Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Returning to our roots?

Yesterday we mentioned Utah Phillips in our posting. I'm embarrassed to admit that, until I "discovered" him through the efforts of Ani DiFranco, I knew nothing about him. Then I learned that he was a card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World [IWW] (the Wobblies). That got my curiosity going and I found out the the IWW hadn't just faded away. It has offices in Minneapolis and seems active in other Minnesota locations and world wide.

renewable energy construction jobs
renewable energy construction jobs
Photo by J. Harrington

In light of the (political) events of recent days, as the mainstream media like to say, I think some folks these days might want to consider becoming a Wobblie. Here's one reason I think so. It's from a key statement on the Twin Cities IWW web site:
The IWW seeks to be "One Big Union" for all workers. We recognize that unionism is not about government certification or employer recognition, but about rank-and-file workers coming together around common interests. Because of this, we have often stood out for organizing workers that the "business-style" unions of the old AFL, and to a large extent today's AFL-CIO and other mainstream unions, were/are either unwilling or unable to organize due to racist, sexist or "craft" prejudices, bureaucratic practices and harmful "jurisdictional" divisions, over-reliance on labor law, or simply because a certain group of workers may be seen as "un-organizable." As a result, the IWW has often been ahead of the times within the labor movement. (emphasis added)
rural solar farm
rural solar farm
Photo by J. Harrington

Ani DiFranco and Utah Phillips collaborated on several albums including Fellow Workers and The Past Didn't Go Anywhere. Maybe it's time to rejuvenate unions like the IWW, in case the Democrats don't manage to remember in the immediate future that two of their greatest constituencies have historically been labor and environmentalists. Those two groups, working together on creative, win-win solutions offer the best hope I think we have for a desirable future. It would be nice, but not essential, to do so as Democrats, or, in Minnesota, as members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. Remember, "We all do better when we all do better!" How could Democrats have forgotten something that basic? And wouldn't it be wonderful if recent elections resulted in a massive strengthening of an anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-prejudice labor union?

Solidarity Forever, written by Ralph Chaplin, is perhaps the most famous IWW song. It's sung to the tune of John Brown's Body.
When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one
But the union makes us strong
Solidarity forever, Solidarity forever
Solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong!
It is we who plowed the prairies, built the cities where they trade
Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid
Now we stand outcast and starving 'mid the wonders we have made
But the union makes us strong
They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn
But without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong
And of course, more verses have been added:
It is we that wash the dishes, scrub the floors and chase the dirt
Feed the kids and send them off to school and then we go to work
Where we work for half wages for a boss that likes to flirt
But the union makes us strong. 

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