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)