This is the first part of a series of concrete examples and very brief summaries of organizations that have some component of direct action and a form of collective bargaining that operate outside the labour relations framework. The first series are entirely owner operator associations in Transportation. There is a conventional argument, bolstered by employers, that these folks are not workers but rather small business people. Of course that’s nonsense, being a worker is not determined by the form of wage you take and being paid piece rate is as old as payment itself. Owning your own tools does not make someone a business owner, if that were the case many tradesmen wouldn’t be workers. These workers have responded to a unique situation that opens up positive examples for organisers all over and should be watched.
What is the role of unions in a future free society? How does the structure of capitalism and unions today reflect that? The difficulty of the end of the 1920s (fascism and repression, changes in demographics and industries) gave an opportunity for reflection on strategy and vision of the revolutionary movement. This happened mainly within the International Workers Association (IWA-AIT) which at the time likely involved millions of workers across the world, but also within the IWW. The subject is poorly studied with minimal resources in English, most of what is publicly available about the IWA can be reduced to a few articles. The debate was wide ranging covering union structure, future society, revolutionary methods, amongst other subjects. Part of the discussion focused on whether revolutionary unions should adopt craft or industrial unions as their primary structure.
What follows is a translation of Medios de Lucha, Means of Struggle, by Emilio Lopez Arango, a working class autodidact and baker; the main thinker of Argentina’s powerful Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA). The FORA dominated the Argentine labor movement for decades in the turn of the century and its model spread across Latin America, in some cases like Chile and Mexico displacing the IWW affiliates. In the piece Arango grapples with the question of industrial organization and industrial unionism and critiques the IWW’s idea that unions within capitalism should form the basis for a future society especially centered on using capitalist industries as the model. He was not alone in this as some IWWs also critiqued it. We also recommend reading the recent piece by S Nicholas Nappalos that looks at the debate more in depth.
The piece today is also part 5 of our Against the IWW series, which, to be clear we’re not anti-IWW, we’re very pro-IWW and we’re running this series because we think IWW members should read criticisms of the IWW, discuss them with each other, and be able to respond to those criticisms. In our organizing we inoculate our co-workers to the criticisms employers make of the IWW. Similarly IWW members should be inoculated against political criticisms of the IWW. We invite people to write full rebuttals to this and all of the other criticisms of the IWW and submit them to us and to other web sites and publications.
How the I.W.W. can contribute to Working Class Revolution
by Phinneas Gage
The I.W.W. we used to have.
The late 19th century and early 20th century were characterised by tremendous changes to the nature of industry. The rise of coast to coast rail lines, assembly line manufacturing, and the consolidation of Capital into monopolistic trusts came the stagnation of the conventional trade unions of the AFL and the Knights of Labour. Many unions in the late nineteenth century began groping for some kind of national organisation that could span the continent of North America and bring back the ability of workers to wage the class struggle effectively. (more…)
This post reproduces a short speech from the convention floor at the founding convention of the IWW. The IWW was formed in the middle of a several decade long cycle of struggle and organization. The revolutionaries involved with the creation and operation of the IWW are often underemphasized in accounts of the history of the left. The proceedings of the IWW founding convention as well as other early IWW publications contain a wealth of material which is not just relevant for understanding the past but for engaging with the problems of our day. (more…)
Recomposition’s newest post is “Building radical unionism: Providing services without creating service unionism,” by Adam W. This wasn’t intentional when the article was initially put in the list of material to publish on the blog, but the piece speaks to themes in the recent series of posts on leadership. In a way, this post continues that series. (more…)