This blog is fortunate to have several contributors who approach the issue of feminism from different perspectives. My co-contributors are seasoned Wobblies whose presence is felt within the larger organization in a variety of ways. In comparison, I am a newcomer with very little Wobbly "cred." And that's actually an awesome thing to be, because lots of people are in the same situation -- or else we want them to be as soon as possible!
There's a real advantage to be able to look at an organization like the IWW, which appeals to so many on the basis of its history, practices, and ideals; and give an unsloganed opinion about how well it functions in practice, at least for us. Newer members, who still haven't found their place in the organization, or who still haven't overcome the hurdle of making the sort of lasting commitment which defines veteran Wobs, can provide us with vital information about what the union looks like from their perspective. And that's important, because these people are the most important within the organization if we want it to grow.
If the IWW is going to grow as a popular organization it will have to defer in some ways to popular preferences. In many ways, it already does -- in its vision for a world without bosses, for example. What could be more popular than that? But in other ways, a sister Wob said it best when she recounted the description that other, non-Wob women organizers conveyed to her: to them, the IWW was male-dominated and "anachronistic."
If I'm honest with myself, almost nobody I know who isn't already well-versed in radical left history is going to understand the possible relevance of the IWW in their life -- not even with the benefit of someone like me as a family member, laying it out in 10-minute tutorials every time I see them; hammering the points in a blog everyday of my life; or otherwise attempting to patiently make the case. Of course, I'm open to the possibility that I am not the most effective salesperson, or that workers who self-identify as "professionals" and who never quite learned what a "union" is will require extra effort. The problem is that this is the situation that so many of us find ourselves in: if we don't have the skills to make the case to the average person, we need to develop them quick.
We need to turn to newcomers and outsiders for what they can teach us. If we aren't appealing to people effectively enough then we should be thinking about what we can do to change that. This has nothing to do with questioning our fundamental principles: our principles are among the few things that have consistently seen us through. But if our language or our practices or our general presentation to those who are more likely to identify as "consumers" than "workers" isn't viable, we have to think more about how a revolutionary industrial unionism can thrive in a culturally "post-industrial" age. To this end, feminism is an essential practice.