Verizon: union win

John Gulick jlgulick at
Wed Aug 23 21:12:32 PDT 2000

ChuckO sez:

>I'm curious. Since you've taken the time to diss my union, could you please
>explain what you mean by "lifestyle anarchism?"

No problem -- I do owe you an explanation, since I've supported your position in other contexts. I don't want to come across as a back-stabber.

Admittedly, I used the term as pejorative shorthand. (The message was supposed to be private, not public, which doesn't excuse me from explaining myself). I've seen Bookchin use it to denigrate various libertarian/individualist strands of contemporary anarchism, which sparked various polemics which I imagine you are more familiar with than I, since I don't really keep up with the anarchist literature. (I neither endorse nor support Bookchin's taxonomy, since I don't know much about it, although I'm not that keen on Bookchin in general).

It was not my intent to use it in Bookchin's sense, but instead to signify that the IWW is today a far cry from what it was before the Palmer raids and all that. At one time it was rooted in the everyday life of tight-knit working class communities in the mining camps and timber towns of the Mountain West and West Coast. Back before mass consumer culture, when autonomous working class culture steeped in the hard realities of the super-exploitative extractive industries flourished. Today, the IWW exists mainly as a club of sympathetic radicals (mainly young white men) who flock to it because a) they have anarchist leanings and b) they want to ground their anarchism is something more solid than opposition to authoritarianism pure and simple -- i.e., in opposition to capitalist control over the means of production and the labor process. The IWW functions more as a badge of political identity than it does as a real union, or union of unions with social-revolutionary capacity. Of course, I'm sure you can provide me with a few examples of shops (printers and copy shops, bike messengers, even attempts at McDonald's) that the IWW has organized -- shops which the AFL-CIO unions and their ilk haven't organized (and probably refuse to touch), and I'm quite sure the organized members of those shops are all the happier for it.

But despite what you say about the variegated political background of the IWW's current members, it is my impression that the IWW today, both where it functions as a real union and where it functions as a mere club, attracts members on the basis of what it signifies (in this post-modern consumer culture of ours) to already radicalized segments of the (young, white, male) population. It doesn't emerge organically from the everyday life (work, community) of large masses of working-class people. Actually, I wish it did. But to pretend that it does is sheer folly. If anarcho-syndicalist unionism as a mass phenomenon had much life left in it, one would expect to see it thriving in that segment of the working-class population where there is a very tight link between work and community, and where consumer mass culture hasn't completely eroded a non-commodified, self-governing culture -- namely, first-generation immigrants. No sign of anarcho-syndicalism there, although some very interesting and good organizing going on which takes advantage of the strong bonds between work and community (a bond which is overdetermined by ethno-racial/national identity and U.S. racism). If history redoubles upon itself and proves me wrong, I'll be more than elated to eat crow, since I'm favorably inclined to the principles and spirit of anarcho-syndicalism, like I said before.

This probably doesn't satisfy your concerns, since I'm too readily equating the IWW w/anarcho-syndicalism instead of a multi-tendency formation driven by the idea of "one big union." But the thoughts I've displayed here are the ones undergirding my remarks in the post that caught your eye. Didn't mean to slag the IWW so much as express my belief that the IWW is much less than what some of its members think it is, given today's historical context. Which is not to say that in my mind there's not a place for the IWW in a left united front, nor that it's not entirely possible that I've badly misinterpreted Wobblies' subjective conceptualizations of themselves and the IWW.

For the record, I'm not an anarcho-syndicalist either, although sometimes I wish it was the 1900's and 1910's again (but I'm not a woman or African- American, either !!!).

John Gulick

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