2016: Zehn Jahre IWW im deutschsprachigen Raum | 2016: Ten Years of IWW in the German Language Area

Im Jahr 2016 feiert die IWW im deutschsprachigen Raum ihr zehnjähriges Jubiläum seit Wiedergründung nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg. In der aktuellen Ausgabe der IWW Zeitung »Industrial Worker« erschien nun ein erster Artikel über die aktuellen Entwicklungen und Schwierigkeiten der letzten Jahre. Der Artikel ist vorerst nur auf Englisch erhältlich. Im Laufe des Jahres werden aber sicherlich noch Artikel auf Deutsch erscheinen. Read the Article in English.

First published in  »Industrial Worker«, Issue: Winter 2016. The whole Issue can be downloaded at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/299349198/Industrial-Worker-Winter-2016

Keep on rockin‘ GLAMROC!

2016 is the 10th anniversary of the IWW in the German Language Area. One of a million good reasons to take a small look back. By Mark Richter (GMB Frankfurt) and Jonathan Sznejder (GMB Cologne)

As Wobblies we always say that our history is important to us and that we’d like to learn from it. But what if there is no such history—or very little—in an IWW region? As the German Language Area Membership Regional Organizing Committee (GLAMROC) we now can look back on the history of our first 10 years in existence since before World War II. There had been Wobbly branches in several German cities before the war, but that would make an interesting subject for a different article.

Since it all started in 2004 with four white men in Frankfurt, lots of changes have happened in our region. In these first years we started as a small group with some experience in workplace organizing, but, to be honestm we were mostly trying to give our bad copy of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, or DGB ) a little radical glitter. After World War II, grassroots workplace organizing outside the DGB had hardly taken place. The few efforts either happened on a very small scale or as campaigns within the DGB, initiated by leftists. Thus, we had too few stories and experiences to gather resources from.

So in the early years we tried to organize a more militant union—just with the same methods, strategies and tactics as the DGB. We still lacked an idea what an alternative union—left from the mainstream unions—may look like (apart from having less money, different logos and lofty goals such as the abolition of the wage system, that is). We had some campaigns but they were often short-lived or very dependent on that one charismatic colleague who signed up all his co-workers and also happened to be a Wob.

Thanks to the experiences made in both the United Kingdom and in North America we were able to talk to fellow workers from and read about the Starbucks Workers Union, the Cleaners Branch, the Jimmy Johns Workers Union, Brandworkers, “Recomposition” blog, and several others that we cannot mention here. Our discussions about how we want to organize and what our union should look like intensified with our growing imagination kick-started by that influence. Slowly a clearer profile of the IWW in the German language area emerged.

„Life has just begun”

One of the biggest changes in our regional organizing committee was the visit of two fellow workers from the Jimmy Johns Workers Union in 2012. They did a tour speaking about the successes and failures in their organizing efforts, leading several Organizer Trainings (OT 101) along the road, and had a grand finale Training For Trainers at the end of their trip. The fabulous spirit of the IWW, that ol’ rank-and-file union, thus bestowed upon us a very crucial tool: the OT 101. We translated the training manual and delivered our first trainings in Lithuania, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, organized by our own Organizer Training Committee (the so-called OrganizerInnen Training Komitee, or OTK, if you want to know). By now we have also held a training in Turkey, amounting to 14 trainings in five countries with over 120 participants in the past four years.

One of our problems, until June 2015, was that we didn’t systematically analyze our efforts, losses and gains. When we started doing that, we realized that we had 12 ongoing committees in eight cities in our ROC. As of now, we have campaigns in several call centers, within the chemical industry, with cab drivers and care workers, in food production, and the education industry. Yet none of them have gone public as the IWW. In short: our efforts are successful in some ways, but we don’t talk about them in public. It is still pretty invisible that we have some very committed organizers and a membership that works really hard on building the union. Even within our ROC we still don’t have a solid practice of discussing and sharing our experiences.

„Changing the face of the union“

When we started analyzing our efforts last year, we recognized that we got a lot of new members and that the number of active organizers has increased massively. In numbers: we currently have about 200 members in good-standing, 10 branches and 12 committees (data from June 2015). We organized our first own Training For Trainers in November 2015 which boosted the numbers of trainers in GLAMROC to 20 people. Almost every branch has at least one trainer. Another interesting development is that the age structure within our ROC has changed massively. The average age has dropped down to somewhere between 29 and 35 years. Looking at the membership of most mainstream unions we gather that that’s a good thing.

In fact, the changing of our age structure also brought a lot of active organizers who are female, non-white, bi- or multilingual and with various migrational backgrounds. Even among the current trainers we almost have a 50/50 composition of women and men—which is really unusual for a union in the German language area. In addition, we can say that we also increased our abilities to address workers in several languages. Since our last Training For Trainers we now have Trainers who speak 11 different languages: German, English, French, Finnish, Danish, Dutch, Greek, Catalan, Spanish, Polish and Russian. Even if we don’t feel confident to deliver trainings in all of those languages we feel that we are enlarging our skillset to break down those language barriers that help dividing our class.

We got to confess that we are not quite sure why all these changes happened. It is probably due to a combination of circumstances, both outside and within the union. Firstly, the financial crisis hit Germany with delay. For some years a successful German government and capital, playing a leading role in enforcing austerity measures in Europe, was able to make Germany the European winner of the crisis. Perhaps, while the German hegemony started to crumble and with working conditions already deteriorated, young people tended to start organizing again. The lack of hope for the future is widespread as it seems more and more conceivable that the crisis will attack the still relatively high standard of living. Secondly, the atmosphere within the union has changed into a culture of solidarity and support for different perspectives, clearly due to the efforts of active female Wobblies who were able to both challenge previous atmosphere and to be role models for a different type of membership. Thirdly, we reckon that luck was a decisive factor as well. We had some great people joining us who had a really good influence on the union.
Most of our branches are located in Germany, there is one in Vienna, Austria and none in Switzerland, even if we have members there. We are trying to actively change that by both training Austrian trainers and supplementing our training material with the labor laws of Austria and Switzerland. Our branches have between five to 30 members—a pretty large number is actively organizing while others are aiming to. We are on a good path. There are many steps still to be taken, mistakes to be made, lessons to be learned and fights to be fought, but we’re definitely sizzling with a new generation of Glamroc(k)ers willing to create a new tradition.

„I want to break free“

This upcoming year we plan continue on the road of change. With the help of the Organizing Departments in North America and the United Kingdom we are trying to form our own Organizing Department Board (ODB). With the Tech Committee from the United Kingdom we hope to build our new helpful technical infrastructure. We changed our website domain from wobblies.de to wobblies.org because we want to include all people from the German language area who don’t live in Germany. We will have our first Organizing Summit in May and are also working on a new look for GLAMROC with the help of professional public relations workers to see what an impression we make—and which impression we want to make. Last but not least: we will have our glorious 10th anniversary celebration on Aug. 26 to 28 , 2016 in Koennern near Leipzig, Germany. We would be very happy to see fellow workers from around the globe come and join us. Also, birthday presents will be warmly appreciated 😉
Finally, we would like to thank all you fellow workers around the world who actively supported GLAMROC in its development and helped us learn more about successful, militant unionism. Thank you so much, Fellow Workers!
For at least another 10 years!

The authors are currently members of the Organizer Training Committee Coordination of GLAMROC. If you’d like to contact us, write to training@wobblies.org