Industrial Workers of the World
|Full name||Industrial Workers of the World|
|Founded||June 27, 1905|
|Key people||§ Notable members|
|Office location||Chicago, Illinois, United States|
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), members of which are commonly termed "Wobblies", is an international labor union that was founded in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois in the United States of America. The union combines general unionism with industrial unionism, as it is a general union whose members are further organized within the industry of their employment. The philosophy and tactics of the IWW are described as "revolutionary industrial unionism", with ties to both socialist and anarchist labor movements.
In the 1910s and early 1920s, the IWW achieved many of their short-term goals, particularly in the American West, and cut across traditional guild and union lines to organize workers in a variety of trades and industries. At their peak in August 1917, IWW membership was more than 150,000. The extremely high rate of IWW membership turnover during this era (estimated at 133% per decade) makes it difficult for historians to state membership totals with any certainty, as workers tended to join the IWW in large numbers for relatively short periods (e.g., during labor strikes and periods of generalized economic distress).
Membership declined dramatically in the 1920s due to several factors. There were conflicts with other labor groups, particularly the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which regarded the IWW as too radical, while the IWW regarded the AFL as too conservative and dividing workers by craft. Membership also declined due to government crackdowns on radical, anarchist and socialist groups during the First Red Scare after WWI. The most decisive factor in the decline in IWW membership and influence, however, was a 1924 schism in the organization, from which the IWW never fully recovered.
The IWW promotes the concept of "One Big Union", and contends that all workers should be united as a social class to supplant capitalism and wage labor with industrial democracy. They are known for the Wobbly Shop model of workplace democracy, in which workers elect their managers and other forms of grassroots democracy (self-management) are implemented. IWW membership does not require that one work in a represented workplace, nor does it exclude membership in another labor union.
- 1 History 1905–1950
- 1.1 Founding
- 1.2 Political action or direct action?
- 1.3 Organizing
- 1.4 IWW versus AFL Carpenters, Goldfield, Nevada, 1907
- 1.5 The Haywood trial and the exit of the Western Federation of Miners
- 1.6 IWW versus the Western Federation of Miners
- 1.7 IWW versus United Mine Workers, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1916
- 1.8 Government suppression
- 1.9 Organizational schism and afterwards
- 2 Activity after World War II
- 3 Outside the US
- 4 Folk music and protest songs
- 5 Lingo
- 6 Notable members
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
The IWW was founded in Chicago, Illinois in the United States in June 1905 at a convention of 200 socialists, anarchists, Marxists (primarily members of the Socialist Party of America and Socialist Labor Party) radical trade unionists from all over the United States (mainly the Western Federation of Miners) who were opposed to the policies of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
The convention, which took place on June 24, 1905, was referred to as the "Industrial Congress" or the "Industrial Union Convention"—it would later be known as the First Annual Convention of the IWW. In its time, it was considered one of the most important events in the history of industrial unionism.
The IWW's founders included William D. ("Big Bill") Haywood, James Connolly, Daniel De Leon, Eugene V. Debs, Thomas Hagerty, Lucy Parsons, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, Frank Bohn, William Trautmann, Vincent Saint John, Ralph Chaplin, and many others.
The IWW's goal was to promote worker solidarity in the revolutionary struggle to overthrow the employing class; its motto was "an injury to one is an injury to all", which improved upon the 19th-century Knights of Labor's creed, "an injury to one is the concern of all." In particular, the IWW was organized because of the belief among many unionists socialists, anarchists, Marxists, and radicals that the AFL not only had failed to effectively organize the U.S. working class, as only about 5% of all workers belonged to unions in 1905, but it was dividing rather than uniting groups of workers by organizing according to narrow craft principles. The Wobblies believed that all workers should organize as a class, a philosophy which is still reflected in the Preamble to the current IWW Constitution:
The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.
We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.
These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.
Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.
The Wobblies, as they were informally known, differed from other union movements of the time by promotion of industrial unionism, as opposed to the craft unionism of the American Federation of Labor. The IWW emphasized rank-and-file organization, as opposed to empowering leaders who would bargain with employers on behalf of workers. The early IWW chapters' consistently refused to sign contracts, which they believed would restrict workers' abilities to aid each other when called upon. Though never developed in any detail, Wobblies envisioned the general strike as the means by which the wage system would be overthrown and a new economic system ushered in, one which emphasized people over profit, cooperation over competition.
One of the IWW's most important contributions to the labor movement and broader push towards social justice was that, when founded, it was the only American union to welcome all workers, including women, immigrants, African Americans and Asians, into the same organization. Many of its early members were immigrants, and some, such as Carlo Tresca, Joe Hill and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, rose to prominence in the leadership. Finns formed a sizeable portion of the immigrant IWW membership. "Conceivably, the number of Finns belonging to the I.W.W. was somewhere between five and ten thousand." The Finnish-language newspaper of the IWW, Industrialisti, published in Duluth, Minnesota, a center of the mining industry, was the union's only daily paper. At its peak, it ran 10,000 copies per issue. Another Finnish-language Wobbly publication was the monthly Tie Vapauteen ("Road to Freedom"). Also of note was the Finnish IWW educational institute, the Work People's College in Duluth, and the Finnish Labour Temple in Port Arthur, Ontario, Canada, which served as the IWW Canadian administration for several years. One example of the union's commitment to equality was Local 8, a longshoremen's branch in Philadelphia, one of the largest ports in the nation in the WWI era. Led by Ben Fletcher, an African American, Local 8 had more than 5,000 members, the majority of whom were African American, along with more than a thousand immigrants (primarily Lithuanians and Poles), Irish Americans, and numerous white ethnics.
The IWW was condemned by politicians and the press, who saw them as a threat to the market systems as well as an effort to monopolize labor at a time when efforts to monopolize industries were being fought as anti-market. Factory owners would employ means both non-violent (sending in Salvation Army bands to drown out speakers) and violent to disrupt their meetings. Members were often arrested and sometimes killed for making public speeches, but this persecution only inspired activism.
Political action or direct action?
In 1908 a group led by Daniel DeLeon argued that political action through DeLeon's Socialist Labor Party (SLP) was the best way to attain the IWW's goals. The other faction, led by Vincent Saint John, William Trautmann, and Big Bill Haywood, believed that direct action in the form of strikes, propaganda, and boycotts was more likely to accomplish sustainable gains for working people; they were opposed to arbitration and to political affiliation. Haywood's faction prevailed, and De Leon and his supporters left the organization, forming their own version of the IWW. The SLP's "Yellow IWW" eventually took the name Workers' International Industrial Union, which was disbanded in 1924.
The IWW first attracted attention in Goldfield, Nevada in 1906 and during the Pressed Steel Car Strike of 1909 at McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. Further fame was gained later that year, when they took their stand on free speech. The town of Spokane, Washington had outlawed street meetings, and arrested Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a Wobbly organizer, for breaking this ordinance. The response was simple but effective: when a fellow member was arrested for speaking, large numbers of people descended on the location and invited the authorities to arrest all of them, until it became too expensive for the town. In Spokane, over 500 people went to jail and four people died. The tactic of fighting for free speech to popularize the cause and preserve the right to organize openly was used effectively in Fresno, Aberdeen, and other locations. In San Diego, although there was no particular organizing campaign at stake, vigilantes supported by local officials and powerful businessmen mounted a particularly brutal counter-offensive.
By 1912 the organization had around 25,000 members, concentrated in the Northwest, among dock workers, agricultural workers in the central states, and in textile and mining areas. The IWW was involved in over 150 strikes, including the Lawrence textile strike (1912), the Paterson silk strike (1913) and the Mesabi range (1916). They were also involved in what came to be known as the Wheatland Hop Riot on August 3, 1913.
IWW versus AFL Carpenters, Goldfield, Nevada, 1907
The IWW assumed a prominent role in 1906 and 1907, in the gold-mining boom town of Goldfield, Nevada. At that time, the Western Federation of Miners was still an affiliate of the IWW (the WFM withdrew from the IWW in the summer of 1907). In 1906, the IWW became so powerful in Goldfield that it could dictate wages and working conditions. Workers not in good standing with the IWW were fired by their employers, on orders by the IWW leadership.
Resisting IWW domination was the AFL-affiliated Carpenters Union. In March 1907, the IWW demanded that the mines deny employment to AFL Carpenters, which led mine owners to challenge the IWW. The mine owners banded together and pledged not to employ any IWW members. The mine and business owners of Goldfield staged a lockout, vowing to remain shut until they had broken the power of the IWW. The lockout prompted a split within the Goldfield workforce, between conservative and radical union members.
The mine owners persuaded the Nevada governor to ask for federal troops. Under the protection of federal troops, the mine owners reopened the mines with non-union labor, breaking the influence of the IWW in Goldfield.
The Haywood trial and the exit of the Western Federation of Miners
Leaders of the Western Federation of Miners such as Bill Haywood and Vincent St. John were instrumental in forming the I.W.W., and the WFM affiliated with the new union organization shortly after the I.W.W. was formed. The WFM became the I.W.W.’s “mining section.” But many in he rank and file of the WFM were uncomfortable with the open radicalism of the I.W.W., and wanted the WFM to maintain its independence. Schisms between the WFM and IWW had emerged at the annual IWW convention in 1906, when a majority of WFM delegates walked out.
When WFM executives Blll Haywood, George Pettibone, and Charles Moyer were accused of complicity in the murder of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg, the IWW used the case to raise funds and support, and paid for the legal defense. But even the not guilty verdicts worked against the IWW, because the IWW was deprived of martyrs, and at the same time, a large portion of the public remained convinced of the guilt of the accused. The trials caused a bitter split between Haywood and Moyer. The Haywood trial also provoked a reaction within the WFM against violence and radicalism. In the summer of 1907, the WFM withdrew from the I.W.W. Vincent St. John left the WFM to spend his time organizing the I.W.W.
Bill Haywood for a time remained a member of both organizations. His murder trial had made Haywood a celebrity, and he was in demand as a speaker for the WFM. But his increasingly radical speeches became more at odds with the WFM, and in April 1908, the WFM announced that the union had ended Haywood's role as a union representative. Haywood left the WFM, and devoted all his time to organizing for the IWW.
Historian Vernon H. Jensen has asserted that the IWW had a "rule or ruin" policy, under which it attempted to wreck local unions which it could not control. From 1908 to 1921, Jensen and others have written, the IWW attempted to win power in WFM locals which had once formed the federation's backbone. When it could not do so, IWW agitators undermined WFM locals, which caused the national union to shed nearly half its membership.
IWW versus the Western Federation of Miners
The Western Federation of Miners left the IWW in 1907, but the IWW wanted the WFM back. The WFM had made up about a third of the IWW membership, and the western miners were tough union men, and good allies in a labor dispute. In 1908, Vincent St. John tried to organize a stealth takeover of the WFM. He wrote to WFM organizer Albert Ryan, encouraging him to find reliable I.W.W. sympathizers at each WFM local, and have them appointed delegates to the annual convention by pretending to share whatever opinions of that local needed to become a delegate. Once at the convention, they could vote in a pro-I.W.W. slate. St. Vincent promised: “… once we can control the officers of the WFM for the I.W.W., the big bulk of the membership will go with them.” But the takeover did not succeed.
In 1914, Butte, Montana erupted into a series of riots as miners dissatisfied with the Western Federation of Miners local at Butte formed a new union, and demanded that all miners join the new union, or be subject to beatings or worse. Although the new rival union had no affiliation with the IWW, it was widely seen as IWW-inspired. The leadership of the new union contained many who were members of the I.W.W., or agreed with the I.W.W.'s methods and objectives. But the new union failed to supplant the WFM, and the ongoing fight between the two factions had the result that the copper mines of Butte, which had long been a union stronghold for the WFM, became open shops, and the mine owners recognized no union from 1914 until 1934.
IWW versus United Mine Workers, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1916
The IWW clashed with the United Mine Workers union in April 1916, when the IWW picketed the anthracite mines around Scranton, Pennsylvania, intending, by persuasion or force, to keep UMWA members from going to work. The IWW considered the UMWA too reactionary, because the United Mine Workers negotiated contracts with the mine owners for fixed time periods; the IWW considered that contracts hindered their revolutionary goals. In what a contemporary writer pointed out was a complete reversal of their usual policy, UMWA officials called for police to protect United Mine Workers members who wished to cross the picket lines. The Pennsylvania State Police arrived in force, prevented picket line violence, and allowed the UMWA members to peacefully pass through the IWW picket lines.
Between 1915 and 1917, the IWW's Agricultural Workers Organization (AWO) organized more than a hundred thousand migratory farm workers throughout the Midwest and western United States, often signing up and organizing members in the field, in rail yards and in hobo jungles. During this time, the IWW member became synonymous with the hobo riding the rails; migratory farmworkers could scarcely afford any other means of transportation to get to the next jobsite. Railroad boxcars, called "side door coaches" by the hobos, were frequently plastered with silent agitators from the IWW.
Building on the success of the AWO, the IWW's Lumber Workers Industrial Union (LWIU) used similar tactics to organize lumberjacks and other timber workers, both in the deep South and the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada, between 1917 and 1924. The IWW lumber strike of 1917 led to the eight-hour day and vastly improved working conditions in the Pacific Northwest. Even though mid-century historians would give credit to the US Government and "forward thinking lumber magnates" for agreeing to such reforms, an IWW strike forced these concessions.
From 1913 through the mid-1930s, the IWW's Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union (MTWIU), proved a force to be reckoned with and competed with AFL unions for ascendance in the industry. Given the union's commitment to international solidarity, its efforts and success in the field come as no surprise. Local 8 of the Marine Transport Workers was led by Ben Fletcher, who organized predominantly African-American longshoremen on the Philadelphia and Baltimore waterfronts, but other leaders included the Swiss immigrant Walter Nef, Jack Walsh, E.F. Doree, and the Spanish sailor Manuel Rey. The IWW also had a presence among waterfront workers in Boston, New York City, New Orleans, Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Eureka, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver as well as in ports in the Caribbean, Mexico, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and other nations. IWW members played a role in the 1934 San Francisco general strike and the other organizing efforts by rank-and-filers within the International Longshoremen's Association up and down the West Coast.
Wobblies also played a role in the sit-down strikes and other organizing efforts by the United Auto Workers in the 1930s, particularly in Detroit, though they never established a strong union presence there.
Where the IWW did win strikes, such as in Lawrence, they often found it hard to hold onto their gains. The IWW of 1912 disdained collective bargaining agreements and preached instead the need for constant struggle against the boss on the shop floor. It proved difficult, however, to maintain that sort of revolutionary enthusiasm against employers. In Lawrence, the IWW lost nearly all of its membership in the years after the strike, as the employers wore down their employees' resistance and eliminated many of the strongest union supporters. In 1938, the IWW voted to allow contracts with employers, so long as they would not undermine any strike.
The IWW's efforts were met with "unparalleled" resistance from Federal, state and local governments in America; from company management and labor spies, and from groups of citizens functioning as vigilantes. In 1914, Wobbly Joe Hill (born Joel Hägglund) was accused of murder in Utah and, despite only circumstantial evidence, was executed in 1915. On November 5, 1916 at Everett, Washington a group of deputized businessmen led by Sheriff Donald McRae attacked Wobblies on the steamer Verona, killing at least five union members  (six more were never accounted for and probably were lost in Puget Sound). Two members of the police force — one a regular officer and another a deputized citizen from the National Guard Reserve — were killed, probably by "friendly fire". At least five Everett civilians were wounded.
Many IWW members opposed United States participation in World War I. The organization passed a resolution against the war at its convention in November 1916. This echoed the view, expressed at the IWW's founding convention, that war represents struggles among capitalists in which the rich become richer, and the working poor all too often die at the hands of other workers.
An IWW newspaper, the Industrial Worker, wrote just before the U.S. declaration of war: "Capitalists of America, we will fight against you, not for you! There is not a power in the world that can make the working class fight if they refuse." Yet when a declaration of war was passed by the U.S. Congress in April 1917, the IWW's general secretary-treasurer Bill Haywood became determined that the organization should adopt a low profile in order to avoid perceived threats to its existence. The printing of anti-war stickers was discontinued, stockpiles of existing anti-war documents were put into storage, and anti-war propagandizing ceased as official union policy. After much debate on the General Executive Board, with Haywood advocating a low profile and GEB member Frank Little championing continued agitation, Ralph Chaplin brokered a compromise agreement. A statement was issued that denounced the war, but IWW members were advised to channel their opposition through the legal mechanisms of conscription. They were advised to register for the draft, marking their claims for exemption "IWW, opposed to war."
In spite of the IWW moderating its vocal opposition, the IWW's antiwar stance made it highly unpopular. Frank Little, the IWW's most outspoken war opponent, was lynched in Butte, Montana in August 1917, just four months after war had been declared.
During World War I the U.S. government moved strongly against the IWW. On September 5, 1917, U.S. Department of Justice agents made simultaneous raids on dozens of IWW meeting halls across the country. Minutes books, correspondence, mailing lists, and publications were seized, with the U.S. Department of Justice removing five tons of material from the IWW's General Office in Chicago alone. This seized material was scoured for possible violations of the Espionage Act of 1917 and other laws, with a view to future prosecution of the organization's leaders, organizers, and key activists.
Based in large measure on the documents seized September 5, one hundred and sixty-six IWW leaders were indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in Chicago for conspiring to hinder the draft, encourage desertion, and intimidate others in connection with labor disputes, under the new Espionage Act. One hundred and one went on trial en masse before Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis in 1918. They were all convicted — including those who had not been members of the union for years — and given prison terms of up to twenty years. Sentenced to prison by Judge Landis and released on bail, Haywood fled to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic where he remained until his death.
In 1917, during an incident known as the Tulsa Outrage, a group of black-robed Knights of Liberty, a short-lived faction of the Ku Klux Klan, tarred and feathered seventeen members of the IWW in Oklahoma. The IWW members had been turned over to the Knights of Liberty by local authorities after they were convicted of the crime of not owning war bonds. Five other men who testified in defense of the Wobblies were also fined by the court and subjected to the same torture and humiliations at the hands of the Knights of Liberty.
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A wave of such incitement led to vigilante mobs attacking the IWW in many places, and after the war the repression continued. In Centralia, Washington on November 11, 1919, IWW member and army veteran Wesley Everest was turned over to the lynch mob by jail guards and lynched. Although a myth was created six months after the events that Everest was castrated, the historical record does not support it.
Members of the IWW were prosecuted under various State and federal laws and the 1920 Palmer Raids singled out the foreign-born members of the organization.
Organizational schism and afterwards
By the mid-1920s membership was already declining due to government repression and it decreased again substantially during a contentious organizational schism in 1924 when the organization split between the "Westerners" and the "Easterners" over a number of issues, including the role of the General Administration (often oversimplified as a struggle between "centralists" and "decentralists") and attempts by the Communist Party to dominate the organization. By 1930 membership was down to around 10,000.
At the beginning of the 1949 Smith Act trials, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was disappointed when prosecutors indicted fewer CPUSA members than he had hoped, and – recalling the arrests and convictions of over one hundred IWW leaders in 1917 – complained to the Justice Department, stating, "the IWW was crushed and never revived, similar action at this time would have been as effective against the Communist Party."
Activity after World War II
The Wobblies continued to organize workers and were a major presence in the metal shops of Cleveland, Ohio until the 1950s. After the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1946 by Congress, which called for the removal of Communist union leadership, the IWW experienced a loss of membership as differences of opinion occurred over how to respond to the challenge. In 1949, US Attorney General Tom C. Clark placed the IWW on the Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations in the category of "organizations seeking to change the government by unconstitutional means" under Executive Order 9835, which offered no means of appeal, and which excluded all IWW members from Federal employment and federally subsidized housing programs (this order was revoked by Executive Order 10450 in 1953). The Cleveland IWW metal and machine workers wound up leaving the union, resulting in a major decline in membership once again.
The IWW membership fell to its lowest level in the 1950s during the Second Red Scare. In 1955, the IWW was listed by the US government as one of many Communist-led groups.
The 1960s Civil Rights Movement, anti-war protests, and various university student movements brought new life to the IWW, albeit with many fewer new members than the great organizing drives of the early part of the 20th century.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, the IWW had various small organizing drives. Membership included a number of cooperatively owned and collectively run enterprises especially in the printing industry: Black & Red (Detroit), Lakeside (Madison, Wisconsin), and Harbinger (Columbia, South Carolina). The University Cellar, a non-profit campus bookstore formed by University of Michigan students, was for several years the largest organized IWW shop with about 100 workers. Ann Arbor was also home to the Peoples Wherehouse which was believed to be the largest shop at the time (1980s).
In the 1960s, Rebel Worker was published in Chicago by the surrealists Franklin and Penelope Rosemont. One edition was published in London with Charles Radcliffe who went on to become involved with the Situationist International. By the 1980s, the "Rebel Worker" was being published as an official organ again, from the IWW's headquarters in Chicago, and the New York area was publishing a newsletter as well; a record album of Wobbly music, "Rebel Voices", was also released.
In May 1972 at Long Beach, California, workers affiliated with the IWW walked off the job at Park International Corporation (a manufacturer of plastic swimming pool filters) after the firing of one worker for union-related activities.
IWW organizing drives in recent years have included a major campaign to organize Borders Books in 1996, a strike at the Lincoln Park Mini Mart in Seattle that same year, organizing drives at Wherehouse Music, Keystone Job Corps, the community organization ACORN, various homeless and youth centers in Portland, Oregon, sex industry workers, and recycling shops in Berkeley, California. IWW members have been active in the building trades, marine transport, ship yards, high tech industries, hotels and restaurants, public interest organizations, schools and universities, recycling centers, railroads, bike messengers, and lumber yards.
The IWW has stepped in several times to help the rank and file in mainstream unions, including saw mill workers in Fort Bragg in California in 1989, concession stand workers in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1990s, and most recently at shipyards along the Mississippi River.
In the early 2000s, the IWW organized Stonemountain and Daughter Fabrics, a fabric shop in Berkeley, California. The shop continues to remain an IWW organized shop.
The city of Berkeley's recycling is picked up, sorted, processed and sent out all through two different IWW-organized enterprises.
In 2003, the IWW began organizing street people and other non-traditional occupations with the formation of the Ottawa Panhandlers Union. A year later, the Panhandlers Union led a strike by the homeless. Negotiations with the city resulted in the city government promising to fund a newspaper written and sold by the homeless.
Between 2003 and 2006, the IWW organized unions at food co-operatives in Seattle, Washington and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The IWW represents administrative and maintenance workers under contract in Seattle, while the union in Pittsburgh lost 22-21 in an NLRB election, only to have the results invalidated in late 2006, based on management's behavior before the election.
In Chicago the IWW began an effort to organize bicycle messengers with some success.
In September 2004, IWW-organized short haul truck drivers in Stockton, California walked off their jobs and went on a strike. Nearly all demands were met. Despite early victories in Stockton, the truck driver union ceased to exist in mid-2005.
In New York City, the IWW has been organizing immigrant foodstuffs workers since 2005. That summer, workers from Handyfat Trading joined the IWW, and were soon followed by workers from four more warehouses. Workers at these warehouses made gains such as receiving the minimum wage and being paid overtime.
In 2006, the IWW moved its headquarters to Cincinnati, Ohio, and in 2010, headquarters was moved back to Chicago, Illinois.
Also in 2006, the IWW Bay Area Branch organized the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas. The Union has been negotiating for a contract and hopes to gain one through workplace democracy and organizing directly and taking action when necessary.
In May 2007, the NYC warehouse workers came together with the Starbucks Workers Union to form The Food and Allied Workers Union IU 460/640. In the summer of 2007, the IWW organized workers at two new warehouses: Flaum Appetizing, a Kosher food distributor, and Wild Edibles, a seafood company. Over the course of 2007–08, workers at both shops were illegally terminated for their union activity. In 2008, the workers at Wild Edibles actively fought to get their jobs back and to secure overtime pay owed to them by the boss. In a workplace justice campaign called Focus on the Food Chain, carried out jointly with Brandworkers International, the IWW workers won settlements against employers including Pur Pac, Flaum Appetizing and Wild Edibles.
Besides IWW's traditional practice of organizing industrially, the Union has been open to new methods such as organizing geographically: for instance, seeking to organize retail workers in a certain business district, as in Philadelphia.
The union has also participated in such worker-related issues as protesting involvement in the war in Iraq, opposing sweatshops and supporting a boycott of Coca Cola for that company's alleged support of the suppression of workers rights in Colombia.
On July 5, 2008, the Grand Rapids, Michigan, Starbucks Workers Union and CNT-AIT in Seville, Spain, organized a global day of action against alleged Starbucks union busting, in particular the firing of two union members in Grand Rapids and Seville. According to the Grand Rapids Starbucks Workers Union website, pickets were held in several dozen cities in more than a dozen countries.
The Portland, Oregon General Membership Branch is one of the largest and most active branches of the IWW currently. The branch holds three contracts currently, two with Janus Youth Programs and one with Portland Women's Crisis Line. There has been some debate within the branch about whether or not union contracts such as this are desirable in the long run, with some members favoring solidarity unionism as opposed to contract unionism and some members believing there is room for both strategies for organizing. The branch has successfully supported workers wrongfully fired from several different workplaces in the last two years. Due to picketing by Wobblies, these workers have received significant compensation from their former employers. Branch membership has been increasing, as has shop organizing. As of 2005, the 100th anniversary of its founding, the IWW had around 5,000 members, compared to 13 million members in the AFL-CIO. Other IWW branches are located in Australia, Austria, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Uganda and the United Kingdom.
2011 Wisconsin General Strike
In early 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced a budget bill which the IWW held would effectively outlaw unions for state or municipal workers. In response, there was an emergency meeting of the Midwestern IWW member organizations. The participants decided that organizing a general strike was an absolute priority. IWW members presented a proposal at a meeting of South-Central Federation of Labor (SCFL) which would endorse a general strike and create an ad-hoc Committee to instruct affiliated locals in preparations for the general strike. The IWW proposal passed nearly unanimously. The Madison branch made an international appeal translating various materials concerning the strike into Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Additionally, an appeal was made to European unions (CNT - Spain, CGT - Spain and CGT - France) to send organizers to Madison who could present their experience of general strikes at union meetings and help organize the strike in other ways. The CNT (France) sent letters of solidarity to the IWW. There was no IWW organised general strike and it was called by the IWW as 'The General Strike that didn't happen'
Outside the US
Australia encountered the IWW tradition early. In part this was due to the local De Leonist SLP following the industrial turn of the US SLP. The SLP formed an IWW Club in Sydney in October 1907. Members of other socialist groups also joined it, and the special relationship with the SLP soon proved to be a problem. The 1908 split between the Chicago and Detroit factions in the United States was echoed by internal unrest in the Australian IWW from late 1908, resulting in the formation of a pro-Chicago local in Adelaide in May 1911 and another in Sydney six months later. By mid-1913 the "Chicago" IWW was flourishing and the SLP-associated pro-Detroit IWW Club in decline. In 1916 the "Detroit" IWW in Australia followed the lead of the US body and renamed itself the Workers' International Industrial Union.
The early Australian IWW used a number of tactics from the US, including free speech fights. However, there early appeared significant differences of practice between the Australian IWW and its US parent; the Australian IWW tended to co-operate where possible with existing unions rather than forming its own, and in contrast with the US body took an extremely open and forthright stand against involvement in World War One. The IWW cooperated with many other unions, encouraging industrial unionism and militancy. In particular, the IWW's strategies had a large effect on the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union. The AMIEU established closed shops and workers councils and effectively regulated management behaviour toward the end of the 1910s.
The IWW was well known for opposing the First World War from 1914 onwards, and in many ways was at the front of the anti-conscription fight. A narrow majority of Australians voted against conscription in a very bitter hard-fought referendum in October 1916, and then again in December 1917, Australia being the only belligerent in World War One without conscription. In very significant part this was due to the agitation of the IWW, a group which probably never had as many as 500 members in Australia at its peak. The IWW founded the Anti-Conscription League (ACL) in which IWW members worked with the broader labour and peace movement, and also carried on an aggressive propaganda campaign in its own name; leading to the imprisonment of Tom Barker (1887–1970) the editor of the IWW paper Direct Action, sentenced to twelve months in March 1916. A series of arson attacks on commercial properties in Sydney was widely attributed to the IWW campaign to have Tom Barker released. He was indeed released in August 1916, but twelve mostly prominent IWW activists, the so-called Sydney Twelve were arrested in NSW in September 1916 for arson and other offences. (Their trial and eventual imprisonment would become a cause célèbre of the Australian labour movement on the basis that there was no convincing evidence that any of them had been involved in the arson attacks.) A number of other scandals were associated with the IWW, a five-pound note forgery scandal, the so-called Tottenham tragedy in which the murder of a police officer was blamed on the IWW, and above all the IWW was blamed for the defeat of the October 1916 conscription referendum. In December 1916 the Commonwealth government led by Labour Party renegade Billy Hughes declared the IWW an illegal organization under the Unlawful Associations Act. Eighty six IWW members immediately defied the law and were sentenced to six months imprisonment, this was certainly a high percentage of the Australian IWW's active membership but it is not known how high. Direct Action was suppressed, its circulation was at its peak of something over 12,000. During the war over 100 IWW members Australia-wide were sentenced to imprisonment on political charges, including the veteran activist and icon of the labour, socialist and anarchist movements Monty Miller.
The IWW continued illegally operating with the aim of freeing its class war prisoners and briefly fused with two other radical tendencies – from the old Socialist parties and Trades Halls – to form a larval communist party at the suggestion of the militant revolutionist and Council Communist Adela Pankhurst. The IWW, however, left the CPA shortly after its formation.
By the 1930s the IWW in Australia had declined significantly, and took part in unemployed workers movements which were led largely by the CPA. The poet Harry Hooton became involved with it around this time. In 1939 the Australian IWW had four members, according to surveillance by government authorities, and these members were consistently opposed to the Second World War. After the Second World War, the IWW would become one of the influences on the Sydney Libertarians who were in turn a significant cultural and political influence
Today the IWW still exists in Australia, in larger numbers than the 1940s, but due to the nature of the Australian industrial relations system, it is unlikely to win union representation in any workplaces in the immediate future. More significant is its continuing place in the mythology of the militant end of the Australian labour movement. As an extreme example of the integration of ex-IWW militants into the mainstream labour movement one might instance the career of Donald Grant, one of the Sydney Twelve sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment for conspiracy to commit arson and other crimes. Released unbowed from prison in August 1920 he would soon break with the IWW over its anti-political stand, standing for the NSW Parliament for the Industrial Socialist Labour Party unsuccessfully in 1922 and then in 1925 for the mainstream Australian Labor Party (ALP) also unsuccessfully. But this reconciliation with the ALP and the electoral system did not prevent him being imprisoned again in 1927 for street demonstrations supporting Sacco and Vanzetti. He would eventually represent the ALP in the NSW Legislative Council in 1931–1940 and the Australian Senate 1943–1956. No other member of the Australian IWW actually entered Parliament but Grant's career is emblematic in the sense that the ex-IWW militants by and large remained in the broader labour movement, bringing some greater or lesser part of their heritage with them.
"Bump Me Into Parliament" is the most notable Australian IWW song, and is still current. It was written by ship's fireman William "Bill" Casey, later Secretary of the Seaman's Union in Queensland.
The IWW was active in Canada from a very early point in the organization's history, especially in Western Canada, primarily in British Columbia. The union was active in organizing large swaths of the lumber and mining industry along the coast, in the Interior of BC, and Vancouver Island. Joe Hill wrote the song "Where the Fraser River Flows" during this period when the IWW was organizing in British Columbia. Some members of the IWW had relatively close links with the Socialist Party of Canada.
Arthur "Slim" Evans, organizer in the Relief Camp Workers' Union and the On-to-Ottawa Trek was once a Wobbly, although during the On-to-Ottawa Trek he was with the One Big Union. He was also a friend of another well-known Canadian, Ginger Goodwin, who was shot in Cumberland, British Columbia by a Dominion Police constable when he was resisting the First World War. The impact of Ginger Goodwin influenced various left and progressive groups in Canada, including a progressive group of MPs in the House of Commons called the Ginger Group.
Today the IWW remains active in the country with numerous branches in Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa & Outaouais, Toronto, Windsor, Sherbrooke Quebec City and Montréal. The largest branch is currently in Montréal. In August 2009, Canadian members voted to ratify the constitution of the Canadian Regional Organizing Committee (CANROC) to improve inter-branch coordination and communication. Affiliated branches are Winnipeg, Ottawa-Outaouais, Toronto, Windsor, Sherbrooke, Montréal and Quebec City. Each branch elects a representative to make decisions on the Canadian board. There are three officers, the Secretary-Treasurer, Organizing Department Liaison, and Editor of the Canadian Organizing Bulletin. Officers have voice, but no vote.
There are currently four job shops in Canada: Libra Knowledge and Information Services Co-op in Toronto, ParIT Workers Cooperative in Winnipeg, the Windsor Button Collective, and the Ottawa Panhandlers' Union. The Ottawa Panhandlers' Union continues a tradition in the IWW of expanding the definition of worker. The union members include anyone who makes their living in the street, including buskers, street vendors, or panhandlers. In the summer of 2004, the Union led strike by the Homeless (the Homeless Action Strike) in Ottawa. The strike resulted in the city agreeing to fund a newspaper created and sold by the Homeless on the street. On May 1, 2006, the Union took over the Elgin Street Police Station for a day. A similar IWW organization, the Street Labourers of Windsor (SLOW), has garnered local, provincial and national news coverage for its organizing efforts in 2015.
Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria
A German Language Membership Regional Organizing Committee (GLAMROC) was founded in December 2006 in Cologne. It encompasses the German-language area of Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, and Switzerland with branches or contacts in 16 cities.
The British Advocates of Industrial Unionism, founded in 1906, supported the IWW. This group split in 1908, with the majority supporting Daniel De Leon and a minority around E. J. B. Allen founding the Industrialist Union and developing links with the Chicago-based IWW. Allen's group soon disappeared, but the first IWW group in Britain was founded by members of the Industrial Syndicalist Education League around Guy Bowman in 1913.
The IWW was present to varying extents in many of the struggles in the early decades of the 20th century, including the UK General Strike of 1926, and the dockers' strike of 1947. A Neath Wobbly who had been active in Mexico trained volunteers who went to the International Brigade to fight against Franco but did not return.
Between 2001 and 2003, there was a marked increase in UK membership, with the creation of the Hull General Membership Branch. During this time the Hull branch had 27 members of good standing, being at that time the largest branch outside of the United States. By 2005, there were around 100 members in the United Kingdom. For the IWW's centenary, a stone was laid (51°41'598N 4°17.135W Geocacher), in a public access forest in Wales, commemorating the centenary of the union. As well, Sequoias were planted as a memorial to US IWW and Earth First! activist Judi Bari. 2006 saw the IWW formally registered by the UK government as a recognised trade union.
The IWW currently has a presence in several major urban areas as well as regional centres, with chartered branches in London, Glasgow (Clydeside GMB), Bradford, Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Reading, Sheffield, in the Tyne and Wear and West Midlands areas, and most recently in Wales.
IWW members were involved in the Liverpool dockers' strike that took place between 1995 and 1998, and numerous other events and struggles throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including the successful unionising of several workplaces, such as support workers for the Scottish Socialist Party.
Recently, the IWW has focused its efforts on health and education workers, publishing a national industrial newsletter for health workers and a specific bulletin for workers in the National Blood Service. In 2007 it launched a campaign alongside the anti-capitalist group No Sweat which attempted to replicate some of the successes of the US IWW's organising drives amongst Starbucks workers. In the same year its health-workers' network launched a national campaign against cuts in the National Blood Service, which is ongoing.
Also in 2007, IWW branches in Glasgow and Dumfries were a key driving force in a successful campaign to prevent the closure of one of Glasgow University's campuses, (The Crichton) in Dumfries. The campaign united IWW members, other unions, students and the local community to build a powerful coalition. Its success, coupled with the National Blood Service campaign, has raised the IWW's profile significantly since then.
In 2011, the IWW representing cleaners at the Guildhall won back-pay and the right to collective negotiation with their employers, Ocean. Also in 2011, branches of the IWW were set up in Lincoln, Manchester and Sheffield (notably workers employed by Pizza Hut).
Regional Organizing Committees have also been formed in Iceland and Greece.
The recent (2012) meeting of fellow workers in Uganda to form a Regional Organizational Committee (ROC) was a landmark in the history of the IWW." This branch has since been found to be organised contrary to many of the founding principles of the IWW, for example including bosses in its ranks, something the union has always been against.
A branch of the IWW has exited since 2012.
Folk music and protest songs
One Wobbly characteristic since their inception has been a penchant for song. To counteract management sending in the Salvation Army band to cover up the Wobbly speakers, Joe Hill wrote parodies of Christian hymns so that union members could sing along with the Salvation Army band, but with their own purposes. For example, "In the Sweet By and By" became "There'll Be Pie in the Sky When You Die (That's a Lie)". From that start in exigency, Wobbly song writing became common because they "articulated the frustrations, hostilities, and humor of the homeless and the dispossessed." The IWW collected its official songs in the Little Red Songbook and continues to update this book to the present time. In the 1960s, the American folk music revival in the United States brought a renewed interest in the songs of Joe Hill and other Wobblies, and seminal folk revival figures such as Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie had a pro-Wobbly tone, while some were members of the IWW. Among the protest songs in the book are "Hallelujah, I'm a Bum" (this song was never popular among members), "Union Maid", and "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night". Perhaps the best known IWW song is "Solidarity Forever". The songs have been performed by dozens of artists, and Utah Phillips performed the songs in concert and on recordings for decades. Other prominent IWW songwriters include Ralph Chaplin who authored "Solidarity Forever", and Leslie Fish.
The Finnish IWW community produced several folk singers, poets and songwriters, the most famous being Matti Valentine Huhta (better known as T-Bone Slim), who penned "The Popular Wobbly" and "The Mysteries of a Hobo's Life". Slim's poem, "The Lumberjack's Prayer" was recorded by Studs Terkel on labor singer Bucky Halker's Don't Want Your Millions. Hiski Salomaa, whose songs were composed entirely in Finnish (and Finglish), remains a widely recognized early folk musician in his native Finland as well as in sections of the Midwest United States, Northern Ontario, and other areas of North America with high concentrations of Finns. Salomaa, who was a tailor by trade, has been referred to as the Finnish Woody Guthrie. Arthur Kylander, who worked as a lumberjack, is a lesser known, but important Finnish I.W.W. folk musician. Kylander's lyrics range from the difficulties of the immigrant labourer's experience to more humorous themes. Arguably, the wanderer, a recurring theme in Finnish folklore dating back to pre-Christian oral tradition (as with Lemminkäinen in the Kalevala), translated quite easily to the music of Huhta, Salomaa, and Kylander; each of whom have songs about the trials and tribulations of the hobo.
Wobbly lingo is a collection of technical language, jargon, and historic slang used the Wobblies, for more than a century. Many Wobbly terms derive from or are coextensive with hobo expressions used through the 1940s. The origin of the name "Wobbly" itself is uncertain. For several decades, many hobos in the United States were members of, or were sympathetic to, the IWW. Because of this, some of the terms describe the life of a hobo such as "riding the rails", living in "jungles", dodging the "bulls". The IWW's efforts to organize all trades allowed the lingo to expand to include terms relating to mining camps, timber work, and farming.
Some words and phrases believed to have originated within Wobbly lingo have gained cultural significance outside of the IWW. For example, from Joe Hill's song "The Preacher and the Slave", the expression pie in the sky has passed into common usage, referring to a "preposterously optimistic goal."
Notable members of the Industrial Workers of the World have included:
Former lieutenant governor of Colorado, David C. Coates was a labor militant, and was present at the founding convention, although it is unknown if he became a member. It has long been rumored, but not yet proven, that baseball legend Honus Wagner was also a Wobbly. Senator Joe McCarthy accused Edward R. Murrow of having been an IWW member, which Murrow denied. Some of the organization's most famous current members include Noam Chomsky, Tom Morello, mixed martial arts fighter Jeff Monson and anthropologist David Graeber.
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- Industrial Workers of the World Photograph Collection. Circa 1910's-1940's. 121 Photographs (2 boxes); varying sizes.
- John Leonard Miller Papers. 1923–1986. circa 3.75 cubic feet plus 2 sound cassettes.
- Eugene Barnett Oral History Collection. 1940–1961. .21 cubic feet (1 box), 3 sound cassettes (154 min.), 1 transcript (24 pages).
- Pacific Northwest Labor History Association Records. 1971–1995. 1.83 cubic feet (3 boxes).
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- Tyler, Robert (1967). Rebels of the Woods: The I. W. W. in the Pacific Northwest. Eugene, OR: University of Oregon Press.
- The Wobblies. Directed by Stewart Bird, Deborah Shaffer, 1979. DVD 2006 NTSC English 90 minutes. (Includes interviews with 19 elderly Wobblies)
- An Injury to One. A Film by Travis Wilkerson, 2003 First Run Icarus Films. English 53 minutes. Chronicles the 1917 unsolved murder of Wobbly organizer Frank Little in Butte, Montana, during a strike by 16,000 miners against the Anaconda Copper Company. The film connects "corporate domination to government repression, local repression to national repression, labor history to environmental history, popular culture to the history of class struggle," according to one review.
- For the Win by Cory Doctorow introduces a nascent union of Internet workers called the IWWWW or Webblies, inspired by the IWW Wobblies. True to the IWW concept of share and share alike, this book is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Industrial Workers of the World.|
- Official website
- International Directory of regional and local branches
- Brief History/Timeline 1905-1920 of the IWW
- IWW Strikes, Campaigns, Arrests 1906-1920 (maps)
- IWW Local Unions 1906-1917 (maps)
- IWW Newspapers 1906-1946 (maps)
- IWW Starbucks Workers Union
- IWW Jimmy John's Workers Union
- IWW Sisters' Camelot Canvassers Union
- NYC IWW Newsletter
- Jim Crutchfield's IWW Page current and historical documents
- Paul Buhle, "The Legacy of the IWW", Monthly Review
- Staughton Lynd, "The Wobblies in Their Heyday, a Hard-headed History of the IWW", Monthly Review Magazine
- Songs of the workers to fan the flames of discontent The famous "little red songbook" 32nd ed. April 1968
- Songs of the Wobblies: 1954 LP
- Strikes! Labor History Encyclopedia for the Pacific Northwest, a collection of resources on IWW activity in the region, including their role in the 1919 Seattle General Strike and farm worker organizing in the early 1900s.
- Interview with British Wobblies, autrefutur.net, 2013.
- My Whole Foods nightmare: How a full-time job there left me in poverty. Nick Rahaim, Salon.com, December 8, 2014.
- Why a D.C. bike shop is joining a radical socialist union. The Washington Post. March 5, 2015.
- The radical IWW - "Wobblies" - gaining strength in Oklahoma after an absence of nearly a century. Red Dirt Report, April 3, 2015.
- Yoshie Furuhashi. "Peter Rachleff, "An Injury to One: A Film by Travis Wilkerson"". Mrzine.monthlyreview.org. Retrieved 2009-08-20.