NWA Grievance Committee Chairperson Janice Sisco spoke, saying that all units were threatened by the attack on the mechanics. AMFA District Council 9 President Joe Prisco also spoke, declaring that AMFA would honor all picket lines as a matter of principle no matter what union was involved.

Absent were Bay Area AFL-CIO and Change To Win leaders, even though they had acceded to rank-and-file pressure to pass a resolution supporting the strike.

In Detroit, IBEW, IWW, UAW and other unionists had been planning an August 27 benefit for the strikers at IBEW Local 58's hall, which they have used for several labor solidarity events over the years. When Machinists officials learned of the event, they called the local to demand that it be cancelled. Local 58 officials explained that they had rented the hall to a community organization, so the IBEW international stepped in and ordered them to lock the hall to prevent the event from taking place.

A new venue had to be found and publicized on 30 hours' notice, and it was. A local bar lent its kitchen for the cooking and two Detroit night spots opened their doors Saturday evening, accommodating 500 strike supporters. Outraged IBEW officials demanded that the local turn over the burglar alarm company's records to prove that the hall had not been used for the purpose of supporting workers fighting to defend their jobs.

Many Northwest aircraft may be unsafe. A Federal Aviation Administration inspector who raised serious concerns about maintenance problems in the first days of the strike was reassigned after the airline complained. Minnesota-based FAA inspector Mark Lund wrote that the situation at Northwest "jeopardizes life or property." The FAA downplayed the warning, noting that Lund is active in the union representing inspectors.

Despite the courageous actions of dozens of workers to honor the AMFA picket lines (more than offset by union scabbing that has gone far beyond the normal treachery - in one case a Northwest pilot actually moved equipment on the ground in order to get his scab plane ready for take-off), the picket lines have not shut the carrier down. Northwest is canceling many flights, and on some days more than half of its flights have been delayed by 15 minutes or longer. And in order to fill its flights, Northwest is increasingly relying on code sharing (particularly through its Delta partner) and budget booking systems (which do not identify the carrier until after tickets are purchased) to lure passengers onto its planes under false colors.

Yet while the growing solidarity is heartening evidence that many rank-and-file workers are repulsed by the union scabbery and jurisdictional squabbling that has left the mechanics to fight on their own, if the strike is to be won the airline will have to be shut down. Ideally this would be done by other Northwest workers honoring the picket lines. If not, mass picketing will be necessary. If AMFA is defeated in this fight, it will touch off a renewed wave of concessions demands throughout all industry. In this case, as is so often the case, an injury to one really is an injury to all.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 2005)

Originally posted: November 2, 2005 by

Industrial Worker (November 2005)

Articles from the November 2005 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

In November we remember - Jon Bekken

An article by Jon Bekken about the numerous martyrs of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) over the years. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2005).

Every November we remember the rebel workers murdered by the employing class; a long list which grows longer every year. Fred Thompson used to speak of an IWW soapboxer whose rap went something like this: 'Workers are being fired for joining the IWW. Workers are being killed... Join the IWW.' It demonstrated, Fred used to say, a fine sense of solidarity but was not necessarily the best way to sign up new members.

The IWW has contributed more than its fair share of labor's martyr, because we have always been in the forefront of the struggle for workers' rights. By some accident of the calendar, many of our fellow workers have fallen in November, from the Haymarket Martyrs murdered Nov. 11, 1887, to the Nov. 4, 1936, death of FW Dalton Gentry, shot on an IWW picket line in Pierce, Idaho.

Some, like Joe Hill (killed Nov. 19, 1915) are famous; others, like R.J. Horton, largely forgotten. Fellow Worker Horton was shot down by a Salt Lake City cop Oct. 30, 1915, while giving a speech protesting the impending execution of Joe Hill.

Some died in prison, like Samuel Chin (March 1910) in Spokane, or Thomas Martinez (March 3, 1921) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Some were murdered by vigilantes, including Joe Marko (April 8, 1911) in the San Diego free speech fight and Wesley Everest (Nov. 11, 1919) in Centralia. Others were killed by police, such as Steve Hovath (August 2, 1908) in the McKees Rocks strike or Martynas Petkus (Feb. 21, 1917) in Philadelphia.

It is a long list, even if too many are unknown, including the Stettin, Germany, dockworkers murdered by the Nazi regime, or the fellow workers who fell to military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina and Peru. A researcher is uncovering the names of Wobblies who died in Spain, fighting the fascists in the 1930s, but who will recover the names of the Wobblies murdered as they rode the rails, organizing the harvest stiffs?

In 1973, Frank Terrugi was killed by the Chilean junta; the next year the Philippines army killed FW Frank Gould. We can not forgot those who while grievously injured were not killed, through no fault of the bosses, such as Judi Bari who survived a 1990 assassination attempt but spent the rest of her life in pain, or the 15 Tulsa oil workers who survived a lynching party Nov. 7-8, 1917.

The November 1996 Industrial Worker printed a long list of IWWs killed on picket lines. The list includes Roy Martin, Decatur Hall, Ed Brown and J. Tooley murdered by gun thugs in May 1912 in Grabow, Louisiana; Anna LaPizza and Joe Ramey killed the same month during the Lawrence strike; John Smolsky (Lawrence), FW Donovan (Missoula) and Nels Nelson (Marysville CA), strikers killed Oct. 19, 1912; Felix Baran, Hugo Gerlot, Gus Johnson, John Looney and Abraham Rabinowitz killed Feb. 2, 1915, in the Everett Massacre (several more disappeared overboard that day); James Brew, murdered July 12, 1917, during the Bisbee Deportation; John Eastenes, Nick Stanudakis, Mike Vidovitch, J.R. Davies, E.R. Jacques and G. Kosvich, all killed Nov. 21, 1927, in the Columbine Massacre...

However long we make the list, it falls short by the thousands. But the victims we honor for asserting themselves are but a handful compared to the millions victimized by the meekness of the working class: miners killed in unsafe mines, seamen lost in ships they knew were overloaded, construction workers killed because safe practices cost too much, textile workers who succumbed to brown lung, the millions who have died in the bosses' wars, and the millions more who have died of hunger in a world of potential abundance. Consider these numbers next time someone tells you it doesn't pay to stick your neck out.

Every right we possess today we possess because our fellow workers fought and died for it. We owe it to them not simply to defend the rights and conditions they won, not just to preserve their memory, but to carry the struggle they began forward - to bring an end to this brutal system built on murder and exploitation.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2005)

Originally posted: November 2, 2005 at

The 1st of January boot factory: a case study in cooperation - Chris Arsenault

An article by Chris Arsenault about cooperatives in Chiapas, Mexico. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2005).

It's been more than eleven years since the Zapatistas of Chiapas, Mexico said 'ya basta' or 'enough' to neo-liberalism and initiated a struggle for self-determination.

Today, the Zapatistas are creating a variety of participatory economic institutions to meet community needs: women's artisan co-ops, communal corn farming organizations, fair-trade coffee cooperatives and a non-sweatshop boot cooperative.

On a sunny day last year, myself and a delegation of foreign solidarity activists tramped the muddy hills around Oventic Caracole, in the Los Altos region, to visit the 1st of January boot co-op. Rafael Hedez, a leading activist with the co-op, and several other compañeros welcomed us with Cokes and bowls of snow-tire tough beef soup stewed on an open fire.

Inside the workshop, basically a barn with corrugated iron roof, one of the higher-end buildings in a region of thatched farm cuts, a dozen or so men busily cut leather, stick patterns and heat branding irons, large blue flames erupt as glue is melted to stick on the soles.

After showing us around, Hedez begins speaking proudly about ownership structure at the workshop, "We have no owner. Here we are all equals," he said.

"When there is something necessary, or when problems arise, all jobs have problems, then we have a meeting or a discussion in general. If we want to make something without consulting the rest, we can't do that. We must present that job on behalf of everyone," said Hedez.

The co-op started Jan. 1, 1998, when two activists traveled from Chiapas to Mexico City spending six months learning the trade. The independent workshop that trained Hedez and others has since shut down, due to a huge influx of low-cost footwear from China.

Its first priority is to provide high-quality, low-cost footwear for the surrounding communities. "We sell to the indigenous for 150-220 pesos (approx. US$25), just enough to recuperate the cost of the materials. Here in San Andres there are shoes for 100 pesos, but they will only last for a season," said another co-op member.

With significant national and international interest in Zapatismo, the cooperative decided they could use sales to non-indigenous to help finance the development of the workshop. "We sell high boots to foreigners for 350 pesos and medium for 300. This is the price for those who are in solidarity with us, who are also Zapatistas," said Hedez.

Before ending his presentation, Hedez stressed the praxis of the organization, "This is the factory for everyone. We are all the owners. We are the coordinators who coordinate the workshop."

"We try to organize ourselves along the same principals as the 1st of January Co-op," said Amanda Smith, a member of the Black Star Boot Cooperative, a Canadian organization helping to find markets for the boots and solidarity grants to improve the factory.

"Organizing cooperatively is certainly trying," said Smith, an anthropology student from Halifax. "None of us have experience working with boots. It's a little disorganized, frustrating and often inefficient, but the project came directly from the Zapatistas, and at this point, it seems like the most useful thing we can be doing," she said.

"It's less about selling boots than it is about the example we are trying to set; economic interaction based on international solidarity and workers producing quality goods without bosses," she said.

Since the uproar against sweatshop abuses in the early '90s, major textile corporations have spent millions on public relations to showcase "good corporate citizenry" - as if such a concept were possible.

Some positive examples of non-sweat apparel production have sprung up in the last couple years: Sweat X was paying "living" wages to U.S. workers (until it shut down) and American Apparel, which recently opened a store in Toronto, pays workers in Los Angeles decent wages to produce unbranded high quality t-shirts and other clothing.

Commendable as these examples are, their praxis is fundamentally flawed. They seek a return to the post-war settlement, naively hoping decent-paying 9-5 factory jobs can thrive again in the era of neo-liberalism. And although workers have more say over their lives at the American Apparel factory than in a Nike or Adidas outsourcing operation, the non-sweat factories still operate on a centrally planned hierarchy.

In a sense, the Zapatistas, basically an agrarian movement, have leap-frogged the entire wage system with their forays into 'industry.' Co-op members receive no salary for their labor; all profits are invested back into entire community, mostly for public services, specifically health promotion.

"We have a difficult situation," admits Hedez, who is married with several children. "We sustain ourselves through what little we can grow in our milpas (corn fields). We have two days a week for working in the fields. We also buy various things, but very little."

On the outset, working roughly a 40-hour week as a volunteer seems over-zealous, if not downright exploitative. But factory activists have realized they can't individually pull themselves out of poverty. Key pillars of Zapatismo like health, education, work and dignity demand collective action, cooperation and mutual aid.

While boot co-op activists work in their little factory, other community members cut grass and do repairs on public spaces, provide health care, grow shared food, administer justice and take on other tasks in the public interest. Like most political movements, some Zapatistas end up doing more work than others but all people involved in the movement are expected to contribute as best they can.

The 1st of January Boot Workshop is not a perfect model of economic democracy. The component parts for the boots - soles, laces etc. - are bought from coyotes (middlemen) in San Cristobal de las Casas and are presumably imported from China.

And, in the Chiapas highlands, the 'glory' of worker-self-management exists beside deplorable poverty the Mexican government characterizes as 'acute marginalization'; many of the workshop activists can't afford shoes for their own children.

Poverty is ubiquitous in Chiapas (and most of the world), stifling possibilities for participatory economics; you can't make something from nothing. The workshop wants to expand production but it's unlikely they'll get a bank loan for new capital; a 1994 memo from the Chase Manhattan Bank urging the Mexican army to "eliminate the Zapatistas" elucidates how global capital evaluates those who seek alternatives.

Still, the workshop's production is based on a key principle of Zapatismo, 'Everything for everyone, nothing for ourselves.'

"Those of us with the privilege of a Canadian passport, who are 'also Zapatistas' by Rafeal's definition, have a responsibility to help build participatory structures in re-developing areas," said Black Star organizer Dennis Hale. "Not just for because we're nice guilty liberals, but because we need them more than they need us."

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2005)

Originally posted: November 2, 2005 at

Industrial Worker (December 2005)

Articles from the December 2005 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Informal work groups and resistance on the sunrise shift

An account of an informal work group at UPS taking on a grievance with management.

This is a story about a situation that happened at my workplace. Ideally, this will add to a conception of what Direct Unionism is, how it exists in everyday situations, and where we can go with it as an organization. This event happened around a year ago. While some of its impacts were immediate, it took me some time to develop an analysis, and to see clearly how this tied in with the development of class-consciousness. At this point I feel that I can look back, analyze the situation and draw out some lessons.

I worked on the sunrise shift at a parcel moving company represented by the Teamsters. At this company, and in this industry in general, every package is timed out to the last minute. Every day lost in not delivering a package costs this company money. The precision of the timing and the workers' role in maintaining the schedule furthers the opportunity for strategic opposition. This was especially true on my shift where the large majority of the packages being unloaded were on the last leg of their journey. These packages are going directly from us to the trucks that deliver things to your home.

Thus workers in the unload department were in a strategic position in effecting production. This was not immediately apparent to everyone working that section, but the realization eventually took hold. Over the course of roughly four months the unload crew, which consisted of about ten people, developed some pretty tight bonds. Everyone respected and trusted one another.

Day in and day out, the boss' goal is to get workers out after three and a half hours. The Teamsters negotiated into the contract that the company has to guarantee three and a half hours of work. At $8.50 or $9.50 an hour, this amount of time is not enough to live on. Moreover, the amount of work they expect people to get done in three and a half hours is easily four or five hours worth of work. In order to crank it out there are numerous methods. Making work into some kind of sport is one way, or just riding the hell out of people. I have even heard supervisors offering twenty bucks to certain stooges in order to make them work even faster.

In response to this constant speed-up at these low wages, our crew began to drag out the day and slow down as much as we could. All of us understood that being there for four or four and a half hours was important, and just as important was not letting the boss set the pace at which our bodies worked.

For obvious reasons, management did not like this so they began a series of restructuring efforts. They brought in different supervisors, trying to get the most hard-nosed bastard down there, or the friendliest your-older-brother-on-the-line type. None of this worked. Next management began to bring in new hires. It was around the time of the year when new hires are usually brought in, so it may not have been a method to destabilize us as a group. Whether deliberate or not, bringing on an extra set of hands could have undermined our informal production rate.

This particular cat that was brought in, young, straight out of high school, looked every bit to management like someone who would not fit in with our group. The most important aspect was that cat still lived with his folks, and was only working there for the education assistance UPS offers (the establishment of this is a side story of using student labor to pre-empt and undermine workers' power but I won't get into that here). The rest of us, although young, lived on our own and were supporting ourselves. So it seemed at first like he would not be down with the dynamics that existed. Quickly this proved not to be the case. Rather than hang out with supervisor training you at break during the first few weeks, which is customary as this is the only person you know and basically you're cornered into it, he would come chill with us in the break room. He was loud, talked good shit, and openly defied the boss.

It is hard to say what bothered the bosses more - Willy hanging out with us, or his refusal to go the pace they demanded. This pace varies between 23 and 30 boxes a minute, pretty staggering in general. He kept his pace right around ours, which varied from person to person but was much lower than the boss's numbers. It got to a point where management began threatening to fire him. He came to us. Our advice, which was probably a mistake but stuck within the confines of the union contract, was pick it up until you hit the end of your probation period. It takes a new hire 70 working days until he is a "member" of the union, and under its protection from discipline. This is 70 days of speed-up, manipulation and harassment, during which time the union can only look the other way. As a shop steward once explained to me, "If he's under 90 days I can't touch the situation.

He took our advice, but it proved to not be enough. Even though he was exceeding their production numbers at a pace unbelievable to the rest of us, they were still on his ass.

It got to a point where management decided to restart his training at the beginning. Even though it had been well over a month, it was obvious that this was meant to break him away from our group. This led us to respond with some kind of collective action.

This group had been the driving force throughout the escalating conflict but never had we decided to define ourselves as a group, the line had never come down.

Everyone was at the boiling point in the break room that day. The discussion quickly moved beyond statements like "how could they do that?" It quickly became how were we going to respond and help this cat out.

Driven both by our feelings for Willy and by the realization that this attack on him was an attack on us as well, we resolved to take action. It was known from previous experience that the shop stewards would not help as they were confined by the contract. We resolved in the break room to confront out supervisor after break during the PCM (a communication session usually reserved for safety things, or general company cheerleading). Our demands were pretty simple: We wanted an end to the harassment of Willy, and specifically we wanted this supervisor named Chris who had been training Willy kicked off the belt. It was never openly discussed how we would ensure that these demands were met although the term "strike" was mentioned. No one seemed ready to go that far until after we presented our demands.

So we sat down on a belt that still wasn't moving as we did every day, everyone nervously glancing at one another to figure out who would speak up first. No one had been designated to speak. As the supervisor, Drew, began to talk his bullshit he was quickly silenced, I don't remember by whom, with the announcement that we were going to talk and he was going to listen. This was the first time we had defined ourselves as a group, an act within itself with certain implications for management. A shift in floor power definitely occurred and people felt it immediately.

Drew's jaw dropped to the floor as we poured forth out demands. Each person who wanted to speak did so. Our demands were presented. His reiteration, spoke in a shaky voice was that it wasn't our business to say what supervisors did and that we should get back to work. Someone threatened some kind of strike action. Ears perked up, and Drew really went to shit. Demanding that we all go back to work that instant. None of us jumped up, but rather looked around for some kind of understanding where the others were. We went back to work a few seconds later.

For the next little bit people felt great and no one was thinking about the repercussions. Until we saw a swarm of supervisors coming around the trailer. People began to get fingered out by Drew and one by one called out of trailers. A shop steward was down on the floor along with upper management. The main supervisor stood with his arms crossed while the other one did the berating. The supervisor, whose usual demeanor was all about being buddies, threatened to immediately fire the whole belt if he had to if ever anyone said anything about a strike again. During my berating session, as I tried to clear up the situation by reiterating our demands (which only seemed to make them more pissed) I continuously looked at the shop steward for some support. Nothing coming. Afterwards he pulled me aside, shook my hand, and tacitly gave approval to what we had done.

That's what a union is he said, us workers sticking together.

Well, the next few weeks were great. Chris got transferred off the belt and people began to leave Willy alone. We all felt great about coming to a place most of us had hated only six months earlier. The bosses did not try any retaliation - not even a write-up, they seemed to not want to bring it up. Which of course did not stop us from bringing it up.

This story does not end however on a happy note. I think having seen our group as a force the bosses began to move against it, with increased vigor. Most of the tactics we didn't really see coming. Isolation was a big one. Individuals were sent to different parts of the building or began getting some overt special treatment. The union and the contract were used as a way to isolate one person from the rest of us, based on seniority and disciplinary matters. One cat in particular, due to threats from management and a refusal from the union to have his back anymore, went from being outspoken to silent due to a real fear of losing his job.

Personal problems between workers were also used with management openly trying to incite waives of shit talking between people. It went from a situation of friends who had each other's backs, to acquaintances that didn't trust one and another. Management set this up with the goal of breaking us apart. However, we could have countered each tactic used by management with some foresight and some training. But due to inexperience this did not happen. Lastly, we were isolated from a movement or from other shops with similar situations. We were away from other people who were struggling in a similar way against their bosses and the union. Being connected to such a group could have given us the foresight and resources to counter management's attack.

This incident and the months leading up to and preceding it had a major impact on my thinking. Certainly, although not at the time, it taught me a lot about autonomous worker organizing. Workers on their job site form bonds and create an informal work group, that naturally go against the isolation that work aims to impose. Groups form naturally among diverse people who may not have ever conceived of laughing and bullshitting with other workers. These groups then quite easily become the grounds for struggle against the bosses. This is based on the ability of workers to simply come together and air their beefs, realize the commonality, and trust one and another enough to engage in struggle. This was evident in my experience. I do not mean to make it seem like we were all best friends.

Some people got along better than others, occasionally people might have a falling out, but at the end of the day it was clear there was a group and it was composed of us workers. Stan Wier and Martin Glaberman, two working-class writers and revolutionaries of the late twentieth century, wrote about similar topics. It is to them and fellow workers around me, as well as my experience that I owe my current understanding of informal work groups. This experience also shaped my idea of formation of class-consciousness.

By this term I mean workers identifying themselves as such, and recognizing that they have different interests with the bosses. How is this shaped? What I realized it that class-consciousness is shaped by two threads in my story. First and initially being involved in labor and recognizing that this labor is being also taken up and affected by those around you form it. The basis of informal work groups is the initial basis of class-consciousness.

A second component, and in some ways is created by the first, but goes beyond it is struggle. This is the recognition that not only are you part of a group, but a group that relies on each other. Class-consciousness manifests itself on the shop floor, sometimes in subtle ways, a quick fuck you to the boss for example. Other times it is the willingness to take on the problem of the cat next to you as if it were your own, and taking action based on this. That it is important to stand up for the cat next to you, not just out of your personal relationship (what if you think the guy is an ass) but because in the process you are standing up for yourself. Moreover, when workers define themselves as a group and confront the boss in any manner, it furthers their understanding of what that group is and what power it has. Collective action reinforces that group understanding and forms class-consciousness. While this has been my experience, the writings of Martin Glaberman have definitely helped this understanding along.

It is important to realize that the potential for and the actual occurrence of these actions are widespread. It covers every shift everyday in every shop. How can we see these actions and offer assistance when it is needed? A good place to start if by simply being there. The models of Direct Unionism I see discussed are the way to begin moving towards this.

We could have organizers in these groupings, observing and mapping what is going on, in contact with others in the same shop or industry, this would form the basic shop committee. This grouping would be part of a larger industrial organizing committee. The Industrial Organizing Committee could connect what would otherwise be isolated struggles. Out of the IOC made up of members of the shop committees would be a grievance committee, whose aim would be collecting grievances, doing research and strategizing how to deal with them. The ability would then exist to move with actions and offer assistance, sometimes maybe even to coordinate. I see this model being applicable in a situation where no union is present (as is the majority of situations in the US) or even as in my situation where a union is present.

At the present it seems like these models only exist in people's head or floating around in conversations. But as I hope my story illustrates the core of these models, the shop committees, to some extent already exist in informal work groups. Thus this organizing model develops not out of some purely theoretical framework, but out of how work and workers are organized by capital. And more importantly how workers resist capital where it means the most, on the job.

From the Stumptown Wobbly, reprinted in the Industrial Worker, December 2005

The core of these models, the shop committees, to some extent already exist in informal work groups. Thus this organizing model develops not out of some purely theoretical framework, but out of how work and workers are organized by capital.
Stumptown Wobbly

Teamsters Raid On IWW Drive Fails

An article about an attempted Teamster raid on an IWW campaign in New York. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2005).

On Nov. 1, Local 810 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters lost an NLRB election for the roughly 300-worker transportation department of New York City internet grocer FreshDirect, LLC. The local had lost an election in 2004 for the same unit. Despite having won the support of over 100 workers who could have been organized into a powerful union presence, Local 810 abandoned the field after that election.

FreshDirect, of course, soon broke the promises it had made during the campaign. Transportation workers grew increasingly dissatisfied, and, in June of this year some of them contacted the IWW's New York City General Membership Branch. New York Wobblies mapped out an ambitious industrial campaign to line up the entire FreshDirect workforce - about 1,200 workers - along with workers in other nearby wholesale and retail foodstuffs establishments. With help from other members of New York's rank-and-file May Day Coalition, the Branch began gathering contacts and agitating for the union.

No sooner had the IWW hit the streets than Local 810 reappeared, having been tipped off by a loyal FreshDirect driver, and began circulating authorization cards. Soon they filed for an election with the local NLRB office, alerting management to the existence of their organizing drive and prompting a tepid anti-union propaganda campaign by the company. IWW organizers continued their campaign regardless, telling transportation workers that they would support whatever decision the workers made. Now that the cat was out of the bag, however, they openly confronted management, agitating publicly in front of the FreshDirect plant and refusing to be driven away by security guards.

The IWW campaign received considerable encouragement from many of the drivers, helpers and runners who make up the FreshDirect transportation department, as well as from workers in other departments. Many transportation workers were attracted by the IWW's democratic structure, low dues, and emphasis on workers' power on the job. These expressed skepticism of the Teamsters, whose organizer showed up only rarely in his black Continental, formed no organizing committee within the department, and failed to hold even a single meeting of workers.

Other transportation workers, however, had the impression that the election was "in the bag" for the Teamsters. As the election neared, workers failed to show up for several scheduled meetings with the IWW. A rumor circulated that the IWW had been paid by FreshDirect to split the ballot and hand management a victory. The IWWs therefore decided to suspend our efforts in the transportation department during the last weeks before the Teamsters election.

The election was held on a Tuesday. Ballots were impounded and were not counted until the next day. The final count was 133 for the Teamsters and 164 for no union, with three void ballots and two challenged ballots. The IWW campaign continues to gain steam in the other departments of FreshDirect, most notably in sortation which assembles grocery boxes for delivery to customers' homes.

Rank-and-file coalition grows

The New York City GMB is at the heart of a growing informal coalition dedicated to building democratic, worker-run organizations. Other coalition partners are Se Hace Camino al Andar/Make the Road By Walking, the Harlem Tenants' Council, and members of the Million Worker March Movement and the United Electrical Workers.

The coalition, dubbed the May Day Coalition, is the brainchild of IWW member Billy J. Randel. Randel conceived of the idea in connection with efforts to revive the observance of May First as the international workers' holiday here in New York. "We are building a family of workers, supporting each other in the struggle for workers' power on the job and in the community," said Randel.

Recent coalition activities include support of the 318 Restaurant Workers Union, protesting abusive conditions at the Golden Bridge restaurant on the Bowery, an informational picket at Uncle George's restaurant in Queens, where Hispanic workers complain of humiliating mistreatment by the boss, and continuing support for the IWW's campaign to organize the foodstuffs industry in the New York metropolitan area.

CORRECTION - An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Chinese Staff & Workers' Association as a member of the May Day Coalition. While the CSWA has provided valuable help and solidarity to the Coalition, it is not a member. We regret the error.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2005)

Originally posted: December 16, 2005 at


Industrial Worker #1683 (April 2006)

Articles from the April 2006 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

All over the U.S.A. millions rally for immigrant rights - Mike Hargis

An account by Mike Hargis of the 2006 May Day immigration protests, which was one of the largest nationwide demonstrations in American history.

It was so incredible: I never saw the beginning of the march, nor the end. I didn’t hear one speech and never even made it to the Loop where the march was supposed to end. There was just this sea of humanity gathered in the streets, flowing in the same direction with the same object in mind: defeat the new, draconian immigration bill known as “The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005” (HR4437).

On March 10 at least 300,000 people took the day off work or school and converged in Chicago’s Loop to protest this bill, which would turn undocumented workers into “aggravated criminal felons” and those who assist them, such as priests and nurses (and unionists) into criminals as well for “aiding and abetting” them. The bill passed the House of Representatives just before Christmas, it is currently being debated in the Senate.

While the crowd was predominantly Latino there were also substantial contingents of Polish, Irish, Korean, Arab and other immigrant communities.

Chanting “¡Si, se puede!” (Yes, it can be done) and “¡El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido!” (The People United Will Never be Defeated), factory workers, dishwashers, carpenters, high school students and even small shop-keepers marched from Union Park two miles into the Loop. They carried hand-lettered signs saying: “We are America,” “My Mexican immigrant son died in Iraq,” “I’m a dishwasher – not a criminal” and “Don’t deport my parents.”

More than 100 factories in the Chicago area shut down for the day because so many workers had told their bosses that they were planning on taking the day of for “the general strike,” according to Jose Artemio Arreola of the Coalition Against HR4437.

The predominant colors of the day, however, were red, white and blue as U.S. flags were evident everywhere. There was even one small group who insisted on chanting “USA, USA.” (Were they being ironic, I wonder?) Undoubtedly many were eager to show their fellow Americans that they were just as patriotic as them – that all they wanted was to work, pay their taxes, raise their families and partake of the American Dream. “We are all America” and “We Pay Taxes” were other signs in evidence.

At the rally at the Federal Building local Democratic Party bigwigs spoke to those who were actually able make it there. Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Mayor “Little Dick” Daley, Senator Dick Durbin and Congressmen Bobbie Rush and Luis Gutierrez all denounced the pending legislation noting that the city of Chicago was build by immigrant labor. Employers are undoubtedly concerned that this legislation will cut into their profit margins by depriving them of low-wage labor and the politicians want those Latino votes.

A small group of the anti-immigrant Illinois Minuteman Project held a press conference in Grant Park at 10:00 a.m. Their Latina-token front, Rosanna Pulido, declared, “I don’t care if there’s three million people out there, if they are illegal they do not have a voice in America.” What a putz!

The Chicago GMB voted at our March 3 meeting to endorse the protest, at the request of Union Latina. Unfortunately, we were not able to mobilize a visible contingent in so short a time. A call was sent to our e-list to meet up at the edge of Union Park but when I got there with my IWW flag there were already so many people it was impossible to find any other Wobs. Several people, however, did ask me what IWW meant. When I informed them that it was “Trabajadores Industriales del Mundo, mi sindicato” they nodded in appreciation.

March 10 was the largest workers’ demonstration in Chicago history. Not since 80,000 workers marched down Michigan Avenue in 1886 to demand an 8-hour workday has there been such a demonstration of solidarity in the streets of the Windy City. Still, in many ways, it was a conservative movement, aimed at preserving the chance at the American Dream for this new wave of immigrants that was enjoyed by those of past generations. On the other, hand it graphically showed the potential power of immigrant labor when united in a common cause.

Hopefully efforts to organize immigrant labor in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs will be given a boost by this show of solidarity. It should certainly awaken local Wobs up to the need to strengthen our connections to immigrant workers.

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker (April 2006)

Industrial Worker #1684 (May 2006)

The May 2006 issue of the Industrial Worker, the official English-language publication of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- The power in our hands

- A May Day fight for workers' rights

- General strike kills French anti-labor law

- No one is illegal by Arthur J. Miller

- Brooklyn warehouse workers winning with direct action

- Learning as we fight: AMFA & IWW by Jeff Jones

- Toward a new labor media movement? by Eric Lee

- Waking up might be a class act by Gary Cox

- Work injuries undercounted by Confined Space

- New York fines transit union $2.5 million, jails leader

- Whose hand is picking your pocket?

- The plight for freedom: Bay Area Wobblies joing April 10 National Day of Action by Dean Dempsey

- May 1st: defend the rights of immigrant workers

- Si se puede to si se pudo: changing a moment into a movement

- Wide, wide world of sweatshops: 2006 SweatFree communities conference by Kenneth Killer

- Why "Buy American" won't work by Kertes

- The price of our future by Todd Jordan

- Organizing the education industry

- Review: History against misery by David Roediger

- March to the left by Dorice McDaniels

- Health care reform only a boss could love

- Labor fakers' luxuries

- World labor solidarity

Industrial Worker #1684 (May 2006).pdf1.24 MB

Industrial Worker #1685 (June 2006)

Articles from the June 2006 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- Millions strike, march in massive May Day protests

- It's no silver screen: Shattuck Cinema workers go IWW by Dean Dempsey

- U.S. to dispatch troops to Mexican border?

- Readers' soapbox - Farewell, Fellow Worker: Reino Erkkila

- Madison IWW organizing downtown workers by John Peck

- Fabric store workers make gains with new contract by x345292

- Around our union

- Workers march against war

- NYC transit union sues to make bosses accept concessions

- AK Steel lock-out in third month by x360160

- Workers of the world have nothing to lose but their Zip Codes by Eric Lee

- 1,000 activists at Labor Notes meet by Harry Kelber

- Air transport workers form industrial network by Joshua Devries

- Delphi, unions nearing concessions deal?

- "My son was killed": Workers Memorial Day, Philadelphia

- Five Amersino IWW members fired after rigged NLRB election

- Open Letter: Where were you, big labor, the day workers moved a nation?

- Intransigent in Illinois: Hey Electri-Flex, show your workers some respect! by Rik Hakala and Matt Zito

- General strike hits employers in pockets

- The machines stand idle, producing no wealth by Steve Kellerman

- Euro Mayday protests casualization

- “We’ve been robbed long enough. It’s time to strike” : Remember the 1916 strike on Minnesota’s iron range by Jeff Pilacinski

- Remembering the Coors strike by Gary Cox

- Review: Bread & roses: mills, migrants and the struggle for the American dream by Bruce Watson

- Depression-era anthem echoes immigrant struggle by Mark R. Wolff

- Pittsburgh IWW celebrates May Day & branch charter day by Kevin Farkas

- Newspaper workers stand together in Philly

- World labor solidarity

- Unions celebrate May Day amidst growing social conflict in Mexico by Paul Bocking

Industrial Worker #1685 (June 2006).pdf1.45 MB

Farewell, Fellow Worker: Reino Erkkila

Reino J. Erkkila, a leading figure in the San Francisco Finnish community and in the maritime labor movement, passed away at his home April 5, at age 93.

Born Oct. 2, 1912 in Oulainen, Finland, he immigrated to the United States with his parents a year later. Reino spent the next ten years in Butte, Montana, where his father worked in the copper mines. Many of the Finnish miners were involved with the IWW, including his father who was an avid reader of the IWW daily Industrialisti.

In June 1917, 190 miners died at Anaconda Copper’s Speculator mine in Butte, many of them Finns. The miners struck over safety conditions and in July IWW organizer Frank Little came to help out the strikers. In the middle of the night on August 1, suspected copper company vigilantes broke into Little’s boarding house room next to the Finnish Wobbly hall, where he was nursing a broken leg, dragged him out, tied him to the rear of a car, and dragged him through the streets several miles out of town to the Milwaukee Railroad trestle where they hung him.

Incensed by the brutal murder, thousands of miners and their families walked in a funeral procession from downtown to the cemetery, the largest ever seen in Butte. Reino Erkkila, then 5, distinctly remembered walking with his parents in that demonstration, replete with union banners.

The Erkkilas moved to San Francisco in 1923, where Herman worked as a longshoreman and was active in the 1934 strike. Reino Erkkila joined his father on the docks and in the ILWU in 1935. In 1943 he became chief dispatcher in ILWU Local 10, and was later elected president of Local 10.

Reino was proud of his Finn Wobbly family background and it motivated his own years of activity in the labor movement.

He was one of the people on my IW “paper route” here and always enjoyed reading the paper. I recited two bilingual poems at his memorial. He was a great, generous-hearted guy. I’ll miss him.

General Strike hits employers in pockets

An article about the cost to employers of the 2006 May Day immigration protests, which involved walkouts and sick-outs.

Thousands of businesses across the country closed their doors May 1st -- some because there were no workers, others because managers preferred to avoid a fight with their employees that they could only lose. Many more worked short-staffed.

In Latino barrios throughout Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and Miami, thousands of restaurants, warehouses, newsstands, and money transfer services were closed. Many McDonald's outlets cut hours or shut down.

In Los Angeles, hundreds of sweatshop garment factories were closed. The strike paralyzed construction sites and industrial food production plants across the country.

"It was one thing to march," said Armando Navarro of the California-based National Alliance for Human Rights, referring to the earlier wave of immigrant protests. "Now we're going to hit Ôem where it hurts Ð in the pocketbooks."

Cargill, the country's second-largest beef producer, closed seven meat-processing plants employing 14,000 workers. Tyson, Perdue and other meatpackers followed suit. Tens of thousands of farm workers stayed out of the fields, and the American Nursery and Landscape Association estimated that 90 percent of the half million workers in its industry took the day off.

According to Jack Kyser, an economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., the economic impact of the strike could total $200 million just in Los Angeles County. No one has done similar calculations for the rest of the country, but the total would have to run more than a billion dollars.

While several companies threatened to fire or discipline workers who took off work for the day, and some carried out those threats, many employers' associations urged caution -- warning that such actions could lead to further actions.

"Law firms have been advising their clients that the immigrant labor boycott is protected by the National Labor Relations Act, even though it isn't specifically a union action," reported the May 2 Wall Street Journal, which had real-time coverage of the May Day actions in its online edition.

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker (June 2006)

“We’ve been robbed long enough. It’s time to strike” : Remember the 1916 strike on Minnesota’s iron range

Jeff Pilacinski takes a look back at a 1916 IWW struggle in northern Minnesota.

On Saturday, June 3 we remember the valiant struggle of over 15,000 fellow workers and through our continued agitating in 2006, carry their fighting spirit forward. This date marks the 90th anniversary of the great mine workers strike on Minnesota’s Mesabi, Cuyuna, and Vermillion Iron Ranges – a strike that threatened the economic grip of the U.S. Steel war profiteers and strained relations between several prominent Wobbly organizers and the union’s general headquarters.

After a large uprising was crushed with the help of immigrant strike breakers in 1907, Minnesota mine workers were poised to confront the steel trust once again. In a report to the Minneapolis headquarters of the IWW’s Agricultural Workers Organization dated May 2, 1916, one organizer had “never before found the time so ripe for organization and action as just now.” The appeal from one Minnesota miner in the May 13, 1916 issue of the Industrial Worker summarized the workers’ discontent best as “the spirit of revolt is growing among the workers on the Iron Range,” and that there was a need for “workers who have an understanding of the tactics and methods of the IWW and who would go on the job, and agitate and organize on the job.” Less than a month later, an Italian worker at the St. James underground mine in Aurora opened his pay envelope and raged over his meager earnings under the corrupt contract system, whereby wages were based upon the load of ore dug and supplies used, not hours worked. By the time other miners arrived at the St. James for the night shift, production at the mine was halted. All pits in Aurora were soon shut down as the strikers proclaimed, “We’ve been robbed long enough. It’s time to strike.”

40 striking workers from Aurora, along with their families, then marched through other mining communities on the Iron Range and discontent spread like wild fire. By month’s end, almost 10,000 mine workers were out on strike. Frustrated by previous experience with Western Federation of Miners and having been ignored by the Minnesota State Federation of Labor, the disorganized strikers appealed to the Industrial Workers of the World for assistance. Wobbly organizers, including the likes of Carlo Tresca, Joe Schmidt, Frank Little, and later Joe Ettor and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn arrived to help local strike leaders draw up a list of demands. IWW membership in the Metal Mine Workers’ Industrial Union swelled amongst the strikers with the following list of demands crafted: an 8 hour working day timed from when workers entered the mine until they were outside; a pay scale based upon the day worked; pay days twice a month; immediate back-pay for hours worked upon severance; abolition of the Saturday night shift; abolition of the contract mining system. With a majority of the strikers being non-English speaking European immigrants, IWW and local leaders conversed with the workers in their native language - from Polish, German, and Croatian to Finnish and Italian. This commitment to engaging workers in the language of their homeland was sustained through IWW publications and the Work Peoples College well into the 1970s.

Without asking for union recognition or IWW affiliation, the strikers closed the mines that shipped vast quantities of iron ore to plants producing the highly profitable materials of the great European war – iron and steel. This direct threat to wartime profits forced the employing class to mount an all-out attack against the striking workers. U.S. Steel companies on the Iron Range deputized 1,000 special mine guards and strike breakers to keep the picket lines open. Bloodshed soon followed.

In the town of Virginia (where the strike was headquartered), armed company thugs confronted a group of pickets holding signs of “One Big Union, One Big Enemy” and opened fire on them. When the smoke cleared, a Slovenian striker by the name of John Alar was dead from gunshot wounds. Despite city bans against mass marches, several thousand mourning workers marched from Virginia to the fairgrounds in Hibbing where speeches in many different languages urged the strikers to maintain the struggle and fight back in spite of company repression. With this show of boldness by the workers, the U.S. Steel bulls struck back and raided the Biwabik home of a Montenegrin miner in search of a “blind pig” or illegal alcohol still. Violence ensued, leaving one deputized strike breaker and a bystander dead. Philip Masonovich and his wife were arrested along with three immigrant boarders in their home. Within a day of the incident, a number of IWW organizers (who were at strike headquarters in Virginia during the scuffle) were also jailed on the grounds that they were accessories to murder. It was claimed that their impassioned speeches against the bosses encouraged chaos. Despite violent repression and with strike leaders locked up, the miners’ struggle pressed forward.
The mining companies refused to recognize any of the strikers’ demands and instead red-baited the workers by calling them IWW revolutionaries and vile anarchists in the newspapers. After futile negotiations between U.S. Steel and local businessmen/public officials in support of the strikers, the workers looked to the federal government to mediate. Mediation broke down, and with winter fast approaching, the Iron Range locals of the IWW voted to end their strike on September 17, 1916. Though heralded as a defeat for the workers, their bold confrontation struck fear in the companies, who by mid-October granted a few of the strikers’ primary demands. In November of 1916, only two months after the strike’s end, large wage increases were introduced by all of the mining companies. The bosses claimed these increases were meant for workers to benefit from wartime prosperity, but the IWW and even the otherwise hostile local papers realized what prompted this action. The Duluth News Tribune accepted that the concessions by the bosses were an “answer to the threat of a renewed IWW strike on the ranges next spring.”

Attentions then turned to defending those still in jail from the Biwabik episode. A large defense campaign was mounted, with support coming from the IWW’s AWO office in Minneapolis and other workers from around the country, including Eugene Debs. Shortly before the murder trials were to begin, a settlement was reached between prosecutors and attorneys speaking on behalf the IWW whereby Masonovich and two of his immigrant boarders would plead guilty to manslaughter, and all others would be released. Masonovich and the two immigrants accepted the offer with the understanding that they’d serve one year. However, the three were handed terms up to twenty years with parole eligibility after one year served. This outcome angered Bill Haywood, the IWW’s General Secretary-Treasurer for what he saw as a betrayal of the workers in exchange for the freedom of the Wobbly organizers. Haywood lashed out at Gurley Flynn and Ettor, who in turn criticized the IWW’s leader of withholding much needed defense funds for the case while transforming the organization into a top-heavy bureaucracy. Some say this tension led Tresca, Ettor, and Gurley Flynn to withdraw from IWW involvement. Whatever the organizational fallout from the legal settlement, the workers on Minnesota’s iron ranges continued to participate in IWW agitation, with many of the 1916 strikers involving themselves in the great lumber workers struggle the following year.

With the 90th anniversary of the strike upon us, Twin Cities and Duluth IWWs will host a public event on Saturday, June 3rd in the old Virginia Socialist Hall, where the 1916 strike was headquartered. The program will feature music, historical presentations, poetry, and the stories of area residents about the strike. The event is free and open to the public. Area residents with old stories from the strike or the IWW are encouraged to attend and share.

We gather to remember those who came before us, and also to celebrate the renewed organizing efforts on Minnesota’s iron ranges. Fellow Workers, we’ve been robbed long enough. We must continue to bite the hand that robs us of the products of our labor.

Originally posted: May 30, 2006 at

We’ve been robbed long enough.pdf204.58 KB

Industrial Worker #1686 (July/August 2006)

The July/August 2006 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- 115 unionists killed in 2005

- Australian Wobs call for general strike by Marcus Neofitou

- May Day actions kill anti-immigrant law?

- Readers' soapbox

- Starbucks workers at fifth New York store join IWW

- May week in Edmonton by Desiree Schell

- International actions for Starbucks workers' rights

- Pittsburgh grocery workers go IWW

- Online campaigns: survey shows promise and challenge by Eric Lee

- Bosses seek chemical gag rule by Confined Spaces blog

- Anti-sweatshop all stars converge on Pittsburgh by Kenneth Miller

- Leveraging union power for social change: the Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas by Paul Bocking

- Mexican teachers' struggle for better conditions inseparable from fight for social justice by Paul Bocking

- Remembering the Coors strike by Gary Cox

- March to the left by Dorice McDaniels

- Action against tip stealer challenged by Mark R. Woldd

- War, protesters and the longshoremen by Eric Chase

- Neither the "open shop" nor the dues check-off by Nick Driedger

- Book Review: All together now: common sense for a fair economy by Jared Bernstein

- Can we afford the rich - Mass evictions by corps in NYC by Mark R. Wolff

- World labor solidarity

For paper subscription info, please visit the IW page at

Industrial Worker #1686 (JulyAugust 2006).pdf1.23 MB

Neither the “open shop” nor the dues check-off - Phinneas Gage

An article by Phinneas Gage that lays out some of the ways 'dues check-off', where employers deduct dues from paychecks and give it to the union, hurts workers.

To a business unionist, perhaps the strangest thing about the IWW is our opposition to the dues check-off. After all, many people in the labour movement consider the union shop along with the employer checkoff to be the two of the greatest gains the labour movement has ever made. Typically, pro-employer groups try to undermine these two benefits by advocating an “open shop.”

The open shop is a strategy aimed at weakening unions, and creates an opportunity for some workers to get a free ride from the sacrifices of their fellow workers who chose to struggle for better working conditions. It is also a way of weakening unions by removing the steady, reliable income that a dues check-off provides.

But the dues check-off that comes with the union shop model also weakens unions. Below I would like to explain why.

An accountable union

Dues check-off has a way of making unions less accountable to the rank and file. For instance, if collecting the dues and accounting for them are the responsibility of the workers themselves, corruption is much more difficult. It is more difficult because of the greater number of people involved in the process: all the delegates who collect funds report at every meeting; the financial secretary reports all the finances every meeting; and since spending decisions are made at every meeting, few decisions are made without the direct involvement of the rank and file. In the event of a crooked delegate (which has been known to happen), all one needs to do is compare membership cards against delegate reports to see how much money is missing and who is responsible. Because of all of these checks and balances, corruption, while not impossible, is very difficult and not worth the effort.

Voluntary dues collection also puts the money directly into the hands of the organization of workers rather than passing through the bosses. This not only makes workers less reliant on their employer, it also helps workers see that the union is something that they are actively participating in, rather than just another deduction on their pay stubs.

Solidarity is like a muscle – if it is not exercised, it atrophies. By managing our own affairs (especially our finances), and not leaving them in the hands of specialists and paid reps, members are kept in constant contact with each other. The more contact we have with each other, the easier it is for us to mobilize quickly around shared grievances.

The voluntary collection of dues cannot solve all our potential problems though – and it does have problems of its own. Collecting dues in a workplace where the workers have very little contact with each other can be burdensome. Also it can be tough for a small organization to do something like make the rent for an office without having a steady income to count on. There are some creative solutions that can minimize this problem, e.g., encouraging members to pay several months of dues in advance, or setting up voluntary bank withdrawals, with a delegate still meeting with members to make sure their cards are updated. A monthly withdrawal approach is used by many charities, NGOs, and political parties to raise funds. Such strategies could help smooth out union finances and make income a little more predictable.

Voluntary membership also means that sometimes numbers, and therefore finances, will fluctuate quite dramatically. Membership will often increase during times of job action, and decrease following resolution of the issue. While we of course want to build the organization, we also want to avoid the path of the service model business unions, where bargaining units exist as legal entities long after any rank-and-file participation has stopped. This does not mean we shouldn’t do our best to retain members, but coercing workers whose interest is flagging will not get us very far. Rather, we need to figure out ways to maintain militancy and to continue direct actions around new issues even as old ones have been resolved.


It would be a mistake to think that voluntary dues collection is an archaic way of doing things or the result of an interest in historical reenactment. The reason that some unions (including the IWW) take this approach to dues collection is because of a belief in self-management. We believe that workers should use unions to better their lives, and that unions should not use workers to build up their organizations. After all, the division between leaders and the led is just as prevalent in the business unions as anywhere else.

If we are serious about building a better world within the shell of the old, managing our own finances is a first step.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (July/August 2006)

Industrial Worker #1687 (September 2006)

The September 2006 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- The general strike by Staughton Lynd

- Starbucks fires 3 IWWs for union organizing

- 8 million U.S. workers may lose union rights

- Readers' soapbox

- Workers celebrate solidarity in Durham and Dorset by Peter Moore

- The IWW and the "Other Campaign" by Patricia Nuno

- War, Wobs and the web by Eric Lee

- Unions condemn bombing

- Sweatshop all stars picket Cooperstown by Sourdough Slim

- Yuengling brewery workers attacked by Walt Weber

- East End Co-op bosses refuse to recognize IWW

- Midwest Wobfest

- The Coors strike looked like a class act by Gary Cox

- Call for international support against Starbucks' union-busting

- The most dangerous song in the world: a rewrite by Len Wallace

- Book review: Solidarity for sale: how corruption destroyed the labor movement and undermined America's promise by Robert Fitch

- 1,400 Mexican strikers fired by David Bacon

- World labor solidarity

Industrial Worker #1687 (September 2006).pdf2.34 MB

Industrial Worker #1688 (October 2006)

The October 2006 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- Northwest flight attendants strike barred by Joshua Devries

- Starbucks workers joining IWW in global fight for labor rights

- Making work safer with direct action by Daniel Gross & Joe Tessone

- Readers' soapbox

- Farewell, Fellow Worker: Steve Lindenmeyer

- Farewell, Fellow Worker: Jenny (Lahti) Velsek

- East End Food Co-op workers lose close NLRB election

- Organizing today for the One Big Union tomorrow by Dean Dempsey

- Boston GMB marches to end firing of Harvard custodian by Mark Wolff

- The storms that a resolution can cause: Istael, unions & democratic debate by Marc B. Young

- Skypecasts: great new tool for union meetings online by Eric Lee

- Bradford IWWs stand up for fired Starbucks unionists by Peter Moore

- IWW assembly calls for Organizing Department

- 100 Wobblies and supporters rally for Shattuck workers by Dean Dempsey

- The right to organize in education

- What is the value of a worker's life? by Arthur J. Miller

- Are we not slaves? by Jon Bekken

- Poetry can be a class act by Gary Cox

- March to the left by Dorice Mcdaniels

- Harvey slays the time-study monster by J. Pierce

- IWW victory for taxi drivers at LA airport by Ernesto Nevarez

- Working Families Party wins Massachusetts ballot line by Mark Wolff

- World labor solidarity

For paper subscription info, please visit the IW page at

Industrial Worker #1688 (October 2006).pdf1.03 MB

Farewell, Fellow Worker: Jenny (Lahti) Velsek

An obituary of Jenny (Lahti) Velsek, who was closely associated with the IWW for many years.

Jenny (Lahti) Velsek, 93, passed away April 18 in a nursing home at Tucson, Arizona. She was born March 4, 1913, at Eagle River, Wisconsin, the fifth of seven surviving children of Finnish immigrant parents.

Her parents were part of the Finnish- American labor movement, active with the Finnish clubs associated with the Industrial Workers of the World. Jenny described her father as an avid reader of Industrialisti, the Finnish-language IWW newspaper.

As a young woman, Jenny attended classes at Tyovaen Opisto (Work Peoples College), the Finnish IWW school for labor activists near Duluth.

Most of her life she lived in Chicago. She was married to Charles Velsek, secretary of the Czech branch of the IWW, who died in 1979. Jenny then became a companion to anold friend, Fred Thompson, whose Finnish- American wife Aino had recently passed away. Thompson was a well-known figure in IWW history as an organizer, labor historian and educator, and as an editor and writer. In the 1930s, he had been a director and teacher at Work Peoples College, after classes at that institution began to be conducted in English.

After Fred Thompson died in 1987 at age 87, Jenny moved to Springfield, Missouri, to be near a niece. Later she moved to Tucson where she had a brother and his family, and where she lived for the remainder of her life.

Industrial Worker #1689 (November 2006)

The November 2006 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- Talkin' union by Nick Driedger

- International support for Starbucks workers

- Garment strike closes Bangladeshi sweatshops

- Readers' soapboxes

- Farewell, Fellow Worker: Joe Glazer

- Chicago couriers fight NICA contractor scam

- East End workers still union

- Portland Industrial District Council anniversary bash

- German Language Area ROC

- Work Peoples College

- NLRB ruling will strip thousands of union rights

- Detroit news strike legal battles end

- Northwest Airlines mechanics surrender

- William E. Trautmann: New Zealand Wobbly by Mark Derby & Jay Miller

- The IWW in the history books

- Western Federation of Miners landmark at risk by Richard Myers

- The IWW is the class act by Gary Cox

- Solidarity forces Harvard to rehire janitor who fainted on the job by Mark R. Wolff

- Human rights baseball by Bret Grote, Clark Clagett and Kenneth Miller

- Book review: The enemy of nature by Joel Kovel

- World labor solidarity

For paper subscription info, please visit the IW page at

Industrial Worker #1689 (November 2006).pdf5.32 MB

Farewell, Fellow Worker: Joe Glazer

An obituary of labor folk singer Joe Glazer.

Labor singer Joe Glazer died Sept. 19 at age 88, after more than 60 years of sing­ing and writing songs of solidarity, justice, unions and workers. Among his 30 albums was a collection of IWW songs, reissued for the centenary and available from the IWW Literature Department ($15).

Born in New York City in 1918, Glazer’s father was a member of the Ladies’ Garment Workers Union. After Glazer took a job with the Textile Workers Union in 1944, he and his guitar were dispatched to picket lines in the south where he began writing labor songs, sometimes based on gospel hymns. Among his best-known were “Automation,” “The Mill Was Made of Marble,” and “Too Old to Work.”

In his memoir, Labour’s Troubadour, Glaz­er described leading strikers around a textile mill singing those songs. They were “basi­cally one-line verses that could be quickly changed” to suit any situation, he said.

William E. Trautmann, New Zealand Wobbly

A biographical article by Mark Derby and Jay Miller of William E. Trautmann, an early and important member of the Industrial Workers of the World.

“I was born in a country considered to be free – in New Zealand,” said William Trautmann, when he accepted the position of general secretary at the IWW’s founding con­vention in Chicago in the summer of 1905. Although he left New Zealand at an early age and never returned, Trautmann seems never to have forgotten his connection with his country of birth. He would no doubt have been proud to learn that his many publica­tions on industrial unionism strategies, and his achievements as a Wobbly organiser in the United States, became well-known and influential in New Zealand as well as in many other countries, and that a book published in New Zealand this year finally recognises his contribution to the rise of the Wobblies in his homeland.

William Ernest Trautmann was born on 1 July 1869 in Grahamstown, a gold rush settlement on the Coromandel Peninsula, in New Zealand’s North Island. The town was then just a year old but already had a popula­tion of 18,000, mostly miners who worked by candlelight to hack gold-bearing rock from poorly ventilated shafts in mines which bore their owners’ optimistic names – Queen of Beauty, Lucky Hit, Bright Smile. To prevent the theft of ore, those owners forced each miner to strip naked at the start and end of each 10-hour shift, and cross a passageway separating their street clothes from those they wore in the mine.

One of the first miners to arrive in Gra­hamstown in 1868 was the German-born Edmund Trautmann, who had earlier been a ‘miner, forty-niner’ in the California gold rush. By 1874 Edmund and his wife Augusta had four small children. In May of that year, during a graveyard shift, Edmund Trautmann died after entering a pocket of poisonous gas in the Crown Prince mine. His work mates formed a committee to send his ailing wife and her children, ranging in age from seven years to nine months, back to their relatives in Germany. Ernest, the second of these children, was left there in the care of a mili­tary orphanage while the rest of the family departed again, this time for New York.

Ten years later, at the age of 14, Ernest moved to Poland and began an apprenticeship in a brewery owned by a distant relative. The apprenticeship was pure peonage as Traut­mann was required to work unlimited hours, at the beck and call of the brewmaster. After qualifying, he moved to Dresden, Germany, where he agitated on behalf of child workers in the bottling shops. He emerged from these experiences with an anarchist’s allegiance to individual liberty and a Marxist’s certainty in the class struggle.

Trautmann worked his way through East­ern Europe as far as Odessa in Russia before returning to Germany. En route he encoun­tered traditions of European radical thought from which he would draw throughout his life. After agitating on behalf of the most abused workers in the brewery industry, he was expelled from Germany as a dangerous radical in 1890, and followed his family to the New World, which proved to be indis­tinguishable from the Old.

After settling in Massachusetts, Traut­mann became active in the United Brewery Workers Union, the first major industrial union in the United States. In 1900, he be­came editor of the union’s German-Eng­lish newspaper, Brauer-Zeitung, where his dedication to the principles of socialism and industrial unionism soon put him in conflict with the American Federation of Labor. His vocal opposition to the increasing political conservatism of the AFL cost him his posi­tion as editor, and he was forced out in the spring of 1905.

Between 1900 and 1905 Trautmann combined his experience of the U.S. labour movement with his knowledge of intellectual currents in the European working class to de­velop ideas which later formed the theoretical framework of the IWW. One labor historian has suggested Trautmann “played the most central role in the founding of the IWW... [H]e provided the ideological starting point of the revolutionary industrial unionism of the IWW.” In 1904 Trautmann was appointed to the three-member committee that drew up the Industrial Union Manifesto calling for the formation of the IWW “as the economic organization of the working class, without affiliation with any political party.” At the IWW’s founding convention in 1905, a suc­cession of tributes testified to Trautmann’s broad knowledge of international labour movements, his dedication and his personal qualities (“he stands almost peerless in the way of a personal sacrifice to the interests of the working people”).

In its first years the IWW had fought numerous industrial skirmishes without winning a single major strike. Trautmann looked to break this pattern by concentrating his organising ef­forts among his fellow European migrant workers in the industri­alised eastern states. In 1909 he told readers of the IWW newspa­per the Industrial Worker, “I am off for McKees Rocks, perhaps to face the bullets of the foe.” McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, was a steel company town. When employers introduced an unpopular change to the pay system, five thousand workers, mostly eastern Euro­peans, spontaneously walked out of the mills. Violent clashes followed when the company’s private police force tried to bring in scab labour. As the violence escalated, the Pennsylvania state constabulary charged and clubbed picketing workers.

In response to a call from a group of exiled European revolutionaries, Trautmann arrived to head the strike organi­sation. He cautioned against further violence, but tensions in the town were already at breaking point. A gunfight broke out in which several strikers and five state troopers were killed, and Trautmann himself was arrested. Thousands of strikers thronged the town to demand his release and with a full-scale riot threatening, he was taken from his cell to an improvised courtroom, tried and acquitted. Two weeks later the strike was settled, the company compromising on most issues.

In the few exultant years following this victory Trautmann criss-crossed the eastern industrial states in response to a flood of requests to lead direct actions and set up IWW locals. In the northern winter of 1912, he joined Big Bill Haywood and other lead­ing Wobblies as an organiser of the textile workers’ strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the legendary ‘Bread and Roses’ strike. The strikers, mainly women and children, were opposed by a mounted militia of vigilantes, local businesspeople and students, who rode down the picket lines with bayonets and ba­tons. Using a pedal-powered printing press, Trautmann and his team deluged the militia with pamphlets, urging them, with some suc­cess, to covertly support the strikers.

The same period saw a surge of revo­lutionary industrial unionism in his home­land. As Trautmann had rightly observed in 1905, New Zealand at that time could only be “considered to be free.” A long period of liberal, mildly progressive government had introduced better conditions for workers, but required all unions to submit to compulsory arbitration of their disputes. This regime meant real wages fell during the early 20th century, and workers were chafing under a paternalistic form of state socialism. However, from about 1908 an influx of seasoned labour agitators from the United States, Canada, the UK and Australia introduced IWW-style direct action strategies and side-stepped the arbitration system by negotiating directly with employers, through strike action if necessary. The response from miners, wharf workers, drivers, labourers and thousands of other mainly unskilled workers was immediate and enthusiastic. Branches of the IWW were set up in major cities and mining towns, helped by the distribution of large quantities of revolutionary literature, some of it written or translated by Trautmann.

In 1912 a prolonged strike broke out just a short distance from Trautmann’s birthplace in the company town of Waihi, which was run by a foreign-owned gold-mining consortium. The Canadian Wobbly J.B. King played an active part on the strike committee. After several months, the company persuaded the government to send in large numbers of strikebreakers reinforced by armed and mounted police. These police were soon labelled ‘Cossacks’ by the strikers, a term first used to refer to the mounted troops at McKees Rocks. The police deliberately en­couraged violent riots between the strikers and the scabs, which culminated in the death of striker F. E. Evans.

The following year a strike on the Wel­lington waterfront spread to most of the port cities of the country. The ‘Great Strike’ of 1913 saw the greatest civil unrest ever seen in New Zealand, before or since. Tens of thousands were on strike, headed by Wobblies such as the English-born Tom Barker who produced a weekly paper with regular articles in the Maori language. However they were con­fronted by police, military and large bands of strikebreakers from the rural districts, armed officially with long wooden batons and unof­ficially with Army revolvers. As at Waihi, this combination of state-sponsored violence and organised mass scabbery caused the defeat of the strike, and most of the Wobblies were forced to leave the country.

Trautmann’s autobiography shows that he considered his greatest achievement to be the many publications that helped spread the revolutionary industrial union­ism movement throughout the world. Today, he would find that despite such efforts his country of birth remains unfree. Gold is still mined in the hills above Coroman­del, where a vast and ugly open-cast mine disfigures a landscape which is otherwise one of the most beautiful in a very beautiful country. Some locals defend the mine for the jobs it provides, yet the average income for Coromandel people is lower than elsewhere in the country, as the foreign owners of the mine siphon off the profits.

We close with a Maori salutation: No reira, e te kaituhi o te Uiniana o Nga Kaimahi o te Ao, ka whawhai tonu tatou, ake ake, ake. (Loosely: Therefore, to the one who wrote on behalf of the IWW, we will carry on your struggle for as long as necessary.)

Mark Derby lives in Wellington, Aote­aroa/NZ, and wrote “The Case of William E. Trautmann and the role of the Wobblies” in Revolution – the 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand, ed. Melanie Nolan, Canterbury Uni­versity Press, 2006. Jay Miller is author of “Soldier of the Class War – the life and writing of William E. Traut­mann,” a Ph.D. dissertation completed in 2000 at Wayne State University, where Trautmann’s unpublished memoir can also be found.

Jay Miller is author of “Soldier of the Class War – the life and writing of William E. Traut­mann,” a Ph.D. dissertation completed in 2000 at Wayne State University, where Trautmann’s unpublished memoir can also be found

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2006)

Industrial Worker #1690 (December 2006)

The December 2006 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- Workers without bosses under attack by Marie Trigona

- Starbucks CEO hides from Wobbly protesters

- Media workers face bosses' insatiable greed

- Readers' soapbox

- Berkeley Curbside Recyclers contract includes modest gains

- UK Wobs organizing education workers

- International general strike the answer to neoliberalism

- Immokalee workers tell Chipotle to walk its talk by Kari Lydersen

- The new web and the unions by Eric Lee

- Adjunct professors work long hours for short pay by Mark R. Wolff

- Canadian postal workers refuse to deliver homophobic hate mail

- Wide Wide World of sweatshops: Pirates drop the ball by Kenneth Miller

- Oaxaca protesters under siege by Amanda Aquino

- Real democracy by Gary Cox

- March to the left by Dorice Mcdaniels

- General strike against Swedish "job creation" scheme by Klas Ronnback & Irene Elemerot

Industrial Worker #1690 (December 2006).pdf529 KB


Industrial Worker #1691 (January 2007)

The January 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- Restaurant workers' justice ride

- Global actions target Starbucks union-busters

- 'Socialist' bosses attack Scottish Wobblies

- Readers' soapbox

- A letter from the incoming editors

- Upstate New York Wobs on picket line, promoting IWW culture at year's end by Sourdough Slim

- NY foodstuffs workers win contract at EZ Supply

- IWW truckers picket West Coast intermodal hub

- Wobs serenade Starbucks union-busters in Pitsburgh by Kevin Farkas

- Starving amidst plenty

- Adjuncts now 2/3 of college faculty

- Protests in 90 cities target Israeli human rights abuses by Sophie Yon-Gharbi

- Workers in Minnesota, reviews by Jon Bekken

- France: CNT fights post office union-busting

- Poland: 3 workers fired for testifying against boss

Industrial Worker #1691 (January 2007).pdf1.39 MB

Industrial Worker #1692 (February 2007)

The February 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- Mass firings in NYC: NYC's food warehouse workers unionize, bosses retaliate by Diane Krauthamer

- 1 in 5 fired for organizing unions

- Readers' soapbox

- 2006 year of victory, courage for SBU by Daniel Gross

- Fifth firing sparks creative protests by Justin Kelley

- Workers call for Hornblower boycott

- UFCW sues La Migra

- Book review: Ben Fletcher: the life and times of a black Wobbly edited by Peter Cole

- IWW fired up in Florida by James Schmidt

- Berkeley recyclers stand and win

- Industry issue: privatization by Ian Johnston

- Privatization eats extra money, dogs UK's health workers by Richard Griffin

- Iraqi labor unions attack US plans for oil privatization by John Kalwaic

- US minimum wage hike passes House of Representatives

- New IWW Organizing Department reaches out to organizers by Dan Elgin

For paper subscription info, please visit the IW page at

Industrial Worker #1692 (February 2007).pdf838.85 KB

Review: Ben Fletcher of Local 8 Docks

A review by Jon Bekken of Ben Fletcher: The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly, a book edited by Peter Cole.

Peter Cole, editor, Ben Fletcher: The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly. Charles H. Kerr Publishers, 2007, 149 pages, $15, paper.

This long-awaited collection is the first book-length documentation of the life of African-American IWW organizer Benjamin Fletcher (1890-1949). Fletcher played a key role in organizing Philadelphia’s dockworkers into the IWW. He was sentenced to ten years in Leavenworth prison for his efforts. He died a Wobbly in good standing after nearly 40 years service to the cause.

Intertwined with Fletcher’s life is the story of the IWW’s Marine Transport Workers Local 8, which exercised job control on the Philadelphia waterfront for a decade and was the country’s first fully integrated longshore union.

Ben Fletcher opens with Cole’s 43-page biographical introduction pointing to Fletcher’s role in organizing a multi-racial waterfront union that boasted some 3,000 members at its peak, and won Philadelphia’s dockworkers job control and the best working conditions and pay in the country for a decade.

Local 8 was decimated by a combination of Communist disruption, employer-government collusion, ILA union scabbing, and a disastrous defeat in the 1922 lock-out. That dispute arose when Wobblies decided to impose the 8-hour work day through direct action. They were unable to maintain the necessary unity in the face of ILA union scabbing and the government’s U.S. Shipping Board, which guaranteed the employers’ profits during the dispute.

In the aftermath of that defeat, the employers succeeded in replacing the IWW with the AFL-affiliated ILA. Unlike in other ports where it relegated African-Americans to segregated locals, the Philadelphia ILA formed an integrated local with a black president.

The IWW continued to organize on the Philadelphia waterfront through the 1920s, offering an alternative to workers dissatisfied with the ILA’s harmonious relations with the employers, its undemocratic structures, and its acquiescence to the employers’ reintroduction of segregated work crews (something the IWW had refused to tolerate).

When the IWW was ultimately driven from the docks, Fletcher ceased working as a longshoreman, but he remained a Wobbly for the rest of his life.

The second half of the book consists of 51 brief documents (some extracts) including all of Fletcher’s known published articles, his remarks at the 1913 General Convention, articles from the IWW press and other publications (notably The Messenger) about FW Fletcher’s organizing efforts, obituaries and reports on Fletcher’s funeral, recollections of him by other radicals, and four letters and a short history (separated from the letters here and mislabeled as being from 1920) discussing IWW organizing efforts that FW Fletcher sent historian Abram Harris who was seeking material for his 1931 history, The Black Worker.

In addition to his organizing, Fletcher was well regarded as an orator; in 1931 an AFL official wrote of being captivated by his speech during a New York City street meeting.

“I have heard all the big shots of the labor movement... and it is no exaggeration when I state that this colored man, Ben Fletcher, is the only one I ever heard who cut right through to the bone of capitalist pretensions... with a concrete, constructive working class union argument.”

I would have preferred more extensive notes placing the documents in context, and source notes for the introduction. As welcome an addition to the literature on the IWW as it is, the book suffers from heavy-handed editing that appears to have introduced extraneous material into the text, inadequate proof-reading, and poor “printing”. I believe the book was actually photocopied as it does not bear a union label. There are a number of errors ranging from incorrect documentation in the texts (usually corrected in the separate bibliography) to the claim that only 101 IWWs were indicted in the Chicago espionage trial. Many of these problems might have been fixed had the publisher sent proofs to the author for review before publication.

Despite these shortcomings, Ben Fletcher does important work in gathering the surviving primary sources on FW Fletcher’s life and reminding us of the IWW’s pioneering work organizing workers across racial lines to build a stable industrial union that, through direct action and solidarity, dramatically improved their lives.

Unfortunately, as the IWW realized at the time and tried to address by sending Fletcher and others on organizing trips up and down the coast, one port, no matter how well organized, could never be strong enough to withstand the employers on its own.

Fletcher and Local 8’s story will continue to be told. I look forward to Cole’s history of Local 8 slated for publication next year.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (February 2007)

Industrial Worker #1693 (March 2007)

The March 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- US workers and communities reject 'surge'

- Starbucks union expands to Maryland

- Scotland IWWs fight to save campus

- Readers' soapbox

- Anti-sweatshop activists crash PiratesFest 2007 by x361200

- Union officer salaries compete for organizing funds

- IWW publishes Spanish newspaper

- A new online battleground for union campaigns by Eric Lee

- March to the left by Dorice Mcdaniels

- Leicestershire IWW joins protest against deporting 50 Kurds to Iraq by x352032

- NYC warehouse workers need solidarity

- Smithfield meatpackers walk out for MLK day

- SEIU Stern wants Wal-Mart as partner

- Harley-Davidson workers locked out by x355028

- Volkswagen to close factories in Brussells by Workers Initiative (Poland)

- Scottish workers occupy Simclar

- Raising a working-class culture by Erik Davis

- Palestinian union fed faces attacks

- Employee Free Choice Act introduced in US Congress

- Solidarity with Iranian workers by John Kalwaic

- Oaxaca on the barricades by "Jaime"

- Canada's new ministers of class war by Eugene Plawiuk

- US Senate kills minimum wage bill

- Ontario labor federation camapigns for $10 minimum wage by Marc. B. Young

- Tightline Johnson returns and is ready to organizer at Starbucks by Joseph Lapp II

- World labor solidarity

Industrial Worker #1693 (March 2007).pdf1.26 MB

Industrial Worker #1694 (April 2007)

The April 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- Amersino reinstates two in NYC warehouse by Diane Krauthammer

- International Women's Day attacks inequality

- Australians need direct action, not elections

- CUPE vs CUPE: who's the boss of this union?

- Rail strike exposes Teamster raid

- The railroad industry needs One Big Union by Rail Falcom

- Day laborers fight for their rights, and win by Brad Thompson

- Palestinian unions want boycott of Israel -

Industrial Worker #1694 (April 2007).pdf1.23 MB

Industrial Worker #1695 (May 2007)

The May 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

LA 'troqueros' mobilize for May Day shutdown by Gideon Dev

- Starbucks violated workers' rights, says NLRB

- Detroit's traveling Wobbly kitchen

- Zimbabwe workers win court case, face violence

- U Michigan temps organize with IWW

- Shattuck Cinema workers rally for contract

- FAU calls for solidarity with German carers

- Serb workers, students occupy University of Belgrade

- The revolution will not be amplified: an interview with Tom Morello

- Review: Songs of the workers to fan the flames of discontent

- IWW in Scotland presses Save Crichton campaign

- Struggling AFSCME local in Amherst gets a taste of IWW

- IWW pickets Starbucks shareholders meeting

- Polish workers from anarchist union fired

Industrial Worker #1695 (May 2007).pdf2.03 MB

Industrial Worker #1696 (June 2007)

The June 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- Chicago Couriers pickets unfair security delays

- Baltimore nike shop goes union

- May Day on the job - Solidarity Never? BC teachers' fed locks out staff

- Troqueros shut down LA port on May Day

- Mexican unions move toward independence

- Argentine teachers fight for rights on May Day

- LAPD suspends 60 police rioters

- Australian Labor Party no working class saviour

- i07: international syndicalist conference in Paris

Industrial Worker #1696 (June 2007).pdf1.69 MB

Industrial Worker #1697 (July 2007)

The July 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- IWW UK fights centralized blood service

- Starbucks backs off pregnant barista

- IWW expands to two new Starbucks in Chicago and Grand Rapids

- Wobblies in Canada starting newsletter

- Working without bosses in Argentina

- Training IWW organizers in the US Midwest

- IWW UK defends train driver -

Industrial Worker #1697 (July 2007).pdf1.55 MB

Industrial Worker #1698 (August 2007)

The August 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- Unions talk tough at US Social Forum

- New York City IWW launches '9 in 90' organizing drive

- Save Crichton campus campaign needs support

- NLRB charges Starbucks for fiting IWW, again

- Chicago Couriers Union: a lesson for IWW solidarity union organizers

- Review: The people decide: Oaxaca's population assembly by Nancy Davies

- Boycott Molson beer during strike

- IWW meets with Bangladesh garment workers' fed

- UK radical ed workers analyze industry

For paper subscription info, please visit the IW page at

Industrial Worker #1698 (August 2007).pdf1.76 MB

Chicago Couriers Union: a lesson for IWW solidarity union organizers

An in-depth article by Colin Bossen, about the IWW affiliated Chicago Couriers Union, which modeled itself off of a conception of 'solidarity unionism'.

IWW member Colin Bossen delivered a talk on the IWW’s Chicago Couriers Union at the Provisions Library in Washington, DC on June 8. The Institute for Anarchist Studies and Provisions Library supported his work along with the CCU organizers interviewed. This article is an edited version of his presentation.

What is solidarity unionism?

Solidarity unionism is a term and an organizing strategy coined by the labor historian and activist Staughton Lynd in his book of the same name. He defines solidarity unionism as “relying, not on technical expertise, or the numbers of signed-up members, nor on bureaucratic chain-of-command, but the spark that leaps from person to person, especially in times of common crisis.”

Lynd’s solidarity unionism has six basic characteristics: voluntary membership, no dues check-off, no paid officers or staff, democratic decision-making with everyone empowered to “criticize frankly and fully”, a focus on direct action rather than collective bargaining agreements, and internationalism that seeks to build networks of workers “across boundaries of nation, gender, and religious faith.” Lynd contrasts solidarity unionism with the business unionism of the large AFL-CIO and Change to Win unions.

Lynd identified three characteristics inherent to business unions: being government- sponsored monopolies that [try] to force all persons working in a particular shop to join the union and deducts dues directly from a workers’ paycheck; agreeing to collective bargaining agreements that grant management exclusive power to make the crucial on-the-job and investment decisions alongside a no-strike clause prohibiting direct action of all forms during the contract; and, undermining and preventing the formation of independent labor parties, locally and nationally. Business unions are “organized from [the] top down,” devoted to keeping the labor peace and relying on paid staff who don’t include workers in processing grievances or making decisions.

While past IWWs may have practiced something like solidarity unionism, this organizing theory was introduced to the IWW in 2000 by the IWW’s then- General Secretary-Treasurer Alexis Buss.

“We must stop making gaining legal recognition the point of our organizing. We have to bring about a situation where the bosses, not the union, want the contract. We need to create situations where bosses will offer us concessions to get our cooperation,” said Buss in her Industrial Worker column.

A union is not a union because it gets legal sanction from the government or a contract from the boss, said Buss in another column. Rather, a union is simply any “organized group of workers” that comes together to have “more potential power than unorganized individual workers.” This redefinition of the union shifted the power back to workers. In the United States, any group of workers engaged in concerted activity has legal protections under the National Labor Relations Act. These rights include presenting grievances, working together, making demands on the boss, seeking meetings, and even striking.

Buss also encouraged wobblies to look at the work of two of Lynd’s mentors, Stan Weir and Martin Glaberman. Weir and Glaberman were both working class intellectuals who wrote about the structural problems of the American labor movement. Weir spent much of his life working as a sailor, a longshoreman or an autoworker in California. Glaberman was a Detroit autoworker.

Glaberman’s work focused on the problems inherent in union contractualism specifically how labor contracts could turn the union into a cop for the boss, enforcing discipline among the union’s members. Glaberman had a second key insight that “activity precedes consciousness.” This meant that people respond to workplace situations emotionally before they respond rationally and often take actions in a way that contradicts their presupposed beliefs, and in the case of unions, contractual agreements. Glaberman’s favorite example of this was during World War II when workers at the autoplants would sign no-strike agreements with management and then would spontaneously go on strike over safety issues.

Weir, in his essay “The Informal Work Group,” reinforced this idea that consciousness comes from activity and the experience of working and socializing together. These informal work groups, the social groups that people form at work, were for Weir the heart of the union, with each having its own culture, “informal leadership, discipline, and activity.”

First steps to organize

The campaign to organize what is now the Chicago Couriers Union began among young members of the Chicago General Membership Branch of the IWW who decided that they wanted try to organize a solidarity union. In Fall 2003, several members of the Chicago IWW met and decided to organize the courier industry in Chicago.

The couriers had no union or prospect of a business union interested in organizing them. The industry’s high turnover and unique subculture seemed to be well suited for a solidarity unionism campaign. At the same time, these traits made winning a National Labor Relations Board-sponsored election at a single company unlikely. Chicago has dozens of messenger companies.

Messengers also potentially have an enormous amount of power on the job. Packages must be delivered in a set amount of time; it was possible for a courier to use direct action to delay and disrupt a company’s business. In theory, couriers could be organized around specific grievances rather than the idea of a union contract.

The IWW also had a recent history of organizing in the courier industry. From 2000-2002, Wobblies in Portland had built a union of bike messengers that succeeded in winning a number of substantive demands, including a pay raise, at Transerv, one of the larger messenger companies. Only the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in San Francisco, had created a similar organization. The Chicago IWWs felt this experience would give the IWW legitimacy among messengers and that they could draw directly on the wisdom gained by other IWW organizers through their own struggles. IWW members had begun already to develop a few relationships with messengers. This meant that getting a foothold in the industry would be easier.

Bike messengers at a 2004 union picnic. (Source: CCU file photo/Industrial Worker)

Although no one in the IWW knew it at the time, members of the bike messenger community had been shopping around for a union for several months before conversations between messengers and IWW members even began.

In June 2003, there had been an effort to create a Windy City Bike Messengers Association (WCBMA). The effort was led, in part, by Andrea Murphy and was the third attempt at creating a bike messenger association in the city. Murphy had participated in the WCBMA with the clear intent that it would become a union and had even gone so far as to attend a weekend training put on by the AFL-CIO.

Under Murphy’s guidance, the first act of the WCBMA had been to invite a trainer from the AFL-CIO Organizing Insitute to meet with messengers. While about 40 people attended the meeting nothing substantive came of it because the AFLCIO trainer told the messengers they needed to organize before even approaching a union for help.

The initial purpose of the WCBMA had been “to tackle on-the-job issues” but after the AFL-CIO meeting this focus was eventually lost. As the WCBMA unravelled, the IWW stepped into the vacuum. Conversations between the remnants of the WCBMA and the IWW’s organizing committee resulted in the decision to bring IWW organizer and former bike messenger ‘Lil Pete out from Portland for a week. During Pete’s time in Chicago, he spoke with Chicago messengers about organizing with the IWW and the union held a public forum to discuss the idea.

After flyering and word of mouth, a publicity a forum was held in mid-December 2003. At least 40 people came, many were veterans of the industry. There was both excitement and fear about the possibility of forming a union. Grievances began to emerge, in particular, several people were upset about being independent contractors rather than employees. There was also talk about next steps and a general sense that security was important. Messengers feared losing their jobs. At the meeting, Pete outlined a basic strategy for building the union. He argued that the first two tasks of organizing a union were to develop a social map of the industry and gather a contact list for as many workers as possible, so it was best to keep the organizing quiet. The meeting ended with plans to hold another information meeting and proceed from there. A questionnaire was circulated, but few people filled it out in time for the next meeting. The information asked for was the number of people in the company, their names, contact information, demographics and social groupings, and the owner of the company.

The second information meeting was held in a messenger’s home. More than 20 people came. Few people had filled out the survey, so discussion turned to their working conditions and what could be done about them immediately. Arrow Messenger Service had recently instituted a policy that called for messengers to cover their tattoos and remove piercings. Chicago bike messengers, particularly white messengers, tended to have a lot of piercings and tattoos. People were pissed off. The IWW organizers at that meeting wanted to build infrastructure and lay campaign groundwork, rather than do a strike or job action so the meeting ended without a clear plan of action.

The IWW organizers decided to build the courier union’s infrastructure, map the industry and gather contacts. The organizers also recognized they lacked the experience, so petitioned the General Executive Board for funds to bring in Pete to kick start the campaign. With the funds approved, Pete planned to come to Chicago from late March to mid-June to teach workers how to organize, handle grievances and devise strategy.

‘Hot Shop’ at Arrow

Before Pete arrived, things began to get hot at Arrow. A few of the messengers had reached a breaking point and wanted to strike over the new tattoo and piercing policy. They invited two of the IWW organizers to attend a meeting where they discussed what to do. The organizers talked them out of striking, reasoning that they did not have the support or organization to win. In retrospect I cannot help but wonder to what extent we performed the function described by Glaberman of keeping workers in check in that case. On the other hand, the messengers in question probably would have never thought of striking without having talked to the IWW in the first place. In her final report as a CCU organizer Andrea Murphy is critical of the IWW organizers.

“A couple of messengers at Arrow were feeling exploited enough to want to do the most daring thing they could do in their position. In the end, the outcome was no different than it would have been had they been fired [most of the messengers in question quit Arrow]. Because of the desire to keep the campaign undercover and the (imagined) responsibility they assumed for the results of the campaign, a genuine passion to do something was stifled.

“I challenge every think about how best to direct energy rather than subduing or controlling it. Consider what it might look like to lead from behind. I caution against talking anyone out of doing anything, as this requires too much influence over the passions of peoples,” said Murphy.

Problems with top-down organizing

In this instance, the IWW organizers had begun to make decisions about the direction of the campaign without real input from workers in the industry. We wanted people to think and act strategically while they often wanted to solve their problems immediately. As organizers from outside the industry, we were not initially accountable to the messengers. They had not elected us and the power that they had over us essentially amounted to whether they participated in the activities that we organized or not. It took several years to break this pattern.

Our strategies would prove later on to have limited, if any, success. With organizing at Arrow stifled, we began the task of building an Industrial Organizing Committee. We selected a group of four workers to be its first members. They were chosen because we thought them to be leaders within the messenger community. All four of them were white and all former WCBMA members. One of the first tasks we set for the group was to recruit members who more accurately represented the demographics of the messenger industry. About half of the couriers in Chicago are black and we realized that we would never be able to organize the industry without a union that reflected the people in the industry.

We also developed a larger strategy for the campaign based on Pete’s experiences in Portland, the theory of solidarity unionism and studying the industrial union structures of the IWW in the twenties and thirties. Our idea was that we would organize two types of committees. The first would be shop committees composed of members of the union who worked at a particular company. They would handle the grievances that arose at that workplace. Each shop committee would elect a member to serve on an industry wide organizing committee that, in turn, would handle the grievances that could not be dealt with on a company by company basis.

Once the union got strong enough the industrial organizing committee, we would issue a set of demands for industry- wide standards and then go about trying to enforce these through direct action. The members of the industrial organizing committee selected the other members of the committee, often with heavy input from Pete, MK and I.

Chicago Couriers Union pickets the Lasalle building in 2007. Photo by X353650.

The goal was to develop the shop committees to the point where they would elect their own representatives to the IOC. This never happened, probably because the structure we wanted was imposed upon the workers and did not arise naturally out of their day-to-day work experiences. To put it bluntly, we had miscalculated their informal work groups.

Changing organizing strategies

Pete returned to Chicago in late March and we began to implement our strategy. Through a lot of diligent work in Pete’s absence, we had managed to create an almost complete map of the industry and collect the contact information for close to 650 messengers, roughly 45 per cent of the people working in the industry. The near-heroic efforts of messengers made this possible.

Pete’s arrival in Chicago kicked the campaign into high gear. With Pete in town, we organized several shop committees. Our plan was to build the union slowly by winning small grievances at individual work places. However, no committee was capable of functioning without an IWW organizer present. Two organizer trainings were held, but they failed to empower couriers to be independent organizers. Despite these weaknesses, the shop committees achieved limited success.

Our first victory came when Scott Gibson, one of the members of the IOC, was fined illegally “when he was caught not wearing a company-required uniform” by Standard Courier. Scott only learned about the fine when he saw a $50 deduction from his paycheck. Such deductions are illegal under Illinois law.

Scott and the Standard Courier shop committee confronted management, demanded Scott be reimbursed and an end to the uniform policy. Management insisted that the messengers at Standard were independent contractors. The shop committee reasoned that independent contractors could not be required to wear uniforms. Over the course of a week and a half, Scott and six of his coworkers marched on their boss to issue their demands. After the third march, management rescinded the uniform policy, refunded Scott $50 and fired him.

Scott’s firing turned out to have a silver lining. The same day he was fired, he filed an Unfair Labor Practice with the NLRB charging Standard Courier with punishing him for union activity. Several months later Standard settled the charge and offered Scott $3,000. In the meantime, Scott had also filed a claim with the Illinois Department of Employment Securities. The claim resulted in a decision “that Standard’s workers are employees and not independent contractors as the company has claimed.”

During that time the couriers won a small victory at the Comet messenger company. Comet employed primarily black workers. A couple of bike messengers from Comet joined the union and told the IOC that “workers paychecks did not amount to minimum wage.” The messengers began to organize. The threat of organizing pushed management to enforce minimum wage laws.

Pete left in June and his absence was immediately felt. MK and I lacked his experience at group facilitation. The organizing faltered and changed direction.

We decided to aggressively reach out to driver messengers. Up until this point, participation in the union had consisted almost entirely of bike messengers. We knew we had to bring driver messengers into the campaign if it was to succeed.

This effort failed due to different work cultures. Driver messengers are an atomized workforce isolated in their vehicles at work and during breaks. Bike messengers congregate together during their downtime. The bike messenger subculture also can be elitist and alienating to non-members.

It was around this time that MK took a job with Arrow as a bike messenger and focussed on building a shop committee at Arrow. His work led to a major campaign to change working conditions and pay. This switch of focus by a key organizer prompted the end of the IOC.

The union then decided to concentrate efforts on fighting independent contractor status. In Chicago, and across the country, many messengers are considered independent contractors by their employers. The reasoning of the employers is that messengers are able to decide whether or not they will accept a particular package from a dispatcher and, therefore, are independent. As independent contractors, couriers are responsible for their own taxes, denied workman’s compensation, unemployment insurance and even a right to a minimum wage or overtime pay.

Government agencies have mostly rejected the employers’ claim. But most messengers do not know this and so the companies get away with it. The North American Independent Contractor Association (NICA) helps them do it. When a messenger gets a job with a company that uses NICA she or he is told they are contracted through NICA and merely assigned to work for the courier company’s dispatchers. NICA messengers are charged a weekly fee and must pay for using the radio equipment. These fees can be quite high, up to $100 per month.

We formed the Stop NICA! committee with the goal to drive NICA out of the industry. The committee would fight NICA on both a legal level, by filing claims for unemployment and workmen’s compensation with the various government agencies as if the workers in question were employees, and through direct action. The Stop NICA! committee hoped to convince companies that they should switch their workers back to employee status and prevent NICA’s spread elsewhere.

The committee lasted the summer and had moderate successes, winning five workman’s compensation cases and holding a series of pickets that delayed, but did not stop, NICA from spreading to two companies.

Andrea Murphy came onto the campaign as a full-time paid organizer to speed up and focus the work. She decided that it was time “to end the secrecy” that had surrounded the campaign since the beginning. Murphy threw CCU meetings open to all couriers who came.

“Every working messenger would have a voice and a vote at meetings, with the exception that only members of the CCU in good standing could vote on money matters,” said Murphy.

The CCU elected a secretary, Marshall Arnold, a former Arrow dispatcher who worked at Dynamex. The group held workshops, advocated for messengers to city hall, and organized around grievances and industry issues. Arnold believes that in some ways the union’s biggest accomplishment is that it continues to exist.

In Fall 2006, the CCU began a campaign to the get one of the buildings in downtown Chicago, 135 S. Lasalle, to install a messenger center that would allow couriers to easily drop off their packages as reported in the June 2007 Industrial Worker. What is exciting is that this campaign is that is the first major effort spearheaded by the couriers themselves. Nearly four years later, the dream of a solidarity union for the courier industry may be happening.

Learning five lessons on the job

Looking back, we learned five lessons. First is that a campaign initiated by outsiders cannot follow the pure model of solidarity unionism advocated by Lynd. IWW organizers often found their ideas in conflict with the couriers working in the industry. This conflict stifled these workers and slowed the campaign.

Second, building a union takes a long time and organizing requires dedication and patience. The CCU is only a success because organizers stuck with it for several years. The industry’s high turnover raises the question of how to create stability for a successful union.

Third, informal work groups matters a lot. The union failed to bring in drivers because they belonged to a different set of informal work groups.

Fourth, structures must evolve organically. Efforts to create the IOC, the Stop NICA! committee, and the shop committees failed because organizers imposed them artificially onto the industry. The structure of the CCU ultimately succeeded because it reflected the social dynamics of bike messenger culture, which is part of a community. Organizers should pay careful attention to the indigenous forms of organizing that exist and seek to capitalize on them.

Fifth, organizers need clear goals. Organizing at Arrow and now around 135 S. Lasalle, has been successful because the organizers had and have both clear goals and a plan of action. This clarity makes it much easier to get people to join in the organizing and understand why it might benefit them.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (August 2007)

Industrial Worker #1699 (September 2007)

The September 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- Police attack warehouse solidarity march

- UK posties fight privatization of Royal Mail

- The basic rules of capitalism by F.N. Brill

- Starbucks froths at Europe union organizing

- Iraqi labor has fought century-long battle (Part 1)

- Palestine unions support Israel boycott

- Palestinian labor under fire from all sides

- Ottawa non-picket wins back wages

- Detroit organizer training heartens Wobblies

- New York HWH boss changes name to Dragonland, but can't escape IWW

- Centralized UK blood service being reviewed

- Argentina workers' self-managment conference a success

Industrial Worker #1699 (September 2007).pdf2.5 MB

Industrial Worker #1700 (October 2007)

The October 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

9 Handyfat workers win reinstatement

- Crichton campus in Scotland saved

- Chicago Couriers Union member killed

- Starbucks on trial: 'Does being bad make us bad?'

- Assembly Delegates boost General Defense Committee

- A life of struggle, organizing the One Big Union

- Chicago General Assembly 2007 shows growth

- Women's caucus says the IWW must change

- German-language IWW growing quickly with eye on metal workers

- Two years of organizing NYC food industry

- Rumbling Rumba for back pay

Industrial Worker #1700 (October 2007).pdf4.3 MB

Industrial Worker #1701 (November 2007)

The November 2007 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- IWW women's caucus calls for project volunteers

- Ottawa IWW wins Rumba backpay

- Rebuilding the IWW at Streetlight Shelter

- Ben Fletcher, Local 8 and me

- IW editor panders to Zionist Histradut

- NYC campaigns winning, but face stiff resistance

- 2007: the IWW in the history books -

For paper subscription info, please visit the IW page at

Industrial Worker #1701 (November 2007).pdf1.25 MB

Ben Fletcher, Local 8, and Me - Peter Cole

An article by author Peter Cole about his fascination with the historical IWW's storied 'Local 8'.

I wanted Local 8 to exist before I knew it did.

When I was an undergraduate, I knew I wanted to be a historian before I knew what aspect of United States history interested me. I was inspired by the example of the modern civil rights movement, as well as from the myths and pop culture creations of that time. It was the first social movement that I seriously thought about. I came to appreciate that race matters and racism were perhaps the central paradox of US history. Fortunately, while still in college, I also was introduced to labor history—so few are, a real bias in education—and started to read about the American labor movement.

Predictably, when I entered graduate school, I learned how little I knew. The only certainty was that I wanted to write about social movements. Though from a privileged background (upper-middle class, white, suburban—well, that last one is a questionable privilege), I already appreciated that the world was seriously messed up and that the only way it was going to get better was if people organized and fought to make it better. Unless you’re rich, individuals don’t stand much of a chance to change things. Ordinary folks need numbers to make things happen. History told me as much.

I also was starting to understand that economic inequality, increasing exponentially under capitalism, was the main culprit, though studying the black freedom struggle made me realize that reducing any important problem to a single cause is problematic. I also saw that race (ethnicity and nationality) was a real blind spot for many on the Left; somehow, a class-based revolution was going to solve the reality that white folks had risen up on the backs of non-white ones. I didn’t buy that; it was too simplistic. Hence, I was thinking about how issues of class and race fit together, how solving one of these matters would not necessarily solve the other, how social movements had to figure into the solution. But only some very special group of humans, who would be willing to fight the good fight on multiple fronts simultaneously, could do the job.

Then I read Mel Dubofsky’s We Shall Be All, still considered by academics if not Wobblies, as the standard history of the Industrial Workers of the World. Though there are plenty of problems with Dubofsky’s book, I still credit it for opening my eyes up to the IWW. Like many folks, even those who claim to seriously study US history, I knew absolutely nothing about the Wobs. This book was an eye-opener.

One line in We Shall Be All, just one line, aroused my curiosity and eventually turned into the numerous articles and the two books I have written on Local 8 in Philadelphia. In a section on governmental repression of the IWW during World War I, Dubofsky made a brief reference to Ben Fletcher, the only African American arrested during the 1917 federal raids. Who was Ben Fletcher?!? How in the world did a black man get involved with the Wobblies? Sure, the IWW had a lot to offer African Americans and other oppressed groups but—let’s face it—precious few blacks were in the IWW, right?

Over the next few years, I wrote a dissertation on Local 8, which organized thousands of Philadelphia longshoremen into the most radically inclusive labor union of the early twentieth century. The union dominated waterfront labor relations through its militant, direct action tactics, willingness to organize all workers in marine transport, and openness to blacks and immigrants—something that the American Federation of Labor and most white organizations (working class or other) were unwilling to do. Local 8 lined up African Americans, Irish Americans, Poles, Lithuanians, West Indians, and other native-born and immigrant white workers, put them into a single unit, integrated work gangs, and fought to treat all workers as equal, regardless of their race, ethnicity, nationality or job skills. The Delaware riverfront never had seen such a militant, successful union but, the truth is, no American port of call ever had.

Of course, the combination of being so inclusive and radical (the two go together, don’t they?) meant that Local 8 was a threat to local business interests and even the US federal government. Hence, the wartime repression that Wobblies know so well along with, ironically, many of the records that I would use to write their story. For instance, federal spies infiltrated Local 8 and gave regular reports to employers after World War I. Without these records, my job as a historian of Local 8 would have been much harder.

To many people, Local 8 equals Ben Fletcher, for good reason. Fletcher, a black man born and raised in Philadelphia, was not only Local 8’s best known black member, but also the IWW’s best known black member. He joined the IWW and became a local leader prior to the formation of Local 8, though to this day how and why he first joined the IWW remains a mystery.

Fletcher traveled up and down the Atlantic coast to organize waterfront workers, especially black ones, in Norfolk, Baltimore, Providence, and Boston. He attended national conventions. He gave brilliant lecture tours and soapbox oratories. He was loved by his fellow workers in Philadelphia, especially the black ones. He scared the hell out of “the Man.”

As I slowly and quietly toiled to produce a publishable history of Local 8, I also managed to connect with Franklin and Penelope Rosemont, the publishers of the legendary Charles H. Kerr Press. Together, we came up with a thin volume that was my honor to work on: a short biography of Fletcher (though, really, since we know so little about his personal life, it is mostly about Fletcher in Local 8) with a collection of most every item ever written by or about Ben. As it turned out, that book came out a bit before the general history of Local 8.

Finally, this summer, the University of Illinois Press published my book Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia. Although a few other historians have written some good pieces about Local 8 and Ben Fletcher, I do think that my books and articles set the standard. I am not suggesting that all the work on Local 8 or Fletcher is complete, not by a long shot, because many questions still remain unanswered. To me, the most important unanswered question is what the rank-and-file members of Local 8 were thinking; I cannot say with confidence that I know. Sure, thousands of black and white Americans and thousands of immigrants proudly belonged to Local 8. But what did they think of their interracial, multiethnic union that belonged to the most radical outfit in the nation?

In a way, I wish I could not write that last sentence but there it is. And, who knows what other materials might be uncovered in future years. If there are people out there who are as fascinated by this Philadelphia story as I am, I encourage you to keep digging! We all would benefit from the effort.

I am so happy that I “found” Local 8, as it opened my eyes and gave me hope. When I think about how the world could be made better—and we all should be doing that—I think about Fletcher and the thousands of other proud, militant, egalitarian members of Local 8.

Today, nearly a hundred years after the founding of Local 8, America and the world still are divided economically, racially, and ethnically. Today, American workers and workers the world over are divided, placing their national identities above their class ones.

I recently spent five months in Tanzania and they are as hung up on their differences with Kenyans and Ugandans as Americans are about Mexicans and Chinese people. Who benefits? Well, most of all, global corporations that play workers in different countries off of each other every single day; just consider the recent UAW strike against General Motors.

Truly, the IWW is needed as much today as it was when a group of bold men and women got together to form the union. I sincerely believe that one of the keys to our future success at making the world a better, fairer, healthier, happier place is not just forming powerful unions. No, Local 8 shows us what must be done: we must organize people of all ethnic, national, and racial backgrounds, no questions asked. They are workers, enough said. The genius of Ben Fletcher and Local 8 was to wed these issues together so that they were inseparable. They rose, and fell, upon solidarity. We are their heirs.

Let us get to it.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2007)

Industrial Worker #1702 (December 2007/January 2008)

The December 2007/January 2008 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- Panhandler organizer gets death threat

- Metro Lighting IWW faces restraining order

- IWW organizing to tame Wild Edibles

- Starbucks union threatened with lawsuit for info pickets, boycott

- Review: Wobblies on the waterfront: interracial unionism in Progressive-era Philadelphia by Peter Cole

- Twin Cities workers college announces winter courses

- Workers Initiative takes action against Greenkett company in Poland

For paper subscription info, please visit the IW page at

Industrial Worker #1702 (December 2007 January 2008).pdf1.32 MB

Review: Local 8 shows interracial unionism key to victory

A review by Matt White of Peter Cole's book, Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive- Era Philadelphia.

Peter Cole, Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive- Era Philadelphia, University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago:July 2007, 227 pages, , hardbound, cost $40.

Peter Cole’s Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive- Era Philadelphia challenges the idea that the IWW’s vision of interracial unionism was little more than revolutionary slogan and tokenism. Instead, Cole describes how the IWW overcame the barriers of racism on the waterfront in Philadelphia, United States.

As Peter Cole —tells, Philadelphia area longshoremen and sailors known as Local 8 were the only major example of successful interracial unionism until the Thirties and arguably until later. Cole describes Philadelphia’s long history of ethnic barriers and racism, particularly the bitter street fights between Irish immigrant longshoreman and African- American longshoremen. He describes in detail as well the constant corruption of Philadelphia’s government. Cole also presents how previous Philadelphia longshoremen’s organizations failed because of racism.

The context Cole provides makes the story of the success of Local 8 that much more improbable and satisfying.

In 1913, 3500 longshoremen of various backgrounds including African- Americans, Irish-Americans, and recent Lithuanian and Polish immigrants went out on strike together and formed Local 8. As Cole points out, the strikers sought out the IWW, not vice versa. The predominantly African-American longshoremen (more than 50 per cent) chose the IWW over the more prominent and established International Longshoremen’s Association because of the IWW’s egalitarianism and the fact that one of the Philadelphia IWW’s leaders was himself an African-American, that leader being Benjamin Fletcher. (Fletcher, incidentally, was the recent subject of another Peter Cole book put out by C.H. Kerr this year.) That the ILA was segregated and undemocratic did not help it gain favor amongst Philadelphia longshoremen.

The IWW and Local 8 grew in Philadelphia because of its success with on the job actions and its bold antiracist stance. It was normal practice for instance to get a job with scabs or non-union longshoremen, then refuse to work until the scabs had joined or been fired. That in a nutshell shows how much power Local 8 had.

Local 8 maintained racial harmony in numerous ways. One was through a rotating leadership system, which specified that the top two leadership positions of the union were filled by one African- American and one white and that those positions were rotated year to year. Another way to make sure that every group was empowered was to make sure that each group was represented in every committee and amongst the delegates. The ethnic groups that made up Local 8 understood that their livelihoods depended on interracial solidarity.

While economics bound them together, shortly after the founding of Local 8 members became bound to each other socially and interacted with and formed strong relationships with each other outside of their work.

What all of this added up to was that very simply, at the apex of their power, Local 8 controlled the Delaware River. That Local 8 did this without ever signing a contract still would shock any modern union person.

Wobbly waterfront during WWI

Local 8 was even stable and powerful enough to ride out the famous government repression of the IWW that began in 1917 with the United States’ entry into the First World War.

Cole argues that the US government’s repression of the IWW in Philadelphia was not because the government actually believed that the IWW was aiding the Germans but because the government wanted an excuse to destroy the IWW. It is almost funny how disingenuous the government was being at this time while many Philadelphia-based Wobbly seamen were being killed by German U-Boats and many Philadelphia Wobblies were either not against the war or even for it, such as jailed leader Walter Nef. Even as most of Local 8’s leaders, including Ben Fletcher went to jail for several years, Local 8 still held its own, showing that the IWW in Philadelphia was deeper than just their wellknown leaders sitting in jail.

Under Communist attack

Cole explains in detail the effect that the rise of the Communists had on Local 8 and on the IWW as a whole. Cole explains that at the worst possible moment in Local 8’s history, the Communists probably did the most to destroy Local 8 when they accused Local 8 of loading supplies that would be used against the Red Army fighting the Russian Civil War. It was a bogus charge and one that Cole shows to be improbable at best, but one that got Local 8 de-chartered the moment it could least afford it, as it was being attacked by the AFL’s powerful International Longshoremen’s Association, the government and local capitalists.

By the early Twenties, several members of the GEB were Communists and were following the dictates of the Moscow and American Communists. The Communists believed that the proper way to bring about a revolutionary labor movement was to bore from within, not by creating a separate radical labor organization, thus the Communists believed in crushing the IWW. That the Communist influenced- GEB pulled the charter of the Local 8 and thus prevented Benjamin Fletcher (an anti-Communist) from being elected to the GEB, does not speak well of Communist foresight. At this moment the government and Communist-supported ILA managed to finally regain a foothold in Philadelphia thus destroying the longshoremen’s democratic unionism and later their interracial unionism.

One of Cole’s regrets is that he never got to speak with a member of Local 8. However, Cole uncovered an impressive range of sources from interviews with Philadelphia longshoremen who were members of the IWW and later the ILA, military intelligence files and the like. By using the writings of A. Phillip Randolph and W.E.B. DuBois on the subject of Local 8, Cole puts into context how extraordinary Local 8 was and how nationally prominent they were. If and when Benjamin Fletcher becomes a figure seen in school text books (as he has become in several African-American history textbooks), it will probably be in large part thanks to Cole’s scholarship.

Using Philadelphia as an example, Cole argues very convincingly that the government repression argument for the decline of the IWW is not exactly true, but instead it was a combination, at least in Philadelphia, of government repression, the government, and Communist- backed International Longshoremen’s Association, and increased racial tension, all coming together during the birth of the Communist movement in the United States. If that sounds complex, that is because it is complex, at least a lot more complex and credible than some other major historians’ arguments on the IWW.

Because of the book’s focus on race, Wobblies on the Waterfront will be relevant in the US for many years to come, as race and racism remain prominent problems. Because it is well written, because it argues an alternative view of the IWW and because it revolves around many still pertinent issues, Cole’s books is one of the few “must-read” books on the IWW and labor history in general to come out recently.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2007/January 2008)


Industrial Worker #1703 (March 2008)

The March 2008 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- UK blood service cuts blunted, IWW, allies fight to reverse them

- IWW Organizing Summit in Toronto, Canada announcement

- IWWs elect fresh crop of officers

- New York Wobs learn IWW history

- Obituary: Dorice McDaniels, lifelong fighter for peace, solidarity

- Australian IWW pleads guilty

- Auchan fires pro-union worker in Poland

- Spanish bus drivers strike for 5-day week

- Freeters' Union: organizing Japan's precariat

- Column: Working family - Trafficking law targets consensual sex workers

- Which union is up-to-date?

- AFSCME defeat borths new convictions, strategy

- Connecticut IWWs show solidarity for NYC food workers

- Rail Workers build inter-union solidarity caucus

- World labor solidarity

- IWW delegate finds courage on Mexico-US border

- New York Wobs demand Starbucks recognize MLK Day

Industrial Worker #1703 (March 2008).pdf1.8 MB

Industrial Worker #1704 (April 2008)

The April 2008 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- NYC IWWs win $350,000 in back wages

- IWW Organizing Summit agenda set

- ILWU declares May 1 day to stop war

- Wobbly trucker refuses to cross UAW picket at American Axle

- Metro Lighting remains a scab business

- Barcelona workers end occupation

- Puerto Rican teachers defy government, AFL

- "Flag 3" sues Seattle for false arrest

- Green unionism: saving the world and the union

- FBI arrest Marie Mason, 3 others for 'eco-terrorism'

- Wobblies observe Internal Women's Day

- World labor solidarity

Industrial Worker #1704 (April 2008).pdf1.78 MB

Industrial Worker #1705 (May 2008)

The May 2008 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

- Truckers fuel actions build towards May Day

- Zimbabwe on the brink

- Union rivalry leads to clash ay Labor Notes conference

- Direct action empowers workers to get the goods

- Diesel price rally hits New Jersey turnpike

- Leicestershire IWW targets education

- Harvest Co-op fires 2 in Massachusetts

- No-match letters a wedge between workers

- Twin Cities workers fight 'no-match' firings

- Obituary: Robert "Bob" Wahlfeldt (1925-2008)

- International Workers Memorial Day statement

- World labor solidarity

Industrial Worker #1705 (May 2008).pdf2.11 MB

Industrial Worker #1706 (June 2008)

The June 2008 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Zimbabwe arrests unionists, opposition

-African unions fight food crisis in streets

-E-Z Supply ordered to pay IWWs $1 million By Stephanie Basile

-UK blood service protesters demand secret report be released to public

-Australian taxi drivers sit down for safety

-N. Carolina log truckers strike

-California truckers in Stockton strike

-Supermarket story: “Get out as fast as you can”

-Indian guest workers launch hunger strike

-Extremists attack CNT France members

-Swedish syndicalists disrupt Bonniers to press stalled talks

-IWW red van helps organize day laborers By x353554

-Haitian unions host IWW solidarity delegates: A travel diary of the IWW delegation By Cody Anderson, Nathaniel Miller, Justin Vitiello and Joseph Lapp

-Unions listen! Another world is possible by Staughton Lynd

-Grad students organize at U of Chicago

-Militant, independent, all-Cambodian union: Union perseveres despite murders, threats by Erik Davis

Industrial Worker #1706 (June 2008).pdf3.08 MB

Industrial Worker #1707(July-August 2008)

The July-August 2008 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-IU 410 shop scores 3-year contract, raises, healthcare

-Thousands sign petition to decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco

-Zimbabwe still persecutes teachers, unionists after election fraud

-Restaurant joins Wild Edibles boycott

-Flaum Appetizing violates Jewish law, say locked out IWW members

-IWW Assembly to land in London, UK

-Obama won’t save the US working class

-Polish Workers’ Initiative wins, fights on

-The IWW in Japan: Fighting together from Tokyo to the streets of Sapporo

-Utah Phillips: can I tell you another story?

-Starbucks union-busting exposed in 20 countries

-Mexican teachers struggle for union democracy

-Mexico City market cleaners defeat union-busting contractor

-German-area IWWs picket Boesner for union-busting

Industrial Worker #1707(July-August 2008).pdf3.28 MB

Industrial Worker #1708 (September 2008)

The September 2008 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-South Korea orders arrests of union leaders

-Female migrants unlikely to be paid minimum wage in the UK

-IWWs remember Utah Phillips

-Mall of America Starbucks baristas join IWW

-No heat at Ohio textile shop sparks complaint, workers win NLRB ruling

-Wild Edibles files for bankruptcy

-Ottawa IWW picket wins $2,500

-Sex workers campaign to decriminalize jobs

-Troublemaking in Edmonton for 10 years

-Rambling to Revolution: Hobohemia and the IWW

-Frank Little’s grave restored

-Providence IWW rallies against police brutality

-Rail Workers United founding convention

-Dishwasher Pete wanders, entertains, rebels

-Nationalization controls Venezuelan workers

-Anti-mining union leader murdered in Guatemala

Industrial Worker #1708 (September 2008).pdf2.02 MB

Review: Dishwasher Pete wanders, entertains, rebels

A review by Scott Satterwhite of Dishwasher, a book based on a zine about a man attempting to have a dishwashing job in all 50 states of the U.S.

Pete Jordan, Dishwasher, Harper- Perennial, New York, 2007, 386 pages, paperback, $13.95.

In the early Nineties, an occasionally employed dishwasher found a calling that led him on an atypical mission to wash dishes in every state in the United States.

Pete Jordan’s trek became legendary in punk circles as he recorded his adventures of bouncing from dish tub to dish tub in the seminal Nineties fanzine Dishwasher. While finding his niche in the zine world, the writing of Pete Jordan (aka Dishwasher Pete) stood out because he could tell a good story.

While it may be difficult for those who have not worked in a kitchen to understand, there is no shortage of adventures that happen every day in the average restaurant. Add to that the element of interesting travel that is far from aimless and you have the material for what is one of the most appealing, readable, and unique books on modern labor to come out in years.

While Dishwasher started out as a fanzine, Harper-Perennial found Pete Jordan’s story intriguing enough to want to publish it in book format, which is an odd move for a major publisher and an even more strange testimony toward the universal appeal of this book.

Throughout the book, Jordan tells story after story of bouncing around from one kitchen to another, working anywhere, from small restaurants to big ones, from ski resorts to off-shore oil rigs, all in his quest to wash dishes in all 50 states.

While most would find this a strange profession to spend a considerable amount of time devoted toward, Jordan explains that in reality washing dishes is one of the most ideal jobs. The dish area is usually a solitary environment, free of oversight. There are few employee benefits, but food is as plentiful as the availability of work. While generally looked down upon in the typical kitchen hierarchy, the dishwasher’s job is arguably one of the most integral parts of any restaurant. Not only is the task itself crucial for obvious reasons, but more importantly, no one else wants to do it. Dishwasher Pete found this situation alone gave him a good deal of power in the workplace.

How he used this power is what I would criticize; this same power is seldom used in a profession where there is so much potential to win workers demands. When the workplace becomes intolerable, most people quit and the job remains a “shit job” for the next person. The only ones who benefit from this scenario are the employers who are rarely forced to give concessions that are not mandated by law (if even that is respected) to the workers.

While there are few feelings as nice as telling a bad boss to shove it, that joy is short-lived, lasting as long as the last paycheck. After that, it’s back to the grind. If the workers in this industry realized their power to change their workplace, the benefits gained could mean greater joy that lasts. What is better? Telling a boss to stick his job where the sun doesn’t shine or winning better wages and health care?

That said, there are moments in this book where the workers rise up to their potential. In a few touching scenes, Dishwasher Pete begins researching the lives of other dishwashers. He learns of past dishwasher strikes and people who attempted to organize this profession.

Jordan even pays tribute to these “Pearl Divers” who had gone before him and leaves makeshift memorials at the sites of these strikes and also at graves of dishwasher union organizers. This affinity for other suds busters ultimately led Dishwasher Pete to join an independent union where he gives a great account of kitchen worker solidarity in a wildcat strike.

In fact, there is a great deal of dishwasher history and trivia in this book. (What’s one thing that Gerald Ford and Ho Chi Minh had in common? They were both dishwashers!)

Also filling these pages are great personal stories about the “rootless irresponsibility” touted in the cover blurb and a few very funny moments, most notably the infamous story of Dishwasher Pete hoodwinking Late Night with David Letterman by getting a friend to impersonate him on the talk show.

Dishwasher obviously will appeal to those who have worked the worst of these jobs and cleaned dishes in the grimiest kitchens. Yet, Jordan’s writing goes further than the obvious and leaves plenty for those who are interested in travel, labor history, love, and the love of strange accomplishments. Dishwasher is a fun read with great (and sometimes inspiring) stories about the day-to-day workplace struggles for the so-called unskilled worker. Now that Jordan has moved on to greener pastures in another country, I only hope his next venture will give us more great stories in the future.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (September 2008)

Industrial Worker #1709 (October 2008)

The October 2008 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Police arrests try to disrupt Republican National Convention protests

-Quebec workers get union contract at Wal-Mart

-UK cinema fires IWW organizer

-Ward’s Supermarket fires IWW for petition

-Marie Mason pleads guilty

-Mall of America Starbucks IWWs take direct action: buying a fan for freedom

-Martyred Sacco & Vanzetti are honored in Boston

-One million signatures sought for Employee Free Choice Act

-Youth must organize at school and work to win power

-Toronto campus radio fires news director as it bargains

-UK inquiry reveals chronic neglect led to death

-General Assembly in Europe an IWW first

-SweatFree Communities press state governors

-Turkish trade unionist acquitted after waiting 8 months in jail

-Remembering Helen Keller as a fighter

-French Post targets CNT striker in Marseille

-Chinese unions inch toward independence

Industrial Worker #1709 (October 2008).pdf3.48 MB

Industrial Worker #1710 (November 2008)

The November 2008 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Wal-Mart closes second union store in Québec

-Crisis a product of capitalism

-Letter: Venezuela is not the Soviet Union

-Couriers aim to organize across North America

-Sheffield IWW barman fights for job with another day of action Nov. 8

-Seattle Solidarity wins back wages

-N. Carolina truck drivers build community support

-Social workers need job control

-Wild Edibles uses fronts to avoid boycott

-MetroLink rail crash makes safety reform a must

-CN Rail workers dump UTU for Teamsters

-We are the RNC8: open letter

-Union leadership: the ability to move people

-Mentally ill workers an ‘indicator species’ for fairness on the job

-The IWW: Literature Review 2008

-Pakistani women need rights respected every day

-ISC delegation to Haiti appeal for donations to help recovery

-Zimbabwe unions condemn opposition deal with Mugabe

-Spanish CGT protests union-busting

Industrial Worker #1710 (November 2008).pdf6.64 MB

Industrial Worker #1711 (December 2008)

The December 2008 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-G20 defends capitalism

-Economic meltdown global

-Ontario farm workers win right to unionize

-Minneapolis Starbucks baristas join IWW, demand guard

-GDC to fight SLAPP lawsuits

-Colorado right-to-work campaign defeated

-Proposition K fails, sex workers continue to organize

-Unemployment is the economic policy

-Debt, exploitation and the crisis in Canada

-Conservative workers ready for exploitation

-Grocery worker fights boss, union for rights, pension

-Young Edmonton workers launch comic

-German IWW speaking tour builds links

Industrial Worker #1711 (December 2008).pdf2.64 MB


Industrial Worker #1712 (January 2009)

The January 2009 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Chicago factory occupation wins demands

-Can we rebuild the labor movement with the Employee Free Choice Act?

-N. Carolina IWW truckers picket Weyerhauser

-IWW referendum 2008 results

-Ottawa drops charges against panhandler organizer

-Minnesota baristas face intimidation

-Establishment union staff should not join the IWW

-IWWs agitate at SUNY social justice conference

-Review: Staughton Lynd tackles Wobblies and Zapatistas

-New Industrial Worker editors take over in 2009

-Let’s Not Get Organized By Barack Obama

Industrial Worker #1712 (January 2009).pdf1.07 MB

Industrial Worker #1713 (February/March 2009)

The February/March 2009 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Starbucks: Where’s Anna’s Money?

-Melbourne Wobs commemorate indigenous freedom fighters

-NYC Union Barista Fired on a Friday, Unfired on a Monday

-Starbucks Loses Round in Battle Over Union

-Parents sticking with the IWW

-Crisis Is Time For IWW Ideas, Organizing

-IWW Members Hold Organizer Training in South Texas

-Announcing the Lafayette Area General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World

Industrial Worker #1713 (February March 2009).pdf3.28 MB

Industrial Worker #1714 (April 2009)

Articles from the April 2009 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Antilles in Struggle: Interview with a CNT-F militant

-Dealing with Childcare Collectively

-SDS and the Wobblies: Memories and Observations

-Starbucks Workers Union Pickets for 8 Hours

-Spanish CNT in conflict with Ryanair at Zaragoza

Industrial Worker #1714 (April 2009).pdf1.89 MB

SDS and the Wobblies: memories and observations - Paul Buhle

An article by Paul Buhle about the commonalities and limited crossover between the 1960s radical group, Students For A Democratic Society (SDS) and the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World.

Student occupations of university buildings and student participation in campaigns and demonstrations happen more and more these days. More importantly, they have begun to happen in previously unlikely places, community colleges, religious schools, high schools and so on. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), reborn on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day in 2006, has often been in the lead because the name and the history give today’s students something to identify.

Wherever SDS exists, “student syndicalism” also exists in a germ of collective memory about the earlier SDS, or in the basic ideas that campus activists are bound to develop themselves. It’s a simple as the transition from the sit-down strike (IWW) to the civil rights movement sit-in to the antiwar teach-in. The logic of the movement contains a purpose beyond voting or waiting for leaders to make decisions.

Recently, former SDS National Secretary Carl Davidson (who coined the term “Student Syndicalism”) spoke on the Brown University campus, where I teach, on a range of issues, mostly practical experiences rather than theories and how students can learn for themselves what to do in today’s multiple social crises. One of Davidson’s vivid 1960s memories and one of my old favorites involves the SDS national office members of 1965-66 realizing that their Chicago headquarters was nearby the IWW office. They had stumbled across an inter-generational counterpart and shortly, regional travelers wore Wobbly buttons.

It was hardly the first SDS/IWW encounter. A lot of us had discovered little things along the way, often inadvertently, such as learning Marxism through Socialist Labor Party (“DeLeonite”) study classes, where IWW history was both applauded and hissed (that is after the 1908 Wob convention). What we gleaned sooner or later could be boiled down to the conclusion that the Wobblies were a totally unique radical outfit, and probably generations ahead of their time. History had to move to catch up with them.

The Rebel Worker, published by the Chicago surrealist group in the middle 1960s, is the best single case of IWW/SDS interaction. A splendid little mimeographed magazine, in the humble technology of the political age, it marked young Wobblies’ efforts to revive radical principles, reached a wide circle of young radicals (myself included) and foreshadowed much to come. The group also had a local bookstore, a share in the Wob effort to organize blueberry workers in Michigan and a presence in Chicago’s Roosevelt University, where a free speech fight preceded and perhaps inspired the famed Free Speech Movement in Berkeley. A few years later, Rebel Worker activist Penelope Rosemont was a printer in the SDS national office (in a couple decades, she and Franklin Rosemont would operate the Kerr Company, the IWW’s old friends of pre-1920 days). Hundreds of 1960s SDSers in various locations had soon become members or sympathizers with the IWW, and more would after the implosion and collapse of SDS in 1969. For that matter, the SDS journal Radical America was printed in Madison, WI, on a Wobbly press, emblazoned an early cover with Wobbly graphics, and carried many articles in sympathy with Wobbly traditions.

What happened from 1965 to 1969, embodying “Student Power” but also precipitating a crash and a catastrophic turn of the SDS leadership toward Maoism, may best be understood as a brilliant grappling with Wobbly traditions, a reinterpretation of syndicalism, and a failure to deal with the political crises on all sides.

The Port Huron Statement, drafted collectively by conference attendees in the Michigan town in 1962 and reshaped by SDS leader Tom Hayden, was the most important political manifesto of American radicals in 30 years, and the most important generational statement that young American radicals had made since perhaps the 1830s of New England Transcendentalists. Unlike earlier platforms of socialists and communists, with the distinct exception of the IWW convention documents of 1905, it was not shaped by European experiences. It was not about “socialism,” at least not in anything like classical terms. It was, or is (in-as-much as the new generation of SDSers holds to its central points) about values, along with generations.

That conference had only 59 attendees. Just enough, one might suggest, to work together on a complex document, and not too many to make such work phrase by phrase, formulation by formulation, all but impossible. In the next four years, SDS had become an organization of thousands on many campuses, and cut its ties with the social-democratic Old Left that had paid for its predecessor, the Student League for Industrial Democracy. The spirit of Port Huron had gone beyond the bounds of liberalism, not so much programmatically as philosophically. To these youngsters, the liberal ideology and the reform successes of the New Deal (and additions afterward) did not stand up against the threat of nuclear war and the American government’s own role in the proliferation of weapons. Nor did they explain away the persistence of US intervention, by hook and crook, against movements from Latin America and the Caribbean to Africa, Middle East, Asia and the Pacific that threatened American corporation holdings. Nor could they explain the fate of mainstream labor. Embodied in the thuggish George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO, organized labor’s leadership had become its ugliest in all American labor history.

How was a group of powerless young people to cope with the vastness of institutional authority? Students for a Democratic Society, an organization or movement so amorphous that a majority of its “members” never actually bothered to officially join, remains at the heart of the mystique and mystery of the 1960s. Naturally, along with the civil rights and Black Power movement, the Women’s Movement, marijuana and LSD, Bob Dylan and so much more. But within this mélange, SDS is unique, for better and for worse. It was the organization of student power on the campus, pinpointed by the FBI as the epicenter of trouble among the children of the white middle class. It skyrocketed to a following of perhaps 200,000 supporters. And what went up came suddenly down, very much like the ‘60s themselves.

Almost as suddenly, the memory of SDS and of the antiwar protest of the 1960s in general, has returned to fashion or at least public interest. What the Vietnam War and the public knowledge of FBI misdeeds did to the trust in the U.S. government during the 1960s, including its agencies and elected officials, the Iraq War and the Patriot Act’s varied manifestations have done again. And there is an element, a stronger reminder perhaps than any other of the lasting impress of SDS, in the circumstances of generational unrest. The generation of 9/11, come of age in the wake of the World Trade Center attack, the Afghanistan attack and occupation, the mass detentions without charges and so on, is also the generation facing the literal, undeniable effects of global warming in daily life. The world of secure consumers, circa 2000, is gone, and in its place is a world of politicians who barely manage to keep a straight face while issuing frequent denials of the obvious.

All this is still more true of the global working class now located, thanks to post-1965 immigration, within the United States. Never has the world of the original Wobblies become so nearly the world of today, with masses of foreign born, a terribly weakened official labor movement, and an urgent need for solidarity.

Speaking as a U.S. history teacher, I can say that the college courses on the 1960s, going back to the later 1970s or 1980s, never lacked for a certain appeal. Free love, communes, LSD and other reputed mass phenomena of the young naturally appealed to another generation of the young, especially with higher rents and rampant venereal diseases closing off the carefree low-income bohemia of earlier days. The boom in those courses has increased immeasurably since 2001 or so, for every good reason, but for many students seeking a “how to” rather than vicarious thrills or the chance to listen to music rather than reading textbooks. Meanwhile, as if by remarkable coincidence, a generation of young scholars just ten or twenty years behind the radicals of the 1960s came to press with their scholarly studies going back a decade in graduate school.

Only in the last decade, as the former members of SDS entered middle age, has the understanding of the movement seriously thus begun to probe and poke the aura and the memoirs of prominent minority. Hostile critics have pointed to the number of young intellectuals involved and the few essayists produced, as if this were a key test of virility or fecundity. It would be better to meditate the paucity of local historical studies, because SDS was above all a local movement, arguably the most decentralized and localistic movement since the Wobblies in the whole history of American radicalism. But perhaps one problem has also been overlooked: that a phenomenon so deeply set within popular culture would need an approach shaped by the techniques of cultural production. A song might be grand, but could not be expected to go far lyrically.

The graphic history of SDS that I produced with an array of artists in 2008, following the 2005 graphic history of the IWW by some of the same artists (and me as editor or coeditor), on the other hand, offers a crime (in the view of respectable society) to fit the punishment (forty years of liberal and conservative denigration). These books also could not have come, I believe, at a better time. Because these movements face the prospect of a great revival, young people in particular can learn visually, and also come to appreciate radical artists, like the half-dozen IWW members who drew or wrote stories for “Wobblies!,” striving to make the old story newly meaningful.

Paul Buhle is the founding editor of Radical America (1967-1992).

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2009)

Industrial Worker #1715 (May 2009)

The May 2009 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Direct Action Bloc Against the G20 in London

-Why I Became a Wobbly

-Starbucks Union Member Laid Off After Confronting CEO

-The Starbucks Problem

-Farewell, Fellow Worker Archie Green (1917-2009)

-IWW Professor Fired for Political Activity

Industrial Worker #1715 (May 2009).pdf4.45 MB

Industrial Worker #1716 (June 2009)

Articles from the June 2009 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-First IWW Event in Wales Celebrates Past & Present

-Wobfest 2009 Celebrated in Scotland

-Swedish Radical Unionists Celebrate

-Rally and Picnic in Philadelphia

-Pittsburgh IWW Join Baltimore's Human Rights March for Living Wages

-Anzac Day Commemoration of the IWW Anti­-Conscription Campaign

-The IWW Mourns Fellow Worker Franklin Rosemont

-Goodbye, Fellow Worker Jennie Cedervall

-North of 49° Assembly, June 13­14, 2009

Industrial Worker #1716 (June 2009).pdf4.47 MB

Goodbye, Fellow Worker Jennie Cedervall

An obituary of Jennie Cedervall, a longtime IWW member.

The IWW recently learned of the passing of longtime member and supporter, Jennie Cedervall, who died in Willoughby, Ohio, on January 22, 2009, at the age of 95. Born as Eugenia Anekite near Montreal, Canada to Romanian immigrants and IWW members George Anekite and Victoria nee Galason (Galtzan), she moved as a child with her family to Minnesota where she lived on a farm, and then to Detroit, where she worked as a book keeper at the Mt. Elliot Coal Company, which housed IWW workers.

FW Cedervall later worked as a stenographer, and was involved with several IWW locals in Detroit and Cleveland over the years. While she was not getting the publicity reserved for other members of the union, FW Cedervall nevertheless contributed tirelessly to the union and helped to keep the organization running through some bleak times. She met her future husband, IWW organizer Frank Cedervall, at an IWW event in Michigan, and later relocated with him to Cleveland, where some of the IWW’s most important work took place with the Metal and Machinery Workers Industrial Union from the 1930s into the 1950s. During the 1970s, she drove with her husband on an IWW speaking tour through the West Coast of the United States.

Jennie and her husband retired to Willoughby, Ohio, while continuing their union support. FW Cedervall was able to attend the IWW’s Centenary event in Pittsburgh in 2005, where she was recognized for her many contributions to the union. She stressed that while it is important to have a vision of a better world with a radical analysis, this is of little importance if it is not put to practical use, through bread and butter gains for workers.

FW Cedervall contributed her time in her later years to many organizations, including the Clean City Association of Willoughby, Edison Elementary School, and the Lake County Historical Society. Services were held for her at the DavisBabcock Funeral Home, with Rev. Arthur Severance of the East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church.

We will remember FW Jennie Cedervall for helping all of us “get the goods.” She is survived by daughter Pat and soninlaw Don Lewis, and many nieces and nephews. The family welcomes contributions to the IWW in her name.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (June 2009)

Industrial Worker #1717 (July 2009)

The July 2009 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Starbucks Settles Sixth Labor Complaint

-NLRB Is No Friend In Portland

-Recession: Time to Organize

-PIDC Hunger Strike Leader Assaulted, Threatened with Deportation

Industrial Worker #1717 (July 2009).pdf4.64 MB

NLRB is no friend in Portland

An article by Chris Agenda coming out against contractualism in the IWW, based on experience with a contract shop in Portland.

During a two-month period I met with representatives from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on three different issues. All of the issues were related to grievances of workers who were represented by the IWW and employed by Janus Youth Programs in Portland, Oregon. The NLRB was not helpful in any of the situations.

The common line in each of these cases was that the NLRB had to defer to arbitration, since that was provided for in the contracts between the IWW and Janus. Once we charged the company with bargaining in bad faith, and despite a slew of evidence proving management’s malfeasance, the NLRB still sat on their hands. The NLRB representatives were all friendly to our union, but as an institution they could not provide any support. One agent candidly explained that even if there were grounds to become involved in the dispute, “there’s really nothing we can do.”

We shouldn’t be surprised at this turnout, but we should be paying better attention. The NLRB is a monolithic government agency that is detached from working people. To expect them to help is irrational. We shouldn’t rely on the NLRB’s help in resolving our disputes, at least not in most cases.

A government agency could intervene and possibly provide workers with a good resolution in a dispute, but this is problematic as the workers should be creating the resolution themselves. Relying on the government to resolve labor disputes extends the apparatus of the state and negates the concept of workers demanding things on their own. The workers do not receive any new skills or tools, they just get a handout from the government until the next time a problem arises, and the cycle continues.

This brings us to the issue we need to discuss throughout our union as we continue to grow— that is the IWW’s growing reliance on contracts. Historically in the IWW, representation at a workplace has not always equated with having a contract. We often wind up with contracts that are mediocre at best. Grievance procedures are often a joke, and additions such as “management rights” clauses add insult to injury.

Contracts rarely omit the “no strike, no lockout” clause, which cuts off one of our few effective weapons in disputes. The history of this union has always been one of militant action, not pleading for help from an ineffective government institution. We should take the next logical step and question what place, if any, contracts ought to have in the IWW.

My introduction to the IWW was through a workplace that had an outdated contract which we renegotiated over the course of eight months. There were some good things that came out of the contract as well as some bad. I had no historical perspective, however, until the last year, when I began to read more ing of our history and realized that, again, our history is one of struggle and direct action, not contracts.

My experience in Portland so far has been educational and inspiring, but I believe we are approaching an important crossroads. We are in the midst of an economic recession and have a great need for a strong, militant vehicle for the working class. If we are going to continue to grow from the local branch level to the international level, we have to be able to provide something that truly stands out from the business unions.

We have the theory and ideas to distinguish ourselves, but I think we are following their models in certain aspects of our actions. As IWW history has taught us, direct action and solidarity are the best weapons of the working class. These are what will build the One Big Union, not ineffectual contracts.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (July 2009)

Industrial Worker #1718 (August/September 2009)

The August/September 2009 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Contents include:

-Korean Motor Workers Under Police Seige by Loren Goldner

-False Advertising? MPG Lays Off Workers While Profits Grow by Diane Krauthamer

-French Auto Workers To Blow Up Factory? By “Auto,”

-Starbucks Workers Union Expands To Canada

-Oil: Dirtier Than A Can Of Worms? You Bet! by David Patrick

-Work Is The Only Power We Own by Gregg Shotwell

-Our Own Festival: A Wobbly Reports On His Recent Visit To Paris By Mischa Lebevre

-Scoop New York: One-Stop Shopping—For Labor Violations by Diane Krauthamer

-The Wheels Of Injustice Continue To Turn Against Immigrants by Rio Grand Valley IWW

-Trespassing Charges Against Denis Rancourt Dropped by Peter Moore

-London Workers Shut Down Underground for 48 Hours by Tom Levy

-High Stakes for Honduras by Ben Dangl

-How Sweatshop Bosses Are Responding

-Review: Capitalism and the Transformation of Africa: Reports from Equatorial Guinea by Mary Alice-Water and Martin Koppel

-Review: The Reader

-Korean Police Fail To Break Ssangyong Factory Occupation from

-Safe Haven Tent Community Under Attack By Neil Parthun

-Canadian IWWs Move To Form Regional Organizing Committee by Peter Moore

-Cadillac Fairview “Could Not Sink Any Lower”

-CNT-PTT Regains Its Rights In France by John Kalwaic

Industrial Worker #1718 (August September 2009).pdf1.66 MB


Industrial Worker (December 2011)

Articles from the December 2011 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

The articles on 'direct unionism' can be found here.

For paper subscription info, please visit the IW page at

For a PDF copy of this issue, check here

Whole Foods shut down in Oakland

An article about the shut down of a Whole Foods during Occupy Oakland's 'general strike'.

In the weeks leading up to the Oakland General Strike on Nov. 2, Wobblies across the bay in San Francisco circulated agitational leaflets calling on workers in unorganized shops to “sick out” for the day. The city, under pressure from local labor groups, adopted a sick leave policy in 2006 which entitles most employees to paid days off if they’re sick or caring for a sick family member. We recognized that most workers in San Francisco don’t belong to unions and could probably not pull off an official strike, so we appealed to them to sick out en masse and potentially get paid for withholding their labor. This approach was received with enthusiasm by many workers and it encouraged several to sick out on the day of the general strike.

One particular group of workers we targeted was the low-wage food and retail sector. As it turned out, it was in that sector that we forced the first workplace shutdown during the strike. We approached a group of radical workers in the morning who we heard had called out of work from their food service job to participate in the strike. Their coworkers, whom they had agitated to call out as well, expressed a desire to join the strike but reported to work instead for fear of retaliation from their notoriously abusive management. We were told that if a picket went up at their workplace, the workers would feel more emboldened to walk out.

Wobblies jumped on the opportunity. We coordinated with a contingent of 25-30 militant organizers from a few different radical organizations to march the few blocks from the main rally to Whole Foods, splitting up along the way to avoid being routed by security or police. Our arrival was timed for the beginning of the lunch rush, and we converged inside the store at 11:30 a.m. Massing suddenly inside the doors, we called out the customers and chanted “Let them strike, it’s their right!” Overwhelmed, management conceded and told us they’d shut down and pay the workers the full day’s wage. For our own assurance, we stayed and threw up a lively picket at the entrance while the boss locked the doors, keeping the workers in and customers out. Several bewildered office staff looking for their soup fix were politely told that the place was shut down for the general strike, with some staffers vainly tugging on the locked glass doors anyway.

We asked one of the workers who was bold enough to talk to us through the doors whether they’d prefer us to stay or leave. “Stay” was the answer, and for the next hour or so we held our ground and chanted. The same worker who told us to stay said “You did it! You shut it down!” and gave me a fist bump through the glass door! We received very vocal criticism throughout the shutdown by one worker who screamed insults and attempted to persuade us that none of the other workers supported the shutdown. Shortly after she left, the largely Latino kitchen staff began to dawn smiles and a young female black worker met us at the entrance with her coworker to openly share their enthusiasm and express their appreciation. The display of a Spanish-language strike banner was a decisive component of the shutdown, especially with the kitchen staff. It was clear to us that this shutdown was well-received by the workers.

It was an inspiring start to an extraordinary day of working-class mass action. We hope our recounting here will offer even a minor contribution to those who plan to carry out similar actions, hopefully on a much larger scale.

We want to emphasize that shutting down the flow of production is not in and of itself a revolutionary act. In fact, as we saw in the shutdown of Whole Foods that took place later in the day, without the support of the workers such actions have the likely consequence of alienating and isolating majority sectors of the workingclass, thereby weakening our message and missing the broader aim of overthrowing capitalism.

Much was made of the Whole Foods shutdown in the press, and in the Occupy movement as a whole. During the scheduled Anti-Capitalist March midday, the crowd of several hundred or more snaked their way from downtown Oakland to the nearby Whole Foods, where it was rumored that workers were being threatened with firings if they joined the demonstrations. The Wobbly contingent saw an opportunity to picket the grocery chain and call out the workers in solidarity, shutting down the store by the workers walking out. Instead, as soon as the march arrived several demonstrators started tearing the storefront apart—throwing rocks at the windows, pulling tables and chairs into the street, and so on. This had the effect of scaring and confusing the workers inside who didn’t know what to make of the melee taking place outside. While we understood the rage being expressed by these acts of vandalism, we felt that an important opportunity to engage workers and expose the contradictions of liberal capitalists like Whole Foods was missed. Imagine if the several hundred of us on the march had surrounded the store with a picket line, and some of our number addressed the workers inside to get them to walk out with us. The store would have had to shut down immediately and I have little doubt that a significant chunk of the workers would have gladly joined us. The impact of a successful action like that could have had wide reverberations, emboldening many thousands of workers to engage in similar actions and challenge their bosses.

While it’s important that we stand together as a movement and not allow certain groups to be “thrown under the bus” so that we appear acceptable to the media, it’s also important to be critical of actions in a constructive and comradely spirit. It’s our hope that we can reflect on what took place at the Whole Foods shutdown and draw lessons that will allow our movement to more fully mature to its revolutionary potential.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2011)

Thousands march & shut down port, Oakland

An article by Bruce Valde about the November 2, 2011 Occupy Oakland 'general strike'.

On Wednesday, Nov. 2, we arrived at the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway in downtown Oakland. It was 5:30 a.m. The sound truck was already parked at the corner and the sound system was being set up. The encampment was still pretty quiet and most of the activity centered around the news vans parked along 14th Street. We deployed a pop-up tent and an IWW literature table and banners. I locked my bike to the railing that runs around the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station entrance. It seemed to me that being mobile would be the best way to participate in the afternoon marches. I was right about that.

It’s been said but I’ll say it again: the crowd kept doubling in size literally by the minute.

Anti-Capitalist March

At around 2:00 p.m. marchers started to shape up at the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and Broadway. This is approximately where the 1946 General Strike began. By 2:30 p.m. the march stepped off. The size was impressive and marchers highly energetic. The number of marchers continued to grow as the crowd surged north on Broadway. A lot has already been written how some of the marchers were too aggressive about shutting down banks. Of course the intention was always to shut the 1 percent down, so this was going to be accomplished in various ways depending on one’s orientation. As we were all in the march together and as there were ostensibly no “leaders,” the people took it upon themselves to do what they thought necessary to shut it down.

The marchers next headed toward the lakefront. I could see the street we were marching on was packed with people from curb to curb for four or five blocks.

All of a sudden the arrogant façade of Whole Foods loomed before us like the Titanic. What happened next was interesting and divided the march somewhat along tactical lines. I’m not sure what most of the marchers thought they were going to do when they reached Whole Foods but word had gone out that Whole Foods was going to fire any worker that participated in the strike. Later the company claimed in an email this was false. But at the time, it was a strong motivation to go there, amongst other reasons.

We had heard that Whole Foods was being picketed but I saw no one picketing as the march arrived. As I mentioned, when the march reached the front of the store things got interesting. A large canister of paint was used to write the word “STRIKE” across the front windows. As the painters ran back toward the crowd some of those in the crowd decided these people needed to be tackled and knocked to the ground. Eventually, the scuffle grew to include the painters, the tacklers and the people who broke the painters free and allowed them to run into the crowd for safety.

Any chance of a picket line was lost and the unruly crowd vented their anger further by tossing patio chairs and tables into the street and applying more paint. The march started to move on. At that point, a guy started screaming about outsiders and how the town where he lives should not get messed up like that. My guess is he has never shopped in Whole Foods because he can’t afford it—and as I recall Whole Foods is from Texas.

The Port March

The march formation was less tight now that people turned back toward Oscar Grant Plaza. I checked in with fellow workers at the literature table there. I was informed that a Teamster local was bringing busses to get people to the Port of Oakland in a hurry to make sure all working gates were picketed. Also, a bike bloc was going to form part of initial pickets at the port. I pedaled off to do a little scouting and reached the port in about ten minutes. Before leaving I ran into an organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) who I had met the previous day. He said the UFCW contingent marching to the port were going to a dock separate from the rest and we never saw them later. There are probably thousands of pictures online so I won’t describe the layout of the Port of Oakland, but that particular gate is isolated. I deemed it the “dead-end march.”

The port was crawling with frustrated independent operator truckers waiting for a load. The port was operating at 50 percent capacity most of the day so a lot of truckers were going to leave empty but they had still not given up hope of a load. I rolled up to some drivers: a couple of guys from Iran and three more Chinese guys.

They replied to my inquiry about how they were doing by saying “you protesters are making our lives difficult” and “why didn't you all do this on the morning shift?” We had considered shutting down the port during the dayside shift, but marching during the day and shutting down the port during the nightside shift seemed to be a better choice. It definitely was, in good part because International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 organizers had spent the day curtailing most work before Occupy Oakland arrived around 4:00 p.m. The interesting thing is that while the truckers were complaining about the inconvenience, they ended by saying, “we wish you success,” and “we are with you.”

Next, I looked up and there were 200 bikers occupying the first terminal gate—not just the gate but the entire road. Soon after, four busses loaded with occupiers rolled by heading toward gates further down the way. It was on. Then the march came into view on the bridge over the railway at Adeline Avenue. This was one of two or three large marches that arrived at both ends of the port in the next hour. I will say in closing that in the past the awesome port shutdowns have been different because they closely followed a script: picket the gate, the longshoremen deem it a safety issue, arbitrators rule in their favor, no one goes to work. This was different. I rode from one end of the port to the other at 8:00 p.m. The port was not operating and at each entrance a party was going on. The night was still young.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2011)

On the ground at the Oakland general strike

An account by K.R. about the November 2nd Occupy Oakland 'general strike'.

On Wednesday morning, Nov. 2, I sent a text message to my boss that read “Cough, cough. Capitalism is making me sick. I will be seeking treatment in downtown Oakland today.” He wrote back, “Nice try, you communist.”

On my way to the Millbrae Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station I contacted several friends. I convinced two of them to come to Oakland. One was a student who cut her classes for the day even though she had important assignments due and meetings scheduled. The other was a recentlylaid- off former co-worker.

Coming up the escalator to Oscar Grant Plaza from the 12th Street BART station I heard amplified speeches—I had heard there would be a flatbed trailer, and I was apprehensive that Nov. 2 would devolve into the typical, deathly boring rally from with which we have all had far too many years’ experience. And indeed, the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway had that feel at 9:30 a.m.: A few hundred people either facing or ignoring a stage of blabbering activists. But soon enough, the streets filled with people coming from all directions. Before I knew it there were thousands of us and the sound stage became practically irrelevant.

The first march pushed off and circled a few blocks. There were no police visible and we filled the entire street. I had the first burst of the feeling of elation, freedom and solidarity that would stay with me all day. I walked near the Brass Liberation Orchestra, which stopped on Clay Street where a circle of cheering and dancing people formed. We chanted “Occupy! Shut it down! Oakland is the Peoples’ Town!” and “This system is about to die! Hella hella occupy!” These music and dance circles formed many times throughout the day, and I could not help but reflect on the accounts I have heard of similar behavior breaking out during the 1946 Oakland General Strike.

I noticed that many downtown businesses were preemptively shuttered for the day. I know that there were a few triumphant instances of flying pickets shutting banks and other businesses down, but somehow I missed being present at the moments these things happened.

The second march of the day was the 2:00 p.m. Anti-Capitalist March that wound its way through downtown and past a few banks, including Chase and Bank of America (both of which sported fresh facelifts, complete with shattered windows, graffiti, and paint splatters). Word rippled through the crowd that workers at Whole Foods—the “yuppie sweatshop,” as a friend called it—needed support to shut down the store by Lake Merritt, and the march moved toward the store.

As Whole Foods came into view we could see “STRIKE” spray-painted across the plate glass windows. It looked like at least one window had been broken. I lingered here for a while with a few friends. Two passersby voiced their displeasure with the vandalism, and seemed to blame us for either doing it or tacitly condoning it. Neither person was very articulate about their positions but they seemed to echo the typical peace-bully talking points, which I find exasperating and demoralizing, so we split to catch up with the march.

The Anti-Capitalist March returned to 14th Street and Broadway and a friend and I found a place to sit and rest. By this time the Alameda Labor Council had started their grill but we discovered the line was hundreds-long and we abandoned the idea of getting free food. Plans to find an open restaurant for food and bathrooms were dropped when the march to the port began; we had found some other friends and did not want to lose them again. Off we marched up 14th Street toward west Oakland.

A quick pit-stop into a taqueria for a bathroom and maybe some food was a bust—too long a line—but the workers there offered free bottles of ice-cold water. We took some and rejoined the march. From a freeway overpass we heard cars below honking wildly in support and saw traffic slow to a crawl as drivers took in the sight of thousands of people heading toward the port. Families watched from their driveways and cheered us on as we passed. Chants floated in the air: “Let’s go, Oakland! Let’s go!” The neighborhood smiled on the march and residents held up hand-made signs.

The flat geography of downtown and west Oakland made it virtually impossible to get a bead on the size of the march from ground level, but I got my first idea of its size as we rounded the corner of 7th and Adeline. Two blocks ahead I could see the rise of the overpass above the freight tracks. It was packed with people marching. Tractor cabs leaving the port were stranded in the sea of people, unable to move, and as we made our way across the overpass I saw many of the drivers grinning in awe, honking in support and laughing with protesters who hopped up onto the cab ladders to chat.

At the other end of the overpass the ground leveled out again along Middle Harbor Road. People climbed up on top of containers in triumph as we continued on to block all the gates. Each gate drew crowds of many hundreds, who stayed to secure the closure while others continued on to the rest of the gates.

Soon I was marching with four other women and we all had to pee. This stretch of road—train tracks on one side, cyclone fences and sheer walls on the other, and thousands of people all around—proved an inhospitable environment for the task. Eventually we found a low concrete barricade and created a “human shield” for one another. Some guy stopped to pee in solidarity nearby. I don’t think he quite got it that it’s not really the same thing for men to pee in public, but it was a sweet and funny gesture all the same. When we marched on we occasionally overheard other women talking about needing to pee and offered our services as the “Ad-Hoc Girls’ Bathroom Brigade.”
BART trains heading for San Francisco thundered overhead as we walked west. We heard rumors that Occupy San Francisco had shut down the Bay Bridge, but as darkness fell I had seen headlights moving on the bridge so I don’t think that really happened. It was a nice thought, though.

Over time we made our way to 7th and Maritime, where a crowd of hundreds was holding down the westernmost port entrances. It was dark now, and it had been announced that shift-change at the port had been moved from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m., then from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. I still don’t know if any of that was true. We were all waiting for an announcement that the arbitrator had ruled that conditions for workers were “dangerous” and that the incoming shift would be sent home.

When it was clear that we had succeeded in shutting down the port for the night, even if the official word was still about 20 minutes from arriving, I began the trek to the West Oakland BART station with a couple of friends.

When the tracks up on the elevated platform were free of trains we called “mic check!” across the tracks and we spoke to each other through the peoples’ mic and we cheered our victory. A woman read a message from Scott Olsen, written that evening from his hospital bed—his first public communication since his injury. Trains arrived and we boarded, tired but sleepless like young people in love.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2011)


Industrial Worker (May 2012)

Articles from the May 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

Some objections to Occupy May 1st

A short list of objections to the May 1st general strike effort within the Occupy movement and some responses to them.

By now you’ve probably heard about how in various cities Occupy has called for a general strike on May 1. The call seemed to originate from a number of different circles, although the most influential circle seems to have been a group of people involved in several anarchist organizations and/or the IWW. Their influence can be seen in how widely the call was circulated, in the websites set up for Occupy May 1st, and in some of the decent looking posters and images they put out.

Regardless of the source of the call, it has been taken up in a variety of ways by Occupy groups in New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, Minneapolis, Boston, Seattle, Denver, Long Beach, Detroit, and Oklahoma City, among other places. The media has been reporting on it and it’s probably fair to say that this could be the biggest May Day since the immigration protests of 2006.

As the call has spread around and become something inseparable from Occupy as a movement, there have been a number of objections or concerns about a May 1st general strike. Some of them even come from people in the IWW or those in the radical left who we would presume would be on board. Here is my attempt to quickly address some of the most common ones.

“A general strike is irresponsible and will make people lose sympathy with Occupy.”

This comes more from the perspective that movements are about publicity and a battle of positions, primarily though the mainstream media. I don’t want to lessen the role that media plays in affecting our movements and efforts, but this shouldn’t be a main consideration of what we do or how we do it. The media is composed of mostly large businesses that are tied to numerable other large businesses and rely on them for their existence. It is largely a reflection of the interests of the rich or politicians, and it very rarely will be in favor of groups or actions which undermine this. Look at much of the coverage of Occupy; a lot of it is neutral or even positive up to a point where Occupy calls into question the pillars of our society, then the typical associations with violence, “Communism” or “hippies” are trotted out to delegitimize what the movement says. Let us also not forget how they ignored us until the police viciously attacked Occupiers in New York.

“Organized labor was not/is not being consulted.”

In a number of cities our friends in Occupy are talking with the larger mainstream unions and there is some level of participation, even if unofficial, between the two. But let’s be clear, the mainstream unions are tied up in labor law and contracts that were specifically developed to prevent such a linking between them and social movements and to dish out major consequences (including massive fines and jail time) for exceeding the restrictions put upon them.

Unions also are on the decline and have been for a while. Only a small amount of the American workforce are in unions, and many workers (especially younger ones) have had almost no experiences with them. This makes ties to the rank and file much more difficult and can result in only having ties with staff and officers, who are not necessarily the people you want to be in contact with when it comes to mobilizing, engaging and building relationships with the membership to take part in such a thing as a May 1st general strike.

“May Day is for immigrants/Occupy is co-opting May Day”

Anything that Occupy as a movement turns its eye towards has received words of skepticism and territorial claims by individuals and groups who have been involved in specific issues prior to Occupy's emergence. At first, radical left activists looked at Occupy as encroaching their turf. The people attending the occupations were unfamiliar, not in their social circles. In places like Oakland or in situations like the port shutdowns, as the encampments moved towards 'worker issues', some union leaders and groups close to unions glared suspiciously at some erosion on their monopoly of 'worker issues'. Similar sentiments in regard to race have been expressed around the Trayvon Martin case. We see this also with May 1st and immigration.

May Day or May 1st is, strictly defined, International Workers Day. A day in which martyred Chicago anarchist labor organizers are remembered. A day in which the old workers movements have flexed their muscle in a demonstration of numbers and power. But it has also been a day for dystopian 'socialist' regimes to display to the world their weaponry. In the early 70s, May 1st meant massive student protests against the Vietnam war. And yes, in recent years, in the United States, its been a day centered around the rights of immigrants. It's safe to say its meant different things to different people at various times.

However, whether using the rhetoric of the 99% against the 1% or the traditional language of working class vs. the ruling class, the participants in both the Occupy movement and the immigration rights movement are linked. Neither one 'owns' May Day. The additional involvement of other movements with May Day is something to be welcomed.

“It’s not going to be a ‘real’ general strike”

Some like to say or imply that a “real” general strike is something which unions call for, and then people strike, in the formal definition of the word. Sometimes, general strikes do happen this way. Other times they start with other, more unofficial action or wildcat strikes that spread. On May Day 2006, for instance, millions of people just called in sick. Those who say May 1st won’t be a “real” general strike, are probably right. What will happen will most likely resemble what occurred in Oakland on Nov. 2, 2011. Personally, I don’t think what it’s called matters much.

Remember that the reason that the term general strike is even in the vocabulary of U.S. social movements again is because of the IWW’s efforts in Wisconsin. It was an important concept and we did a lot of admirable work towards this concept, but as someone who was there, I don’t think the strategy we engaged in (working through official union decision-making structures) was a realistic way to push for a general strike. However, I think that if we succeeded that it would a “real” general strike and the possibility did exist.

We also don’t really know what a U.S. general strike in 2012 will look like. The last time an official one happened here was 1946. The workforce and society in general have changed drastically since then. Our workplaces are more fragmented. Solidarity and worker combativeness isn't something that can be assumed as a given anymore. The forms of resistance that we take will often look different from past struggles. General strikes of 1877 didn't look the same as those in the 1930s, why would one today look like ones from 70 years ago?

“What about May 2nd?”

This is a good point. What about the day after? The week after? The month after? It is up to the participants of Occupy May 1st to make sure this May Day is something much more than a mere mobilization of people to protest, but the opening shot in a new era of Occupy where we take on issues relevant to our daily life. Work, unemployment, immigration, and housing aren’t just some vague issues that are mentioned within the context of the upcoming elections, but are very real experiences that make up, for better or worse, who we are. They are also things we have the most power to change or even (if we wish) to eliminate as problems. As people who wish for a new world, we should welcome the opportunity to place organizing back into the context of our lived experiences.

A version of this will appear in the May 2012 issue of the Industrial Worker

General strikes of 1877 didn't look the same as those in the 1930s, why would one today look like ones from 70 years ago?

Sex work: Solidarity not salvation

An article by an Australian Wobbly sex worker advocating solidarity and syndicalism. Orginally published in the Autumn issue of Direct Action, the newspaper of the Australian IWW. Reprinted in issue #1745, May 2012, of the IWW's newspaper Industrial Worker.

An ongoing debate is taking place in anarchist and feminist circles on the legitimacy of sex work and the rights of sex workers. The two main schools of thought are almost at polar opposites of each other. On the one side you have the abolitionist approach led by feminists, such as Melissa Farley who maintains that sex work is a form of violence against women. Farley has said that “If we view prostitution as violence against women, it makes no sense to legalize or decriminalize prostitution.” On the other side you have sex worker rights activists who view sex work as being much closer to work in general than most realize, who believe that the best way forward for sex workers is in the fight for workers’ rights and social acceptance and for activists to listen to what sex workers have to say. In this article I will discuss why the abolitionist approach discriminates against sex workers and takes advantage of their marginalized status, while the rights approach offer the opportunity to make solid differences in the labor rights and human rights of sex workers.

An example of the kind of arguments put forward by advocates of abolitionism runs as follows:

“The concept of women’s ‘choice’ to sell sex is constructed in line with neoliberal and free-market thinking; the same school of thinking that purports that workers have real ‘choices’ and control over their work. It suggests that women choose to sell sex and we should therefore focus on issues to do with sex workers’ safety, ability to earn money, and persecution by the state. Whilst women’s safety and women’s rights are paramount, the argument for state-regulated brothels and unionization is reformist at best, naive and regressive at worst. Even the proposal for ‘collective brothels’ ignores the gendered nature of prostitution, and its function in supporting male domination.

“An anarchist response should demand the eradication of all exploitative practices and not suggest they can be made safer or better.” (Taken from a leaflet handed out by abolitionists at the sex work workshop at the 2011 London Anarchist Bookfair.)

A Wobbly approach does call for the eradication of all exploitative practices, not just those that benefit the one advocating for change or that one finds particularly distasteful. Work under capitalism is exploitive, you are either exploited or live off the exploitation of others—most of us do both. Sex under capitalism and patriarchy is all too often commodified and used as a means of exploitation. Work and sex in and of themselves are none of these things. Fighting sex work instead of fighting capitalism and patriarchy does not address the exploitation in its entirety. To focus on the gendered nature of sex work will not change the gendered society we live in; if anything it reinforces the myth that the gender divide is a natural part of life that must be worked around. It also silences the sex workers who do not fit the gendered notions of the female sex worker, a group who are all too conveniently ignored whenever they challenge the abolitionist discourse on sex work.

Abolitionists have accused any approach other than theirs’ as being fundamentally reformist and thus not in line with the principles of anarchism. However, isn’t trying to end an industry because the overarching capitalist, patriarchal system of our times feeds into it, rather than fighting for the emancipation of all workers, in itself reformist?

The anthropologist Laura Agustin contends that the abolitionist movement took up strength at a time when the theories of welfarism were gaining popularity among the middle class who felt they had a duty to better the working class (without addressing the legitimacy of the class system as a whole). Middle-class women, in particular, found an outlet from their own gender oppression, by positioning themselves as the “benevolent saviors” of the “fallen,” thus gaining positions and recognition in the male-dominated public sphere that they never previously could have attained.

There are more than a few remnants of the middle class, almost missionary, desire to “save” by implanting one’s own moral outlook on the “fallen” in today’s abolitionist movement. Not only does it give people a way to feel as if they are rescuing those most in need, but it does so without requiring them (in most instances) to question their own actions and privileges. The sight of someone dressed in sweatshop-manufactured garments with an iPhone, iPad and countless other gadgets made in appalling conditions calling for the abolition of the sex industry never ceases to confound me. It must be one of the few industries that people are calling for the destruction of because of the worst elements within it. They may recognize that the treatment of workers in Apple factories amounts to slavery, and that the instances of rape and sexual assault of garment makers in some factories amount to sexual slavery, but they contend that abolition of either industry is not desirable, that mass-produced clothing and technology, unlike sex, are essentials to our modern lives. Essential to whom I may ask? To the workers making such products? They do not use the products that they slave away producing, they do not benefit from their employment anymore than a sex worker in their country does theirs. It seems the essentiality of a product is judged through the lens of the consumer, not the worker, despite this being something the abolitionist accuses only opponents of abolition of doing. Calling for the abolition of sex work remains, largely, a way for people to position themselves in a seemingly selfless role without having to do the hard work of questioning their own social privilege. This is a fundamentally welfarist and reformist position to take.

Is sex (or the ability to engage in it if you so wish) not as essential to life or at least to happiness and health as any of the above are? Sex is a big part of life, a part that people should be free to take pleasure in and engage in, not a part that is viewed as being bad and dirty and shameful. I am not saying that anyone should be obligated to provide sex for someone else unless they want to, but pointing out that trying to justify abolishing the sex industry with the argument that sex isn’t essential when there are so many industries that produce things we don’t need is incredibly weak. It also, again, focuses more on the consumer than the worker. Instead of focusing on what the sex worker thinks about their work, how important it is, how it makes them feel, we are told to focus on the fact that they consumer doesn’t really need it. The worker is reduced to no more than an object, an object that needs saving whether they want it or not.

Can no worker take pleasure in aspects of their work despite capitalism? Can no woman take pleasure in sex despite patriarchy? If the answer is that they can, then why is it so hard to believe that there are sex workers who choose and/or take pleasure in their work despite capitalism and patriarchy, not because of them? I have been told by abolitionists that this is not possible within the sex industry, that any worker who enjoys their job, or even those who do not enjoy but see it as a better opportunity than anything else available to them, only does so out of internalized misogyny. That if they were freed from this, by adopting an abolitionist mindset (any other stance is accused of being founded on internalized misogyny and therefore invalid) they would see the truth. It sounds an awful lot like religious dogma and is often treated with as much zeal. The abolitionist approach refuses to value or even acknowledge the intelligence, agency, experiences and knowledge of sex workers. This is discrimination posing as feminism. If you want equality for women then you need to listen to all women, not just the ones who say what you want to hear.

Abolitionists seem to view sex workers who do not agree with them as being too brainwashed by patriarchy to advocate for themselves, or that these specific sex workers are not representative of the experiences of the majority of sex workers. As an anarchist I view all work under capitalism to be exploitative, and that sex work is no exception. I do not believe however that work that involves sex is necessarily more exploitative or damaging than other forms of wage slavery. This is not to say that there are not terrible violations of workers’ rights within the sex industry; there are and they are violations I want to fight to overcome. (By acknowledging these violations I am not saying that there are not wonderful experiences between workers and between workers and clients as well.)

If one is serious about respecting and advocating for the rights of sex workers then we have to look at what methods work. We do not live in some anarchist utopia where no one is forced to work in jobs they wouldn’t otherwise do in order to get by, so I do not see the point in spending energy debating whether sex work would exist in an anarchist society and what it would look like, if it starts to cut in to energy that could be spent advocating for the rights of sex workers in the here and now.

Abolitionists have often complained of rights activists using language to legitimize the industry by using terms like “client” instead of “john” and “worker” instead of “prostitute.” Sex workers and rights activists have moved away from the old terms as they are terms that have often been used to disempower and discriminate against workers, whereas “client” and “sex worker” are much more value neutral. Abolitionists are not innocent of using language to further their agenda. Often the term “prostitute” is used to describe sex workers. This positions the worker as an agency-less victim. Once you have positioned someone as being without agency it becomes easier to ignore their voice, to believe that you know what is in their best interest and that you are doing, or advocating, for them.

Another accusation made against rights activists is that they put the client’s wants before the needs and safety of the worker, or that they attempt to legitimize commercial sexual exchanges (something that is not considered a legitimate service by abolitionists). I have not found this to be the case—the majority of rights activists are or have been sex workers, or have close ties to sex workers, and their primary focus is on the rights, needs and safety of sex workers. For instance, Scarlet Alliance, the national sex worker advocacy body, is made up of current and former sex workers. People who would have an interest in worker exploitation, such as employers, are not eligible to join.

That they do not focus on labeling clients (the clientele are too diverse to paint with the one label anyway) is no reflection on how important the needs and safety of sex workers are. In fact it is because they are paramount to the rights movement that the focus is not on making moral judgments on the clients and is instead on labor organizing and worker advocacy. To ignore the vast amounts of change that can be made by workers organizing and advocating together in favor of moralizing over the reasons why the industry exists and whether it is an essential service is to sacrifice the rights and well-being of workers for theoretical gains.

At the end of the day the abolitionist is using their power and social privilege to take advantage of sex workers’ marginalized position, something that they accuse clients of doing. The difference is that they are not seeking sexual but moral gratification. The abolitionist approach does not help sex workers, nor does it empower them. Rather, this approach gives them a role, and penalizes them if they refuse to play it. The sex worker rights approach works in the same way that all workers rights and anti-discrimination movements have worked by empowerment, support and solidarity.

There is no anti-capitalist blueprint as to how to best eradicate exploitation, but rather several schools of thought, often their own internal schools, as to how to reach a free society. I believe that when it comes to eradicating exploitation in the workplace, syndicalism is the approach that best suits the fight at hand. When the workplace is that of a brothel, strip club, street corner, motel room, etc., the fundamentals of the fight are no different from that of other wage slaves. Sex workers need to be able to unionize, as yet there is no sex workers union. While I would love for there to be a sex workers union, I also think the belief that all workers are equal, that we are all wage slaves, that we are all in this fight together and that it is the bosses who are the enemy, make the IWW an ideal union for the marginalized workers who fall through the cracks of the existing trade unions. That said it really is the ideal union for all workers. Actions such as joining the IWW and using the strength of a union, rather than just one’s lone voice, to advocate for change is one way in which sex workers can fight their battle. Another is joining Scarlet Alliance, the national, peak sex worker organization in Australia. Like the IWW, bosses are not able to join, meaning that the interests of Scarlet Alliance are solely the interests of the workers, not those of the bosses or the abolitionists. It is actions like this, actions that empower sex workers, that we need to fight the discrimination and marginalization that exists.

If activists are truly serious about the rights of sex workers they will listen to us even if what we have to say is difficult to hear and they will support us even if they don’t like what we do. It is only when all workers join together that we have the power fight capitalism and the bosses. We do not ask for salvation but for solidarity.

Industrial Worker (June 2012)

Articles from theJune 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

We are the heirs to the Tulsa Outrage

An article by a member of the restablished Tulsa IWW about the Tulsa Outrage, an incident in 1917 in which Wobblies were tarred and feathered by pro-war vigilantes.

On 9 November 1917, the day after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, 16 IWW men sat in a jail cell in Tulsa, Oklahoma. On paper, they were convicted of vagrancy. In reality, the charge was defiance of the capitalist class.

Oklahoma was infamous as a hotbed of radicalism, home to at least three IWW locals and more members of the Socialist Party than any other state. The state’s official symbols– a red flag with a white star, and the motto, “Labor conquers all things,”– made this working-class militancy official. Oklahoma was a place of institutionalized radicalism.

Three months earlier, hundreds of Oklahoman tenant farmers had armed themselves and marched to overthrow Woodrow Wilson and end US participation in the Great War. The Green Corn Rebellion, as it would later become known, was quickly defeated, but it set authorities on edge against radicals across the state. As Judge T.D. Evans, presiding over the case of the Tulsan Wobblies, remarked, “These are no ordinary times.”

The spread of unionism among oil workers and farmers also moved Oklahoma authorities to anxiety. As ever, the press performed loyally, condemning the IWW as terroristic while simultaneously calling on readers to lynch IWW organizers.

“It is no time to dally with the enemies of the country,” read a November 1917 Tulsa World editorial. “The unrestricted production of petroleum is as necessary to the winning of the war as the unrestricted production of gunpowder. We are either going to whip Germany or Germany is going to whip us. The first step in the whipping of Germany is to strangle the I. W. W.’s. Kill them, just as you would kill any other kind of a snake. Don’t scotch ‘em; kill ‘em. And kill ‘em dead. It is no time to waste money on trials and continuances and things like that. All that is necessary is the evidence and a firing squad.”

It was in this atmosphere of working-class militancy pitted against patriotic hysteria that 16 IWW men found themselves imprisoned in Tulsa. With them was one Jack Sneed, a non-member who had been thrown in jail, apparently by accident, during a group arrest of IWWs.

As midnight approached, the prisoners were removed from their cells and driven away from the jail in three police vehicles. The New York Times later claimed that the prisoners were intended to be “taken by a roundabout route to I.W.W. headquarters,” though the IWW Tulsa branch secretary, who was among the prisoners, later told the National Civil Liberties Bureau that he believed the subsequent incident was planned ahead of time by the police.

Shortly after departing, the convoy met a group of armed men dressed in black robes and masks. They identified themselves as the “Knights of Liberty,” which the Tulsa World described as a minor offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan. The police delivered the prisoners and vehicles into the custody of the Knights, who tied the prisoners’ hands and drove them to a secluded ravine west of the city. At the ravine, they were met by a crowd of additional armed Knights.

By the headlights of the police vehicles, the prisoners were stripped. One by one, they were tied to a tree and lashed with pieces of rope until blood ran down their backs. Then came the action for which the incident would become best known: the 16 IWWs– and the one unfortunate bystander– were tarred and feathered.

“After each one was whipped another man applied the tar with a large brush, from the head to the seat,” wrote the Tulsa branch secretary. “Then a brute smeared feathers over and rubbed them in… After they had satisfied themselves that our bodies were well abused, our clothing was thrown into a pile, gasoline poured on it, and a match applied. By the light of our earthly possessions, we were ordered to leave Tulsa, and leave running and never come back.”

In the 94 years following the Tulsa Outrage, the worst nightmares of the Tulsan IWWs became reality. Oklahoma has become the X in “We must struggle so that X never happens.” For many, Oklahoma is synonymous with hopeless backwardness, its socialist history buried by an evangelical state government which, this April, proposed to alter the state motto from “Labor conquers all things” to “Oklahoma – in God we trust!” The Knights of Liberty now run things in the capitol as well as on the streets.

But the red flame of Wobbly radicalism has also returned to the Sooner State. On January 12, the Tulsa General Membership Branch was constituted with 13 charter members from across Oklahoma. We’ve spent the past four months concentrating on the minutiae of establishing ourselves– setting schedules, hammering out meeting protocol, printing assessment stickers, announcing our existence to the community at large and working to clear up misconceptions of who we are and what we’re about.

We’ve also focused on providing training for our members, many of whom are, like myself, quite new to organizing. Since chartering, we have participated in Organizer Training 101s held by the Omaha and Kansas City, Kansas GMBs, and have arranged to send a branch member to this June’s Work People’s College in Minnesota. We’re currently in the process of coordinating our own Organizer Training 101 to be held here in Tulsa later this month.

The Tulsa GMB has taken as its symbol the Purple Martin, a bird known for its alleged habit of spreading rapidly into new areas. We hope that, with the new resources available to us as a branch, we will be able to help spread the philosophy of working-class emancipation across Oklahoma. Oklahoma has never been afflicted by political moderacy. It is a place where the injustices of capitalism are sharply felt. Oklahoma ranks 45th among the states in terms of standard of living and third in terms of incarceration rate, according to the American Human Development Project and the Department of Justice, respectively. The Oklahoman people are impatient for change, and many are ready to mobilize against the immigrants, the welfare recipients and the “socialists” whom they believe to be the primary exploiters within society.

To some onlookers, particularly those unaware of Oklahoman history, reactionary attitude in the state appears monolithic and impenetrable. However, anyone who visits Oklahoma’s workplaces will inevitably hear self-describedly conservative workers express, sometimes in surprisingly specific terms, a desire for worker control of industry. Once, one of my coworkers at a Norman, Oklahoma supermarket, while complaining about our stingy wages, explained to me an idea basically identical to Marx’s concept of surplus value– and this despite her being a self-identified “hardcore Republican.” Some of the people who have been most successfully inoculated against the grotesque strawman of “socialism” are basically in favor of socialistic development.

We believe, then, that another transitional phase may be approaching– that it is not written in the stars that Oklahoma must always be ruled by the spirit of fanaticism and ignorance that incited the Tulsa Outrage. The Tulsa GMB invites the rest of the One Big Union to support us in our efforts to organize a land that is always tempestuous and often hostile, but never without the promise of unexpected new developments.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (June 2012)

Phoenix cab drivers: “We’re 21st century slaves”

An article by a member of the Phoenix IWW about the conditions of taxi drivers in that city.

Imagine yourself as an American slave in the year 1806. After a 17-hour work day, you feel exhausted and hopelessly depressed. Unfortunately, you’ll only get about five hours of sleep before enduring another grueling day of punishment and undignified servitude. This sounds like an accurate description of slavery, right? Now, here’s the shocking part: This scenario is very much alive in America today. Today, these workers are called not slaves, but cab drivers.

For the past few months, the members of our humble branch in Phoenix, Ariz. have been speaking with local cab drivers regarding their working conditions. Each one of them has shared a similarly gutwrenching story. We have spoken with several drivers throughout the valley, but the most disturbing grievances have come from those who work at Sky Harbor Airport. Recently, I sat down with one of them to conduct an interview. I was originally going to keep his identity anonymous to protect his job but he personally gave me permission to use his real name. Hence, I will now introduce you to the world of Kris.

It was a chilly Wednesday night when I met up with him at the airport. I waited patiently in a room specifically designated for on-call cab drivers. The place resembled some kind of torture chamber straight out of a prison camp. The entire room is made of concrete. There are no pictures or decorations anywhere, and two tiny TVs hang in front of the south wall. Many of the drivers play ping-pong to pass the time. I sat down on one of the benches and looked around. It seemed rather peculiar that everyone around me had migrated from an impoverished or war-torn country.

As I sat there waiting, I sparked up a conversation with a gentleman from India. I told him that I was from a workers’ union and that I was there to help. Immediately, his eyes lit up with delight. He gave me his phone number and said he would love to participate. Suddenly, my interviewee showed up. It was crowded, so we decided to go outside. As we walked away, the Indian man thanked me and said, “God bless you.”

We sat down on a bench right outside while the cold wind blew in our faces. The black beanie on Kris’s head almost completely concealed his brown hair. He is a middle-aged man with a wife and three kids. I decided to begin the interview with some personal questions about his life. He spoke with a thick accent and many of his sentences were in broken English. Originally from communist Bulgaria, he came here 15 years ago to live out the American dream. For the past four years, he has been working as a cab driver for the Yellow Cab company. At first, the job sounded promising: You make good money, and you get to create your own schedule. However, Kris’s optimism soon turned into a nightmare.

You rent the car from the company, so you are considered an independent contractor. Ideally, you are your own boss and you make the rules; at least, it appears so. The problem is that the lease rates are way too high. Kris claims to pay $854, which must be paid, in advance, for the entire week. If you don’t pay it by each Tuesday at noon, you are charged a $25 late fee.

There are several hundred drivers working at the airport, and new drivers continue to be hired, which makes business very competitive. On an average day, a driver only picks up about 10 customers. So, for the majority of the day, you are working to pay for your lease. In order to make any money for yourself, you have to work a minimum of 14 to 15 hours a day, and sometimes up to 17 hours. Taking a vacation or a day off is out of the question since you have to pay the lease in advance. Kris said, “You prepay for the whole week. So, if you decide to take a day off, then that comes from your pocket.” Like many other drivers, he only takes one day off a week, although some drivers work seven days per week.

According to Kris and several other drivers we spoke with, the airport contract dictates that about $42 of each driver’s daily earnings goes directly to the airport. Their agreement also includes a point system for the drivers. Consequently, if drivers do something the airport and the cab companies don’t like, they will get points added to their record. If enough points are accumulated, they get summoned to a hearing where they will receive a punishment. Generally, the points are given for petty things. For example, Kris received 10 points for supposedly being “loud and boisterous” in response to an occasion during which he told a customer about his poor working conditions. After 20 points, Kris was suspended for five days.

Strangely enough, almost every driver we’ve talked to has been to one of these hearings. If this isn’t bizarre enough, the contract manager of the city, a man by the name of Louis Matamoros, is the judge during the hearings. He and other city workers are constantly watching the drivers with cameras and harassing them with threats of suspension. The person in charge of this operation is a man named Hossein Joe Dibazar, the owner of Yellow Cab. Whatever he says, goes. As a result of all this monitoring, the drivers are left feeling subdued and too frightened to speak their minds about any negative experiences on the job. Kris says, “You ask many drivers, and pretty much everybody is telling you the same. We’re slaves! [We’re] 21st century slaves!”

As a result of long hours, lack of sleep, constant harassment and unethical supervision, Kris has become a nervous wreck. He is severely depressed and is now on antidepressants. He rarely has time to see his wife and three children. In his words, he “basically feels like an uncle to his kids” instead of a father. This condition is shared by many of the drivers we’ve spoken with.

This is essentially the same capitalist technique that gigantic corporations use all the time. Companies like General Motors (GM) send jobs overseas so they can pay foreigners a measly salary in order to boost their own profits. However, you can’t send the transportation business overseas. Instead, the owners hire refugees and raise the lease rates. Meanwhile, they pay off the airport to help keep the workers quiet and, ultimately, everyone makes some extra cash. You may ask yourself, “Why don’t these drivers just quit?” Some actually do, but many have no choice because the economy is bad and they don’t have the time to look for a new job. Some drivers are used to this type of mistreatment; many of them come from countries where these conditions are completely normal. This is all part of the exploitation: Find a group of people who are already vulnerable, and use them to your advantage.

About nine out of 10 of the drivers we have spoken to say they are interested in forming a union. Unfortunately, many of them are frightened of losing their jobs and seem reluctant at times. We held an “Introduction to the IWW” class a couple months ago and met our goal of getting a few to attend. So, our task now is to motivate these drivers to take the lead in this campaign. Since the drivers are considered independent contractors, they are not covered under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Therefore, our only option is to use the IWW’s practice of solidarity unionism.

While I was finishing this article, Kris informed me that he had been suspended for three months. At first, I was concerned that union activity might have had something to do with it. However, this was not the case; once again Kris was accused of being “loud and boisterous.” I immediately made plans to meet up with him that weekend to get the full story.

It was a warm Saturday afternoon when another branch member and I met Kris and his family at a park. That was the day I realized that Kris is the kind of guy that believes in standing up for himself and refuses to put up with injustice. Consequently, this is what led to his suspension. Apparently, speaking ill of a corrupt industry one too many times labels you a “troublemaker.” Matamoros summoned him for another review, but this time, he was accompanied by “Joe” Dibazar and four other officials. As a result of this hearing, Kris was suspended for three months. A few days later, I met up with Kris again for a photo shoot. He brought a letter from Louis Matamoros, which stated that Kris is permanently suspended and is no longer allowed to work at the airport.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (June 2012)

Reviews: beyond the usual scope of discussion on the working class

A review of Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini's collection of essays, Ours to Master and to Own: Workers’ Control From the Commune to the Present.

Azzellini, Dario and Immanuel Ness, Editors. Ours to Master and to Own: Workers’ Control From the Commune to the Present. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2011 . Paperback, 400 pages, $19.00.

Much recent discussion and scholarship has gone into dissecting the decline in the strength of the working class in the United States. For the most part, the emphasis has been on the steady weakening of trade unions and on excavating why union officials have been unwilling to attempt new forms of resistance. In such a context, discussions of workers’ control of the means of production—how it might look, what about it has succeeded and failed in the past, its relationship to revolutionary change—may seem a stretch. However, maybe it doesn’t. For perhaps what the U.S. working class needs as much as anything is to explore alternatives, not only to neoliberalism, but to traditional unionism, even that of the social movement type.

“Ours to Master and to Own: Workers Control from the Commune to the Present,” edited by Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini, goes a long way in assisting us in that exploration. Ness and Azzellini are well-positioned to put together such an important work; both have long radical histories as writers, teachers and activists. The result of their efforts is a rich collection of stories of workers seizing control of production in different epochs under a vast array of circumstances in numerous countries.

Councils, in a nutshell, are self-management organizations established by workers to administer production, usually in periods of great tumult. They may take shape in a single plant, in an entire industry or, in a revolutionary situation, in many plants and industries simultaneously. Through them, workers oversee all aspects of production including those which, under capitalism, are done by owners and bosses. The forms differ greatly but the common thread is that those who do the work should decide how it’s done.

There are two important themes that emerge as one reads through the cases collected by Ness and Azzellini. One is that many workers across time and around the world have understood better than any revolutionary theoretician that the working class controlling its own work is the way it should be. Second, councils, apart from any trade union or vanguard party, develop spontaneously and organically as the system of private ownership slips into crisis. As detailed in the book, this development occurs so frequently in such instances as to be almost a natural phenomenon.

“Ours to Master and to Own” begins with four overview essays, then moves on to 18 case histories grouped into four fairly loose categories. Significantly, stories of the global South are well-represented, as Argentina, Venezuela, and other historically under-developed countries are home to some of the most important contemporary experiments in workers’ control. With upheaval rocking much of the Middle East and Latin America, these case histories, together with those where councils were an integral part of anti-colonial insurgencies in Indonesia and Algeria, take on an additional timeliness.

“Ours to Master and to Own” also includes a number of familiar cases. Perhaps the three best known occurred in revolutionary (or at least what were perceived by some of the participants as revolutionary) situations: The Soviets in Russia leading up to and immediately after 1917, the councils in Germany during World War I up to the unsuccessful uprising of 1919, and the anarchist-led movement in Spain in the 1930s. Each of these chapters is highly instructive, with nuanced analyses of the wide array of challenges the different groups faced. For the most part, each of these council movements failed simply because the forces aligned against them were too strong. However, there are valuable lessons within each as well that the contributing authors do an excellent job of mining.

Equally important are more recent cases such as Argentina during the economic crisis of 2001, which is compellingly summarized by Marina Kabat. Out of a movement that began in response to neoliberalism, workers took over factories and helped topple President Fernando de la Rua. As the takeovers evolved, workers grappled with how best to affect a degree of control within a capitalist society— something that is no easy feat, and many efforts have failed or have been co-opted. As with the uprisings in the early 20th century, however, there is much in the experience of value. As Kabat writes of the takeovers, “an objective study of their characteristics and shortcomings will help remove obstacles and develop their complete potential for the future,” especially since “[t]he reprise of the economic crisis has opened new horizons for the taken factories.”

Other chapters of note are two from Eastern Europe, one on Yugoslavia by Goran Music and one on Poland by Zbiginew Marcin Kowalewski. Both document ongoing struggles for autonomy in societies that purported to be workers’ states. The class conflict that surfaced quite dramatically in Poland in 1980 with the formation of Solidarity, for example, was the culmination of decades’ worth of work, rather than a brand new phenomenon. In Yugoslavia, Music relates the continuous contention between workers and the state over the form of self-management that lasted until the collapse of 1989.

Then there’s a fascinating case in India authored by Arup Kumar Sen, where workers in a variety of workplaces went head to head with a Communist state government within a capitalist society. Events unfolded much as those in other cases, and workers there faced many of the same obstacles. It would seem from so many examples that vanguardists are right in one thing they know, and that is the revolutionary potential of the working class. That they often fear it and have frequently been, from Lenin and Trotsky forward, as hostile to it as any capitalist is one of the most important lessons of this volume.

Trade unions, including ones of the left, have also frequently opposed working- class autonomy in the form of councils, especially at times of great upheaval. The period when fascism in Portugal was overthrown in 1974-75 is a prime example. As related by Peter Robinson, the alliance the Socialist unions forged with liberal military officials checked the possibility that the Revolutionary Councils of Workers, Soldiers and Sailors might expand their influence right at a point when something besides corporate liberalism was a possibility. Again, as we examine what was, we are left, too, to wonder what might have been.

Overall, though, the tone of “Ours to Master and to Own” is decidedly positive. In chapter after chapter, we can practically see workers contending with the most fundamental of revolutionary questions: What should the kind of society we want look like? How do we best get there? Again and again, as events unfold, great emphasis is placed on process. In fact, in case after case, a successful outcome, however else that be measured, is inseparable from process. Workers went forward as often as not without deeply elaborated theories but with a highly attuned sense that each was responsible to one another as well as to the future.

There is also much strategic discussion in “Ours to Master and to Own” that is of immense value. In a revolutionary situation, for example, do councils pre-figure an aborning working-class state? Or does their consolidation mark the beginning of the end of the state? If the former, what should the relationship of the councils be to the state? Although some of the contributors put forward more decisive answers than others, the overall tone of the book is that these are still open questions to be answered with greater experience.

Inclusion of at least a few chapters authored by workers might have added another dimension to “Ours to Master and to Own.” Workers are quoted throughout and their insights are meaningful parts of a number of the analyses. Hearing summaries and perhaps some tentative conclusions from on-the-ground participants could have provided an even fuller understanding of the subject at hand.

The specific experiences of women in worker councils are also largely invisible in these accounts, perhaps because industrial work has overwhelmingly been the domain of men and the councils largely the domain of the industrial workforce. Still, it would have been beneficial to hear about the role of women in at least a few of the case studies.

Though it is difficult to imagine any popular movement, working-class centered or otherwise, in which women would not play a prominent role, much of the work women do remains below the surface. It is for this reason that councils of the present and the future, at least those that are the most inclusive, may be influenced by cooperative economics, with its emphasis on the citizenry at all levels—be it worker, domestic laborer or consumer. At the same time, analysis that assumes the special role of women may help to bring into being richer, more inclusive council formations.

The wonderful value of “Ours to Master and to Own” is that its contributors collectively wrestle with precisely these kinds of big questions. Who should decide and which factors must be weighed in the deciding? These are not questions with easy answers, after all. “Ours to Master and to Own” is a valuable work. By thinking beyond the usual scope of radical discussions of the working class, Ness, Azzelini, and all of the contributors have provided fresh insights to the gnawing question of how workers—the social force that makes up a majority of the 99 percent—might go forward. Rich in history and devoid of blueprints, it’s well worth studying and discussing. It is all the better that a second volume is in the works.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (June 2012)

Industrial Worker (September 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

Reviving an old tradition of educating IWW agitators: Work Peoples College

A reportback of the IWW's Work Peoples College, a week long workshop and training event meant to spread skills and share experiences within the union.

The IWW is famous for its radical and inspiring history, and so an oftenheard criticism of Wobblies is that we are “stuck in the past,” that 80 years have passed and we are now little more than a “Joe Hill Appreciation Society.” This argument discredits the value of lessons learned from past organizers, both recent and historical. The past has a lot to teach us, as does the present.

None of us are so smart that we can’t learn from what other workers have tried before us. The important part in moving forward is what we do with that knowledge to adapt to present labor conditions. This past summer, Wobblies revived something from our history and updated it to fit our times. That something was the Work People’s College (WPC).

Fellow Worker (FW) Mykke from the Bay Area said he came away from the WPC awestruck by shared knowledge. “Whether veterans or new members, just about everybody had invaluable organizing gems to share with each other. There was a palpable hunger to learn and an eagerness to participate in the group process,” Mykke said, adding that this could be called “thinking collectively.”

The WPC traces its roots to a Lutheran college founded in 1907 for Finnish immigrants in Duluth, Minn. As some years passed, socialists influenced the school, and eventually it was renamed the Work People’s College. By 1921, following the split in the socialist movement along electoral and direct action lines, the WPC became associated with the IWW, which used it to promote theoretical study and the spread of organizational skills.

Wobblies came to the WPC to learn about industrial unionism and the skills needed to be a delegate and public speaker. There were also English classes, readings of Karl Marx and various IWW members, as well as explanations of the structure and methods of the union. The college continued, even as our membership declined, all the way until 1941 when it finally closed shop.

In 2006, the Twin Cities IWW began reviving the WPC in a smaller way. This began as a series of workshops, mainly in the form of one-day educational events and presentations. While originally focused on attracting and building up organizers in the Twin Cities and upper Midwest, the project eventually developed into the idea and manifestation of a six-day event, returning to the woods of the former WPC in northern Minnesota. This time the event was aimed at wider audience: Wobblies throughout the United States and Canada.

This past summer, for the first time in 71 years, this more ambitious form of the WPC took place. From June 30 until July 5, approximately 100 IWW members from across the United State and Canada came to Mesaba Co-op Park. These campgrounds, near Hibbing, Minn., were originally founded by Finnish immigrant communists in the 1930s. In a region where the historical IWW led miners and timber workers in strikes a hundred years ago, fellow workers attended workshops and were able to have conversations with other members across the union.

Gifford from the San Francisco Bay Area General Membership Branch (GMB) was amazed by the conversations he encountered at the WPC. “I slept an average of four to five hours a night, mostly because I couldn’t break away from engaged late night conversations with comrades from all four corners of the continent, like young militant service industry workers from Florida, musicians from Vancouver, Starbucks workers from New York and dual-carding grocery workers from Southern California,” said Gifford. “Hearing in-depth analyses from young and old workers active during the upsurge in Wisconsin, the organizing drives of food service workers in the Twin Cities, and articulate young radicals from across the Midwest. Every one of those conversations was amazing.”

Conversations on the IWW’s present and future stemmed beyond workshops to less structured exchanges at the campgrounds. A lake with a small beach, canoes and fishing allowed folks to socialize. All three meals of the day were cooked from scratch by rotating committees of volunteers. Additionally, the separate but simultaneous Junior Wobblies camp allowed children and young adults to be a part of the week in a way that benefited everyone in attendance.

Malinda from the Pacific Northwest expressed enthusiasm at the WPC’s capacity to bring together Wobblies as a community. “If I had to summarize my experience in one word, it would be: inspiring. Sharing ideas, stories, meals and songs boosted our morale, built a sense of camaraderie and friendship and rejuvenated our will to fight,” she said, adding “[the WPC] provided the opportunity for many of us to heal. It also provided us with the opportunity to strategize on how to improve our branches, our campaigns and our union.”

The structure of the six-day event allowed organizers “to offer an ambitious set of workshops that challenged us all to rethink the way we organize,” said Malinda. Sam from the Madison Industrial Union Branch (IUB) 560 felt inspired and reinvigorated as well. “[The] WPC made it very clear to me that no matter how tough things are in the tiny bubble where our day-to-day life and workplace campaigns exist, we are always amongst friends—even with the distance between us—who are willing to help however they can, support each other and who also know that when they need it, others will help them too,” he said. Sam said he felt the week was “an object lesson in what solidarity really looks like in action. I wouldn’t trade that experience, or the friendships I made there, for anything. I came back recharged, ready to dive back in, head on, into my workplace campaign; motivated to tighten the bonds in our committee, my workplace, and our branch.”

The WPC ran a wide spectrum of workshops in unique areas. Examples of workshops that focused on some practical skills included: Branch Administration, Running a Good Meeting/Committee, Industrial Research I & II, Graphic Design Basics, three courses on Media, and Picket Training. Workshops also shared knowledge of history and theory, including Understanding Capitalism and the History of Labor in North America. Areas of experience in the IWW still in development were also explored, such as Strike Support, Dual-Card Organizing and Power & Privilege on the Committee and Mediation, among others.

Sarah Rose from the St. Louis GMB said her favorite workshop was Building New Members. “We discussed formalizing programs to build up the general membership, being strategic and growing solidarity,” she said.

“The bulk of the conversation was directed into tactics a branch can use to build up new members. This included asking for goals from people who are interested in joining, creating a new member orientation, having regular socials and showing solidarity with each other by the use of time banks, skill shares and gift circles,” said Sarah Rose. “The most important reason the workshop was so enlightening was that the focus was on ways to be strategic while still building up members. Ways to do this include building a branch social map and building the branch on class-consciousness rather than on friendship,” she added.

Brianna from the Kansas City GMB said that the WPC allowed her to be inspired by the shared struggles of herself and her fellow workers. “Seeing so many people that I have only known online and hearing the many stories of struggle, success and failure really reinforced my belief that each and every one of our contributions to each others’ struggles really does make a difference in the lives of workers who are not just workers, but human beings who face daily challenges, struggle to make life worth living, not just for themselves, but for all workers, and feel the same feelings of hope, remorse, joy and pain as myself. My actions or lack of action are part of what determines whether or not someone else’s life is improved and every life improved is a step toward a more humane society. What we do matters, sometimes in an abstract and long term way, and sometimes in a very immediate tactile way,” said Brianna.

For some, the WPC was the first opportunity for those kinds of steps to be taken, as it was their chance to meet and talk to people outside of their branch or region who had been a part of well-known struggles at Starbucks, Jimmy John’s, and New York City warehouses, as well as those who had participated in recent events in Wisconsin and Oakland.

For others still, the WPC served as an opportunity to step up and discover their own strength as organizers. Sarah Elizabeth from Kansas City and formerly the New York City GMB said she was amazed at her own development there. “The Work People’s College was a lot of firsts for me,” she said. “My first experience organizing a project across states, internationally, through conference calls and Google Docs, in a community I’d never lived in, at a venue I’d never seen, and with people I had never met in person and knew very little about. I had to trust my fellow workers completely when they said, ‘Yes, I will make sure that this is ready by…’ or, ‘This person would be excellent at…’”

“I moved to Minneapolis a month before the Work People’s College to lend an extra pair of hands. As someone with a history of working at an infoshop, and hosting skill shares and small-scale events, I figured there would be some way in which I could help out. Maybe some of the skills I developed in Lawrence, Kansas would be helpful? The learning curve during this time was pronounced and intimidating. It required that I ask a trillion questions to catch up. Who is this? What is this? How is this being done? And why? But in true IWW fashion, fellow workers were supportive and patient. They challenged bad ideas in constructive ways and encouraged me to run with the good ones. By doing so, I was pushed to a whole new level of organizing,” she said.

Sarah Elizabeth knows both she and fellow organizers took a chance as she developed her leadership role for the pilot year of the WPC. “This happened with a lot of anxiety about failing and thinking that surely someone more experienced could do each task better than me. But I learned that often the ‘best’ person for a task is the one who will actually make sure it is done and not be afraid to ask for help. We are all teachers and students, specialists and generalists, leaders and workers. Working long nights through stress and unknowns created more than a weeklong intensive training in northern Minnesota; it built a lasting solidarity with other fellow workers, the type of solidarity that can only be built over collective struggle,” she said.

The impact and after-effects of the WPC are still coming into view across the union. Some fellow workers across North America have had the opportunity to participate in building up the IWW’s presence while paying respects to its history, but the legacy of the WPC is not yet over.

With a look to the future of WPC, FW A. said, “It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to meet so many Wobblies from so many different walks of life, but luckily that isn’t the case, and the Work People’s College will be back in 2013. So, if you didn’t come in 2012, come next year. If you did, come back. Together, we can build a better world.”

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (September 2012)

What will it take to organize fast food?

A short article by db on the possibilities for organizing in the fast food industry.

What will it take to organize fast food?

- A union campaign that blasts minimum standards into the popular consciousness and spreads them like wildfire through (social) media and word of mouth.

-A wave of franchise-by-franchise sitdown strikes and occupations that enforce a union and minimum standards on hosts of employers.

- Inspired workers along the food chain and in similar workplaces rise up to demand more.

-Mass pickets, civil disobedience, sit-down strikes and more force nonorganized employers to concede to the union or see their businesses destroyed.

- A series of additional bloody struggles to raise standards and enforce them across the industry are waged and won.

Nothing more, nothing less. Can you feel it? Taste it? Are you loving it?

This is what we might call “sandwiches meets the autoworker” model, inspired by my own experience as an organizer at Jimmy John’s in Minneapolis, through which I saw the need for a more developed strategy of direct action and a need for more concise, winnable demands.

It is also influenced by looking at history, including the book “Reviving the Strike” by Joe Burns, which talks about the importance of strikes in building a powerful labor movement.

While the future is gray, to not shoot for this type of organizing in such an explosive industry is to set ourselves up for failure.

What do I suggest as minimum standards? How about a campaign for $9 per hour, tip jars and dignity, or the ability to call in sick and not have to face harassment or discrimination. What should we use as a slogan? How about “dignity comes between two slices of bread” (because bread can be slang for money)? The dollar amount could be raised progressively, or upped to fit local conditions or a rising minimum wage.

Such an effort would require some beautiful posters to plaster around stores, including a model “code of conduct” that businesses would be forced to agree to.

It would also be helpful to develop some modern day tar-and-feathering equivalent for creepy or racist managers, as an empowering response to harassment. This could be spread through social networks and done anywhere easily. Something like a glitter bomb, perhaps?

After all, we are the IWW, goddamn it! This is what we do. And fast food workers today are almost as broke as the timber beasts of yesteryear.

That said, being in the IWW gives us an additional advantage. We know that the current economic and political order called capitalism is destroying the Earth and that the same can be said for the capitalist food system. So we know that when the time comes we aren’t going to defend the practice of serving the working class diabetes. Instead, we’ll take things over and transform them for the benefit of all, bringing about a new world within the shell of the old.

A working class revolution is possible! Join the IWW! Think outside the bun!

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (September 2012)

What will it take to organize fast food.pdf518.07 KB

The kids annoted preamble

A more simplified explanation for kids by a Junior Wobbly of the IWW's preamble.

This piece was written by FW Sasha, a 12-year-old member of the Junior Wobblies, and was used during his presentation of the “IWW Preamble” during one of the daily political education activities at this year’s Junior Wobblies camp.


In 1905 a group of workers founded the IWW. These workers wrote the “Preamble to the IWW Constitution” to explain why the IWW was started. It was written in 1905, which is more than 100 years ago! So it might be a little hard to understand. Someone wrote the “Annotated Preamble of the IWW Constitution” more recently. This is a little bit easier to understand for grown-ups but it isn’t written for kids. I’m going to try to explain the “Preamble” in a way that kids can understand.

“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.”

There are two types of people in the world: workers and bosses. The two different kinds of people want two different things. Workers want better pay, a shorter time working, better and safer jobs, work that keeps the earth clean and safe, and the power to decide what they do with their work. Bosses want to make sure they get more money no matter how little they pay their workers or how dangerous the work is for the workers or the planet.

“There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things in life.”

It isn’t fair and really just doesn’t make sense that very few, very rich people have everything they want when tons of working people don’t even have the basic things they need.

“We find that the centering of management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class.”

There are other kinds of unions that only organize one kind of job or trade—that’s why they are called trade unions. There are a lot of good working organizers in trade unions, but trade unions themselves won’t lead to a revolution. Trade unions only unionize part of the workers and sometimes they even work against each other.

“An injury to one is an injury to all.”

In the IWW everyone is equal. It doesn’t matter what color their skin is or whether they are a boy or a girl. The IWW is not connected to any country, government, religion or business. If one person needs help organizing, everyone will help. The IWW is one big union.

“It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism.”

Capitalism is the system in which bosses make money off workers. No one can be equal when capitalism is the way the world is run. The reason capitalism thrives is because the bosses have power. They have power because they live off the work of the workers. If all the workers stopped working, the bosses would have no power.

“The army of production must be organized, not for the everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown.”

People should organize not only to deal with the bosses now, but also to get rid of capitalism. We can figure out how things will work when capitalism has been stopped.

“By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.”

How the IWW is organized is the way the world should be organized when capitalism is abolished. By organizing people now, we will have a base to organize from and we won’t have to start from scratch once capitalism has been stopped.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (September 2012)

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)

Industrial Worker (November 2012)

Articles from the November 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

Polarization past & present

An article by J Pierce on the polarization of society during revolutionary upsurges.

Two summers ago, the Phoenix IWW held an event celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Spanish Revolution. That same summer, while visiting a friend, I toured various abolitionist, African American, and Civil War historical sites around Virginia. Meanwhile, the struggle over the rights of immigrant workers in Arizona was heating up and everyone, it seemed, had an opinion on the subject. I think connecting these historical dramas could assist our work in the IWW and the concept of social polarization might be the key.

The IWW Organizer Training teaches that organizing leads to a polarization of the workplace. We must get our coworkers to support the union effort or they will side with the boss. Once the union is public, there is no more grey area. Those who attempt to stay neutral wind up helping the boss in the end. When looking at the broader society, however, does this principle remain true?

Civil War in Spain: Fascism vs. Workers’ Revolution

In the summer of 1936, Spain witnessed uprisings from both the Right and the Left. Military officers attempted a coup d’état while anarchists responded with factory and land takeovers. These rebellions hardened into the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 as the country polarized into not just fascists vs. anti-fascists, but into a three-way war based on competing class interests.

The Nationalists were a mix of contradictory right-wing tendencies. They wanted a radical restructuring of society based on modernist, fascist ideology or a restoration of the Catholic Church, the monarchy and regionalist separatism. The anarchists, in the form of the CNTFAI- AIT (the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, Federación Anarquista Ibérica, and Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores) acted as the pole that attracted the working class and peasants to libertarian communism. The republicans, social democrats, and Socialists, by and large, wanted to maintain capitalism and liberal democracy. The Communist Party, in attempting to gain control of the government, became a pole for politicians, employers and police within the anti-fascist camp.

The divisions and contradictions were inescapable as the war engulfed every aspect of society and forced people of all backgrounds to choose sides. The fascists led an illegal uprising against the elected government and therefore divided Spanish society into camps supporting the republican government or opposing it. The anarchists were in a strange position of deciding how to fight the fascist uprising and acquire arms without reinforcing the present government. Not only did the population polarize over the uprising, but the anti-fascist camp itself polarized over how to respond. Arguments over the CNT’s course of action are valuable conversations for contemporary IWW members.

Civil War in the States: Slavery vs. Freedom

A different type of polarization occurred in the United States surrounding slavery as it led to the American Civil War of 1861-1865. The country divided regionally, between the North and the South, as well as socially on the issue of slavery. Abolitionists engaged in myriad efforts to polarize the nation over the continuance of the slave system. Their task, with respect to whites, was to bring the horrors of slavery into every city and every home, forcing whites to make a choice between righteousness and evil. With respect to Blacks, the task was to arm every African American with the weapons of liberation— be they books, newspapers, escape routes, or rifles.

Similar to the Spanish case, the federal military in the South lined up with their local right wing, in this case the confederate slavocracy, and led a treasonous uprising against their own government. For many whites, the outbreak of war stripped them of their ability to view the conflict from a distance. They were forced to side with either the North or the South, and ultimately, regardless of their own racial attitudes, Worker.with abolition or slavery. For African Americans, the war presented an opportunity to liberate themselves and their kin, either as soldiers in the Northern army or as “contraband,” escaping bondage to cross Union lines. Many prominent abolitionists threw themselves into the Union cause, and thus behind the republican-led government. Notably, Harriet Tubman worked as a scout, a spy, and an army nurse; Frederick Douglass recruited Blacks for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, including his two sons. The early abolitionist movement—a handful of Northern church-goers and pacifists, as well as isolated slave rebellions—might be an intriguing subject for Wobblies who are interested in the development of polarization to study.

Both of these civil wars provide disturbing parallels for our time and place. A frenzied and lawless right-wing element panicked over the changing times’ resorts to insurrection against their own government— one to which they would otherwise profess the holiest of loyalties. It appears, at times, that we are much closer to rightwing rejection of liberal democracy than we are to proletarian revolution. For those of us in the United States, it would be a strange situation to find ourselves on the same side of a struggle as the American government—but it is not without precedent or plausibility.

The IWW as a Pole

The past is often directly in our midst here in the present. At your average gun show in Phoenix, right wingers can be heard berserking themselves for a civil war against the liberals, the socialists, and the Mexicans. Arizona gun nuts notwithstanding, our task as Wobblies is to shift the divisions away from ”politics” and race hatred toward a class-based struggle; the goal being to pit the exploited class—including right wing whites—against capitalism. We need to define the conflict in terms that encourage workers to join our side: slavery vs. freedom; fascism vs. democracy; or perhaps the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent. We must define capitalism as the enemy and sharpen the conflict so that the financially disgruntled elements find themselves, perhaps inadvertently, on the side of their co-workers and against their employers. We must create a situation in which white workers have to decide, “Am I on the side of the bosses and politicians— of fascism, Nazis and slavery? Or am I on the side of working people—of democracy and freedom?”

The IWW is uniquely situated to sharpen this polarization into class conflict. We are the abolitionists and antifascists of our time. We have the power to drive a class wedge into the present turmoil and become a pole for multi-racial, social revolution. To do this, we’ll need to consider numerous tensions: building coalitions vs. relying on ourselves as the IWW; focusing on the liberation of workers of color vs. focusing on turning white workers against the system; illuminating the contradictions in the unions and on the left vs. organizing for mutual self-defense; and continuing a program of union organizing vs. developing a more overtly “revolutionary” orientation.

The IWW is slowly positioning us to be facilitators, if not leaders, of a powerful class movement internationally. We must be ready to become the pole that attracts the revolutionary working class.

Editor’s note: Part 3 of the Building Blocks series on building the Richmond General Membership Branch (GMB) will run in the December 2012 issue of the Industrial Worker.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2012)

Reviews: valuable lessons from the Sojourner Truth Organization

Nate Hawthorne's review of Michael Staudenmaier's Truth and Revolution: A History of the Sojourner Truth Organization, 1969–1986, for the Industrial Worker.

Staudenmaier, Michael. Truth and Revolution: A History of the Sojourner Truth Organization, 1969–1986. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2012. Paperback, 304 pages, $19.95.

“Truth and Revolution” is about the Sojourner Truth Organization (STO), a small radical group based in Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s. Historian Michael Staudenmaier presents a good overview of the political world that the organization lived in. The STO first formed during the tail end of the civil rights movement and the New Left of the 1960s. STO members paid attention to rising black radicalism in the United States and social upheavals in France and Italy. Later, the group engaged with political events, including the Iranian revolution, the movement for Puerto Rican independence, the feminist movement, the anti-nuclear movement and the anti-fascist movement. Staudenmaier summarizes each of these important pieces of history, and his footnotes offer a lot to people who want to do further reading on any of these topics.

IWW members in particular should read this book because the STO focused heavily on workplace organizing and wrote about that experience. I will return to this, but first I want to say that the STO’s flaws make them particularly good for IWW members to read about because the limits and failures of the STO speak to the problems that we are still working on as we build the IWW we want to see. The STO was predominantly white, probably never had more than 100 members, repeatedly split in a way that left them on the edge of collapse and held some really bad political perspectives, tied in large part to their Leninism.

Despite the improvement, the IWW remains a small organization. Our successes are inspiring and exciting but often temporary and partial, while our failures are often heartbreaking for the organizers involved. This reality of our organization means that Straudenmaier’s book offers us a kind of mirror to help us think about ourselves. While the STO was briefly national in scope and engaged in dialogue and published for a national audience, at its largest the STO was the size of a mid-to-large IWW branch today. There are both positive lessons we can learn and inspiration we can draw from the STO and there are negative lessons from which we can learn about things we should avoid.

STO members did some workplace organizing throughout the organization’s lifespan, but the group only focused heavily on this for about five years. The STO’s workplace activity will be familiar to people active in IWW organizing. The group printed and distributed leaflets at workplaces, both where they had members and where they did not, ran workers’ centers that offered legal support, engaged in strike and picket support, and helped create job actions in members’ workplaces.

The STO confronted a few persistent difficulties in their organizing, which also speaks to both the strengths we have and the difficulties we face in the IWW today. The STO rarely managed to recruit members out of its workplace organizing, in part because they weren’t sure how, or if they should even try to do so. Likewise, the organization often built new organizations depending on the facility or company they were organizing in, and encouraged non-members to participate. This approach had its strengths, like placing a priority on collective action, but it had one major downside: it inhibited organizational growth. While this approach seemed like it was based on respect for the independence of the workers involved, it resulted in STO members specifically being able to make decisions that had an impact on the workers without the workers’ input. This happened above all because of the organization’s decision to make workplace organizing into much less of a priority.

One quality of the STO that was both positive and negative was that the organization tried to pay a lot of attention to and analyze changing social and economic conditions. This is important, but the way that the STO did it resulted in a sort of ambulance-chasing mentality whereby the organization repeatedly changed its priorities based on an analysis that assumed that the latest social/economic change meant that something really big was going to happen next. Staudenmaier quotes one former member of the STO who criticized the organization for sometimes having a “get rich quick” mentality whereby the group would drop everything and focus on the latest new development in the class struggle in the hopes of finally hitting the revolutionary jackpot. This resulted in a neglect of long-term organization building, as well as a turn away from the slower but ultimately more productive practices of long-term workplace organizing. IWW branches often have these same problems. This is not to say that workplace organizing is the only thing that matters, but rather that, since we see the IWW as a workplace organizing group, we should make that our main emphasis in terms of time and energy. We should also be very honest with ourselves about what our non-workplace activities actually do to help build the organization and to improve our workplace organizing.

Finally, one of the STO’s most enduring contributions that the IWW can learn from is its writings. This matters in at least three ways.

First, despite the organization’s deeply flawed Leninist perspective, the STO consisted of a group of radicals who were very serious about understanding and analyzing capitalist society. The group’s intellectual efforts were engaged with struggle and were intelligent and thought provoking. These writings remain worth reading today because they convey important information about race, gender, sexuality, and the history of the Left, among other topics, but they also remain worth reading because reading serious revolutionary thought is one of the things that makes us better radicals.

Second, the STO’s collection “The Workplace Papers” lays out views shared within the IWW about the limits of state staterecognized unions and about the importance of building workplace organizations outside the normal labor-law framework. Indeed, when I first joined the IWW in Chicago, organizers in the branch spoke repeatedly of the power of the political and theoretical perspective in “The Workplace Papers” and its relevance for our style of workplace organizing.

Third, the IWW can learn from the simple fact that the STO had such a commitment to writing. Writing helps people think. As individuals, putting ideas into writing makes our ideas clearer, and identifies the areas where our ideas and practices are still murky. As an organization that is too big and dispersed to interact face-to-face or by phone, we can only think collectively by writing, reading and responding, over and over. This is an area where the IWW could improve. While reading this book, I was repeatedly struck by the fact that the STO was doing good workplace organizing of a type that I was basically already familiar with because IWW members are doing this stuff. But I only know about it because I’m friends with a lot of IWW members. By not writing that stuff down (and by not being better about saving and distributing and systematically using the writing that we do produce), we don’t learn as much from it and we don’t share those lessons as much across our organization and beyond, and newer members often have a hard time learning about the IWW’s own activity in our recent past. I was also struck that the STO often had a clearer and better idea of what they were doing while they were doing it, while our organizing is often less theoretically clear while in the middle of our actions. That is actually a strength of the IWW, as it means that we put our emphasis on fighting bosses even if we can’t dot all the theoretical i’s and cross all the t’s about what exactly our every move contributes to ending capitalism. Still, in the aftermath of our actions we could stand to write and reflect more.

I hope I’ve convinced you that this book is worth your time to read, and after you read the book, read some of the STO’s original writing, especially “The Workplace Papers.” You can find them online at If you do read any of this, consider writing a letter to the IW to make some points about it and engage other members in a discussion.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2012)

Reviews: great but unrealized possibilities in Germany

A review by Steve Kellerman of Martin Comack's Wild Socialism: Workers Councils in Revolutionary Berlin, 1918-21.

Comack, Martin. Wild Socialism: Workers Councils in Revolutionary Berlin, 1918-21. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2012. Paperback, 108 pages, $24.00.

In Germany from 1918 to 1921, the possibility of transforming the world was briefly present. Had a libertarian form of workers’ control succeeded in such an advanced and powerful a country as Germany, it would have been able to aid the Soviet Union and help prevent its decline into tyranny. It could further have encouraged similar movements in France, Italy, Britain and even the United States.

IWW member Martin Comack has written a welcome addition to the literature on post-World War I Germany, where the possibility of a substantial and permanent change in social relations was on the agenda. He writes with clarity and is able to describe complex situations in an accessible manner.

In Germany as well as the rest of the world, there existed a widespread disgust with the system which had produced the horrors from 1914 to 1918 and the desire to replace it with a new social order in which such enormities would not be possible.

Comack skillfully delineates the bureaucratic degeneration of the German Social Democratic Party and trade unions during the previous 30 years which led them to become complicit with the Imperial regime and its war.

The trade union officialdom came to be divorced from the union membership through its wartime cooperation with the authorities and the bosses. In response, workers’ committees sprang up to defend the workers’ interests during the hard wartime period and to enunciate radical doctrines of workers’ control. When the war ended in defeat and the Imperial order collapsed, these committees transformed themselves into workers’ councils, moving to take control of workplaces and form a society administered directly and democratically by workers’ and soldiers’ councils. A revolutionary mix of groups, including the Social Democrats, Independent Social Democrats, Spartakusbund (the Spartacus League)/ Communist Party, the Communist Workers’ Party, and Workers’ Councils, occupied the most advanced position advocating and, to the extent they were able, practicing worker control of industry and society. Unable to gain sufficient following among workers, the Councils were forced into retreat and by late 1920 were marginalized by the advancing rebureaucratization of the German workers’ movement.

These experiences subsequently gave rise to the school of Council Communists, the best known of whose representatives are Anton Pannekoek, Hermann Gorter, and Paul Mattick, Sr. This movement teaches that workers’ councils are the natural and spontaneous organs of workers in revolutionary situations. Council Communists emphasize vigilance about carrying the revolution to completion and resisting the pressure of aspiring bureaucrats to force affairs back into authoritarian channels.

Comack should be commended for illuminating a little-known period and movement of great but ultimately unrealized possibilities.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2012)

Industrial Worker (December 2012)

Articles from the December 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

The new rank and file, and the Walmart moment

Staughton Lynd on rank-and-file movements, the IWW and recent union organizing efforts at Wal-Mart.

From the beginning, the Occupy movement has been asked: What are your demands? A more important question is: Is there a way that the dynamism of Occupy and the residual energy of the rankand- file labor movement might coalesce? Most intriguing of all is the query: In that other world which we say is possible, could it come to pass that Occupiers, and the practitioners of working-class self-activity who make up the Industrial Workers of the World, could come to be a single force of radicalism from below?

What Is A “Rank-And-File” Movement?

To begin with, we need to define what we mean by the words “rank and file.” For half a century, the term “rank and file” has most often been used to describe a movement to elect new union officers.

Think of Miners for Democracy and its candidate for president of the United Mine Workers (UMW), Arnold Miller; Ed Sadlowski’s campaign for president of the United Steelworkers; Jerry Tuckers’s run for top office in the United Auto Workers (UAW); or Ron Carey’s successful candidacy for president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The term “rank and file” was even used to characterize the elevation of John Sweeney and, later, Richard Trumka, to the presidency of the AFL-CIO. And countless campaigns for local union office borrowed the words “rank and file” to describe their own election efforts. In Youngstown, Ohio, insurgent steelworkers like Ed Mann and John Barbero called themselves the “Rank And File Team,” or RAFT.

The problem with this understanding of a rank-and-file movement is that John L. Lewis imposed on the incipient CIO a template or paradigm of successful union organizing that has rarely been challenged by subsequent, purportedly “rank-and file,” candidates for union office.

Lewis ruled the UMW autocratically throughout the 1920s. Opposition movements led by socialists were outlawed and crushed. Since then, successful union organizing has been understood to have the following invariable components: (1) The union is recognized by the employer as the exclusive representative of workers in an appropriate bargaining unit; (2) New employees automatically become union members after a relatively short probation period; (3) The employer deducts dues from the worker’s paycheck and forwards the money to the union; (4) The contract forbids strikes and slowdowns for the duration of the collective bargaining agreement and (5) also includes a clause giving management the right to make unilateral investment decisions.

There is a widespread belief among labor historians that Lewis led the way to recognition of the CIO in steel, rubber and auto by a masterful organizing strategy among soft coal miners. Jim Pope, in a series of densely documented articles, has shown this story to be myth. Selforganization and the formation of new union locals among miners in western Pennsylvania were initially opposed by UMW staff. When 100,000 miners went on strike in the summer of 1933, Lewis and his lieutenant Phil Murray (later president of the Steelworkers and the CIO) made deals with the government to end the strikes without seeking rank-and-file authorization. In response, militant miners used their elected pit committees to form a network of resistance.

Roger Baldwin of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) actually opposed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA, or the “Wagner Act”) of 1935, fearing that it would institutionalize and legitimate the Lewis paradigm and thus make impossible a breakaway movement like the Progressive Miners in southern Illinois.

CIO unions in basic industry, despite their insurgent rhetoric, became mechanisms for winning material benefits while simultaneously surrendering workers’ hopes for workplace democracy.

A Different Meaning For “Rank And File”

My wife Alice and I used the term “rank and file” as the title of our first collection of interviews, published in 1973. We defined it in a way that did not mention elections or running for union office. We said:

“Rank and file, in a general way, refers to workers on the job, not paid union leadership. Rank-and-file activity usually means people on the job taking whatever action they think is necessary, doing something for themselves rather than waiting for someone else to do it for them. It means people acting on their own, based on their own common experiences.”

In 2000 we published a second collection of interviews, and then in 2011 an expanded edition of “Rank and File” (Haymarket Books) containing all the interviews in the first book plus eight interviews from the second.

Over time, an oral history in the original “Rank and File” to which we often found ourselves referring was that with John Sargent. Sargent had been the first president of the Steelworkers Organizing Committee at Inland Steel in East Chicago, Ind. After the Steelworkers was recognized by management as the exclusive representative of the 18,000 workers at Inland, Sargent was elected for several terms as local union president.

Sargent’s heretical thesis was that steelworkers at Inland accomplished more before the Steelworkers was recognized as their exclusive representative than they did afterward. The reason, he asserted, was that, as exclusive representative, the Steelworkers, like other CIO unions, gave up the right to strike for the duration of the collective bargaining agreement. Before then, management was obligated to bargain with the local CIO union, but also bargained with the socalled company union sponsored by the employer, “and any other organization that wanted to represent the people in the steel industry.” There was no comprehensive contract covering all those who worked at Inland. As a result, there was no clause giving up the right to strike and the workers progressed by small victories won by direct action.

In putting together our second collection of rank and file interviews, my wife and I became aware that different groups of workers were feeling their way toward re-creating the working-class self-activity, the unionism from the bottom up, that John Sargent experienced in the late 1930s at Inland Steel.

Here are thumbnail summaries of some of the new interviews we added to the original “Rank and File” in the expanded edition.

Vicky Starr, who, in the original “Rank and File,” described how she helped to organize packinghouse workers in the 1930s, told about forming a union of clerical workers at the University of Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s. She said that before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election and before they got a contract, she and fellow workers raised and resolved specific grievances.

Marshall Ganz had been a volunteer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in one of the most dangerous parts of Mississippi. From 1965 to 1981 he worked with César Chávez and the new United Farm Workers (UFW) union in California. Farm workers were not covered by the NLRA, and that left them free to pursue the tactic of boycotting stores in which an employer’s product was sold. It worked. The Schenley Liquor Company, who owned the vast majority of the vineyards, signed a contract with the UFW.

Mia Giunta came from a workingclass family in eastern Pennsylvania. She got a job as an organizer for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). At F-Dyne Electronic in Connecticut she and other UE members rejected the practice of laying off workers in order of seniority. Strict seniority in layoffs meant that the newest hires might be put on the street with nothing, while others— typically white males—continued to work full time and even to work overtime. Mia and her colleagues searched for, and found, ways in which all employees agreed to receive a little less so that everyone could stay on the job.

Bill DiPietro, president of a small International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) local at an automobile sales and repair shop, had a different gripe. He tried to explain to his national union that organizing didn’t work unless the organizer was prepared to stay for a time. “If you aren’t there every day, you can’t do it,” he said. “People will tell them, ‘I don’t want to talk to you. I want to see what you can do.’”

Members of the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association told how new workers’ organizations can reach out horizontally to the community, rather than vertically to regional or national union offices. Students took part in a hunger strike in front of a restaurant, the practices of which they protested.

Youngstown’s Ed Mann became president of a Steelworkers local union. He had to live through the shutdown of the mill without being able to stop it. In retirement, Ed became a member of the IWW. He felt that the union was the people who composed it, and that the unions of the future maybe “won’t be structured as we see them today.”

The IWW And The New Rank And File

The IWW is a natural place to look for the alternative structure that Ed Mann imagined. The Wobblies stand in the imagination of labor people as the embodiment of rank-and-file self-activity. They are understood to orient themselves to folks at the bottom rather than to union leaders and their election contests.

But here we need to be good historians and to recognize an important fallacy in the original Wobbly perspective.

The IWW was formed in 1905 at a conference with one major emphasis, which was expressed in the call to the conference issued in January 1905 by three dozen individuals including Bill Haywood, Mother Jones, and Eugene Debs (see the new edition of “Rebel Voices,” ed. Joyce Kornbluh, page 7-9). Their manifesto deplored trade and craft divisions that broke the workers’ collective “power of resistance.” The separation of crafts and trades was said to be “outgrown” and “long-gone.” It was assumed that the formation of industrial unions would increase class consciousness.

The same theme was emphasized by Debs in a speech he gave in Chicago the next November, after the founding conference. Drawing on his own experience among railroad workers, Debs declared: “We insist that all the workers in the whole of any given plant shall belong to one and the same union.” (The speech is conveniently available in “American Labor Struggles and Law Histories,” ed. Kenneth Casebeer, page 91-99).

The implicit perspective, embodied as well in the IWW Constitution, is that the industrial union form of organization in itself fosters class consciousness, solidarity, and labor radicalism.

But we know now that this is not the case. The United Mine Workers (UMW) was an industrial union, albeit within the old American Federation of Labor. Under Lewis’s leadership the UMW proved once and for all that an industrial union could be just as conservative and undemocratic as the craft unions it replaced.

Only in the past few years have IWW organizers seriously begun a search for new organizational forms and a qualitatively new and more radical kind of labor union.

The examples with which I am most familiar are the Workers Solidarity Club of Youngstown, a “parallel central labor union” that offered significant strike support in the 1980s, and the more recent “solidarity union” at Starbucks establishments in New York City and elsewhere.

Daniel Gross is the principal IWW organizer at Starbucks, and he and I have written a pamphlet called “Solidarity Unionism at Starbucks” available from PM Press in Oakland, Calif.

The main idea is that the NLRA has two parts, and you can use one while avoiding the other.

The part to be avoided, according to Fellow Worker Daniel and myself, is Section 9. This is the section that provides for—guess what?—election of an exclusive collective bargaining union representative, the very practice John L. Lewis wished to make universal.

A recent book by a labor law professor, Charles J. Morris, argues that this practice was not universal when the NLRA was enacted. Morris contends that the initial conception was that an employer had a duty to bargain with any organization of its employees that requested negotiation, whether or not the organization claimed to represent a majority of the employees. This was the practice John Sargent reported to exist at Inland Steel for several years after the Little Steel Strike of 1937. Obviously such a “minority union” could not, practically speaking, bargain away the right to strike embodied in Section 13 of the NLRA for all the workers at a particular worksite.

On the other hand, Daniel and I argue that Section 7 of the NLRA, which protects the right to engage in “concerted activity for mutual aid or protection,” should be embraced and fully used. Section 7 is the basis for unfair labor practice (ULP) charges by employees who are fired or discriminated against when trying to act together in the workplace.

It seems to us that in this way rankand- file workers can safeguard the selfactivity by means of which they seek to address specific problems as they arise, while at the same time avoiding the part of the NLRA that empowers majority unions to bargain away the right to strike.

What Is Happening At Walmart?

The recent upsurge of rank-and-file activity at Walmart stores and warehouses in the United States has not, so far as I know, been led or inspired either by participants in Occupy or by members of the IWW. What it represents is the spread of characteristic Wobbly forms of self-activity to workplaces where those practices arise spontaneously because they speak to the needs and opportunities actually experienced by Walmart workers.

Recent Walmart strikes began among warehouse workers in California, spread to warehouse workers in Elwood, Ill., and finally have begun to appear at Walmart retail stores all over the United States. (The following compilation of facts is derived from a variety of websites and published articles.)

Walmart is the country’s largest private employer, reporting 1.4 million employees in the United States at 4,300 stores. The company claims that full-time employees make more than $13 an hour. Workers say that most of them work part-time for less than $10 an hour. Colby Harris in Dallas makes $8.90 an hour and says that workers need a “buddy system” to make it through “non-paycheck weeks.” Also according to Walmart workers, health care benefits are theoretically available, but they are too expensive and too many hours are required before a worker qualifies to receive them. Sixty percent of Walmart’s hourly employees are women, who brought a nationwide lawsuit against the company that the United States Supreme Court held could not be pursued as a class action.

Meanwhile, Walmart made a profit of $15.4 billion in 2011, and $4 billion in the first quarter of 2012.

In the words of an article by Matthew Cunningham-Cook, Walmart workers “are harkening back to an earlier form of union organization…far more common prior to the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935.”

In mid-September, warehouse workers for Walmart in southern California went on strike to protest unsafe working conditions: broken equipment, dangerously high temperatures, inadequate access to ventilation and clean drinking water. These are temporary employees, hired by a Walmart contractor and paid minimum wage.

Strikers marched on a 50-mile “Walmarch” from their worksite to Los Angeles to raise public awareness. Old-timers may have been reminded of the farmworker pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento in the 1960s. Over 120,000 persons signed a petition supporting the Walmarchers. They went back to work Oct. 5 with a promise of improved conditions. It is reported that workers from different countries marched into the workplace carrying their countries’ flags.

Elwood, Ill., on the outskirts of Chicago, is a strategic link in the Walmart supply chain. Walmart’s warehouse there is said to process 70 percent of the company’s domestic goods. This was what made it possible for a strike by just two dozen workers to be so successful.

Some of the grievances of the Elwood strikers had to do with wage theft resulting from forced overtime and the lack of set working schedules, as well as inadequate safety equipment. These temporary workers have had a hard time finding housing. Mike Compton told a reporter that he sleeps in foreclosed homes. Another worker set up a tent in the woods.

The first step at Elwood was to circulate and present a petition on Sept. 15. Four workers were immediately fired. Other workers walked out in protest.

On Oct. 1, the striking workers were joined by more than 650 community supporters, including members of the clergy, many of them bused in from Joliet and Chicago. Seventeen more persons were arrested in a civil disobedience action planned in advance. The arrestees included national UE Director of Organization, Bob Kingsley.

On Oct. 5, strikers delivered a petition to Walmart management with more than 100,000 signatures. The next day, after three weeks “on the bricks,” the Elwood workers went back to work. The company actually paid them full back pay for the time they were on strike.

One result of this ferment was a meeting of Walmart executives on Oct. 17 with delegations of workers from warehouses in California and Illinois. This was in striking contrast to the past practice of meeting with individual workers pursuant to the company’s “Open Door” policy. Workers also want the Open Door process itself revised so that: (1) Confidentiality is respected; (2) Resolution of issues is put in writing; and (3) “Associates” (as Walmart calls its employees) are permitted to bring a co-worker to meetings as a witness.

Rather than presenting themselves as new members of existing unions, these wildcat strikers have formed new organizations with names like Warehouse Workers for Justice and OUR Walmart (OUR standing for “Organization United for Respect”). It is important to recognize that existing unions, especially the United Food and Commercial Workers, support these new entities in many ways, including financial support, and no doubt hope that Walmart workers will ultimately join the union. But it is equally important to recognize that nothing obliges Walmart workers to join a traditional union, if they prefer to continue their less traditional practices of horizontal mutual aid.

Emboldened by the actions of their fellow workers in company warehouses, Walmart “associates” at company retail stores staged a one-day strike on Oct. 4. More than 70 workers from at least nine southern California Walmart retail stores took part. Using social media, strikers spread the word and a nationwide walkout followed on Oct. 9. More than 200 Walmart workers also showed up at a national meeting of company executives on Oct. 10. “Democracy Now!” reported that they came from 28 Walmart stores in 12 different states.

As I complete this essay in early November 2012, there is talk that if Walmart continues to ignore these bottom-up demands for change, Walmart workers will call for a nationwide boycott of their stores on the Friday following Thanksgiving (otherwise known as “Black Friday”).

Toward Another World

The dramatic saga just narrated should remind us that fundamental social change is unlikely to happen without the working class, and that workers remain capable of acting in the imaginative and irrepressible spirit of their theme song, “Solidarity Forever.”

The Occupy movement is a potential actor in the play. Events at the grain terminal in Longview, Wash., one year ago remain controversial. I think the evidence suggests that Occupy volunteers strengthened the struggle, and that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) settled for too little, indeed that Pacific Northwest grain exporters wish to copy the Longview contract in their bargaining elsewhere.

The main point is simply that change is possible because workers, like others, treasure the moments when they experience the possibility of another world. Archbishop Óscar Romero said shortly before his assassination:

“The so-called Left is the people…We can’t say that there is a formula for moving from capitalism to socialism. If you want to call it socialism, well, it’s just a name. What we’re looking for is justice, a kinder society, a sharing of resources. That’s what people are looking for.”

Trinh Duong described as follows why she became an activist in Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association: “There was something that drew me. It was as if you got a glimpse of something that you’re not allowed to see. I don’t know how to describe it, but I came back.”


Alice Lynd contributed to this piece.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2012)

Remembering FW Adam Briesemeister

An obituary of Twin Cities IWW member and anarchist organizer, Adam Briesemeister.

On March 21 of this year, members of the IWW and broader community in the Twin Cities were shattered by the tragic news that our Fellow Worker Adam Briesemeister perished in a house fire early that morning. It has been very hard to believe that Adam is no longer here. As the year draws to a close, I’d like to take a moment to remember him.

A few days after the tragedy, friends, family members, fellow workers, and comrades gathered in a park in Minneapolis to celebrate Adam’s life and mourn his departure. As people shared pictures and stories, a portrait emerged of a man who was many things to many people- an actor, a friend, an anarchist, a Wobbly, a worker. To me, Adam was a comrade in the IWW, and an actor. He had leaped at the opportunity to play multiple roles in “The Silent Room,” a play one of our branch’s members wrote about his experiences of wage slavery and rebellion at Starbucks and IKEA. He had happily played the parts of both a union-busting lawyer and a rebel café worker, squeezing rehearsals into a schedule already jam-packed with radical projects. Adam never said “no” to an invitation to participate in a campaign, and never backed down in a struggle.

As people shared how they had known Adam, we saw that even as he was many things to many different people, he also touched all of our lives in the same way. It is almost impossible to find a photo of Adam where he is not smiling. He was human like all of us, and I’m sure he had his bad days, but I haven’t met anyone who can remember a single day that Adam was cranky, discouraged, or outwardly pessimistic. Whether he was your friend, coworker, fellow actor, fellow Anarchist, or Fellow Worker, his love of freedom and humanity was infectious. He was a revolutionary to the core. Adam lived without compromise.

We found out that in fact, Adam gave up his life rather than give up his values. He was the first in the house to wake up during the early-morning fire. Rather than save himself, he woke up his roommates so that they could escape safely. He died of smoke inhalation while attempting to rescue the last person in the house, who fortunately survived.

Adam’s death is a terrible tragedy. It is hard to believe that this great comrade is no longer among us. But in so many ways, Adam is still here. Adam’s purpose in life was to inspire and encourage others- to “make revolution irresistible,” in his own words. For many of us who knew him, it would be no overstatement to say that Adam accomplished his goal. He showed us how to live.

I think about Adam almost every day. Whenever I am afraid, or whenever I can’t decide if a risk is worth taking, I ask myself- what would Adam do in this situation? Would he worry about ruffling feathers by confronting racism and sexism? No way. Would he hold back in order to protect his job or ‘career possibilities’? Absolutely not. Would he keep a distance while others put their bodies on the line? Hell no. He would do the right thing, without even stopping to think twice.

He is missed very much by very many. But in many ways, Adam is still among us. Every time we put others before ourselves, every time we do what is right instead of what is convenient, Adam is there. Just as he died so that others could live, it’s up to us to make sure Adam lives on in our hearts, minds, and above all in our actions, for as long as we live.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2012) and reposted at The Organizer on December 16, 2012

Not just “a dues collector”

An article by DJ Alperovitz on the role of IWW delegates.

Over the last few months there have been several Facebook discussions about IWW delegates who have made arbitrary decisions outside of their job description (e.g. not allowing students to join and stalling an organizing campaign). Several times there have been statements made that delegates are just “volunteers to accept dues.” As a delegate who has tried to live up to high standards, I find both these assertions troubling. On the one hand, some delegates are obviously not receiving any training or even reading their “Delegate’s Manual,” and on the other hand, there appears to be a misunderstanding of the position by fellow IWW members.

Delegates have both an honorable, colorful history and an important place in their branch and the IWW itself.

In earlier days when our union was organizing mostly “home guards” (sedentary workers attached to home and a single job often with family responsibilities), prospective new members would make their way to an IWW hall and be lined up by either the branch secretary-treasurer or stationary delegate. This system worked well when building membership in cities, or mill and mine towns; however, it showed its limitations out west with its far-flung railroad and logging camps and especially with migratory harvest workers.

Almost simultaneously in both western Canada and the United States, branch secretaries in towns with IWW halls began delegating members to represent them in the camps and harvest fields. Call them what you will—camp delegates, roving delegates, or job delegates—these dedicated workers would travel, work, eat, and live with the fellow workers. In camps and harvest fields, these representative delegates were agitating, educating, and organizing not only to build the One Big Union of the industrial commonwealth, but for the day-to- day improvement of wages, working, and living conditions, too.

In her speech “Memories of the Industrial Workers of the World” from Nov. 8, 1962, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn described these footloose delegates as equipped with “…a little black case in which they had membership books and buttons and literature and dues stamps and all the paraphernalia of organization and the most remarkable thing was that there was practically no defections. Maybe one or two. One man actually stole money and then afterwards hung himself, I understand. You see there was great devotion and loyalty to this mobile organization of migratory workers.”

In another example, FW Sam Green recently came across a General Organization Bulletin (GOB) from the 1920s. In it a letter mentioned that a named fellow worker was a delegate that had run off with some union funds and if you happen to see him “you know what to do.”

Often these delegates would be holding relatively large amounts of cash, and the stories of their not having the price of a cup of coffee while having union money in their care are legendary. After the harvest when workers’ identities changed from necessary harvest worker to unwanted vagrant, “town clowns” (small town police officers) and the local (in)justice system would “harvest hobos” (a term used for arresting hobos, sometimes at the end of harvest so that the town could collect the fines and court costs, or when a town had a civic improvement project that needed to be done such as road work, sewer line, etc...). As a way of ensuring that fellow workers did not lose their funds, delegates would be entrusted with a worker’s earnings to be wired to an IWW hall where the worker planned to winter. And how did delegates avoid the perils of vagrancy laws and being harvested themselves? Some of them became travelling insurance or farm tool salesmen allowing them to travel relatively unmolested. In the case of Agricultural Workers Industrial Union delegates, they were allowed to keep the 50-cent initiation fee to help cover expenses; expenses being the cost of wiring funds back to headquarters, stamps and envelopes, sometimes renting a hotel room to hold meetings, buying a cup of coffee and a doughnut for the boys during hard times, and sometimes when necessary to protect union and workers funds by having to “ride the cushions” (pay for and ride as a train passenger). These were dedicated Wobs of the first water—class conscious, willing and able to tough out lousy camp and working conditions, and fight to help better the lives of their fellow workers.

Fast forward to today and while most delegates are not hopping freight trains or living in lousy bunk houses, they are still more than just “a volunteer to collect dues.” A good delegate is part organizer, part bookkeeper, part Literature Department, part fundraiser, and all IWW. They are entrusted not only with union funds but also with signing up and ensuring that new members understand our principles and structure. They keep up with union news through reading the IW and the GOB, and work towards connecting fellow workers in their branch to the larger union. Certainly they do much more than just collect dues.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2012)

Is revolutionary unionism undemocratic and insincere?

Nate Hawthorne argues against some common objections to revolutionary unionism. Adapted from a section of his article, Mottos and watchwords: a discussion of politics and mass organizations.

“Instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day's wage for a fair day's work,’” says the Preamble to our Constitution, “we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wage system.’” Some anti-capitalists reject the idea that unions can or should truly believe in ending capitalism. For them, the IWW can either reject the Preamble in order to grow, keep the Preamble but not sincerely believe in it, or keep the Preamble in a sincere way at the cost of being nothing but a small marginal group. These people implicitly reverse the Preamble to say “instead of the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wage system,’ our banners should only pose the common sense motto ‘a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work.’”

These critics sometimes use a hypothetical scenario such as: “If you call for ending capitalism, most workers won’t join because most workers don’t want to end capitalism. If a lot of workers did, the IWW would not have a real collective commitment to ending capitalism because all those new workers would not believe in ending capitalism. Your Preamble will be just empty words. Or the few members who want to end capitalism will control things while the majority who don’t care about that anti-capitalism stuff will have no real input. Revolutionary unionism can be marginal, insincere, or undemocratic, and that’s all.”

This can sound compelling, but let’s look closely. If most of the working class today do not want to end capitalism and are not willing to join an anti-capitalist union then we don’t need to worry about how to keep the organization democratic if large numbers of workers join, because it simply won’t happen. The problem dissolves. Something will have to change before lots of workers start wanting to join a revolutionary union. One possible change is that more workers will decide they want to end capitalism. The problem dissolves again. Another possibility is that many workers will begin to see some benefit in IWW membership, and they pretend to agree with the Preamble in order to get those benefits. That’s possible. Sincerity is hard to test. People might lie. The same kind of problem occurs in any organization. Currently unions often face the problem of having members who aren’t active participants and who lack a culture of solidarity, so that members crossing picket lines and don’t stand with their fellow workers. There’s no easy solution to any of this, it requires ongoing effort. We should also organize ourselves so that the benefits of IWW membership are linked to activities that deepen people’s commitment to revolutionary unionism, and to an important extent we simply have to trust each other. Part of the problem with the hypothetical scenario, “What if lots of workers join, when they don’t actually agree with the Preamble?” is that it treats people as fixed. Many workers today don’t want to end capitalism. If it’s believable that people would want to join the IWW in large numbers, then we should not assume that their beliefs will stay the same.

At the same time, we shouldn’t assume that people’s commitment to the values expressed in the IWW Preamble will stay the same. People are dynamic, which means that we face a more serious problem than “What if workers only pretend to want to abolish the wage system?!” Namely, people might sincerely agree with the Preamble but change their minds later, or they might agree but decide that they don’t want to act on that agreement. They might think one thing in a moment of anger or desperation, but then cool off and change their minds. Many people who have had radical beliefs for many years have thought a bit about what their lives would be like if they had different beliefs and commitments and have seen fellow radicals waver more strongly, and sometimes fall away. Life under capitalism is hard to endure and radical views sometimes make it harder. This problem appears in non-radical unions as well: people get tired of the work, or stop agreeing with the union. Here too there is no simple solution. The IWW will continue to face real problems with recruitment, retention, and member education for the foreseeable future. We can respond to these problems in better and worse ways, and radical critics who reject revolutionary unionism don’t help us to respond better. If anything, they encourage worse responses.

Some people will cool off and move away from the organization sometimes. We should prepare for the consequences this will have. Among other problems, we want to avoid a situation where people become only paper members. One thing the IWW does to prevent this is heavily encouraging face-to-face interaction with delegates in order to join and to stay members. This encourages the organization to be financially dependent on having real members, rather than paper members.

We should have longer conversations about how to reduce the frequency and consequences of people cooling off. Many people who have held radical beliefs for a long time have managed to take the heat of their outrage at the world, their passionate relationships with other radicals and experiences of collective struggles and combine it with ideas, values, and stories in order to create their own internal heat source, so they are less likely to cool off. We need to figure out how to make this happen as often as possible for IWW members, so that as many members as possible will own internal revolutionary unionist heat. One important aspect of this is that joining our organization is or should be an interactive activity. Joining a union can and should involve a frank discussion with a member about why the organization exists, about the organization’s core values, why the person is joining and why the current member is involved. This is a conversation between two people about their understanding of the world now and of the world they would like to see. This way, joining the IWW is a dynamic activity that shapes the direction people move in after joining. After joining, there can and should be educational components of membership in an organization, including written materials, discussions, various parts of the life and culture of the organization, and, above all, relationships with other members. All of this helps prevent the situation described in the hypothetical scenario above, where workers join the IWW but don’t believe in the Preamble. Through these kinds of activities, we practice revolutionary unionism in a way that is sincere, democratic, and continues to become a more powerful presence within the working class.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2012)

Is revolutionary unionism undemocratic and insincere.pdf4.81 MB

IWW report from the 30th SAC Congress

A reportback of the 30th Congress of the Swedish syndicalist union, SAC.

The IWW Norway General Membership Branch (GMB) was invited to send a delegation to the 30th congress of the Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation (SAC, or the Central Organization of the Workers of Sweden), in Gävle, Sweden, on Sept. 27-30. International guests were invited to attend the first two days.

Other than the IWW, members from the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT) of Spain and Die Freie Arbeiterinnen- und Arbeiter Union (FAU-IAA) of Germany also attended. The International Workers Association (IAA/IWA) banished the SAC several years ago and has since not maintained much contact. The FAU-IAA and SAC are seemingly maintaining a friendly relationship, which is promising for the future of syndicalism in Europe.

The town of Gävle is the birthplace of our very own Joe Hill (born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund), and much of the social part of the congress took place in the Joe Hill Museum, which is the house where Joe Hill grew up. The house is now a museum maintained by the SAC. The house is full of IWW items and books, and definitely sets the mood for a syndicalist union congress. The museum gracefully decided to donate a large bag of books on Joe Hill to the IWW in Norway, and we now have a mobile library for members! The fellow workers at the museum also made it clear that the IWW would always be welcome to use the house, and that members of the SAC would be happy to help with planning and accommodation should we decide to have a convention or meeting there.

Amalia Alvarez, from the SAC international committee, introduced the IWW delegates to some of the SAC delegates and the international guests and made sure the stay was great. The SAC provided excellent food and housing.

The congress itself dealt not so much with international issues, but mostly with internal and structural affairs. One of the cases was a discussion on the definition of syndicalism in the SAC declaration of principles. In 2009, the congress decided that syndicalism be defined as a fighting tradition of the working class, removing part of the definition that identified it as an ideology. The proposition was to take back the word “ideology” in the definition. The proposition failed. Never the less, the SAC still defines itself clearly in the syndicalist tradition, and has a structural likeness to the IWW. Other than that, there were some cases pertaining to internal democracy, and propositions intended to increase membership influence.

For those of you that are not familiar the SAC: it was founded in 1910 based on the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) in France and the IWW. Their structure is similar to the IWW’s industrial unionism, except that members are not direct members of the SAC, but direct members of an industrial union branch or general membership branch that is connected to the SAC. There are approximately 7,000 members in good standing, and the 2012 congress devoted itself to increasing membership radically in the next 10-20 years.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (December 2012)


Industrial Worker (January/February 2013)

Articles from the January/February 2013 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

Planks for a platform and a few words about organizing - Staughton Lynd

An article by Staughton Lynd on specific practices and contract clauses that he thinks Wobblies should support.

This is the last in a series of reflections on the IWW approach to workers whom it hopes to “organize.”

The first point is that history offers inadequate formulations of what the IWW is all about.

The formulation embodied in the name and in the Preamble to the 1905 IWW Constitution is that the IWW is an association of “industrial” rather than “craft” unionists. As I have argued, the 1930s proved the inadequacy of this perspective. John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers (UMW), was an autocratic president of an industrial union and passionately repressed radicals. As principal founder of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), Lewis sponsored the creation of a series of top-down unions in the rubber, automobile, steel, meatpacking and other industries. The Lewis model for CIO unions insisted that one union represent all the workers in a particular industry, and that the employer deduct union dues from their paychecks.

Within and without the UMW, Lewis also pushed a particular sort of union contract that included two clauses much desired by management: a clause prohibiting strikes and other disruptions of production during the life of the contract and a “management prerogatives” clause giving the employer the legal right to make all the big decisions about a workplace. Such a contract put in the hands of the employer sole authority to decide what the enterprise should produce, how many workers it needed and, above all, whether, over time, the enterprise should receive new capital investment and expand, or be shut down.

A contract that gives the boss the authority to make the big decisions and prevents workers from doing anything about those decisions by stopping work is not a contract to which any worker should ever consent. Almost every CIO contract contained (and contains today) both a no-strike and a management prerogatives clause. Wobblies were critical of such contracts and obtained the reputation of opposing all written agreements.

The point, however, was not that it is always wrong to write down an agreement, but, rather, that the agreements typical of unionism in the United States routinely contain curtailments of vital workers’ rights. It is the substance of these contracts, not the fact of a written contract, which the IWW and its members have rightly protested.

So, when a fellow worker asks, “What are you guys for, anyhow?” neither the idea of industrial unionism nor a critique of “workplace contractualism” really answers the question. The imaginary dialogue might go like this:

A fellow worker asks a Wob, “So what are you people all about?”

The Wob pulls out a copy of the paper and points to the Preamble on page 3.

His colleague says, “Yeah, I like the spirit of the thing, but we got an industrial union, and it stinks.”

Frustrated, the Wob responds: “Well, we don’t sign contracts.”

Fellow worker says: “In the first place, I heard about an IWW local across town that did sign a contract. And in the second place, isn’t it really a question of what’s in the contract, not whether you write stuff down?”

I am not a member of the IWW and am only a single voice. Obviously, it should be you, not I, who answer these critical and legitimate questions. An important beginning that I notice in the December 2012 Industrial Worker is that, in place of the Preamble written 107 years ago, you have set forth a new statement of principles. It is well-drafted and persuasive. Congratulations!

But I think it might also assist that inquisitive fellow worker if there were a set of specific practices and contract clauses that Wobblies could be expected to support. Here are some possible “planks” for such a “platform.” (I rather like this figure of speech. One takes one’s stand on a platform. It is solid, supportive. Planks are required to give it substance):

1. Above all, every individual worker and every group of workers must retain the right to stop work at any time. Nothing in the Wagner Act, the law that applies to an ordinary private sector workplace, requires a no-strike clause. Beginning with the first CIO contracts in 1937, unions have voluntarily surrendered this essential right for the life of the contract.

2. Contract clauses that prohibit strikes have also been interpreted to prohibit slowing work down. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) does not protect slowdowns. However, slowdowns are essential and workers must struggle to promote and protect this critical practice.

3. Working to rule (for instance, doing everything directed by the company safety manual in a dumb-bunny manner) is an important tool. The late Jerry Tucker made a valuable contribution with his inplant efforts at the Staley corn processing plant in the early 1990s and elsewhere. Remember, however, that Staley also proved that working to rule can be checkmated by a lockout.

4. Wobs need to develop an egalitarian approach to layoffs that protects what Stan Weir called “the family at work,” or more simply, solidarity. We should abandon a mechanical application of seniority in layoff situations that may have the result that older workers (often white and male) not only continue to work full time but may even work overtime, while newer hires (often minority and/or female) are put on the street with nothing.

5. Internationalism is a very serious matter. The Farmworkers under César Chávez informed the federal government of undocumented immigrants from Mexico so as to protect the jobs of Mexican Americans already in the United States. Teamsters and Steelworkers were in Seattle in 1999 so that Teamsters could oppose letting Mexican truck drivers across the Rio Grande, and Steelworkers could advocate, as they always do, a protective tariff on steel imports. We must work toward coordinated strike action that protects workers everywhere.

6. The American ruling class will export to other countries any form of work that is not, by its nature, tied to a particular location. The reason is simple: lower wages can be paid elsewhere. We need to re-conceptualize the centrality of “service” industries such as public employment, work in hospitals and retirement facilities, home nursing, and trucking. Such work is the heartbeat of a community, and includes the things that people voluntarily do for each other in moments of crisis like Hurricane Sandy.

7. In general, immigrants from Latin America and other “underdeveloped” parts of the world bring with them to the United States a more sophisticated and deep-seated practice of solidarity than that which exists among Anglos. All Wobs should learn Spanish.

8. There can never be a justification of two- and three-tier wage scales for the same work. We must champion the old, old principle of equal pay for equal work.

9. When a worker is summoned to the office of a supervisor, every effort must be made to make sure that one or more fellow workers accompany him or her. The NLRB has gone back and forth as to whether non-union workers possess this right as a matter of law. We must try to assert it in practice, regardless.

10. Self-evidently, everything said in the foregoing specific suggestions finds its ultimate rationale in the idea of solidarity. In my experience, this idea is enormously attractive for many workers. The workplace, where we are legally vulnerable and must abandon the rights of citizenship when we punch in, may paradoxically become the place and time where we most fully experience that another world is possible.

I will very briefly conclude by proposing that Wobs, individually and collectively, address the question: What does it mean to organize, to “be an organizer”? Yes, I know that Joe Hill wrote to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, “Don’t mourn for me; organize.” But what did this wandering songwriter and casual laborer mean by the word “organize”? Not, I think, what the organizer who works for a modern trade union means. The organizer for a mainstream union checks in at the motel, convenes an underground meeting of informal shop-floor leaders, decides how best to recruit potential voters, stages a “going public” day when union supporters display buttons and pass out cards…and then, the day after the election, checks out of the motel and leaves town. If the election has been lost, the organizer leaves behind rank-and-file workers whose union sympathies have been made known to the employer and who are therefore vulnerable to retaliation.

This is not what we should mean by “organizing.” In fact, I believe it would be helpful to leave the word “organizing” to others, and to describe what we try to do with a word first used by Archbishop Óscar Romero of El Salvador: “accompanying.” Accompanying means walking beside another person, each learning from the other.

It also means staying for a while. My wife and I have found that staying in one place for more than 35 years gives us an ability to be heard and to be useful. It helps, too, to come to a community with a skill to offer that other people feel that they need.

I won’t say any more about this here because it appears in a new book called “Accompanying,” published by PM Press in Oakland, Calif.

Solidarity forever!

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (January/February 2013)

A few words on IWW organizing.pdf155.63 KB

Entering the majority

An article by Zac Smith comparing politics between Oklahoma and France.

Oklahoma and France are obviously at opposite ends of many spectrums. In Oklahoma, to be a socialist is to be regarded with curiosity and a little hostility, like a follower of an obscure, cultish religion. In France, it is no more eyebrow-raising to say, “I’m a socialist!” than it is in Oklahoma to say, “I’m a conservative!” Among the French, one never expects someone to say, “Then why don’t you move to Russia?” as a response.

Arriving in Paris last May, I was struck for the first time since reading “Das Kapital” with the sensation of being not entirely outside the political mainstream. Descending into the Métro, I saw an antipolice graffito signed with a hammer and sickle. On a subway car, I noticed a man reading Lenin’s “The State and Revolution.” He did not look like a student intellectual or a bohemian. On a train to Lille, my neighbor finding that I was American, delivered a long and complicated lecture on the principles of socialism, mostly designed to dispel the impression that socialism was synonymous with Stalinism, to which I listened patiently. This was all within the first few weeks following my arrival, and soon these things no longer seemed remarkable.

The moderate socialists I met in France had something in common with our conservatives. They displayed a casual openness about their beliefs. Even members of the Parti Communiste—a small group relative to the far more conservative Parti Socialiste— explained themselves in this easy, frank way.

Even the most confident and well-read American socialists have to declare their beliefs knowing that, likely as not, they’ll be met with a stream of wildly misinformed objections. In this environment it becomes common practice to express one’s views in a way that anticipates these objections and attempts to head them off. It is a rare person who can, having grown up in the United States, publicly express a belief in socialism without some degree of defensiveness.

However, in France the chaussure is on the other foot. One of the very few French Protestants I met, a very neatlygroomed student with whom I had lunch in a Vichy café, explained his views to me in the same defensive, uncomfortable manner common to American leftists. He was a supporter of the Front National, a major right-wing party whose platform revolves around blaming Muslim immigrants for all of society’s problems. He hastened to explain to me that Muslims make up the majority of France’s prison population and that the Front National had achieved a strong 20 percent in the last presidential election. Of course, in Oklahoma, no Republican would feel the need to follow up “I’m a Republican!” with “also, a conservative Republican candidate got 48 percent in the last election!”

It’s clear which attitude conveys a more appealing impression. Maybe then, as difficult as it may be to listen to the same ridiculous objections unfold over and over without interrupting, it is necessary to establish a relationship that is not adversarial.

Those of us who were not born into a radical household must remember the mistaken ideas we had before we discovered socialism. Just a few years ago, I believed that communism meant totalitarianism and, for some reason, that Marx and Lenin were contemporaries. In order to reach out to members of the mainstream we must engage them patiently, remembering that even though we may have heard their objections with monotonous regularity, it may be the first time they have had a chance to voice them.

We who wish to grow to a majority could benefit from carrying ourselves as if we already had.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (January/February 2013)

Reviews: “Singlejack Solidarity” teaches valuable lessons for the working class

Patrick McGuire's review of Stan Weir's book, Singlejack Solidarity.

Weir, Stan. Singlejack Solidarity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. Paperback, 400 pages, $19.95.

There are a handful of books that I believe every Wobbly should read. Some, like Joyce Kornbluh’s “Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology,” do an amazing job capturing the history and culture of our union. Others, like Staughton Lynd’s “Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding The Labor Movement From Below,” explain the current shortcomings of the labor movement and point to a constructive way forward. After having recently finished Stan Weir’s “Singlejack Solidarity,” I think I need to add another book to my must-read list.

Stan Weir was a “blue-collar intellectual and activist publisher” who lived from 1921 to 2001. Weir worked as a seaman, auto-worker, Teamster, house painter, longshore worker and, finally, as a professor of labor and industrial relations. Throughout his career, Weir was a rank-and-file activist and had the fortune to participate in many important struggles that shaped the labor movement and the political left in the post-war United States. In short, he didn’t study working people from afar, but struggled with them. As a result, in his writings we find some of the best and most concrete ideas on “building the new society within the shell of the old” as developed by one of America’s finest organic intellectuals.

“Singlejack Solidarity” is a collection of Weir’s writings which span the period of 1967 to 1998 and cover a range of topics such as working-class culture, the influence of automation, the role of vanguard parties, primary work groups, and business unionism. George Lispitz of the University of California should be commended for editing such a useful book and making Stan Weir’s writings available to the public.

First off, the book takes its name from a term used by hard-rock miners in the American West. These miners worked in pairs to drill holes for dynamite. One worker would kneel and hold the steel drill while the other would swing the sledge hammer (or single jack). Work partners would often build up trust and friendships due to the skill and danger inherent to their work. Organizers in the Western Federation of Miners and the IWW started to use the term “singlejack” to refer to their way of organizing that emphasized slowly building one-on-one relationships. This wisdom still speaks to us today as we talk about “organizing the worker, not the workplace.” We want to develop union members who take the union with them to whatever workplace they may be in. We know that no campaign or job action can be won without face-to-face contact with our fellow workers.

The topic which looms largest in “Singlejack Solidarity” is the longshore industry in which Weir spent a key portion of his working life. Weir was active in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and had the benefit of working with many “‘34 men,” or workers who had participated in the great 1934 strike. From these workers, Weir learned the history of workers’ resistance in the longshore industry. Weir was most impressed by the dockworkers’ victory which eliminated the “shape-up” system, in which bosses hired workers for halfday shifts by making the workers stand around in circles on the dock. Longshore workers replaced the arbitrary “shape-up” with a union-run hiring hall that included a “low-man out” system which democratized shifts and workloads. For Weir, this is one of the most important examples of workers’ control in the history of American industry.

Weir also spends a great deal of time investigating the influence of “containerization” on the ports. He examines the ways in which a workplace that was once characterized by cooperative work teams (unloading the holds of ships) was broken apart and its workers atomized by increasing use of mechanization and the standardization of shipping containers. The role of the ILWU in only half-heartedly resisting this process is outlined in great detail, as Weir points out how the union was weakened by creating second-tier members, or “B-men.” These ideas should ring true for Wobblies today as we see the effects of two-tier wage schemes being agreed to in concession bargaining. As my own experience in a United Food and Commercial Workers shop has confirmed, these types of deals are corrosive to the solidarity which should be built in a union. Weir’s analysis of automation and technological change can also inform our understanding of how our workplaces are changing today. How is capital currently seeking to increase efficiency and profits at our expense? And, to follow Weir’s arguments, how can we best resist in order to “humanize the workplace”?

The true gem of this collection is Weir’s essay, “Unions With Leaders Who Stay on the Job,” and it is worth picking up “Singlejack Solidarity” for this essay alone. In it, Weir tells the inspiring story of how he participated in a workplace action while employed as a seaman in 1943. Weir and his fellow shipmates pulled a quickie strike where they refused to re-board their ship until better bedding, food, and supplies had been provided. From the reaction of the infuriated captain to the working-class education provided by the experienced sailors to the newest workers on board, this story is brimming with specifics on what direct action at the point of production can, and should, look like. And it also demonstrates how workers can get the goods without going through disempowering third parties. In fact, it is experiences such as this one which shape Weir’s critique of the labor movement due to its bureaucratization and timidness. The alternative which he lays out, of a democratic union movement which is based on the self-activity of the rank and file, is very much in line with the “solidarity unionism” approach which we have been building in the IWW.

The above are just a few of the topics discussed by Stan Weir in “Singlejack Solidarity.” He also recounts his experiences in and eventual disillusionment with various vanguard parties of the left as well as his friendships with such figures as James Baldwin and C.L.R. James. My only criticism of this book would be that there is significant overlap between the content of many of the selections (when you finish reading you will feel like you have a really good grasp on the longshore industry), but this can be forgiven because Weir never intended that these writings to be read as a collection and he wrote about what he knew best.

“Singlejack Solidarity” is exactly the type of practical, insightful and encouraging writing about working-class struggle that we need. It addresses some of the most important questions about how we organize and how to build a revolutionary labor movement which can abolish wage slavery. I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy and pass it on to a fellow worker.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (January/February 2013)

Industrial Worker (April 2013)

Articles from the April 2013 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

Staughton Lynd responds to Counterpoint on “Planks”

Staughton Lynd's reply to Arthur J. Miller's response to "Planks".

Long live free speech and comradely disagreement! Rosa Luxemburg wrote from prison: “Freedom is always freedom for the one who thinks differently.”

However, sometimes there are misunderstandings that can be cleared away. I think I may not have made clear my two main points and that FW Miller may have misunderstood them in his response to my piece, “Planks For A Platform And A Few Words About Organizing,” titled “Counterpoint On ‘Planks For A Platform,’” which appeared on page 3 of the March IW.

First, I am not saying that industrial unions have been “corrupted.” I am saying that the 1905 Preamble assumes that if the labor movement can reorganize on a basis of industrial rather than craft unionism, the new industrial unions will practice solidarity, and that history has shown this assumption to be mistaken.

I offer the United Mine Workers as an example of an industrial union that was in many ways top-down and anything but radical in 1905, and became even less radical in the 1920s when John L. Lewis became its president. Lewis, as initiator of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), implanted in CIO contracts from the very beginning the key ideas of (1) a management prerogatives clause that gave management a free hand in making the big investment decisions, including closing a plant and moving capital overseas, and (2) promising not to strike during the duration of the contract, thus depriving workers of the opportunity to fight back.

An interesting sidebar to our discussion is that in those same years Lenin, in exile in Siberia, read the Webbs’ books on British trade unionism and concluded that conventional labor unions, left to their own devices, would not seek radical structural change. I suggest that his diagnosis was correct but his remedy, the vanguard party, was a disaster.

My second main point was that Wobs might help their fellow workers to understand what the IWW was up to if there were a list of particular practices and demands that the IWW advocated. Brother Miller agrees with most of them, but comments repeatedly “nothing new there” or “we have known this for a long time.” Of course. That’s the point. I offered a list—and there was nothing sacred about this particular list—of practices and demands that we know about but that fellow workers don’t necessarily understand that we advocate. I think having such a list to pass on to fellow workers might elicit the response, “Well, yeah, I agree with that. What else do you stand for?”

Finally, be fair. I didn’t and don’t ask anyone to define themselves as an “accompanyingist.” I said that the labor movement might accomplish more if, instead of trying to “organize” people we sought to “accompany” them, that is, to walk beside them, sharing ideas on a basis of equality.

Staughton Lynd, just an old retired historian and lawyer

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (April 2013)

Reviews: a primer on anarcho-syndicalism for all to read

Lou Rinaldi reviews Solidarity Federation's Fighting For Ourselves: anarcho-syndicalism and the class struggle.

Fighting For Ourselves: anarcho-syndicalism and the class struggle. London: Solidarity Federation and Freedom Press, 2012. Paperback, 124 pages, £6.

The new book from the U.K.-based anarcho-syndicalist group, Solidarity Federation (SolFed), is an excellent primer on anarcho-syndicalism for those interested in the subject. What SolFed has done is put together something concise and readable that isn’t clotted with jargon and slogans. While the IWW has never been an anarchist organization, SolFed’s form of syndicalism clearly takes influence from the IWW’s work developing a democratic union.

Bringing Our Politics Up To Date

The purpose of this text isn’t to give us a history lesson, necessarily, but to give us tools to analyze methods and practice and assess how well they worked. Solidarity Federation remarks early in the text that they are “not in search of blueprints but inspiration,” looking for a “revolutionary theory [that] keeps pace with practical realities and remains relevant [...] to our everyday lives.”

To many both in our milieus and out, unions, including revolutionary unions, are an anachronism of the Old Left and the failed workers movements of the past. But for SolFed, the important thing to remember is what has been effective, not for securing our place within the confines of capitalism, but to push beyond them and to not separate our revolutionary politics from our day-to-day organizing. For Wobblies in the shop, we soon find that we can’t hide who we are and be successful. We’re a revolutionary union and we want the abolition of the wage system. We don’t lead every situation with the black and red, but it informs why and how we organize the Wobbly way.

SolFed puts forth an analysis of the material conditions that existed previous to the present and how this has culminated into the crisis of today. They focus specifically on the casualization of labor since the late 1970s, and taking astute notes from the past, SolFed puts forward the idea of organizing not only on the shop floor but through grievance-based solidarity networks. Rather than have separate organizations, they believe we should do this work through our own unions. For the IWW, initiatives like this can be seen in the establishment of new commitments to industrial organization like the IWW’s Food and Retail Workers United. Efforts like this will hopefully open up opportunities not limited to a shop-by-shop approach, but a true union for all workers. In this respect SolFed’s book articulates theory and practice already being undertaken by some parts of our organization.

Our Organizing Is A Revolutionary Practice

One aspect I think is important in this book is its commitment to having politics. In particular, “Fighting For Ourselves” affirms that the practice of solidarity unionism is a commitment to having revolutionary politics. It is our revolutionary practice, and it is the historically most useful revolutionary practice of the workers’ movement.

In particular, SolFed advocates that the best aspect of an organization like a union is its associative rather than its representative function. This is one of the most useful political statements that we as a union can adopt. At its very core it means “we are the union,” but it goes beyond this into a broader political argument for shop-floor direct action as opposed to contract fights. For SolFed, and similar to the way the IWW has practiced unionism, the associative function of a union “is the means by which workers relate to one another.” SolFed describes this as the most basic way a union is formed: workers have power together, so they show solidarity together.

The other function, the representative function, is when unions become bureaucracies by which workers are represented to the boss. Their critique of this type of unionism is that it believes in the legitimacy of having a class-based society and it often waters down its politics to simply bread-and-butter issues without a larger social program. The IWW does neither.

Despite an almost nonstop critique of the IWW, from both Left groupings and the Right—that our failing has been not going for contracts—we can turn this into our strength and SolFed’s book helps us articulate this. They argue that an approach that emphasizes building the union into a representational organization, by mediating labor and management through a contract, actually hurts organizations’ ability to have active and militant memberships. It makes them reliant on bureaucracies and minimizes militancy to the contract. We’ve seen the results in the AFL-CIO. By joining together as workers, on the other hand, that push for a revolutionary politic in our everyday lives, we change the very dialogue on what a union can and should be. Furthermore, we become a more realistic organization, one that understands ebbs and flows of struggle, rather than a number-obsessed party-building union.

Recommended Reading

“Fighting For Ourselves” is a good read that IWW members should consider picking up. Perhaps what struck me the most about it was that despite some disagreements here or there, it presents a call to organize in accessible terms. It took complex systems and broke them down for me. It could potentially become a good educational tool for IWW members, because as we move forward as an organization we need to not just recruit members, we need to create Wobblies. As an organization this means we need to become a thinking organization that is not afraid to have political conversations.

“Fighting For Ourselves” is the type of book I would recommend as a follow-up to classics like Rudolph Rocker’s “Anarcho- Syndicalism: Theory and Practice.” I think the two would complement each other well in succession.

We should be taking in books like this, as well as other readings, and incorporating them into our educational and organizing practices. Printed materials like “Weakening the Dam,” “Direct Unionism,” and “Dismantling Capitalism, Dismantling Patriarchy,” should all be recommended reading for us. Wobblies should also be interested in learning about our history so that we can move forward. Check out “Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism” about the syndicalist movement worldwide, or “Truth and Revolution: A History of the Sojourner Truth Organization, 1969–1986.” We all know that you have to think before you act, and so we should.

“Fighting For Ourselves” is available from thoughtcrime ink, an IWW printing collective in Edmonton, Canada. Their website is

Industrial Worker (May 2013)

Articles from the May 2013 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

Some notes on the Spanish situation

An article by José Luis Carretero Miramar on austerity in Spain and the response.

It is evident that the social situation in Spain has arisen in an uncontrollable dynamic. As a result of an unprecedented financial and economic crisis, the productive and social dismantling caused by the government’s Plans of Adjustment imposed on the population is reaching unsustainable levels.
The equation has been simple: the gigantic Spanish construction bubble, swollen at its base with private external debt by some extremely voracious financial entities, aligned with a political class that is a product of the reform without rupture of franquismo, of which consisted the so-called “democratic transition,” has burst with the heat of the global financial crisis of 2007. Its implosion has been confronted, moreover, with distinct mechanisms of the socialization of said debt, like the European line of credit of €100 billion conceded to rescue the banks, and indirectly guaranteed by the state.

Basically, they are trying to make the whole of the population (and, principally, the working class and the most vulnerable sectors of the middle class) pay for a debt that has risen to a difficult to determine amount, but impossible to repay. In these moments, the Plans of Adjustment implemented, which follow the neoliberal orthodoxy, are causing a complete collapse of the basic pillars of the so-called Social State (which, as an aside, never actually developed toward European standards in Spain), with an absolute lethargy of economic activity which is expressed in devastating statistics like a year-to-year sales decrease of at least 12.6 percent or a decline of state revenue intake by close to six points of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the last year.

Of course, this suicidal (because it becomes evident that the debt cannot be repaid) and profoundly antisocial strategy is having undeniably radical effects. The unemployment rate has exceeded 25 percent of the active population; close to 20 million people (more than 40 percent of the population) live in economically precarious conditions; there are 1.7 million households with all of their members unemployed; and 63 percent of said unemployed no longer receive any benefits.

On top of that, the bursting of the real estate bubble has pushed a catastrophic situation on a large part of mortgage debtors who bought a house at the height of the cycle and now, in light of the explosion of the unemployment and the economic lethargy, cannot pay. There are over 500 evictions daily, with more than 95,000 in the last six months, and the suicides of people evicted from their homes are beginning to multiply.

Not everybody, of course, loses with the crisis: the historic gap between the parts of the national renting market in the hands of wage earners and in the hands of the business owners is rapidly closing.

Wages in 2006 stood at 47.26 percent of GDP, and the rate of profit at 41.43 percent. In the last quarter of 2012, the difference has virtually disappeared, since wages now stand at 45.3 percent and corporate profits at 45.2 percent. In that respect, one must keep in mind that more than 90 percent of the private debt that is being socialized and, as such, paid by all tax contributors, belongs to the financial entities and the large businesses of the IBEX-35 (the benchmark stock market index of the Bolsa de Madrid, Spain’s principal stock exchange), while 85 percent of employment corresponds to the small and medium businesses that are severely suffering from the implemented Plans of Adjustment.

Furthermore, the austerity measures put in place unload their weight on the weakest: pharmaceutical copay; the privatization of hospital and ambulatory management; the disappearance of health benefits for irregular immigrants; education cuts expressed in thousands of firings and a rise in tuition at the universities and technical schools; repeal of the Dependency Law, destined to favor people caring for disabled people; the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of public sector workers and accelerated privatization of state businesses and services; labor market reform that implies an almost chaotic drift toward a flexibility without brake and a clear reinforcement of business command; the dismantling of collective bargaining, prioritizing its decentralization and the possibility of lowering its conditions at the will of the boss. All of this appears to constitute an enormous offensive that wants to profoundly transform the basics structures of Spanish society.

Of course, resistance has come quickly. Following the surprising and magnificent eruption of the discontented multitudes in the streets on May 15, 2011, the demonstrations and protests have become massive, although, too many times, disconnected and disorganized. We are part of the formation of a parallel social block constructed in the environment of the assemblies of the 15-M Movement (the movement in favor of a new constituent process), the struggles against privatization and the affirmation of the radical sectors of social movements and the labor movement. At the same time, the major unions, tremendously bureaucratized, try to maintain their power through a strategy consisting of putting themselves at the head of the mobilization: when the rebellious wave rises, wearing them down and impeding their coming together, and abandoning them when the wave falls.

Against this background of emergency and rekindling of struggles, of rediscovery of the tactics of assembly and ground-up popular movements, the non-authoritarian movement seems well-placed, with its practices and discourse, to present itself to and fill a gap in the social consciousness. The effective cooperation of syndicalist organizations (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo [CNT], Confederación General del Trabajo [CGT] and Solidaridad Obrera) and their relationship with other militant unionists, has momentarily favoured a trend which paves the way for the autonomous and libertarian “scene,” and its ability to influence the aforementioned social milieu around the 15-M that has already spontaneously adopted the practice of assemblies

These conditions impose the necessity of constructing, creating and maintaining an open and conspiratorial position that permits building a grand alliance that raises the foundations of the beginning of a process of social transition, whose necessity is each time more shared in front of the global and ecological crisis in progress, toward another mode of life and of production in which the dignity and the freedom of the masses is the center of a vital transformational experience.

Translated by Daniel Perrett

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (May 2013)

Spain: mainstream unions support big business, CNT fights back

An article by Brandon Oliver about the CNT's response to austerity in Spain.

Easter week, one of the busiest travel weeks in Spain, was supposed to see three strike days at Iberia Airlines, the country’s flagship carrier. This strike was called by the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), a revolutionary anarchosyndicalist union with which the IWW has a long history of mutual support, and Coordinadora Estatal del Sector Handling Aereo (CESHA), a baggage handlers’ union which is not political, but which rejects state funding and professional union staff, and operates through assemblies.

The goal of the strike was to continue a series of mobilizations that have been building since Iberia was bought by British Airlines and the new holding company, IAG, announced a plan at the end of 2011 to spin off a new “low-cost” carrier, IB Express. Originally this plan was supposed to preserve existing jobs and create 500 new ones, but as time went on it became clear that this was a way to restructure capital and discard as many workers as possible.

Of course, in a country with a 25 percent unemployment rate, the workers did not accept this without a response. Although there has historically been a large divide, with the pilots seeing themselves as separate from the ground staff and flight crew, there was a possibility for united action. The pilots struck at the end of December 2011, and in January 2012 the two majority unions, the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) and the Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), worked with the large range of smaller unions that are present in Iberia to call for a strike of all staff—which was then sabotaged when the two majority unions called it off. However this backfired when the CNT branch in Iberia was able to form a coalition with the other minority unions and escalate the fight, beginning with a march of 1,500 workers and supporters (two of whom were IWW members who happened to be in the area) that same month in Madrid.

This mobilization has continued, with the minority unions gaining increasing support from the workers as the majority unions revealed just how yellow they were, up through March of this year. At that point, with the threat of united strike action by all of the unions, the government stepped in and imposed mediation. In the midst of large daily mobilizations around the airport, the majority unions signed an “agreement” which includes 3,141 layoffs and fierce cuts against the workers who will remain. The CNT and CESHA declared a strike in response, but they were unable to persuade any of the other minority unions to join them, so they abandoned it for the time-being. To drive the nail in the coffin, Iberia is prosecuting those two unions for declaring an illegal strike, and has fired the 14 members of CESHA’s strike committee (five of whom have since been reinstated) and seeks to do the same to the CNT.

Why is this important for IWW members? The landscape of labor law, union politics and social history in Spain is very different from the Anglo world where the IWW is rooted. Furthermore, Iberia is one very specific company, and there are certain factors that have allowed the CNT to have a more effective presence there than they have elsewhere. However, the CNT at Iberia can serve as a good model for what a small revolutionary union which seeks to grow should be doing.

The Spanish dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975; the CNT, having been illegal during his reign, was re-established quickly afterwards and was tightly linked with a quickly growing workers’ movement that worked through assemblies and rejected paid staff and government mediation, as well as political party manipulation. Many of these workers’ struggles took place at the Madrid-Barajas Airport, where a CNT branch was founded the next year. In order to restore social peace, in 1977 the Spanish government worked with the main “Left” parties to create the Moncloa Pacts, the Spanish version of the National Labor Relations Act. This sought to channel all union activity through parliament-style elections, which allow for the existence of many unions. The unions receive money from the government based on how many votes they receive, and paid union time for officers from the company. Although there is no dues check-off and membership is completely voluntary, the result is similar—the unions become structurally separate from the workers and identify with the interests of those who sign their checks.

The CNT was the only major union at the time to reject this agreement, although a minority left to become what is now the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT). Following this there were several decades of government repression, relative social peace and media and political party manipulation, amongst other things. Finally around the turn of the millennium the CNT began to have more of an echo among workers who wanted to organize without subsidies or staffers. Relative to the IWW, the CNT is very large—about five or six times our membership in a country with a population comparable to California’s. Nonetheless, it is still very much a minority union, one of many. The section at Iberia, which is relatively strong and active in many parts of the company, is somewhat exceptional, and the comrades there give part of the credit to the elitist pilots’ union, which boycotts the elections and negotiates directly with the company, although probably for different reasons than the CNT.

So what do you do when the country’s economy collapses and the main political parties and their unions are negotiating with the European Union (EU) about how best to sell off all of the public services and rapidly nullifying practically the entire code of labor law? This is a discussion that is happening within the CNT and elsewhere, including within our organization, and it’s an important one. What the CNT has been doing at Iberia for 35 years seems to be a good model, a balance between two extremes that are often proposed: a closed “revolutionary political organization” or a semi-radical “mass movement.” A revolutionary union does not need to encompass the entire working class, but it also should not confine itself to workers who are already radical. It can act as a fighting organization on the shop floor (what “union” used to mean) and at the same time maintain a higher vision of a struggle against capitalism. This is not merely theoretical—it will have profound impacts on how an organization goes forward. Even if a revolutionary union preserves its specific identity, which it should do, it can also act as a catalyst among other workers’ groups, working-class organizations, and the broader working class in general. None of us know the best way to do this yet, but the CNT section at Iberia is showing one route to get there. As global capitalism tries to throw Spain in the same trash pile as Greece, the CNT might be able to act as a catalyst turning things in the other direction.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (May 2013)

Industrial Worker (June 2013)

Articles from the June 2013 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

What’s needed for effective industrial unionism

A response by Arthur Miller to “Staughton Lynd Responds To Counterpoint On Planks”, which appeared in the April 2013 Industrial Worker.

I do not misunderstand Staughton Lynd, I just have a different point of view. If our Preamble only spoke of industrial unionism I could understand his point of view, but it includes much more. Yes, the United Mine Workers (UMW), as is most all industrial unions in the AFL-CIO, is a far too top-down organization. That is not the fault of industrial unionism, but rather the fault of top-down unionism, of which the trade unions are mostly the same.

Still, even there I would say having industrial unions is far better than trade unions. I know this firsthand because since 1972, for the most part, I have belonged to other unions besides the IWW. Most of them were trade unions. In construction trade unions, they have been forced to create a bit of a hybrid form of industrial unionism between the Building Trades and Metal Trades Councils. But even with that, the trade union side of thinking sometimes wins out. I experienced that two times. Once during a Metal Trades strike that lasted eight-and-a-half months, when one of the unions signed their own contract and crossed the picket line of the other unions. Another time one union, the Boilermakers, signed a contract that left the other workers locked out for over a year.

Think about how things would have been if mining, auto, steel and so on organized by trade rather than by industry. You think things are bad now, it would be far worse if that had not happened. My point is that industrial unionism needs to be our union structure, but it does not stop there. There are many other things that are needed for good revolutionary unionism.

It is true, in my view, that “conventional labor unions would not seek radical structural change.” That is why we workers need the IWW and its unconventional revolutionary industrial unionism. As a long time dual carder it has been my view for over 40 years that the AFL-CIO cannot be reformed.

Yes, in modern times the IWW has been a bit weak at explaining its practices and ideas. Heck, all but one of our official literature items is out of print. And that is a big problem because I believe that we don’t only organize bargaining units, we also need to create Wobblies.

As to the term “to organize,” I think we have a different view on that. I believe that the role of organizers, that is good organizers, is to organize themselves out of a job. In other words, their job is to organize the workers so that they, the workers of a shop, can take over all the union work of their shop and branch when they are able to. The idea that workers should only organize themselves and once they do that we are willing to accompany them will not work often in the real world and would put off the workers taking control of their labor forever.

Arthur J. Miller, just an old retired shipyard worker

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (June 2013)

Venture syndicalism: can reviving the strike revive mass unionization?

A short article by Nate Hawthorne on the prospects of AFL-CIO unions taking bigger risks to halt the decline of unionization rates.

It’s surprising how small a fraction of U.S. workers are actually in labor unions. Just over 7 million government employees are union members and slightly fewer private sector employees are in unions. This means that just under 12 percent of public sector workers and less than 7 percent of private sector workers are in unions. These numbers keep falling.

If unions want to reverse their decline, they need to return to powerful strikes that stop businesses completely. That’s what Joe Burns argues in his recent book, “Reviving the Strike.” It’s a good book and I recommend it highly to all IWW members (it would pair very well with “Labor Law for the Rank and Filer” by Staughton Lynd and Daniel Gross). Burns supplies a concise and clear argument about the role of labor law in the decline of unions. The labor law system doesn’t work for unions, so if the unions want to continue to exist, they need to start breaking the law, he argues. There are big risks to breaking the law, though. Burns suggests that unions can get around this by setting up and funding fully independent organizations that will have fewer resources, and less to lose as a result. We may be seeing versions of this already, with the strikes against Walmart warehouse subcontractors, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) organizing against Walmart and fast food respectively and union support for workers’ centers.

We might call this “venture syndicalism,” named after venture capitalism. Venture capital firms are companies that advance money to businesses that are in their very early stages, when they have little money, lots of risk of failure yet a high potential for success. The funds spent are a great deal of money for the startup company but only a small amount of money for a large financial company. Venture syndicalism is the union version of this, where the mainstream and wealthier unions fund more confrontational efforts than they can afford to carry out on their own.

Radicals have an important role to play in this effort. Both venture capitalism and venture syndicalism rely on a lot of initial unpaid hours by volunteers excited about the project for reasons beyond short-term financial gain. Burns suggests that most people join unions if and when it’s in their economic interest to do so. Unions in the United States are not going to have the power to win much unless there’s a threat of really serious economic harm to employers. That means unions are unlikely to act in ways that make the benefits of forming a union outweigh the costs for most people.

If people join unions based on costbenefit analysis then there’s little reason why anyone would ever take such actions. There’s a sort of “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” quality to all this; most people won’t join unions unless there’s some benefit to doing so, yet the law is set up so that unions behave in ways that limit the benefits of unionization. Breaking the law will have huge costs, so why would people break the law?

The solution to the puzzle is that some people need to take militant action despite the risks, and not primarily out of a narrow cost-benefit analysis. I think this is part of the role that radicals can play in helping set off movements to enliven the existing labor movement. Some people might run the risks of initial militancy despite the consequences. In doing so, they push against the current prevailing forms of governing capitalism. If these initial efforts succeed, larger numbers can join in and the rules of the game will change, encouraging larger numbers of workers to form unions. That is to say it is often not in workers’ short-term interests, narrowly understood, to form unions. People who act bravely against short-term interests might change this condition, to make it so that unionization becomes more in keeping with people’s short-term narrow interests. This is basically what happened in the 1930s. It may be happening again, or may be coming in the near future.

If all of this is happening or begins to happen soon, we should welcome it but also ask: yes, revive the strike, but for what purpose? To put it another way, let’s say the unions “revive the strike,” as Burns has called for. Then what? What Burns argues is that this could lead to greater unionization. Is that what we want? Should we measure success by rising rates of unionization, and in dollars and cents won on the shop floor?

We’re a revolutionary union. In my view, we should have an organizationwide conversation about different ways to organize a post-revolutionary society, what we think a revolution would look like in the countries where we operate and what activities might move a revolution closer. I’m not convinced that a militant labor struggle alone moves the working class toward a new society. What I’ve been calling venture syndicalism might be an effort by the labor movement to revive the strike in order use it to advocate for a new and “better” capitalism. We shouldn’t think that the militancy of a strike alone is a measure of how much it brings us closer to a new society.

More to the point, if we see the AFL-CIO and Change to Win labor groups begin to aggressively break the rules of labor law, we should welcome this, but will it change our understanding of those unions? If this happens we may be asked to stand with their struggles, and we should do so. But we should do so in ways that put us in contact with the members of those organizations, not primarily their staff and officers, and that will create conversations about what a good society would look like, not simply to address the issues of winning the short-term struggle. Otherwise we’ll be little more than unpaid volunteers in the venture syndicalist project..

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker (June 2013)

Industrial Worker (July/August 2013)

Articles from the July/August 2013 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

Venture syndicalism: fanning and dousing the flames of discontent

Article from the Industrial Worker newspaper on fast food strikes in the U.S.

Currently, organizations funded by unions are trying to win legislation requiring higher pay in the U.S. fast food industry under slogans like “Fight for a Fair Economy” Pay increases are great, but these efforts fit into something I called “venture syndicalism” in a column last month. We can see elements of a theory of venture syndicalism in a document called “Joining Voices: Inclusive Strategies for Labor’s Renewal,” which the American Federation of Teachers put out in 2005. (For more on this see Joe Burns’ excellent book “Reviving The Strike.”) While that document did not originate within the “Fight for a Fair Economy” campaign, it can help us get a sense of the discussions in the mainstream labor movement that inform that campaign and will probably inform future efforts. “Joining Voices” explains that “existing unions have much to risk and lose,” that is, lots of money which make them vulnerable to fines, if they violate laws against “secondary boycotts and shutdowns, sit-down strikes, etc.” But new unions “with no accumulated treasuries…would have substantially less to lose” and so could “enjoy greater strategic and tactical flexibility” to carry out “unconventional tactics unencumbered by the restraints of current labor law.” 

“Joining Voices” called for existing and wealthier unions to provide “money, logistical assistance, long-term loaned staff and other help”  to “organizing committees of start-up unions” while allowing these new “start-up unions” to be fully independent, at least formally. If these “start-up unions” succeeded, “increasing union density in any sector, by any union” would benefit “all union members everywhere and the labor movement as a whole.” Because these start-up unions have few resources, they are more able to break the law. The independence of these “start-up unions” would create “institutional firewalls for donor unions.” If there was a violation of the law, the independent “start-up,” with its smaller treasury, would take the hit, not the donor union with the big treasury. That’s the “venture” part of venture syndicalism. 

Here’s the ”syndicalism” part, though it’s more like “so-called syndicalism.” Unions today are experimenting in two important ways, by fighting for union contracts without going through National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections, and sometimes by “organizing outside collective bargaining,” to quote “Joining Voices” again. Efforts to pass laws requiring higher wages are an attempt to go around the NLRB while keeping the government as a key part of guaranteeing workers’ livelihoods. That is, they are an effort to abandon the NLRB while getting a different part of the state to play a role in mediating between workers and capitalists.

These efforts to go outside the NLRB are based on unions’ understanding that the NLRB is broken. Workers lose NLRB elections lose more often than they win. The odds of getting a first contract after an election are equally awful, for those workers who do manage to win the initial election. The NLRB has little power to punish employers who break the law in fighting workers who organize. Staughton Lynd and Daniel Gross’s “Labor Law for the Rank and Filer,” a book every IWW member ought to read, lays this out quite well. So does Burns’ “Reviving the Strike.” This criticism of the NLRB is a big part of recent discussion in the IWW about so-called “direct unionism.” Staff and officers in the business unions are at least as aware of the limits of the NLRB as we are in the IWW. The decline of the NLRB marks an important historic shift, as the U.S. capitalist class and government have largely abandoned unions as tools for governing capitalism. Largely due to the NLRB, unions played a key role in how mid-20th century U.S. capitalism was governed and maintained.

Venture syndicalism is part of a larger trend of “militant reformism.” I point this out because it is easy for us to get swept up in struggles carried out by sincere people and to forget about the fundamental character of the organizations involved. Even when they use exciting, innovative, militant tactics, reformist unions are still committed to “the conservative motto, ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,’” as our constitution’s Preamble puts it. The IWW and our sister organizations reject this slogan, embracing "the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wage system.” Our goal is to “bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old,” to quote the song “Solidarity Forever.” We should welcome rising militancy but we should be prepared for the people calling the shots in venture syndicalist projects to act as a force for the old society against the creation of a new world out of its ashes. We must remember that not all struggles help to end capitalism, and that militancy and radicalism are two different things

Unions which are committed to nothing more than “fair wages” are like a gas stove. Different parts of a stove create and sustain fire, but also contain fire, keep it from getting above a certain temperature, prevent it from spreading or joining up with other fires, and put it out by cutting off the fuel. Similarly, different parts of reformist unions create and sustain class struggle, keep it from getting too hot, prevent it from spreading too much or joining up with other struggles, and bring conflicts to an end. Gas stoves are about making fire useful for cooking. Ultimately, reformist unions and government labor policy are about making the fires of class struggle useful to capitalism. 

Venture syndicalism is an attempt to make unions once again into important tools for governing U.S. capitalism. This involves creating and sustaining some of the fire of class struggle. We should welcome that, but we should also be aware that reformist unions fight for goals which will include their ability to contain, limit, and end struggles, if struggles get intense enough. Aspects of venture syndicalism will pull class struggle in the direction of the old world we reject. This means that IWW members who participate in these efforts should ask ourselves if our participation amounts to anything more than “we follow the strategy set by the people in charge and help them win on their terms.” If not, then we are basically just volunteers in a project oriented fundamentally around the conservative “fair wages” vision we reject. 

I am almost but not quite saying that these campaigns are reformist so the IWW should not participate. IWW members should participate in venture syndicalist projects…if we have nothing better to do. In those cases, we should participate with a plan to gain skills, experience, confidence, and relationships so that we will eventually have something better to do. When we participate, we should be honest with ourselves about whether or not, and how, we are actually accomplishing our goals. We should also be clear about what we are and are not going to accomplish as volunteers in venture syndicalist projects. I am reminded of John L. Lewis, president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in the 1930s. Lewis was relatively conservative but he liked hiring radicals as organizing staff. When criticized by moderates for this decision, his reply showed that he did not see radical participation in the CIO as a threat to capitalism: “Who gets the bird, the hunter or the dog?” he said. When we participate in venture syndicalist projects, we should always remember who holds the leash.

This column originally appeared in the Industrial Worker newspaper in July, 2013.

Workers & peasants demand a kingdom of heaven on Earth: a review of 'Q'

A review by John O'Reily of Q by Luther Blissett.

Blissett, Luther. Q. Boston: Mariner Books, 2005 (reprint edition). Paperback, 768 pages, $39.95.

Most people think about the Protestant Reformation about as frequently as they think about sitting down to do their taxes, if not even less. But a contentious medieval Europe is the backdrop for one of the best pieces of historical fiction that Wobblies should really pay attention to. “Q,” the novel by a collective of radical Italians who used to publish under the name Luther Blissett and now go by Wu Ming, is a great adventure story that also packs a political wallop. The sequel to “Q” has just been translated from the Italian to English and been released, so it is worth revisiting the original novel, published in 2000, to remember why exciting works of fiction like “Q” should be a priority for Wobblies to check out.

The book centers around two characters and is structured like a spy novel. The protagonist, who goes by various names throughout the book, is known most frequently as Gert-From-The-Well. He is a German who bounces around various revolutionary groups during the explosion of social conflict that takes place during the Reformation. He follows the flags of peasant rebels, communistic Christian booksellers and preachers, cruel messianic zealots, pacifist communitarians and persecuted Jewish liberals, as their fortunes rise and fall, ever in the quest to be free of the influences of the powerful and authoritarian Catholic Church, the kings and lords of Europe, and the increasingly out-of-touch “official” Protestant leadership. Gert deals with the inevitable crushing of movements for popular power by changing his name and moving on to a new struggle, a man weighed down by the fact that while his comrades often die, he lives on to fight another day.

His antagonist is the shadow known as Q, a papal operative who blends in with the crowds of workers and peasants throughout Europe, seeking information on heresies and finding a way into the good graces of radical movements in order to subvert them. Q, less a zealot than a cynical manipulator, finds a way to put himself on the sidelines of multiple popular struggles, using his influence and instincts to tear at the unity of those who would be free of the Catholic Church’s power. He and Gert’s paths consistently cross, though their significance to each other remains concealed for most of their respective journeys.

While “Q” is an exciting story of intrigue, back-stabbing and straight up swash-buckling, what makes it most interesting for Wobblies to check out is that its center is on ethics and that it’s a story of anti-capitalism. Outside of a few science fiction writers, most fiction treats radicals as a stand-in for something else. Radicals are often signifiers, ciphers, of viewpoints that the author seeks to abstract. Radicals, rebels, anti-capitalists, and others are introduced to talk about the author’s ideas about intransigence, morality, discipline, freedom, personal virtue or a host of other ideas. What makes “Q” different is that the authors are themselves veterans of the Italian extra-parliamentary left, and they write the novel to talk about the ideas of anticapitalist struggle itself. In “Q,” radicals are real people, with complicated and contradictory ideas, with lives and thoughts of their own, but still with a firm dedication to their cause of liberty from the dominant repressive order.

They are not archetypes but characters. Instead of communism being a signifier for something else, it is the content of the plot itself. Gert’s adventures through various revolutionary activities show the highs and lows, exuberance, excitement and excess, of people who spend their lives trying to live without bishops, popes and kings. It’s hard not to identify with the plight of the common people organizing themselves for liberation who appear throughout the novel, not as stereotypes of the hammer-and-sicklewielding proletarians and peasants of socialist realism, or misguided bohemians and shady bureaucrats of most Western literature, but as the regular types of people you run into at the bar or the grocery store, who have just had enough of the oppression of the bosses and cops.

Based on the actual history of various uprisings and scandals in Europe in the 16th century, “Q” delivers a heart-pounding story of revolt and repression. While the novel has its flaws, particularly in the relative weakness of its female characters (something recognized by its authors, who have promised that the sequel, “Altai,” will deal with better), “Q” is a first-rate adventure novel that highlights a reasonably obscure piece of the people’s history of Europe and imbues it with the fire of revolution. In a moment when everything from the papacy, to the divine right of kings, to the idea of God itself was up for debate, “Q” tells an engaging story of everyday workers and peasants demanding a kingdom of heaven on Earth and willing to go as far as needed to make it happen.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (July/August 2013)

Industrial Worker (September 2013)

Articles from the September 2013 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

For paper subscription info, please visit here.

For a PDF copy of this issue, check here.

Life-long Wobblies

An article by J Pierce and Sadie Farrell about life-planning for revolutionaries and how the IWW has attempted to address this with Junior Wobblies.

Two IWW dreams came true for me at Mesaba Co-op Park this summer. One was to lead a conversation about being life-long revolutionaries. The other was to teach IWW principles to kids in a memorable way. The Work People’s College Committee approved the workshop I co-led with FW Linda called “Che Guevara vs. Mr. Rogers: Long-Term Planning for Lifelong Wobblies” (hereinafter referred to as “Life Planning”). The Junior Wobblies counselors gave me the opportunity to design some curriculum for the kids. These two experiences, as it turned out, went hand in hand.

The IWW has always been a multigenerational organization—something we are all very proud of. However, the union is entering a newer stage of retention since our gradual resurgence in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Many of our 20-something- year-old-members from that time are now 30- and 40-somethings with kids, partners and the stresses of being grown-up trouble-makers. Life Planning and Junior Wobblies are two exemplars of our readiness for the new IWW.

Life Planning

I’ve been promoting the idea of “IWW career counseling” for a while. In numerous conversations, fellow workers expressed their frustration at dedicating years of their work lives to IWW organizing. When it was all over, they had little to show for it: no money, no job prospects, and no marketable skills—nothing that meant “success.” The only viable career path, at that point, was to work for the business unions, which are constantly tempting IWWs with a mirage of security and respectability. Wobblies have also quit the union in order to “become their own boss,” ascend into the left intelligentsia, or graduate to being a “real” union member in a trade. This led to the idea that we should be helping each other build toward a career that allows us to stay in the IWW and work a job we might actually enjoy. Life planning combines “career counseling” and “life coaching” and draws out the contradictions and complexities that a Wobbly encounters as we progress through years of struggle.

Entanglements that we covered in the workshop included raising Wobbly kids and supporting Wobbly parents; finding life partners and maintaining those relationships; overcoming burnout, mild and severe depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental illness; struggling with work, criminal records, lack of money or jobs, housing problems, prison, deportation, retirement; and more. As we invent collective solutions to these highly personal problems, we are forced to be honest with ourselves about what it really takes to be a life-long revolutionary.

Junior Wobblies

As we examined various collective solutions to life planning, we discovered that the single best “long-term plan” is already in full bloom: it’s the Junior Wobblies! A youth and family component to the IWW addresses an infinite amount of concerns, and is fun too. The first Junior Wobblies camp took place last summer, July 1 through July 5, 2012, at Mesaba. The Junior Wobblies camp is run by parents, counselors and increasingly by the Junior Wobblies themselves. Junior Wobblies programming runs at the same time as Work People’s College workshops, giving Wobbly parents the opportunity to participate in Junior Wobblies activities, attend workshops or do a combination of both!

For this year’s Junior Wobblies camp, we dreamt up an extended role play to get the kids doing the principles of the IWW. We did this by preparing a “Spanish Revolution” theme and using “living history”— playing dress-up and reenacting (an inspired version of) Spanish Civil War history. We tied the activities together with the idea that the kids were an anarchist youth collective building toward the revolution of 1936. We discussed regimentation and racism in the schools. We discussed how boring “robot” schools prepare kids for boring “robot” jobs. We practiced breaking down racial barriers and standing up to bullies. We worked in a mind-numbing paper airplane plant and had silent agitators encourage other youth to fight for the good things in life: “Stop cleaning the litter box and read!” “No—Sleep! Yes—Swim!” “Eat the rich and your pizza!” “Stand up to the bullies and join the Junior Wobblies!” “Capitalism sucks!! Join the Junior Wobblies!” We sewed red-and-black neckerchiefs and practiced union songs. And we defeated the fascists at the barricades thanks to disciplined production of water balloon munitions and the creativity, unity and spirit of the workers in battle.

Instead of instructing the kids in “politics,” the trick was to get them to feel what we feel as class-conscious workers. By using living history, role plays and interactive scenarios, the kids get to use their own thinking to arrive at their own conclusions. Simulations such as the barricade activity allow people to make mistakes and learn from them ahead of time while preparing for the real thing. Many of the kids won’t fully grasp the ideology behind the barricade activity, but they will remember the experience, the process and how it made them feel. The adventure of fighting alongside the “union” and the Junior Wobblies against these people called “fascists” and then singing “Solidarity Forever” and “A las Barricadas” in triumph— these are not political ideas. They are visceral sensations that will stay with them for a long time.

The secret is that adults need to have multi-sensory experiences, too. Adults learn the same way children do; it’s just less embarrassing if we can pretend the dress-up is for the kids. Educating children, or adults, in IWW values is not about convincing ourselves intellectually. It’s about creating experiences that engender the positive feelings of solidarity and cooperation while practicing good habits like befriending people who are different than you and standing up to the bullies together. The Junior Wobblies talked about how we needed to demonstrate the principle of solidarity by helping each other and having each other’s backs while showing each other kindness and respect if we were going to organize successfully for the revolution. The Junior Wobblies lived the principle of solidarity all week long. Older kids helped younger kids participate in activities. Veteran Junior Wobblies helped new recruits learn the ropes at Mesaba, and the kids took care of each other if one of them was hurt or upset. It’s easy to feel a sense of solidarity when working with the Junior Wobblies, and supporting our union parents is the best way to transform the IWW into the organization we all want to see.

The New IWW

At Mesaba this year, and in every branch, we have ample real-world evidence of the phenomenon of life-planning or the lack thereof. We had organizers who were stressed out, broken down, and burning out fast. We also had fellow workers who were working their plan, staying healthy, and supporting others to do the same. But the days of leaving our members to “sink or swim” on their own are coming to an end. As a union, we must find collective solutions to the challenges our members face. The more we transition to a family-oriented, healthy-habit, long-term-planning IWW the better we are going to be at building and sustaining life-long Wobblies.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (September 2013)

Life-long Wobblies.pdf609.68 KB

Reviews: Wu Ming express values, desires for a better world

Nate Hawthorne reviews Wu Ming's book, Altai.

Wu Ming—a pseudonym for a group of Italian authors—sometimes describe themselves as a band, just a band that makes novels instead of albums. Whatever you call it, the key bit is that these people write together and what they write is awesome. Wu Ming themselves have a fascinating history, which is so interesting it would take up too much room here to do it justice, crowding out the book, but I encourage you to check out the Wikipedia entry on them. Pay particular attention to the account of the Luther Blissett Project. Also I should mention that the group remains active in the Italian far left after many years, which means they write from a place of outrage at injustice and desire for a better world.

All of their work that has been translated into English is historical fiction. Wu Ming’s novels “Manituana,” about Native Americans who side with the British during the American war of independence, and “Q,” about peasant revolutionaries during the Protestant Reformation in Germany, are two of my all-time favorite books. I gave “Q” to my dad for Christmas a few years ago. My dad has a high school education, works in construction and is definitely not a radical. I love the guy but we don’t have a lot in common. I really wanted to have this novel in common with him so I wanted him to like it and I worried that he wouldn’t. When I asked what he thought of it he said, “Awesome book. Seriously awesome, I couldn’t put it down.” Good taste runs in the family.

I just read “Altai,” Wu Ming’s newest novel. “Altai” is also the name of a falcon used in hunting. If I knew what kind of sound those birds make when excited, and I knew how to type out that sound, I would do so now. I hope it suffices to say “hell yeah.” This is a great book. (Don’t tell my dad but “Altai”’s gonna be his birthday gift this year.)

“Altai” picks up after “Q” and the central character of “Q”—a German radical who passed through many an uprising—appears in “Altai” as well. The book’s main character is a spy for Venice who is set up to take a fall for political purposes right at the novel’s beginning and ends up working for his former enemies. I don’t want to spoil any of the plot points so let me just say that he undergoes important personal transformations and becomes embroiled in further intrigue and military expeditions.

“Altai” is a spy novel, full of gripping suspense and tension. There’s enough mystery to captivate, but it never gets confusing. And while there are militant moments, this is not a book that glorifies war—far from it. The book expresses a profound skepticism that military measures can achieve human liberation, and rightly so in my view.

The book is set largely in Constantinople, contemporary Istanbul. As Istanbul’s been the scene of vile repression and heroic protest lately, it seems to me that the publication of “Altai” in English is appropriately timed. While the earlier book, “Q,” had more scenes of ordinary people in rebellion than “Altai,” “Altai” is still concerned with issues of power and social change. If the world is a chess board, we are the front row, the pawns, and they the back row, the kings, queens, bishops, who are willing to see us suffer and die for petty rivalry and profit. Except at its edges, “Altai” doesn’t depict people in rebellion against their positions, but rather it focuses on the people in power and the terrible things they are willing to do. The sympathies of the novel, however, lie with the pawns, or with the movements that aim to kick the board off the table and begin a new game altogether.

The book is resonant with the present moment as well because of the central role that Jewish identity, anti-Semitism and struggles for a Jewish homeland play in the novel. I would describe the novel as anti-Zionist and anti-racist, which is to say, certainly not anti-Semitic. This theme is obviously relevant to the present given continuing conflicts and tensions, as well as popular rebellions, in the Middle East and the role of Israel and U.S. support for Israel in shaping that region.

I often feel unsophisticated as a reader of fiction (I read for enjoyment, not profundity), so I’m not totally sure about this, but I think the falcon, the Altai of the novel’s title and a few scenes, is a symbol. At one point in “Altai,” a character named Ismail, the revolutionary who was the main character in “Q,” argues that the methods used in a struggle shape its goals: “If you want to catch a hare, whether you hunt it with hounds or with a falcon, on foot or on horseback, it will always be a hare. Freedom, on the other hand, never remains the same; it changes according to the way you hunt. And if you train dogs to catch it for you, you may just bring back a doggy kind of freedom.” The novel’s narrator, as a spy, then former spy, then spy for another master, is not a dog. He’s a kind of falcon, with more freedom and sophistication than a hunting dog. And yet, falcons are leashed and hooded by the hunters who own them, and hunters set their agenda and take the results of the hunt. The narrator finds a limited kind of freedom and fulfilment via playing that role, but at significant cost. He tells Ismail, “Machiavelli wrote that you must keep your eye on the end, not the means.” Ismail replies, “Over the years I’ve learned that the means change the end.” Perhaps the difference between dogs and altai is not so great; if our route to freedom involves hoods and leashes, it may end up not being the freedom we wanted.

“Altai” is a rich novel and not a simplistic political fable, so I don’t want to reduce the book to a simple set of political lessons. Instead, I would like to end by talking about the importance of stories like this. As radicals, I think we need stories that express our values, both our hopes and our outrages, our desires for a better world and our rejection of this world. Wu Ming writes those kinds of stories.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (September 2013)

Solidarity network or solidarity service?: on the challenges of building a solidarity network

The following originally appears in September 2013 issue of the IWW newspaper, the Industrial Worker, with the title “Building a solidarity network is harder than it seems.” Written by WRC member R. Spourgitis, it is a review of the pamphlet Build Your Own Solidarity Network, by two Seattle Solidarity Network members, and is based on our experiences with this project in Iowa City.

The Seattle Solidarity Network (SeaSol) is a “workers’ and tenants’ mutual support organization that fights for specific demands using collective direct action.” SeaSol has a dedication to direct action and emphasis on empowering workers and tenants, and they have a very high success rate. Given this, the “SeaSol Model” seems to embody an inspiring new mode of class struggle for the increasingly precarious—it is no wonder it has been exported all over the world and become a popular project for many, anarchists and other anti-capitalists in particular.

The 2011 pamphlet “Build Your Own Solidarity Network,” written by SeaSol members Cold B and T Barnicle details SeaSol’s strategy for taking on fights well (the pamphlet is online at

In November 2010 a group of us in Iowa City, Iowa, began forming a solidarity network. Thinking strategically about what you can or cannot accomplish in a project, and the steps taken to get there, were not things I was used to when we started our own solidarity network. Building a solidarity network was part of an important shift in my politics. It meant going from issue-based activism and one-off campaigns or protests to direct action work on immediate economic demands at the point of exploitation. This work aligns with IWW practice. The descriptions of demand-delivery and section titled “Agitate – Educate – Organize” will be familiar to those who have been through the Organizer Training 101.

The guide has nuts-and-bolts information about group-based tasking and organization, which many of us spend years learning the hard way. Granted, only reading about it falls short of doing it, but the importance of these lessons should not be understated. Seemingly small items like encouraging group members to take on key tasks, following up with them, and running efficient, well-moderated meetings are necessary to a functioning organization of any sort, and it is refreshing to see this plainly laid out.

My experience building a solidarity network substantially differed from what was described by the SeaSol organizers in this pamphlet. There were difficulties we did not anticipate, and while we did not expect to adapt the model whole cloth to our area and be immediately successful, there were recurrent issues that hampered our ability to build fights from the network that the pamphlet does not address. I suspect that our experiences with this solidarity network model are not wholly unique and I hope that others will write more about their experiences with these types of projects so that we may refine our strategies and tactics. In Iowa City, we experienced tensions within the solidarity network model and these experiences are probably similar to others who have not had the successes with this model that Seattle has.

“People wanting to know how SeaSol got started often ask whether we had funding, whether we had an office, or whether we had extensive legal knowledge. We had none of these things, and we didn’t need them.”

It is a strength of the model that a solidarity network can begin with few existing resources. One thing the pamphlet stresses is that a key strategy to success is identifying what you can win, which is perhaps harder than it sounds and often requires a kind of resource. Specifically, it requires at least some legal knowledge of tenants’ and workers’ rights. In Iowa City, not having much familiarity with the specifics of our state and local law, particularly housing, quickly became a problem. We realized early that we needed to know if what people were contacting the solidarity network about could be built into a fight, and the law was a factor in this. Through online research we found relevant housing code and labor law to our area. We then produced a booklet that went into an on-call book of sorts, with a notepad for people’s information, and a list of area aid agencies.

The vast majority of our calls were housing related—around 90-95 percent of them. It became apparent that the tenants contacting us were usually not experiencing illegal actions on the part of their landlords, such as refusal to renew leases, hiking rents with lease renewals, giving bad referrals or threatening to call the police for minor infractions. In our area these are legal actions, even as they are terribly exploitative and oppressive for these tenants. As the SeaSol model is based on being winnable, this meant not taking on these cases. The emphasis on taking on “winnable fights” in effect translated to fighting against illegal actions and it was rare that this was blatantly the case.

“…the activists who started the project did not have to see ourselves as something separate from the group we wanted to organize. We were part of that group.”

The solidarity network model seeks to embody the principle of “solidarity not charity.” The fact that we work together as fellow tenants and workers to put pressure on those bosses and landlords screwing us over, instead of mediating through official channels, is a powerful thing. In practice, I found this is somewhat misleading about the realities of this work. Contrary to the principle underlying the model, we often fell into a distinctively service-led approach. None of the organizers’ workplaces or housing situations were built into fights, and so instead of fighting where we live and work, we ended up trying to assist others to fight where they live and work. We encouraged those who contacted us to become involved in the network, but this was never sustained beyond a meeting or two. One lesson here may be that when an individual meets with a network devoted to resolving their grievance—even if this network has a combative class-struggle approach—he or she is not unfairly expecting specialists of some kind. If the network explains that it does not specialize in this particular grievance, that does not change what the individual is expecting from that network.

This service role was exactly what most people who contacted us expected from us. It was notable that when we told contacts we want to follow their lead and described the demand delivery and escalating tactics approach, there was a sudden drop-off in interest. Although the authors of the SeaSol pamphlet say “people who have taken the initiative to contact us are more likely to be people who are prepared to play an active role in a campaign,” our experience was almost anything but this.

There were a handful of people we met with who had very clear, winnable-sounding fights. In these instances, the individual either handled it themselves or went through another channel to resolve their grievance. There were also those who contacted us and we waited too long to respond. Sometimes, we followed up with them immediately and never heard back. Given the immediacy of their need and seriousness of the living situation, it was understandable that we were not always equipped to help, even in a charitable, service-led capacity.

It should be pointed out that we were aware of these problems at the time. We worked on improving our response time. We did some of the things suggested in the guide, such as changing the wording on our flyers and flyering more consistently. Since we seemed to get many people in tough situations but which we couldn’t help, we changed them from saying “Problems with your landlord?” to “Stolen deposits or unmade repairs?” This did not have an appreciable difference in the type or volume of calls we would receive.

Being that so many of the contacts were renting units in apartment complexes, something we discussed was the need to build collective action with committees of tenants from the apartments—much like described in the “Inside Organizing” section at the end of the guide. Unfortunately, we never connected with a single tenant willing or able to build such a committee, let alone a group of them. This is not to say those tenants are not out there, but they did not contact us.

Our area is like many places in the United States, there are no tenants’ unions or associations. There is a Housing Authority directly complicit with the police and the major property management companies, and a handful of neighborhood associations devoted to immediate need programming and state social workers. As a result, there is little to no recourse for the injustices dealt to tenants. I have to wonder if such a lack of social services and mediation, as disempowering and meager as they are, differs from other places and led us to be expected as another service.

Additionally, our immediate region is undergoing big changes in its racial composition. As gentrifying efforts have stepped up in major metro areas, recent years have seen an increase in Black and Latino residents in Iowa City (67 percent and 97 percent increases respectively between 2000-2010). There is a more complicated picture behind these demographic shifts and their causes and effects than I can do justice to in this brief review. Still, it is clear that for many new residents to the area that the structural racism of local power is felt from the police, schools, city services, and, of course, in housing.

I illustrate this local context because nearly all of the few contacts we met with were Black women. Conversely, our solidarity network was made up of a majority male, entirely white grouping. This is not intended to lament our group’s dynamics or to advocate retreating into inaction based on white guilt, but it would be dishonest to omit such marked differences of race and gender between solidarity network members and our contacts. This fact comes to mind when the authors suggest door-knocking and more heavily flyering apartment complexes with known problem landlords. At times we did flyer specific areas, but taking that recommendation to its fullest extent in my opinion would have amounted to some of the worst kind of white radical paternalism. While efforts were made to include the women we met with in our organizing, these could have been stronger. However, an individual or two does not represent a community, and the divide of white radical activists and a majority people of color service community remain as a fact of this organizing experience.

The Iowa City Solidarity Network operated for a little more than a year. In that time, we learned about our area and the reality of engaging local struggles to a depth unappreciated before. Occupy Iowa City emerged in late 2011 and our efforts shifted to that project. Given the frustrating and lackluster experience of the solidarity network, it was something we decided to close in December of that year.

Reflecting on this model, I think there are aspects indicating more individualized service work than is appreciated, as the single individual with a legally legitimate grievance calls in for support and the solidarity network organizers act as specialists in struggle. There is more at work here than the SeaSol model, though. There are bigger issues with the project which span the anti-capitalist left: organizers lacking real connections to working-class communities—not forced or imaginary ones—the lack of a recent shared history of collectively fighting back, and the lack of a material support system for those willing to take risks in their jobs or living situations, to name a few.

The SeaSol model may be useful in other places. IWW people considering a solidarity network may want to find out what services already exist for tenants and workers in their area to determine if they are prepared to handle people in crisis mode looking to them for service and if they are equipped to mobilize a number of people for a public showing of solidarity. Additional questions or criteria are probably needed for an IWW branch to consider it, such as if fights will come from their own membership or outside and if the latter how to handle people new to the IWW coming in for their workplace or housing grievance.

At this stage of class struggle, different approaches in different places are worth trying and a solidarity network might be a useful one indeed.

Industrial Worker (October 2013)

Articles from the October 2013 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

Reports, discussion abound at the 2013 IWW General Convention

An account by Mathieu Dube of the IWW's 2013 General Convention in Edmonton.

This year my fellow workers of the Pittsburgh General Membership Branch (GMB) entrusted me to be their delegate to the 2013 IWW General Convention that was held in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on Labor Day weekend, Friday, Aug. 30 - Sunday, Sept. 1. I will share my experience of the proceedings in the following lines. I chose to focus on what displayed, in my opinion, the most interest for the union membership. I apologize for the voluntary omissions.

The first thing that stood out was how well the Edmonton branch took care of the logistics. The transportation was slick to the Friday “meet-and-greet” that took place in the same building that the convention would be held the following days, the Queen Mary Park Community League Hall located in a park. There were literature and swag tables offering an extensive selection of political books. Beer and alcohol were sold as part of a benefit. This event gave the attendees a chance to get to know each other before getting to work on union business the following days. The billets were sent in advance and, as was the case for me, if your flight got canceled, the local organizers were able to roll with the punches and accommodate you without problems. The lodging was coordinated efficiently and provided by local members that were genuinely hospitable.

Saturday morning started with the credentials verification to ensure that all of the delegates were eligible to perform their duty. All delegates were given a free copy of the new book published by Recomposition Blog, “Lines of Work: Stories of Jobs and Resistance,” as part of its official launch. The whole day was dedicated to reports from the union’s officers and standing committees. Our General Secretary-Treasurer (GST), FW Sam Green, ended his mandate by providing us with enlightening comments on the challenges that the union is facing according to him. Of these, I would mention the difficulty that our current structures have in dealing with our international growth. Indeed, and it is a good problem to have: from a membership largely based in North America, our union has grown quite a bit Europe at the turn of the century. This poses a few challenges, for instance, that General Headquarters (GHQ) acts as the de facto General Administration for the whole union but also as the specific administration for members in the United States. The report of the Organizational Training Committee (OTC) was very impressive. This committee is in the process of formalizing the curriculum of the Organizer Training. The trainers will also be trained, and their work evaluated, so that we can ensure quality across all trainings.

The most contentious report was that of the Industrial Worker’s editor since she, the General Executive Board (GEB), and the GST have come to a decision to distribute the paper digitally by default, unless the member asks to receive a hard copy. Many delegates had questions and the editor, the GST as well as members of the GEB had the occasion to address the opposition of certain members and elaborate on the reasons that motivated this decision. I believe this discussion clarified things. From my interpretation, the decision was made because of financial concerns (i.e. that the printing and shipping costs had increased too much in comparison to the revenues) but also because the board, the editor, and the GST felt that there was some waste in the sense that resources allocated to printing and distributing the paper were too high for the actual need. A lot of papers were left to rot at GHQ because of the fact that we need to print more than we distribute. Also, a lot of members read the PDF version already and throw the copy they receive straight into the recycling bin.

On Sunday, we moved on to working on the motions. There were two sets of them, a few emergency motions and motions that had been submitted on time to be included officially in the agenda. The first official motion was a constitutional amendment made in the spirit of adjusting the language of the structures used in workplace organizing to reflect actual practices. The job branches, which have no specified rights or responsibilities in the current version of the constitution, would be removed to follow the organizational committee’s approach that is closer to our current methods. The merits of letting shops use the union logo were discussed at length. Some delegates argued that our revolutionary mindset should prevent us from helping companies make sales by having the union bug on their product, others contended that a lot of workers made purchasing decisions based on the fact that products or services were made by unionized workers. In the end the motion passed as it was written, including the possibility to use the union bug. The second official motion, also a constitutional amendment, was aimed at modifying how charges are handled at conventions. The purpose of the motion was twofold: first, to guarantee that the charges are dealt with as much fairness as possible, which implies allocating enough time to review them—which isn’t possible in two days; and second, to allow all delegates to participate in union business rather than spend valuable convention time serving on a charges committee. The motion basically calls for a committee to be formed to deal with the charges over a longer period of time, rather than have one committee formed by convention delegates—which would rush the charges process during the two days of the convention. Both these motions will be put on the ballot sent to all members so that they can vote on their addition to the constitution.

The convention left me with a very positive impression about the state of our union. Everyone was extremely serious about the work that needed to be done. The civil discussions were always carried out with the aim of finding concrete solutions to issues rather than petty politicking. The ability of the Edmonton branch to run this convention in such an efficient way inspired me to continue to work hard at building our local branch so that we could one day do the same. If the delegates that were at this year’s convention are typical of our membership, our union has a great future.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (October 2013)

The parallels between the Sisters’ Camelot & Jimmy John’s anti-union campaigns: Part 2

The second part of a comparison between anti-union efforts at Jimmy Johns and at Sisters Camelot, a nonprofit 'mobile foodshelf', whose canvassers went on strike in Spring 2013.

Part 1 | Part 2

Travis & Robbie are members of the Jimmy John’s Workers Union and the Twin Cities General Membership Branch of the IWW. This is Part 2 of an article in which they discuss the similarities between the struggles at Jimmy John’s and Sisters’ Camelot. Part 1 appeared on pages 1 & 6 of the September IW. 1

This is the first we have heard of your concerns. If we had known, we would have gladly made things better. You can use existing ways to engage with the business so we can fix problems by working together. We will do things to show our appreciation of you and make it easier for you to come to us.

Many workers go to management with grievances when they first arise; we are conditioned to seek help from authority figures, whether they are parents, teachers, police officers or bosses. This is rarely ever effective in the workplace, however, because management is typically more removed from the grievance or because resolving it is simply not in their self-interest. This is frustrating and demoralizing for workers, especially those who genuinely care about their work. It is more productive for workers to talk to management collectively or to implement solutions together through direct action. When workers realize that their problems are common problems based on shared experiences, they are able to assert their needs more strongly together.

In the past, canvass directors and canvassers for Sisters’ Camelot have unsuccessfully attempted to individually lobby the collective to improve the working conditions of the canvassers without success, causing many canvassers and directors to leave on bad terms. Even the simple fact that the canvass workers have to go to an authority with their ideas, needs and demands debunks the idea that Sisters’ Camelot is an organization based on worker control. In an organization that allegedly values social justice and direct action, the canvassers should be able to implement their ideas for improving their conditions and performance at work without seeking approval from anyone above them.

In an anti-union drive, bosses will always offer concessions that serve both as gestures to placate the workers and as mechanisms for challenging the power of the union by roping workers back into systems that are controlled by management. The solution proposed (and major concession made) by the bosses has been for canvassers to join the collective. By offering them spots on the collective, the bosses are individualizing the workers in an attempt to divide and conquer. One canvasser on the collective can easily became overpowered and demoralized while the other canvassers remain entirely disempowered. The same thing occurred when Hardy Coleman, a former canvass director and then collective member, attempted to implement changes identical to many of the demands presented by the canvassers to the collective. It happened again when Bobby Becker was a member of the collective and became the sole advocate for the canvassers. There’s no reason to believe things will be any different if a different canvasser or two were to become collective members. At Jimmy John’s, bosses gave out raises and had one-on-one conversations with workers to try to legitimize their so-called “open door policy” and hinder the collective action of the workers.

The canvassers are in agreement about what they need in order to improve their work environment and do a better job. They shouldn’t need to join another body of the organization in order to make changes related to their work. Additionally, they shouldn’t need to take on the responsibility of making decisions about other programs carried out by the organization if they don’t want to. Part of the problem in this situation is that workers within the organization have the power to make decisions about the entire organization while others have no decision-making power at all. It is the right of all workers to control their own work environment and processes, and no other group needs to do that for them. Additionally, no worker should have to work unpaid time (a requirement for being part of the collective) to have a say on the job.

We are workers, too. We have worked hard to build this business and deserve your respect. Your organizing is hurtful to us. We are victims of your organizing.

In anti-union drives, bosses like to emphasize the fact that they also show up to work, contribute to the success of the business, or perhaps started it themselves. They like to play the victim card, insisting that workers’ organizing is uncalled for, offensive, hurtful and disrespectful. In this way, management and/or owners try to frame the union drive as a personal matter and try to draw attention to themselves. They often say the organizing drive is unfair and that there are more appropriate ways to engage with the company in order to offer suggestions or express concerns. This argument also veils a threat: if you organize, you will betray me and I will make your life at work hellish. At Jimmy John’s, as with most businesses, preferential treatment is offered to workers who are in the good graces of management by being particularly reverent to authorities or doing personal favors. During the anti-union drive at Jimmy John’s, workers were generally mistreated, including being denied raises because they declared union support, while others were given promotions and raises for taking the side of the company.

Of course, the Sisters’ Camelot collective members do work and perform important functions for the organization’s operations and programs. This is not, however, about the collective, and no canvasser has spoken ill of work done in their programs. The issue at hand is simply that one group of workers has power over their own work and that of an entirely different group of workers, leaving the latter disenfranchised. To make this union out to be an attack on Sisters’ Camelot as an organization or the collective members as workers is classist and narrow-minded. It ignores workers who lack their own autonomy, and it indicates a defense of capitalist hierarchies. Denying any worker their basic right alongside their fellow workers, and to exert control over their own work by refusing to relinquish your power is, well, exactly what Jimmy John’s did. And it is done partly out of a love for control and authority, partly out of a distrust of the workforce that is fundamentally rooted in classism, and partly out of a desire to continue to control the flow of capital. This is painfully similar to the situation unfolding at Sisters’ Camelot. The bosses at Sisters’ don’t trust the workers nor do they show any indication of giving up any of their power. The collective has explicitly stated they don’t trust the canvassers with things such as credit card information. The collective has also said the structural changes would be “unhealthy” for Sisters’ Camelot and that there must be “accountability” in place. By accountability, they obviously mean accountability to the collective. To say the canvass should be accountable to the collective but not vice versa is incredibly disrespectful and belittling.

The union drive could cause the business to close. We simply can’t afford to have a union.

Management will jump to the worst possible scenario in an anti-union drive. In many ways, this is meant to play on the fears of workers. It plays into the idea that workers should feel lucky to even have a job in an effort to undermine their dignity and their basic right to make a living and have control over their work. Sure, all businesses will be affected by some of the direct action tactics used by workers when they organize, including strikes, but this is a necessary part of forcing people in power to relinquish the power that does not belong to them. At Jimmy John’s, the company threatened to do away with bike delivery, claiming they would be unable to afford the insurance policy with the added cost of having a union. Similarly, the collective at Sisters’ Camelot threatened to replace the canvassers with volunteers.

When it comes to Sisters’ Camelot, this argument is simply ludicrous. Few of the canvassers’ demands are economic; most are structural and related to improving workplace democracy. The only two non-negotiable money-related demands are professional van maintenance and medical bills paid for work-related injuries. Professional van maintenance is a no-brainer. Without a reliably functioning van, canvassers have had shortened and missed shifts; since the canvassers raise 95 percent of the organization’s operating budget, this obviously affects the organization’s financial status. As far as medical bills go, it’s a basic worker’s right. All employees should be entitled to workers’ compensation for workplace injuries, and if Sisters’ Camelot refuses to accept this demand, they are worse than even the most sinister corporation by taking advantage of their contracted workers.

There are also negotiable demands that indisputably will increase productivity within the canvass operation, such as accepting credit card donations at the door. Other demands will improve the canvasser’s experiences at work and encourage them to do better work, like paid sick days and vacation, a 5 percent base pay raise, an extra bonus for working four shifts per week in addition to raising $500 per week, and access for the canvass coordinator to view online donations. All of these ideas would encourage canvassers to invest themselves more strongly in their work, which directly affects the income of the organization as a whole. The primary reason for opposing these demands is not financial; it is because of a lack of trust that, like Jimmy John’s, is a backward, classist, and selfish tendency that is keeping Sisters’ Camelot from truly realizing its alleged goal as a worker-controlled organization.

The last point related to money is simple: no demand costs an organization more than an anti-union drive. The collective has attempted to paint the economic demands of the union as too costly to the organization. This anti-union drive is costing Sisters’ Camelot far more money than they would incur by giving the workers a 5 percent raise and increase in their fundraising bonuses. In fact, the organization itself is on the brink of collapse. Programming has been cut, they are planning on moving out of their warehouse space and the collective members can’t even afford to pay themselves anymore.

At Jimmy John’s, the bosses spent about $3,000 a day over the course of a month and a half on a union-busting consulting firm called the Labor Relations Institute. They also spent an incredible amount of money on lawyers and legal fees fighting the Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges we filed against them. Additionally, the pickets we held at stores, the phone blasts we did that shut down overthe- phone delivery orders at stores, and the negative media attention the company received during the union drive certainly reduced their revenue. In all, simply giving us what we were demanding (a $1 per hour raise for all drivers and supervisors and a $2 per hour raise for all in-shoppers) would have cost them less money than fighting us for so long. The threat that unions will bring financial hardship to a company is typically nothing but an empty threat to scare the workers.

The IWW is an aggressive organization with scary politics that is using you to achieve its political agenda. They will harass and trick you. We can protect you from them.

In all union drives, unions in general are criticized (even while praised, as mentioned earlier). Attention will be drawn to various aspects of unions that can be framed in an unpopular light. These aspects include expensive mandatory union dues, union bureaucrats making decisions on the workers’ behalf, a complicated grievance process, and dues money being given to politicians without the workers’ input.

In the IWW, none of these criticisms apply since our union doesn’t share those characteristics common to other unions. Instead, we Wobblies are criticized in other ways. Most commonly we are redbaited. At Jimmy John’s, we were called radicals, anarchists, communists, socialists, anti-capitalists, anti-Americans, terrorists (yes, seriously!), troublemakers, zealots and so on. We were told that we were being aggressive toward the company and attempting to bully the bosses into submission. We were accused of violent tactics including sabotaging the company’s equipment and inventory of products. During our sick day campaign and subsequent firings, the company’s lawyers tried to argue our campaign for sick days constituted extortion.

At Sisters’ Camelot, similar accusations have been levied against the canvassers. They have been accused of being aggressive and being bullies for simply making demands and going on strike after the collective refused to negotiate with them. When the canvassers escalated and turned up the pressure, the collective members (and their friends who were also targeted) became downright hysterical. At Jimmy John’s, when we announced ourselves as the Jimmy John’s Workers Union (JJWU) and presented our demands, the bosses thought we were being aggressive. When we actually became aggressive, our bosses demonized us even more. However, they did begin to give in on some demands, including less tangible ones like better treatment of workers by management. The lesson to be learned here is that bosses don’t respond to simple requests to change things at work. They aren’t convinced by others moralizing or arguing with them. They are convinced when it’s in their own self-interest to change. And that usually comes about when severe economic, social, and/or emotional pressure is put on them. Exerting these types of pressure was the JJWU strategy and it is also the Sisters’ Camelot Canvass Union’s strategy, and the strategy of all militant unions.

A cornerstone in the union busting arsenal, used by the bosses against unions of all stripes including the IWW, is to paint the union as a separate entity from the workers themselves with a separate agenda from the workers. We call this “third party-ing” the union.

At Jimmy John’s, this message was a core part of the bosses’ narrative. In one of the company’s propaganda posters they stated the IWW was using the workers to advance our political cause and the company was helping the workers’ cause.

Sisters’ Camelot and their supporters have also painted the IWW as a third party with an agenda separate from the workers. When the strike first started, members of the community publicly attacked the IWW for “going after” Sisters’ Camelot, saying we were racist and that we are against poor people. Notice they didn’t say this about the canvassers themselves, just the IWW. This implies two things. First, it implies the IWW has a sinister motive that is separate from the canvassers’ struggle to gain control over their work environment. Second, it implies that the IWW is really the one in the driver’s seat and not the canvassers. In reality, the canvassers make all their own decisions. They don’t need to have their decisions or strategies approved by any other IWW body. While individual Wobblies offer advice and input, the canvassers themselves call all the shots. This narrative constructed by the Sisters’ Camelot collective and their supporters ignores the agency of the canvassers and implies that a union campaign involves a group of professionals that parachute in and rescue workers instead of a struggle involving those directly affected.

There is a certain individual that is causing problems for all of us. They are hostile, manipulative and disruptive, and they are destroying our relationship with you. They have ulterior motives. We will all be better off without them.

In many union drives, certain individuals and/or social groups will be singled out and scapegoated as the main agitators and instigators to delegitimize the union campaign. This, among other things, takes the focus off the experiences, grievances and demands of the workers.

At Jimmy John’s, certain organizers were singled out due to their well-known pasts as IWW organizers in other high profile union campaigns. Additionally, there were attempts to marginalize certain social groups that were seen as the home base of the core organizers of the campaign. Attempts were made by the company to paint the union as young, white male delivery drivers from the Southside of Minneapolis. When the company decided to clean house and fire a group of core organizers after a very threatening escalation tactic taken by the union surrounding a sick day campaign, the bosses specifically decided to fire only six workers, all of whom were white and male from the same social scene. The core organizers who were women or people of color were only disciplined, but not fired. As a result, the company was able to frame a narrative of the union being for certain workers and not others. The phrase “drivers’ union” became common in the shop among workers who became convinced of the boss’s narrative and is still used by many workers who weren’t part of the campaign at its height.

At Sisters’ Camelot, a very similar anti-union message has been created. Instead of addressing the workers’ actual demands, the Sisters’ Camelot managing collective shifted the focus to one worker who they accused of theft, being abusive, and manipulating the rest of the canvassers into forming the union. The collective and their supporters have continually made the entire struggle about this one worker and not about the concerns of all of the workers. This is done to distract people from the real issues at stake—the experiences, grievances, and demands of the workers.

The Dirty Truth: Bosses Will Lie.

A final characteristic of anti-union campaigns is a barrage of lies and halftruths coming from management. At Jimmy John’s, our committee spent an enormous amount of energy refuting the spin management put on the organizing campaign. The aftermath of the Jimmy John’s union recognition election is an excellent example. After we narrowly lost our union election, but ULPs against the company nullified its results, the company put out a statement addressing the election and subsequent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) settlement resulting from the ULPs. In the statement, they claimed the NLRB only found merit with one-third of all the ULPs we filed. In reality, they only investigated one-third of the ULPs and found merit with all but two of them (out of more than 20). The NLRB found these ULPs to be sufficient to rule the election null and void. If the company had decided to go to court instead of taking a settlement, the NLRB would have investigated the rest of the ULPs. The statement also claimed that we admitted in the settlement that the company committed no wrongdoing. In reality, the settlement contained a clause stating the company is not admitting to violating Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (which protects concerted activity of workers), which both parties agreed to. The NLRB explained to us this was a standard clause in all settlements involving first-time offenders of Section 7.

The Sisters’ Camelot collective published an FAQ and a letter making