Will the IWW Ever Make a Full Comeback?

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wob4lyf
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Jan 4 2015 07:51
Will the IWW Ever Make a Full Comeback?

Hi, I have been a lurker here for a while, and this is my first new thread. I considered putting it in the "newbie friendly" General forum, but it seems to be mostly jokey stuff over there, and this is a serious question/request for discussion and insight. Anyway, here is a question about something I have been wondering about the IWW (as far as I understand it) for a while now:

When the IWW was originally formed, it was out of the merger of a number of already-existing unions, so it began its life as a fairly large organization right out of the gate (i. e. relatively high membership of many thousands of experienced unionists). There was a lot of momentum going already in the unions which merged to form it, and the IWW was able to take this momentum to a greater level and to broaden its influence and reach for a while, achieving a lot of progress in its own terms and of course also engendering a lot of backlash and repression from the capitalists.

However, after becoming nearly memberless around 1960, the union has only managed to regroup slightly, hovering at around 2000 members for the last 20-odd years, with only a handful of campaigns going public a year, mostly at very small shops, and while experiencing high internal membership turnover -- arguably close to the bare minimum to avoid a formal disbanding of the organization.

I personally believe in the IWW's mission on many different levels and feel an affinity to it, so I am a member. However, given that the union's strongest time was under extremely different circumstances, I am also quite skeptical of its ability to emerge off of its now long-standing plateau of rag-tag marginality to become a major union again, and I was wondering what others thought about all this.

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BakuninistDialectics
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Jan 4 2015 20:26

With increasing economic disparity under neoliberalism, we could see an resurgence in working class culture. This could be beneficial for IWW organising, in that it could make the public more generally open to our ideas. We need to organise for this to happen though. We need union halls that act as community hubs, and we need to train recruits so as to seed businesses with them.

Just my thoughts anyway.

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Juan Conatz
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Jan 4 2015 20:39

No, I do not think the IWW will be 50,000-100,000 strong ever again. When this occurred the union acted more as a social movement, and I don't think social movements expressed through organizational affiliations happen twice.

But I do think the IWW can and will be a contributing piece to something bigger and better.

wob4lyf
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Jan 4 2015 23:06
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With increasing economic disparity under neoliberalism, we could see an resurgence in working class culture. This could be beneficial for IWW organising, in that it could make the public more generally open to our ideas.

I don't know if there is a name for this line of reasoning ("hitting bottom" maybe?), but I tend to disagree. I have been hearing people say for a long time, "conditions just have to get bad enough, then people will start caring about their future." I think this is wishful thinking, and for me, the analogy of alcoholism comes to mind: sometimes there is a point at which the alcoholic's life gets so bad that it makes them realize they need to act, but many other times people stay in denial regardless, never get better, and effectively drink themselves to death. The one doesn't necessarily cause the other.

Quote:
We need union halls that act as community hubs, and we need to train recruits so as to seed businesses with them.

I do agree on this, though unless an IWW lives in a major city, where there is already a well-established branch, it can be really difficult to get enough people together to do this.

wob4lyf
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Jan 4 2015 23:12
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But I do think the IWW can and will be a contributing piece to something bigger and better.

Interesting...let me ask you, were you expecting Occupy to collapse as quickly as it did? I, for one, was very surprised that within a year or so, there was pretty much nothing left of it. I personally thought that that was going to be the start of the "something bigger and better," but now the moment seems to have passed almost completely. Heading into 2015, most of the structural factors which provoked it are still in place, yet there seems to be none of that "get out in the streets" mentality anymore, at least in response to general economic conditions (i. e. recent police brutality protests aside).

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Steven.
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Jan 5 2015 09:43
wob4lyf wrote:
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But I do think the IWW can and will be a contributing piece to something bigger and better.

Interesting...let me ask you, were you expecting Occupy to collapse as quickly as it did? I, for one, was very surprised that within a year or so, there was pretty much nothing left of it. I personally thought that that was going to be the start of the "something bigger and better," but now the moment seems to have passed almost completely. Heading into 2015, most of the structural factors which provoked it are still in place, yet there seems to be none of that "get out in the streets" mentality anymore, at least in response to general economic conditions (i. e. recent police brutality protests aside).

to be honest I was surprised that Occupy lasted so long!

It didn't have any concrete demands to organise around, so it didn't achieve anything and nor could it really achieve anything (as it didn't demand anything). Under those circumstances it was bound to run out of steam, unless it were somehow embedded in the everyday lives and concerns of working class people. I.e. in their workplaces and in their local areas. Now the latter did happen in some places, like the Occupy Homes movement and other anti-eviction projects.

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boozemonarchy
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Jan 6 2015 13:00

dp

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boozemonarchy
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Jan 5 2015 12:21

I've figured the same as Juan for awhile. My best hope is that the IWW will be a small but influential part of an upswing in labor militancy that will produce a constellation of new unions and labor organizations, some of which will hopefully have anti-capitalist affinities. Only in this environment could an anti-capitalist industrial union of the old IWW's size be built and it likely wouldn't be called the IWW.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jan 5 2015 12:56
wob4lyf wrote:
Quote:
With increasing economic disparity under neoliberalism, we could see an resurgence in working class culture. This could be beneficial for IWW organising, in that it could make the public more generally open to our ideas.

I don't know if there is a name for this line of reasoning ("hitting bottom" maybe?), but I tend to disagree. I have been hearing people say for a long time, "conditions just have to get bad enough, then people will start caring about their future." I think this is wishful thinking, and for me, the analogy of alcoholism comes to mind: sometimes there is a point at which the alcoholic's life gets so bad that it makes them realize they need to act, but many other times people stay in denial regardless, never get better, and effectively drink themselves to death. The one doesn't necessarily cause the other.

FYI a common term for this process is 'immiserationism' (or, if you're some nauseatingly trendy Bloomsbury Marxist who's apparently submitting a PhD in Tweet form, "#accelerationism"). And I agree with you, not only for the reason you state above but also cos the idea that the working class is too stupid to realise it's fucked is a fundamentally Leninist one in how it patronises us. I'd also question the quasi-religious division made between 'activists'/militants (who know the truth) and the working class as a whole (who just need to accept the truth as told by 'activists'/militants).

wob4lyf
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Jan 6 2015 00:10
Steven. wrote:
It didn't have any concrete demands to organise around, so it didn't achieve anything and nor could it really achieve anything (as it didn't demand anything). Under those circumstances it was bound to run out of steam, unless it were somehow embedded in the everyday lives and concerns of working class people. I.e. in their workplaces and in their local areas. Now the latter did happen in some places, like the Occupy Homes movement and other anti-eviction projects.

I agree; I suppose my surprise was that they/we seemed so close to adopting some kind of a platform, but it never actually happened. Certain themes kept coming up over and over again very commonly such as foreclosures, student debt, healthcare, etc...which could have been turned into a "ten planks" situation easily to flesh out the "99%" meme that was unfortunately the only thing that stuck. I actually suggested this locally, and someone told me they didn't want it to be a "single issue" protest. Huh? Sort of the opposite, really.

wob4lyf
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Jan 6 2015 00:13
Quote:
I've figured the same as Juan for awhile. My best hope is that the IWW will be a small but influential part of an upswing in labor militancy that will produce a constellation of new unions and labor organizations, some of which will hopefully have anti-capitalist affinities. Only in this environment could an anti-capitalist industrial union of the old IWW's size be built and it likely wouldn't be called the IWW.

Sounds reasonable...as much as I love the IWW, there is a lot of historical baggage with it, and the organization seems kind of rear-loaded in this way. Trying to introduce new people to it, it seems heavy on the distant history and kind of light on the recent stuff. Maybe the principles behind it need the right opportunity to shed their skin and become a new union.

wob4lyf
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Jan 6 2015 00:13
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FYI a common term for this process is 'immiserationism' (or, if you're some nauseatingly trendy Bloomsbury Marxist who's apparently submitting a PhD in Tweet form, "#accelerationism"). And I agree with you, not only for the reason you state above but also cos the idea that the working class is too stupid to realise it's fucked is a fundamentally Leninist one in how it patronises us. I'd also question the quasi-religious division made between 'activists'/militants (who know the truth) and the working class as a whole (who just need to accept the truth as told by 'activists'/militants).

WAKE UP SHEEPLE

etc. smile

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Jan 6 2015 06:49
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
wob4lyf wrote:
Quote:
With increasing economic disparity under neoliberalism, we could see an resurgence in working class culture. This could be beneficial for IWW organising, in that it could make the public more generally open to our ideas.

I don't know if there is a name for this line of reasoning ("hitting bottom" maybe?), but I tend to disagree. I have been hearing people say for a long time, "conditions just have to get bad enough, then people will start caring about their future." I think this is wishful thinking, and for me, the analogy of alcoholism comes to mind: sometimes there is a point at which the alcoholic's life gets so bad that it makes them realize they need to act, but many other times people stay in denial regardless, never get better, and effectively drink themselves to death. The one doesn't necessarily cause the other.

FYI a common term for this process is 'immiserationism' (or, if you're some nauseatingly trendy Bloomsbury Marxist who's apparently submitting a PhD in Tweet form, "#accelerationism"). And I agree with you, not only for the reason you state above but also cos the idea that the working class is too stupid to realise it's fucked is a fundamentally Leninist one in how it patronises us. I'd also question the quasi-religious division made between 'activists'/militants (who know the truth) and the working class as a whole (who just need to accept the truth as told by 'activists'/militants).

It's not that the working class is too stupid to realise it's fucked, but rather that there isn't working class culture or a working class identity. If you come from a working class family, go ask your grandparents what they remember of working class culture. At least with mine, they talk about how poor they were. Class consciousness is necessary for socialism, or at the very least, necessary for a strong left. Mind you I'm all for consciousness raising, but I also believe that the material conditions of the masses are an extremely important consideration.

Now for a large amount of the population, after the rise of the Keynesian welfare state quality of life was improved. I think this, plus the brutal crushing of the left through repression and an enormous public relations campaign to attack working class consciousness (among other factors), led to a decline in working class consciousness. Now, we live in the era of neoliberalism where wages are going down, social services are being cut, and class disparity is widening. This presents an opportunity for agitation and consciousness raising that I feel is comparable to the start of the twentieth century, and also could be used to the advantage of the IWW.

I'm an anarcho-communist, by the way. Not a marxist.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jan 6 2015 16:31
BakuninistDialectics wrote:
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
wob4lyf wrote:
Quote:
With increasing economic disparity under neoliberalism, we could see an resurgence in working class culture. This could be beneficial for IWW organising, in that it could make the public more generally open to our ideas.

I don't know if there is a name for this line of reasoning ("hitting bottom" maybe?), but I tend to disagree. I have been hearing people say for a long time, "conditions just have to get bad enough, then people will start caring about their future." I think this is wishful thinking, and for me, the analogy of alcoholism comes to mind: sometimes there is a point at which the alcoholic's life gets so bad that it makes them realize they need to act, but many other times people stay in denial regardless, never get better, and effectively drink themselves to death. The one doesn't necessarily cause the other.

FYI a common term for this process is 'immiserationism' (or, if you're some nauseatingly trendy Bloomsbury Marxist who's apparently submitting a PhD in Tweet form, "#accelerationism"). And I agree with you, not only for the reason you state above but also cos the idea that the working class is too stupid to realise it's fucked is a fundamentally Leninist one in how it patronises us. I'd also question the quasi-religious division made between 'activists'/militants (who know the truth) and the working class as a whole (who just need to accept the truth as told by 'activists'/militants).

It's not that the working class is too stupid to realise it's fucked, but rather that there isn't working class culture or a working class identity. If you come from a working class family, go ask your grandparents what they remember of working class culture. At least with mine, they talk about how poor they were. Class consciousness is necessary for socialism, or at the very least, necessary for a strong left. Mind you I'm all for consciousness raising, but I also believe that the material conditions of the masses are an extremely important consideration.

Now for a large amount of the population, after the rise of the Keynesian welfare state quality of life was improved. I think this, plus the brutal crushing of the left through repression and an enormous public relations campaign to attack working class consciousness (among other factors), led to a decline in working class consciousness. Now, we live in the era of neoliberalism where wages are going down, social services are being cut, and class disparity is widening. This presents an opportunity for agitation and consciousness raising that I feel is comparable to the start of the twentieth century, and also could be used to the advantage of the IWW.

I'm an anarcho-communist, by the way. Not a marxist.

An anarcho-communist wouldn't talk so cynically and dispassionately about the immiseration of his/her class, methinks. It's only an opportunity if you manage Payday Loans outlet. Otherwise, it's broadly been shown to break people's spirits and afford them even less luxuries such as free time to indulge in useless evangelist proselytising such as 'agitating' and 'raising consciousness'.

wob4lyf
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Jan 6 2015 19:27
BakuninistDialectics wrote:
It's not that the working class is too stupid to realise it's fucked, but rather that there isn't working class culture or a working class identity. If you come from a working class family, go ask your grandparents what they remember of working class culture. At least with mine, they talk about how poor they were. Class consciousness is necessary for socialism, or at the very least, necessary for a strong left. Mind you I'm all for consciousness raising, but I also believe that the material conditions of the masses are an extremely important consideration.

Now for a large amount of the population, after the rise of the Keynesian welfare state quality of life was improved. I think this, plus the brutal crushing of the left through repression and an enormous public relations campaign to attack working class consciousness (among other factors), led to a decline in working class consciousness. Now, we live in the era of neoliberalism where wages are going down, social services are being cut, and class disparity is widening. This presents an opportunity for agitation and consciousness raising that I feel is comparable to the start of the twentieth century, and also could be used to the advantage of the IWW.

The main problem to me is that, taking this line of reasoning, one ends up sounding like one is arguing for a decline in material conditions.

Personally, I put a lot more stock in the idea that state repression was the key factor. Even as material conditions improved in the 30s and 40s, strikes were happening in the USA at record rates, despite the no-strike pledges of WWII. Seems to me like a major factor was the stripping-out of all radicals from unions and other influential parts of US society during McCarthyism.

wob4lyf
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Jan 6 2015 19:33
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
An anarcho-communist wouldn't talk so cynically and dispassionately about the immiseration of his/her class, methinks. It's only an opportunity if you manage Payday Loans outlet. Otherwise, it's broadly been shown to break people's spirits and afford them even less luxuries such as free time to indulge in useless evangelist proselytising such as 'agitating' and 'raising consciousness'.

I agree, the worse material conditions get, I think people are actually less likely to act. There is a kind of shutting-down that goes on.

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Jan 6 2015 20:33

BakunistDialectics wrote:

Quote:
It's not that the working class is too stupid to realise it's fucked, but rather that there isn't working class culture or a working class identity. If you come from a working class family, go ask your grandparents what they remember of working class culture. At least with mine, they talk about how poor they were.

Eh? Working class culture or collective identity? Being poor isn't culture. Is it not about forming a collective identity around our shared role/place in the capitalist mode of production? Trying to change economic society based on a notion of working class culture is as cuntish as using lowest common denominator stereotyping.

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Jan 7 2015 03:04
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
BakuninistDialectics wrote:
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
wob4lyf wrote:
Quote:
With increasing economic disparity under neoliberalism, we could see an resurgence in working class culture. This could be beneficial for IWW organising, in that it could make the public more generally open to our ideas.

I don't know if there is a name for this line of reasoning ("hitting bottom" maybe?), but I tend to disagree. I have been hearing people say for a long time, "conditions just have to get bad enough, then people will start caring about their future." I think this is wishful thinking, and for me, the analogy of alcoholism comes to mind: sometimes there is a point at which the alcoholic's life gets so bad that it makes them realize they need to act, but many other times people stay in denial regardless, never get better, and effectively drink themselves to death. The one doesn't necessarily cause the other.

FYI a common term for this process is 'immiserationism' (or, if you're some nauseatingly trendy Bloomsbury Marxist who's apparently submitting a PhD in Tweet form, "#accelerationism"). And I agree with you, not only for the reason you state above but also cos the idea that the working class is too stupid to realise it's fucked is a fundamentally Leninist one in how it patronises us. I'd also question the quasi-religious division made between 'activists'/militants (who know the truth) and the working class as a whole (who just need to accept the truth as told by 'activists'/militants).

It's not that the working class is too stupid to realise it's fucked, but rather that there isn't working class culture or a working class identity. If you come from a working class family, go ask your grandparents what they remember of working class culture. At least with mine, they talk about how poor they were. Class consciousness is necessary for socialism, or at the very least, necessary for a strong left. Mind you I'm all for consciousness raising, but I also believe that the material conditions of the masses are an extremely important consideration.

Now for a large amount of the population, after the rise of the Keynesian welfare state quality of life was improved. I think this, plus the brutal crushing of the left through repression and an enormous public relations campaign to attack working class consciousness (among other factors), led to a decline in working class consciousness. Now, we live in the era of neoliberalism where wages are going down, social services are being cut, and class disparity is widening. This presents an opportunity for agitation and consciousness raising that I feel is comparable to the start of the twentieth century, and also could be used to the advantage of the IWW.

I'm an anarcho-communist, by the way. Not a marxist.

An anarcho-communist wouldn't talk so cynically and dispassionately about the immiseration of his/her class, methinks. It's only an opportunity if you manage Payday Loans outlet. Otherwise, it's broadly been shown to break people's spirits and afford them even less luxuries such as free time to indulge in useless evangelist proselytising such as 'agitating' and 'raising consciousness'.

I'm a rather cynical individual. I would agree with you that misery breaks people's spirits, but I also think that the economic and political circumstances in society are large determining factors in whether there exists a will to revolt. I must say though that I quite strongly disagree that agitation and consciousness raising are “useless". I think that historically, any period of revolution has been preceded by a period of consciousness raising and that it's absolutely essential.

On speaking on the era of neoliberalism though, I feel I should add that not only does this period in time have increasing class disparity which presents its own opportunity for agitation, but the cutting of social services also presents an opportunity to fill the void with anarchist community organising geared towards building counter-power. This is also an opportunity I think IWW organisers should take advantage of. Building this counter-power in the void left by neoliberalism would give group benefit to those within the IWW, thus giving people incentive to join our ranks.

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Jan 7 2015 00:12
plasmatelly wrote:
BakunistDialectics wrote:

Quote:
It's not that the working class is too stupid to realise it's fucked, but rather that there isn't working class culture or a working class identity. If you come from a working class family, go ask your grandparents what they remember of working class culture. At least with mine, they talk about how poor they were.

Eh? Working class culture or collective identity? Being poor isn't culture. Is it not about forming a collective identity around our shared role/place in the capitalist mode of production? Trying to change economic society based on a notion of working class culture is as cuntish as using lowest common denominator stereotyping.

Sorry, I don't mean “culture" in the sense of an appearance-based identity comparable to stereotyping, but rather shared values, habits, etc... By those with a collective identity. Like how Chomsky describes his upbringing as within a “working-class culture with working-class values, solidarity, socialist values, etc."

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plasmatelly
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Jan 7 2015 08:08

Nice one.

Leo
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Jan 8 2015 00:24

No, I don't think the IWW will make a full comeback. It may grow, and it may be a good sign that it grows, yet there has been some examples of it growing into something not too good (like signing no strike clauses http://libcom.org/forums/organise/no-strike-clauses-iww-16122007).

I don't think there will be a new revolutionary, industrial, anarchist union as a mass organization. Perhaps more organic workers' groups - though they may have down sides - like SeaSol have more of a potential for the future.

syndicalist
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Jan 8 2015 01:24

If I may, I suspect it matters less that it becomes what it once may have been., Rather, that it extend and consolidate influence where it can and be a force to reckon within a those areas.

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Jan 8 2015 01:32

For clarifications sake, there was a bylaw amendment proposal back in 2012 to ban no strike clauses. The amendment was combined with a competing one and passed. The bylaws now read:

Quote:
Effective January 1, 2013, no agreement by any component part of the IWW shall provide for a prohibition barring members from taking any action against the interests of the employer, nor shall any prior agreements add new prohibitive language. Agreements containing previously negotiated prohibitive language, and the renewal of such agreements, shall be exempt from this amendment.

On SeaSol and solidarity networks, I think they are subject to some of the same pressures a revolutionary union faces such as legalism and service orientation but without (currently) point of production organizing. And once it gets into that territory, it faces a similar problem the IWW already sometime faces, which is the issue of toning down politics and 'apolitical' unionism. So in the end, I'm not sure the potential for solidarity networks is all that different than the IWW.

wob4lyf
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Jan 8 2015 03:01
Juan Conatz wrote:
On SeaSol and solidarity networks, I think they are subject to some of the same pressures a revolutionary union faces such as legalism and service orientation but without (currently) point of production organizing. And once it gets into that territory, it faces a similar problem the IWW already sometime faces, which is the issue of toning down politics and 'apolitical' unionism. So in the end, I'm not sure the potential for solidarity networks is all that different than the IWW.

I honestly don't see much of a difference between the IWW and SeaSol and similar, except that the solidarity networks don't have as much historical/political baggage. Functionally they seem pretty similar to me at this point in time.

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Jan 8 2015 03:33

Well, an active and moving solidarity network typically, so far, has mainly consisted of people who no longer work at/or live at the place they have a grievance with. The grievance, most commonly, is usually some form of law breaking by the employer/landlord.

In contrast, an active and moving IWW branch does not do tenant organizing, and usually deals with people that still work at an enterprise. While some of the time a branch's efforts will be about enforcing minimum legal obligations, it more often it attempts offensive demands, such as wages, conditions.

So I think those are the main differences. Plus the IWW is usually, but not always, more membership oriented than a solidarity network, although I imagine they have similar turnover rates.

Leo
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Jan 8 2015 17:30
Quote:
On SeaSol and solidarity networks, I think they are subject to some of the same pressures a revolutionary union faces such as legalism and service orientation

Yeah, I wouldn't be suprised.

Quote:
without (currently) point of production organizing. And once it gets into that territory, it faces a similar problem the IWW already sometime faces, which is the issue of toning down politics and 'apolitical' unionism.

I think the plus side about a solidarity network is that it doesn't need to do unionism.

Quote:
So in the end, I'm not sure the potential for solidarity networks is all that different than the IWW.

Quote:
I honestly don't see much of a difference between the IWW and SeaSol and similar, except that the solidarity networks don't have as much historical/political baggage. Functionally they seem pretty similar to me at this point in time.

The point about a solidarity network is that it doesn't pose itself as a model of organization which needs to be filled for it to function as it is intended. In other words they seem more flexible, fluid and organic sorts of groups. I think workers struggle groups have had a temporary sort of nature for a long time, and solidarity networks seem to be more in line with the times. This is not to say that they won't function similarly or in some cases the IWW won't even function better.

Quote:
Plus the IWW is usually, but not always, more membership oriented than a solidarity network

Again, for a workers group suited for the times, I'd say that's probably a down-side rather than an upside.

Not that I'm trying to create a competitive spirit or anything, I'm just interested in discussing the forms of groups.

wob4lyf
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Jan 9 2015 00:31
Juan Conatz wrote:
Well, an active and moving solidarity network typically, so far, has mainly consisted of people who no longer work at/or live at the place they have a grievance with. The grievance, most commonly, is usually some form of law breaking by the employer/landlord.

Sure, I meant in as far as they are doing workplace organizing, although I have seen some IWW branches that also do non-workplace issues like this as well.

Going back to your comment about apolitical unionism being a problem though, could you expand on that? Everything I have read in IWW literature stresses that it is an economic and not a political organization.

wob4lyf
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Jan 9 2015 00:37
Leo wrote:
I think the plus side about a solidarity network is that it doesn't need to do unionism.

What do you mean by "doing unionism"? I don't understand.

Leo wrote:
Again, for a workers group suited for the times, I'd say that's probably a down-side rather than an upside.

Personally, I think that the anti-organizational/non-joining mindset that has been prevalent since the New Left days has been a big weakness. I don't think that "fluid membership" organizations with very high turnover or very temporary lifespans are ever going to get beyond a subsistence level of struggle or be able to exert much of a sustained influence on culture/norms. Why do you write that this is appropriate for the times?