Back to the Future is not only the title of a great piece of cinematic art but also a way of thinking about the present politically.

Seriously, though….

What follows is some stuff I wrote a while back cobbled together. Some of it’s taken from this longer talk I gave a year or two a go (which I should edit into something about developing individuals rather than – or, as the way to understand – organizing economic units).

Sadly tomorrow is an anniversary but we have in many respects gone backwards. Here’s the thing I wrote:

The IWW Founding Convention of June 27th, 1905 brought together people from around the labor movement and the class conscious left. The Convention included representatives of important radical working class organizations like the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), who played a very important role in the founding and early history of the IWW. The WFM itself grew out of a merger of a number of miners unionsin the early 1890s.

Today is not June 27th, 1905. If anything, the present is as much or more like the 1880s than 1905. Our present tasks are less like those who founded the IWW than they are those of the people who worked to form the initial unions out of which the WFM grew, and later the IWW. Today is June 26th, 2009, but tomorrow is not June 27th. June 27th is a long term goal.

In 1913 Paul Brissenden wrote that “[s]yndicalism is the most modern phase of the revolutionary movement.” Brissenden hastened to add that “to express accurately what in French is implicit in the word “syndicalism,” it is necessary to make use of three words – Revolutionary Industrial Unionism,” the doctrine of the IWW. Brissenden noted that “the Industrial Workers of the World is not the first organization of workingmen built upon the industrial form. Even its revolutionary character can be traced back through other organizations” such as the Knights of Labor, the Western Federation of Miners, the American Labor Union, the United Metal Workers International Union, the Brewery Workers, and the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance. (Brissenden, 2.) Which is to say, the IWW did not drop from the sky but was the product of a process based on earlier experiences and ideas.

The IWW founding convention in Chicago in June of 1905 resulted from a prior convention, also in Chicago, in January of that year, which in turn resulted from an informal meeting and exchanges of letters between radical unionists in November of 1904. The November 29th letter (sent after the meeting by Clarence Smith, George Estes, W.L. Hall, William Trautmann, Thomas Haggerty, and Isaac Cowan, and signed by Trautmann, Estes, Hall, Eugene Debs, Smith, and Charles Sherman) which called for the January conference states the need for “a labor organization builded as the structure of Socialist society, embracing within itself the working class in approximately the same groups and departments and industries that the workers would assume in the working class administration of the Co-Operative Commonwealth.” (Proceedings, 82-83.) This organization would, in the words of a December 16th, 1904, letter from Hall to W.C. Critchlow of the International Laborers’ Union, “represent class conscious revolutionary principles.” (Proceedings, 94.)

The January conference produced a document called the Industrial Union Manifesto, which called for the June convention at which the IWW was founded. This Manifesto called for an organization which would “build up within itself the structure of an Industrial Democracy – a Workers’ Co-Operative Republic – which must finally burst the shell of capitalist government, and be the agency by which the working people will operate the industries, and appropriate the products to themselves.” (Proceedings, 7.) James Kennedy, in his article “How the IWW is Organized”, published in the May 1921 issue of the Industrial Pioneer, summed up the IWW’s aims in three points. “(1) To organize the workers in such a way that they can successfully fight their battles and advance their interests in their every-day struggles with capitalists. (2) To overthrow capitalism and establish in its place a system of Industrial Democracy. (3) To carry on production after capitalism has been overthrown.” (18.)

History is a resource but not the only resource. Whatever tools we turn to, we sorely need our own version of the processes and discussions that led up June 27th, 1905. From there we can create a situation from which to truly move into the future, to chart a different path than that taken by history from 1905-2009.

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