I held a small sliver of hope that when “fellow workers” from the IWW found my recent post that it would be met with links to rich historical documentation that demonstrates that while their positions are contrary to my own, at least IWW members actually understand and could meaningfully articulate the policies they advocate for. From the comments I have received however, IWW members, at least the ones that responded here, are phenomenally ignorant, surpassing even my low expectations. These men know nothing regarding the positions of radical feminists, the wide-ranging efforts of radical feminist activism, and not surprisingly, the historic relationship of radical women as they related to radical men.
Notably, even the quotations of radical women that I included in the very post in question were completely ignored, with commenters demanding answers that were already provided. They demonstrated, yet again, that if a woman writes something, radical men will certainly not read it.
I’m not going to publish their comments because they already have platforms where they can be heard, but a few of their points are worth examining.
It’s common for bosses and assorted capitalist pigs to refer to union members, especially those on strike, as “anti-work”. Union workers, these reactionaries argue, don’t really mean what they say (e.g. better pay, better conditions, more control of their machines), they just don’t want to work, or they don’t want to work hard. Some go further and argue that not only do workers not want to work, but they also want to tear down the whole system and ruin everyone’s day.
To a certain extent, the critics are correct. Radical (syndicalist) unionists, don’t simply want individual shop gains (a liberal goal), rather they want to radically transform what we call “work” such that it would be equal and just and barely recognizable in its current form. ”Anti-work” however is meant to discredit all worker demands through a vague conspiracy-ish discrediting of workers’ motivations. The subtext of “anti-work” is that workers don’t have it that bad, in fact they have it pretty good, enough that they can arrogantly risk a few weeks or months pay just so they can do less work. They aren’t really exploited, they just want to complain, etc. Clearly, this is a reactionary position.
So when an IWW member (or anyone) claims that radical feminists are “anti-sex”, they are using the same sleazy tactic as the capitalist apologists. They argue that these activists don’t really care about exploitation or prostituted women, they simply “hate sex” and don’t want anyone to have it.
And to a certain extent, this is true. Radical feminists don’t simply want individual reformist gains (a liberal goal), rather they want to radically transform what we currently call “sex” such that it would be equal and just and barely recognizable in its current form. But, just like “anti-work” critics, the “anti-sex” critics don’t mean it that way. They mean to discredit whole swathes of feminist activism with a vague conspiracy-ish charge regarding their “true” motives. To these critics, feminist activists, like their union counterparts, are outside agitators who don’t really care about the exploitation of real people, they just have a hidden agenda and should be ignored and opposed because that hidden agenda threatens the status quo. Again the liberal, reactionary nature and sleaziness of this tactic should be readily apparent.
And one minor point here on the role of religion in these two examples. With “anti-work”, the right-winger uses an implied relationship between “work” and a religious “work ethic” which is supposed to confer moral superiority to “work” which supersedes political and personal implications. In other words, you should work hard and suffer because that’s what religion says and religion is good. Left-wingers use religion the same way but as a negative association, e.g. you must support sex-based exploitation because religion says you shouldn’t* and religion is bad (therefore our position is good!).
Both of these appeals to religious morality are attempts to make the personal private and apolitical, and both are absurd, but that doesn’t stop men on the left and the right from using them.
(*Religions don’t really hate sex more than any other woman-hating group, they just tend to enforce more property rights, e.g. marriage.)
A central thesis on this blog is that radical men transform into raging liberals when confronted with women’s liberation. And so it was no surprise to get the standard litany of liberal responses including old favorites like “world’s oldest profession”, “respect their choices”, “sex-positivity”, “men are ____ too”, and of course, the above mentioned charges of being “anti-sex” and “dogmatic”.
I don’t have much else to say on these charges since there are many blogs and books that discuss how these concepts are simply a backlash against woman’s liberation so I don’t need to rehash that here. I will only add that many of these criticisms have direct parallels with the anti-union backlash and the anti-communist backlash. (“individual choice, “freedom” and “speech” being recurrent common themes). This is fundamentally why the radical men who adopt these liberal, self-serving positions are complete and cowardly hypocrites.
Mythology: The Lawrence Textile Strike
Finally, it’s common for IWW propaganda to refer to the historic Lawrence Textile Strike (the “bread and roses” strike) of 1912 to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to women’s liberation. However, this episode actually suggests the opposite.
In short, unskilled textile mill workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts struck for a number of long simmering grievances including a pay cut. And, when the workers were abandoned by the established trade union of skilled workers (AFL), the men of the IWW swooped in to capitalize on the leadership vacuum. Joseph Ettor and eventually Bill Haywood himself led the strike. Prominent IWW women, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Margaret Sanger were placed in charge of the children. Striking women during this time were beaten, jailed and one was shot dead.
Taking over the leadership of a group of already striking factories, where a lot of women work (even if justified and successful), is not really something to brag about from a feminist perspective. Women had organized and led their own strikes in that area since the “Lowell Mill Girls” of 1834.
The Lowell Mill Girls: ‘Amizonian Dictatresses’
Edit to add:
So what should be done?
People should organize to provide exit services for sex workers, and simultaneously destroy the infrastructure that supports it. And for any Wobs out there who think that the IWW provides a model for “sex workers” like it does Starbucks. There’s this:
“The sex trade is a lifestyle,” she added. A prostitute trying to quit the sex trade is not like a barista who hates their job, she said. “It is not just a career change. … sex workers have to unlearn everything they learned and then relearn new ways of living.”
The IWW does not have the theory nor the practice nor the motivation to support such an effort.