IWW: good people/intentions, wrong strategy

Part of the Imperial Diss List.

As you know I am the divine Emperor and I exercise my rule by unleashing my wrath upon one leftist group at a time.  It is now the turn of the Industrial Workers of the World.


The IWW shall be given a somewhat less severe imperial spanking because they’ve helped me out in the past.  Did you know that psychedelics are really helpful for migraines?

The obvious first poke at the Industrial Workers of the World is the same one as the Socialist Party USA which is that they’re stuck living in these glory days from when they were a mass organization 100 years ago which they have never since repeated which I guess is honestly adorable the way a cat is adorable.  I don’t actually expect cats to make the revolution though, and if you’re one of those people who is going to angrily type at me that no kittiez rly will make the revolushun then I think we’ve identified where the equation broke down.

Why do I bother writing about the IWW?  Because actually they have a dual orientation that I think is solid: libertarian communism and grassroots labor organizing.

Now a lot of IWW people will say, oh god we’re not anarchists, we’re an ideology-neutral labor union, we’re syndicalists, but yeah-yeah, bullshit, you’re full of anarchists and other left-wing radicals who are generally inclined towards something in the neighborhood of libertarian communism, which is my orientation, shut the fuck up and stop playing games, cool.

The other good orientation of the IWW is their recognition that a lot of existing, standard unions are bureaucratic and top-down, and what we really need instead are unions organized by workers themselves.  It’s also true that we’ve seen a lot of decline in unionization because workers aren’t terribly interested in the crappy top-down bureaucratic sellout unions on offer, the only existing unions are mostly public-sector unions which are more difficult to attack than private-sector unions, and the IWW’s insight that maybe more militant, class-struggle-oriented, grassroots, bottom-up unions might be appealing is part of the solution to re-unionizing the private sector.

The trick is, unions recognized by the government, given some of the advantages of government protections, are also subjected to government restrictions, meaning they are not allowed to wildcat strike, or perform unpredictable immediate strikes without official membership votes.  This is why it’s possibly advantageous to have unions that exist outside legal recognition, simply as organizations between the workers themselves, though this can be extremely difficult.  Some people have called this attempt to organize illegal unions “alt-labor” (way before the term “alt-right” became popular).

(Alternately, it might be easier just to legalize wildcat striking among legal unions, and extend the range of what NLRB-recognized unions can do.)  (NLRB = National Labor Relations Board.)

Why do we want grassroots, non-bureaucratic unions?  Because we want a world of self-government of workers.  Because bureaucratic unions often throw their political support behind the Democratic Party, and not that I differentiate between “progressive” (lol) and corporate wings of the Democratic Party, but bureaucratic unions don’t seem to either.  Because bureaucratic unions are far more likely to sell out their members’ interests during contract negotiations with bosses in favor of just paying nice salaries to the union bureaucrats and letting members’ interests slide than unions where workers have mechanisms of democratic accountability and control.

However we quickly run into a problem.  It’s just so much easier to take short-cuts in organizing.  It’s easier just to send in staffers and “organize” a workplace by signing up “members” to passively pay dues, which then go to more staffers and lawyers, the members just occasionally taking part in a contract vote.  This model only works in a few large workplaces of certain types of workers, and might not be well-suited to the rapidly-changing, highly-disrupted economy where workplaces grow and shrink quickly, are destroyed and formed quickly, and even traditionally industrial workplaces become small shops with lots of automated machines and just a few highly skilled specialized workers.  Then again, is any organizing model suited to such an economy?

This is our nightmare conundrum in the world of labor: unions will be either well-resourced, but bureaucratic, or small, unresourced, and unsuccessful.  IWW shop organizing drives lack resources, and therefore often fail, just not going anywhere, or sometimes even with organizers or fellow workers getting fired.

There’s a lot to make fun with the IWW.  There is a total lack of pragmatism in organizing, like holy shit.  One of the expelled members from the enormous drama resulting from their continuously-rotating headquarters policy and the ensuing expulsion of the Philly branch told me that the IWW would just declare an “industrial union” including all the IWW members in a given industry or field, even if they only had like five.  And they were very invested in this utterly ceremonial, pointless activity, because their entire mentality of organizing of labor, rather than any other type of political organizing or activism.

So how do we address this nightmare conundrum: bureaucratic unions, or unsuccessful unions?  Because the grassroots labor IWW people have been at these little shop, or solidarity network model multi-workplace union type things for a while, and truth is they never get beyond a circle of maybe a hundred people at their maximum bloom, like a city’s small activist scene.  Part of this is probably because of the inherently chaotic and unscaleable tendencies inherent in the purist-anarchist reliance on pure spontaneity and total consensus in organization, which is why I tend toward the more libertarian communist belief in majority rule democracy and limited amounts of elected representative leadership with strong checks by the group collective democracy.

But it’s also probably because organizing workplaces on a pure, non-staff, non-bureaucratic union basis is too hard.  What does this mean?

We could accept that bureaucratic unions are a necessary evil.  I don’t 100% accept this, but I 50% accept this, and I suspect a lot of people in the IWW do as well; a lot of people in the IWW are at least willing to work with and show solidarity to the more standard, NLRB-recognized unions.  We could work within that type of union and struggle to make it more bottom-up, more democratically accountable, etc.  Some IWW members are more hardline and argue that bureaucratization is a one-way process that is irreversible, etc.

But in truth I think a big part of the strategy to organizing the workplace is going to be to actually focus on something besides the workplace entirely.  We’re going to instead focus on just, organizing society.  We need to build a radical organization on a mass scale.  And what will the point of unity of that radical organization be?  Not being organized by the same workplace.  Just the common goal of transforming society.  And this is where it goes to a place that is uncomfortable for the IWW mission statement: the point of unity of this radical organization would be a common political ideology.  It would basically be a socialist or anarchist organization.

What would it do?  It would just be political.  It would just gather up the immense amounts of people who now identify with socialism, get them hanging out with each other on a regular basis, get them talking politics on a regular basis, get them literally just going to house parties or chilling at bars or doing whatever they feel like doing, just keeping them rallied together, keeping the party rallied, on a regular basis.

And then as that mass organization develops, as we are definitely in a political era in which this strategy is possible, we can use that mass party as a platform to begin launching incursions into workplaces and organizing them.  We will have so many members saturating society that we will begin discovering networks within our own membership of common workplaces between them.  As Maoists say “surround the cities from the countryside,” we will surround the workplaces from society by building a mass party.

What would this look like for the IWW?  It would look like recruitment to the IWW purely on the basis of agreement with its social vision rather than organizing on a specific workplace.  Just mass recruitment to the IWW on the basis of the syndicalist vision of a society run by producers, not trying to recruit ones and twos on the job.  Anyone who could organize on the job would be welcome to and supported in doing so, but it wouldn’t be the primary fixation or obligation.  The primary focus would be, just existing, finding more people, hanging out, educating each other about labor history, politics, theory, etc.  I’m not sure IWW members are comfortable with that.  It begins to look too much like what the other socialist groups do.

And if we had to pick whether the ideology we specified to recruit people to would be socialism or anarchism, rather than keeping it vague, I think socialism is going to be that ideology rather than anarchism because I think people are more inclined to seek a solution of fair and collective economics through collective and democratic governance rather than a solution primarily emphasizing the void or absence of a government or state.  One just resonates more obviously with the public than the other.  This is not to say that we should not be fiercely libertarian communists, that we should not resist authoritarian or bureaucratic tendencies militantly.  I am hardline about this, just about as much as anyone.  But absence of state just seems weird and abstract to people even if all communists recognize it as a necessity ultimately, whereas commonly and democratically planned production and equal distribution just seem much more natural and intuitive to most people’s immediate instincts.

Well, wobblies, that didn’t hurt so bad, did it?  I’d say you got off pretty easy, huh?  Definitely easier than PSL or Socialist Alternative or Socialist Party USA or Stalinism and Maoism in general.


Part of the Imperial Diss List.

Saturn hungers for more.  The Emperor demands another sacrifice.  I will unite the Left…

…in blood.



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