Just becaise you haven't seen 'em don't mean they ain't there.
There are many people are increasingly working towards progressive social change. But, I think hero worship will ultimately lead down the wrong path. If I see another Che Guevera t-shirt I think I'm going to puke. The Wobblies, when asked who was in charge usually said one of two things:
- Were All Leaders!
- We Have No Leaders!
The point is that while yes there does develop leadership in any group of people, with some people taking a more active role, some people better at coordinating actions, some people better at speaking; it doesn't give them special rights of authoritarian control. Alot of that vanguard nonsense is what got us all the sell out political parties and labor unions. Instead if every worker would just get together with their fellow workers for direct action, they could IWW.org/direct_action/title.html">Fire the Boss. Ultimately, a bunch of worker-owned and controlled co-operatives would allow us to abolish the wage system.
But hey, things have changed alot since the days of Marx and Goldman. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Many things remain the same though.
The Wobblies are still around (and growing too, I might add) even as it seems that other unions are on the decline. Infact many militant unionists are joining up in the one big union, because of their negative expeirences in the business unions. So, the IWW is trying to organize the unorganized, at the same time as providing a place for members of different union reform movements to get together and discuss their mutual problems.
Part of the reason you might not have been seeing good speakers is that the nature of economy has changed alot. Now we have franchised capital, in some locations a chain might only have a dozen workers or so that they keep isolated from the rest of their corporate empire. So shop floor organizing is much different than it was in the old days of factory industry. Just-in-time production and global finance also allow who factories to be moved about to whever they can find workers they can exploit the most, whether that is in a NAFTA free trade zone like in BAJA, Mexico or the "People's Republic" of China and its State "Socialist" government. Employment has changed from the full-time job, to part-time (but perhaps 2 jobs) temporary workers. The average US work week having expanded to 47/hours a week and I believe Manpower is the largest employer in the US.
But its not all bleak and pessimissim. I generally believe we are coming upon a new area of social change. An entire generation is coming of age, and it is many ways quite different than the radicalism of the baby boomers.
Wobblies, among trying to organize that one big union, are still doing Free Speech Fights like defending micropower radio from attacks by the FCC and NAB (National Association of Broadcasters). Getting out on a Soapbox on a street corner just doesn't work as well now that most folks aren't walking to work, and work is spread from the city core all over suburbia.
The Wobs were one of the first unions to charge into the digital revolution as it were, long ahead of the AFL-CIO. We publish the paper online, as well as some audio content. So far, this has also got us a small but growing group of computer programmers and other s in the industry who are trying to organize. They recently founded a local out in San Fransico. San Fransisco also organized a local of the Marine Transport Workers.
We've also had alot of growth in the splitered construction worker trade, instead of having a bunch of tiny unions... one big union of construction workers has alot of appeal for them. We've got a big drive going on up in Sedro Wooley right now, along with doing solidarity work all over the place. Wobblies down in Austin recently got $28,000 in back unpaid wages by some unscrupulos bosses for a bunch of immigrant construction workers.
Were doing alot, particularly when your ealize wree largely an organization run completely by the rank and file. I don't think we need another Debs, Powderly, Gompers. or DeLeon... what we need is a rank and file willing to work towards their dreams. Ultimately, people have to free themselves.
Good to see that some folks are finally coming out of the dismally academic "Capitalism and the Alternatives" room and finally trying to address us working folks. Course if you just want us to buy your paper, and vote for your candidates you probably won't last long. The workers here are a very pragmatic bunch. Some of them even like their jobs (*gasp*).
Ultimately, if "the left" is ever going to grow again, and accomplish anything... its only if it ditches its authoritarian traits of trying to tell workers what to do and start listening to what workers think needs to be done.