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I.W.W. Advice to Occupy Oakland

It’s quite an exercise in arrogance when the Little Union that Can’t (Industrial Workers of the World) wants to dole out advice to the most popular and dynamic social movement we’ve seen in decades. This article, written by John Reimann of the San Francisco Bay area general membership branch of the I.W.W. illustrates just how out of touch the Wobblies are. This is, after all, a union that after over a century of organizing has approximately 2,000 dues paying members. Reimann specifically complains about the lack of worker participation in the port shutdowns on the West Coast and the need to “make a drive into the work places,” something the Wobblies have been doing unsuccessfully for over a century. As questionable as all that is, what really got me was the list of demands:

  • A guaranteed job for everybody who wants one and a $15 per hour minimum wage.
  • A mass union organizing campaign to win union rights for all workers.
  • No concessions, no concessionary contracts; the unions must fight for their members with mass pickets, work place occupations, etc.
  • Socialized medical care.
  • No support, including union support, for any wing of the Democratic (or Republican) Party
  • Mass funding for clean, safe, renewable energy sources.
  • Stop all evictions and foreclosures through mass action.
  • A mass, publicly financed and run home building program – affordable housing for all.
  • Put the banks and finance capital under public ownership.
  • Link up the Occupy movement nationally and internationally.
  • For a society whose production is based on social need, not corporate profits.

From the union which claims to want to abolish the wage system we have the rather strange idea of a “guaranteed job” at a wage of $15 per hour. I suppose slaves had guaranteed jobs. But this entire laundry list of demands seems to illustrate just how out of touch the Wobblies are. Take the demand to finance and run a home building program, for instance. Why on earth would we do that in a country with nearly 18.5 million vacant homes and only about 3.5 million homeless? We don’t need to build more homes. We need to get people into the homes that have already been built and find uses for the rest of the millions of empty structures. The notion that we need to link up the Occupy movements is nonsense. The Occupy movements are linked up and working together all the time. In fact, the Port Shutdown was a great example of this where we had Occupies up and down the West Coast participating and lots of solidarity actions across the country including here in New York where we staged demonstrations against Goldman Sachs. No concessions sounds good, but you have to be able to exert real power in order for that to happen; and at this point our unions just don’t have that kind of strength. A mass union organizing campaign sounds great, but what would it matter in a nation where labor laws–and laws in general– are routinely ignored as a cost of doing business?

Lastly, Reimann really surprised by actually questioning the leaderless nature of this movement:

One other issue should be considered: Officially, Occupy Oakland has no leadership. We all know this is not really true….Either a leadership will be elected by Occupy Oakland and its role and policies defined, or it will be self-appointed and will tend to do what it wants.

We all know this is true? I certainly don’t know this; and I think thousands of folks who have participated in this movement can vouch for that; it’ is, in fact, the leaderless, horizontal structure that is so appealing to people. This from the little union that prides itself on having no leaders and striving toward a world with no bosses. And yet this really does illustrate just how broken the I.W.W. really is, because while they officially talk about abolishing the wage system and have a horizontal, leaderless union, the reality is much different with routine calls for various wage reform ideas spouted by leaders within the union. This article illustrates not only how out of touch the Wobblies are with the Occupy Movement as a whole, but how far they have strayed from the basic tenets of their own union.

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  • You may not like the Wobblies, boy, but unlike “Occupy”, over a hundred years of activism and we have yet to be co-opted. It’s these heads up your asses “I know better than you” attitudes such as these that turn otherwise sympathetic people with histories of protest going back to the sixties against you.

    Like the Tea party, in two years “Occupy” will be naught but a memory. And we dues paying, lifelong, third generation Wobblies will still be around.

  • dave

    You seem to miss the point entirely. And your comment is indiciative of just what is wrong with the Wobblies. For nearly 100 years they’ve been bragging about what they did pre-1920; The Wobblies WERE an inspiration, no doubt. I was a dues paying member for a number of years. But today’s IWW is an empty shadow of its former self and its all too evident that they have lost their way. Do you seriously feel the article is any way in the spirit of the IWW?

  • dave

    You seem to miss the point entirely. And your comment is indiciative of just what is wrong with the Wobblies. For nearly 100 years they’ve been bragging about what they did pre-1920; The Wobblies WERE an inspiration, no doubt. I was a dues paying member for a number of years. But today’s IWW is an empty shadow of its former self and its all too evident that they have lost their way. Do you seriously feel the article is any way in the spirit of the IWW? You can love what the IWW was but you can’t seriously think that the IWW is a serious force for social change any more.

    As to #OccupyWallStreet, maybe it will be gone in a few months. Maybe it will wither away and die like so many other social movements. Maybe it will be around in a 100 years, like the Wobblies, and just a sad shadow of its former self. I have no way of telling, but right now it’s the most vibrant and dynamic movement for social change I’ve seen in my lifetime. That’s where I’ll be spending my energy.

  • MikeBoda

    What part of “The opinions expressed here are the author’s alone” don’t you understand?

    FW Reimann wants leadership because he’s a Marxist-Leninist. He wants home construction jobs because he’s a carpenter. He is but one voice and does not represent the views or aims of the IWW.

    Since the IWW is the union for all workers, it has members with politics you may disagree with.

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