It wasn’t as dramatic as the “Continental Congress of the Working Class” that formed the union in 1905, but for the handful of people who turned up at the monthly meeting of the Industrial Workers of World (IWW) at Missoula’s Union Club on Monday night, it was a momentous occasion.
For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, the Missoula-based branch of the “One Big Union” reached the minimum 10 members, thus earning their official charter. Sure, it’s only 10 members, but for Jay Bostrom, the local IWW’s most active and outspoken member, it’s a
“Folks, now we can start keeping some membership dues and start doing some real organizing,” Bostrom told the small group gathered in the Union Club’s basement.
The IWW rose to prominence in Montana in the early part of the 20th century with efforts to organize miners in Butte, and lumberjacks across the state. Their “Free Speech Fights” in Missoula and Spokane made national headlines as Wobblies (as IWW members are known) spoke out against capitalist repression until they were arrested by the hundreds, clogging the jails and courts and eventually forcing those cities to overturn their free speech ordinances. Today the IWW boasts about 1,000 members worldwide.
The Wobblies’ core philosophy, according to the preamble to the IWW constitution, declares that “the working class and the employing class have nothing in common.” Rather than organizing workers by trade, the IWW seeks to unite all workers as a class in order to rise up and take over means of industrial production and eventually overthrowing capitalism and creating a more peaceful society.
A lofty goal to be sure, but for the few energized members who showed up Monday night to plan a free speech fight of their own against international free trade agreements, you’ve got to start somewhere.
“I see our role as more broadening the discourse to the left,” says Dave Jones, the group’s spokesman. “There really hasn’t been an anti-capitalist movement around here for a long time.”