You might just be a Wobbly: a speech from the 2013 IWW convention

The words of welcome which a member from the Edmonton General Membership Branch delivered at this year’s IWW delegate convention.

My name is Phinneas Gage and I, like all of you, am a Wobbly. But what does it mean to be a Wobbly?

Well, if you think a wildcat by the members is better than a deal cut by the leaders, you might just be a Wobbly.

If you think it’s better to have 10 members who are in the union because they believe in it, than 100 who are in it because they legally have to be in it, you might just be a Wobbly.

If you think there is more radical potential in seeing a co-worker stand up for herself than a $1 raise, you might just be a Wobbly.

If you think the phrase, “We are the union” isn’t just a way of deferring criticism but needs to be the driving force behind every action we take as workers on the job, you might just be a Wobbly.

A very experienced trade unionist once told me, “A union is only as good as the people in it.” Now without falling short of flattering the audience I would have to say this room full of Wobblies is proof we have the best union going.

If you took chemistry in high school, at some point your teacher probably explained that a lump of coal is more or less the same as a diamond as far as the actual parts that make it up. However, coal and diamonds don’t look the same. Why is that?

It’s because of the way the pieces are arranged, the way they fit together, not just on a small level but pretty much on the smallest level possible, on the level of the molecules that make up the object itself. This is why a piece of coal crumbles in your hands and diamond is pretty much the hardest thing there is.

You see diamonds come from coal; they are just lumps of carbon. But if you apply pressure, heat, and time to a piece of carbon it packs down. Slowly the bonds between the component parts become stronger and stronger until what comes out is something very different than what went in.

Well, I think it goes without saying that as one of the oldest, un-reconstituted revolutionary organizations in North America, we understand time.

If there is one thing we know as Wobblies it is heat, heat from the state, heat from our bosses and heat from a culture that rewards kissing ass over standing up for others.

If there is one other thing we know as Wobblies it is pressure. The pressure of loved ones getting injured at work, the pressure of making ends meet, and the pressure of making a union that conforms and bargains within the constraints that the bosses and mainstream unions say legitimate unions accept willingly.

Now I just want to start wrapping up this introduction to this weekend by saying one last thing. A revolutionary union is not different just because it preaches a revolutionary message. As a revolutionary union we need to represent something different. This means we don’t just talk differently, it means we must act differently. We won’t always get this right but it needs to be our goal.

As many of you know these conventions are a lot of work, but the face-to-face contact and the experiences we will gain over the weekend by sharing victories and trading arguments are the foundation of a working-class democracy. This democracy is what will form the structure of the new society within the shell of the old, as the old saying goes.

So, one more time, I would like to thank all of you for making this long trip out to Edmonton. It means a lot to us because we know you being here means a lot to you and we are honored to host you in our homes and in our city this weekend.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2013)