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Letter To Socialist Appeal

November 8, 2010

Fellow Workers!

Thank you for your fine supportive article about the IWW’s attempts to organize Jimmy Johns. However. I do disagree with one point you raise:

...when the mass of the working class began organizing itself along industrial lines in the 1930s into the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), this, along with the Wobblies’ anarcho-syndicalist political abstentionism, sealed the fate of the IWW, which effectively went into terminal decline.

Now I have read a lot of labour history, but never heard this take on the IWW eclipse before. It is generally agreed that long before the CIO drive the IWW was in trouble. The reasons for this were 1. state and vigilante terror during and immediately after WW1. 2. Losing many of the best organizers to the Communist Party, which then following Zinoviev’s mistaken “one size fits all” policy of rejoining the conservative unions, tried to destroy the IWW. 3. A major self-inflicted wound as an ultra left faction broke away claiming the IWW was “too centralized.” 4. In the mid-1920’s the CP unionists were driven out of the AFL unions (just like we said they would be) and started organizing new unions. These CP-lead unions were soon far more powerful than the IWW and thus formed a strong base for the future CIO organizing. 5. The social democrats re-grouped and became an important force again. They too threw their weight behind the CIO.

Furthermore, the IWW is not an anarcho-syndicalist organization, nor do we tell our membership not to vote. Our members know our program and it is up to them to decide who to vote for or not to vote. We are in the tradition of revolutionary syndicalism of which there have been two kinds. One such is the Australian and Canadian OBU and the Deleonist (Detroit) IWW which endorsed labour or socialist parties. The others are the old (pre-CP) French CGT and the Chicago IWW which neither endorsed a party nor had an anti-electoral campaign, but let the members do what they thought fit. (In actual fact most CGT and IWW members supported the Socialist Parties)

There is a reason for the IWW’s party neutrality, though you might disagree with it. This position is taken to minimize internal disputes – an attempt to unite workers on as broad a basis as possible around key class issues and not get caught up in questions of politics, creed or religion. The second is the danger to the union when it gets tied to a party – as we have seen so well with US labour and the Democratic Party.

In Solidarity,

Larry Gambone Branch Secty, Van Isle IWW

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 17, 2010 9:02 pm

    Good letter Larry.

    Another aspect to the IWW’s purported “political abstensionism” is that when organizing many immigrants, women and migrant workers – something Socialist Alternative undoubtedly celebrates – the political process is something difficult to participate in as they were disenfranchised. So on a certain level, political activity would be completely irrelivent as a useful tactic.

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