An interview with…a Wobbly

The Heckler continues to find out about local and national campaigns and social-change groups, this time interviewing a member of the Bristol branch of the workers union, the Industrial Workers of the World (or Wobblies).

Heckler: Could you briefly explain what the Industrial Workers of the World is, what you aim to achieve and how you go about this?

Wow, that is a big question, which could take many a branch meeting to discuss.  The IWW is a workers union, which organises across all trades and industries, and is open to all workers and unemployed people. It is a member-led union, with the ethos of true democracy and solidarity at the heart of it. In my opinion, we are opposed to wage labour, and hope to build a new society in the structure of the old.  As a syndicalist union, we want to take control of the modes of production, and organise ourselves as workers.  We should enjoy the profits of our labour, whilst ensuring that nobody goes without.  It is a completely different way of thinking about how we live and work together.  Profit is a complete irrelevance to us, and we would work for the common good.  To be fair, we are miles away, and our main role at present is organising our class, mainly through workplace organising, fighting for workers rights and education.  One of the major positives of the IWW, is that it is ours as member, and up to us to do the work.  With that responsibility comes ownership, and we would decide collectively as to the best way forward.

Heckler: You say it’s the union for all workers, so it’s not just about factory workers as the name might suggest?

Good point comrade, the name is a bit disceptive.  We were formed in 1905, right in the middle of Fordism.  Most of our class worked in massive factories, or farms.  It was far easier to collectively organise, it could be argued.  Now, we have members in many different occupations, and the IWW, prides itself on helping those who do not normally get trade union support, like sex workers, charity callers, and cleaners.  This also includes those who work cash in hand.

Heckler: How is the IWW different from other mainstream unions?

We are different in many ways, but our organisation does not require paid officials.  As a dual carder (a member of a mainstream trade union) I find trade unions held back by paid officials.  Their interests are differnet from the rank and file members.  Also they “service” the membership.  The IWW encourages the membership to be active.  We all have ownership of our branch.  Also we have officers under instant recall, therefore if they do not work for members interests they can be removed. 

Heckler: Judging by a quick internet search, the IWW has a long and colourful history. Could you explain it’s roots and shed some light on some of the union’s past?

The roots stretch back to the USA.  Personally I am proud of the anarchist roots, some would disagree.  The IWW most recognisable catch phrase, if you like, is ‘an injury to one is an injury to all.’  Anyone who was not an employer could join.  This included black people, women and the unemployed.  As distasteful as this is, this was not the case in all trade unions, who at times progressed an open racist or sexist agenda, and membership. The IWW recognised early about the issues of our class, and gender etc are barriers constructed by those who wish to keep us apart.

IWW also celebrate direct action, because it gets the goods.  The strikes that they organised and engaged with were member led, and the violence of the employers was matched.  Also I like the way they engage with issues that might not be seen as main stream trade union issues.  The free speech movement for example.  The IWW in Britain are just about to engage in the ‘right to march’ struggle in Scotland.  This is not work based, or determined by a single trade.  But if we cannot voice our opinion or march in solidarity, we are truly fucked.

IWW rally in New York, 1914

Heckler: How active is the IWW in this country, and what campaigns is the union involved in?

The IWW is growing daily, as people turn away for the main stream TU’s and political parties, who have let us down time and time again.  We support any campaign the membership builds.  A recent victory was the John Lewis cleaners in London.  These were low paid, without proper contractual status, many did not speak English.  Many main stream trade unions would not approach this group.  Not only did the IWW secure better terms and conditions, but we have influenced the whole attitude towards this work group, and many other cleaners are getting active, and standing up for themselves.  In Bristol, the IWW are active in the anti-cuts campaign, and have just supported the national Pizza Hut campaign, but we need focus.  The Pizza Hut campaign is another benefit of the IWW. This dispute started in Sheffield.  Within a month restaurants in a number of cities were picketed, and Sheffield members got their pay increase.  It was a freezing snowy winter day; and every time the picket was breeched, we got a whiff of pizza up our hungry noses.  But nobady said that the class struggle was easy.

IWW Cleaners’ Branch members on a recent strike at John Lewis’ store at Oxford Street, London

Heckler: Last but not least, who should join the IWW and why? (And if you want to, how do you go about it?)

All workers should join the IWW, and shout ‘an injury to one, is an injury to all.’  We need to start to thinking differently about our relationship with capitalism, and our communities.  This system has had it.  The Con-Dem government are in the process of dismantling the welfare state.  This will effect everyone.  Also we have the worst employment rights in Europe, and they are getting worse.  We create all the wealth, food, services etc etc.  We need to start organising how we do this, and for what purpose.  None of us need to be working 30+ hours a week.  That is stupid, we have far better things to be doing.  But this change is not going to happen in the very near future, and will take struggle.

However, whilst I have been in the IWW I have met some of the best comrades you could hope for.  They give me hope, a solid network of people willing to stand up for each other and organise for themselves in the workplace and beyond, and their comradeship makes me happy.  This is important, and is a start for building a new society in the shell of the old.

If you want to join, please see the links below.  If you live in or around Bristol, pop into the Hydra Bookshop at 34a Old Market.  We also have regular meetings at the shop.  If you look hard enough, you will find us.

For more information or to join the IWW you can visit:

Bristol IWW blog :

UK IWW website:

International IWW website :


*The Heckler previously interviewed a Hunt Saboteur in our ‘An interview with…’ series.

**The views represented in this interview are those of the individual interviewed and not necessarily those of IWW as a whole.

May Day! International Workers’ Day is on the horizon

A fortnight today will see scores of marches, demonstrations, and other protest actions take place across the world, in recognition of May Day, or International Workers’ Day. Too few people know why May Day became International Workers’ Day and why we should still commemorate it.

It  began over a century ago when the American Federation of Labour adopted a historic resolution which asserted that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labour from and after May 1st, 1886.” It is widely seen as the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, when Chicago police fired on workers during a general strike for the eight hour workday, killing several demonstrators and resulting in the deaths of several police officers, largely from friendly fire. To save going into too much length and detail here, you can read the full story of it’s history in this great piece on the Libcom website.

Marchers assemble for speeches at Hereford May Day Rally - 2011

Last year saw a May Day anti-cuts march through high town, with members of Hereford Solidarity League joining with members of the Anarchist Federation, Herefordshire Green Party and others. After taking a detour to give Vodafone a quick passing picket, the march ended at the Shire Hall, where a number of speeches were made on the history of May Day and the importance of working together to stop the ConDem cuts and defend our services. You can read our full report of the march here.

This year the ‘Bristol 1st of May Group’ are taking the lead, planning a number of protest actions to take place in Bristol. They have released a call-out to groups and individuals across the country to mark International Workers’ Day in their own way.

“Reclaim The Beach – May Day 2012
A National Call For Action

This is a national call-out for a week of anti-capitalist action, events and celebration throughout the UK in the first week of May 2012 to show resistance to capitalism and remember all those workers who lost their lives for a better life for us all.

Beneath the road, the banks, the shopping malls and prisons lies the Beach,
Behind the politicians, the bureaucrats, the cops AND the robbers lies Freedom,
Outside wage and debt slavery, false democracy, capitalism and state control lies our Future.

This call is for the parents who can’t buy the shopping they need,
For the migrant workers who wont take their bosses abuse,
For the people of colour sick of institutionalised racism,
For the disabled people marginalised and ignored,
For the elderly who can’t afford to pay their bills,
For the women exploited and objectified,
For the students in perpetual debt,
For all the workers and the unemployed; the downtrodden, and the alienated.

We call now for expression of justifiable rage.
We call to the unionised to remember your proud history of militant labour,
We call to the students and workers in struggle,
To all anti-capitalists, anarchists, communists, rebels, and revolutionaries.
We call for direct action, subversion and creativity,
noise, colour, courage and diversity of tactics.
Celebrate International Workers Day with Love and With Rage.

In the spirit of all who fought and died for the emancipation of the working class.
This is a call to reclaim the streets, the fields, the forests and the beaches.
To break from control, to liberate and to occupy EVERYTHING.
Together, we can achieve the impossible.

Bristol 1st of May Group”

You can view their website.

Another ‘day of action’ against workfare

Saturday 31st March was called as the ‘M31 European Day of Action Against Capitalism,’ which included protests across the continent and a general strike in Spain.

Closer to home, a second ‘national day of action against Workfare’ was called, with over 20 protests being held in towns and cities across the country.

Workfare means unemployed people being forced to do unpaid work for their benefits. Tens of thousands of people are being forced into unpaid work,household name firms are profiting from free labour and disabled people face unlimited unpaid work or cuts in benefit. Workfare began under Labour with the New Deal in 1998, which became the Flexible New Deal in 2009. It is now being expanded by the Conservative-Liberal government under a number of different schemes including: ‘Work Experience’, ‘Mandatory Work Activity’, ‘the Community Action Programme’, ‘Sector Based Work Academies’, and ‘the Work Programme’.

Protests and pickets took place in Brighton, Bristol, Bournemouth, Edinburgh, Kilburn, Glasgow, Halifax, Hastings, Huddersfield, Inverness, Lincoln, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Northampton, Stroud, Swindon, Truro, Wakefield and York.

Here are a few selected pictures of protests from around the country-






-You can see more about the protests on Solidarity Federation website

-For more info about workfare visit Boycott Workfare

Workfare? Let’s have a bit of warfare!

The ConDem government’s workfare scheme has come under fire in the last few weeks, with a national debate sparked by protests. Mainstream media finally picked up the story after a small group of activists, from the Right to Work campaign, were forcibly removed from a Tesco store near the Houses of Parliament.

Campaigners target Tesco

The Department of Work and Pensions scheme is part of the government’s benefits overhaul, with the apparent intention of “getting people back to work”. The ‘work experience scheme’ sees jobseekers employed in unpaid, temporary positions in exchange for their benefits. Essentially it means that those on benefits are forced to work for free for a company or have their benefits stopped.

The website run by campaign group ‘Boycott Workfare’ states: “Those who need welfare are forced into unpaid work for multi-million pound companies. Instead of a living wage, they receive only JSA – a tiny £53 a week for the under-25s – far below minimum wage. As a result of this, workfare means those in paid positions may see their jobs replaced by this unpaid labour. Why would a company pay for people to do these jobs when they can get free labour from the Job Centre?”

But the campaign against the scheme is gaining momentum, protests are spreading, and Saturday 3rd March saw a ‘day of action’ with protests across the country. Over a dozen high street companies have now suspended their part in the scheme as a result of pressure from campaigners. This includes Tesco, Argos, Superdrug, Waterstone’s and Sainsbury’s.

This issue is clearly something that we need to oppose, as most decent, right-thinking people would agree. This isn’t about opposing the ideologically driven programme of cuts by the government, but about the basic rights of workers and the unemployed. It would seem that major companies continue to benefit at the expense of people who are unfortunate enough to join the growing number on the dole queue.

Targeted and organised protest actions, such as those seen in Tesco and those carried out by groups such as UK Uncut, can put pressure on companies involved in this exploitation. They can also raise people’s attention by pushing this issue into the media, as we have already seen. To say we can defeat the cuts seems like a very unrealistic dream, but we can influence the path of the government and those companies involved in this case. We can stand up for rights of the workers and unemployed and results are already being achieved.

To find out more about workfare and the growing campaign against it, visit