Why an ‘Industrial Unionist Caucus’ ?
The ‘Industrial’ in Industrial Workers of the World refers to the aim of the founders to establish the widest possible practical solidarity necessary to challenge the growing concentration of capitalist power at the turn of the 20th century. Today, that power has only grown and with it has grown the importance of understanding the working class as the agent of revolutionary change within capitalism. Although capitalism has reshuffled itself numerous times in its history, the fundamental goal of extracting surplus-value off the labor-power of the workers remains its driving force. To combat this it is necessary to organize workers industrially, in the workplace, in all sectors of the economy.
The current organizing approach of the I.W.W. is to train people to form workplace committees that float freely and are virtually autonomous. This does not build industrial unions, let alone stable union institutions over time. As a result, many Wobblies have looked for quick cures and easy wins. From political activism to brand campaigns, the union has steadily drifted away from its past focus on organizing workers into Industrial Unions and has become a catch-all for leftists activists looking to carry out their projects or to have some labor “cred.”
The aim of this caucus is to reverse this trend. We believe that I.W.W. should be known as the ‘class struggle and education’ union. We should connect our understanding of capitalism, and the incessant struggle between workers and capitalists that it entails, to our organizing strategy. That means educating workers about capitalism (that bosses get what they got by exploiting workers) and how our organizing uses our insights about capitalism to win demands and bring workers together into sustainable union institutions that can be used to change society. But this assumes that we have a winning strategy in the first place. This is the most pressing task for the I.W.W. today.
We believe in using industrial unionism to get the I.W.W. back on track. To do this we will outline three major categories where we believe necessary changes can be made to realign the IWW to the industrial course; administrative reform, educational reform, and organizing reform.
The administrative reforms are guided by a simple principle; we want to make it as easy as possible for workers to join and organize. The union needs to get rid of the paper and stamps, make it easy to join and cancel membership and make dues payment a no-brainer with ACH. Tied to this, however, is the very real recognition that administrative work is the foundation of the organization. There is no organization without administration. The administration, local and general, forms the bedrock on which all else rests. We cannot wish it away. We must identify the necessary administrative tasks, and complete them routinely and consistently. That means paying administrative workers for the work they do for the union. It also means making sure that locals of the organization are properly trained in administration. At the moment there is no administrative training in the IWW, except for the Delegate Manual, and an unofficial “How To Run A Good Meeting” pamphlet that outlines Rusty’s Rules of Order. We need to teach our members, from the bottom up, how to run their organization. Without this we will continue to have overburdened and dysfunctional locals that will not be able to easily take on organizing when they initiate it or it comes to them.
People will call us the ‘education union’ because a core part of how we win will be through our work educating our membership. To this end both the education and literature departments will be indispensable. One must produce the materials we need to distribute, and the other will help produce the staff and members to educate. The core principle here is to develop as far as possible the concrete skills needed to organize the working class, to make them independent and class conscious workers engaged in their union and in fighting back at work.
This isn’t simply an ideal; in order for us to organize on the basis of class struggle and direct action, workers must be educated about class struggle and direct action. Most of this will happen in campaigns, as by logic it should. But this organizing ought to be thoughtfully supplemented with materials and trainings from our education and literature departments, which will augment the experiences of the campaigns. Information on organizing experiences, administration, and the class struggle all need to be readily available to locals and we need to cut wasteful spending, such as on the Industrial Worker magazine. This has been a contentious issue for the union throughout the years, and we will clarify our statement that we are not on principle against an IWW publication. We simply believe that at the current moment it is not sustainable project of the union and must be revisited when we have had more growth. We are for moving the IW to a online format.
Finally, we need an Organizing Department which organizes. That means equipping them both with the resources but also the mandate to take an active role. For too long we’ve simply let the union pull in many directions, often cutting against itself or simply exhausting organizers on unwinnable campaigns. Individual branches are largely free to organize however they see fit, from workplace campaigns, to, as of late, borderline political party-like work. Why?
The original purpose of the organization was to bring all workers together in ONE union so as to better coordinate their efforts. To this end, we argue that Wobblies should shift their focus away from General Membership Branches and toward forming Industrial Steering Committees. The aim here is to gather workers by industry (already formally done in the union) and focus their resources toward establishing footholds at particular employers in their respective industries as a means for growth.
The Organizing Department Board must also take a constructive role in supporting the organizing drives of I.U.s. The Organizing Department should hire a General Organizer to guide organizing drives and as we grow, to train and recruit more organizing staff. We see no necessary conflict between staff organizers and shop-floor workers that must result in the triumph of staff interests over member interests.
Relatedly; we need an organizing model. Some wobblies are working on possible industrial union campaigns that can serve as prototypes. We should look at past IU work and thought, and current contract campaigns. Again, this requires a concerted effort that focuses on one or a few regions and organizing drives, but draws on the general support and resources of the membership. Our model seeks to build on the experiences of the free-floating committee organizing of the Direct Unionist/Solidarity Unionist paradigm, but place it in the context of a programmatic approach to contracts on the basis of core I.W.W. principles. First among these is that the contract is only as good as its enforcement; and that its enforcement is only ever reliably carried out by the workers themselves.
Put this way, the committee focus of the current organizing and training model is augmented by a broader tactical and strategic approach to organizing. Starting with bringing members in one industry together, we can target our limited resources on particular employers with the aim of growth always in mind. This foothold approach will allow us to secure wins, and use the resources gained therein, to expand. The role of the ODB is to establish clear organizing guidelines and hire staff which can support the Industrial Steering Committees on their steps to becoming true Industrial Unions.
Help The Work Along
We put forward these most pressing problems to call for support wherever we can find it among the membership. From there we hope to effect these changes as best we can. Primarily we hope to draw in people with the requisite skills and interests in order to accomplish these tasks.
Nick S., IU-620
Cliff Connolly, IU-620
Luigi R., IU-460
Diane K., former GEBer
Jake V., IU-620