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(en) Australia, Book Review from Rebel Worker April - May 2018

Date Tue, 1 May 2018 09:04:10 +0300


From Rebel Worker Paper of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network ---- Vol.36 No.1 (231) April - May 2018 www.rebelworker.org ---- Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW Edited by Peter Cole, David Struthers and Kenyon Zimmer. Published by Pluto Press. ---- The Challenge of New Strategies of International Capitalism ---- Global capitalism is developing ever more savage features in the shape of the gig economy and Uber, drastically reducing workers' conditions using the legal fiction of self employment to side step legal entitlements of "wage" workers. This morphing of capitalist operations is interwoven with the international privatisation conspiracy. This new form of company operations and outsourcing of state functions is facilitated by corporate unionism with its close collaboration with Big Business and integration with various arms of the State. Whilst numerous proxy wars between super powers' and bloc's client states have erupted and a looming WWIII scenario is becoming alarmingly apparent.

What passes today for international syndicalism in no way meets the challenge and is very far from coordinating direct action within or across industries or even individual companies on an international basis.
This collection of essays looks at the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) as a global phenomenon in its early days. Despite limited numbers in the USA and worldwide, it had branches in dozens of countries with most enrolled members in the USA. Critical to this growth and influence of the IWW and the international syndicalist movement was an assortment of highly experienced transnational industrial militants: organisers, journalists and editors. These militants pursued a flexible approach taking account of local conditions to exert IWW influence and build the organisation. In stark contrast to today's middle class/student and university milieu elements noted for their sect building proclivities. Heavily informed by the Stalinist Legacy and identity politics which ensures that syndicalism, particularly in the Anglo World remains congeries of exotic sects, cults and in certain countries allegedly micro democratic versions of the corporate unions.

A Cast of Transnational Wobbly Militants

This volume focuses a spotlight on a gallery of outstanding transnational IWW militants mostly involved in the anarchist movement. In those days of the late 19th Century and the early 20th Century and subsequently, it was a current in the revolutionary workers movement. In contrast to such outstanding militants of the emergence and zenith of international syndicalist and anarchist movements such as Rudolph Rocker, Errico Malatesta, Tom Mann, George Maximoff and lesser lights discussed in this volume, today particularly in the Anglo world, we have the misfortune to glimpse squalid, morally and ethically depraved "politicos" which pass as prominent figures in so called anarchist and syndicalist milieus. Often engaging in the slimy peddling of sect/cult and micro "allegedly democratic" corporate union building recipes.
One of the most interesting essays is "A Cosmopolitan Crowd:" Transnational Anarchists, the IWW, and American Radical Press by Kenyon Zimmer. It throws much light on the anarchist involvement in the formation and development of the IWW in the US and in particular its foreign language publications. It sketches the profound impact of transnational anarchists on aspects of the organisation and activity. He shows 14 anarchist delegates participated in the founding IWW convention. Whilst anarchists edited at least 19 IWW publications before WWII. In the 1919-20 period, anarchists edited publications that had a combined circulation of 47,000, which was 4 times the circulation of the English Language Industrial Worker. The official organ of the IWW.
Spanish Anarchists and Maritime Workers in the IWW by Bieito Alonso sketches the activity of anarchist militant, Pedro Esteve. This essay throws important light on his critical role in the formation of the IWW, and shows anarchist/syndicalist militants of those days understanding of the critical importance of winning workers in strategic industrial sectors to syndicalism. Esteve was particularly involved in preparatory work leading to the formation of the organisation such as his 1902 nationwide propaganda tour to organise miners in the US. Whilst he was a key figure in the anarchist group "Right to Existence" based in Paterson. Its newspaper "La Questione Sociale" provided news of miners struggles and assisted miners struggles. This activity contributed to the WFM (Western Federation of Miners) playing a key role in the founding of the IWW. Esteve was also an unofficial observer at its founding convention in 1905.
Patrick Hodgers Hickey and the IWW: A Transnational Relationship by Peter Clayworth. This essay highlights the role of this militant in the "boring within strategy" of the early IWW in Australasia. The author shows Hickey played a critical role in the formation of the New Zealand Federation of Labour (NZFL) also known as the "Red Fed". It was based in a range of strategic sectors such as mining, stevedoring, the gas works, and flax mills. It adopted IWW organisational principles and a direct action orientation. However it was open to support of electoral politics. The IWW reached its peak of impact in the NZ labour movement in 1912 via its influence in the Red Fed. However following the savage State repression of the Waihi miners' strike undermining workers morale and led to the merger of the NZFL with moderate unions to form the United Federation of Labour (UFL).
Wobblies Down Under: The IWW in Australia by Verity Burgmann sketches the development of the IWW in Australia. Providing an interesting occupational survey of the Sydney IWW local, showing the predominance of militant workers. In stark contrast to IWW locals in the Anglo World today. She examines Wobbly agitation and propaganda activity involving soap boxing at the various domains/speakers corners and its newspaper "Direct Action" newspaper launched in 1914. The author shows that via its emphasis on "boring from within" of the existing trade unions it exerted syndicalist influence in significant industrial sectors.
Tom Barker and Revolutionary Europe by Paula de Angeles. This essay looks at another transnational IWW militant. The author sketches the panorama of this militant's transnational activity. Barker had been Business Manager of the Australian IWW's Direct Action in 1914 and was involved in the organising of the Anti-War and Anti-Conscription campaign and against the no strike agreement for the duration of WWI. Following his gaoling and deportation to South America he was active in organising an IWW maritime chapter, the MTW (Marine Transport Workers Union) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Subsequently, the MTW under Barker's influence waged a campaign of solidarity for the IWW Twelve (victimised wobbly militants in Sydney) and later he was active in international forums on behalf of the anarchist inspired FORA (Workers Federation of the Argentine Region). Later on he was drawn into Bolshevik regime endeavours via misguided support for the Kuzbas industrial colony in Siberia.
"All Workers Regardless of Craft, Race or Colour": The First Wave of IWW Activity and Influence in South Africa by Lucien van der Walt. This essay also highlights the early IWW militants grasp of the importance of strategic organising and the role of transnational syndicalist militants in facilitating IWW activity. It particularly examines the 1909 Johannesburg tramway strike victory which led to the entire tramway workforce enrolling in the IWW-SA(IWW - South Africa). As workers in such sectors as transport, mining and power had the strategic position to defy existing repressive industrial legislation. Such as the 1909 Industrial Disputes Prevention Act - requiring 30 days notice and a lengthy conciliation process for any industrial action.
The IWW in Tampico: Anarchist Internationalism, and Solidarity Unionism in a Mexican Port by Kevan Antonio Aguilar 1915-1930. This essay looks at the IWW's struggle against the centralising corporate unionism alliance involving the COM (House of the World Worker) and the US AFL(American Federation of Labor). It was part of a hub of transnational militant networks and entailed the networking of both anarchists and communists in the unionisation of the city's petroleum industry. This effort was unified by the influence of the Russian Revolution. It was defeated due to a combination of state repression and corporate unionism.
P.J.Welinder and "American Syndicalism" in interwar Sweden by Johan Preies focuses on another Wobbly militant active in both Sweden and the US in the early 20th Century. He was a key figure in the leftwing "decentralist" wing of the SAC(Swedish Workers Centre). This faction founded Arbetare-Kuriren as a Weekly newspaper in April 1926. It furiously attacked a rival faction in the SAC wanting to push the organisation closer to Social Democracy (reformist hierarchical unionism). Subsequently in Oct. 1928 Welinder was involved in a split from the SAC leading to the formation of the SAF (Syndicalist Workers Federation) heavily influenced by the USA IWW. Welinder's faction particularly opposed the rival faction's support for the slow accumulation of assets, allies and respectability. Viewing this approach as futile and pushed for reduced union dues to encourage poorer workers to join. Whilst like the IWW in the USA at that time, his faction opposed the signing fixed term contracts. The SAF collapsed due to low morale amongst its members caused by the rise of Nazism in Germany.

The International Relations

Two interesting essays in the volume which focus on the US IWW's international relations and fostering of international workers solidarity are "The Cause of the Workers Who Are Fighting in Spain Is Yours": The Marine Transport Workers and the Spanish Civil War by Matthew C. White and "The IWW and the Dilemmas of Internationalism" by Wayne Thorpe. The former essay focuses on direct action by Wobbly maritime workers with the support of militants from the Communist Party in support of the Spanish Revolution and Wobbly involvement in the anti-Franco war effort in Spain. Particularly via participation in the Stalinist controlled International Brigades. The author examines how worsening tensions between Wobblies and Stalinists in the International Brigades contributed significantly to the breakdown of any working relationship back in the USA between the C.P. militants and Wobblies in the maritime sector. Contributing significantly to the subsequent major decline in IWW influence in the sector. Whilst the latter essay examines the US IWW's relations with major international labour organisations and that affiliation with even the IWA(International Workers Association) was never realised. The author looks at how the victory of the Francoist forces in the Spanish Civil War led to the massive repression and weakening of the CNT (National Confederation of Labour) in Spain, the most important IWA affiliate. Resulting in the extreme marginalisation of the IWA as a labour international. This development together with the dissolving of the Communist Labour International, the Profintern associated with Comintern support for the Popular Front, provided few international options for the IWW by the early 1940's.
In conclusion, the volume under review certainly enriches our understanding of the factors contributing to the rise of syndicalism as a global movement and the role of the IWW in this process in the early 20th Century. Spotlighting the crucial role of key transnational militants and their excellent grasp of organising strategy in building mass syndicalist unionism and exerting syndicalist influence in mainstream reformist/bureaucratic unionism.
Mark McGuire
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