Joe Burns, author of the influential book Reviving the Strike put up a review of our new book Lines of Work on his blog. We want to direct to the discussion to the Reviving the Strike blog where he posted it. His comments are flattering and we aspire towards and contribute to the sort of revival he advocates. “Although written in terms of stories and experiences, the book’s approach offers a different approach to union revival, one deeply rooted in the workplace and rooted in the daily experience of workers.” This Saturday we remind our readers near Miami, Florida that there will be a Lines of Work worker story workshop.
Our friends at Unity and Struggle reviewed our new book Lines of Work. We want to direct to the discussion on their site linked above. The review makes us proud of our work and thankful for all the great people who engage with this project, contribute, read, and make Recomposition what it is. At the same time there’s some seeds for us to think about as we keep moving forward with organizing, writing, creating, and reflecting. The friendly critical thoughts at the end are worth thinking about and could help improve all of our work “a more robust theory of the moment is needed in order to inform these struggles and prepare them for the next level. And not just for the theoretically inclined of the volume, who work tirelessly to this effect — for every would-be workplace organizer. This means a vision of what society is and what it needs be, beyond bosses and workers, justice and injustice, freedom and unfreedom, coupled with an analysis of the conditions under which we can reasonably strive to get there.” Likewise there’s an exploration of the relation between the contributors experience of work and thinking around how workplace struggles have been changed or possibly weakened with broader social shifts put forward by folks like Endnotes. We share the author’s critique of aspects of those pieces and that there are elements in those debates that are important. Looking forward to seeing discussion around the themes JF from Unity & Struggle has raised, and a reminder that on April 4th there will be a Lines of Work worker story workshop in Miami, Florida.
There’s been a long debate within the revolutionary union movement about structure and specifically about the relationship between locality-based units and workplace/trade/industrial based units. Though not well known, the IWW also had battles with these concepts with different factions trying to abolish the General Recruiting Unions, the predecessor of the General Membership branch uniting all workers based on a local who lacked a Industrial Union Branch, and other trying to support it. The recruiting unions were banned at some periods of IWW history and had to be brought back though not without controversy. Other revolutionary unions such as the CNT of Spain and FORA of Argentina maintained both locality based grouping and workplace based ones. This piece explores the debate around these issues within the IWW and experiences both with locality-units and workplace-units from recent activities, and attempts to get at the issues of our tasks and objectives beyond only looking at structures.
Area, Shop, and Revolution: a case for both locality and workplace unitary organization
Scott Nikolas Nappalos
In the early 2000s a series of experiments were carried out in the IWW that led to the formation of Industrial Union Branches (IUBs). Alongside the handful of IUBs emerged ideas around why IUBs should be prioritized and their superiority to other structures. The IUBs primarily were initiated in the Portland IWW after a series of struggles that produced the largest and most dynamic area for IWW workplace organizing in the union for decades. The Portland IWW ballooned to its peak with membership in the hundreds in the early 2000s after a decade of organizing attempts in the 1990s, and some high profile contract campaigns, strikes, and actions at the turn of the century. As membership grew, Portland moved from a General Membership Branch (GMB) towards IUBs in areas where there were a concentration of members: social service, construction, education, restaurants, grocery/retail, and transportation.
General Membership Branches were created late in the IWW’s life. At it’s peak, the IWW was built on active workplace branches centered in industries. The IWW arose in a time different from ours in which workers were actively seeking out alternatives such as the IWW. Before the IWW existed, groups like the German brewers, Western Federation of Miners, La Resistencia of the Tampa cigar workers, and others openly moved to revolutionary anti-capitalist ideas, and workers struggles moved towards insurrectionary militancy in conflicts with the police, militias, and military. Workers ended up far to the left of the unions through their aspirations for a better world, their actions, and the necessity of confronting a hostile system. The IWW often organized by going to these wildcat strikes, and attempting to organize the striking workers. In other cases radicalized workers would move to the IWW as part of their trajectory against the political and union establishments. In an environment where there was already active workers struggle that outpaced both the political parties and unions of their day, centering the structure of the IWW on workplace structures made sense. Though other formations existed such as Industrial District Councils (where multiple IUBs coordinated in a city, which the Portland IWW also had in existence) and General Recruiting Unions (similar to GMBs today, where workers without IUBs could begin to plan their IUBs), it wasn’t until after the total collapse of the IWW’s workplace presence and in a new regime of State-Labor-Capitalist collaboration that GMBs were proposed. (more…)
Events around the release of our new book,Lines of Work by Black Cat Press, are coming together. 5pm April 5th the South Florida General Membership Branch of the IWW will be hosting a Lines of Work event at Sweat Records, 5505 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33137. In coordination with Lines of Work launches, this event will be exploring workers stories and their lessons with readings of pieces worker narratives and collective discussions. The official Miami book launch will happen on May 1st, with details to follow. Contacts us if you’re interested in hosting a book launch or event with workers stories in your town.
“Half our waking hours are spent on the job, consuming the lion’s share of our time. Our years are woven with stories of work told around the dinner table, breakroom, and bars. Yet these stories are rarely put into print, investigated, or seen as they should be; as part of workers’ activity to understand and change their lot under capitalism.
LINES OF WORK offers a rare look at life and social relationships viewed from the cubicle, cash register, hospital, factory, and job site. Drawn from the writings of Recomposition, an online project of worker radicals, the text brings together organizers from a handful of countries sharing their experiences with the trouble of working and fighting back.
Rather than professional writers or activists, the authors are workers reflecting on their experiences, aspirations, and how to improve our situation. Through storytelling, they draw out the lessons of workplace woes, offering new paths and perspectives for social change and a new world.”