Friday, December 16, 2011

The IWW in relation to later Unionism

It seems to me, speaking ex cathedra here, that despite some successes in industrial strikes like the Lawrence Massachusetts textile strike, the main success stories of the IWW took place in extractive industries, i.e. in lumber and mining, and in small scale capitalist enterprises. When I was studying the Wobblies in Washington State as part of a year long program at Evergreen, one comment that stuck with me was that the IWW's approach to direct action wasn't really transportable to the complex industrial system that came to predominate American society in the wake of World War I. Like it or not, industry assumed a semi-bureaucratic character where simple direct action with no other consideration of strategy was not sufficient to alter the balance of power. Negotiation of some sort was required. Bureaucracy could dominate and out maneuver the strikers, and the IWW appeared to have a lack of understanding about what it would take to really counter it.

Industrial Unions like the the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the CIO, that organized the sit down strikes in the Michigan auto plants, had a better approach in that they applied an understanding of how the different levels of organization on the part of management worked in order to make their tactics more effective. The IWW strategy was to use a strategic blunt instrument.

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