Verizon: union win

Chuck0 chuck at
Thu Aug 24 08:48:40 PDT 2000

John: That's a fair enough criticism of the contemporary IWW. You are pretty much on target on most of your points, so I'm not going to say much in response. It's kind of funny to hear criticisms that *I* make of the IWW echoed in your remarks. What I typically say is that the IWW is a club for academic labor historians.

It certainly doesn't match the size and power of the IWW back in the early 20th century. I'm sure that most IWW members aren't fooling themselves about that. On the other hand, the IWW has seen a big growth spurt in the past 3 years, mostly as a result of the highly visible, yet unsuccessful Borders organizing drive. I also get the impression that the IWW is currently undergoing a paradigm shift as a result of the anti-globalization movement. The amount of squabbling has decreased and the energy of our younger members is changing the culture of the union back to what it was like 100 hundred years ago.

It's like what I tell my fellow Wobs. We have to create a new resistance culture for the 21st century. All of that old IWW paraphernalia is certainly interested, but slapping a 70-year-old graphic on a pamphlet isn't going to cut it.

Thanks for your comments.


John Gulick wrote:
> 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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