Insular Organizing, Bad Ideas, and Betraying Workers: The OVEC Union Controversy and IWW-WV’s Support for the Uyghur Genocide

In this article we comment on an ongoing dispute between two local activist groups, the IWW-WV and OVEC, and note on how the strategies of both of these organizations both fail to create substantial change and lead to unhealthy, insular communities with bad ideas. We noticed this especially with the IWW-WV’s support for the oppression of Uyghurs by the government of the People’s Republic of China, both on their “official podcast” Mandatory OT and its social media account. And we also think some of these problems are all related to each other. These disagreements are of interest to us – as well as anyone in the nascent left in the region – to advocate for a political outlook that is really internationalist.


The OVEC Union Controversy

Activist circles in West Virginia have recently been concerned about a dispute within the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC). OVEC is widely recognized as one of the most prominent liberal environmentalist NGOs in the region. Staff members of this nonprofit are seeking to unionize with the West Virginia chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a prominent “big tent” syndicalist organization. One former staff member has claimed that they were fired in retaliation for statements they made against racism and abuse by the OVEC Board of Directors in emails and on social media. These claims are true, and this development does not surprise us – another example of how the NGO industrial complex and OVEC in particular not just fail to create substantial political change, but are not even interested in doing so (something that particularly noxious and reactionary statements of OVEC board member Mike Forman against “leftism” make clear), and instead become insular, “activist scene” clubs harboring abusive personalities. A purportedly progressive NGO cannot even countenance its employees fighting for more internal democracy – another clear example of how liberal NGOs are a political dead-end.

On the other hand, there are shortcomings to what the IWW is actually doing, problems they do not grapple with. The IWW claims to represent the industrial proletariat across the world. But, even according to their directory, the IWW has far more political clubs (“general membership branches”) than unionized workforces. They mostly organize non-profits and politically progressive, service-oriented small businesses – for example, a publisher set up to service non-profits. This is seen too with the IWW’s WV branch. They have focused their organizing aims and activity on the staff of social justice nonprofits, not (as one might otherwise expect) on organizing comparatively low-wage workers, migrant workers, factory workers or miners. Despite their internationalist and industrial claims, like most ostensibly “left” organizations in the Global North, they lope along a path that has already met its dead-end, organizing workers on the fringes of labor, and even those that are solidly petty bourgeois – such as NGO staff. The disagreement between some of OVEC’s board of directors and staff show two sides of the same coin: a coin that has fallen out of the professionalized, well-“paid organizer” activist scene’s purse and down into the gutter.

At the time this is being published, the OVEC Union is not calling for any kind of action against members of the OVEC board of directors for the unjust firing of a staff member leading the unionization effort – and have kept quiet about it for over a week now, likely due to their recent filing with the NLRB. This is a dispute over power within a non-profit: the OVEC Union wants OVEC’s half-dozen white-collar professional staff (which means such proletarian positions such as “Development Director,” “Project Coordinator,” “Executive Director,” “Director of Organizing,” “Community Organizer,” and “Communications Specialist”) to have a more democratic structure within the organization, while at the least some members of the OVEC Board of Directors want control of the activities of OVEC (including the financial) to remain theirs.

What is not involved in this dispute are the workers’ labor-power or the production and appropriation of value by capitalists. The jobs of directors at an environmental advocacy non-profit is not something involving the proletariat or a productive industry. The likely ultimate outcomes are the unionization of OVEC staff, an exodus of OVEC staff to form an alternative, perhaps more democratically-run environmentalist organization. Maybe some will work for the IWW-WV’s other organizing campaign, also in a non-profit. Speculation on this is futile and not that important, as such a union drive does not have political meaning or a political function, but instead more of a social one largely relegated to the circles of regional NGOs and their particular professionalized activism scene. We won’t downplay the importance of social functions and we would condemn a staff member’s clearly wrongful termination because they brought up some real and significant problems in regional environmentalist organizing, but as a political issue this disagreement between OVEC and the IWW is politically irrelevant, including to questions of labor in West Virginia. Project Coordinators and Directors of Organizing unionizing is not the unionization of members of the working class – nonetheless the proletariat.

The conflict between the OVEC Board of Directors and its professional staff is representative of wider problems within West Virginia’s activist circles. These are problems relevant to that – but are also insular problems. Beyond some dozens of activists involved in those circles, there isn’t any interest (and no interests at stake, including and especially those of the proletariat) or any wider relevance. That doesn’t matter to every kind of work one might do, but it means something here, and also and especially when the IWW-WV is justifying the super-exploitation and oppression of workers in other countries, as we will talk about a bit later. Appealing to an imaginary industrial proletariat where one doesn’t exist, for example, doesn’t help anything or get anything going outside of these insular professionalized, movementist circles. It leads to unhealthy groups with downright horrible and even horrifying ideas – such as the IWW-WV’s vocal support for racial and religious discrimination against workers in China, apologia for the crimes of dictatorial states, genocide denialism, and most surprisingly given the claimed values of the IWW, pro-boss and pro-capitalist denials that capitalists in other countries are exploiting workers, violating their rights, or using imprisoned or otherwise forced labor, and so practicing and promoting not simply wage slavery, but slavery without qualification.


Anti-Worker, Pro-Ruling Class – and Dangerous: Platforming Denialism, Support for Dictatorships is Supporting Oppression

Mandatory OT, the official podcast of the IWW-WV, is a garbage bin of reprehensible “hot takes,” unfunny men who like many unfunny men think yelling expletives and cracking banal dick jokes (then loudly braying at themselves) is comedy, and a total lack of political principles and clear attempt at tailing “dirtbag left” podcast formats, with the hosts flailing from topic to topic. One should be grateful it isn’t mandatory to stay overtime to listen to their insensitive show that serves as a propaganda platform for a dangerous line of thinking. 

Due to its professed syndalicist leanings, many folks think the IWW is an anarchist organization. However, the IWW has a policy explicitly forbidding official dogmatic allegiances. In contradiction to this IWW policy, the official podcast of the IWW-WV has claimed at various times in the last years to be everything from a “Marxist-Leninist-Maoist” show, a “Marxist-Leninist” one, and now brands itself as “a decolonial Scientific Socialist and Intercommunalist perspective.” Of course, a show which supports mass imprisonment, prison and forced labor, cultural assaults on oppressed nations, settler colonialism in the Global South, and denies the exploitation of workers in certain nations while defending dictators and ruling classes has nothing either “decolonial” or “socialist” about it. Instead, these labels function as paper name tags tacked onto Evangelical-esque apologetics for the human rights abuses and state crimes of the ruling classes of capitalist and revisionist governments.

One example is Mandatory OT’s two-part series on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), where the IWW hosts state the DPRK is an example of an “absolutely” successful socialist project that is supposedly only getting more successful. In the first part, they interview Dermot Hudson, the crank “chairman” of the UK branch of the anti-people and cult-like Korean Friendship Association, a know-nothing notable for his cavalier use of Klannish racial slurs against Japanese people and copy-paste-plus-Gish-gallop approach to spreading state propaganda. Hudson recently published a pamphlet arguing the absurdity that there was no 1990s famine in the DPRK and that there is no problem with hunger and food insecurity in the DPRK.

If we want to know something about the conditions of the working class in the DPRK, we might turn to the May 2019 Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN / World Food Programme food security assessment conducted at the request of the DPRK government. The report found that “poor food consumption is widespread in the surveyed population in both November (37 percent) and April (46 percent) assessments and only a few households have an acceptable diet,” with approximately 10.1 million people (40 percent of the population) being “food insecure and in urgent need of food assistance.” The 2019 report of the UN Resident Coordinator for the DPRK on humanitarian needs and priorities demonstrates a generalized mass immiseration of the population. 10.9 million (43% of population) are food insecure, with a nearly identical figure undernourished. This results in significant numbers of children who suffer from stunting (around 20%) or wasting (3%), as well as infant, under-five, and maternal mortality rates above the global average. Rates are highest in rural areas, which is also seen in access to safe water; whereas, nationally, 39% are without access to a safe water source, the figure is 56% in rural areas. 16% of the population does not have access to basic sanitation, and “nine out of ten people in rural areas, and three out of ten in urban areas, live in environments carrying potentially deadly health risks due to the unsafe disposal of human waste.” The 2020 edition of the same report outlines a near identical situation. During the last handful of years, the DPRK’s luxury goods imports, supporting only the conspicuous consumption of its ruling class, was in the billions of dollars.

The IWW-WV and Hudson both push forward the line that the Soviet Union was revisionist by 1987 and that the DPRK was not – that is to say, that North Korea continues as a socialist state. Hudson says the DPRK has always opposed revisionism. Hudson makes a point to go against what he denigrates as an “academic claim” (what literature this claim specifically refers to or who says it is a mystery) that the DPRK has opened up capitalism, nonetheless is a capitalist state. Hudson says he hasn’t seen this with his own eyes – clearly the highest form of inquiry! One is reminded of the Western fools who visited Cambodia during the height of the Khmer Rouge’s genocide and came back spinning paradisiacal tales – except for ones like Malcolm Caldwell, murdered during the course of one such trip.

One trivial point is demonstrative, and partly because it is trivial: Hudson makes much out of denying the existence of a McDonald’s in Pyongyang as some kind of anti-communist, (somehow) post-modernist rumor. Hudson is conflating stories here. While there are no McDonald’s in the DPRK, there is a burger chain that some media had called “the McDonald’s of North Korea.” This kind of hair-splitting and straining over gnats is deceptive, aiming to draw attention away from and skirt around the real issues within the DPRK – such as the mentioned food insecurity coupled to mismanagement and social waste of funds (that is, the surplus value appropriated from the DPRK’s working class) at the hands of a corrupt and brutal bureaucracy, whether that social waste is realized in militarism or luxury consumption. The DPRK is no socialist utopia – and for all kinds of reasons besides that its fast food restaurants aren’t run by an American corporation. The IWW-WV here is never critical – just as in the case of the oppression of Uyghurs, there is only one perspective presented. 

In the second episode on the DPRK, the hosts advocate for the application of juche to Appalachia. There are no other IWW-WV statements on these issues – these are their statements and positions, advanced publicly in their self-described “official” podcast. There is a garbled disclaimer on some episodes that views are not “necessarily” those of the IWW-WV. But not all of them – there is no such disclaimer on the “From Xinjiang with Love” episode, and again, there is really only one kind of perspective presented throughout. This is open advocacy, not “just clearing up misconceptions” about juche or anything else.There is no fact-checking or attempts at an actual interview, and certainly no ruthless criticism of everything existing – the IWW-WV is just platforming crank propagandists, used car salesmen for fairy-tales.

If the IWW had members in the DPRK, their unionization efforts would be illegal there. The IWW itself would be illegal there – and for that reason, there is no IWW-DPRK. The kind of union the IWW-WV wants to start at OVEC wouldn’t be possible. Juche obviously isn’t syndicalism and labor organizations are under the state’s thumb, organized by elites on the terms of the government – DPRK trade unions, for example, can’t make even basic criticisms of the DPRK government and ruling elite, nonetheless the kinds of severe (and often correct) political critiques IWW members often make of the US government. And much else. These indicate very basic, fundamental political contradictions and hypocrisies that are up to the IWW-WV to sort out. The fact that they haven’t, and that they side with reaction, should be suspect to anybody who cares about workers’ rights and equality thinking about organizing with them. The IWW-WV calls for solidarity then lines up not behind the DPRK’s working class, but instead backs its bourgeoisie and ruling class. This is not just false internationalism. It is also plain and simple pro-boss, anti-working class nonsense. 

If what Mandatory OT was actually doing was dispelling lies forged by American imperialists about the DPRK, that would be useful and admirable. If folks were serious about examining and evaluating juche for what it really is (and not the cartoon version American warmongers or the portrayals state propaganda arms produce for external consumption), then one would need to consider evidence and information from a multitude of sources including – liberal, bourgeois ones – and engage in a “ruthless critique of everything existing” like Marxists are supposed to.

In a recent episode titled “From Xinjiang with Love,” Mandatory OT claims to be seeking to “dispel the grotesque Western lies surrounding Uyghur concentration camps” – their alternative is to uncritically affirm the narrative of the Chinese ruling class, including Bush-era “War on Terror” imperialist rhetoric about Islamic extremism in order to justify the oppression of Uyghur Muslims by casting them broadly as Islamic extremists. According to the hosts of Mandatory OT, there is only “the far-right, like, Islamic, uh, ideology that is behind the entire separatist movement” – not an oppressed people with legitimate claims to democracy and self-determination that all should support. Mass arrests and mass incarceration, the persecution of cultural workers and imams, the destruction or debilitation of mosques, and mass biometric and technological surveillance are thus claimed to be a legitimate means of combating terrorism. While China’s settler colonialism and imperialism are not identical in every jot and tittle to America’s (as none are), one should as a materialist investigate these questions – not just accept what either (or any) government is saying at face value.

Political opinions in the People’s Republic of China are not a unitary monolith, with government publications being a true reflection of the exact opinions and will of “the people” it claims to represent. There are many voices, not one voice. It would be false to equate supporting the PRC with supporting China’s proletariat. Proletarians around the world and in China have a wide variety of opinions – for example, the Communist Party of the Philippines characterizes China as an emerging imperialist power; numerous communists and others within China assess the country similarly. Answers to questions also don’t boil down to counting noses – and especially when you aren’t even doing this, and in the absence of media freedom and freedom of political speech. And the IWW-WV doesn’t think this anyhow, as by this bad logic progressives in West Virginia would need to be opposed to Black Lives Matter because the majority of government officials oppose it. (Which some activists, to their shame, do say.) Further, if one would apply this bad line of thought that the presence of a far-right movement disqualifies a liberation struggle, one should wonder how MandatoryOT would support the liberation of the Palestinian people despite a large number supporting Hamas, who also have a right-wing Islamic ideology. One cannot toy around with pretending that you know “the will of the masses” anywhere by rigidly adhering to borders (especially imperialist and settler colonial ones) and reductively homogenizing the populations of countries (especially ones that are prison houses of nations). 

There is political nuance in every group: from LOOP to the IWW, from West Virginia to East Turkestan, from Pyongyang to Beijing. These political differences are important to assess! While it is true we should be careful not to believe obscene Western propaganda (of course, China is not rounding up and killing millions of Uyghurs – but genocide is not limited to those means of elimination alone), we should not unduly associate criticisms of China from within China as Western propaganda. One should not, like the hosts of MandatoryOT, dismissively say “oh, Jesus Christ” to describing the state’s persecution of Uyghurs as cultural genocide. The destruction of a people’s culture is part of the destruction of a people.

The guest states that recognition of Uyghur oppression is “really demeaning to the real victims of genocide,” specifically invoking the Holocaust to deny crimes against humanity happening now; as an organization with both Chinese and Jewish members, we condemn this abdication of solidarity and proletarian internationalism in no uncertain terms, and we affirm against this betrayal the words “Never again.” 

Relatedly, it is reprehensible to stoop to saying that women testifying about their sexual assaults are liars spreading “sob stories,” as the guest and IWW hosts do. These are, obviously, not the ways one should engage with accusations they believe to be false – they are crude patriarchal rhetoric. More critically, these accusations are credible based on the evidence. This outright denial of the reality that in prisons, schools, and hospitals men in power – especially those of an oppressor nation over an oppressed nation – will use their power and authority to abuse women signals a deeply concerning disconnect from the realities of the prevalence of sexual assault and patriarchal violence. The hosts are relying on misogynistic articles like this one, posted from a state media source, rehearsing rape apologia we are all familiar with in the wake of #MeToo – bemoaning how a victim is “ruining the reputation” of her people by daring to speak, despicably divulging the supposedly immoral past relationship and sexual histories of a victim, and dismissing her claims of abuse on the grounds that she did not immediately come forward publicly to make the sexual assault allegation. The Chinese ruling class uses all the same talking points as Harvey Weinstein – which is both telling and to be condemned. A state official has claimed there has never been any abuses in their camps which hundreds of thousands of people have passed through, a stunning figure for anyone familiar with sexual abuse statistics. Going off the reports from the PRC alone, any critical reader can assess that the persecution of the Uyghurs at minimum involves crimes against humanity and acute national oppression.

The IWW hosts see that all data and evidence is dishonestly dismissed on the crudest, anti-critical, anti-materialist, and opportunist basis. Criticism, including criticism from Uyghurs and from other communists, is dismissed in favor of fringe denialists erroneously presented in the podcast as legitimate voices – a tactic common to denialism, shared by the David Irvings, Alex Joneses, and Nicholas Kollerstroms of the world. There is nothing in these podcasts of substance about the DPRK or PRC, or anything that is politically relevant; they are neither thoughtful nor persusive, and all they do is just peddle bullshit to posture in the social club of left-wing genocide denial.

We certainly hope and expect that not all members of the IWW (both the West Virginia branch and the wider body) agree with the genocide denialism and promotion of worker exploitation being peddled by Mandatory OT. However, this is left up to the IWW, who do not condemn these views, or even explore different perspectives (whatever merit of lack thereof that might have for this or that topic), but instead platform and promote them on what they call their official podcast. Hiding behind the cover of not condemning particular ideologies while you only promote a certain single one is justifying genocide deniers that side with ruling classes and with national oppression, and against workers in China. If the IWW is authentically concerned about oppressed groups they would publicly condemn the genocide against the Uyghurs and censure or expel the hosts of Mandatory OT. Even putting all else aside – which should not be done – is it not wholly against the most basic and fundamental values of the IWW to deny that labor is forced and that Chinese workers are exploited? On this important issue, the IWW fails to stand up not just for workers, but even for basic human decency. One cannot look at some rhetoric making excuses for genocide and “agree to disagree” or dimiss this as a difference of opinion by applying fringe political labels. We cannot give “Marxists” a pass for supporting genocide and chalk it up as a mere, acceptable ideological difference. We at LOOP, as an organization of anti-imperialist, anti-colonial Marxists and anarchists, call on the IWW to condemn not just the opinions that support genocide apologetics but the kind of uncritical thought process they foster that brings people there and puts them in charge of their chapter’s media. Supporting national oppression and genocide is not Marxism, as the IWW hosts of Mandatory OT claim it is. Non-Marxist “leftists” allowing so-called “Marxist” charlatans to peddle these falsities are part of the mechanism of genocide denial, and moreover of state oppression of oppressed nations. Platforming the denial of exploitation and national oppression is supporting exploitation and national oppression. Platforming genocide denial is supporting genocide; tolerating genocide denial is supporting genocide.

These kinds of opinions, which are not just bad but dangerous and harmful, are a result of organizing in insular micro-communities. Where does this infantilism come from? Who is it attractive to – what is its audience? Likely nobody who works at Wal-Mart in Boone County is waiting for the IWW-WV’s white collar non-profit vanguard to unite with the Korean Friendship Association in England in order to take a bold stand in support of Juche, and pretty much everybody can see that this content is bunk, the expression of a malformed activist subculture. The kind of thought process that leads to these opinions are indicative of political absurdity, not political seriousness, and also indicative of an activist’s ultimate political irrelevance to those they claim to be interested in – against who they really are interested in. This is a common contradiction with podcasts around here that claim to be regionally focused.

The leadership of the IWW-WV are very likely aware of the dangerous ideas and their disingenuous presentation shared in MandatoryOT’s podcast but have failed to disavow these positions because of a personal connection with the hosts. This is one of the biggest hurdles in insular organizing that allows bad ideas to fester and grow into betraying the workers of the world. Groups are so small and desperate that many just accept whoever comes along, whatever they might think, and they keep silent about the awful things their friends think and the awful things their friends do. (This problem is clear – we have seen it over and over again when it comes to sexual assault and patriarchal abuse within anarchist and socialist organizations.) While we certainly hope the hosts of Mandatory OT change their minds, no friendships are broken, and activists continue to work with each other, no one in good faith can “agree to disagree” about national oppression and genocide. This flavor of genocide denialism is not restricted to being theoretically “incorrect” about international political struggles, but is also dangerous for the political struggles one engages in locally.


On the Road to Irrelevance: Where the Left Around Here is Going (and Isn’t)

On the international level, the IWW has not yet recognized the Uyghur genocide or issued statements on the exploitation of Uyghur workers. Many organizations on the left, representing different tendencies, have. Genocide as a political structure is not an abstract distraction from “real politics”; it is a raw expression of class war. Too often, among the few activists in our region who even bother to recognize settler colonialism (which, at the least in words, the hosts of Mandatory OT do – which is a good thing), these struggles are reduced to a side issue, with no activism done around them directly, and not affecting in any form any other activism that is done, not informing practical questions of organizing, with opposition to settler colonialism reduced to being one of the ingredients in a slogan stew – but little more than that. This is a problem Native activists have outlined for years. That people are even beginning to talk about this is somewhat of an improvement from a few years back, when no other anarchist or socialist grouping in WV that we know about (though we might have missed them) were doing so. Many, including some members of the IWW-WV, were even explicitly opposed to this. Today, even though the struggle against settler colonialism is more relevant, it is still made a secondary concern in our area: it is made into a platform plank or occasional slogan but never the focus of a campaign – and its international dimensions are also too often jettisoned.

It has often been said that if the majority of those to the left of the Democratic Party had spent the past years focused first and foremost on supporting Black Lives Matter and not trying to get Bernie Sanders elected, then maybe the far-left would be more relevant. While that is true, we should be careful to note these kind of political opinions are a cause, not a symptom of the left’s irrelevance. Leftists often imagine themselves “leading” (usually, they mean hijacking) these movements; they obnoxiously say these movements “failed” because they didn’t have “communist” (meaning, their) leadership. Whether supporting social democracy or the uncritical boostering of “actually existing socialism” / social imperialism, the left flocks to alternatives that have been routinely debunked. That is a road to irrelevance – as it has been for decades, with piles of acronyms of many well-meaning and many not-so-well-meaning organizations behind. There needs to be fresh thinking about what to do in the region that doesn’t compromise on basic principles, that uncompromisingly centers the struggles against settler colonialism, imperialism, and patriarchy, while also honestly grappling with our strengths and weaknesses, the conditions we are in, who our enemies are but also more importantly who our friends are, and what is possible to do now and what might be possible with more work.

One may find it surprising that what many would assume is West Virginia’s largest anarchist organization, the IWW, uncritically supports the abuses of the People’s Republic of China while West Virginia’s largest organization of Marxists, LOOP, does not. To left-wing wonks and others that study the alphabet soup of the left, this may come across as peculiar; but perhaps it is representative of a kind of shift in political organizing and perspectives. We think there is more of a future in placing our solidarity with workers and oppressed people than with their bosses and rulers. It is out of political contradictions that political developments are made.

The only path toward the political is in being honest about where we really are, what we do and what we can do, admitting our past failures, seeing that there will be future ones, try to understand what successes we have had, reconsidering evidence beyond dogmatic lines, centering our politics on the oppressed and not their oppressors, and taking the concerns of people around us seriously. We, like the IWW-WV, certainly aren’t a large group, but we organize with this limitation in mind (as well as expectations around how what we put forward will be received – which in rural WV, is often a big struggle) instead of viewing small membership as a detriment or something to be ashamed of and inflated. (Though one would be right to be ashamed of being a small group of genocide deniers.) Insular organizing prioritizes activism as a social club; one can be “big” in a “scene” that is small and doesn’t matter, but is there a point in that? One can turn to social media and try to seem big to folks outside the region when you’re really small and marginal where you are, with no popular pull at all – but is that kind of lying helpful?

Organizing is not like running a frat house. One cannot start a revolution with dick jokes and an annual pancake breakfast. From dirtbags without soil inside to snobbish book-worshipers, nascent left groups can become too focused on organizing around staking a claim to the labels they find on the internet, maybe even with “Appalachian-izing” them, whether this is thinking that Juche is the key to West Virginia’s impending socialist economic reinvigoration, becoming an “Appalachia expert” who specializes in telling leftists outside the region how progressive it really is when it isn’t, or trying to import big city NGO activist scenes or “party-left” demo methods to small towns. We have seen all of these and more. These kinds of approaches dominate the left instead of doing the work: grappling with and centering decolonization, and then doing the work to help build communities of resistance around political possibilities, not labels. What successes we have had have been when we have done that. What failures we have had have been when we have failed to do that. Where we all can begin with doing this work is to rethink our approaches to regional organizing, in a deep way, and not to tolerate the horseshit of self-appointed rah-rah-revoluationaries just because we’re afraid of alienating one of the relatively few who use the label “socialist” or more to describe themselves. Sticking to political principles and speaking out is all the more important with a nascent and small regional left, if you want to help build something that might really matter one day, that isn’t “big” just because it lets everything in – then is corrupted because part of that everything was support for oppression.

Our criticisms of these organizations as outside observers should not be mistaken with being dismissive of people who have ever expressed interest in these groups. We support environmental advocacy as a paramount political issue, and while we do not deny that both of these groups feel the same, it is because we care about this work and the regional left more broadly (or, what might be a regional left in the future) that we feel compelled to critique the organizations that allow for the mechanisms that lead to abuse and bad ideas that not only prevent successful activism, but actively damage people’s lives. The revelations about the limitations of the left from the OVEC-IWW dispute should not be cause for despair for activists in our area but instead should be a call to reconsider the kind of work leftist groups do, where donation money goes, and what these proposed changes mean as a broader political struggle.

For those outside of the region, we hope this conflict can be an important organizing lesson about the thought processes brought in by insular thought and serve as an update to the work being done in the region. We would hope members of the IWW outside of the West Virginia branch (and hopefully, some within the WV branch) would put pressure on reforming their organization to weed out whatever persons or procedures or problems that have allowed genocide deniers and anti-working class propagandists to hide behind the word “Marxism” and take factional control of the official media outlet of an IWW branch. But that is up to folks who are in the IWW; it is their problem to handle, and it is a real problem. The spirit of this article is to call out the real problems in the area’s activist community in order to try to solve these problems. Anti-people, anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian, and fundamentally pro-capitalist views cannot be tolerated. These are rotten foundations to build on. The left must support basic values, virtues, or principles central to everything from a materialist outlook to people’s democracy, to our goal of a future free of all oppression.

As socialists and anarchists, we cannot tolerate support for the oppression of a people, the denial that a country’s ruling class and bourgeoisie is exploiting workers, Islamophobic “War on Terror” narratives justifying religious discrimination and assault, misogynistic rape apologia, and the platforming of genocide denialism. We must condemn and warn others about any organization that is supporting national oppression, exploitation of workers in the Global South, and genocide, just as we would for those harboring abusers or supporting the machinations and invasions of American imperialism. We believe that in advocating for radical change, the structures we build to work for that change are more important than what we say on paper alone.


We invite any corrections to any mistakes of fact in the above, if any. All corrections and updates are listed below:

Update: Mandatory OT recently announced their podcast is on an indefinite hiatus, but made no statement about the problems outlined in this article.

Update: The day after this article’s publication, the IWW-WV removed  references to Mandatory OT in their social media bios. You can see the screenshots of their connection here and an archive of the twitter bio here. (If you are viewing this around June 5th, you can see the most recent Google cache still has the podcast linked and listed as “official” if you need another source to debunk the IWW-WV’s claim that they’ve been disaffiliated for “some time now”).