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Thursday, August 21 2014 @ 01:16 AM CDT

Review: Direct Unionism: A Discussion Paper by Recomposition: Notes for a new workerism

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The revival of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) – a syndicalist grouping, has seen it remaining on the margins of various labour movements throughout the Anglo world. In the case of Australia, it has extreme “sect” features with its major “organising” accomplishments in Sydney lately being so called “workers picnics” and other social occasions and jamborees, catering mainly for students and the leftist fringe. Whilst its major industrial activity has been typically of late limited to university campuses.

Direct Unionism: A Discussion Paper by Recomposition: Notes for a new workerism

The revival of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) – a syndicalist grouping, has seen it remaining on the margins of various labour movements throughout the Anglo world.

In the case of Australia, it has extreme “sect” features with its major “organising” accomplishments in Sydney lately being so called “workers picnics” and other social occasions and jamborees, catering mainly for students and the leftist fringe. Whilst its major industrial activity has been typically of late limited to university campuses.

In the USA, where it has its largest membership numbers, of currently roughly a few thousand. Its major organising drives and campaigns in recent years have focused in such non-strategic sectors as retail, restaurants, welfare, etc such as the Starbucks Coffee shops chain and has been party to contracts in a significant number of shops it has organised. Recently, it has adopted a position of rejecting contracts as the objective of organising drives. It has also become entangled with the noxious left subculture resulting in certain locals developing sect like features. Particularly, with the adopting and much salivating over the hypocritical/navel gazing Stalinist legacy informed “safe spaces policies”. It has also adopted generally “political correctness” displays and identity politics fashionable in the middle class/student leftist subculture. Certain to alienate militant workers outside the tiny leftist fringe and encouraging the IWW’s marginalisation.

The publishers and authors of this pamphlet are all members of the IWW in the USA and seek via providing a critique of the “contractual” tendency in the IWW and the associated organising approach, to assist it to chart a new path to become a mass syndicalist union movement. It focuses on a “non-contractual” orientation. Bizarrely, they appear to be completely oblivious to how the IWW is entangled in the various noxious growths of the leftist subculture and its self marginalising ramifications.

The authors provide many valid criticisms of the contract system in the USA and how it encourages a “service unionism” approach. Involving unions becoming a separate force from the rank and file, with the emergence of an elite of professional contract negotiators and in the IWW an elite of “super activists” who perform this function. They are engaged in policing contract clauses and discouraging industrial by the grass roots, which would break the contract. Consequently, moving the IWW toward “orthodox” business union ways and away from syndicalism. However, based on the authors experience of IWW organised shops, it has a poor record of administrating contracts and being a “service union”. The authors make the interesting point that the US industrial legal system views contracts by definition implying the existence of a “no strike” agreement during its existence.

The authors are also critical of the “shop by shop” organising approach influential in the contemporary IWW. They rightly point out how multinational companies with hundreds of shops across the countries, can close individual union shops without hurting profits. However, the authors neglect to consider the critical importance of a focus on organising in transport industries with a view of workers there taking major industrial action which could slow key spearheads of the employer offensive, raise morale of workers generally and enable via boycotts facilitate IWW organising drives amongst numerous small shops in such peripheral sectors such as retail, hospitality, etc. Certainly, the success of the anarcho-syndicalist union movement in this sector in Barcelona in its in heyday in the 20’s and 30’s, stemmed precisely from the industrial solidarity of its transport union.

The authors present a rather simplistic alternative approach to this “contractual” tendency in the IWW. It involves working “under the radar” of the bosses via “low profile” union activity to establish networks of IWW militants throughout industries. These networks would be involved in helping workers to win small victories on the job via direct action and when “a critical mass” of experienced union members occurs, large scale industrial action would be pursued across regions and countries and presumably in this context, establish IWW industrial unions.

This whole approach appears to be informed by “codes and folkways of the left subculture” which in leftist milieus are beyond debate and discussion, such as only being active as a syndicalist in the industry where you have a job. Whilst, all successful syndicalist organising drives have involved a combination of organisation on-the-job and off-the-job to varying degrees and a focus on organising drives not just anywhere, but in strategic sectors - critical to the functioning of the capitalist economy and threatening its key arteries. In today’s worsening speed up “whirl winds” of the employer offensive, constantly increased surveillance of workers and low morale, the precision deployment of massive “outside-on-the-job” organisation is ever more critical. Particularly in regard to short circuiting the dis-organising impact of these rapids of the employer offensive and assisting the emergence of on-the-job organisation and its growth.(1)

In regard to the IWW in the US “before it lost its way” since its resurgence in the 1960’s, there is ample evidence of this approach. Such as the IWW’s organising drive during the 1930’s in the Detroit auto industry. Where considerable resources and “outside the job” organisation was devoted. Involving an IWW radio program and a large hall and massive leafleting of workers entering and leaving auto plants. As a result of this prioritising of resources and personnel, the IWW was initially successful in recruiting several thousand auto workers. Whilst the drive in auto proved later to be unsuccessful, due to a change in auto models, it resulted in an important organising spin off. Resulting in the IWW organising important large factories in Cleveland and achieving organisational stability in this sector into the mid 1950’s. (2)

Whilst the foundation of the original IWW in 1905 particularly stemmed from union building activity in the mid west mining industry by the anarcho-syndicalist Paterson based “Right to Existence” group which led to syndicalist influence in the WFM (Western Federation of Miners), a key component of the early IWW. (3)

In conclusion, the pamphlet provides a valuable critique of the legalistic “contractual” road to building a syndicalist union movement in the US influential amongst a tendency in the IWW and how it facilitates a “service union” organising approach. However, the authors lack consideration of the critical importance of a strategic organising approach and the precision deployment of resources and the long range hard yards its must entail. Perhaps, resulting from the influence of the malevolent leftist subculture, amongst many in the current IWW and the ultra left in the Anglo world. Consequently, they are unable to chart a realistic way forward to mass syndicalist unionism in the US, and overcome the various major obstacles currently in its path.

Mark McGuire

Notes:

(1) See “Anarcho-Syndicalism: Catalyst for Workers’ Self Organisation, Not Leftist Sect Building” in the archive section of our web site http://www.rebelworker.org/

(2) See, Roediger, David Ed. “Fellow Worker: The Life of Fred Thompson By Fred Thompson”, Published by Charles H.Kerr Publishing Co.

(3) See Chapter 2 “The Myth of Frontier Origins” in “Red November, Black November: Culture and Community in the IWW” by Salvatore Salerno, Published by Suny Series in American Labor History and George W.Carey, “The Vessel, the Deed and the Idea: The Paterson Anarchists 1895-1908” in Antipode 10 & 11 (1979).

From: Rebel Worker [rworker@chaos.apana.org.au]

Book Reviews from Rebel Worker Vol.32 No.2 (217) July-Aug.2013
http://www.rebelworker.org/

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Review: Direct Unionism: A Discussion Paper by Recomposition: Notes for a new workerism | 2 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Review: Direct Unionism: A Discussion Paper by Recomposition: Notes for a new workerism
Authored by: the1 on Friday, August 16 2013 @ 02:40 PM CDT

The wobs certainly do organize in the transportation sector.

 

See the recent Chicago Mobile Rail Workers strike.

chicagoiww.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/mobile_rail.jpg