The IWW is a member-run union for all workers, a union dedicated to organizing on the job, in our industries and in our communities. IWW members are organizing to win better conditions today and build a world with economic democracy tomorrow. We want our workplaces run for the benefit of workers and communities rather than for a handful of bosses and executives.
We are the Industrial Workers of the World because we are organized industrially and internationally by workers, for workers.
- What is the IWW?
- WTF is "Industrial Unionism"?
- Who can join?
- Can the IWW negotiate an EBA?
- How do members benefit?
- Is the IWW a responsible union?
- What makes the IWW from business unions?
- what is solidarity unionism?
- What is the IWW's position on the environment?
- What is "direct action"?
- Is the IWW democratic?
- Is the IWW political?
- Does the IWW build leaders?
- Can members of other unions join the IWW?
It is a fighting labor union that believes that the interests of labor can be fully served only when working people are united as a class. It wants to see all on the same job united, all in the same industry in one union, all who work for wages in one big union.
The IWW differs sharply from the position of other unions in that, we believe the problems of the working class can not be solved by begging crumbs from employers or praying to politicians for favors. While it fights for better conditions today, the IWW insists that working people are entitled to everything they produce, instead of a meager share.
There will be insecurity and hunger among those who toil for as long as there is an employing class that benefits from low wages and evil working conditions. The IWW holds that there can be no solution to industrial warfare, no end to injustice and want, until the profit system itself is abolished.
In striving to unite labor as a class in one big union the IWW also seeks to build the structure of a new and better social order within the shell of the old system which fails to provide for the needs of all.
The IWW organizes industrially rather than by trade. These Industrial Unions are to be grouped together into six Departments. Our goal is to organize all industries into One Big Union.
For effective working-class solidarity it is necessary that workers be able to plan jointly with either their fellow workers in their own industries, or with their fellow workers to whom they furnish materials.
Only with the sort of industrial unionism that adds up to One Big union is this flexibility possible. The lines marking off these industries are not meant as barriers, but rather as specialized universal joints.
It is possible for a member of the IWW to be in more than one such union simultaneously. Members may be transferred from one industrial union to another freely at their request by an IWW delegate.
- Father Haggerty's Wheel - A graphic representation of the IWW's structural industrial union organization program.
Any wage earner may carry an IWW card. No worker is barred because of race, religion, nationality, sex, or sexual orientation.
It is not, however, an organization for cowards or those who substitute words for action. It does not want people who are content to unquestioningly follow leaders.
The IWW is a union devised by and for workers, the best and most intelligent, and growing numbers of such workers are securing IWW cards. They want to help build the union that will rebuild the world. The IWW needs them and they need the IWW.
The IWW is not an employee organisation registered with the Fair Work Comission. This means the IWW cannot represent you in formal proceedings before the Comission. We don't think that's a bad thing, because the Fair Work Act takes away all the tools the workers have in negotiating with the boss. We prefer direct action. That means making demands directly to the boss and if they say refuse to treat us fairly, hitting them where it hurts - in the wallet!
While the IWW can't bargain for you if you're making an agreement, we can help you set up what's called a "workplace group". A workplace group is a group of employees in any workplace, and they can negotiate agreements with an employer. It will be up to you and the people you work with, but we'll be with you every step of the way. The IWW means solidarity, autonomy, and democracy. We'll stand by you. Always. But the decisions are made by those on the spot. And those decisions are made democratically. There's not a union beaureaucrat who will make a decision or do the negotiating for you: it's up to you! But we'll give you advice, resources and help you organise.
While the IWW makes no promises of immediate gain to its members, experience shows that members benefit materially in direct proportion to their efforts in the organization and on the job.
IWW members, familiar with the methods of direct action, do much to enforce and improve conditions on the job. The knowledge and facilities gained through the IWW often prove a major factor in winning grievance cases.
Members, working in concert with the IWW and its press, have succeeded many times in needling union officials into demanding and gaining higher wages. IWW members have rallied decisive support for unions facing defeat in contests with employers.
These things are tangibles that directly benefit the IWW member, as well as all labor. There are equally important intangibles. The IWW gives its members a sense of solidarity and a sense of direction. It makes unionists effective by teaching them how to fight intelligently and as a group. It offers them the companionship of the most honest, fearless group in labor.
Entirely--to its members and to the working class. It has not and never will be responsible in the sense used by employers in praising other unions--a tamed, house-broken division of labor which is responsible to the boss for restraining its own members from injuring him.
The IWW does not sell out its membership. It does not betray the interests of labor. It is responsible only to the working class.
The IWW has been called red but it has never been called yellow.
The IWW is fundamentally different from business unions in the following ways:
- The IWW is democratic, controlled by its rank & file;
- The IWW beleives in organizing industrially, not by trade or craft;
- The IWW is a class struggle union. The working class and the employing class having nothing in common;
- The IWW organizes on its own terms.
Following are some scathing critiques of business unions, i.e. unions that believe that the working class and capital are partners, and why that belief is suicidal for the working class. These documents are not official IWW literature and the opinions expressed here are presented for informational purposes:
On the Betrayal of Business Unions:
- Slaughterhouse Fight: A Look at the Hormel Strike - How Hormel and the UFCW sabotaged Rank & File unionism in the P-9 Strike - By Steve Boyce, Jake Edwards, and Tom Wetzel (Summer 1986)
- A Strike by Any Other Name - By Natasha Moss-Dedrick (September 28, 2004)
Alternatives to Reformism Within Existing Labor Law:
- Introducing the Employee Liberation Act: Unleashing the Power of Worker Self-Activity and Direct Action - By Daniel Gross, Originally published on Znet, June 30, 2009
New Directions, Same Destination:
- SEIU and Antiglobalization Protesters: How Labor Bureaucrats Exploited the Antiglobalization Movement & How to Not Get Fooled Again This Year - By an Anonymous SEIU Staffer (February 17, 2003)
- Flying Squads and the Crisis of Workers' Self-Organization: How tactics and strategy need a broader vision than business unionism - By Alex Levant (March 2003)
- Reutherism Redux - What Happens When Poor Workers' Unions Wear The Color Purple - By Steve Early, Labor Notes (September 2004)
On the Limits of Reform Slates:
- A Wobbly Strategy for Fundamental Change - Staughton Lynd (September 2002)
- Josh DeVries Responds to Staughton Lynd - By Josh DeVries (October 2002)
On the Dangers of Trying to Make Change as a Paid Union Staffer:
- Organize From Below! - A Message to Young People Who Are Considering Taking a Job as a Union Staffer - By Richard Mellor and John Reimann, (April 11, 2004)
We strive to build unions based on the direct strength of workers on the job, without regard to government or employer 'recognition.' It also refers to a strategy that eschews traditional contracts as our end goal. Instead we seek to win gains and build power through direct action tactics, rejecting concessionary bargaining and the prevalent 'no-strike' and 'management rights' clauses most traditional trade unions are all too willing to accept. Here you can find out more about our the IWW's unique and innovative organizing strategy, Solidarity Unionism.
From the Preamble to the IWW Constitution
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.
This last section, in boldfaced, was added to the Preamble in 1991, by a referendum vote of the IWW membership, but it was proposed by Fellow Workers Judi Bari, Jess Grant, and Utah Phillips following Redwood Summer, which was a coalition effort organized by northwestern California chapters of Earth First!, the IWW, and Seeds of Peace.
While some may question the relevance of this clause, it cannot be denied that in addition to wage slavery and the exploitation of the working class by the employing class, Capitalism is also inherently destructive to life on Earth itself due to its process of externalizing social costs. Resource depletion, the destruction of biomass and habitat, waste, and pollution are the ultimate result of such "externalization", but -- since all life is interdependent -- in nature there is no such thing as externalization. Capitalism merely shifts the burden of its exploitation of the Earth onto the working class!
Not only is this process exploitative of both the working class and the earth, it is genocidal and must be stopped.
Naturally (no pun intended), this requires not only that the workers take possession of the machinery of production, but also that the working class rethink production entirely!
Both Judi Bari and Jess Grant offered thoughts on this process. While it must be emphasized that neither of the following texts are official IWW literature (and Bari's piece was actually directed at Earth First!, though she was an IWW member when she conceived it) both offer a starting point for the transformations that need to occur if humanity is to survive, let alone build the new society within the shell of the old:
- Greening of the IWW: What Happens When We Win? - by Jess Grant (August 1989)
- Revolutionary Ecology, Biocentrism and Deep Ecology - By Judi Bari (1995)
Beyond that, though the group is unofficial, some IWW members have taken it upon themselves to organize an Ecological Unionism Caucus (or Environmental Unionism Caucus), which any dues paying IWW member may join, to help define and clarify these positions. For more information, visit ecology.iww.org.
It is the action labor takes when it fights in the direct, natural way and that which brings greatest results. When workers rebel on the job and slow down or cease work until their grievances are redressed--that is direct action. When workers, united as a class, conduct a general strike to defend their interests--that is direct action.
Workers are continually betrayed when they rely on other means than direct action--electing politicians to office, submitting demands to arbitration, or permitting the courts or government agencies to settle issues. These are methods designed to benefit the employing class.
To expect justice from these sources is as naive as to believe slot machines are made for the enrichment of those who put money into them. The only purpose of the infrequent payoffs is to maintain the faith of the gullible in the "justice" of a rigged machine.
Employers are vitally concerned only when labor uses direct action to win its demands, for it is a method that is not easy or cheap to combat. Workers have invariably gained more by acting directly than could have been won by playing ring around the rosey with employer-controlled agencies.
Direct action tore the chains of open slavery from humanity. Over the centuries it has established individual rights and modified the life and death power of the master class. Used fully, used wisely and well, direct action can forever end hunger, injustice and the mastery of humans by other humans.
The IWW is a fortress of democracy. While majority vote rules, there is scrupulous regard for the right of a minority to hold differing views. All the important questions, including the election of officials, are decided by referendum vote of the membership. Officials who fail to carry out the desire of the majority are subject to immediate recall. "Pie cards" are not tolerated in the IWW.
Wages of officials and employees of the union are set to the average pay received by the members in industry. Terms in office are rigidly limited. Most of the work in the IWW is done without charge because the organization is composed of workers who believe in their movement and gladly give their utmost to promote its growth.
A cornerstone of the IWW is the belief that the rank and file must control the union and its officers, instead of being controlled by them. No union can be rank and file that limits the freedom of its members or muzzles minorities by a host of unnecessary regulations. Therefore the IWW makes no more rules than there is genuine need for.
While the structure and constitution of the IWW jealously protect democracy, no law devised can secure or retain democracy once the will for it is lost. The root of freedom is not law, which people can change, but people themselves. Best guarantee of democracy lies in the membership of the IWW; its members, who war against tyranny and injustice, will never allow freedom to be abridged in labor's finest organization.
The IWW, as an organization, is non-political and it does not interfere with political beliefs or activities of its members. It requires only that political views do not create division within the union. This rule enables workers of all political beliefs to join together without friction to advance their economic interests.
The IWW concentrates on direct economic action because history shows that whoever holds economic power also holds political power. The IWW believes that whatever is "given" to workers by politicians can as quickly, with interest piled on the "debt," be taken away. Only that which labor wins by its own economic strength can be retained.
The hard lesson, fully absorbed by the IWW, is that labor cannot depend on pie-cards, politicians or prayers. Labor can only rely on labor; if it wins it must win by its own economic unity and strength.
In one sense, yes. The IWW rejects "leaders" as such, for if individuals lead they can also mislead. Labor has been continually betrayed by leaders that it trusted and followed. It will cease to be betrayed only when it accepts the leadership of ideas and not the leadership of men.
Yet there are people who are quick and capable in presenting ideas and in mapping tactics to fit conditions. The best of them do not wish to lead and they will not blindly follow. These are developed by the IWW--partly because it is a rank and file organization, partly from the shared experience of its members, partly because IWW members have no lack of intelligence and initiative.
Yes. Many IWW members are also members of other unions. They are women and men who form the fighting heart of such unions; rank and filers who strive to make their unions yield returns for the membership and not completely degenerate into docile pacifiers serving the boss.
Such workers have joined the IWW because they want to build a union stronger, more fearless, more honest, than the unions dominant today. Such a union must, in the end, match the unity of the employers with the greater unity of the workers, match the power of the employing class with the greater power of the working class.
That union is the one big union of the IWW.