History Made Real: How I Became a Wobbly by David Feldmann
I first heard of the IWW when I was a teenager in a conservative suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. I’d always felt out of step with my surroundings, so when I was reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” in homeroom one day, it felt exciting to read about the history of the Industrial Workers of the World. I couldn’t believe that there had been a labor union with such a radical vision as well as a relatively sizable membership during the first couple decades of the 20th century. I learned a lot from that book, but I remember being particularly intrigued by the sections dealing with the Wobblies.
After high school, I moved to the big city and worked a string of low-wage jobs in the service sector. I was a seasonal janitor at a non-profit wild bird sanctuary, a food service worker at a deli (a frustrating and disgusting job for a vegetarian), and a low-level clerk at a public library. It wasn’t until 2006, several years after reading Zinn’s book, that I learned that the IWW still existed, albeit as a much more marginal union with few members. I had read a graphic novel history of the IWW that came in at the library called Wobblies! and learned that the IWW, while largely inactive for most of the latter half of the 20th century, had seen a bit of a resurgence in the last few years. I was excited to hear the Wobblies were still around, causing trouble and getting the proverbial goods. I joined in late 2006 and have remained in good-standing ever since.
In the ten years since I got my first red card in the mail, I’ve gone through a lot of life changes, both with my work and personal life. I continued to work at the public library, off and on, until 2014. I worked at a cooperative bakery for a couple years, baking bread and making deliveries. After moving to the Twin Cities two years ago, I worked at a non-profit food charity as a fundraising canvasser and gardener. After leaving that job last year, I worked a seasonal gardening job elsewhere before getting a permanent, full-time gig as a truck driver for a Minneapolis bakery.
Through it all, my membership in the One Big Union has been a constant in my adult life. While I’ve never been part of an organizing campaign myself, the union has been there for me in other ways. The sense of community and collective strength that comes from being part of an organization that I know I could call on should I have an issue with my employer is comforting and reassuring. Earlier this year, while dealing with health issues, I received a lot of support (financial and otherwise) from fellow IWW members across the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
It’s been exciting to see the IWW rebound the past decade after a long period of decline. Our numbers may still be low but I believe we have a spirit and dedication to class struggle that’s often lacking from the mainstream trade union and public sector unions. While I’m not as active with the IWW as some others, I’ve always been proud to be a member and I look forward to what the future has in store for Wobblies everywhere.