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IWW Union Glossary

The following terms are used frequently among more experienced IWW members. Since we do not wish for anyone to get lost in the terminology, this glossary is for you to help clear up any confusion.

Assessment — A voluntary or mandatory contribution (depending on the situation) in addition to union dues allocated for specific purposes, such as a GDC or a strike fund.

Branch — A chartered group of IWW members in the same job site, city, or region organized around a common workplace, industry, or regional grouping.

BST – (Branch Secretary-Treasurer) – The chief administrative officer of a chartered IWW Industrial Union Branch or General Membership Branch.

Charter – A document issued by the GEB or a GOC that officially recognizes a subordinate body of the IWW, such as a branch or district council.

Class War – The struggle between the employing class (always looking to lower the costs of labor at workers’ expense) and the working class (seeking to retain all that it produces).

CST (Central Secretary-Treasurer) – The chief administrative officer of the IWW’s General Defense Committee. The CST is elected annually to a one year term by a democratic vote of the entire IWW membership.

Delegate — An IWW member empowered to collect dues from other members, sign up new IWW members, and represent the group of IWW members they represent at district councils and other assemblies of the IWW. Delegates are democratically elected by shops and branches; they serve one years terms.

Department An international coordinating body of closely related Industrial Unions, such as the Department of General Construction 300, which includes the General Construction Workers Industrial Union 310, the Ship Builders Industrial Union 320, and the Building Construction Workers Industrial Union 330. There are six such departments outlined by the IWW Constitution.

District Councils – See Industrial District Council.

Fellow Worker (FW) – How IWW members traditionally address each other (e.g. FW Lucy Parsons, or FW Ben Fletcher). Although the term is actually gender neutral, recently some members have adopted the unofficial term ” Sister Worker” to refer to women members of the IWW. Some women prefer the term, but others do not.

GDC (General Defense Committee) — An organization composed of IWW members and supporters whose function is to organize for the defense of workers indicted in the process of union organizing or other revolutionary activity. The GDC can be organized into locals and regional federations. The GDC is the only official committee that sympathetic employers may join (as non-IWW members).

GDC Local – A Local branch of the General Defense Committee.

GEB (General Executive Board) — The chief coordinating body of the Industrial Workers of the World, consisting of seven members elected to one year terms annually by a democratic vote of the entire IWW membership. The GEB’s duties are outlined by Article III, Section 5A of the IWW Constitution.

General Assembly (GA) – An annual assembly, held (US) Labor Day Weekend, where members, delegates and officers of the union meet to discuss union business, prepare for the annual election and referendum, and set union policy. The decisions of the General Assembly are subject to review by the entire IWW membership.

GMB (General Membership Branch) – A chartered body of IWW members located in a local geographic area (usually a city or metropolitan area) composed of workers from many different industries. A GMB is a temporary structure designed to aid in the formation of Industrial Union Branches.

GOB (General organization Bulletin) – A (mostly) monthly, printed discussion bulletin issued to all members in good standing (except those who specifically ask not to receive it). The GOB includes the GST’s report, the GEB report, Delegates reports, and branch reports. Sometimes the GOB includes correspondence from individual members as well.

GOC (General Organizing Committee) – The chief coordinating body of an Industrial Union consisting of five members elected annually to a one-year term by a democratic vote of the membership of that Industrial Union.

GRU (General Recruiting Union) – A chartered body consisting of members in multiple industries with fewer members in each industry than the number needed to form an IUB for each industry. Also called a Mixed Local.

GST (General Secretary-Treasurer) – The chief administrative officer of the IWW. The GST is elected annually to a one year term by a democratic vote of the entire IWW membership. The GST is the only paid officer of the IWW.

IDC (Industrial District Council) – A chartered regional coordinating body consisting of a council of delegates elected from the IUBs, Job Branches, IOCs, and GRUs in the same city or region.

Industrial Worker (IW) — The official newspaper of the IWW, it is published monthly and available to all members in good standing. It is also available to non-members by subscription. Its editor is elected biannually to a two-year term by a democratic vote of the entire IWW membership.

Industrial Union (IU) – All the workers in the same industry shall belong to the same Industrial Union within the IWW. A chartered Industrial Union will consist of all Industrial Union Branches, shops within that IU, and individual members within that IU. That IU shall elect a GOC according to the principles they charter. The term also refers to the name and number assigned to each individual member. The numbers have no particular meaning other than to distinguish each separate IU.

IOC (Industrial Organizing Committee) – A standing committee of members of a GMB grouped by Industrial Union working to build Job Branches and IUBs.

IUB (Industrial Union Branch) – A chartered body of IWW members located in a local geographic area ( usually a city or metropolitan area) composed of workers from the same industry.

Job Branch – A chartered body of five or more members in the same workplace (and by extension, the same IU) where union conditions do not prevail, working to build majority union representation.

Job Shop – A chartered body of IWW members in the same workplace (and by extension the same IU) where union conditions prevail and where majority union representation has been established.

Little Red Songbook (LRS) – A collection of labor songs written by IWW members “to fan the flames of discontent”, published as a pocket size book with a red cover. There are at least 36 editions of the LRS.

OBU (One Big Union) — another name for the IWW, based on the notion that one big union of all the workers can overthrow or abolish the employing class and the wage system. Also a name for a Canadian based union formed in 1919 based on Industrial Unionism, was hostile to Leninism. Wound up bringing its 36,000 members into the CLC at the merger of the AFL and CIO in 1956.

ROC (Regional Organizing Committee) – A body of IWW members in a specific region, especially a country dedicated to maintaining communication and administering union affairs, particularly where the local currency is worth significantly less (or more) than the US or Canadian dollar.

Scab – A person who workers after a strike has been called and who takes the job of a striking union member.

Secretary-Treasurer – The chief administrative officer of a branch or district council, elected by a democratic vote of the appropriate body’s membership.

SLP (Socialist Labor Party) – Founded as the Socialistic Labor Party in 1878. Played a founding role in the IWW under its leader, Daniel DeLeon. The SLP was a political party that emphasized political action rather than direct action (organizing at the point of production.) The SLP separated from the IWW in 1908 and set up a short-lived, rival union called the Yellow IWW which folded in 1914.

WFM (Western Federation of Miners) – One of the original unions that founded the IWW. Founding Members William “Big Bill” Haywood and Vincent Saint John were also members of the WFM.

Wobbly — (Sometimes shortened to “Wob”) a nickname of unknown origin for a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.

Colorful Metaphors – the IWW in the Vernacular

The following terminology is mostly archaic, and not used much these days, however you will find these terms commonly used in historical IWW literature. Here are some of the more common vernacular terms used by Wobblies of old (and new):

AWO (Agricultural Workers Organization) – The Agricultural Workers Industrial Union 400 (now IU 110) of the IWW which organized itinerant harvest workers between 1914-30. The AWO developed the roving delegate system, still used today by the IWW.

Bindle Stiff – An itinerant worker, (the term “bindle” refers to blankets carried by the worker).

Boomer – A temporary worker, a wanderer, one who follows “booms” (good times).

Bummery – A pejorative term used by Daniel DeLeon that referred to the Direct Action faction of the IWW that led to the 1908 split; also used to refer to IWW members with itinerant employment, such as lumber workers and agricultural workers. Also called “110 Cats”.

Cat – A worker well fitted in with some occupational subculture, such as “hep cat”; a worker who folows a specific occupation, such as “straw cat” for harvest hand. Also refers to the sab cat.

Chicago IWW – See Red IWW.

Class War Prisoner – Anyone jailed for their class conscious views or acts.

Cooperative Commonwealth – The ideal of a new social order which recognizes no national, occupational, or racial distinctions and represents the united economic force and social will of all workers in the world.

Dehorn – Denatured alcohol or bootleg whiskey of inferior quality; anything that makes a worker depart from prope class-conscious activity.

Dehorn Squad – Wobbly committee that would close up bars, speakeasies, and brothels during an IWW strike (usually during the Prohibition Era).

Detroit IWW – See Yellow IWW.

E-P (Emergency Program) – A split from the IWW in 1924, led by James Rowan of the Lumber Workers Industrial Union. The E-Pers believed that the administration of the IWW was too strongly emphasizing “Political Action” as opposed to Organizing on the Job. The E-P claimed to oppose “centralism” in favor of “decentralism”, but the E-P sought to centralize power within individual Industrial Unions.

Fink – A strike breaker; an informer; possibly derived from “Pinkertons”, a private detective agency frequently used by employers to break strikes.

Fix the Job – Direct Action on the job; quickie strikes, passive resistance, deliberate bungling aimed to win better working conditions.

4-3 (Four-Trey) – The loyalist faction from the 1924 split; so named because its office was located at 3333 West Belmont in Chicago, IL.

Gyppo – Any piece-work system; a job where the worker is paid by the volume they produce, rather than by their time.

Home Guard – IWW members with relatively stable employment and places of residence (as opposed to the bummery), such as the Lawrence textile workers.

Hall Cat – An IWW Member who frequents IWW union halls, sometimes refers to a branch secretary-treasurer.

Hobo – A term of unknown origin that refers to an itinerant worker who “rides the rails” (stowing away on freight trains unknown to the railroads) in search of work. Not to be confused with “bums” or “yeggs” who simply ride the rails looking for an easy mark. Many Hoboes were IWW members between 1905-1920s.

Hobo Jungle – A well organized hobo encampment, maintained collectively by those that live there. Hobo Jungles frequently offered a place for the hobo to lay his or her bindle, meals (cobbled together from food contributed by residents of the encampment), information about work, and music & song (provided by the hoboes themselves). Jungles were commonly frequented by IWW members between 1905 – 1920s.

Jerusalem Slim – Jesus of Nazareth. The name was adopted by Wobblies who believed that Jesus would have been an IWW member had he lived in their time, based on interpretations of New Testament Scripture that indicates that Jesus was likely a radical in his time, much like the Wobblies of today.

The Jesus of the Lumberjacks – James Rowan.

LWIU (Lumber Workers Industrial Union) – The Lumber Workers Industrial Union 500 (now IU 120) of the IWW which organized loggers and mill workers between 1917-36. The IWW helped lumber workers win the eight hour day in 1917 by organizing on the job. Also called “120 Cats”.

Mister Block – A scissorbill. The term refers to the cartoons penned by Ernest Riebe about a blockheaded worker who , in spite of all his misfortunes, blindly sides with the employing class. Joe Hill popularized the cartoon in his song “Mr Block”.

MTW (Marine Transport Workers) – The Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union 510 of the IWW, active on the seas, especially on the west cost of North America. The MTW led to the formation of the Sailors Union of the Pacific (SUP) of the AFL, and participated in the 1934 General Strike of west coast Longshoremen. The MTW also controlled the Philadelphia waterfront in the 1920s and 1930s. MTW Local 8 of Philadelphia was led by Ben Fletcher. Also sometimes referred to as “510 Cats”.

Rebel – A class-conscious worker who wishes to end the capitalist system.

The Rebel Girl – Elizabeth Gurley Flynn; also the title of a song by Joe Hill.

Red – A revolutionary socialist, anarchist, or IWW member. Refers to the red flags and banners commonly used by radicals symbolizing workers control and revolution. After the 1930s, the term was specifically used to refer to leftists in General, but especially to members of the Communist Party and its supporters.

Red IWW – The IWW, based in Chicago (until the 1990s) as opposed to the short-lived rival IWW established by Daniel DeLeon in 1908. See Yellow IWW.

Red Socialists – Refers to the left wing of the US based Socialist Party. The Reds were sympathetic to the IWW, direct action, and syndicalism.

Riding the Rails; Riding the Rods – Hoboing.

Rigging – A Delegate’s supplies, including membership cards, dues stamps, IWW Constitutions, and Newspapers. Used to collect dues and sign up new members on the job.

Rods – Drawrods beneath a frieght train.

Rolls – Blanket rolls; bindles.

Sab Cat – A symbol for “sabotage” (i.e. inefficiency at the point of production by disgruntled workers), usually represented by a black cat with bared teeth. Also called “sab kitty”, “sabo-tabby”, or “the cat”.

The Saint – Vincent Saint John.

Scissorbill – A worker who is not class conscious; a homeguard who is filled with bourgeois ethics and ideals.

Shark – An employment agent who “sells” jobs for a fee.

Short Stake – Worker apt to quit when they have earned a small sum.

Side Car Pullman – A hobo term for a Box Car.

Stake – A sum of money intended to last until the next job.

Stump Rancher – Someone who settles on logged off land and who usually continues to work, at least part time, for wages.

Timber Beast – Lumberjack. Sometimes also called a Timber Wolf.

Walking Delegate – A union organizer who moves from job to job.

Yellow IWW – A rival version of the IWW established in 1908, based in Detroit by Daniel DeLeon, after he split from the IWW. The Yellow IWW emphasized political action as opposed to direct action at the point of production. The Yellow IWW was affiliated with the SLP. The Yellow IWW changed its name to the Workers’ International Industrial Union (WIIU) in 1915, and folded in 1925. A new incarantion of the WIIU resurfaced in 2007, but its connection to the original WIIU is in doubt.

Yellow Socialists – Refers to the right wing and centrists of the US based Socialist Party. The Yellows were generally hostile to the IWW (favoring the craft unionism of the AFL, advocating reform instead of revolution among unionists), direct action, and syndicalism.

Strike not for a few cents more an hour, because the price of living will be raised faster still, but strike for all you earn, be content with nothing less.

Lucy Parsons, IWW

Our Mission

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Our Mission

Our Vision

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

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