Wednesday, 30 January 2013

I Will Win the story of the Wobblies

Well I promised and I deliver (eventually) I made three videos about the Industrial Workers of the World detailing its history, some of its core beliefs and a few of its modern activities. In making them I made use of already existing videos posters made by some artists I know and for the last two talked another Wobblie whose a folk singer on the side into letting me use some of his songs.

I Will Win

Unfortunately you'll have to excuse the adverts in the above, one of the songs "I Dreamed I sae Joe Hill" by Tom Morello of the Nightwatchman and Rage Against the Machine and also a member of the IWW is copyrighted by several labels. Fortunately they're of the let us slap ads on it and get the money (If any) and we'll call it even persuasion. But it really rubs me up the wrong way so here have a download link advert free.

Union Democracy

A big thank you to John Paul Wright for his permission to use his songs in these two videos, the one above is called Shove it up there Delegates and is about an organisational argument in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen about how to structure there organisation, one member one vote vs a hierarchy of delegates. As such I used to try and illustrate the Wobbly concept of Industrial Democracy and its structure which technically does have delegates but unlike other Unions in the IWW there supposed to represent the branch that elected them only and can be recalled if those whom elected them take issue with there behaviour. In many other Unions the delegates are very difficult to remove and are free to vote as they feel and often work more closely with the layer(s) above them then the rank and file.

Have a download link

The Whistling Wobblie

The link between the music and images is a bit tenuous but the I loved the imagery of a worker travelling and seeing were he ended up. It also gave me an excuse to show off some of the IWW branches from around the world.

Download link

I'm very much a fan of the 1979 documentary The Wobblies I think its an excellent documentary that grabs your attention and through use of songs effective editing of interviews and still imagery makes for an entertaining history lesson. Although at the time I thought there was something a little off about it, and my suspicions were later confirmed on an IWW blog about the history of the film. Basically despite being very informative about the history of the American IWW it contained very little if any (Its been awhile since I last watched it) information on the IWW's activities outside the US. This makes the second W (World) look full hardy but could be excused for practical consideration, maybe there wasn't enough time to cram in the other Wobblie sections or research them enough.

 But this focus on Yankee Wobs, makes the other flaw with it more glaring, despite being a documentary about the IWW and getting many of its surviving organisers of the period to take part the film contains no mention at all that the IWW in America was still active. Now lets be honest the American IWW had shrank to a tiny number by the late 70's to a few hundred active members much smaller then its peak of over 100,000 during the period covered. But it did still exist and was still an active Union organising workers and taking part in strikes so the complete absence of any current (at the time) activities was a very strange omission.

Apparently the omission was deliberate, the films main makers Deborah Shaffer and Stewart Bird were and are (I think there still alive) Trotskyist's and while that revelation won't mean anything to most basically the Trotskyist believes in a completely different way of Union organising to the Wobblies, one that's big on top down leadership and so the allegation was that whilst making a film about an important part of the American and in my view global Labour movement the film makers took advantage of the IWW's almost total lack of publicity at the time to give the impression that the One Big Union and its emphasis on leadership from below was very much a thing of the past. In short the film tried to give the IWW a Eulogy, a very well done and positive sounding eulogy but a eulogy all the same.

I hear there's now a DVD of The Wobblies available in America and it comes with a special "making of" feature were Shaffer and Bird talk about the interviews so maybe they admit the lack of acknowledgement of the still existing IWW was a mistake, I haven't seen it but the few reviews I've seen of it are very positive to the point of fawning so I doubt it. Anyway finding that out and how angry the members being interviewed in it were once it was released were left me feeling pretty raw. Which is why I made the above videos, to try and correct the oversight. I still recommend given The Wobblies a watch though it was very well made documentary, just remember that the IWW not only still exists but is currently growing.

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