Calling the Question: Building The IWW GMB In Richmond, Part 2 of 3

Calling the Question: Building The IWW GMB In Richmond, Part 2 of 3
By Kenneth Y.

This is an article written for the ‘Building Blocks’ column found in the October 2012 issue of the Industrial Worker. You can view a .pdf of the issue [ here ].  The ‘Building Blocks’ column asked different branches to write about the trials and tribulations of building a branch of the Industrial Workers of the World.  This is my perspective.  Read Part 1 [ here ].

8 hours REST, 8 hours LABOR, 8 hours RECREATION / ORGANIZATION!

8 Hours for Labor, 8 Hours for Rest, 8 hours for Recreation

Drawn together by a lack of revolutionary organization, we hoped to build something that was able to address, from an anti-capitalist perspective, the everyday struggles of working people. The Industrial Workers of the World is that revolutionary organization, and it’s method of ‘solidarity unionism’, focusing on the organization of the worker, and the utilization of direct action to get their demands met, was a distinct departure from how other groups were organizing.

What set it apart from other forms of revolutionary organizations was that it is, first and foremost, an organization for the workers, by the workers.  The Industrial Workers of the World does not align itself with any political party or ideology, freeing much of it’s energy to focus on organizing, rather than supporting political candidates or lobbying for reform.  With this organization, we hoped to develop the union in such a way that we weren’t only organizing workers in shops, but also those same workers in their communities, and vice versa.

So… we had been meeting on a monthly basis, with the above goals in mind, mostly discussing our work with the Richmond Transit Riders Union, spending a lot of time with one another, establishing an at large delegate, signing up new members, and really just getting to know one another.  It wasn’t until we finally were able to attend an Organizer Training 101 in November 2010 that we were able to really visualize what direction we needed to go as a union.

We began incorporating what we learned at the training into our organizing right away.  We found that much of what we had learned, we were already doing.  However, the training helped refine some of our ideas and provided structure to to the chaos. At this point we found ourselves with something between 10 or 15 members, half of them being extremely active, and the other half, not so much.  Seeing as we were consistently collecting dues for the international, and we had exceeded the minimum number of members required by the constitution to apply for an official branch charter, we felt it was time to apply.

FW Tessone just a few months prior, because we were only 4 months old, suggested that we should continue to meet as a group for another year. This was to insure that we did in fact have the makings for a solid branch, for there had been many branches formed in haste who were de-chartered for not meeting constitutional requirements almost as soon as they were formed.

We seriously considered Joe’s advice, but three months later in December we we voted as a group and chose to apply.  We formed a committee that drafted our bylaws, elected officers, adopted rusty’s rules of order, and collected signatures from all of our members in good standing, sent everything in for the General Executive Boards approval, and finally in March 2011 we were chartered.

So when do you know it’s time to formalize a group into an organization?  In terms of the Richmond GMB, honestly, I think that we took a risk and hoped for the best.  However, in retrospect, we had the following, 8 – 10 really dedicate members, utilizing their skills in order to move our work forward.  We had members who were extremely skilled in research, who were organized, consistent, persistent, enthusiastic, social and willing to talk with strangers, and we all understood, whether it was thoroughly articulated or not, that we wanted to see this organization evolve into something that was truly influential.

We also understood from early on, mostly through working in other organizations, that in order to retain interest, or membership for that matter, we have to keep members engaged.  Many people will join with the idea that someone will tell them what needs to be done, and when this doesn’t happen they tend to feel uncomfortable and don’t return.   To keep this from happening, we made sure everyone understood the importance of greeting new members, calling them and inviting them to events, actions, meetings, etc.  Asking them about their day, their passions, why they joined, what sort of experiences brought them to this movement, etc.

There will definitely be members who are perfectly happy supporting the work of others, paying dues and simply observing. For those members it is still very important to develop relationships and find ways to make sure they are included, for at some point they may feel compelled to get more directly involved with the union. Even though the IWW proudly declares every member an organizer, not everyone is an organizer.  Some people are very good at, and perfectly happy doing administrative work, providing services for training’s (ie. cooking), driving people around, doing research, facilitating workshops, reading groups, and training, maintaining social networks, etc.  All very important to the work of the union.

All these things are what helped us develop into a branch and maintain membership, but at a point, when you’ve reached a certain number of members, it becomes apparent that we also need to develop programs within the union that insure that fellow workers are growing proportionately with one another.  Do all our members understand the philosophy and principles of the IWW?  Are branch meetings operating as close to consensus as possible?  Are we disproportionately privileged white and male bodied? Have claims of patriarchy gone unrecognized? Are we engaging workers in our own places of work? Do we all have at least a basic understanding of capitalism and it’s relationship to class, race, and gender?  If not, why and what will we do about it? 

These are struggles within the organization that can not be ignored and require an immense amount of commitment and sacrifice on the part of all fellow workers to effectively find resolve.  If we are going to see a movement grow out our union, then towards a movement is where we need to put the majority of our free energy.  Fellow Workers fought and died for the 8-hour work day, but perhaps, instead of the conservative watchwords, “Eight hours for work. Eight hours for rest. Eight hours for what we will.”, we should live by a more revolutionary “Eight hours of work.  Eight hours for rest. Eight hours for ORGANIZING TO ABOLISH THE WAGE SYSTEM!”

In the third and final part, we’ll discuss and hear directly from our current membership and what they see is necessary for a growing branch and revolutionary movement.

This entry was posted in General Membership Branch News, General News, Organizing Campaigns and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.