News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
Celebrate the IWW Centenary (1905-2005)
Friday, December 31, 2004
The Industrial Workers of the World will be celebrating its
first complete century in 2005.
The IWW, or the Wobblies, is a nominally international, but
effectively American, union movement headquartered in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, having much in common with
anarcho-syndicalist unions, but also many differences. It
believes that all workers should be united within a single
union as a class and the profit system abolished. In the
early twentieth century it was large and thriving.
The IWW was founded in Chicago in June 1905 at a convention
of two hundred socialists, anarchists, and radical trade
unionists from all over the United States (mainly the
Western Federation of Miners) who were opposed to the
policies of the American Federation of Labour.
Its first leaders included Big Bill Haywood, Daniel De Leon,
Eugene V. Debs, Thomas J Haggerty, Lucy Parsons, Mary Harris
Jones commonly known as "Mother Jones", William Trautmann,
Vincent Saint John, Ralph Chaplin, and many others. The IWW
was differentiated by its promotion of industrial unionism
(often confused with syndicalism), the acceptance of all
skilled and unskilled workers and of immigrant workers (many
of its early members were first- and second-generation
immigrants, some rising to prominence in the leadership like
Carlo Tresca, Joe Hill and Mary Jones.)
Its goal was to promote worker solidarity against the
employing classes. From the current Preamble to the IWW
"The working class and the employing class have nothing in
common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are
found among millions of the working people and the few, who
make up the employing class, have all the good things of
life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until
the workers of the world organize as a class, take
possession of the means of production, abolish the wage
system, and live in harmony with the Earth. . . . Instead of
the conservative motto, 'A fair day's wage for a fair day’s
work', we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary
watchword, 'Abolition of the wage system'."
The Wobblies differed from other union movements of the time
by emphasizing rank-and-file organization as opposed to
empowering leaders who would bargain with employers on
behalf of workers. They were one of the few unions to
welcome all workers including women, foreigners and black
workers. Wobblies were condemned by politicians and in the
Press who saw them as a threat to the status quo. Factory
owners would employ both non-violent (sending in Salvation
Army bands to drown out speakers) and violent means to
disrupt Wobbly meetings. Wobblies were often arrested and
sometimes killed for making public speeches, and this
persecution only inspired a further militancy among its
members. Wobbly organizing was considered to be one of the
largest examples of anarcho-syndicalism in action in the
The origin of the nickname "Wobbly" is unclear. Some believe
it refers to a tool known as a "wobble saw", while others
believe it is derived from an immigrant's mispronunciation
of "IWW" as "eye-wobble-you-wobble-you". In any case, the
nickname has existed since the union's early days and is
still used today.
In recent years, the IWW has been involved in many labor
struggles and free speech fights, including Redwood Summer,
and the picket of the Neptune Jade in the port of Oakland in
late 1997. IWW members built their own Internet server from
spare parts and ran it out of a member's bedroom for two
years before moving it to its current home in a San
Francisco office. The IWW now has an entire network of
Internet servers located around the world, maintains its own
internet domain (http://www.iww.org
), and uses its online
presence to organize new members as well as educate people
about the IWW's colorful past.
IWW organizing drives in the 1990s included a major campaign
against Borders Books in 1996, a strike at the Lincoln Park
Mini Mall in Seattle that same year, organizing drives at
Wherehouse Music, Keystone Job Corps, the community
organization ACORN, various homeless and youth centers in
Portland, Oregon, and recycling shops in Berkeley,
California. IWW members have been active in the building
trades, marine transport, ship yards, high tech industry,
hotels and restaurants, public interest organizations,
schools and universities, recycling centers, railroads, bike
messengers, and lumber yards.
The IWW has stepped in several times to help workers fight
against mainstream unions, including saw mill workers in
Fort Bragg in California in 1989, concession stand workers
in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1990s, and most
recently at shipyards along the Mississippi River.
In 2004, an IWW union was organized in a New York City
Starbucks, a company notorious for its refusal to allow
workers to form unions. In September of 2004, IWW organized
truck drivers in Stockton walked off their jobs and went on
a strike. Nearly all demands were met.
Current membership is believed to be about 1,000, with most
members in the United States, but many also located in
Australia, Canada, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, New
Zealand, Poland, Sierra Leone, and Sweden. --from Wikipedia
How to Plan a Centenary Event:
1) Contact Centenary Coordinator (mailto:centenary@...
215-222-1905) and let them know what you are thinking about
and what help GHQ can provide. Remember that the Centenary
Coordinator and GHQ are there to help you all along the way!
2) Start talking to other Wobs in your area and together
think about what kind of event you want to organize. For
example do you want to put together something around one of
our traveling exhibits (we will need host sites); do you
want put together a film showing, a party, a concert, or a
speaker? Or do you have something else in mind? If you are
in a Branch or IU form a Centenary Committee.
3) Examine the resources you have at your disposal. Are
there any local radical musicians or artists you have a
relationship with? Do any Wobbly historians live in your
area? (GHQ can help locate some of these people if you need)
What type of space do you have access to for an event? How
much time and energy can you and other Wobs devote to the
event? Are you in a location that will already have
Centenary-related stuff going on that you can plug into (for
example some of the traveling exhibits or conferences that
are already scheduled)? What kind of fundraising would you
need to do for the event you have in mind? Compile a list of
those resources and update it frequently!
4) Start making the contacts. Are the musicians you have in
mind available for the dates you are thinking about? Is the
space you have in mind available. Will it be too big/too
small for the event you have in mind? You get the idea.
Confirm the location and the speakers/performers as early as
possible. If your event is going to have more than one
speaker/performer make sure they know what the others are
5) Once you know the type of event you are planning, have
confirmed the necessary location, and have the
speakers/artists/performers locked in you are ready to go.
Now you just need to let folks know about it!
6) Publicize, publicize, publicize!! Once again make sure
that GHQ is kept up-to-date with your plans so that
information can be published in the GOB, the Industrial
Worker, on the Centenary website, and any other union-wide
sources. Think of creative ways to publicize the event
locally. Fliers of course, ads in local newspapers, labor
newspapers, the radical press, etc.
6) Take photos to document the event!
7) If possible write a short debriefing about the success
and failures of the event. This will help other Wobs who are
planning things know what works.
IWW Centenary Contact Information:
IWW Centenary Coordinator -- Nathaniel Miller
Phone -- 215-222-1905
Postal mail -- PO Box 13476, Philadelphia, PA 19101, USA
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