The IWW grassroots direct action unionism in 5 easy steps

originally written by Bristol IWW

1. You’re having problems at your workplace. You may not be getting your correct pay, or your correct sickness pay, or holiday entitlement, but you are unsure what to do because you haven’t got anything written, or you do but it doesn’t make any sense to you and nobody has bothered to explain it to you.

You want to do something about it, but you don’t really know what your rights are and what the law says. You may be bullied, harassed or intimidated by colleagues and/or managers, and feel isolated and depressed. Or, perhaps, you may actually like your job, get on with your colleagues and not have any problems at all with it. You may be unemployed, or a student or a retired person. You may think you have nothing in common with people in different circumstances, but we think you do: we think you should all join the IWW. In the IWW we believe that whether you are in work or not right now, you are still part of a society based on paid work and as such you will be affected by it at some point or other.

In the IWW we believe you don’t join the union only when you have a problem that you need an “expert” to fix; we think you should join anyway because being in a grassroots union is a key element of being involved and engaged with the world you live in. We think everyone has the right to take control and power back over their lives and work. We think everyone has the right to learn about employment rights and legislation and become their own “expert”. We become “experts” through formal training courses in casework and organising, but mostly we learn informally, by sharing knowledge and skills and supporting each other. We are grassroots, we are democratic, and we are fighters.

2. You are a member now, and suddenly you do have problems in your workplace. Your manager may have decided to change your terms and conditions and demanded you to accept. You may notice you are not getting paid all the hours you are working. You may be under a lot of stress and pressure at work and have to take time off work sick because of it. Who you gonna call? The Wobblies! You arrange to meet with one of our caseworkers and go through things with them. You finally have someone to talk to who will listen to you and give you guidance and support, help you understand the law and what to do.

In the IWW we believe in EMPOWERMENT not delegation: we don’t do things FOR you, we do things WITH you. Once you have a clearer idea of the options available to you, it is up to you to decide what steps to take, knowing that the IWW will have your back. The IWW can help you in many different ways, from standard workplace procedures such as grievances and disciplinaries to more complex casework such as supporting you to take your case to an Employment Tribunal if appropriate. All these words and expression may mean nothing to you at the beginning, and you may feel overwhelmed by it all, but slowly, with the help of your IWW rep, you will become your own “expert”. You will start to understand, learn and feel empowered: knowledge is power.

3. So, your case is ongoing and we are following the standard procedures. We may be supporting to write formal demands to your employer, attending meetings alongside you, helping you to find a good solicitor, advocating on your behalf with your employer or other organisations (such as ACAS).

Sometimes though things don’t work, maybe because your employer is not responding, or because the nature of your employment is such that standard procedures are not appropriate. So, what happens then? Simple: we use direct action. We get together, because together we are stronger, and we get your case “out there”. We may ask people to call or write to your employer and complain about they way they are treating you. We may ask for a boycott of the company you are working for. We may get in touch with local and national press to publicise your case. We may hold a demonstration at your workplace until your employer meets your demands.

This is what we have done recently for one of our members who had her wages withheld by the cafe she worked at. And just in case you are wondering, yes, it did work: direct action does get the goods! Read our report about it “What’s outrageous? Unpaid wages!”.

4. All is over now, your employer has seen sense and you are in the pub celebrating with the Wobblies and your friends. You will feel knackered. You will also feel thrilled, energised, inspired. You will look at yourself in the mirror and know you have had the guts to stand up for your rights, no matter how stressful it has been. You have learned that you are not alone, and you will never feel alone again when standing up to your boss because the IWW will always have your back. So, what next? Well, if you haven’t already done so, you could complete our training courses in casework and organising. You will now have the knowledge and skills to support people in the same situation, and you will have a personal understanding of how it feels to have a dispute with your employer and WIN. The sky is our only limit, for us Wobblies!

5. How do you join? Online, here: http://www.southernmaineiww.org/join. If you want to have a chat beforehand, contact us here first: http://www.southernmaineiww.org/contact

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To Stave Off Zombie Apocalypse, Organize a New Society Within the Shell of the Old

Brad Pitt wonders why he didn't join the IWW while there was still time.
Brad Pitt wonders why he didn’t join the IWW while there was still time.

by x365097

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?