Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Wobblies , happy birthday, their legacy lives on.



Today in Labour history June 27th, 1905, The Industrial Workers of the World , also known as the wobblies was founded at a 12 day Convention in Chicago. The wobbly motto is ' An injury to all  is an injury to all.'
They were noted for their use of poetry and song to promote their radical ideas, publicise strikes and other protests and generally present the case for what was, for a time at least, a dynamic and imaginative orgainisation. Their work was designed to provoke thought, and was deliberately immediate in its message, in order to get it across to as many people as possible. A potent  symbol to them was the death on 19th November 1915 of Joe Hill. His defiant songs were sung on picket lines across America, they saw him as an innocent man, framed and murdered by a corrupt judiciary who feared the power of his words, he became their martyr.


The Wobblies struck at the core of America's dark soul, attacking capitalism, demanding an end to wage slavery, equality, promoting workers solidarity based on revolutionary principles, with a combination of anarchist, socialist and anti-war beliefs. Their tactics was not only the spreading of infomation, but  was also combined  with direct action, general strikes, sit ins and acts of sabotage.
At their peak the organisation claimed over 100,000 members with as many as 300,000 workers who  rallied in their support. The IWW became for its members to be, not only their union and party, but their social centre, their home, their school, and in a manner of speaking their religion, a faith in which they lived by. Singing and reciting their poetry and songs.

' We meet today in freedom's cause

And raise our voices high

We'll join our hands in union strong

To battle or to die.'

' If the workers took a notion

They could stop all speeding trains;

Every ship upon the ocean

They can tie with mighty chains

Every wheel in the creation

Every mine and every mill

Fleets and armies of the nation

Will at their command stand still.'

They were founded and led ( though they did not really have leaders) by miner and socialist William 'Big Bill' Haywood (1869 -1928)


and mine workers agitator Mary ' Mother' Jones (1837 -1930)


A famous Wobbly slogan whenever aked who their leader was ;

' We are All Leaders!'

At a time when other trade unions refused to accept immigrants, minorities and women, and unskilled workers, their only restriction was that you had to be a member of the working class. Together they energised people, sparks were lift, and in every strikes and protest across America  their presence would be felt. They  began to become  known as revolutionaries with a singing voice.

Solidarity Forever- Pete Seeger


Their  power and subsequently their weapon was their utter refusal to compromise in a single-minded march towards a utopia that pitted them against the combined forces of the state and business. It was this and their refusal to support U.S entry into World War 1 and their refusal to abandon strikes and other revolutionary tactics  during the war  which was used as an excuse, for thei membership to be increasingly attacked, beaten, their organisers thrown in jail. Non violent IWW strikers were attacked by police and troops, and vigilantism  and lynchings were encouraged against them. They were labelled as 'enemy aliens' and traitors and hundreds were arrested. Combined with splits within their organisation , their influence faded, but  never died. Membership unfortunately began to decline, but as individuals and in small branches across the world their legacy lives on, not forgotten still promoting its original aims organising workers by industry rather than trade, still thirsting for solidarity, still organising, still resisting.
In these divided times,of economic despair,   perhaps what  we need now is a strong  international radical voice that stands defiantly, on behalf of the people, following an old tradition of solidarity that does not seperate along lines of nationality, race or gender, speaking too to the unemployed, the sick, and  the marginalised  spreading messages of hope among the carnage that is being unveiled by bankrupt economic policies.Today we do not have to ride freight trains to spread our messages, today it's just a click away and infomation can be spread in an instant.  Following the combined flags of red, black and green. An organisation is urgently needed that does not condemn the actions of its membership, that listens and understands.

Preamble to the current IWW Constitution.

'The working class and the emplying 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 emploing class, have all the god 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 hands make 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 ahainst 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 organisation 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, thusmaking 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 for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been oveerthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.'

It is  not a dream, when  we think of another world, it  is is achievable and  clearly  signposts and the paths are already marked.Struggle can be hard, but with solidarity, I guess it can be beautiful too.
Paul Robeson - Joe Hill


Utah Phillips & Ani Di Franco - Unless you are free.





4 comments:

  1. Joe Hill is one of my heroes :)

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  2. agree, a very inpiring individual, we should not forget those who have come before, who walked with priciple and defiance.

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  3. Would like your permission and perhaps some bio info to post & promote this (with perhaps a little editing -dates mostly) on our blog at www.workingclassheroes.me .... there is also a "contact us" e-mailaddress at that page

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  4. Sure that would be fine, possibly a few typo errors too, am sorry about the dates. Your blog looks very interesting too. Am just an individual(male) that is interested in many things, especially the ideas of peace and social justice and freedom. Am based in West Wales, write a bit of poetry, no personal computer so use libraries.
    Hope that is sufficient, best wishesand regards.
    Solidarity.

    ReplyDelete