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  • Writer's pictureIWW Ireland

An Introduction to Syndicalism: How the IWW defies power & labels

Fellow workers from across the globe convened on zoom for a talk titled: An Introduction to Syndicalism.

It would have been easy for a topic like this to devolve into a hair-splitting exercise: losing itself in a philosophical discussion about labels, categories, and semantics.

Thankfully the presenter Pat chose not to dwell on that, focusing instead on the Industrial Workers of the World as a counter-cultural phenomenon that interested itself less in politics, and more in direct action to change working conditions and in universal solidarity. 

For newer members like myself, this was invaluable. The IWW is perhaps the most ambitious grass-roots worker movement in modern history (striving as it does to unite workers across the globe in “one big union”) but state and private entities have attempted to silence and misrepresent it since its inception - often with ruthless violence and orchestrated media disinformation.

Consequently there is much I have to learn that has been misconstrued or obscured by those who are disparaging of labour movements, and this talk gave me a thoroughly enjoyable taster. Pat’s whistle-stop tour of the IWW’s actions throughout history helped outline what the Wobblies and the syndicalists shared in common, and where they ultimately diverged.

From the IWW’s shunning of the myopic craft unions, to the infamous Lawrence Strike of 1913; from the music of Woodie Guthrie to the creativity of the Elizabeth Hurley Flynn Soap Box oration campaign; from the Spokane Free Speech Fight of 1909, to the Bread-Not-Profits drive of James Larkin - the power of the IWW was in its ability to transcend borders and political differences through music, creative protest, and sheer dogged grit.

Perhaps most importantly of all, Pat placed the IWW’s fight in a contemporary context too - drawing a through-line from the labourers of yesteryear to the present day where workers are again increasingly beginning to realize that the only leverage they have is their labour.  

Much of the IWW’s mythos is rooted in the 1920s and 30s (its hey-day is broadly considered to have centred around World War I) and yet it was clear from looking around at the other attendees of varying ages that we cannot relegate the story of The Wobblies to sepia photos and dusty archives. There is a fundamental desire to unite people of all races, religions and creeds that hasn’t been stomped out and is only growing stronger every decade.

And The Wobblies are the only ones walking the walk.

IWW Galway FW


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