Industrial Workers of the World

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Industrial Workers of the World

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In the late 1960s, Tom Wayman, along with a group of other young activists, resuscitated the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the Vancouver area. The organization-which was founded on the principle of organizing all
workers into “one big union”- enjoyed a vibrant period of activity from 1905 to 1930, attracting tens of thousands of members throughout North America’s mid west and west coast. By the 1950s, however, the IWW had declined in size and vigour. Inspired by the social movements of the 1960s, Wayman and his Vancouver colleagues sought to bring the principles of the IWW to a new generation of young workers.
The local organization for the Vancouver area in the 1970s was termed a General Membership Branch (GMB). Among other activities, the GMB recruited construction crews to the IWW, organized an IWW musician’s local, produced pamphlets on various labor and political issues and published a monthly newsletter entitled Solidarity Bulletin from 1972-1973. At times the 1970s Vancouver GMB had a confrontational relationship with the IWW’s main co-ordinating body in Chicago, the “General Executive Board”
(GEB). As with other sections of the Canadian labor movement in the 1970s, Canadian members of the IWW (mostly from the Vancouver GMB) sought greater autonomy from their US central office. These members formed a “Canadian Administration” of the IWW and held a founding convention at Simon Fraser University in 1973. Later however, the international IWW refused to allow a separate Canadian Administration.
After a 9 year hiatus, Wayman and others again resuscitated the Vancouver GMB. The 1980s version sought to organize workers into IWW “job shops” and published the Solidarity Bulletin along with many other leaflets and pamphlets. They were successful in organizing two “job shops”: an East Vancouver computer and graphics co-operative store and a Kaslo area bread-making co-op. The GMB also became heavily active in various social and political campaigns, mainly involving unemployed and low-wage workers. The Vancouver branch also put on cultural events including an annual May Day dance. During this time, the GMB’s relationship with the international IWW became somewhat less confrontational than it had been in the 1970s. Although, there was further discussion of Canadian autonomy, members from Vancouver served on the GEB and in 1987, the IWW’s annual convention was organized and hosted by the Vancouver GMB. This was the first time the organization’s conference had been held outside of Chicago.

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