Despite leaving the IWW close to a year ago, I still receive the internal bulletin and union election materials. Currently, the organization is going through its annual election of officers, Constitutional amendments, and up-or-down votes on certain projects or group actions. This current set of candidates and issues are unlike anything the IWW has seen in a long while. Over the past 3 years, they have gone through a period of constant growth and interest (like much of the rest of the working class political milieu and its orbit worldwide)- resulting in a number of internal issues coming to a head and requiring closure.
The first sign of something new and different is the wide array of opinions held by members running for office within the union. A number of candidates are of the usual variety, longtime members, committed Wobblies of the industrial unionist, anti-political, cookie-cutter set. Yellow/Business unions are lambasted, emphasis put on direct action organizing and solidarity unionism. However, a number of a new type of candidate are present. One is of the yellow trade unionist variety (something very familiar to the BIROC-UK IWW). They wish to bring the IWW into closer legality and within the letter of the law of an American labor union (fostering closer ties to the Department of Labor, reviewing non-profit paperwork with the IRS, consulting law and labor experts to bring the IWW closer to the AFL-CIO legal norm, etc). This brand finds an echo in the UK IWW ('BIROC'), who want to seperate the administrations of each region (as opposed to the central administration for the global union).
On the opposite end is an oldhat Marxist, who writes in their candidate statement:
We should have either made those regulations [state labor laws] our regulations, or we should not have registered as a Trade Union.
. . .
The IWW ignoring building a new society to concentrate on being a Trade Union rather discouraged me. . . The nature of meetings also changed, becoming like SWP meetings. People who read iww-list will have seen me calling for scientific Marxists. Dogmatic bigotted Marxists are not very bright and could easily be fooled by the enemy. Capitalists are well practiced at dealing with Trade Unions, they find it harder to deal with well organized IWW activity.
We should fight over pay and conditions, and help others too, but it is much more important to change the social and economic system, and that is the proper job for Wobblies and is not being done."
Another candidate writes:
"The approach to organizing of the business unions' leadership has been a dismal failure. This is because they insist on taking the bureaucratic path through the National Labor Relations Board rather than relying on the power of the workers. Their insistence is due to their acceptance of capitalism with no questions asked and also connected with their refusal to return to the methods of the 1930's (sit-down strikes, mass picket lines, defiance of anti-union laws, injuctions, etc)
In the last analysis, they see the interests of the working class and that of the capitalist class as being connected. This is diametrically opposed to the view taken by the IWW, as expressed in the preamble to our Constitution ("the working class and the employing class have nothing in common.")
The 'regroupment of The Left' ideology that is manifest in the post-USSR American left has not ignored the IWW. In the past, the IWW has flirted with affiliating to a number of international associations or organizations of the working class, from the Comintern to the IWA, and presently has its own 'International Solidarity Commission' to work with such groups (since the IWW is supposed to be the working class international in and of itself). However, an example of the confusionist all-in-leftism afflicting the US can be found in this candidate statement:
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has called for a "Fifth International." Regardless of what criticisms we may have of Chavez, if this call is ever translated into action, it is likely to bring together a very wide ranging group of left forces including some of the more militant unions, anarchists, socialists of all different stripes, etc. I think the IWW should encourage and participate in such developments.
The IWW is both a union and part of the left protest movement. Much of the left is pretty divorced from the workers struggle, but this may change. Especially as we get more involved in the student/youth movement, we cannot afford to ignore this wider left."
Aside from the candidates, there is also a large organizational shift occuring. A faction of the union, including a few long time members and former union officers and leaders, have been expelled from the IWW at the annual general assembly stemming from charges brought at the last Delegates Convention. This is a big deal, given that the group in question embodies much of the voluntarist, adventurist, opportunist segment of professional leftists that develop in periods of low class struggle. In an organization of very few members, it is easy to become an elected officer, a leader, a guiding force. However this sort of organizational ghetto is self-defeating, inflates ego's, and can and has ruined organizations on an upward trajectory during an advance in the class struggle. An up-or-down vote is going to the membership on whether to uphold the charges against the 4 high ranking IWW members/officers and expel them, or not. One article asking to have the charges upheld and expel the members is titled, "Building A Forward Looking Militant And Democratic Worker's Movement Or Reverting Into A Dysfunctional Activist Organization."
The IWW, despite all of its flaws and weaknesses, still represents a small piece of the workers movement, and in certain countries (particulary the USA) it is a big influence on newly politicized students and workers, a revolving door of introduction to Marxism and class struggle. It has been described as an organization with 2 conflicting identities- on the one hand, you have the traditional Trade Unionists who wish to make the IWW simply an activistic-legalistic labor union, those who wish to stay in a time-warp to 1912 and fight against craft unionism and political struggle and more or less use the IWW as a kind of historical society, and leftist activists who go where the numbers are. On the other hand there are class conscious militants on their way to internationalist proletarian politics, or those who became confused or misguided along the way, and try to fight within the IWW to bring it around to extra-parliamentary, extra-legalistic direct action struggle and regroupment.
It'll be interesting to see how the membership evolves, and whether former IWW members will animate the politicized American working class in a positive way like they did in the years leading up to and directly following Red October (from the mass and general strikes, to the founding of the communist organizations, to the embryonic worker's councils in American cities to the Kuzbas Autonomous Industrial Colony in Siberia).