The annual IWW WISE-RA Conference for 2024 took place last month across 3 days (24th – 26th May) in the city of Bristol UK.

The Conference was attended by around 50 delegates and observers from branches all over the world and was opened with reports from Cyprus (CY-ROC), Germany and Austria (GLAM-ROC), Poland, and Australasia (AUS-ROC). Further reports were given by each IWW branch in attendance, providing an overall perspective of the health of the union and ongoing campaigns in workplaces and our communities.

Two motions were tabled for the conference, the subjects of which proposed the formation of ‘Associations’ as a formal structure withing the union (within the context of groups such as the Pan-African Worker’s Association forming and taking a leading focus within the IWW) and clearing up what forms of occupation are incompatible with IWW membership. Both motions were passed by conference, the first almost unanimously, the second motion received a majority of votes in support but was amended via a breakout group to allow for some changes to reach a stronger consensus.

The date of the conference was significant as it was the anniversary of the bombing of IWW member Judi Bari, and we heard a presentation by a fellow worker from North America about her life as an inspiring activist, musician, feminist, revolutionary labour and environmental organiser. Bari’s work, bringing environmental action into the workplace was echoed in a presentation given by the group Earth Strike UK. Earth Strike outlined a detailed strategy for building towards a global general strike to fight climate change and overcome the obstacles to the goal of ecological harmony in the IWW preamble.

Several talks at conference fed into a strong theme of developing feminist struggle within the IWW and wider labour movement. The Co-President of Egitem-Sen union in Kurdistan spoke about the women’s liberation struggle in Kurdistan, giving examples and perspectives from the autonomous region of North-East Syria and the power of revolutionary women to shape a new society. One of the founders of the İMECE domestic workers union in Türkiye attended in person and delivered a presentation about the union’s work to highlight and resolve the issues (particularly safety risks) faced by women working in private homes. Comrades from the #MeTU movement shared their experience of fighting back against sexual assault and gender discrimination within the labour movement using direct action and placing a spotlight on those within our movements who abuse their power. All of these talks were inspiring and gave the attendees a strong basis for the work that the union faces going forward to become a more radical feminist labour movement, both in our organising in our workplaces and our structures.

Another broad theme across the talks at conference was the focus on migrant worker organising. The (newly elected) secretary and a founding member of the Pan-African Workers Association (PAWA) talked about migrant workers from Africa in the UK-state care system and their exploitation through the Certificate of Sponsorship scheme and by opportunistic employers, and opportunities for collaboration between PAWA and other branches of the IWW by organising as members of the same working class. This was further underlined by a talk by a fellow worker about their academic research into the working conditions of migrant workers in Glasgow. He also emphasised the importance of going to migrant workers, listening to their needs, and finding opportunities for class solidarity. A fellow worker in Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) provided an example of class-conscious and internationalist organising in their campaign to decolonise MSF. They advocated for decolonising MSF through grassroots unionising to improve conditions, such as getting the organisation to provide local workers the same access to vaccines as international workers who currently receive preferential treatment.

The conference was closed with a speech from incarcerated fellow worker Toby Shone who outlined the challenged of building the capacity of the Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee (IWOC) into a fighting organ that can improve the conditions and raise the voices of prisoners. We recommend that fellow workers show their solidarity to Toby by writing to him at:
Toby Shone A7645EP
HMP Garth
Ulnes Walton
PR26 8NE

Overall the conference brought fellow workers together, passing motions and offering a space for a range of political education. Alongside the talks on the agenda there was a workshop on writing for the IWW Wildcat Newsletter as well as breakout discussions for fellows workers to talk about our affiliation to the ICL-CIT, planning a programme for building area organising committees, LGBTIQIA+ issues in the IWW, reviving the IWW constitution, building a network for Brewery Workers, and engaging with our transformative justice and complaints committee. The evenings at conference were filled with wobbly songs and the social atmosphere was incredible.

As Bristol branch we thank all of those who attended and those who helped to organise and facilitate this year’s conference. It was an ambitious project to work towards and we have learnt so much in the process. We send our international working class solidarity to all the IWW, to our friends and comrades who took part in many ways and we look forward to marching forward with you in the struggle, inspired and invigorated by you all.