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How We Struggle: A Response to Ongoing Patriarchal Violence in the IWW

By the Patriarchy Resistance Committee of the Portland GMB - October 9th, 2013

To our Fellow Workers:

The Patriarchy Resistance Committee (PRC) of the Portland GMB has recently been notified of multiple instances of misogyny and sexual assault that have occurred within branches of the IWW. We write today to condemn these acts of violence and to encourage FWs around the world to actively resist misogynist and patriarchal behavior in all of its forms.

A member of the Kansas City branch was recently accused of being a serial rapist. In order to secure the immediate personal safety of the rest of the branch, he was asked by a coalition of Kansas City Wobblies to resign. The PRC supports the members of the Kansas City GMB who have prioritized the participation of all workers over that of a potentially violent man.

Time and time again, we see people (specifically and disproportionately women and people who do not identify with the gender binary) leave our organizing projects in response to physical, emotional and/or symbolic manifestations of gendered or sexual violence in our circles.

In the essay On Solidarity and Sexual Violence: An open letter to the Palestine Solidarity Movement Cassandra Solanas states:

Often targets of patriarchy don’t want to be a victim twice; once from the original incident and again for having comrades betray them by not listening, not taking them seriously, and not acting.

We wonder why, in radical circles and in our own union, are so many willing to fight against bosses who disempower the working class, but choose to ignore, or worse, actively defend individuals whose patriarchal behaviors systematically disempower survivors. The IWW is built around the principles of direct action in the struggle against capitalism. We empower workers within the shop to determine the organizing tactics that will be most effective while keeping the workers safe from the bosses.

We would like to start a discussion on how these principles may also be useful in addressing gendered and sexual violence within our union.
The charges process described in the IWW’s constitution (see article III of the bylaws) can be a useful tool for some situations. Similarly, some survivors have found accountability processes to be helpful. However, both systems have serious flaws and can bring negative repercussions to both individuals and communities including: retraumatization, alienation, and lack of transparency, justice, and survivor-focused approaches.

Consider the following analogy: The IWW does not rely on the law for the protection of workers, recognizing that those who have the power to design and enforce the law do not share the interest of workers. IWW organizers are often told by capitalist sympathizers that we should just engage the legal system, that the system is fair and democratic. Our experience has proven otherwise. Similarly, some individuals may find it hard to trust a charges process when those who are in control of the process often do not experience the dynamics of our oppressions. We also are reassured that the system is fair and democratic, but our experience proves otherwise. This is demonstrated by the growing number of Fellow Workers who continue to leave the union due to a lack of organizational support.

We wonder why workers can see how capitalism is upheld by systemic social issues such as patriarchy, but when abuses occur that present the opportunity to dismantle these systems collectively and personally, so many of us shy away, become defensive, or apply class reductionism. Perhaps it is because it is scary and difficult to confront the ways in which our own behaviors and structures are oppressive. As a radical organization that seeks the liberation of the entire working class, we must address these fears and issues with the same passionate direct action with which we address capitalist exploitation.

It is not sufficient to state that capitalism is the linchpin on which all other oppressions depend and that, with the destruction of capitalism, all people will be free from oppression. If that were true, it is likely that our “democratic, anti-capitalist” organization would be more representative of the working class instead of being dominated by the same people who dominate capitalist society at large. In this vein, we pose the question: to whom is classism a “personal issue” and to whom is it a real issue? To whom is patriarchy a “personal issue” and to whom is it a real issue? As a union, we know that classism is a personal issue for working people, as well as a very real issue. We wonder why patriarchy is so often dismissed as a "personal issue" without any regard for it’s equally real consequences. We should all know that the personal is political. Perhaps we need to reassess what it means to struggle or what resistance looks like.

We know it is important to struggle against our bosses. We would never tell a co-worker that we “aren’t taking sides” when they confide in us about abuse perpetrated by the boss. Staying “neutral” is upholding the status quo. “Not taking sides” when someone is called out on patriarchal behaviors means leaving FWs without support and allowing abusers to continue, never being held accountable. Whereas, silence is compliance, Be it resolved that standing in solidarity with people facing patriarchal oppression is subverting the status quo that harms us all.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

-Desmond Tutu

We must therefore consider alternative approaches. This may include, but is not limited to, directly expelling perpetrators from not just one branch, but from the union as a whole. We don’t allow bosses in our union, so why would we allow rapists? With that in mind, we support the Kansas City members who worked collectively and swiftly to address the patriarchal behavior of one of their members, and encourage all Wobblies to use survivor-centered solidarity, creativity, and direct action to support one another and resist the patriarchy within the OBU.

Activists are not immune to widespread cultural ignorance of the warning signs of abusive and predatory behavior, nor systemic apologism for such behavior. We must be proactive in fighting oppression in our organizing, or else we face losing friends and comrades and watching our organizing drives deteriorate. As radical organizers, we are cautious of agents of the state, informant infiltration, and Mr. Blocks who can derail our organizing. We need to be just as wary of the destructive behaviors of patriarchal fellow workers. As many of us have unfortunately already experienced, the unchecked broletariat can be just as effective at undermining our anti-capitalist efforts. As Courtney Desiree Morris observes in the essay Why Misogynists Make Great Informants:

Informants are hard to spot, but my guess is that where there is smoke there is fire, and someone who creates chaos wherever he goes is either an informant or an irresponsible, unaccountable time bomb who can be unintentionally as effective at undermining social-justice organizing as an informant. Ultimately they both do the work of the state and need to be held accountable.

We as individuals and as One Big Union have a choice when we hear about an instance of sexual violence, or of anyone speaking up to say that they feel unsafe. We can choose to explain away the situation, leaving survivors behind to deal with it on their own. Or, we can choose to align ourselves with survivors and, in solidarity, resist the individuals and the systems that harm so many working class people.

They only call it class war when we fight back:

They only call it

crazy bitch



identity politics

when we fight back!

In Solidarity,

the Patriarchy Resistance Committee of the Portland GMB


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