The IWW And Earth First!: Part 1 - Establishing Roots

By X344543 - Industrial Worker, May 2013. Dedicated to Franklin Rosemont, Carlos Cortez, and Utah Phillips.

Judi Bari was both an Earth First!er and a Wobbly from 1988 to 1993 and during that time there was a close alliance between the two organizations. Although some assume she brought the two together, the truth is more complex. When Judi Bari joined Earth First! and the IWW in the summer of 1988, Earth First!ers and Wobblies were already discussing the idea of forging an alliance. There are many reasons for this, but the overarching explanation is that Earth First! and the IWW are really different manifestations of thesame revolutionary impulse.

The IWW, founded in Chicago in 1905 by radical working class anti-capitalists from veterans of various movements and struggles, united around the idea of forming One Big Union of the working class. They offered a revolutionary alternative to the classcollaborationist American Federation of Labor (AFL). The IWW pledged to organize all workers—regardless of ethnicity, gender or skill level—by industry rather than craft. Instead of the conservative AFL motto, “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” the IWW sought to abolish wage slavery altogether. No longer would workers collectively enable their own oppression by crossing each other’s (craft based) picket lines, they said. The IWW would organize the working class together. This was summarized by the slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all!”

The IWW set out to achieve this creatively, becoming known as much for its “right brain” artistic contributions to working-class culture as well as its “left brain” organizing activities.

The Rich, Radical Life Of Helen Keller

Andy Piascik - The Indypendent, January 28, 2012

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.

Travel north from Bridgeport, Connecticut through Fairfield to Sport Hill Road in the small, upscale town of Easton and you eventually come to Helen Keller Middle School. Go west a few miles to the other side of Easton and you can see the house where Keller lived from 1939 until her death in 1968. If you don’t know the house’s location, however, you’ll never find it, for there is no stone or plaque marking the spot even though Keller lived there longer than anywhere else.

That there’s no marker at the house is a bit surprising, for there was a time when Keller was one of the most famous people in the world, better known even than presidents and kings. Circa 1920, she was perhaps the second most recognizable Westerner on the planet behind only Charlie Chaplin—also a radical who, like Keller, used his brilliance to speak for the unrepresented.

Born in 1880 in Alabama with sight and the ability to hear, Keller lost both senses at 19 months due to disease, most likely scarlet fever or meningitis. Her parents were of some means, and she was thus spared institutionalization, the fate that befell thousands of blind and deaf working-class children of the time. As a young girl, Keller developed a homemade sign language that she used to communicate with those close to her. Treatment options and educational opportunities were few, however, and her quality of life was minimal. Despite the love of her devoted but heartbroken mother, Kate Adams Keller, Helen lived much like an untamed animal.

In 1887, an extraordinary young woman named Anne Sullivan traveled to the Keller home to be her teacher. Severely visually impaired herself, Sullivan’s early life was something out of Dickens or Engels. Orphaned at a young age, she had lived for many years in a Massachusetts institution alongside mentally ill adults who often preyed on the children in their midst. Staff were abusive and apathetic, and the facility was little more than a holding cell which few left alive. Sullivan later recalled that fewer than a fifth of the children there lived to adulthood. Among other horrors, she watched in agony as her younger brother slowly died of neglect despite her best efforts to protect him. Thereafter, she burned with a determination to ensure that other children would not share his fate.

Just 20 years old when she arrived in Alabama, Sullivan began a remarkable relationship with Keller that lasted five decades. In a few months of incredibly intense work, Sullivan drew on teaching techniques she had barely just learned and helped Helen find herself. And the self she helped Helen find contained one of the greatest hearts and minds of that or any other time.

Shocked members of the scientific and teaching communities studied Keller and Sullivan’s innovative techniques. Medical experts were put in the awkward position of having to explain why so many of the great minds of the time had been so thoroughly upstaged by an undereducated woman with a will of iron.      

Some sought to portray Keller’s situation as an unfortunate but ultimately holy burden delivered from on high. Philanthropists pressed in, looking to turn her story into a drawing room freak show. Had she acquiesced and remained polite, virginal and respectable, Keller could have become part of the high society scene. But Helen was having none of that. Although she did for much of her life live, in part, off the largesse of several capitalists, she refused to allow herself to be run up anyone’s flagpole to wave as a testament to the good intentions of the well-to-do. Instead, she spent the rest of her long life standing up for the trod upon.

Renewable Energy and Lucas Aerospace "Workers Plans"

By Dave Elliot and Hilary Wainwright - The Multicultural Politic, October 28, 2011

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.

Over the years the trade union movement has often led radical challenges to existing ways of doing things, including initiatives to improve not just the health and safety of the workforce, but also, during a period of increased worker militancy in the 1970’s, campaigns to change the direction of technological development.

One epic struggle was the Workers Plan movement in the late 1970’s, led off by shop stewards at the 17 plants around the UK run by Lucas Aerospace – which employed around 13,000 people making aircraft systems, many of them defence related. The trade unionists were concerned about job security at a time of recession in the industry- and also cuts defence spending (which they supported in principal).

They involved the workforce in a two year process of developing a detailed plan for switching to what they called ‘socially useful work’. The Plan drew on the expertise of the workforce and the skills they had, and outlined a range of new products they could work on, including medical aids, new transport systems and several renewable energy technologies, like wind turbines, solar panels, fuel cells and heat pumps. They even managed to get some prototypes built.

This was long before these technologies were familiar, and the company was not impressed by trade unionist trying to tell them what to produce. They ignored the plan insisting that only they had the right to manage. The cross-plant shop stewards ‘Combine’ committee was also seen as ‘unofficial’, so it proved hard to get support from the TUC and union bureaucracy, or even from the Labour government.

And when the political climate changed with the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, most of the leading Lucas activists were sacked. Some of them went on to work for left wing local councils, developing similar ideas.

Video: ROCKING THE FOUNDATIONS - A HISTORY OF THE GREEN BANS MOVEMENT

Documentary Film - 1985

For the full documentary, please visit this page (YouTube).

The film "Rocking the Foundations" is about the Builders Labourers' Federation of Australia who fought victoriously for their rights as a union, the rights of indigenous people, against gentrification, and in defense of the environment. They did this by performing the first of what are now known as the "green bans" or an environmental strike.

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