Let’s think back to late summer, 2008 — half a decade ago, right about now. It had been more than five years since the invasion of Iraq by the US, and nearly six years since the invasion of Afghanistan. The PATRIOT Act was still in the news, there was massive anti-Bush agitation from liberals and the left, and many people were looking forward to a change of regime — any change — in 2009.
The financial catastrophe that would soon arrive, however, punctuating the presidency of George W. Bush like a second 9/11, would make matters unfathomably worse, complicating the US economy for years to come and paving the way for the austerity agenda to trample workers’ hard-won economic rights like Orwell’s proverbial jackboot to the face. Of course, there had been preliminary signs of trouble; those had been plain to see. But when the blows finally started hammering down, they caught almost everyone unprepared.
Individualist survivalists, already bolstered by the much-hyped threat of terrorism, came out of the woodwork to sell emergency water filters and K-rations to the gullible and (somewhat justifiably) afraid. The average American worker hunkered down, usually alone or with a few family members, and prayed that the worst — a foreclosure, an eviction — might pass them by. And the media told us endless stories about the struggle to survive amid the mindless hordes who would ravage the remains when it all finally broke down outside the “Green Zone” of Wall Street.
It didn’t — and still doesn’t — have to be this way.
The concept of a labor union like our organization, the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, is simple: when workers, those whose only real commodity to sell to provide for themselves is their labor, gain class consciousness and act together to protect what we recognize as our class interests, we benefit far beyond what we would be able to accomplish as individuals. But for the IWW, the imperative goes much further than protecting the job standings of some skilled breadwinners who want to preserve their traditional social roles. We want an end to all — 100% — of the exploitation and unease throughout society, and it can be done.
As the preamble to our union’s constitution states:
It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.
In other words, if workers wish to prevent the chaos that would stem from a sudden breakdown of the current order, unjust and destructive though it may be in the long run, we must begin — today — to organize an alternative and more socially just replacement which can carry on production in the event of TEOTWAWKI. By doing this, we can stave off a needless plummeting back into the pre-industrial era or a me-first “bunker mentality.” The 1% files such preparations under the name of “continuity of government.” The class-conscious among the 99% call our equivalent “liberation.”
For now, the crisis that is capitalism is in remission. Today, it lies dormant, waiting for another clear opportunity to pounce on the working class as it did in 2008. But when that day returns, and return it shall, there is no need for a Mad Max scenario, no need for the brutality of the Thunderdome, but we must begin to organize against it right away, building on the successes of social movements such as Occupy and of movements found more distantly in the past. A better world is possible, but it takes workers putting our petty differences aside, differences like race and gender that the capitalists want to use to divide us. We must instead focus our efforts on coming together and learning to manage and control our labor, the basis of all wealth, democratically. If we succeed in doing this, we will never be so vulnerable again. This is the IWW’s mission. Are you with us?