Wobblies (HUM225)

First Move: A Thought Experiment

Let’s try a little counter-factual history. Imagine that because of some unexpected circumstance the Confederate States of America won the Civil War. We could posit any number of possible scenarios: a train of misfortunes for the Union Army after a crippling victory by Lee at Antietam, the intervention of Great Britain at the behest of the South, a sudden storm in the Atlantic destroying the Union fleet, etc. Whatever the case, the South has won. The US sues for peace and the CSA is now a nation unto itself. Gradually, diplomatic ties are established. Slavery continues for the indefinite future. Given this scenario, would it be fair to say that the abolitionist movement had failed?

2nd Move: The Dialectic of the Affect of Revolution

Maybe this won’t work for you, try listening to Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” as a way of getting inside the affect of revolution:

Now, listen to Billy Bragg’s version of Joe Hill’s classic song “There is Power in a Union”:

The impulse to revolution, I want to argue, springs from the tension between what Malcolm X once called “the gift of anger” and what another revolutionary from the same era described as “great feelings of love.”

Above: the Sabcat, designed by Ralph Chaplin, symbolizing the wildcat strike.
The Industrial Workers of the World, founded in 1905 at what Big Bill Haywood called “the Continental Congress of the working class,” was an industrial union committed to the overthrow of capitalism. Notable for its strikes in Lawrence, Paterson and McKees Rocks, among many other places, the IWW constituted a radical challenge to economic hierarchy in the United States. What follows are key concepts and events which will tell us something about the IWW and the world that produced it.
“We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working-class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism. There is no organization, or there seems to be no labor organization, that that has for its purpose the same object as that for which you are called together to-day. The aims and objects of this organization shall be to put the working-class in possession of the economic power, the means of life, in control of the machinery of production and distribution, without regard to capitalist masters.”
— William “Big Bill” Haywood, opening remarks at the IWW’s founding convention (1905)
“The IWW’s affirm as a fundamental principle that the creators of wealth are entitled to all they create. Thus they find themselves pitted against the whole profit-making system. They declare that there can be no compromise so long as the majority of the working class lives in want while the master class lives in luxury. They insist that there can be no peace until the workers organize as a class, take possession of the resources of the earth and the machinery of production and distribution and abolish the wage system. In other words, the workers in their collectivity must own and operate all the essential industrial institutions and secure to each laborer the full value of his product.
“It is for these principles, this declaration of class solidarity, that the IWWs are being persecuted, beaten, imprisoned, murdered. If the capitalist class had the sense it is reputed to have, it would know that violence is the worst weapon that can be used against men who have nothing to lose and the world to gain.”
— Helen Keller, “What is the IWW?” (1918)
“My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out an starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production….”
— Lucy Gonzales Parsons (1905)
Preamble to the IWW constitution (1905):

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.


What is Industrial Unionism?

“THE term Industrial Unionism is used to express a modern form of labor organization whose jurisdiction is not confined to any particular trade or craft, but is co-extensive with the industrial development, and embraces the entire working class. Industrial unionism is the outgrowth of trade unionism and expresses the highest form of industrial organization the working class has yet attained. As its name implies this form of unionism contemplates the organization of industries in their entirety, uniting all employees within the same economic body….”

— Eugene V. Debs (1909)

What is syndicalism?

“Syndicalism was a movement committed to destroying capitalism through revolutionary industrial struggle. Parliamentary democracy and working for reforms through the state were rejected as dead ends. Syndicalists instead looked to the power of the working class as exercised through its economic organisations, the trade unions.

Important differences existed on this question. Most European syndicalists saw their task as the conversion of existing unions to a revolutionary position [a position the Wobblies termed ‘boring from within’], while Americans. particularly those influenced by the ideas of Daniel de Leon, believed It was necessary to create new unions [and ultimately, according to the IWW, ‘One Big Union’– also known as ‘dual unionism’]. But all saw the main task as uniting the working class as a whole across racial, craft and sectional divisions. The road to the emancipation of the working class, they said, lay through direct action, solidarity, and finally the general strike which would lead to the working class seizing the means of production.”

— Phil Taylor (1987)

What is direct action?

“It is the action labor takes when it fights in the direct, natural way and that which brings greatest results. When workers rebel on the job and slow down or cease work until their grievances are redressed–that is direct action. When workers, united as a class, conduct a general strike to defend their interests–that is direct action” (iww.org).

“Direct action means industrial action directly by, for, and of the workers themselves, without the treacherous aid of labor misleaders or scheming politicians. A strike that is initiated, controlled, and settled by the workers directly affected is direct action. . .. Direct action is industrial democracy” (quoted in Zinn. from an issue of the Industrial Worker?).

Defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law was a form of direct action. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. Nat Turner’s uprising. Sit down strikes. Whenever a group chooses to circumvent institutions or mechanisms in order to intervene in a situation (political, social, economic) immediately.

What is a General Strike?

“The General Strike, as its name implies, must be a revolutionary or class strike instead of a strike for amelioration of conditions. It must be designed to abolish private ownership of the means of life and to supplant it with social ownership. It must be a strike, not of a few local, industrial or national groupings of workers but of the industrial workers of the world as an entity. If we keep in mind that there are four phases of the General Strike it will help to understand clearly what we mean by using the term:

  • A General Strike in a community.
  • A General Strike in an Industry.
  • A national General Strike.
  • A revolutionary or class strike– THE General Strike.”

— Ralph Chaplin (1933)

What is Syndicalism/ Anarcho-syndicalism?

Syndicalisme (French)= “trade unionism”

“A movement among industrial workers having as its object the transfer of the means of production and distribution from their present owners to unions of workers for the benefit of the workers, the method generally favoured for the accomplishment of this being the general strike” (OED).

“The fundamental difference between Syndicalism and old trade methods is this: while the old trade unions, without exception, move within the wage system and capitalism, recognizing the latter as inevitable, Syndicalism repudiates and condemns present industrial arrangements as unjust and criminal, and holds out no hope to the worker for lasting results from this system.”

— Emma Goldman (1913)

What is “strike on the job”?

“The ‘strike on the job’ would usually come when the formal strike seemed lost. Then the Wobblies returned to work, abruptly ending their formal strike. Announcing that they were ‘taking the strike to the job,’ they continued to harry the employers and to restrict production. They would follow foremen’s order to ludicrous, work-stoppage extremes or stand idle when minor decisions were required. Fired for these dilatory tactics, the Wobblies moved to other jobs and repeated their tactics.”

— Philip S. Foner (1980)

What is sabotage?

“Sabotage means primarily: the withdrawal of efficiency. Sabotage means either to slacken up and interfere with the quantity, or to botch in your skill and interfere with the quality, of capitalist production or to give poor service. Sabotage is not physical violence, sabotage is an internal, industrial process. It is something that is fought out within the four walls of the shop. And these three forms of sabotage — to affect the quality, the quantity and the service are aimed at affecting the profit of the employer. Sabotage is a means of striking at the employer’s profit for the purpose of forcing him into granting certain conditions, even as workingmen strike for the same purpose of coercing him. It is simply another form of coercion.”

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn “Sabotage” (1916)

This pamphlet, based on a speech by Flynn, was later withdrawn from the IWW”s official literature at her request. In her autobiography, Rebel Girl, Flynn writes,

“Many of the practices I referred to in this pamphlet were not ‘sabotage’ at all, but simply old-fashioned working class practices from time immemorial– such as the Scots system of “ca’ canny’ or slowdown on the job. Another was the ‘Open Mouth’ practice of workers in restaurants, stores, etc., telling the customer the exact truth about the quality of foods or goods…. [I]n Paterson in 1912 we discovered that the silk was unwound from the cocoons, worked into skeins and then dyed after a preliminary process of weighting. This business was picturesquely called ‘dynamiting’– loading with adulterants of tin, zinc and lead. One pound of pure silk would come out from three to 15 pounds heavier in weight…. Our expose explained to the public why the modern silk fabrics cracked so easily. Part of our ‘sabotage’ advice to the workers was to throw the adulterants down the drain and dye the beautiful silk pure and durable, pound for pound…. This loose talk about sabotage opened the door for the most vicious charges against the IWW, such as setting forest fires in California, which had to be proven untrue in the Criminal Syndicalist trials by producing the fire records of the State of California. It was a form of infantile Leftism in a big way, consisting largely of ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ We came to realize that class action and not uncontrolled individual actions is required on behalf of the workers” (163-165).

What is passive resistance?

“[W]e are not going to tell our membership to allow themselves to be shot down and beat up like cattle. Regardless of the fact that they are members of the working class, they still have a duty that they owe to themselves and their class of defending themselves whenever they are attacked and their life is threatened. Violence is not always the choosing of the working class; as a general rule, it is forced on them as a simple act of self-defense. They have to strike back when they are struck at, and that is the spirit and that is the idea the organization is trying to educate the workers into.

“We do not– we do not want to be understood as saying that we expect to achieve our aims through violence and through the destruction of human life, because, in my judgment, that is impossible. The achievement of success… the realization of what it is striving for– depends on one thing only, and that is gaining the control of a sufficient amount of the labor power that is necessary in the operation of industry. Now, when we have that control, then through organization the necessity for violence will be reduced; in fact, it will almost disappear. It will disappear. The necessity for using any tactics that will lead to violence will disappear, and the protection and the safeguarding of human life will increase just in proportion as we have that control.”

— Vincent St. John, testimony before the US Commission on Industrial Relations (1916)

Timeline (borrowed and abbreviated from marxists.org):

Originally Titled, 95 Years of Revolutionary Industrial Unionism, by Michael Hargis—featured in Anarcho Syndicalist Review, #27 and #28. This time line copied from the web site of the Industrial Workers of the World

* IWW Founding Convention—June 27: The “Continental Congress of the Working Class” establishes the industrial Workers of the World with cooperation of elements from Socialist Labor Party/Socialist Trades & Labor Alliance, Socialist Party of America, Western Federation of Miners and survivors of International Working People’s Association.


* Haywood, Pettibone and Moyers, WFM leaders, framed for attempting to kill the governor of Colorado.
* Second Convention of IWW abolishes office of president and ousts “pure and simple” trade unionists.
* Lockout of IWW members in Goldfield, Nevada. Vincent St. John arrested for conspiracy to commit murder in death of a restaurant owner.
* WFM-IWW miners strike against wage cut in Goldfield. Federal troops sent in to crush strike; first stay-in strike (3,000 workers) of the 20th Century carried out by IWW at General Electric plant in Schenectady, NY.


* Founding of National Industrial Union of Textile Workers, 1st chartered IWW industrial union.
* Strike at Marston Textile Mill, Skowhegan, Maine;
* 3,000 IWW sawmill workers strike in Portland, OR;
* IWW smeltermen strike in Tacoma, WA win 8-hour day and 15% pay hike;
* Lumber workers strike in Humboldt County, CA, Missoula, MT and Vancouver, B.C.;
* Bakers in San Francisco strike;
* Lumber workers strike in Montana;
* Textile strike at Mapleville, RI;
* American Tube strike in Bridgeport, CT


* Textile workers strike, Lawrence, MA
* Fourth convention results in split between political actionists, led by Daniel DeLeon of the SLP, and direct actionists, led by Vincent St. John and J.H. Walsh. DeLeonists set up rival IWW in Detroit and accuse Chicago IWW with “anarchism.”


* Industrial Worker begin publishing in Spokane, WA as the voice of the Western branches of IWW.
Pressed Steel Car Company workers strike in McKees Rock, PA.
* Sheet and tinplate workers strike in New Castle, PA.
* Solidarity begins publishing in New Castle, PA as organ of Eastern branches of IWW.
* Missoula, MT free speech fight.


* Strike against Standard Steel Car Company in Hammond, IN.
* Strike against Hansel & Elcock Construction in Chicago.
* First reference to “direct action” in IWW publications.
* Strike against Lamm & Company, Chicago clothiers.
* First use of terms “sabotage” and “passive resistance” in IWW publications.
* Meat packers strike in Pittsburgh, PA; Show workers strike in Brooklyn, NY.
* Organizing against “job sharks” in Washington State leads to victorious Free Speech Fight in Spokane, WA.
* Brotherhood of Timber Workers, racially integrated union, formed in Louisiana and East Texas.


* IWW Free Speech Fight in Fresno, CA.
* Brooklyn shoe workers strike several shops.
* Strike at American Locomotive.


* Wobblies join Magonistas in insurrection in Baja California, briefly proclaim the Baja Commune. U.S. troops invade Mexico to crush the rebellion; IWW-led General Strike in Tampico, Mexico for release of political prisoners crushed by army.
* William Z. Foster leaves IWW and forms Syndicalist League of North America to “bore from within” AFL.
* Socialist Party forbids those who oppose political action or advocate sabotage to belong to the party.
* Bill Haywood recalled from NEC. Many IWWs leave SPA.
Bread and Roses Strike—25,000 textile workers strike in Lawrence, MA, call for IWW leadership. IWW leaders Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovanitti arrested for the murder of striker Anna Lo Pizza.
* Formation of Forest and Lumber Workers Industrial Union.
* IWW textile strike in Lowell, MA (18,000 workers).
* Strike at National Malleable Casting in Indianapolis, IN.
* Lumber workers strike throughout Gray’s Harbor region (Hoquiam, Raymond, Cosmopolis and Aberdeen, WA).
* Strike of railroad construction crews against Great Northern and Grand Trunk lines. IWW establishes “1,000 mile picket line.”
* First use of the term “Wobbly” in IWW publications.
* Strike of organ and piano builders in New York.
* Two-week strike against American Radiator in Buffalo (5,000 workers).
* Unsuccessful national lumber workers strike.
* Strikes at Warner Refining in Edgewater, NY and Corn Products Refining in Shadyside, NJ;
* Strike at Avery Implements in Peoria, IL.
* Brotherhood of Timber Workers affiliates with Forest and Lumber Workers Industrial Union, IWW; strikes Galloway Lumber Company in Grabow, LA. Three strikers killed and 58 arrested for defending themselves, acquitted in December.
* Textile strike in New Bedford, MA (11,000) Dockworkers strike in San Pedro, CA.
* Tobacco worker strikes in Pittsburgh and McKees Rock, PA.
* Ettor and Gionvanitti trial ends in acquittal.


Strike instigated by IWW dual-carders in AFL Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union against the Astor and other premier hotels in New York City.
* Paterson Silk Strike—Silkworkers strike in Paterson, NJ (25,000 workers)
*Paterson Pageant

* BTW in 7-month strike against American Lumber Company (1,200 workers)
* Textile strike in Ipswitch, NY
* Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union formed by Philadelphia, PA, longshoremen as a result of spontaneous strike.
* Strike against Studebaker, car manufacturer (6,000 workers); short strikes against Metal Wheel in Detroit and Foyer Brothers in Toledo.
* Strike against Dry Slitz Stogie leads to lockout of 1200 workers in Pittsburgh, PA, 800 IWW cigar workers strike in retaliation.
* Dock workers strike for safety equipment in Duluth, MN set up branch of MTW;
* Wheatland Riots—Hop pickers strike against Durst Ranch in Wheatland, CA. Gun battle results in indictment and conviction of IWW organizers Ford and Suhr who are sentenced to 15 years in prison.
* Textile strike in Baltimore, MD undermined by AFL scabs. BTW strike in Sweet Home, LA.


* World War I begins in Europe.
* 3,000 unemployed demonstrate in Detroit; IWW gains control of Unemployed Convention in San Francisco. New York unemployed, led by Wobbly Frank Tannenbaum, occupy churches; Union Square unemployed riot.
* Sioux City, Iowa, free speech fight.
* IWW Unemployed League organized in Detroit.


* Detroit IWW, aka Workers International Industrial Union, dissolves.
* AWO Established—Agricultural Workers Organization 400 (later renamed Agricultural Workers Industrial Union 110) founded in Kansas City, MO, introduces the job delegate system into IWW.
Joe Hill Executed—Joe Hill, IWW organizer, executed by copper bosses in Utah.

* BTW dissolves. Victim of 5,000 blacklisted members.
* National Industrial Union of Textile Workers dissolves, its remaining locals affiliate directly to IWW.
* Philadelphia MTW wins recognition at non-union docks without a contract.
* Shoe workers strike 28 shops in Philadelphia; Strike of 700 against Solvay Processing Plant in Detroit, MI;
* Strike of 3,000 against Kelsey Wheel in Detroit, MI;
* Housemaids organized in Denver, CO;
* Iron miners strike on the Mesabi Range in Minnesota (6,000 workers);
* Miners strike, Cayuna Range, MI;
* Dock workers strike in Two Harbors and Duluth, MN;
* Shingle-weavers strike in Everett, WA; Miners strike in Scranton, PA
* Vernillion Iron Range out on strike.
Everett Massacre—IWWs murdered by hired guns in Everett, WA. Seventy-five held for murder of deputy, acquitted.
* IWW Convention adopts anti-war resolution.


* Oil Workers Industrial Union and Metal Mine Workers Industrial Union chartered.
* Longshoremen strike in Philadelphia, PA.
* Lumber Workers Industrial Union established.
* River drivers strike in Fontana River, MT, and win 8-hour day.
* Idaho and Minnesota pass Criminal Syndicalism Laws (pdf) to counter IWW organizing.
* General Construction Workers Industrial Union formed; construction strike in Exeter, CA. Construction strike in Seattle wins IWW hiring hall; Construction strike in Rockford, IL;
* Speculator mine disaster in Butte, MT leads to strike;
* Copper strikes in Arizona in support of Butte;
* Lumber workers strike in Spokane district, WA;
* Miners strike in Virginia, MN.
Bisbee Deportation—1200 copper strikers deported from Bisbee, AZ.
* Miners strike Gogebic Range.
Frank Little Murdered—Frank Little, IWW organizer, lynched by copper bosses.
* Australian IWWs tried for treason for opposing conscription, IWW outlawed.
* Federal agents raid IWW halls and offices nation wide, arrest 165 IWW members.
* LWIU 120 Wins 8-Hour Day—Lumber strike in on the job wins 8-hour day in Northwest timber country.
* General Defense Committee formed to defend class war prisoners.


* IWW lumber workers burn bedrolls and mattresses.
Chicago trial of 100 IWWs for espionage ends in sentences of 20 years for 15 men; 10 years for 35; 5 years for 33;1 year for 12 and nominal sentences for the rest.


* General strikes in Seattle, WA, Butte, MT, Toledo, OH and, Winnipeg, MB.
* MTW strike in Philadelphia, PA.
* Mine workers strike in Butte, MT and Oatman, AZ or 6-hour day.
* Lumber strikes on river drives win clean bedding.
* Lumber workers hall in Superior, WI, attacked by mob but show of force by Wobs turns them back.
* Short-log district lumber strikes include demands for release of class war prisoners and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Russia.
* Centralia Massacre—Mob of Legionnaires attack IWW hall in Centralia, WA. IWWs defend hall with force. IWW Wesley Everest, one of the hall defenders, tortured and lynched by mob. Eight others sent to prison on conspiracy charges.
* MTW branch established in Buenos Aires, Argentina
* IWW administrations established in Mexico and Chile.
* Wichita and Sacramento IWW trials. 2000 class war prisoners.


Palmer Raids—Palmer Raids round up and deport thousands of alien radicals.
* IWW and British Shop Stewards Movement agree on exchange of membership cards.
* MTW strike in Philadelphia, PA.
* Chilean IWW conducts strike to protest export of food during famine; Chilean government launched reign of terror to destroy IWW.
* Communist-controlled IWW General Executive Board suspends Philadelphia MTW on false charges of loading arms for Russian counter-revolutionary Wrangle.

* Congress of Red Trade Union International attended by delegates from IWW and Canadian OBU. Their reports of political domination by Communists convinces IWW not to affiliate.
* 46 IWWs out on bail on the espionage convictions start prison terms. Bill Haywood and 8 others jump bail and flee to Russia.
* IWW hall raided in Tampico, Mexico. General strike forces government to allow it to reopen.
* Philadelphia MTW branch reinstated.


* Joint MTW and ILA strike in Portland, OR, against Fink Hall, sold out by ILA.
* Construction strike on Great Northern Railroad.
* Strike on power projects in Oregon and Washington.
* Metal Mine strikes in Bingham Canyon and Butte.
* Oil Workers Industrial Union drive in Southwest.
* MTW strike in Portland, OR.
* ILA-hired thugs attempt to drive MTW out of Hoboken, NJ.
* Railroad shopmen’s strike supported by IWW Railroad Workers Industrial Union.
* MTW in Philadelphia strike against blacklist and for 44-hour week.
* Construction strike in Hetch-Hetchy project near San Francisco and on Edison Power irrigation project near Fresno, CA.


* Two strikes against Warren Construction Co. out of Fresno.
* Police try to shut down IWW hall in Mobile, AL but free speech fight prevails.
* Strikes to free class war prisoners conducted by IWW in San Pedro, Aberdeen, New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Mobile and Galveston, and by Lumber and Construction Unions in Washington and Oregon.
* San Pedro free speech fight


* Emergency Program / Four-Trey Split—IWW splits: Emergency Program-IWW sets up headquarters in Portland, Oregon.
* Thugs raid IWW hall in San Pedro, destroy hall and scald children.


* Philadelphia MTW goes over to ILA due to disillusionment over 1924 split and perceived interference from General Administration.
* IWW coal miners strike in Alberta against UMWA check-off.


Sacco & Vanzetti Murdered—IWW strikes for Sacco and Vanzetti in Colorado. Sacco and Vanzetti executed in Boston.
* Columbine Massacre—Colorado coal strike leads to Columbine Massacre.


* Police raid IWW hall in Walsenburg, CO, two Wobblies killed.


* IWW drive among coal miners in Illinois gains sizable two-card membership in UMWA.
* Strike against U.S. Gypsum Company near Oakfield, NY.
* MTW branch established in Stettin, Germany.
* The Great Depression Begins—Stock market crashes, beginning of Great Depression.

Repression and Disinformation:

“The popular attitude toward the Wobblies among employers, public officials and the public generally corresponds to the popular notion that they are arch-fiends and the dregs of society. It is the hang-them-all-at-sunrise attitude. A high official of the Federal Department of Justice in one of our western states gave the writer an instance. On a recent visit to a small town in a distant part of the state he happened upon the sheriff. That officer, in reply to a question, explained that they were ‘having no trouble at all with Wobs’: ‘When a Wobbly comes to town,’ he explained, ‘I just knock him over the head with a night stick and throw him in the river. When he comes up he beats it out of town.’ [I]n such a situation almost any poor man, if he be without a job or visible means of support, is assumed to be, ipso facto, an I.W.W. Being a Wobbly, the proper thing for him is pickhandle treatment or– if he is known to be a strike agitator– a ‘little neck-tie party.”
— Paul Brissendon, The I.W.W.: A Study of American Syndicalism (2nd ed. 1920)


“…material was being gathered for a new outbreak in the United States. The casual laborers had greatly increased in numbers, especially in the West. These migratory working men—the “hobo miners,” the “hobo lumber jacks,” the “blanket stiffs,” of colloquial speech—wander about the country in search of work. They rarely have ties of family and seldom ties of locality. About one-half of these wanderers are American born. They are to be described with precision as “floaters.” Their range of operations includes the wheat regions west of the Mississippi, the iron mines of Michigan and Minnesota, the mines and forests of Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, and the fields of California and Arizona. They prefer to winter in the cities, but, as their only refuge is the bunk lodging house, they increase the social problem in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other centers of the unemployed. Many of these migrants never were skilled workers; but a considerable portion of them have been forced down into the ranks of the unskilled by the inevitable tragedies of prolonged unemployment. Such men lend a willing ear to the labor agitator. The exact number in this wandering class is not known. The railroad companies have estimated that at a given time there have been 500,000 hobos trying to beat their way from place to place. Unquestionably a large percentage of the 23,964 trespassers killed and of the 25,236 injured on railway rights of way from 1901 to 1904 belonged to this class.

“It is not alone these drifters, however, who because of their irresponsibility and their hostility toward society became easy victims to the industrial organizer. The great mass of unskilled workers in the factory towns proved quite as tempting to the propagandist. Among laborers of this class, wages are the lowest and living conditions the most uninviting. Moreover, this group forms the industrial reservoir which receives the settlings of the most recent European and Asiatic immigration. These people have a standard of living and conceptions of political and individual freedom which are at variance with American traditions. Though their employment is steadier than that of the migratory laborer, and though they often have ties of family and other stabilizing responsibilities, their lives are subject to periods of unemployment, and these fluctuations serve to feed their innate restlessness. They are, in quite the literal sense of the word, American proletarians. They are more volatile than any European proletarian, for they have learned the lesson of migration, and they retain the socialistic and anarchistic philosophy of their European fellow-workers.”

— Samuel Orth, The Armies of Labor, from the chapter entitled “The New Terrorism: The IWW” (1921). Jim Crutchfield, from whose website this quote is taken, describes this text as “A disgusting piece of A. F. of L. propaganda. Full of lies and vitriol against the I. W. W., it endorses lynch-law and covers up the crimes of the boss class and its “labor lieutenants” in the A. F. of L. against the authentic organization of the working class. The Everett Massacre is presented as a valiant defense of the town against an invading army, rather than the ambush of peaceful workers by a drunken gang of deputies’.”



“Most of the individuals involved in this movement are aliens or foreign-born citizens. There are some, however, of unquestioned American extraction. Some of the leaders are idealists with distorted minds, many even insane; many are professional agitators who are plainly self-seekers and a large number of potential, or actual criminals whose baseness of character leads them to espouse the unrestrained and gross theories and tactics of these organizations. If there be any doubt of the general character of the active leaders and agitators amongst these avowed revolutionists, a visit to the Department of Justice and an examination of their photographs there collected would dispel it. Out of the sly and crafty eyes of many of them leap cupidity, cruelty, insanity, and crime; from their lopsided faces, sloping brows, and misshapen features may be recognized the unmistakable criminal type.”

— Mitchell Palmer, hearing before the House of Representatives (1920)



Notes on Ahmed White’s The Crime of Economic Radicalism: Criminal Syndicalism Laws and the Industrial Workers of the World, 1917-1927.

Official repression of the IWW included not only “authorities manipulation of laws of general relevance…. for example, with the large scale and totally unfounded prosecution of IWW members for conspiracy to interfere with the war effort” but by the use of “vagrancy laws, ‘tramp acts,’ and other relatively minor laws” (651).

Tens of thousands of wobblies were arrested and charged using these laws.

“Such charges were use time and again to run members out of town, intiate beatings and other indiginties, and preempt organizing and strike efforts.”

“beyond legal artifice and selective prosecution”:

“official lawlessness as well as official complicity in private acts of antiradical vigilantism. Countless members were beaten and on occasion even killed by American Legionnaires, Ku Klux Klansmen, private detectives, and other self-nominated protectors of ‘true’ Americanism.”

“In the late 1910s and early 1920s, almost half of American states and territories enacted criminal syndicalism laws that essentially criminalized any sort of challenge to industrial capitalism. These laws did this under the guise of criminalizing advocacy of ‘political or industrial change’ by means of ‘sabotage,’ ‘terrorism,’ and other criminal conduct” (652).

“key terms… like sabotage, were only vaguely… defined”

“it was the purpose and function of criminal syndicalism laws to effectively criminalize mere membership in the IWW and thereby challenge its continued existence as a functioning institution.”

“these were serious criminal laws concerned far more with destroying the IWW and punishing its members for their radicalism than regulating speech and association rights in any abstractly juridical sense” (654).

Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape:



SCENE—Nearly a month later. An I. W. W. local near the waterfront, showing the interior of a front room on the ground floor, and the street outside. Moonlight on the narrow street, buildings massed in black shadow. The interior of the room, which is general assembly room, office, and reading room, resembles some dingy settlement boys club. A desk and high stool are in one corner. A table with papers, stacks of pamphlets, chairs about it, is at center. The whole is decidedly cheap, banal, commonplace and unmysterious as a room could well be. The secretary is perched on the stool making entries in a large ledger. An eye shade casts his face into shadows. Eight or ten men, longshoremen, iron workers, and the like, are grouped about the table. Two are playing checkers. One is writing a letter. Most of them are smoking pipes. A big signboard is on the wall at the rear, “Industrial Workers of the World—Local No. 57.”
YANK—(Comes down the street outside. He is dressed as in Scene Five. He moves cautiously, mysteriously. He comes to a point opposite the door; tiptoes softly up to it, listens, is impressed by the silence within, knocks carefully, as if he were guessing at the password to some secret rite. Listens. No answer. Knocks again a bit louder. No answer. Knocks impatiently, much louder.)
SECRETARY—(Turning around on his stool.) What the devil is that—someone knocking? (Shouts:) Come in, why don’t you? (All the men in the room look up. YANK opens the door slowly, gingerly, as if afraid of an ambush. He looks around for secret doors, mystery, is taken aback by the commonplaceness of the room and the men in it, thinks he may have gotten in the wrong place, then sees the signboard on the wall and is reassured.)
YANK—(Blurts out.) Hello.
MEN—(Reservedly.) Hello.
YANK—(More easily.) I tought I’d bumped into de wrong dump.
SECRETARY—(Scrutinizing him carefully.) Maybe you have. Are you a member?
YANK—Naw, not yet. Dat’s what I come for—to join.
SECRETARY—That’s easy. What’s your job—longshore?
YANK—Naw. Fireman—stoker on de liners.
SECRETARY—(With satisfaction.) Welcome to our city. Glad to know you people are waking up at last. We haven’t got many members in your line.
YANK—Naw. Dey’re all dead to de woild.
SECRETARY—Well, you can help to wake ’em. What’s your name? I’ll make out your card.
YANK—(Confused.) Name? Lemme tink.
SECRETARY—(Sharply.) Don’t you know your own name?
YANK—Sure; but I been just Yank for so long—Bob, dat’s it—Bob Smith.
SECRETARY—(Writing.) Robert Smith. (Fills out the rest of card.) Here you are. Cost you half a dollar.
YANK—Is dat all—four bits? Dat’s easy. (Gives the Secretary the money.)
SECRETARY—(Throwing it in drawer.) Thanks. Well, make yourself at home. No introductions needed. There’s literature on the table. Take some of those pamphlets with you to distribute aboard ship. They may bring results. Sow the seed, only go about it right. Don’t get caught and fired. We got plenty out of work. What we need is men who can hold their jobs—and work for us at the same time.
YANK—Sure. (But he still stands, embarrassed and uneasy.)
SECRETARY—(Looking at him—curiously.) What did you knock for? Think we had a coon in uniform to open doors?
YANK—Naw. I tought it was locked—and dat yuh’d wanter give me the once-over trou a peep-hole or somep’n to see if I was right.
SECRETARY—(Alert and suspicious but with an easy laugh.) Think we were running a crap game? That door is never locked. What put that in your nut?
YANK—(With a knowing grin, convinced that this is all camouflage, a part of the secrecy.) Dis burg is full of bulls, ain’t it?
SECRETARY—(Sharply.) What have the cops got to do with us? We’re breaking no laws.
YANK—(With a knowing wink.) Sure. Youse wouldn’t for woilds. Sure. I’m wise to dat.
SECRETARY—You seem to be wise to a lot of stuff none of us knows about.
YANK—(With another wink.) Aw, dat’s aw right, see. (Then made a bit resentful by the suspicious glances from all sides.) Aw, can it! Youse needn’t put me trou de toid degree. Can’t youse see I belong? Sure! I’m reg’lar. I’ll stick, get me? I’ll shoot de woiks for youse. Dat’s why I wanted to join in.
SECRETARY—(Breezily, feeling him out.) That’s the right spirit. Only are you sure you understand what you’ve joined? It’s all plain and above board; still, some guys get a wrong slant on us. (Sharply.) What’s your notion of the purpose of the I. W. W.?
YANK—Aw, I know all about it.
SECRETARY—(Sarcastically.) Well, give us some of your valuable information.
YANK—(Cunningly.) I know enough not to speak outa my toin. (Then resentfully again.) Aw, say! I’m reg’lar. I’m wise to de game. I know yuh got to watch your step wit a stranger. For all youse know, I might be a plain-clothes dick, or somep’n, dat’s what yuh’re tinkin’, huh? Aw, forget it! I belong, see? Ask any guy down to de docks if I don’t.
SECRETARY—Who said you didn’t?
YANK—After I’m ’nitiated, I’ll show yuh.
SECRETARY—(Astounded.) Initiated? There’s no initiation.
YANK—(Disappointed.) Ain’t there no password—no grip nor nothin’?
SECRETARY—What’d you think this is—the Elks—or the Black Hand?
YANK—De Elks, hell! De Black Hand, dey’re a lot of yellow backstickin’ Ginees. Naw. Dis is a man’s gang, ain’t it?
SECRETARY—You said it! That’s why we stand on our two feet in the open. We got no secrets.
YANK—(Surprised but admiringly.) Yuh mean to say yuh always run wide open—like dis?
YANK—Den yuh sure got your noive wit youse!
SECRETARY—(Sharply.) Just what was it made you want to join us? Come out with that straight.
YANK—Yuh call me? Well, I got noive, too! Here’s my hand. Yuh wanter blow tings up, don’t yuh? Well, dat’s me! I belong!
SECRETARY—(With pretended carelessness.) You mean change the unequal conditions of society by legitimate direct action—or with dynamite?
YANK—Dynamite! Blow it offen de oith—steel—all de cages—all de factories, steamers, buildings, jails—de Steel Trust and all dat makes it go.
SECRETARY—So—that’s your idea, eh? And did you have any special job in that line you wanted to propose to us. (He makes a sign to the men, who get up cautiously one by one and group behind YANK.)
YANK—(Boldly.) Sure, I’ll come out wit it. I’ll show youse I’m one of de gang. Dere’s dat millionaire guy, Douglas—
SECRETARY—President of the Steel Trust, you mean? Do you want to assassinate him?
YANK—Naw, dat don’t get yuh nothin’. I mean blow up de factory, de woiks, where he makes de steel. Dat’s what I’m after—to blow up de steel, knock all de steel in de woild up to de moon. Dat’ll fix tings! (Eagerly, with a touch of bravado.) I’ll do it by me lonesome! I’ll show yuh! Tell me where his woiks is, how to git there, all de dope. Gimme de stuff, de old butter—and watch me do de rest! Watch de smoke and see it move! I don’t give a damn if dey nab me—long as it’s done! I’ll soive life for it—and give ’em de laugh! (Half to himself.) And I’ll write her a letter and tell her de hairy ape done it. Dat’ll square tings.
SECRETARY—(Stepping away from YANK.) Very interesting. (He gives a signal. The men, huskies all, throw themselves on YANK and before he knows it they have his legs and arms pinioned. But he is too flabber-gasted to make a struggle, anyway. They feel him over for weapons.)
MAN—No gat, no knife. Shall we give him what’s what and put the boots to him?
SECRETARY—No. He isn’t worth the trouble we’d get into. He’s too stupid. (He comes closer and laughs mockingly inYANK’S face.) Ho-ho! By God, this is the biggest joke they’ve put up on us yet. Hey, you Joke! Who sent you—Burns or Pinkerton? No, by God, you’re such a bonehead I’ll bet you’re in the Secret Service! Well, you dirty spy, you rotten agent provocator, you can go back and tell whatever skunk is paying you blood-money for betraying your brothers that he’s wasting his coin. You couldn’t catch a cold. And tell him that all he’ll ever get on us, or ever has got, is just his own sneaking plots that he’s framed up to put us in jail. We are what our manifesto says we are, neither more or less—and we’ll give him a copy of that any time he calls. And as for you—(He glares scornfully at YANK,who is sunk in an oblivious stupor.) Oh, hell, what’s the use of talking? You’re a brainless ape.
YANK—(Aroused by the word to fierce but futile struggles.) What’s dat, yuh Sheeny bum, yuh!
SECRETARY—Throw him out, boys. (In spite of his struggles, this is done with gusto and éclat. Propelled by several parting kicks, YANK lands sprawling in the middle of the narrow cobbled street. With a growl he starts to get up and storm the closed door, but stops bewildered by the confusion in his brain, pathetically impotent. He sits there, brooding, in as near to the attitude of Rodin’s “Thinker” as he can get in his position.)
YANK—(Bitterly.) So dem boids don’t tink I belong, neider. Aw, to hell wit ’em! Dey’re in de wrong pew—de same old bull—soapboxes and Salvation Army—no guts! Cut out an hour offen de job a day and make me happy! Gimme a dollar more a day and make me happy! Tree square a day, and cauliflowers in de front yard—ekal rights—a woman and kids—a lousey vote—and I’m all fixed for Jesus, huh? Aw, hell! What does dat get yuh? Dis ting’s in your inside, but it ain’t your belly. Feedin’ your face—sinkers and coffee—dat don’t touch it. It’s way down—at de bottom. Yuh can’t grab it, and yuh can’t stop it. It moves, and everything moves. It stops and de whole woild stops. Dat’s me now—I don’t tick, see?—I’m a busted Ingersoll, dat’s what. Steel was me, and I owned de woild. Now I ain’t steel, and de woild owns me. Aw, hell! I can’t see—it’s all dark, get me? It’s all wrong! (He turns a bitter mocking face up like an ape gibbering at the moon.) Say, youse up dere, Man in de Moon, yuh look so wise, gimme de answer, huh? Slip me de inside dope, de information right from de stable—where do I get off at, huh?
A POLICEMAN—(Who has come up the street in time to hear this last—with grim humor.) You’ll get off at the station, you boob, if you don’t get up out of that and keep movin’.
YANK—(Looking up at him—with a hard, bitter laugh.) Sure! Lock me up! Put me in a cage! Dat’s de on’y answer yuh know. G’wan, lock me up!
POLICEMAN—What you been doin’?
YANK—Enuf to gimme life for! I was born, see? Sure, dat’s de charge. Write it in de blotter. I was born, get me!
POLICEMAN—(Jocosely.) God pity your old woman! (Then matter-of-fact.) But I’ve no time for kidding. You’re soused. I’d run you in but it’s too long a walk to the station. Come on now, get up, or I’ll fan your ears with this club. Beat it now! (He hauls YANK to his feet.)
YANK—(In a vague mocking tone.) Say, where do I go from here?
POLICEMAN—(Giving him a push—with a grin, indifferently.) Go to hell.


A Working Class Counterculture:



Above: IWW band, Joe Hill, performance of Hill’s The Preacher and the Slave (lyrics below).

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ’bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

The starvation army they play,
They sing and they clap and they pray
‘Till they get all your coin on the drum
Then they’ll tell you when you’re on the bum:Holy Rollers and jumpers come out,
They holler, they jump and they shout.
Give your money to Jesus they say,
He will cure all diseases today.
If you fight hard for children and wife —
Try to get something good in this life —
You’re a sinner and bad man, they tell,
When you die you will sure go to hell.

Workingmen of all countries, unite,
Side by side we for freedom will fight;
When the world and its wealth we have gained
To the grafters we’ll sing this refrain:

You will eat, bye and bye,
When you’ve learned how to cook and to fry.
Chop some wood, ’twill do you good,
And you’ll eat in the sweet bye and bye.



Above: Cover art for “Rebel Girl,” excerpt of a talk by EGF and the song itself, Flynn agitating in Lawrence.

The World As It Is Today


“The capitalist system, rotten as it is, has resources which cannot be overlooked. The armed forces of the state are not nearly so formidable as the venal press and other avenues of publicity and class mis-education. The capitalist press and class-controlled radio are perhaps the very strongest bulwarks for the established order. By means of these, labor hatred and mob frenzy can be lashed to fever heat at any time and against any individual or group which dares to challenge the capitalist system. ”

Ralph Chaplin, “The General Strike” (1933)

“The wealthiest 5% of the world’s people now earn 114 times as much as the poorest 5%. The 500 richest people on earth now own $1.54 trillion – more than the entire gross domestic product of Africa, or the combined annual incomes of the poorest half of humanity.”

— UK Guardian, 9/3/03