Please feel free to reach out to the Regional Organizing Department Liaison (RODL) or Regional Secretary (RS) for questions about branch organizing in Canada or about the tentative guide below. Thank you to J. Cameron Mancini, the General Secretary-Treasurer of the IWW (North American Regional Administration, NARA) for putting together this basic guide for branch building.
Starting an IWW Branch in Canada
Branches are the basic building block of the IWW, we need them to grow. At face value forming a branch is pretty simple – you need 10 members in good standing, they need to elect officers (Secretary, Treasurer, and Delegate), adopt bylaws (rules), fill out an application and write a letter of intent to Canadian Regional Organizing Committee (CanROC). The ROC then looks it over, makes sure everything squares with our Constitution, and issues a charter. If there are concerns, they will let the group know what they are so they can make changes.
How to Get Started
The process of starting a branch starts often with an individual or sometimes a small, informal group. First, reach out to other IWW members, or to people who might be interested in the IWW, your friends, coworkers, perhaps family. Secondly, CanROC can help you connect with others in the area. We do not give our members private contact information to just anyone, but if there are members in the area CanROC will email them on your behalf. Consider writing a short paragraph introducing yourself and letting people know you want to form an IWW branch and how to contact you.
Once you are in touch with other IWW members, you should start to have meetings. Meetings do not need to be very formal at first. We suggest you start by getting to know each other, talk about the IWW, what you want to get out of a local union, what industries do you all work in and what are the work issues effecting you, what projects do you want to work on? Make some goals to follow up on. After some meetings you should consider electing a delegate. Delegates are most often attached to a branch, but we have At Large Delegates elected by informal groups or sometimes appointed by the Regional Secretary (RS).
How to Sign Up Members
Delegates are empowered to handle union money, sign up new members, issue red cards, and must report and remit funds to CanROC. They are also the face of the union. Many members join online nowadays, but there is a mixed system of paying locally to a delegate or paying online to the IWW GHQ in Chicago in the US. Delegates issue paper cards with stamps – online payments are stamp-less with plastic cards. It can be useful to have delegates so people can pay in several ways: cash, check, etc if they want to. You can also issue cards immediately. GHQ sometimes has hundreds of people join a week online – it takes time to process their memberships. Delegates can do it on the spot.
How long does it take to charter?
Typically, informal groups spend 6 months to 1 year on average becoming a cohesive unit before they apply for a charter. There is no right answer about when you should charter, but several considerations. One thing to consider is that there is a big leap from being an informal group to being a branch. A branch is a legal body, in the US they are considered unincorporated 501c5 labor organizations, in Canada their status can differ from province to province. Ask yourselves, are you ready for the administrative work? You will be responsible for a bank account, may have to communicate frequently with GHQ in Chicago and the Canadian ROC, organize a meeting space, deal with setting up a mailbox and/or website, as well as, potentially tax and legal issues. If you do not think you can handle this, do not charter. (CanROC is here to help you with these issues, but that does not take away from the kind of time commitment that a branch represents; the best practice is to have a critical mass of members in your area and discuss with them how much time they are all able and willing to commit, see next point.)
Building a Base
Another consideration is to wait until you have more than 10 members. There is often a desire to meet this benchmark and charter immediately. In my experience, branches do this and often have their charter revoked within a year because they have become defunct. Plan for turnover. I recommend having 15-20 members involved before you charter. Be ready to lose officers and to replace them.