In 1918 Helen Keller described the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) as “…probably the most hated and most loved organization in existence. Certainly… the least understood and the most persistently misrepresented.”(1) Arguably, the IWW’s “One Big Union” project is the most ambitious scheme ever undertaken within the labour movement. The organization’s founders set out to build industrial democracy worldwide, from the bottom up. However, although the IWW still exists, nobody would argue that things have gone according to plan. Is “one big union” just secular “pie in the sky”? Firstly, let’s take a look at the roots of the model. Then let’s have a look around at the scene today and see if anybody else fits the bill, or might be made to fit.
In 1904 six labour activists met to discuss how the U.S. labour movement might be radicalized (2). They resolved to bring together a larger group to form a new type of union, and in 1905 about 200 radical unionists met in Chicago. Together, this group formed the IWW (also known as the Wobblies). The Reverend Friar Thomas Haggerty was a central figure at both meetings. Among other things, he wrote the famous Preamble to the Constitution:
“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
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.”
“By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.”
Clearly, the IWW’s vision is not a defensive one (eg unity in face of adversity). It’s about taking control of the workplace, economics, and the world. (more…)