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Building the One Big Union, a Step-by-Step Manual

In reality, there is no precise roadmap to a better future. The IWW is a democratic, rank & file union whose members have often debated (or even argued) about how we should abolish wage slavery. This outline is not necessarily the ultimate solution to the tyranny of capitalism, but it does represent the best summary of the most commonly held consensus opinion among IWW members past and present.

The processes for establishing the structures listed below are outlined in Article I of the IWW Constitution.

It is important to note the following:

  • We have and very likely will continue to experience setbacks. The class war is vicious and the employing class is relentless in their desire to maximize their power and profit at our expense. We must always be prepared to return to previous steps and start anew if we experience a setback.

  • IWW members may organize individual workplaces at any point along this chain of events, but obviously the further along we are in these steps, the easier it will be to organize an individual shop (and the smallest shops will usually be easiest). This particular guide does not address how to establish job control, because that is discussed elsewhere in our "organize" section, and that process is ongoing regardless of how well developed is the IWW union structure.

  • These steps do not address barriers caused by nationality, language, or economic differences caused by difference in currencies. Likewise they do not address (or preclude) the formation of caucuses (such as a women's caucus or a black workers caucus). These are left to individual members to organize as they see fit.

  • There is no set time-line for accomplishing any of these steps (though obviously the faster they are accomplished, the better off the working class is likely to be).

Phase I - Building General Membership Branches (GMBs)

If you are an individual in a city or industry without an IWW branch...

  • Step 1 - Join the IWW. All new branches must start with a single member, or a handful of members.

  • Step 2 - Elect a delegate from your membership (or if you are the only member in your city or industry, contact the IWW's General Headquarters (GHQ) and ask to become a delegate). Delegates have the power to sign up new members and collect union dues.

  • Step 3 - Establish a means of contact. Set up a mailing address (post office boxes are preferable), phone number (with voice mail or answering machine), and e-mail contact. It is important to make your contact information easily transferable (so that the branch doesn't depend on any single member).

  • Step 4 - Set up a regular meeting time and place; start meeting. (Don't keep moving your meeting time and place around. Pick a consistent time and place or you will lose members).

  • Step 5 - Sign up at least ten members.

  • Step 6 - Apply for a General Membership Branch Charter, or if you have at least ten members in the same industrial union, apply for an Industrial Union Branch Charter (see Step 14a).

Phase II - Building Industrial Union Branches (IUBs)

If you are members of an IWW General Membership Branch...

  • Step 7 - Form an Industrial Organizing Committee (IOC) from each group of members in the same Industrial Union (e.g. IU 330, IU 560, or IU 620). Or, form IOCs from singular members in similar Industrial Unions (e.g. IU 310 & 330, IU 320 & 520, IU 630 & 640).

  • Step 8 - Each IOC should establish a means of contact. Set up a mailing address, phone number, and e-mail contact (these can be the same as the branch contact information at first if desirable, but as each IOC grows and evolves into Industrial Union Branches, they should move to establish independent resources).

  • Step 9 - Each IOC should elect at least one delegate.

  • Step 10 - Each IOC should set up a regular meeting time and place, and start meeting.

  • Step 11 - Each IOC should devlop a list of targets, demands, tactics, and strategies for growth.

  • Step 12 - IOCs should contact members of the same industry in other IWW branches (or individuals in other locations) and share information & resources.

  • Step 13 - IOCs target workers, shops, and unions in their industry, attempting to sign up new members, organize shops, or improve working conditions in their industry.

  • Step 14a - Once an IOC signs up at least ten members in the same industry, it then should apply for an Industrial Union Branch Charter.


  • Step 14b - The remaining members or IOCs should continue building their own separate Industrial Union Branches, but in the meantime the GMB converts to a Mixed Local (otherwise known as a General Recruiting Union). As such they will continue with steps 7-14.

Phase III - Building Industrial Unions (IUs)

If you are part of an Industrial Union Branch...

First of all, continue with steps 10-13; these are ongoing steps.

  • Step 15 - Help the formation of other IUBs in your city or region; establish an Industrial District Council, composed of delegates elected from each IUB, IOC, and the remaining Mixed Local(s) in your city or region.

  • Step 16 - Assist other IOCs and members in your Industrial Union elsewhere with steps 10-13; start building the structure for an International Industrial Union (simply called an Industrial Union).

  • Step 17 - Plant the seeds for new IOCs and IUBs in places where none exist. This may or may not include the formation of GMBs depending on the situation. Target bigger shops that exist in multiple locations where the IWW has a presence.

  • Step 18 - Assist in the formation of at least five IUBs in your industry and recruit at least 100 members in that industrial union (who may or may not be part of those branches).

  • Step 19 - Apply for an Industrial Union charter.

Phase IV - Building Industrial Departments

Once you have successfully chartered your Industrial Union...

Continue with Steps 10-17; these are ongoing steps.

  • Step 20 - Hold a Founding Convention (as outlined in Article I, Section 4 of the IWW Constitution), hold a referendum, and elect a coordinating body for your Industrial Union (Called a General Organizing Committee or GOC).

  • Step 21 - Target more workers in your industry, build more Industrial Union Branches, plant the seeds for more IOCs, target larger, more regional workplaces.

  • Step 22 - Assist in the formation of other Industrial Unions, especially in the same Industrial Department as your own (e.g. Department 100 which includes IU 110, 120, 130, and 140).

  • Step 23 - Charter at least two full Industrial Unions (in the same department) and recruit at least 20,000 members in that industrial department (who may or may not be members of IUBs or the chartered Industrial Unions). Where multiple IUBs in the same department exist in the same city, form Department Councils.

  • Step 24 - Apply for an Industrial Department Charter.

Phase V - Beyond the Industrial Departments

Once members establish an Industrial Department...

  • Step 25 - Hold a Founding Convention, hold a referendum, and elect a coordinating body for that Department.

Once all six of the Industrial Departments have been chartered, the IWW should be in a position to make serious inroads towards abolition of the wage system. All the while, steps 1-24 should be continuing especially where the IWW does not have a strong presence.

To use an analogy in nature, individual members are the "stars" and "planets" that make up the "galaxy" of the IWW, and the industrial unions and departments make up the "arms" and substructures of the "galaxy". Branches could be said to represent the individual "solar systems". Old structures will fade and new ones form (usually branches), but the overall structure of a healthy galaxy should remain intact. Currently the IWW is a "galaxy in formation", since not all of the structures are in place.

It is entirely possible that variations on these twenty-five steps will no doubt occur. Some already exist (see below). Subdivisions between Industrial Unions & Departments and Branches & Councils will no doubt evolve as more members join the IWW and organize. These subdivisions will no doubt be based on regions (and possibly variations in language and local currency). Since these subdivisions are not explicitly outlined in the current IWW Constitution they will not be discussed here.

Emerging Structures - Regional Organizing Committees (ROCs)

The following is quoted from the current IWW Constitution:

Article I, Section 8

Sec. 8. (a) Regional Organizing Committees are subordinate regional sections of the IWW. Whenever there are 10 or more members of the IWW in a region, they may petition the GEB to form a ROC.

b) ROCs may set their dues structure, local branch sizes and elect officers. Services provided to individual ROCs shall be negotiated between the ROC and General Administration.

c) ROCs may print membership cards and issue stamps in the local language(s). The membership numbers for the cards shall be provided by General Headquarters.

d) ROCs will negotiate with the General Administration for services and a per capita for international organizing activities.

e) All ROCs will be required to set up an Organizing Bulletin or other method of internal discussion accessible to all members within that ROC. The local Organizing Bulletins shall contain an international report from the GST and GEB which shall be provided to the ROC on a monthly basis.

f) In the absence of an ROC in a region, one or more individuals may be delegated by regional members, or by the GST, for a period of one year for the purpose of organizing an ROC. Such delegates shall report at least quarterly to the GST, and may retain all dues and initiation fees collected.