IWW Terminology Explained


Wobblies have a lingo all their own, but it’s not hard:

Assessment – A voluntary or mandatory contribution (depending on the situation) in addition to union dues allocated for specific purposes, such as a GDC or a strike fund.

Branch – A chartered group of IWW members in the same job site, city, or region organized around a common workplace, industry, or regional grouping.

Class War – The struggle between the employing class (always looking to lower the costs of labor at workers’ expense) and the working class (seeking to retain all that it produces).

Delegate – An IWW member empowered to collect dues from other members, sign up new IWW members, and represent the group of IWW members they represent at district councils and other assemblies of the IWW. Delegates are democratically elected by shops and branches; they serve one years terms.

Department – An international coordinating body of closely related Industrial Unions, such as the Department of General Construction 300, which includes the General Construction Workers Industrial Union 310, the Ship Builders Industrial Union 320, and the Building Construction Workers Industrial Union 330. There are six such departments outlined by the IWW Constitution.

Fellow Worker (FW) – How IWW members traditionally address each other (e.g. FW Lucy Parsons, or FW Ben Fletcher). Although the term is actually gender neutral, recently some members have adopted the unofficial term ” Sister Worker” to refer to women members of the IWW. Some women prefer the term, but others do not.

GDC (General Defense Committee) – An organization composed of IWW members and supporters whose function is to organize for the defense of workers indicted in the process of union organizing or other revolutionary activity. The GDC can be organized into locals and regional federations. The GDC is the only official committee that sympathetic employers may join (as non-IWW members).

GEB (General Executive Board) – The chief coordinating body of the Industrial Workers of the World, consisting of seven members elected to one year terms annually by a democratic vote of the entire IWW membership. The GEB’s duties are outlined by Article III, Section 5A of the IWW Constitution.

General Assembly (GA) – An annual assembly, held (US) Labor Day Weekend, where members, delegates and officers of the union meet to discuss union business, prepare for the annual election and referendum, and set union policy. The decisions of the General Assembly are subject to review by the entire IWW membership.

GMB (General Membership Branch) – A chartered body of IWW members located in a local geographic area (usually a city or metropolitan area) composed of workers from many different industries. A GMB is a temporary structure designed to aid in the formation of Industrial Union Branches.

GOB (General organization Bulletin) – A (mostly) monthly, printed discussion bulletin issued to all members in good standing (except those who specifically ask not to receive it). The GOB includes the GST’s report, the GEB report, Delegates reports, and branch reports. Sometimes the GOB includes correspondence from individual members as well.

GST (General Secretary-Treasurer) – The chief administrative officer of the IWW. The GST is elected annually to a one year term by a democratic vote of the entire IWW membership. The GST is the only paid officer of the IWW.

Industrial Worker (IW) – The official newspaper of the IWW, it is published monthly and available to all members in good standing. It is also available to non-members by subscription. Its editor is elected biannually to a two-year term by a democratic vote of the entire IWW membership.

Industrial Union (IU) – All the workers in the same industry shall belong to the same Industrial Union within the IWW. A chartered Industrial Union will consist of all Industrial Union Branches, shops within that IU, and individual members within that IU. That IU shall elect a GOC according to the principles they charter. The term also refers to the name and number assigned to each individual member. The numbers have no particular meaning other than to distinguish each separate IU.

IUB (Industrial Union Branch) – A chartered body of IWW members located in a local geographic area ( usually a city or metropolitan area) composed of workers from the same industry.

Job Branch – A chartered body of five or more members in the same workplace (and by extension, the same IU) where union conditions do not prevail, working to build majority union representation.

Job Shop – A chartered body of IWW members in the same workplace (and by extension the same IU) where union conditions prevail and where majority union representation has been established.

Little Red Songbook (LRS) – A collection of labor songs written by IWW members “to fan the flames of discontent”, published as a pocket size book with a red cover. There are at least 36 editions of the LRS.

OBU (One Big Union) – another name for the IWW, based on the notion that one big union of all the workers can overthrow or abolish the employing class and the wage system. Also a name for a Canadian based union formed in 1919 based on Industrial Unionism, was hostile to Leninism. Wound up bringing its 36,000 members into the CLC at the merger of the AFL and CIO in 1956.

ROC (Regional Organizing Committee) – A body of IWW members in a specific region, especially a country dedicated to maintaining communication and administering union affairs, particularly where the local currency is worth significantly less (or more) than the US or Canadian dollar.

Scab – A person who workers after a strike has been called and who takes the job of a striking union member.

Secretary-Treasurer – The chief administrative officer of a branch or district council, elected by a democratic vote of the appropriate body’s membership.

Wobbly – (Sometimes shortened to “Wob”) a nickname of unknown origin for a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.