by Tyler Zee with contributions to conversation from Chino, Adela, Kei, and others
What is the IWW? Formal vs Real
On the surface, the IWW appears as a collection of bylaws, charters, branches, treasuries, members, and officers. Only a cursory glance underneath these formalities will reveal the deception of appearance, because the vast majority of these things have no relationship at all to popular struggles. Mass struggle at the point of production is obviously not erupting at the moment, but sadly the objective state of these struggles is not taken as the starting point for organizational efforts within the formal IWW. Rather, the formal IWW is seen as the precondition that future struggles are contingent upon.
The formal IWW, like the rest of the Left, presently has no roots at all in the class, but it imagines that the dues it collects, the branches it charters, and the resolutions it passes will have some kind of effect on the vast layers of the class not currently within its ranks. It has attempted to recreate a form in a vacuum, one that was historically born from struggle and should have changed with the new political reality following the defeat of those struggles. But in the formal IWW, form is elevated above content, structure above struggle, because the assumption is that such form produces struggle. In fact, the opposite is the case: struggle is and has always been the determinant of the forms of organization. And unfortunately for us, movements are produced of themselves in objective social conditions over which none of us have control.
Referring to itself as “a union” or a times “a revolutionary union,” the formal IWW when challenged to justify that claim, retreats into the mysticism of unionism as “a moment” when any self-selected grouping of workers act on the job. Sure. But a couple of solid militants raising the possibility of job action is qualitatively different from a standing organization at a workplace publicly recognized by the workers and the company (whether that recognition is mediated by a contract or not). It is different than a widely shared culture of unionism built through years of mass struggle. This more abstract concept which can be applied to any situation doesn’t help us make a concrete assessment of the present conditions of struggle and the organizational and strategic requirements pertaining. Formal Wobs then fall back on talk about “moments” when they’re unable to explain the big difference between a revolutionary union of the sort they imagine themselves to be and the IWW today which is much smaller and more discontinuous. But most importantly, obscuring this distinction hides the fact that the current organizational infrastructure of the IWW corresponds to a much bigger type of workers movement which doesn’t actually exist at the moment.
Often we hear the formal IWW referred to as “bureaucratic” or “undemocratic” as if it is some kind of brake on our activity. But never is the irony of those claims appreciated, as there is no activity for them to brake. Our organizing proceeds unadulterated, with or without all the bureaucracy or undemocratic maneuvering, and where this organizing ceases it is because it acquiesces to the illusion that the General Executive Board or some others structures are in control. The only thing the GEB controls is a title. We all mock the white bro D&D players who show up to convention and posture like Big Bill Haywood whose only relationship to the IWW milieu is that they pay dues, meanwhile they get to shit on and block every measure proposed to advance more militant organizing, whatever that looks like. But then we feel affronted as if it will have any bearing on what we do. We actually think it matters whether our positions are accepted by them and it is precisely in this way that we reproduce the formal IWW.
The formal IWW isn’t singularly the GEB either. Certainly they are an integral part, but formalism itself is an activity that transcends formal structures. Whenever we get anxiety because the convention didn’t pass this or that resolution, we reproduce the formal IWW. The result is a mystification of what actually exists or at worse a self-mediation of our independent activity. It muddles the conversation about what and how to build rather than offering any clarity.
Even the most seasoned IWW organizer has little to no concept of mass politics or that the historic IWW (its experiences, not its paper existence) was the result of mass struggle–usually outside its immediate influence–but which it positively related to and intervened in. It never occurs to them that not an ounce of the formal IWW matters without proletarians outside our existing reach beginning to enter the fray.
We see then that formalism is a methodology, a type of idealism that begins on the footing of form rather than activity.
The real IWW: a social ecology
So if the IWW isn’t this collection of members and officers and resolutions and a composite of empty formalisms, then what is it? The IWW in its lived experience and not its idea of itself is usually an informal and sometimes formal network of workplace militants, solnet organizers, revolutionaries, prisoners, and prisoner solidarity activists. It is the African Peoples Caucus, the former Recomposition, the May First Anarchist Alliance, Unity and Struggle, Black Rose, independent radicals, communists, and anarchists. It is the Free Alabama Movement, IWOC-NYC, a single militant prisoner in a Texas facility, a tenant in Georgia who dares to challenge her landlord, a group of Seattle immigrants whose wages were stolen. It is not a union of workers who join out of interest, but a few hundred political militants and their contacts who have a beautiful if vague vision of a different world and the need to fight for it, a vision that is as contradictory as struggle itself.
The IWW is a buzzword uniting this multi-celled amoeba that with its finger-like extensions spreads across the ponds of disparate struggle by its determination to bypass the corpse of representation and the fear its name conjures in the heart of the enemy. Such fear is not of the Industrial Worker paper nor the members “in good standing”, it is of the living, breathing network of militants that threaten their ability to manage.
Some of this social ecology sees the formal IWW as the real IWW. In fact, if the formal IWW lived in a insular world we would have no need to publish this essay. We are not interested in converting the formal IWW into the informal. Quite the opposite. In addition to the urgency of clarifying for ourselves and for this broader milieu (many of which are doing important and valuable work) what the concrete IWW is, our long-term vision is cast toward an entirely new form of organization. The difference is we desire an organization that gives expression to existing activity, not one that pretends we are the CIO, or worse, a radical alternative to the AFL. We don’t aim to rewrite the constitution and bylaws to incorporate more democracy as if democracy is a piece of paper. We don’t aspire for a better “structure,” but a new concept of “what is” altogether.
Furthermore, the social ecology of the IWW isn’t an automatic remedy to the limits of the formal IWW. Similarly, it doesn’t have deep roots in the class, only inconsistent contact. But contact is the basis for deeper connection and inroads that could be an agent of ferment at the onset of mass rebellion. The real IWW, the broad milieu and network of informal and sometimes formal relationships, cannot sink those roots any better than the formal IWW without future social dislocation that propel proletarians into action in a mass way. On this point we take influence from Don Hamerquist of the STO when he wrote in Trade Unions and Independent Organizations: “It is mysticism […] to assert that through the simple substitution of a ‘good’ organizational form for a ‘bad’ one, political problems which are rooted in the current consciousness and behavior of the working class can be resolved.” No technical modification, no form or structural change can leap over the current state of struggle, but a sober assessment of what we actually are surely prepares us to better respond to struggle when it springs forth.
Recent debates and new caucuses
The immediate context of this essay are the recent debates that have occurred in the formal and informal IWW. Of course, there have always been perennial and impassioned debate, but they have reemerged with renewed vigor and urgency due to the changing political climate that has lent previously abstract perspectives a new concreteness.
The wave of prison revolts and strikes, the emergence of Black Lives Matter movement, the growth of white nationalism and the lead-up to the election of Trump as well as the immediate fallout has put the political question front and center again. No longer is the issue of imparting the IWW a political character an abstraction as the recent activity of the Twin Cities IWW, General Defense Committee and African Peoples Caucus have demonstrated.
The re-emergence of Black struggle, though it is temporarily at an ebb, reveals to the broad IWW milieu the only sober way that the racial composition of the formal IWW, overwhelmingly white and male, and the center of years of debate can be confronted. The racial constitution of the prison strikes as Black and immigrant-led, and the gendered experience of reproductive struggles which has positioned women to play the leading role in coordinating on the outside of prison walls as family, as comrades, now spells the final limits of the formal adoption of “SAFER spaces” and other top-down approaches to challenging the racial and gendered limits of the IWW: we no longer have to resolve and expel our way to a different IWW, we already have a different one by our very activity.
The IWOC has been the site of debate over the role of the IWW in the prison rebellions that began to unfold in earnest in 2014. While many workplace organizers may not see it as important or at best auxiliary to the “main” work, the bigger takeaway isn’t their political weakness, it is that the explosion of prison struggle isn’t the result of IWOC formalism, but happened of its own accord. One might think that they would apply this internal dynamism and logic to class struggle outside prison walls, but instead they cling to the reified model of a linear growth of industrial unions, one workplace, one industry at a time until the eventual arrival of the general strike. Even the IWOC members themselves spent the vast majority of their conference not discussing strategy and organization, but how they can get the convention and formal IWW to take their work seriously. Instead of considering the immense coordinating and logistical questions that impose themselves as limits of the prison movement, they proposed tedious resolutions toward a democratization of the paper IWW.
Some of the recent debate among the GDC has been around “simple antifa” (the classic ARA tactic) versus “mass antifa” which aspires to take the fight against fascism and white nationalism out of the subculture of the hard Left and into the realm of mass politics. The activity of the Twin Cities GDC has produced interest around the country and new inquiries on the possibility of building similar groupings. Rather than focusing exclusively on those inquiries some sit about writing resolutions for the convention to incorporate the GDC. While there have been important questions raised, the framework has been to have it officially sanctioned or rejected by the formal IWW. But the future of mass antifa does not rest with the convention or GEB, but with those who have the fortitude and capacity to execute it.
The work of IWOC and GDC and their relationship to the IWW have seen a high degree of polarization in the milieu. While each side interjects vital considerations, the forms of the disagreement become highly obfuscatory leaving unclear the terms on which people are even debating. To make matters worse, instead of trying to establish even a modicum of categorical clarity which before staking out a position and a proposal for action examines the practical reality, semi-nebulous political critiques get subsumed into personal attacks, even to the point of pathologizing people. Instead of bringing clarity to the concrete picture which underpin the differing perspectives, they falsely polarize into the questionable content of one’s behavior. Even the whole framework of “caucuses” assumes the existence of a union movement to begin with. What the form of these debates and all their ugliness reveal is a general cynicism tied to the absence of mass struggle–the very union movement itself–and lack of clarity on who we are and what our role is, rendering a vision on how we could move forward completely futile.
The caucus of the Wobblies for a Revolutionary Union Movement is an interesting development to the extent that it has expressed a need to combat a reductive concept of unionism that subordinates struggles around social reproduction, particularly in the context of renewed struggles against cops or the wave of prison strikes and riots. For this reason, the WRUM is not only making a defense of IWOC and GDC activity as critical to IWW practice but pushing their indispensability as they more closely express where class struggle has taken place. Struggles in the context of social reproduction, in this case against the police and prisons, are not only “equally important” to workplace organizing, but central to the class experience and the heart of the crisis itself. And where the class struggles, so we as militants must be.
Unfortunately, the WRUM statement leans heavily on the undemocratic nature of the GEB, its “oppressive behavior,” and postulates that there is a one-to-one relationship between economism and racism. They implicitly imagine that by getting rid of certain people and behaviors, objective problems that limit our ability to make broader inroads to the class will be overcome. The actual substance of some of their political critique are of immense value and we should welcome the proliferation of those ideas across the milieu. But without having a different platform in which to debate these things out, even the best intentioned militants are left fighting for resolutions instead of engaging in a rich discussion with others nationwide and internationally to win them over to a particular position or tactic.
The Industrial Unionist Caucus (IUC) is another positive example of militants coming together to cohere around a set of key principles and using those principles to shape specific measures. The IUC is a concentrated space for IWW militants to coordinate their activity and to fight for the dissemination of their ideas. Like the WRUM, they advance a set of critiques of existing practice, many of which we find common agreement with: the limits of external activist cheerleading and protest-hopping, unstrategic and haphazard organizing campaigns, the inefficacy of the General Membership Branches which affiliate people based purely on location, etc. Yet while they claim to begin with concrete experience, their method reveals a similar disconnect between form and content, exemplified in the call to return to a classical industrial focus, a focus that a hundred years ago was inherently tied to a very specific class composition and activity. Classic industrial unionism was not a voluntarist effort, but reflected the mass struggles of a definite period within particular sectors of proletarians, struggles that the IWW did not will into existence.
Rather than beginning with a compositional analysis of the class and how it is being recomposed, where the class is fighting (or isn’t) and what new forms of organization might facilitate its further development, it remains trapped in formalism, which, despite their intent, is the real substance of their claim of being “IWW fundamentalists.” It actually has little to nothing to do with their supposed racism and sexism. It is not their behavior, but their particular conception of labor and capital which leaves them to conclude that industrial activity is the starting point for class struggle.
Whatever be the different political and strategic points of emphasis among the two caucuses, what unites them is their formalism. Each caucus hopes to impose its will on the other, as if it will magically neutralize the basis on which these debates are springing up. The aim is to have the formal IWW by this or that means adopt the specific measures of the respective caucuses and that will bring about the desired result. The strength of their respective ideas, however, are in their practical implications, the results of their organizing and their theoretical defense, not on their formal recognition.
How the method of direct unionism can help us
To take a relatively recent parallel, the campaign of what later became the now-defunct Recomposition crew to fight for a direct unionist approach to workplace struggle shows that it matters little whether their specific strategic assumptions are formally adopted.
Direct unionism began with a highly modest and concrete look at what the IWW is. Instead of just accepting that the IWW is a union simply because we call ourselves one, it made the observation that what we really are is an informal, and at times, formal network of workplace militants and activists. Rather than a standing grouping where ordinary workers outside the scope of a struggle affiliate merely because of where they work, what typifies the IWW are individuals who join based on a vague political commitment. It also implicitly acknowledged the objective limits in the present moment: shrinking gains, capitalist intransigence, discontinuity of struggle, etc., that imposes limits on the ability to actually win large campaigns. So it suggests that we build networks of militants who with others carry out informal and small job actions and that those experiences can possibly serve as a framework and pole for popular struggle upon its re-emergence.
Direct unionism wasn’t developed in a lab, but arrived at by the critical reflection on contemporary organizing by militants who took part in it and the subsequent systemization of those ideas for distribution within IWW ecology. The fact that it has not been formally adopted reveals how the strategic coordination of a small group of militants across the landscape can influence the direction of debate and the scope of practice. The Wobblyism pamphlet of 2013 used direct unionism as a strategic beginning point to historicize the hegemony of service-oriented unionism in the period of the 90s and 2000s. It revealed that radical service unionism was a spontaneous development, a consequence of the retreat of struggle and the growth of activist auxiliaries to the mainstream unions looking for a democratic alternative and not the result of an intense strategic debate. Direct unionism did not become a general approach by accident, but by a long-term articulation and practice of its adherents.
The current IWW has never seen a mass movement where workplaces are the site of struggle and this is one of the objective reasons why many activists who find themselves in the milieu rarely if ever think about our organizing in relationship to a future social rupture. Because of this, it is very easy to take for granted that the growth of the IWW in the long run will be the result of “good organizing” rather than on how it positions itself once popular struggle returns. We, on the other hand, assume the IWW will never grow in any qualitative sense–that is, outside the activist milieu and subculture–without social explosions. Furthermore, we insist that without such an explosion our organizing is not and cannot be decisive for any kind of future where wage labor and private property are abolished. Finally, we say that the present organizing is a training ground and infrastructure that can be radically augmented in a dynamic way once the working class in general or even in sections become activated. Therefore, the task is not to build “the union,” to sign people up to the formal IWW, to reform it through superfluous bureaucracy, and to attempt mass high-profile campaigns on the job, but engage in subterranean guerilla warfare at work and in our communities to the extent that once mass struggle materializes we can more effectively fuse with that energy rather than be completely bypassed, or worse, marginalized by establishment forces. Again, the Twin Cities experience is extremely instructive toward these ends. In this way we ask our comrades not to take the fate of the formal IWW so seriously, but also conversely, to prioritize the seriousness of organizing our milieu. This necessarily involves infinitely less conversations about “structure” because this conversation remains too abstract and miles ahead of the concrete picture, and more about building relationships with each other across, local, political, organizing divides.
There is speculation that the mounting tensions that are producing such intense debate and the formation of various caucuses signals an impending split. Some may see the split as a loss as it will fracture “the union,” while others could welcome it as a way that members with irreconcilable differences can move forward in a productive way. But nowhere in the debate is there a critique of the methodology of formalism leaving us to conclude that a new “union” would merely repeat the same empty structural nonsense, but with better politics on paper. Formalism with better politics gets us not an inch closer to cohering a grouping that can dynamically combine with mass struggle when it emerges, whether it be struggles on the job or outside it.
Between “economism” and “activism,” formalism is the real threat
Engaging in the formal IWW means filling out an application, paying dues, electing officers, joining or forming a branch and facilitating meetings with Robert’s Rules of Order. Likewise, taking part in the current debates mean forming a caucus and attempting to reform the formal IWW. It means voting on resolutions and reading the General Organizational Bulletin every month so we can read the overwrought defense or rejection of particular motions, as if the outcome of any of this pretentiousness has any ramifications for proletarian struggle or even our own limited activity. If we ever stop to really look at it, the whole thing is quite silly.
But we don’t have to engage this way. We don’t have to get lost in the tediousness and formality as a means to have a relationship to whatever is good or interesting that is happening in the social milieu. What is really at stake in all the personality problems and snarky debating on Red Card Holders isn’t bureaucracy or lack of democracy it’s that they obfuscate and mystify, but simultaneously are the reflex of, new forms of activity that then become subsumed into the formal IWW.
But what about the formal IWW? What about “all the money” and “resources”? We respond by asking, how decisive have those supposed resources and money been to our respective organizing? How often have we instead relied on our own collective efforts and ability to pool funds and get something done? Does our work really hang in the balance without it? What about all of our myriad solidarity networks who have come together with an extremely austere structure and dues collection? But what to do with the formal IWW isn’t really what is at stake in the question. What is at stake is whether individual activists know how to actually organize outside the framework of the formal, paper IWW. This is our failure, not theirs.
Formalism is the real danger, not the administration, not economism or IWW fundamentalism, not the activism of members. Economism narrows the sphere of activity and possibility, activism gets pulled along by whatever is hot at the moment, and for those reasons they need challenging. But formalism totally isolates us from reality and winds up absorbing activity into efforts that have zero consequences for changing what it is we don’t like in the practical IWW.
Even the most militant “economist” struggle in the workplace benefits the whole informal milieu. We automatically inherent new possibilities we had nothing to do with when we engage the IWW in the street. Likewise, when the IWW in the street extends itself in every possible political way, the workplace organizers and their associations benefit from the new political reality that can reinforce their work on the job. There is a whole network of IWW militants who can be leveraged to sustain their activity and that will prevent their isolation and potentially draw unsure or timid workers into the mix.
The informal network of IWW militants, even the most conservative and politically reductive types, are organizing struggle in the workplace and gaining real skills and experience that at the onset of a spontaneous wave of workplace rebellion situates them to be the ones many workers turn to first for perspectives on how to fight. The “fundamentalists” need the IWW social ecology organizing outside the workplace as that is where episodic rebellion has transpired and is of indispensable value to future of workplace struggle. It has been in contemporary mass struggles that we have broken out of our subcultural life and been able to show what is possible when organized militants intervene for the movement’s autonomy, defense, and expansion.
Because of this we have a responsibility to engage each other and not draw hard lines on matters of strategy, but on the formalism which could destroy it all. We are not the product of our own activity but that of the social totality and the multiplied cooperative forces of militant proletarians everywhere.
Who are we?
“We” don’t really exist as anything coherent. We are not a committee, not a caucus, not a tendency, not some faction vying for control over an imagined bureaucracy, only a handful of militants who share a methodology, one which at times leads us to differing conclusions. And though the writers would never attempt even in the context of mass unionism to capture a bureaucracy, the sad truth is that there is no bureaucracy for us to capture. Most of us don’t belong to sanctioned branches. Some of us participate in IWOC activities while others are organizing in chartered and non-chartered GDCs. Sometimes we organize on the job while at other times we show up to the picket lines of business unions and polarize against an actual bureaucracy. At no point in our collective organizing has the formal IWW stopped us for a single moment–only when we have had to combat the formalism among us. Fundamentally, we exist to rep the practical tradition of the IWW and beyond, the general threads of social revolt, and the fear it instills among the rulers. Drawing on the broad social milieu–the practical IWW, not the one on paper–has aided us in showing the working class that we aren’t just a handful of local workplace activists; that a much wider struggle exists out there, with people like us and them, even if scattered and small.
This doesn’t mean we don’t care about organization. In fact, the diametric opposite. The weakness of the social ecology of the IWW is its discontinuity and lack of coordination, its localism and activism, its lack of analysis and its empiricism. But among this ecology we find the potential–and only a potential–web of nodules for a future form. If that form winds up being called anything other than IWW, we will shed no tears. Better a small active network of militant fighters advancing the IWW traditions than a large group of passive dues-payers with legal claim to the IWW name.
We have relationships with IUC and WRUM affiliates, ex-Recompists, former Wobs, Unity and Struggle, May First Anarchist Alliance, Black Rose, IWOC and GDC organizers, Angry Workers of the World, Passa Palavra, and Clash City Workers. Even those who we are in contact with who are not directly part of the milieu are indirectly a part of it through the relationship with us. We agree and disagree with all of our comrades on a myriad of strategic and political questions. We don’t care to enforce agreement at a higher level with all of them, nor do we want to merge them and coexist into a unitary revolutionary organization. Instead, we imagine a practical network based on a loose set of principles that capture the highest expression of militancy we have seen in the milieu, a network which takes impetus from “Hands Up, Don’t Ship”, the Jamar Clark encampment, and the mass antifa of Twin Cities, the Northwest Airlines strike, the Free the Bronx 120 campaign, the Food Mart organizing in the Bay, the detention center strikes in Conroe, TX and Atlanta, GA, the general strike coordination efforts in Madison, WI.
We could care less about meeting the criteria of chartering a branch or whether particular motions we might otherwise agree with politically are passed. We could see the whole formal thing erupt into flames and the cherished Sabo cat and IWW Song Book relegated to the dustbins of history. What we do care about are the real connection to proletarians being made at UPS, in Atlanta County Detention Center, at Macon State Prison in Alabama, at the University of Puerto Rico, in the projects of Hunts Point, in apartment complexes in Gulfton, and in the petrochemical refineries of Baytown. The historic IWW only has merit to the extent that it advanced class struggle and where it didn’t we have zero sentimentalism. The only thing worth preserving are the rich lessons of past generations of IWW and other militants who put primacy on struggle over formalism: Hubert Harrison, Ben Fletcher, Lucy Parsons, Rebel Girl, Frank Little, the Philadelphia and New Orleans dock workers, East Texas timber workers, the Magonistas, Mexican IWW, and the left-wing of the Texas Socialist Party who wanted the blood of the Mexican Revolution to spill cross the Rio Grande Valley and run all the way to the Minnesota River.
A general way forward
A new organization cannot be built now. The struggle is too localized, discontinuous, and mostly non-existent. We cannot build a mass union as the formal IWW imagines itself to be and all of our tiny discontinuous organizing in the end is simply training for future revolt. What we can do now is to begin coordination of the social ecology, to turn the informal milieu into a scaffolding for future militant proletarian organization–who cares what it is called.
The real IWW is the most recent and richest pool of experiences which workers in struggle can draw from and which militants familiar with the traditions can impart. It is the best possible option we have, despite our openness to new possibilities from without, to transform from an informal militant network to something more coherent as struggles begin qualitatively changing.
We must synthesize in theory the best of the IWW social ecology and reproduce it at every level possible, not just in the workplace. The point is to organizationally (practically) connect the various threads of IWW activity: workplace organizing, strike intervention, prisoner organizing, community self-defense, and street protest blocs. If GDC militants from two different cities talk on the phone and resolve to advocate certain principles and enact certain practices among their respective spheres of influence, that is the embryonic framework of the future organization.
A critical part of our fate as a tradition is engaging outside our milieus. One of the reasons why the Twin Cities has been so successful is that they have not just passively participated in popular struggles in their area, but have actively engaged as patriots of the movement, raising important strategic questions that have resulted in changing the dynamic of the struggle. We would like to replicate this general proactive approach. Additionally we think it important to telescope the cross-local and organizing interfacing beyond the borders of the US. The profound growth of the SI COBAS in Italy are highly instructive for us in the IWW milieu in the States because while they have a history preceding the last few years of struggle, their resurgence was directly related to migrant workers in the logistics industry beginning to fight back against Ikea, DHL, TNT and other logistics giants. SI COBAS didn’t grow linearly from a small group to a large union through passive recruitment, but by jumping into the logistics struggle and providing direction. And not only the formal SI COBAS militants, but the broad revolutionary Left milieu, the squats and social centers, have been central parts of the coherence of the struggle, inveighing significant strategic and political lessons preventing the defeat and isolation of the warehouse and transport fights.
Breaking out of our isolationism and preparing for future mass struggles are the most critical parts of how we can move past the current malaise and formalism pervading us. But rather than the passive policy of simply ignoring the formal IWW (although that would be a welcomed change), we should begin on the terms of strengthening the real IWW toward the end of new associations and new forms of organization in the long view.
So how can we do this? We start by what exists or what existed in recent memory and aim toward a more purposeful extension and continuity of that activity.
- Formation or reformation of new blogs, but with an aim toward clarifying political perspectives and elevating the level of strategic debate and creativity in the whole informal milieu, eliminating the cynical shit-talking and obfuscatory communication, with small editorial committees who puts in the long-term work of soliciting serious theory and strategy and not just putting up empirical organizing reports-back.
- Organization of more speaking tours that focus on specific areas of work, sharing the particular experiences and obstacles of organizing, which can interface militants of different cities and backgrounds, and deepen existing relationships.
- Giving the existing organizer training, a valuable IWW practice, a wider scope to include other arenas of organizing, and streamlined into a 2-3 hour workshop that can quickly and easily be reproduced.
- Holding forums or conferences where the different strategic questions and limits of our organizing are discussed and debated.
- Build practical relationships outside the IWW milieu that relate beyond passive “solidarity” work: engage local BLM groupings in strategic conversation, link up with antifa groups where we raise the need for “mass antifa” tactics, help build immigrant defense and rapid response networks, etc.
- Engage other class struggle networks outside the US: IWW in the UK, Angry Workers of the World in West London, Clash City Workers or the SI COBAS union in Italy, Kampa Tillsammans in Sweden, Passa Palavra in Brazil, etc.
- Finally, study and produce more theory. The empirical thinking that pervades our milieu, the disconnect between our organizing and mass struggle, the fetish of historic forms of organization are 100% a result of not taking up important theoretical questions. We need to study history and read biographies but also make sense of the value form, social reproduction, falling rate of profit, composition of labor and capital, etc.
Rather than trying to harness the little activity there is to the formal IWW and having our solid organizing be subsumed into it, we make the informal IWW the real one, not spontaneously, where we remain informal and pulled along by objective events or whatever new organizing trend is the rage; and not formalistically, by a constitution and bylaws and ridiculous Robert’s Rules which were more adequate to older forms of mass unionism. New forms which intentionally bring us closer outside the confines of formalism better represents what we are, not only quantitatively as a small milieu, but also qualitatively–not a mass of workers who affiliate out of pure interest, but a social ecology of militants and organizers committed to the development of popular struggle and the abolition of capital and the State.
The stronger the real connections become over time, the weaker and more irrelevant the formal IWW becomes. The “IWW” is dead. Long live the IWW!
“The mass strike, as the Russian Revolution shows it to us, is such a changeable phenomenon that it reflects all the phases of the political and economic struggle, all stages and factors of the revolution. Its adaptability, its efficiency, the factors of its origin are constantly changing. It suddenly opens new and wide perspectives of the revolution when it appears to have already arrived in a narrow pass and where it is impossible for anyone to reckon upon it with any degree of certainty. It flows now like a broad billow over the whole kingdom, and now divides into a gigantic network of narrow streams; now it bubbles forth from under the ground like a fresh spring and now is completely lost under the earth.”
-Rosa Luxemburg, 1906