by FWs Gordon and Sean
Our union, the Industrial Workers of the World, was founded during a time of economic upheaval, rapid industrialization, and migration — many of our class were forced into the streets, bereft of substance because the bosses needed a reserve army of labor. The IWW was established in response to these conditions, with the purpose to carry on the struggle for the emancipation of the working class and to build through industrial organization an administrative structure for the continuation of production after the abolition of capital.
Back then we approached emancipation and organizing creatively. We were open minded about tactics and guided by the principle: Liberate the Working Class, and Serve the People. There wasn’t a distinction between an unemployed and employed Fellow Worker; there was no looking down on the reserve army. FW Lucy Parsons catered to the unemployed in her “To Tramps, the Disinherited, and Miserable”:
“A word to the 35,000 now tramping the streets of this great city, with hands in pockets, gazing listlessly about you at the evidence of wealth and pleasure of which you own no part, not sufficient even to purchase yourself a bit of food with which to appease the pangs of hunger now gnawing at your vitals. It is with you and the hundreds of thousands of others similarly situated in this great land of plenty, that I wish to have a word.”
This meant we engaged in workplace actions and we cared for each other with well-organized mutual aid outside of the capitalist system. We fought for free speech and the right to organize. We cared for injured and traumatized Fellow Workers, we watched each others’ kids, and we won many strikes and actions by materially supporting each other. Our union halls operated also as community centers, with libraries, support groups, dance floors, a safe space for people to gather, and kitchens to give the kids hot food.
Things are not okay in America. According to the latest United Nations sustainable development report, America has regressed from a developed country to a developing country, to the point that it is now considered less developed than Cuba. (Source: https://dashboards.sdgindex.org/rankings). The Pacific Northwest’s houseless community reflects this dynamic. People live in hotels, in cars, on the streets, under highways. They’ve been left behind by capitalism. Along the Salish Sea, a Fellow Worker dies every day, and the cause of death is irrelevant. They work for a living, and they are forced into being unhoused, out of work, and bereft of subsistence. They are being injured. They need solidarity for their injuries. Each one of us, after all, is an accident or two away from being on the streets.
Remaining true to our principles we can use mutual aid to emancipate the reserve army, to build our union base, to support each other, and to uplift ourselves, in response to this second Gilded Age. Organized mutual aid is necessary to support workplace direct action, which is ultimately the greatest weapon of the working class. Pacific Northwest IWWs must recognize this bondage of poverty as an injury that is causing suffering and therefore a personal injury. We must lead in solidarity by using mutual aid to end homelessness along the banks of the Salish Sea. Every IWW an organizer, every IWW a leader in the struggle for emancipation.
It is our unhoused Fellow Workers who will most benefit from housing, healthcare and job training. The IWW constitution permits IWW worker cooperatives, which are worker owned and controlled organizations for the benefit of the community. We could organize cooperative housing, healthcare, bakeries, or recycling centers. Co-ops can be started without a workplace direct action within the traditional employer-employee power dynamic. IWW worker co-ops are an alternative to workplace direct action for workers to change the balance of power with capital. Co-ops are democratic organizations for the administration of production after the fall of capital. They could be used to expand our base and reach workers not confined to traditional workplaces.
Our goal is to radically change society because we are sick of being exploited. A branch could form a worker cooperative committee to organize and foster the development of workers cooperatives as a path to economic freedom. The committee could research business plans, find funding sources, prepare legal documents, offer coop leadership training, and other assistance. The IWW’s mission is to emancipate the working class, and historically we’ve not limited ourselves to only workplace direct action as a tactic. HIstorically, the IWW’s have innovatively used a combination of workplace direct action and mutual aid to confront the bosses and we should continue this tradition and organize both.
We of the IWW know that An Injury to One is an Injury to All, and that our unemployed Fellow Workers are workers in need of solidarity. Let’s Organize, Educate, and Emancipate, and liberate ourselves from the brutally oppressive capitalism sickening these indigenous lands and destroying innocent people and begin organizing material alternatives to the status quo.