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Industrial Workers of the World
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies) is an international union currently headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. At its peak in 1923 the organization claimed some 100,000 members in good standing, and could marshal the support of perhaps 300,000 workers. Its membership declined dramatically after a 1924 split brought on by internal conflict and government repression. Today it is actively organizing and numbers around 3,000 members in good standing worldwide. IWW membership does not require that one work in a represented workplace, nor does it exclude membership in another labor union.
The IWW contends that all workers should be united within a single union as a class and that the wage system should be abolished. They may be best known for the Wobbly Shop model of workplace democracy, in which workers elect recallable delegates, and other norms of grassroots democracy (self-management) are implemented.
The origin of the nickname "Wobblies" is uncertain.
- 1 History of the IWW 1905-1950
- 2 Activity after World War II
- 3 The IWW outside the US
- 4 Folk music and protest songs
- 5 IWW lingo
- 6 Notable members
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
History of the IWW 1905-1950
The IWW was founded in Chicago in June 1905 at a convention of two hundred socialists, anarchists, and 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).June 27, 1905, was then referred to as the "Industrial Congress" or the "Industrial Union Convention"â€”it would later be known as the First Annual Convention of the IWW. It is considered one of the most important events in the history of industrial unionism and of the American labor movement in general.
The IWW's first organizers included Big Bill Haywood, Daniel De Leon, Eugene V. Debs, Thomas J Hagerty, Lucy Parsons, Mary Harris Jones (commonly known as "Mother Jones"), 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 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 also was organizing according to narrow craft principles which divided groups of workers. 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. ... 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 Wobblies differed from other union movements of the time by its 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. This manifested itself in the early IWW's consistent refusal to sign contracts, which they felt would restrict the only true power that workers possessed: the power to strike. 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, and African Americans into the same organization. Indeed, many of its early members were immigrants, and some, like Carlo Tresca, Joe Hill and Mary Jones, 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 out of Duluth, Minnesota, 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 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 the African American Ben Fletcher, Local 8 had over 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 others.
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 further militancy.
Political action or direct action?
Like many leftist organizations of the era, the IWW soon split over policy. In 1908 a group led by Daniel DeLeon argued that political action through DeLeon's Socialist Labor Party 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.
The IWW first attracted attention in Goldfield, Nevada in 1906 and during the strike of the Pressed Steel Car Company at McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania in 1909. 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.