An Introduction to the Industrial Workers of the World for Worker Co-operatives, Collectives and Sole Traders.
The IWW is the only union which recognises co-operatives as a legitimate organisational form for workers, let alone encourages that form of organisation. The IWW is the direct action union. This means that the IWW does not advocate begging employers for better wages and conditions, it does not go to legislators to beg for more labour-friendly laws, it advocates the use of the might of an organised working class to take what it is entitled to: that is, all that it creates.
This sort of initiative and self-starting attitude is at the core of the co-operative movement. Another criticism of unionism is that it tends to constrict the activities of its membership. This is not true with the IWW. Rank and file control is always paramount, as is the autonomy of all constituent bodies of the IWW. There is no micro-managing of any of the concerns of local and industrial bodies.
The only mandate of the IWW towards local branches and job shops is that they adhere to the constitution (set up primarily to provide a consistent framework, reliable lines of communication and to ensure rank and file democratic control) and the principles of the union as set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution. The only regulations of the IWW are those necessary for the building and maintenance of an organised, effective and egalitarian working class.
As regards co-operatives specifically, there are only three very broad regulations in the IWW Constitution: first, that no member of a cooperative who has exclusive power to hire and fire may be a member of the IWW; second, that the co-operative may not be exploitative; and third, that the co-operative may not undermine wages.
These regulations are meant to keep members of the IWW who are involved in collectives and co-operatives allied and aligned with a genuine Working Class movement.
IWW Co-operatives – commonly known as ‘Wobbly Shops’ are allowed for in the constitution:
To encourage worker self-management of the means of production and the abolition of the wage system, the IWW shall allow Worker Co-operatives to apply for IWW recognition.
Any elected Co-operative officer shall be subject to recall election if one is called for by the membership. Co-operatives that have met the requirements and been granted IWW recognition shall have the right to use the IWW Label. A recognized IWW Co-operative shall not undermine wages in their industry. IWW Co-operatives will honour all union boycotts and strikes. IWW Co-operatives will use union products and services whenever possible and recycle as feasible.
IWW Sole Proprietors
The IWW will allow self-employed IWW members to be recognized as an IWW Sole Proprietor Business and to use the IWW Label. An applicant for IWW Sole Proprietor Business recognition will fulfill all WISE-RA requirements; not be an employer, pass a means test, be in good standing, and agree to annual re-assessment. An approved self-employed member may enter into a non-exploitive training or apprenticeship, time limited agreement with another worker. A recognised IWW Sole Proprietor Business shall not undermine wages in their industry. Self-employed workers will honour all union boycotts and strikes. Self-employed workers will use union products and services whenever possible and recycle as feasible.
IWW registered suppliers are preferred by default.
WISE-RA (Draft) co-ops policy 2018
How To Set up A Workers Co-op (pdf) – Radical Routes
How to set up a Housing Co-op (pdf)
Loans to co-ops via Rootstock.
Example: Black Cat (Aberdeen) manages Krakatoa tiki dive bar and grassroots music venue.