THE IWW AND THE TRADE UNIONS; DUAL CARD ORGANISING.
The question of how the IWW can and should organise workers who are trade union members is central to any attempt to transform the IWW into a growing union, which is able to challenge the bosses, locally and globally. The IWW attempts to organise in a manner which provides workers with the means to improve their existing working conditions and ultimately counter the massive power held by global corporations and
their servants in parliament and the media. In Australia the current environment in which the IWW is organising is one of declining trade union membership and a reduction in working conditions and rights to act collectively..
The Australian Background
During the 1980s, under a so-called progressive government and peak union body we had what was called the Accord . It was a pact between government and unions, which guaranteed minimum wage rises in return for industrial peace and productivity improvements (read exploitation at the point of production!).Through being able to control wages; monetary and fiscal policy was used to deregulate the Australian economy, and destroy thousands of jobs as the Australian economy moved towards hi-tech and (low-wage) service industries. Before the Accord, workers in militant unions were pace-setters whereby improved wages and conditions were won via industry campaigns and strikes and then flowed on to less organised sectors. Under the Accord, such wages and conditions were achieved via deals between government and union leaders, resulting in a decline in workers militancy and organisation. During the 1990s, Australia moved from a more European system of industry-wide bargaining to enterprise by enterprise bargaining (as in the US). Following the election of the right-wing Liberal/National Party government under John Howard in 1996, this trend was accelerated, whilst legally sanctioned rights for unions to negotiate such enterprise agreements were reduced. This has turned trade unions into service organisations in order to operate in this environment. The process of negotiating collective contracts now absorbs most unions resources. During the wasted years of the Accord (which directly preceded our current US-style site by site approach) militancy was lost as pay rises were handed down from above. When unions were forced into the site by site approach, the militancy to operate in this environment had been lost. Some unions here are successfully operating as genuine organising unions but the damage has been done.
In Australia, the IWW does not have any legal right to negotiate collective agreements, maintain and improve minimum rates Awards or represent members in industrial tribunals etc. To achieve this over here would be next to impossible as it would require millions of dollars for legal costs and would result in the entire political, union and boss class uniting to prevent it. I am in fact, thankful that (unlike the US), this path is not possible over here. It is in fact the experience of many unions that the years of state sanctioned bargaining have only decreased militancy and wrapped unions up in legal knots which make taking any kind of industrial action as legally complicated as possible. The Accord led to timid unions, afraid to rock the boat. In this environment, militant unions are holding their ground, while other unions are in decline. There is a growing anger and resentment amongst many workers at the social and economic effects of rampant globalisation, however the right-wing government has been masterful at diverting the anger of many workers against those perceived as threatening the interests of Australian workers such as the poor, unemployed and immigrants. A racist backlash against many immigrants has allowed the major political parties to hide the economic causes of poverty and wage-slavery. The issue of immigrants, including illegal refugees arriving via boats from SE Asia is now a major political issue in Australia.
Where does the IWW fit in ?
The IWW can and should organise where trade union membership/coverage rights/awards exist and don’t exist – i.e. everywhere! What I mean by that is there are some sectors where trade unions have no real ability to organise due to the fairly rigid bureaucratic structure of most of them – sectors like ‘cash in hand’, seasonal workers, labour hire, ‘illegals’, self-employed, etc. The IWW is perfect there without the need for a trade union because those workers have little ‘legal’ rights and selforganising will deliver greater benefits than doing nothing. However with established industries where trade unions currently operate, I think the two approaches can go together. Trade unions offer a range of ‘services’, whether legal/industrial/OHS for member discounts like ‘union shopper’ etc. The IWW cannot reproduce these ‘services’ (and in my
opinion should not even try to). The IWW should be the union which teaches workers how to use direct action on the job, and in the community to fight the boss class, and to unite and inspire fellow workers with a radical vision for the future. It should be the glue that binds both trade union members and unorganised workers together as well as the unemployed. If workers on a trade union job join the IWW as dual carders they can have the best of both worlds: use the trade union for the traditional union services, use the IWW to form a local union structure which teaches solidarity and direct action, and practical skills in organising, running a meeting etc. Trade unions are often very bad at educating members and sharing responsibility, they like to keep skills within the leadership as knowledge is power, and members with too much knowledge may threaten the leadership. Trade union members who are also IWW members will be better able to keep their trade union officials on a tight leash, and where their union doesn’t help them or sells them out (which many trade unions are guilty of on different occasions), they can use their IWW local union to use direct action to beat the boss. Trade unions can never be as democratic as the IWW or provide a radical vision for the working class like the IWW. The trade unions were not designed for such things and rely on being ‘legally registered’ to operate in the system. Trade unions were set up to get a bit more out of the boss, and to protect and improve wages, safety etc on the job. If a trade union does that well their members are still streets ahead of all the other poor bastards getting screwed by their boss everyday. But no trade union will abolish the wage system or really confront the privileges of the ruling class.
How the IWW can Benefit Trade Union Members?
*The IWW should not compete with Trade unions in their areas of expertise, i.e. contract negotiations, union services, legal advice etc. Leave that to the current Trade Unions.
*The IWW can provide practical advice and assistance on self-management of struggles and use of direct action tactics. Also provide solidarity from workers in a range of industries, workplaces and from other countries.
*The IWW can be the glue that gives trade union members more power on the job, more solidarity from other fellow workers, and a real voice (and responsibility) in their local IWW structure.
*Workers join a mainstream union for legal services, and industrial services, such as contract negotiations. Workers join the IWW to have a fighting union (to complement their trade union) to beat the boss using direct action, and keep the gains they may have won through contracts. The two approaches can go together.
*The IWW can enable trade union members to gain maximum benefit from their existing union because once they have militant job organisation and job democracy (and experience in direct action struggles) they will be in a better position to hold their trade union officials accountable, and where this cannot be done, they have the IWW structure to fall back on. Provide trade union activists with a more worthwhile avenue for their free time thanpolitical activity with so-called progressive political movements.
*The IWW can provide a more complete organising program for unionists who find that traditional trade union approaches are useless in the face of globalisation, State repression, and the increasing casualisation of the workforce.
*As the workforce becomes more and more transitional, causal and insecure, only the flexible tactics (and structure) of the IWW and similar unions can succeed.
*Trade unions rely on attachment to the state to operate, the IWW does not, it is a network of unionists who can operate with absolute independence..
*As the IWW grows (through trade unionists and fellow workers joining) it will be better able to resist state repression and better able to provide useful defence to fellow workers in times of need due to international scope.
*Globalisation and government policies mean that trade union tactics will not work. You may get a good contract, but your factory may still be shifted to Mexico. Direct action is required to win and maintain previous victories in the workplace. Even unionists in reasonably militant and democratic trade unions still must use direct action, and will get that (as well as active solidarity) from the IWW. Everyone wants a better standard of living for their children (and the generations to come after us), trade union organising is about the here and now, the IWW is about the world we want to see, and the way to achieve it, and also the best structure at the moment to also win a bit more out of the boss. How Trade Union Members can help the IWW.
*Bring active unionists into the organization.
*Keep emphasis on industrial not political activity.
*Bring actual organising experience.
*Bring practical experience of industry.
*Bring a broader range of skills, whether welding, writing, driving, printing, carpentry, graphic design, into the IWW.
*Bring their existing organised power on their jobs to the IWW and thereby help build working class power step by step. Our goal as the IWW should not be one of competition with other unions. Despite their (often massive) flaws, they are usually much bigger and better resourced. The classic mistake made by militant unionists is to try and change unions from within. This will never work as the unions are designed to be controlled from the top down, and replacing a few figureheads does not change this. The other mistake that is made is trying to completely go it alone with a rival or alternative organisation. The IWW could promise the world to potential members but can we deliver? We need to build the IWW step by step. Building dual power on the job helps workers to win against the boss, and also builds dual power inside their trade union -not to change it from within but to get the most out of their membership and to allow organising to continue if the trade union does not provide assistance.