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From Wisconsin to Wall Street: The Role of the IWW in Recent Popular Uprisings

Since its founding over a century ago, the IWW has played a crucial role in every major social movement in American history. This has been especially true for recent mass uprisings around flashpoints of class struggle.

When politicians launched an assault on the rights of workers in Wisconsin, there was an outpouring of working-class solidarity centered around the occupation of the state capitol to stop a bill to cripple working-class power.

It was clear that this solidarity was best manifested in the form of a general strike, so the IWW began a campaign to build one; getting a resolution passed in the state labor council endorsing a strike , forming strike committees within business unions, and agitating for a strike through soapboxing and canvassing.

The prospect became so popular that when the bill was illegally passed, activists in the state capitol immediately began chanting: “General Strike!”

Though the Democrats directed the energy of the revolt into recall elections, the IWW managed to bring the idea of a general strike into the forefront of conversation as a means of winning class demands.

Wobblies have also played a crucial role in the the Occupy Movement, participating in its formation and evolution into bigger and more direct forms of class struggle.

David Graeber, an active IWW member, played an essential role in helping to organize the first General Assembly in Liberty Plaza, and coined the terms “99%” and “1%,” a class-conscious framing of the economic crisis that workers across the country have come to identify with.

When the movement faced its most severe instance of repression in the violent eviction of Occupy Oakland, the IWW, along with other Occupy activists, moved to retaliate with a general strike. Wobblies were part of the group of Occupiers that brought a proposal to organize a general strike on November 2 at the General Assembly held on October 26.

The Bay Area Branch of the IWW mobilized to build the strike by printing flyers, canvassing workplaces and communities, and agitating workers to avoid going to work by any means possible.

On the day of the strike itself, wobblies participated in the organization of flying pickets to shut down businesses that threatened workers trying to participate in the strike with repression.

The IWW is continuing to play an active role in Occupy and other working-class movements, promoting the philosophy of organizing workers to take direct action at their workplaces, and building working-class power through mass retraction of labor in defiance of the capitalist-class. Wobblies have played a crucial role, and will continue to play such a role in mass movements until wage slavery is a thing of the past.

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