"No politics in the union"? Come off it

no-politics

This blog post argues that "No politics" is a bad idea and an inaccurate description of the IWW.

There’s a kind of common sense about the IWW, among some members and some nonmembers that says “the IWW is apolitical.” I think that’s a weird idea. (I’ve argued a bit about this in a discussion paper I wrote called Mottos and Watchwords.) Among other reasons, it’s a weird idea because the IWW is openly anti-capitalist and our organization’s preamble quotes Karl Marx. If that’s apolitical, well, that seems to me like a weird definition of apolitical. I think there are several sources of this idea that the the IWW is apolitical, including people outside the IWW with an axe to grind (“they don’t have my politics, so they don’t have politics at all!”), bad views about the possibilities for unions to be radicals (“if we have politics then some workers’ views won’t be represented and we can never be a real union!”), and real discomfort and difficulties that many of us in the IWW have when it comes to talking about and advocating for our organization’s core values. All of that stuff is important and I’m sure there are other important sources as well. What I want to talk about here, though, is what I think is another source of this idea. Specifically, it’s an IWW pamphlet called One Big Union, which has a section called “No Politics in This Union.”

The IWW Constitution says that all new members shall be given a copy of the OBU pamphlet. (Article VIII section (g).) By requiring that all members be given this pamphlet, it elevates the status of the pamphlet and its words within the organization in a way, as if the pamphlet represents the views of the whole organization, or as if all members ought to agree with that pamphlet in the same way that we all ought to agree with the IWW Preamble. This makes the One Big Union pamphlet seem different from any other official literature or publication of the organization - we don’t expect every member to agree with all content in the Industrial Worker, for example. I think this pamphlet being listed in the IWW constitution has helped feed and spread this idea of the IWW as having “no politics.” (I’m told that the constitutional language requiring we hand out the OBU pamphlet to new members was introduced in the 1970s. I think we in the IWW should have a conversation about whether or not to keep this constitutional requirement. It's also not the best pamphlet to give to brand new members, in my opinion. Personally I think Tim Acott's Think It Over and his Annotated Preamble are much more relevant to new members than the OBU pamphlet, if we're going to have constitutional language requiring members to receive copies of pamphlets. Personally, I also think we should sort out what we do with literature and why, and develop some categories for different kinds of literature. If there are materials we want all members to receive, we should talk about that, and how best to do that.)

The pamphlet has also probably helped feed and spread that idea because it’s a historic pamphlet dating back to the early 20th century. The first One Big Union pamphlet was written by William Trautmann and Thomas Hargety, two people involved in founding the IWW. This makes it seem like “no politics” is a part of the IWW’s heritage from the beginning. That’s a mistake, though, in two ways. For one thing, the meaning of the word ‘politics’ as it was used by a lot of people in the era when the IWW was founded is different from the meaning of the word in a lot of the circles IWW members move in today. In the early 20th century U.S. the word “politics” meant the ballot box. There were, for instance, debates between political socialists and nonpolitical socialists. The phrase “nonpolitical socialist” may sound like a contradiction to us today, because we tend to believe there can be politics through other means than the ballot box. In the early 20th century, though, “political” meant basically “state parliamentary,” so “political socialists” were people who believed that socialism could happen through voting. So, material from the early days of the IWW that is critical of “politics” is critical of state parliamentary approaches to social change. Today we might call that non- or extra-parliamentary politics. Whatever we call it, though, we generally believe that there are forms of politics beyond the ballot box. When we talk about stuff like that, we’re talking about stuff that people in the early 20th century would have considered outside of or opposed to politics, because politics had a narrower meaning. This means that it’s a mistake to appeal to the early 20th century history of the IWW for the idea that the IWW is apolitical.

There’s a second reason why it’s a mistake to link “no politics” to the IWW’s early history tied to the One Big Union pamphlet. It’s a simpler reason, which is that the phrase “no politics in the union” doesn’t appear in the original One Big Union pamphlet at all. What we have today as the One Big Union pamphlet is very, very different, so that it’s a bit weird that it has the same title. The IWW published a pamphlet in 1910 or 1911 called One Big Union, written by William Trautmann with some material by Thomas Hagerty. It was used until 1943. Looking at the One Big Union pamphlets from 1911 to 1943 it's clear how much "no politics" is a clumsy way to express our views. Just two examples. Trautmann's early pamphlet referred to "the great words of a great thinker, Karl Marx: "The emancipation of the workers must be achieved by the working class itself. Workers of the World, Unite!" That's hardly an apolitical statement. The 1911 edition of the pamphlet, printed and distributed by the IWW, also had an ad at the end reading "The only popular illustrated magazine in the world that advocates industrial unionism is the International Socialist Review. (…) The volume entitled "Debs: His Life, Writings and Speeches," contains all of Eugene V. Debs' most important writings on Industrial Unionism. (…) The Pocket Library of Socialism includes six books by Debs and one by Trautmann on industrial unionism." Again, this hardly sounds nonpolitical to me. While the early editions of the pamphlet did criticize "political socialists," meaning socialists who thought the ballot box was a meaningful tool for social change, it's a mistake to call this pamphlet nonpolitical.

In 1944, the organization published a pamphlet of the same name but with dramatically different content. We're still using the 1944 edition today, with very minimal changes. It was that 1944 edition that added the “No politics” section. (Incidentally, “no politics in the union” was an AFL slogan in the early 20th century, one used against radicals in unions.)

In the current edition of the One Big Union pamphlet, the “no politics” section, section four, reads as follows:

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“It is sound unionism not to express a preference for one religion or one political party or candidate over another. These are not union questions, and must be settled by each union member according to personal conscience. The union is formed to reach and enforce decisions about industrial questions. Its power to do this can be destroyed by the diversion of its resources to political campaigns. So that all the workers regardless of their religious or political preference may be united to get every possible benefit out of their job, the I.W.W. must be non-political and non religious. It lets its members attend to these matters as they personally see fit--and with the additional social consciousness, regard for their fellows, and general enlightenment that they derive from union activity. This does not mean that the I.W.W. is indifferent to the great social and economic questions of the day. Quite the contrary. We believe the I.W.W. provides the practical solutions to these questions. When the industry of the world is run by the workers for their own good, we see no chance for the problems of unemployment, war, social conflict, or large scale crime, or any of our serious social problems to continue. With the sort of organization the I.W.W. is building, labor can exert any pressure required to restrain the antics of politicians and even more constructively accomplish through direct action what we have often failed to do through political lobbying.”

There are a few threads knotted together in the current section about "no politics," and I think "no politics" is bad summary for all of them. One thread of the current section is organizational neutrality on disputes among different capitalist politicians. We have no "preference for (…) one political party or candidate over another," so we don't pick sides among them. Fair enough.

Another thread of this section is that with proper organization the working class "can exert any pressure required to restrain the antics of politicians and even more constructively accomplish through direct action what we have often failed to do through political lobbying." This says that it's a waste of time to use lobbying and the state because collective action is a more effective way to get what we want. Again, fair enough. Historically the IWW has tended to be generally opposed to electoralism. That was part of the conflict with the De Leonists, who were expelled in 1908. And loads of IWW members were expelled from the Social Party over their rejection of the ballot box as a meaningful avenue for change.

Yet another thread in the "no politics" part of the One Big Union pamphlet is that individual members have the freedoms to think what they like and to vote for whoever they want to, or not vote, when it comes to elections. The IWW "lets its members attend to these matters as they personally see fit — and with the additional social consciousness, regard for their fellows, and general enlightenment that they derive from union activity." Freedom of thought is a fine thing: it's a fine POLITICAL principle. It's silly to call that "no politics." (As an aside, I think it's good that the IWW doesn't take sides among political parties and that we don't see the ballot box as a tool for change. But personally I think that there should limits on the freedom of conscience allowed in the organization. Recently in Pennsylvania an openly white supremacist candidate was elected to a Republican Committee. The nazi British National Party has made significant electoral gains before and currently has two seats in the European Parliament. An IWW member who actively supported those kinds of parties ought to be expelled: while we reject political parties and don't see the ballot box as a meaningful way to make change, it's just not true that all political parties are the same.)

The One Big Union pamphlet also says that "the I.W.W. must be nonpolitical." That doesn't make any sense to me, just "no politics in this union" doesn't make sense to me. As I said earlier, the IWW preamble basically quotes Karl Marx and calls for ending capitalism. That's political. The IWW is committed to the end of capitalism and creating a new society, just through different means than elections. Prior to 1917 most IWW members would have called this new society 'socialist', the idea of the cooperative commonwealth cropped up too and that was a socialist idea that politically literate people would have recognized as meaning socialism. That's political too. (My preferred term is 'communism' but I don't like to fight over terminology.)

The "no politics" section and the OBU pamphlet over all calls for creating a new society outside official institutional/electoral channels and without the use of the state. That is a political project, it's just an anti-electoral political project. To my mind, then, this means we should drop the idea that the IWW is "nonpolitical."

With that in mind, I think we should change the title of section 4 of this pamphlet to drop the “no politics” phrase. Instead the title should be something like “Political Parties, Members’ Freedoms, and Government Elections.” I think we should change the section to something like the following:

“The IWW does not express a preference for one political party or candidate over another, no more than the organization holds a position on religious matters. If they choose to do so, individual members have the freedom to choose to vote or work on electoral politics outside their IWW activity, though the IWW discourages this. Generally speaking, we do not see much point in arguing about electoral politics at IWW functions. This does not mean we are indifferent to the great social and economic questions of the day. It means that we see the ballot box as a poor way for the working class to achieve a better life and create a new society. When the industry of the world is run by the workers for their own good, there will be no chance for the problems of unemployment, war, social conflict, large-scale crime, or similar social problems. Other social problems such as sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression might exist in a noncapitalist society, but they would no longer have an economic component to them. With proper organization the working class can exert any pressure required to restrain politicians and can accomplish through direct action what we have often failed to do through political lobbying.”

And finally, just to repeat, we should openly note somewhere that declaring that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common, believing that there can be no peace under capitalism, believing that an injury to one is an injury to all, and calling for a new society based on cooperation and solidarity - these are political positions.

Posted By

Nate
Oct 21 2012 06:55

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Chilli Sauce
Oct 29 2012 00:38

Hmmm...I not gonna lie, FW, there's a lot I disagree with in there. Bit rushed for time at the moment, but I will respond in short for the time being.

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class collaborate regularly, when we go to work and make profits for capitalist employers and agree to their terms of employment-- let's call it mundane collaboration, or low-commitment collaboration, or whatever.

Class collaboration or class coercion, mate?

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the only level at which they [non-radicals] have a significant impact is in the campaigns

That's pretty fundamentally important tho, no?

katherynden
Oct 29 2012 06:21

How I wish it's true. But, looking at my surroundings, politics work.

kevin s.
Oct 29 2012 07:08

Hi Chilli, heheh I figured you'd disagree with a bunch of that, lol. Well that's what discussion is for. I'll be a lot briefer this time...

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Class collaboration or class coercion, mate?

Sure. The same coercion that largely compels how unions function, and workers to cross picket lines etc.. We all make compromises on a daily basis to survive, that's just life. We all draw lines we won't cross (supposedly) no matter what, even for survival. I mean it's not like we're all out there waging uncompromising armed struggle, we have day jobs and so on, we compromise.

All my point is, anyway, is that signing a union contract doesn't strike me as being more collaborationist than working for employers anyway, it just depends on what the contract does, like, if it turns the union into a labor peace machine devoted to mediating class conflict, well then yeah it's collaborationist... but if it protects and encourages rank and file militancy, and doesn't interfere with direct worker actions, then I don't see how that's collaborationist, except in a very abstract and meaningless way in which pretty much all of us collaborate in some sense.

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the only level at which they [non-radicals] have a significant impact is in the campaigns
That's pretty fundamentally important tho, no?

I agree. All I meant was, those folks were't/aren't typically card-carrying wobblies, responding to the issue of non-radical workers joining the union in disregard for the preamble.

Chilli Sauce
Oct 29 2012 08:57
kevin s. wrote:
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Class collaboration or class coercion, mate?

Sure. The same coercion that largely compels how unions function, and workers to cross picket lines etc.. We all make compromises on a daily basis to survive, that's just life. We all draw lines we won't cross (supposedly) no matter what, even for survival. I mean it's not like we're all out there waging uncompromising armed struggle, we have day jobs and so on, we compromise.

Again, I think you're conflating the inherently coercive nature of the market on individuals with the mediating function which representative unions play. It's one thing to be forced to join the army or whatever so you can pay your bills, it's a whole 'nother thing to consciously put your explicitly revolutionary organization in the position of mediating and making agreements between two classes which "have nothing in common".

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All my point is, anyway, is that signing a union contract doesn't strike me as being more collaborationist than working for employers anyway, it just depends on what the contract does, like, if it turns the union into a labor peace machine devoted to mediating class conflict, well then yeah it's collaborationist... but if it protects and encourages rank and file militancy, and doesn't interfere with direct worker actions, then I don't see how that's collaborationist, except in a very abstract and meaningless way in which pretty much all of us collaborate in some sense.

The path to hell, my friend, is paved with good intentions. The intention may be not to establish labor peace or inhibit direct action, but being put into a position of having to defend a contract puts a lot of pressures on the union to act in certain ways. I think Martin Glaberman's Punching Out has basically said it best, but despite the best intentions of signing a contract, bureacratization and, ultimately, de-escalation of struggle is an inevitable result of contractualized 'gains'.

The other factor, of course, is that labor law which governs collective bargaining contracts is explicit in seeking to gain labor peace by using unions as policemen of the contract. I'd go a step further and say that even before the state 'labor relations regime', any union which has put itself in the position of representing workers (which objectively and inherently means mediating struggle) has put the brakes on self-organization by the very logic of the role it fills in the workplace. The NLRB only formalized and extended this intrinsic tendency.

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the only level at which they [non-radicals] have a significant impact is in the campaigns
That's pretty fundamentally important tho, no?

I agree. All I meant was, those folks were't/aren't typically card-carrying wobblies, responding to the issue of non-radical workers joining the union in disregard for the preamble.

But, again, we come to back to another critique of 'apolitical'/low-level of political commitment: what would have happened if the JJWU won that election and all those folks did take out red cards for the economic reasons that the IWW, as their collective bargaining agent, benefittted their conditions on the job?

Chilli Sauce
Oct 29 2012 09:34

Last post was longer than expected, so I'm going to keep this one short...

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If anything I think non-contractual organizing can open itself up to nonunion workers who aren't radical at all, seeking in-house company reform... The direct unionism pamphlet accidentally encourages this tendency, in my opinion, by downplaying formal unionism and encouraging organizing around grievances without seeking formal union recognition. A concrete example of this would fighting for paid sick days, and getting workers on board for that fight and giving them voice and vote on a committee, who don't necessarily want the union.

I don't really understand this bit, mate.

How does organizing for a contract inhibit workers who "aren't radical at all" from "seeking in-house company reform"? Those workers will act in the same way regardless of a recognized union.

And this, to me, seems like it's why we should be willing to maintain ourselves as principled revolutionary minority union. It gives us the space to push for our radical ideas, always arguing for and looking for ways to push the struggle forward. However, if our co-workers choose to act in a way that isn't "radical at all", we can disagree and not have to compromise our revolutionary organisation.

I mean, we don't want to represent them--we don't want to represent anyone!--so why would we seek to gain a contract which puts us into a position of representing and recruiting workers who only want "in-house company reform"?

Finally, I guess, why does it matter if workers want a union if they're willing to fight for paid sick days? It's not like as soon as something is contractually enshrined management won't try to get around it. Workplace militancy is the only thing that can force employers to respect a contract. At the same time, contracts discourage workplace militancy in countless ways. It can be explicit in that contracts are legal documents with all the specialized knowledge that entails. Or less explicit: action becomes formalised around contract cycles or the propensity of workers to see the contract as the source of their power as opposed to their own organization and solidarity.

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I'd be cool with, say, workers/the union writing up a document stipulating some protections for workers and whatever economic claims, with no restrictions stipulated on what workers can do (or maybe even specifically protecting work stoppages in the contract), and imposing it on the employer via militant direct action techniques.

Again, if we can pull that off, why do we need a contract with all the dangers which you seem aware of?

And what happens if the employer gets us at a weak point and imposes, say, a no-strike clause (as we've seen in the IWW already)? Doesn't the contract then condition the workforce in the same way you hope it will condition the bosses to accept this state of affairs?

Even worse, it puts the union in the position of defending all aspects of the contracts if they (a) don't want to get sued and (b) want to continue to maintain their position as a representative bargaining agent who enforce the contract.

I don't think it's worth opening up that can of worms.

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Other folks, who were/still are radicals who believe in revolutionary unionism, supported the election strategy for other reasons, motivated by their own brand of radical unionism (that didn't square with "direct unionism" but was still politically radical). Those folks were motivated, from a one-big-unionist impulse, to build a majority union. They felt an election drive would force them to reach out to all the workers there, and learn valuable lessons in doing so. Which, incidentally, even workers who were against the election strategy, confirmed that it did in fact do just that (forced them to reach out to all the workers, and that they learned valuable lessons in the process).

Without trying to sound snippy, did they find the valuable lesson in the contradictions that can result in holding the "one big unionist impulse", especially outside periods of heightened class struggle?

Nate
Oct 29 2012 16:50

A lot of the discussion's moving into territory afield of the politics thing and into stuff on the direct unionism discussion so it may better to split that off. I've got some more thoughts on that but am gonna hold off just now.

kevin s.
Oct 30 2012 05:54

Agreed with Nate that this is veering away from the politics issue. Apologies for the sidetrack, didn't mean to derail the real.

Chilli, I appreciate your responses, and I'm gonna reply to some of your points (mainly stuff that does relate to "politics in the union"), but seeing as this contract stuff is a big discussion and this isn't the most appropriate context for it, I'll just throw out there that I'm (slowly, between other stuff) working on a critical response to the DU discussion paper, and I'd hope you'll take a look at that and add your comments on it when I'm finished with that.

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Again, I think you're conflating the inherently coercive nature of the market on individuals with the mediating function which representative unions play. It's one thing to be forced to join the army or whatever so you can pay your bills, it's a whole 'nother thing to consciously put your explicitly revolutionary organization in the position of mediating and making agreements between two classes which "have nothing in common".

I'm not conflating those, I already said there's a big difference between work-to-survive type

What this has to do with politics is that where the line between "daily survival" and "betrayal" is drawn, is a political issue. (Like most of us would never join the army, and probly even fewer would become cops, or bosses, even if it was that or unemployment.) A paper contract doesn't cross that line in my opinion- it's what contracts typically do (explicitly/in writing or implicitly/in practice) that crosses the line, which is restraining worker militancy and preserving class peace.

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And this, to me, seems like it's why we should be willing to maintain ourselves as principled revolutionary minority union. It gives us the space to push for our radical ideas, always arguing for and looking for ways to push the struggle forward. However, if our co-workers choose to act in a way that isn't "radical at all", we can disagree and not have to compromise our revolutionary organisation.

I mean, we don't want to represent them--we don't want to represent anyone!--so why would we seek to gain a contract which puts us into a position of representing and recruiting workers who only want "in-house company reform"?

I think we're in agreement here. I think I'm probly confusing thing with the contract issue, so to spell it out. I'm not interested in legal protection via contracts - I've written stuff against the use of ULPs as a protective mechanism, for instance. One thing I like about the proposed bylaws amendment (which will be in the referendum this year) against signing any restrictive agreements, and I similarly like about the ban against dues checkoff, isn't just that it discourages contractualism, but that it shapes what kind of items the union can seek in a contract.

You asked "what happens if the employer gets us at a weak point and imposes, say, a no-strike clause (as we've seen in the IWW already)?" Well if that bylaw passes referendum, then that'll be off the table. (I was surprised at the convention when someone claimed their committee had successfully kept a no-strike clause out of their shop's contract, just by telling the employer that it was banned in the IWW constitution- which was false, and the employer could have researched and found that, but apparently they pulled it off anyway.) If a union body signs a no-strike clause, that body can and should be expelled from the union.

I mean, you could ask the same about unions in general (which some comrades do, and make compelling enough points), what happens when the employer catches the union at a weak point and forces it to either accept a contract or be destroyed? Why do you think so many wobs file ULPs? (which the DU paper, while critical of, doesn't come nearly as hard against as union contracts) The road to hell, etc..

Again to bring this back to politics, and to the representation thing, I'm against seeking traditional representation agreements. I haven't ever called for that, anywhere. All I question is whether "contracts" (written paper documents) in the abstract, or the substance of the contracts, is the where the real problem is. I'm for pushing the union's "message"/politics, and tying it to the fight for economic gains. And I'm for the union protecting its own and showing other workers we mean business, we can fight the fight etc., without turning filing a court suit every time a worker is illegally fired. Because that too sends a political message - can the union fend for itself or does it depend on legal protection from the capitalist state that we're supposedly against?

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did they find the valuable lesson in the contradictions that can result in holding the "one big unionist impulse", especially outside periods of heightened class struggle?

Well that depends who you talk to. A question the campaign exposed though, was that political radicalism doesn't inherently equate with militancy. I mentioned that radical fellow worker who, out of radical political motives, supported an NLRB-based strategy more than once. The lesson here, in my opinion, is folks should not confuse rhetorical ideology with the substance. The gist of the politics is simple enough, we just gotta get better at both pushing the message and translating it into bread-and-butter-militancy (so it doesn't just remain abstract).

EDIT

To make the politics/representation thing clearer, this is what I'm worried about with downplaying formal unionism, as DU does:

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why does it matter if workers want a union if they're willing to fight for paid sick days? It's not like as soon as something is contractually enshrined management won't try to get around it.

Because it isn't just about paid sick days... isn't that the whole critique of "apoliticism" (not building a larger, "political," revolutionary movement) ? Why even have the union if it doesn't matter?

Chilli Sauce
Oct 30 2012 15:37

I guess we're not going to agree on whether being forced to exist in capitalist society as a member of the proletariat equates to it being an acceptable practice for radical unions to sign agreements with bosses, but whatever.

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Because it isn't just about paid sick days... isn't that the whole critique of "apoliticism" (not building a larger, "political," revolutionary movement) ? Why even have the union if it doesn't matter?

It's about the bar of membership, I guess. Of course we have the revolutionary union as a vehicle which unites the political and economic, but its membership should be made up of revolutionaries. Some workers aren't going to want that union or any union (at least in the short-term, if not longer). This doesn't mean that we should dismantle the union or that somehow getting workmates into the union is nearly as important as working alongside our co-workers to engage in struggle.

The role of the union, in my opinion, is both to always push struggles as far as possible and, through struggle, to create new policized workers who share our methods and ideas. It becomes a problem when--in seeking to represent workers or have struggles occur under their banner--when membership numbers (as opposed to the amount of workers we can mobilize) become the driving force of how we present ourselves to the boss or how we view our own success as an organisation.

Nate
Oct 30 2012 15:50
Chilli Sauce wrote:
we have the revolutionary union as a vehicle which unites the political and economic, but its membership should be made up of revolutionaries. (...) The role of the union, in my opinion, is both to always push struggles as far as possible and, through struggle, to create new policized workers who share our methods and ideas. It becomes a problem when--in seeking to represent workers or have struggles occur under their banner--when membership numbers (as opposed to the amount of workers we can mobilize) become the driving force of how we present ourselves to the boss or how we view our own success as an organisation.

I basically agree but I think it's not actually clear what "made up of revolutionaries" means, because among other things people aren't a fixed quantity, and because people can change their minds on key questions. Like earlier you were saying that workers organizations get influenced by the dominant ideology and I was like "yeah but also some revolutionaries have different ideas too." So like people coming out platformist groups might say that unions should not be radical. I disagree with that view and think they're wrong, but it's not a question of I'm revolutionary and they're not. I think the differences between the IWW and SolFed are productive on this, as the implied vision in the IWW is that folk come in with little agreement beyond very basic points like "abolish the wage system" etc in the preamble, and then there's conflict among members over vision and values etc, all of which is kosher as long as folk don't cross certain lines (ie, if you cross picket lines you're out, or if you took some very extreme ideological positions you might get drummed out), while my sense with SolFed is that there's a much higher level of agreement required before people can join and a narrower range of conflict internally. Across both though one common denominator is that each group expects members to hold revolutionary values.

klas batalo
Oct 30 2012 18:07
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it's not actually clear what "made up of revolutionaries" means

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Across both though one common denominator is that each group expects members to hold revolutionary values.

that's what made up of revolutionaries means, members who hold revolutionary values.

yes solfed as you can see from fighting for ourselves is pretty influence by FORA and the pure anarchists, etc among other more ultra-left tendencies that call for more political agreement... to be honest pretty specific anarchist politics, which is why i think they are still pretty much a specifically anarchist (-syndicalist) organization, even if one aimed at being a revolutionary union/fighting organization.

but so as not to belabor the point, the tighter agreement doesn't affect that both groups call for membership to be made up of people who agree to the groups revolutionary methods and vision.

Nate
Oct 30 2012 22:40

Thanks. I was thinking out loud, as usual! what I should have said was there's a diversity of ways to be made up of revolutionaries. Your last line sums it up for me. smile

klas batalo
Oct 31 2012 02:40

Yeah sorry FW if that seemed like a little duh...or something. I just wanted to help you be clear! grin

plasmatelly
Nov 1 2012 09:46

Hi all, back again - keep it up this is good debate, imo.

Nate wrote -

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while my sense with SolFed is that there's a much higher level of agreement required before people can join and a narrower range of conflict internally. Across both though one common denominator is that each group expects members to hold revolutionary values.

Yep, sounds about right, except I suspect you probably imagine finding agreement on an anarcho-syndicalist level too cumbersome? I don't think so, personally. And it's not about asking for agreement on a level where we look like a cult! IMO, belonging to an anarcho-syndicalist organisation/union reqs probably the same level of agreement as the IWW, though obviously on different things. And as revolutionary and even reformist syndicalism written down on paper can look as alien as anarcho-syndicalism, then you stand just as good a chance finding members unless you have context - that context obviously being economic. I believe that successful militant workplace unions would attract workers naturally, one of our jobs in building these outfits is to keep the politics on the table and out the box.

Sabotage wrote -

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which is why i think they are still pretty much a specifically anarchist (-syndicalist) organization, even if one aimed at being a revolutionary union/fighting organization.

Well, we are an anarcho-syndicalist organisation! Though I don't see any contradiction in being an anarcho-syndicalist union and a 'revolutionary union/fighting organisation' - it's what we're about, or am I missing your point?

kevin s.
Nov 1 2012 10:50

Agree totally with this:

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belonging to an anarcho-syndicalist organisation/union reqs probably the same level of agreement as the IWW, though obviously on different things. And as revolutionary and even reformist syndicalism written down on paper can look as alien as anarcho-syndicalism, then you stand just as good a chance finding members unless you have context - that context obviously being economic. I believe that successful militant workplace unions would attract workers naturally, one of our jobs in building these outfits is to keep the politics on the table and out the box.

I haven't made up my mind about this...

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you probably imagine finding agreement on an anarcho-syndicalist level too cumbersome? I don't think so, personally.

but I'd say, again agreeing with plasmatelly, that in the context of economic motives the amount of political specificity is less likely to be an issue. I mean even fairly basic stuff can seem cultish when it's marginalized, but suddenly seem normal when it becomes a mass movement, which mostly happens in economic contexts.

I gotta say I'm finding this thread very helpful in spelling out the issues.

Nate
Nov 1 2012 18:23
plasmatelly wrote:
I suspect you probably imagine finding agreement on an anarcho-syndicalist level too cumbersome? I don't think so, personally. And it's not about asking for agreement on a level where we look like a cult!

hey Plasma, for what it's worth, I don't think A/S is too cumbersome at all, and I know y'all aren't a cult. (I've got a great deal of time for SolFed.) I just don't think the IWW needs to take that up, given where and who we are today. As in - I don't think the IWW ought to become A/S ideologically, but that doesn't mean it's a mistake for other unions to be A/S ideologically. That may sound like I'm dodging the issue but I don't mean to, I think it's a matter of different group make up, history, context, stuff like that.

I also agree with you when you say "revolutionary and even reformist syndicalism written down on paper can look as alien as anarcho-syndicalism."

plasmatelly wrote:
IMO, belonging to an anarcho-syndicalist organisation/union reqs probably the same level of agreement as the IWW, though obviously on different things.

Can you say more about this please? I'm not sure I get what you're saying, I could see this meaning two things. One, SolFed and the IWW require the same level of agreement, just different agreements. Two, SolFed and the IWW require different levels of agreement (and on different stuff) but it'd be possible to have an A/S union that requires no more agreement than the IWW does. Both are interesting and either way I'd like to hear more about this point of A/S union requires no more agreement than the IWW, just different agreement. I've definitely been thinking of this as a matter of the IWW requires less agreement to join, SolFed requires more. I hadn't thought about whether or not being any kind of A/S group requires more agreement than joining the IWW but my impulse would be to say that it does require more. I find your point that it's not about higher level of agreement, that's thought provoking, so please say more.

plasmatelly wrote:
I believe that successful militant workplace unions would attract workers naturally, one of our jobs in building these outfits is to keep the politics on the table and out the box.

I have to think more about this as I'm not sure if I agree about attracting people or not. I don't think I have views about this in terms of IWW vs SolFed, I just am not sure about attracting people, recruiting, etc, that's all stuff I've recently-ish gotten confused on again. So here too I'd love to hear more of your thoughts.

plasmatelly wrote:
I don't see any contradiction in being an anarcho-syndicalist union and a 'revolutionary union/fighting organisation'

I know this was to Sabotage and not me but I just want to say I agree w/ you here.

klas batalo
Nov 1 2012 20:14
plasmatelly wrote:
Sabotage wrote -

Quote:
which is why i think they are still pretty much a specifically anarchist (-syndicalist) organization, even if one aimed at being a revolutionary union/fighting organization.

Well, we are an anarcho-syndicalist organisation! Though I don't see any contradiction in being an anarcho-syndicalist union and a 'revolutionary union/fighting organisation' - it's what we're about, or am I missing your point?

Oh, just you still have anarchist politics and use syndicalist methods. Where as some groups just are about anarchist politics, and others just about syndicalist methods. An anarcho-syndicalist organization is specifically both! wink

PS: I wasn't saying there was a contradiction. I think they are same thing.

syndicalist
Nov 1 2012 20:12

I guess I'm just curious, "what's the bottom line" here, Nate? I mean what should the IWW be in your vision---- politically and otherwise?

plasmatelly
Nov 1 2012 20:32

Kevin wrote -

Quote:
in the context of economic motives the amount of political specificity is less likely to be an issue.

Yes, I agree with this Kevin and well put. But I see this as a bit of a problem are, possibly better tackled by a/s unions imo. Having members paying lip service at entrance levels for economic reasons is to be expected - having a political identity is helpful but more key is that a/s unions organise both on economic lines and at the same time political lines. To expand - though I suspect you know - a union branch (the economic) quite often would be an appendage to a political Local. Members could join a Local because they agree with our politics and would be expected to play an active role in supporting and decision making. Unions would feed in federally into the wider political body, and of course members might join for less political reasons. So, yes the problem of people joining and paying lip service to our aims and principals never goes away, but it's not just like joining any old reformist union. Importantly, the structure, internal distribution and decision making reflects the libertarian communist politics and ambitions. I'll build on this to answer some of Nate's questions, but first I'll comment on another comment from Kevin:

Quote:
I mean even fairly basic stuff can seem cultish when it's marginalized, but suddenly seem normal when it becomes a mass movement, which mostly happens in economic contexts.

I'm with you 100% on this one - we have Sections with branches that have 100's of members in a workplace (not too many, but still we got 'em!). They all started the same afaik - small group of members of the union convincing fellow workmates that their ideas for organisation are potent and viable and that they are building for a bigger picture, in our case libertarian communism. Perfect examples of people joining by example and normalising revolutionary ideas.
Nate you asked about this comment mate -

Quote:
IMO, belonging to an anarcho-syndicalist organisation/union reqs probably the same level of agreement as the IWW, though obviously on different things.

What I'd say is, based on your own comments about the OBU preamble and how members are supposed to read, etc. - both organisations ask for members to agree with it's aims and principals and revolutionary ambitions. However, I think there are stark differences in how this is approached, right across the board. I'm speaking as I find here and hope non of this offends, it certainly isn't meant to. But lets look at the IWA - there are those who want a greater level of agreement than say for instance mine. But I wouldn't be comfortable if someone wanted to join for economic reasons and couldn't be talked round to agreeing even tacitly with our aim of creating a society based on libertarian communism. I would expect a core level of agreement and part of that would be to work as a member of a greater revolutionary organisation; I'm not so bothered on whether they call themself an anarchist or even know the slightest about anarcho-syndicalism - they will be encouraged to learn and play an active part. Now lets say the IWW - we know that people can play fast and loose with the aims and principals and organisational methods, so much so that the IWW is in fact the would-be economic muscle for any revolutionary of any political persuasion (and therefore differing ideas of how society should be run). So, I'd say at this level there's little to compare - but, the question is if all members are expected to read and agree with the OBU preamble, then is there enough in there to form a basis for agreement? If there is, then it's been overlooked - if there isn't, what's the purpose of it? I reckon if you're pushing the OBU as a must read and agree document before joining the IWW, you're possibly more prescriptive than what I'd expect in the IWA! This is fine and commendable, but is also one of many approaches within the IWW for members wanting to join... anyway, me wife is going nuts that I'm on the computer again.. hopefully this makes sense as I haven't proof read it!

Nate
Nov 1 2012 21:04
syndicalist wrote:
I guess I'm just curious, "what's the bottom line" here, Nate? I mean what should the IWW be in your vision---- politically and otherwise?

That's a really broad question so I'm not sure how to answer that. I think the IWW currently is a (very flawed, small) fighting organization with radical views. I think some of the organization's rhetoric is confused and should be dropped, like in the proposed changes in the OBU pamphlet. Beyond that, I think we have a great deal of work to do in all kinds of areas of our ideas and our practice, including having a lot more political discussion - basically every aspect of the IWW needs improvement. I'm not sure I'm answering your question though. The 'bottom line' of the blog post was specifically that we should drop that lousy part of the OBU pamphlet. And that we should have a conversation about whether or not to keep the constitutional language requiring that the pamphlet be given to new members. I think probly we shouldn't but I'm not sure, I also think we should talk about the organization's official literature more broadly.

plasmatelly wrote:
a/s unions organise both on economic lines and at the same time political lines. To expand - though I suspect you know - a union branch (the economic) quite often would be an appendage to a political Local. Members could join a Local because they agree with our politics and would be expected to play an active role in supporting and decision making. Unions would feed in federally into the wider political body, and of course members might join for less political reasons.

I'm pretty sure what you describe is exactly what the IWW's structure is - you can join a branch, with components in workplaces and out. We expect anyone who joins to agree with the preamble, whether in a workplace or not, though as has come up a times in the discussion I think sometimes some folk play fast and loose with that. And, more often, as Kevin mentioned, folk set up committees or campaigns involving non-members as a way to avoid having to talk about the preamble. I may be misunderstanding something or just misinformed but I think SolFed does something somewhat similar in that SF members organize committees/assemblies at work made up of many people who are not SF members and may not agree with SF's political views.

plasmatelly wrote:
I wouldn't be comfortable if someone wanted to join for economic reasons and couldn't be talked round to agreeing even tacitly with our aim of creating a society based on libertarian communism. I would expect a core level of agreement and part of that would be to work as a member of a greater revolutionary organisation; I'm not so bothered on whether they call themself an anarchist or even know the slightest about anarcho-syndicalism - they will be encouraged to learn and play an active part.

This, minus libertarian communism, is what's supposed to happen in the IWW and what I'm advocating for the IWW. The main difference I see here is that the IWW has a broader range of views (or, to put more critically about the IWW, less substantial and worked out views) on what sort of post-revolutionary society we want. As you put it, there's room "for any revolutionary of any political persuasion (and therefore differing ideas of how society should be run)."

plasmatelly wrote:
is there enough in there to form a basis for agreement?

I think the organization moves along well enough, so in one sense, there's enough agreement. I think we should definitely have a much more vigorous conversation about visions of a post-revolutionary society though. (I assume that's mostly what you're talking about here, apologies if I misunderstood.)

plasmatelly wrote:
if you're pushing the OBU as a must read and agree document before joining the IWW, you're possibly more prescriptive than what I'd expect in the IWA!

There's no requirement to read the OBU pamphlet, let alone agree with it. The only requirement on members is that they agree with the preamble which as we've talked about is really broad. I would bet a lot of people don't read the OBU pamphlet for a very long time after joining, if they read it at all. There's just a requirement in our constitution that when someone joins they're given a copy. I'm not sure if we need language specifically in our *constitution* requiring literature to be handed out or not. I do think there should be material that the organization is required to put in the hands of all members. I havne't made up my mind yet about the OBU pamphlet requirement, should we have to give it to all members or not. I definitely think it's not a very good piece to give a brand new member, there's two that are much better in my opinion. This too is something I think the IWW should have a lot more discussion about. (And it's not like just being like "here, have a piece of paper, it's a pamphlet" is sufficient. I think we should be talking more about how to do member education in better ways than that. There is actually a lot of conversation on that, tied largely to the Workpeople's College thing that some folk have been working on.)

syndicalist
Nov 1 2012 22:29
Quote:
Nate:

syndicalist wrote:

I guess I'm just curious, "what's the bottom line" here, Nate? I mean what should the IWW be in your vision---- politically and otherwise?
That's a really broad question so I'm not sure how to answer that. I think the IWW currently is a (very flawed, small) fighting organization with radical views. I think some of the organization's rhetoric is confused and should be dropped, like in the proposed changes in the OBU pamphlet. Beyond that, I think we have a great deal of work to do in all kinds of areas of our ideas and our practice, including having a lot more political discussion - basically every aspect of the IWW needs improvement. I'm not sure I'm answering your question though. The 'bottom line' of the blog post was specifically that we should drop that lousy part of the OBU pamphlet. And that we should have a conversation about whether or not to keep the constitutional language requiring that the pamphlet be given to new members. I think probly we shouldn't but I'm not sure, I also think we should talk about the organization's official literature more broadly.

It just seemed like there was more to what you were driving at. But, admitedly, this was a long thread with lots of long posts coveringmany things. So, perhaps I simply "walked away" with a different impression of what you were aiming at. I'll go back and read the original posting then.

Nate
Nov 1 2012 23:05

what, me wordy?
wink

syndicalist
Nov 1 2012 23:59
Nate wrote:
what, me wordy? ;)

But less rambly and a lot more focused.

This is just one of those threads you had to read from the start and absorb it as it went along. Not A super fast read of tons and tons of stuff. Def. a thread that should be read at leisure.

klas batalo
Nov 2 2012 02:38

If to sum anything up, yeah it is really dumb to just say, hey you're supposed to get this, you don't have to agree to it, or read it or anything, but you are supposed to have it so you eventually read it, yeah maybe if you want?

I say this as like, I didn't end up reading it for years. Even then I think I skimmed it, and still haven't read the thing fully. I mean like it's old right? tongue

I agree that Think It Over and maybe having delegates use the Annotated Preamble as a way to talk to newbies about the basics might just be a better start.

Having conversations of post-revolutionary vision would definitely be on my list of things I'd like to see happen in my lifetime as part of the union (keeping it realistic). Do I want to live in a "cooperative commonwealth" hell no!?

I wanna live on a boat! MUTHFUCKA!

kevin s.
Nov 6 2012 17:52
Quote:
The 'bottom line' of the blog post was specifically that we should drop that lousy part of the OBU pamphlet. And that we should have a conversation about whether or not to keep the constitutional language requiring that the pamphlet be given to new members.

Actually I'd say the constitutional language part is probly more important than dropping the language (although I'd be happy with dropping that language too), in that the problem with the pamphlet isn't just that it's "wrong" (or, at least, highly disputable) but that it isn't the official position of the union (and I'd be against it being the official position of the union, if it were to come up) and therefore it's misleading to promote it on the same level as the constitution and preamble. (I don't know if the folks who wrote that constitutional language meant it to make the pamphlet the union's official position, or interpreted the pamphlet as having always been the union's official position... if so, it hasn't held up and should be relegated to non-official status to the extent it has any official status at all).

Weirdly enough... I suspect (but can't prove without digging deeper into the records, maybe you know more than me and can answer this) the folks who wrote that no-politics language in the pamphlet and/or who inserted that constitutional language semi-officializing the pamphlet, were probly highly politicized folks and pushed the pamphlet out of a desire to make it the longer, more detailed, official ("non"-)political statement of the union in place of merely the preamble (which is short and, arguably, vague and open to loose interpretation, as these debates around contractualism might indicate). A kind of "Where We Stand" for the IWW. And I suspect the no-politics language was more expressive of some anarchists and "wobblyist" reactions against CP and similar type in-fights. I could be wrong though, very possibly it was pushed by more conservative-leaning wobs who were on the outs with the anarchists. Probly also related to the bylaws language against alliances with "political parties and anti-political sects"- again could easily be expressive of either conservatives wanting to curb the anarchists, or anarchists pushing a vaguely anarchistic prohibition against political party control (with language against anti-political sects included to make sure anarchist-specific "non-party" political orgs also were included).

The no-politics language in the pamphlet, again, pretty clearly points to the narrower sense of politics as in party politics and "politicking." The problem is, whether you agree with it or not (I lean strongly that way, but, after all I'm at least loosely an anarchist), it's ambiguous in meaning. And it can potentially be an obstacle to open political debate.

Quote:
This, minus libertarian communism, is what's supposed to happen in the IWW and what I'm advocating for the IWW. The main difference I see here is that the IWW has a broader range of views (or, to put more critically about the IWW, less substantial and worked out views) on what sort of post-revolutionary society we want. As you put it, there's room "for any revolutionary of any political persuasion (and therefore differing ideas of how society should be run)."

Well, to be honest, I'm not sure highly detailed post-revolutionary vision really counts for all that much, except very loosely. I haven't seen much evidence for it. When the proverbial chips fall, comrades who previously shared the seam "vision" end up stabbing each other's backs, while hostile political militants can end up joining forces against each others' own respective "comrades." Spain being the supreme case in point for the anarchist and syndicalists in the CNT.

I think it's enough to have simple principles and sophisticated descriptive analysis of the situation, and work out the details from there. I highly doubt that "when the revolution comes" all the wobblies are gonna be united in singular purpose or whatever, there's never been a revolution (or non-revolution) like that. And if/when there are splits, they won't be strictly over post-rev visionary politics, more likely they'll be over life-and-death questions of expedience and "simple" principles (when or when not to compromise, whether it's cool to shoot your comrades in the back, etc.).

syndicalist
Nov 6 2012 18:12

Funny memory .... I recall back some years ago, how (during my initial membership round) we in the IWW would be raising funds for the Spanish CNT, yet get anarchist baited at the local level. Funny world we lived in.

klas batalo
Nov 20 2012 20:03
Quote:
If anything I think non-contractual organizing can open itself up to nonunion workers who aren't radical at all, seeking in-house company reform. When this meets with brand name campaign organizing, it can (and has) played out as a kind of, what I'd polemically label, "reformist company unionism with a militant bent." The direct unionism pamphlet accidentally encourages this tendency, in my opinion, by downplaying formal unionism and encouraging organizing around grievances without seeking formal union recognition. A concrete example of this would fighting for paid sick days, and getting workers on board for that fight and giving them voice and vote on a committee, who don't necessarily want the union.

Actually I do not think the Direct Unionism piece really encourages this. Bad organizing encourages this. There is a big difference between recognizing that an IWW union workplace committee can be built off the existing structures of informal workplace resistance groups, and doing the same but instead of trying to organize folks as IWW members, trying to organize them as a more apolitical Brand Name Workers' Union. If anything it is more like what they were saying in the pamphlet around the IWW has not done a good job as organizers if we can't get workers to go with the IWW, and instead they either want to go with some other union, or want a less militant sounding affiliate, that is pro-contracts, getting "recognition" but for an organization that is only loosely related to the IWW for fears of red baiting.

Nate
Nov 21 2012 05:38

I think Kevin's wrong that this is a matter of recognition but I do think the DU discussion paper underemphasizes IWW membership in a way that encourages IWW members to get coworkers on board for the short term gains and doesn't encourage them to talk about our vision/values. I'm not 100% sure I remember this right but I think Juan made a criticism of some of the new SolFed pamphlet saying that by underemphasizing membership it sort of sets up a politics/economics split. I'm not sure of that as a criticism of SolFed but I do think that's a good criticism of the direct unionism paper.

Y
Dec 14 2012 03:03

Thanks for digging up the old versions of the OBU pam, Nate. This part of your exposition isn't quite correct:

"Historically the IWW has tended to be generally opposed to electoralism. That was part of the conflict with the De Leonists, who were expelled in 1908. And loads of IWW members were expelled from the Social Party over their rejection of the ballot box as a meaningful avenue for change."

As far as I know, members of the Socialist Labor Party were never expelled from the the IWW. De Leon quit the IWW when his delegate's credentials were successfully challenged at the 1908 Convention. Other members of the SLP stayed in the IWW for awhile after the '08 Convention e.g. James Connolly. The SLP was not the party of pure and simple 'electoralism', that was the Socialist Party's stand. This is why most SP members never joined the IWW en masse, although, of course, Debs was in for the first year while Haywood and Flynn kept both their SP and IWW memberships up to date until the one jumped bail and the other was expelled for supposed strike breaking activities. No, the SLP position and why most all SLP members were also I'WW members up till 1908 was that pure and simple voting for socialists would never do much other than elect bourgeois opportunists to positions in capitalist government. The SLP's stand was that a victory for the establishment of a classless society and the abolition of wage-labour at the ballot box without One Big Union backing was an illusion and would be quickly smashed by the capitalist class. The ballot was a peaceful declaration of political power: the actual political power to enforce the declaration would be the workers organised in One Big Union taking, holding and operating the means of production for themselves.

If you want to know more about what I think on these questions and more, welcome to my blog:

Wobbly times

Nate
Jun 15 2013 05:48

Thanks Y, and sorry for the delay, I missed your comment. I stand corrected on the expulsions in 1908 though it is my impression that DeLeon was deliberately pushed out by others, which isn't expulsion exactly but is in the neighborhood.

About the SP, I believe the SP expelled most of the IWW members in it in 1913.

I'd be interested in knowing more about the SLP though that's probly one for another thread. I believe William Trautmann eventually joined the SLP (though maybe it was the WIIU, which I believe the SLP set up), and they put out a version of the 'one big union' pamphlet called 'one great union'.

Juan Conatz
May 30 2015 03:00

Mandating every new member get a copy of One Big Union started in 1972. 73 people voted for this to be so. Old thread, I know, but I just found this out and thought I'd post.