Oakland IWOC’s recent disaffiliation from the IWW has brought up questions and concerns that Gainesville IWOC has been grappling with for a while. The dysfunction and shortcomings of the IWW working group structure in relation to supporting inside resistance was easy to overlook because of the support offered within a network of dedicated IWOC comrades. Furthermore, prior to joining the IWOC network, the work local to Gainesville and the state of Florida mirrored the IWOC model at large. During the height of the national prisoner strike movement it made sense to align with IWOC. However, after a few years working to support incarcerated comrades under the IWOC umbrella, it has become clear that the work has outgrown the labor union model and role of union organizing.
IWOC started as a working group of the IWW to support the struggle of incarcerated workers. As it stands in our local context, we essentially function independently of the IWW membership structure at large. This is not to say that labor union tactics have not been deployed in our context. We wholeheartedly supported the strategy and actions surrounding the 2016 and 2018 national prison strikes. However, prisoner strikes as the prevailing strategic orientation to abolish the prison are not sufficient and cannot even be executed in good conscience at present with the wellbeing of our comrades inside at the fore.
As a comrade inside has succinctly stated to us, “We are not members of a working group bridled by a larger organization, nor do we identify as such.” As an IWOC chapter, we have found ourselves retelling the IWW’s story and the history of the white labor movement when we should be listening closely to the experiences of our incarcerated comrades so that their stories can be heard, uplifted, and supported. In addition to bureaucratic inefficiency impeding the efficacy of organizing efforts, Gainesville IWOC departs with the IWW ideologically. The IWW is an organization rooted in an overwhelmingly white and male labor union organizing tradition. To accommodate the present-day needs of the abolitionist movement, which centers the material realities and experiences of much broader groups of people—Black, Brown, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, the disabled, and those with mental health conditions—our organizing must be shaped by our local landscape and our comrades inside.
Whereas the tactics of labor union organizing have been effective to some degree in the past within our region, they now have become limiting and even dangerous. The IWOC membership model has become a hindrance, and is a target on our people’s backs instead of a source of support. The conditions inside have and continue to reveal that membership in a labor union cannot effectively generate the type of inside organizing needed to address the onslaught facing our comrades inside. The state is continually shifting to try and shut us down; we need to keep growing, changing, and adapting to combat state repression and accomplish our goals. We can’t afford to be tied to one tactic, strategy, or name.
While focusing on currently incarcerated comrades has been an area of organizing lacking broadly across the U.S., it is also not the only place this work takes us. The tendrils of the prison do not stop at its walls, they snake out through the bars and embed themselves in every aspect of our community’s freeworld lives. Our work must occupy all of those spaces while continuing to center the voices of those most directly impacted.
Gainesville IWOC has benefited from support within our local IWW and community, and we are tremendously grateful to those who have helped us push our organizing efforts and supported the agency of those inside the prison walls. We see this move as a positive step, evidence that we are adapting, that the movement is dynamically growing, and that the work refuses to be contained strategically under a narrow umbrella of the union and the strike. Our choice to disaffiliate from the IWW is rooted in the needs of our comrades inside and our commitment to their organizing power and agency. We would not make this choice without listening to the people at the center of this work; incarcerated individuals, their care networks, and the people in community with them. We will continue to be committed to our comrades within IWOC wherever there is opportunity for collaboration towards our ultimate goal of a world without prisons.
Florida Prisoner Solidarity
(formerly Gainesville IWOC)