Fellow Workers!

As we come to the end of the year, I would like to take this opportunity to share some highlights of our union’s successes in 2022, some honest reflections on where we can strive to improve, thoughts on the unfolding class struggle by workers across many sectors and the place of the IWW in this ongoing conflict.

Workers everywhere are facing job cuts, wage freezes and attacks on our right to organise. We live on the verge of poverty and many have to choose between freezing or starving. Rent is soaring and the violence of the state and their bailiffs is a knife at our throats. We are all bearing the cost of a crisis the ruling class created! There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people, while the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

The IWW (WISE-RA) is still a small union of just 4,000 members, although this is a massive improvement on the early 2000s when we had fewer than 200 members in good standing. We are winning for workers in many workplaces, but we have had only limited presence in the huge struggles of the trades union movement with the capitalist government and corporations in the railway, postal and education industries.

This is not surprising, as for decades the workplaces engaged in the strike wave of 2022 have been monopolised by the TUC. IWW members across the UK and Ireland have been on picket lines, backing workers’ struggles against their bosses. However, as a revolutionary anti-capitalist union organising mainly precarious workers, the role of the IWW in these disputes has at times been unclear.

Where can we make a difference and expand the scope of class conflict in the UK?

I hope we bring this question to the forefront in the new year as I believe we have the potential to unite the working class in this historical moment with a focus on organising precarious labour. It is not just railway workers and posties who are feeling the effects of rising inflation and escalating energy bills; couriers, shelf stackers, TEFL educators, sex workers, baristas and the unemployed are suffering too. Now is the time for us to articulate clearly the power of One Big Union to unite the whole working class in mass struggle and build the democratic structures of the new world in the shell of the old!

In 2023 the IWW must set an example for workers in reformist unions and unorganised workers of the inherent revolutionary power that a union possesses, solidarity. That power of solidarity will be the tool by which the working class will be able to emancipate themselves and create a new world.

The IWW is a union led by its grassroots members. Unfortunately, this year we have experienced a (hopefully brief) collapse in the coordination of our union’s democracy due to vacancies in the Secretary, DEC Chair and Organising Dept Chair posts, to name but a few of the approximately 30 positions that still need to be filled. Despite these absences, the union has continued to organise and support members, through solidarity and a shared commitment to the principles of the IWW.

This is, however, a problem that we critically need to address. Many of those vacant posts have had unclear ‛onboarding’ processes and heavy workloads leading to burnout. We have begun to address these issues and to explore strategies such as sharing of posts to collectivise future work.

Regional elections are soon to take place and hopefully many of you will step up to support the structures that allow our union to best communicate, organise and function. I hope that those of you elected to take on these important roles will come into these posts with a willingness to look at what we can do better; those that come after you will benefit from the work you put in now to make our union’s democracy more accessible and sustainable.

Highlights of 2022

A series of pickets was organised by the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Workers’ Union. This led to compensation for Lara, an English teacher, who had been dismissed by the Impellam Group. According to Gabriella, the lead IWW Rep on the case: “It takes courage to raise issues when you’ve been mistreated at work, especially as an agency worker. Lara is to be commended for staying strong for the months it took to bring these matters to a successful conclusion. We’re proud of Lara for standing up for a better TEFL industry.”

There have been several international initiatives leading to the creation of new IWW branches in the city of Szczecin, Poland and Brussels, Belgium.

A delegation from WISE-RA attended the CNT Congress in Spain, while another travelled to Northern Kurdistan to write a report on groups organising under intense repression by the fascist Turkish state. These initiatives have provided us with valuable insights into the perspectives of the international working class community.

Prisoner solidarity organising has been taking place all across WISE-RA. IWW Ireland have been publishing a popular new publication ‘BULLDOZER’. This is written and produced by incarcerated workers in Ireland and is now available directly from here Bristol Branch organised a picnic fundraiser, Halloween Monster March and a demonstration outside of HMP Parc, in Bridgend, Wales, in solidarity with incarcerated worker Toby Shone. You can find the latest statement by Toby here.

In October, the 2022 Organising Summit took place in Thorne and Moorends near Doncaster, organised by IWW Sheffield. Fellow Workers from across WISE-RA attended the summit which consisted of workshops, discussions, social activities, a march targetting local businesses abusing workers and a solidarity action with the CNT Xixón Six. You can read more about the Xixón Six here.

Bakery employees in Bristol successfully went on wildcat strike at the Assembly Bakery, after two workers were fired. With ALL workers out on strike, and picket lines outside the business organised by the IWW, we were able to win compensation for the two fired workers, and even caused the managing director to resign! You can read more here.

The Brewery Workers Industrial Union has been growing fast. They organised a campaign against union busting at the multi-national brewery BrewDog. This campaign went viral after BrewDog refused entry to a member of the public for merely holding a Brewery Workers Union leaflet!

IWW members at one of Glasgow’s most popular bars won taxi cover and a pay rise through organising and collective action.

Branches across WISE-RA organised and participated in May Day demonstrations across the UK and Ireland. This included participation of branches in the Global May Day initiative and a well-attended online film screening of Fruits of Labor (2021, Emily Cohen).

The IWW Environmental Committee organised a demonstration by Greek oil workers (members of the Pan-Hellenic Energy Federation) outside the Energean AGM in London.

Energean are the UK-based owners of the Kavala Oil site, that laid off 185 unionised workers in an attempt to replace them with unskilled labour to reduce workers’ pay and conditions.

This led to significant environmental safety concerns, including an explosion and fire at one of the sites. Energean were so concerned about the demonstration that they moved the AGM location on the day, but the demo simply marched through London to the new location; the event was disrupted by loud chanting and speeches by the Greek comrades.

The 2022 IWW Annual Conference was held online but was well attended and there was a wide range of motions and discussions on the structure of the union, especially around the role of industrial unions.

The North Devon IWW group was launched at the start of the year and has been focussing on organising hospitality workers by leafletting cafes and bars.

Alongside Earth Strike and Free Our Unions, the IWW organised the first demonstration in London against new anti-union laws proposed by the Tories. This demonstration was followed by a workers’ assembly where participants from across sectors discussed the repression of union activities and ideas for a strategy to resist and abolish all anti-union laws.

Resolutions for 2023

Let us fill the gaps in our union and engage with elections both at branch and regional level so that the work that must be done is shared and sustainable.

Let us all contribute to the growth of One Big Union!

This is not an insurmountable task. If every Wobbly recruits just one Fellow Worker into the union each year, then by 2025 we would have 32,000 members!

Let us strengthen our commitment as a union to internationalism and solidarity across borders. I hope this will take the form of more opportunities for members to participate in delegations, education and a rejuvenated International Committee. Through the efforts of our members, we can strengthen our links to workers worldwide, build solidarity between communities, and defend our planet from the exploitation of the global capitalist system.

Let us listen to the voices of oppressed groups everywhere, to challenge the hegemonic forces that reproduce themselves in the workplace (and even in unions) to win material changes and safer working conditions for all.

Let us educate our communities and organise our workplaces to build a militant working class movement across all industries, to abolish anti-union laws and fight for better wages for all workers.

There is power in a union! We extend our eternal solidarity to workers everywhere and wish them a Happy New Year!

By Fellow Worker Sab Cat & Thomas

Edited by Fellow Worker Adrian