By: Arizona Wobblies
Workers are burned-out. Our bosses are getting richer, giant corporations are buying up all the houses, and authoritarians are digging in their heels. Most people feel a need to do something—anything—to make our world a more just and equitable place. It’s all so daunting; how do you even begin to make an impact? We’re Wobblies, so we say: Join the Industrial Workers of The World! Joining the IWW is a straightforward way to start collaborating with other folks who recognize that the game is rigged. No one’s gonna manifest a cooperative society on their own, we all need a whole bunch of help. What are the first steps towards actively engaging with the Labor Movement? What are the potential pitfalls? And, how do we make getting involved easier?
0.5) You’re already a part of the Labor Movement! The moment you realized the absurdity and cruelty of bosses controlling everything, that is when you became a part of the Labor Movement. Crucially, you’re not “just a member” of the IWW, we’re a rank and file union and your actions matter. The union isn’t something distant that you can’t affect. You are the union!
1.) Spark conversations. Theory is safe. Posting online about some book you read might feel like the Revolution. But live, in-person conversations with people who work for a living is the real work we do. Strike up a conversation with a coworker and get an idea of how aware your peers and fellow workers are of being ripped off, day in, day out. Better yet, sit and talk to coworkers 1:1 (one on one) outside of work. If you’re the introverted type, you can always ask other Wobblies for advice on (or even practice with!) initiating conversations with coworkers.
2.) ‘Re-educate’ each other. We’re trained to be good factory workers, (quiet, passive, and robotic) not to think strategically and plan ahead. Being a “self-starter” is a necessary skill-set in the Labor Movement. De-programming ourselves could take many different forms.
3.) Set up classes. Attend or host introduction, organizing, and history classes facilitated by experienced Wobblies. Host classes explaining what life is like in various industries led by workers in those industries. If you speak multiple languages, help other people learn a new language. The broader our worker outreach, the better.
4.) Meet up with Wobblies and like minded people. Regularly meeting and chatting with folks is one of the most powerful weapons we have in the fight for worker emancipation. Meet with workers in your general industry, from your specific workplace, or listen and learn stuff from workers in other industries to gain a broader understanding of how industry functions. Contact your Fellow Workers on a regular basis. Let’s break out of our shells! Set a goal of how many Wobblies or Labor Allies you’d like to be in touch with on a weekly basis. Try to stick to it.
5.) Create small, informal working groups. It’s too easy to fall victim to apathy when you go at it alone. Additionally, in larger groups it’s easy to feel like your voice is not being heard. When you’re in a small group, however, you can propel one another to set goals, accomplish tasks, plan decisive action, or just be there when someone needs an ear. A reading club is a simple step. The Labor Movement is built on small, informal groups of workers. You can’t achieve the larger ambition of Worker Emancipation without countless groups such as these all in motion.
6.) The domino effect; enthusiasm is contagious. Perhaps you have been in a crappy organization before. Maybe the people in that group were involved in meaningless power struggles that sap everyone’s energy. Maybe the main person was a Buzz Killington or a Debby Downer. When the norm is not doing anything, that inertia slows folks down and they get depressed. So we want to do the opposite. The IWW wants action. If we can make it the norm for participants to be active, to present ideas, to instigate group activity, it becomes easier for everyone to dip their toes in the water. Let’s motivate each other and build enthusiasm!
7.) Join a committee! Once you join the IWW—as we’re sure you will!— you might feel lost about what to do. And maybe you will feel like you’re the only one doing the work. First thing to do is to talk to other members in your local General Membership Branch (GMB) to find out which standing committee might be best suited for your talents. Feel like there should be an additional working group? Get some help forming a new committee! Maybe your new committee can propose to spend the Branch’s dues money in a better way – maybe find an office or hall to rent. Maybe purchase a bunch of picket signs and strike support materials. Either way, start actively recruiting other Wobs to help with your committee’s objectives.
8.) Set simple achievable goals that provide a sense of forward movement. Once you join the IWW everything is perfect from then on, right? Smooth sailing? Well… This is life, and nothing is perfect. Your IWW membership is not going to be all rainbows and sunshine. Our plan is to overthrow the capitalist system, remember, so look out for strong winds and rough seas ahead. But setting small, achievable goals helps to offset the daunting weight of our ambition: “Abolition of the Wage System.” Calling or texting a fellow union member or coworker is infinitely better than not. Again, we’re not taught how to persevere towards large scale and abstract goals like economic and social justice. We have to start with the immediate and material. Your boss wants to chastise you about being a “slacker”, let’s try to not do the same amongst ourselves. Any contribution to the Labor Movement is a step in the right direction.
9.) Are you a visual artist? Make IWW agitprop! Some people have an obsession with bureaucracy, and think that the Labor Movement has to be boring. But that’s not you, right? You love to create. Well, you could make a big contribution by creating pro-labor, pro-IWW agitation propaganda: fliers, t-shirts, stickers, etc. Or even paintings, sculptures, etc. (Imagine if you created the first ever bust of Pedro Coria, IWW leader in Arizona and Sonora!) What gets you, your coworkers, your friends and peers agitated, inspired, and eager to fire the boss? That’s your starting point!
10.) Write about your experiences, observations, and ideas. Connect with other readers and writers in your area and propel one another to fight back against employers with your pen. Contribute to existing IWW publications, social media, podcasts or present an initiative to your GMB and get some editors elected to represent your state or region. Start small. What are some questions you might have about the industry you work in? Why did you join the IWW? What do you think is needed to build power for workers and the Labor Movement in general? Word that shit up!
10.5) Agitate workers to get involved. If you’re just now going pedal-to-the-metal in the Labor Movement, what knowledge do you lack? What skills do you want to develop? What skills do you have to offer The Movement? All precise reasons to join the One Big Union! If you’ve been around the block a few times, what do you wish you knew when you joined IWW? What expectations did you have initially? What fell short and what came to fruition? How do we bridge that gap of expectation vs reality? Answering these questions can help each new wave of Wobbly recruits “hit the ground running” and help folks who’ve been around a while keep their head in the game.
There, wasn’t that fun? Now, let’s set to it building power for workers. See you on the picket line!