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Know the Union: Steve Ongerth

By Editorial Collective - Industrial Worker, Fall 2019; IWW leaflet hand drawn by Judi Bari, October 1989.

How would you like your name printed? (Options include first and last, first and last initial, first, X-number, etc. It’s completely up to you)

Steve Ongerth

What are your pronouns?


What branch or local are you affiliated with?

Bay Area IWW GMB

Do you hold a local or national office? If so, what is it?


Why did you join the IWW?

I was inspired to join by reading the work of Judi Bari (“Timber Wars”) and greatly appreciating her green syndicalism (she was also an IWW member) in 1995.

Why have you stayed?

I believe in what the IWW stands for and its potential (in spite of its imperfections and limitations).

Is there a wobbly (current or historical) you most admire? 

Judi Bari (of course! And I actually was friends & comrades with her from the time I met her and joined the IWW in May 1995 until she passed away in 1997).

The revolution is over, the wage system is abolished, we installed whatever post-capitalist system you prefer. What are you doing Saturday?

Hiking in the woods or along the Bay (which hopefully isn’t drowning the SF Bay Area due to climate change and sea level rise)

What are you working on right now (union-wise)?

I am one of the cofounders of and active organizers of the IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus (I also maintain its webpage I am also the Bay Area IWW Tabling Coordinator.

What’s the best part about being a wobbly?

Being part of a revolutionary organization that has such an incredible history and many incredible members (many of whom are less well known than the usual suspects, too, including Helen Keller!)

What part of the union do you think needs the most improvement?

(1)    The IWW needs to overcome toxic white supremacy and/or patriarchy which are not the IWW’s fault, but are an inevitable part of the dominant capitalist culture we seek to abolish and replace with something more egalitarian, etc. (i.e. it’s a product of what we bring into the organization as individuals, but the organization needs to more effectively deal with it);

(2)    The IWW Structure is a product of the early 1900s when communications networks and administrative practices were much slower and less developed;

(3)    We need more organizing at the point of production (always);

(4)    We need to upgrade our administrative systems and communications networks so that we’re not forcing our elected officials to drown in work

How ya feeling right now?

Tired, but very much in the struggle (I’ve been at this for 25 years as a member, 48 years as a live human being)

What’s your happiest experience while in the union?

(1)    Meeting my hero (Judi);

(2)    Working with Judi & her comrades (who became my comrades);

(3)    Joining;

(4)    Cofounding the IWW EUC with Morgen Hughes and Ryan Smith (in 2013);

(5)    Seeing the work that the IWW EUC was doing in 2013 become “mainstreamed” by the broader revolutionary / progressive left.  The Green New Deal is significantly less than what we need, but still substantially more than anyone, even in the revolutionary left / revolutionary working class movements were discussing even as recently as one year ago!

What’s been your greatest learning experience while in the union?

I learned how to design and maintain websites and how to be an internet sysadmin.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I’m not a particularly great shop-floor organizer (in spite of my having attended many organizer trainings).

Where would you most like to live?

Right where I am currently at (Richmond, California)

What do you most value in your Fellow Workers?

Their dedication.

Who are your favorite writers?

Far too many to mention.

Who is your hero of fiction?

The nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring (and Bilbo Baggins) in the Hobbit / Lord of the Rings

What’s your motto?

I don’t have a specific motto.

How would you like to die?

I don’t want to die, but since I must, someday, I’d opt for “old age”.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Fine Print I:

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The Fine Print II:

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