Why other union members should join the IWW and why the IWW is happy to have them.
(Editor’s note: unless otherwise stated, all content — including this one — do not reflect the official position of the IWW or Industrial Worker. That being said, we’d love to hear from you! Email [email protected] )
Being a dual carder is pretty self explanatory. It just means you’re a member of two unions and — presumably — carry both memberships cards with you, as any self-respecting union member does at all times.
People dual card more often than you might think; for example, someone retires from a union workplace, still pays dues, and now works somewhere else.
It’s also fairly common in the federal government to be a member of whatever union represents you at work — most likely the American Federation of Government Employees — and an associate member of the American Postal Workers Union because the APWU has excellent healthcare plans that are available to any federal government employee who’s also a member. It’s a pretty clear cut value proposition – pay $35/yr in dues to be an associate APWU member (complete with a union card!) and save hundreds in premiums, deductibles, and copays.
Let’s talk about why members of more traditional unions, like the United Auto Workers, should also join the IWW and become dual carders.
Why should you join the IWW if you are already a part of another union? There are several reasons.
Networking and Strategizing for Militancy
The more traditional unions are plagued by a reticence to use, or even threaten to use, the most effective weapon that workers have: withholding their labor. This has changed somewhat in the last decade or so — we’re seeing an incredible and inspiring strike wave across the country — but many are still afraid.
There are no doubt many dedicated and militant unionists within these unions who lament this but feel isolated and alone in their dissatisfaction with the status quo. Dual carding can offer a remedy.
See, Wobbly dual carders are an especially dedicated bunch of unionists. They are folks who know the best weapon in the worker’s pocket, and who also know that it’s a muscle that must be flexed from time to time.
The IWW can function as a good place for militant unionists in more traditional unions to congregate and exchange strategies for pushing their unions to be more aggressive in their demands and their willingness to flex their muscles. It can also be a place to find solidarity and community support for labor actions, a place to create campaigns for unions to bargain for the common good, to revive a social justice unionism. The more workers who are willing to put pressure on the people and structures with the power to meet our demands, the more likely that they will be made to acquiesce. There is strength in numbers and strength in organization, and organization need not — and must not — be limited to intra-union organizing or organizing only in one workplace or one type of workplace. If we can begin to form strong and militant inter-union organizations, we will be much more powerful.
Obstacles to Organizing in Business Unions
I began centering the labor movement in my activism out of a dissatisfaction with electoral politics. I did so because I wanted to get the most bang for my activist buck so to speak, I wanted my activism to help people, to materially improve the lives of the least among us. I felt that being a part of the labor movement would be the best use of my time, that I could best move the work along in this space.
There is important work to be done in all unions, and exploitation in all workplaces. But let’s face it, some people have it better than others. As a working professional with union representation, I am definitely among the “some people,” as are most of my coworkers. If I limited my participation in the labor movement to my own workplace, even my own local, I don’t think I would be staying true to the reason I became active in the labor movement. I specifically feel a kinship with the workers in the service sector, with servers and cooks and bartenders. I worked in a restaurant for years before moving into a more “professional” (heavy scare quotes) career, and I saw a lot of people who worked much harder than I do now. They work harder and make less, are less secure, and have worse working conditions. I want to help them better their working conditions, but I can’t do that through the union that represents me on the job.
This isn’t the only barrier to organizing disenfranchised and marginalized workers within business unions though. A lot of business unions see organizing as an investment. If there isn’t an opportunity for the union to see a return on investment, you won’t really be able to get them to commit resources to organizing. So if there aren’t many workers in a shop, or if the workers make so little money that the union thinks the dues received would be less than the money spent to organize them, they won’t bother. And thus, workers are deemed unorganizable.
Breaking Down Those Obstacles by Dual Carding
So to recap, there are two obstacles noted above to organizing workers as a part of a business union: 1. You can’t organize outside of your trade and 2. Business unions simply won’t organize huge swaths of workers.
The first obstacle is quickly broken down: the IWW is meant to be One Big Union for all workers, so we have no trade restrictions on the shops we are willing to organize. Wherever and whenever there are workers who want to organize under our banner, we will support that effort.
The second obstacle is broken down by the fact that IWW organizing drives are much less resource intensive than business union drives. We don’t have paid staff, we don’t have paid organizers, and we don’t have lawyers on retainer. What we do is empower the workers to organize themselves. We offer advice, volunteer our time, share our expertise, offer trainings, and even some material resources for the workers to organize if needed. But the price tag on all that is far less than the price tag on a business union organizing drive. By virtue of that smaller price tag, our dues can be therefore be progressive and income dependent — as little as $6/month.
Ideally, Wobblies don’t look at organizing drives as investments in the first place. The above lays out practically how, even if there is a branch of the IWW somewhere operating contrary to our principles, it is far easier to see a return on investment from an IWW organizing drive than a business union drive (because the material investment is minimal).
Therefore we are able to say loudly and proudly that to us, no worker is unorganizable.
Small shop? Let’s organize.
Low wages? Let’s organize.
High turnover? Let’s organize.
So the IWW, by virtue of its broadly available membership, its non-resource-intensive organizing drives, and its low dues can offer more opportunities for workers to support other workers as they seek to organize.
If you got into the labor movement to do this work, you can likely find more of it here than you will in a business union.
Dual Carders as Assets to IWW Branches
Folks that already have union representation in their workplace typically make far more than their non-union Fellow Workers and would therefore be better situated to contribute materially to the branch. Workers in business unions would then be huge material assets to IWW branches seeking to organize “unorganizable” workers.
Beyond material benefits though (and I would argue more importantly than material benefits), there is a lot to learn from business union veterans of the labor movement. Dedicated and militant unionists with years or decades of experience have a lot of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t, and this knowledge can be passed on to workers trying to organize and maintain unions in the IWW.
The IWW would greatly benefit from the increased participation of workers in other unions. And if I might be so bold, I believe that workers in other unions would greatly benefit from their membership in the IWW.
If you are interested in joining and contributing to the labor movement beyond the opportunities your business union offers – sign up at iww.org/join, find your local IWW branch (or start your own), and let’s get to work.