Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW

Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745399591
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 11/15/2017
Series: Wildcat Series
Sales rank: 685,172
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Peter Cole is Professor of History at Western Illinois University and Research Associate at the Society, Work and Development Institute, University of the Witwatersrand. He is the author of Wobblies on the Waterfront (University of Illinois Press, 2007) and editor of Wobblies of the World (Pluto, 2017). David M. Struthers is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Copenhagen. He is the editor of Wobblies of the World (Pluto, 2017). Kenyon Zimmer is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas at Arlington. He is the author of Immigrants Against the State (University of Illinois Press, 2015) and the editor of Wobblies of the World (Pluto, 2017).

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"A Cosmopolitan Crowd:" Transnational Anarchists, the IWW, and the American Radical Press

Kenyon Zimmer

It is no coincidence that Salvatore Salerno's groundbreaking study of transnational influences on the Industrial Workers of the World, Red November, Black November, devoted much space to the role of anarchists. Within the constellation of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century radical movements that gave rise to the IWW, anarchism was the most transnational in its activities and internationalist in its commitments. Anarchists, Jose Moya notes, "formed the world's first and most widespread transnational movement organized from below and without formal political parties," and both anarchism and syndicalism spread across the globe through the same international migrations of workers, exiles, activists, and students. Many transnational anarchists were therefore instrumental in shaping the IWW and its ideology, at both the institutional and local levels. To a great extent, globetrotting anarchists were responsible for forging the IWW into "a diverse, multilingual, transnational organization."

This aspect of the IWW's history, however, remains largely unknown. Most scholarship on the Wobblies in the United States relies on English-language sources, whereas the vast majority of anarchists — and a great number of Wobblies — were immigrants. In particular, Mexican, Italian, Spanish, Finnish, and Russian immigrants were over-represented in the union, and anarchism ran strong within each of these ethnic groups. Moreover, as Davide Turcato observes, "a key reason for ... the inherent difficulty in studying anarchist organization, is that anarchism is often an opaque movement," and deliberately so. Anarchist involvement in the IWW is no exception.

For example, the Paterson silk strike of 1913 is typically portrayed as beginning with a spontaneous work stoppage, after which IWW organizers were invited to the city to aid the strikers. Even Steve Golin's excellent study of the strike, which emphasizes Paterson's strong IWW presence leading up to the conflict, concedes that the union's local leaders "remain largely unknown." English-language IWW sources are, in fact, conspicuously evasive on this topic. Organizer Elizabeth Gurley Flynn noted, "the preparation and declaration as well as the stimulation of the strike was all done by the I.W.W., by the militant minority among the silk workers," but gave no specifics, and when a Paterson rabbi asked William D. Haywood who belonged to the strike committee, the IWW co-founder replied, "I don't know; and if I did I wouldn't tell." There was a simple reason for this obfuscation, as organizer Adolf Lessig told the Commission on Industrial Relations: "I should not care to mention anybody's name outside of those that to-day are free from losing their position" in Paterson's silk mills.

But in 1914 Margaret Sanger, who had aided the strike, described in an anarchist publication how "the Italian anarchists had been working among the silk workers for years, sowing the seeds of dissatisfaction and rebellion against their slavery, and when the strike was called this small minority formed the backbone of the strike." Italian-language sources confirm this claim, and show that Paterson's immigrant anarchists had been organizing their fellow silk workers into militant, revolutionary unions since the 1880s, and expounded syndicalist ideas and tactics years before the formation of the IWW. In 1906 Paterson's anarchists founded one of the first stable IWW locals in the country and proceeded to lead a series of strikes under its auspices. They also emblazoned the masthead and storefront offices of their newspaper, La Questione Sociale, with the union's logo, and spent more than a year quietly laying the groundwork for the general strike that broke out in 1913 — a task that included forming shop committees in most of the city's mills. During the struggle, Flynn lodged with Firmino Gallo and Ninfa Baronio, weavers who had belonged to an anarchist circle in Italy, were founding members of Paterson's anarchist Gruppo Diritto all'Esistenza, and ran the local radical bookstore in their off hours. Likewise, Haywood stayed with Paolo Guabello, another Italian anarchist weaver, who was arrested for picketing during the strike. Paolo's brother Alberto was also a veteran anarchist as well as the IWW's leading local organizer, and one of the strike committee members whom Haywood refused to name. In 1919, former La Questione Sociale editor and Wobbly organizer Ludovico Caminita boasted, "damn modesty, the I.W.W. enjoys the glory which to a great extent is due to us."

The same year of Caminita's outburst, One Big Union Monthly editor John (Johan) Sandgren penned an article on "The importation of ideas in the labor movement." He declared social democracy, anarchism, syndicalism, craft unionism, and communism to be European creeds unfit for "purely American conditions," whereas the indigenous IWW was "the correct expression of the form needed here in America." Sandgren neglected to mention that he was himself a Swedish immigrant and "self-admitted anarchist" who, after helping to organize the founding convention of the IWW, had argued in favor of removing all references to "political action" from the union's constitution. He also wrote for Swedish anarchist and syndicalist newspapers, and authored two Swedish-language books that "became important for political development of the Swedish syndicalists during the 1920s." In other words, Sandgren concealed — even disparaged — the very strands of transnational radicalism that animated his participation in the IWW. The contributions of Sandgren and the Paterson anarchists are emblematic of two overlapping spheres in which immigrant anarchist influence was simultaneously pervasive and opaque: the IWW's formation and doctrinal evolution, and its multilingual press. Anarchist members pushed the organization in a more decentralized direction, disseminated libertarian socialist ideas among its membership, and connected the union to international anarchist currents and struggles.

Anarchists in the Making of the IWW

Vincent St John listed anarchists as one of four major factions at the union's founding convention, in addition to socialists, industrial unionists, and opportunistic "labor union fakirs." At least 14 anarchist delegates participated — fewer than 7 percent of the representatives present, but wielding more than 14 percent of the convention's total votes. At least seven of these anarchists were foreign-born, out of only "thirty emigrants" among the delegates, making anarchists substantially over-represented among the union's immigrant founders. At this and subsequent conventions, they rallied to infuse the new union with anarcho-syndicalist values.

Several delegates were local Chicago anarchists: veteran anarchist agitator and Haymarket widow Lucy Parsons; Haymarket riot survivor and editor Jay Fox; Julia Mechanic, a former editorial board member (along with Fox) of the anarchist newspaper Free Society; Jean E. Spielman, a Romanian bookbinder who immigrated in 1902; and one A. Wrink or Wermich, about whom few details are known. Spanish-born anarchist Florencio Bazora attended from St Louis, and Italian anarchists Joseph Corna and Antonio Andrà came from Spring Valley, Illinois, where they organized for the United Mine Workers and Corna later formed a small IWW local. This pair reported on the proceedings (and the anarchists present) for Paterson's La Questione Sociale.

Josef Peukert, once a leader of the extreme "autonomist" faction of German-speaking anarchists, represented the Chicago Debaters Club, an organization "composed of socialists and anarchists." However, he voted against affiliation with the new union. By contrast, Slovene anarchist Andrew ("Al") Klemencic played a major role in the proceedings and voted to install the Pueblo, Colorado local of the Journeymen Tailors' Union that he represented in the IWW. Born near Trieste in 1860, Klemencic was an experienced, multilingual radical organizer whose activism had taken him across most of Europe as well as to San Francisco and Hawai'i, and he regularly contributed to anarchist publications in both the United States and Europe. The largest anarchist-controlled bloc of votes, however, belonged to three delegates from the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) and American Labor Union (ALU) whom Corna and Andrà identified as fellow anarchists: ALU Executive Board member M. E. White, Arizona mine organizer Albert Ryan, and WFM member John Riordan of Phoenix, British Columbia (also discussed by Leier in Chapter 9). Thomas J. Hagerty, another alu member, had been involved in Chicago anarchist circles in the 1880s, but then entered a seminary and became a priest, only to be suspended for using the pulpit to champion socialism. Although now affiliated with the Socialist Party, he invoked French and Spanish anarcho-syndicalism and opposed electoral activity in favor of direct action and the general strike. Hagerty belonged to the delegation of the Industrial Workers Club of Chicago, an organization composed of antiparliamentary socialists like himself and anarchists like Robert C. Goodwin, the final individual named in Corna and Andrà's report. Several other anarchists attended as observers, including Spaniard Pedro Esteve (see Alonso, Chapter 5).

During the convention M. E. White nominated Riordan to the union's General Executive Board, to which he was elected by a wide margin. The convention also adopted a resolution by Klemencic and Corna condemning militarism, and Riordan and Hagerty helped draft the organization's constitution, including its famous Preamble. Even the union's name bore an anarchist imprint; when some delegates proposed "The Industrial Union of America," Riordan and Klemencic passionately appealed for the global "Industrial Workers of the World." In Klemencic's words:

we are a cosmopolitan crowd. Now, then, as it is, all lines that were ever established have always been established by men who were a bunch of robbers, thieves and exploiters, and we want to combine ourselves as humanity, as one lot of people, those that are producing the wealth of our oppressors, and we want to have under that banner our brothers and sisters of the world.

This cosmopolitan internationalism reflected Klemencic's anarchist beliefs, as well as his own experiences as a transnational labor radical.

When the IWW's second convention met in 1906, Albert Ryan and John Riordan again attended, joined by anarchist Michel Dumas, a representative of Paterson's silk workers, who had published that city's French anarchist paper Germinal from 1899 to 1902. Ryan and Riordan played major roles in the tumultuous proceedings, which saw the removal of sitting president Charles O. Sherman and the abolition of that office altogether. Dumas also cosponsored a failed motion to strike the words promoting action "on the political field" from the Preamble. At the following year's convention La Questione Sociale editor Ludovico Caminita was the only known anarchist delegate. He spoke against a proposal to reinstate the office of president, and in support of yet another motion to remove the "political clause" from the union's preamble. This provoked a heated exchange with Socialist Labor Party leader Daniel De Leon, whose defense of the existing document carried the day. However, the 1908 convention finally removed the "political clause" and ejected De Leon from the organization.

Nevertheless, not all anarchist members approved of the degree of centralization that remained in the IWW's structure or its version of syndicalism. Several, including Jay Fox and Lucy Parsons, broke away from the union in 1912 to join William Z. Foster's Syndicalist League of North America, which, influenced by the French model of anarcho-syndicalism, aimed to "bore from within" the mainstream unions of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Foster, a future leader of the Communist Party, also drew heavily on anarchism, championing anti-statism and arguing, "Syndicalism has placed the Anarchist movement upon a practical, effective basis." In 1924, anarchists participated in a more consequential clash between IWW "centralists" and the "decentralists," with many supporting the latter's "Emergency Program" for union reorganization. This conflict overlapped with struggles between and pro- and anti-Communist members, as well as disagreements over clemency campaigns for IWW prisoners. The result was a violent annual convention and disastrous organizational split that left the union in a shambles. Throughout the union's institutional development, then, anarchist influence was significant, if not always self-evident or successful.

Paper Politics

The depth and breadth of anarchists' role in the organization was even greater within the multiethnic, multilingual web of IWW-affiliated publications. In 1913, sociologist Louis Levine noted "the numerous anarchists who have joined the organization during the past few years. In the Far West and in the East many of the I.W.W. locals are dominated by anarchistic elements, who have come to regard the I.W.W. as the most promising agency for revolutionary propaganda and action." These local efforts were linked — and made visible to historians — through anarchists' informal networks, within which "radical newspapers were the major connective tissue linking the scattered nodes ... facilitating the exchange of resources, the movement of people, the creation of identity, and the spread of tactics." Anarchists edited at least 19 IWW periodicals in the United States before the Second World War — over 20 percent of all Wobbly titles published — and in 1919–20, anarchist-edited IWW publications had a combined circulation of over 47,000 copies, more than four times that of the union's English-language Industrial Worker. These editors' transnational anarchist politics manifested themselves in ways both implicit and explicit.

John Sandgren was one such Wobbly who wove anarchism into his editorial duties. Fluent in both Swedish and English, he began editing the One Big Union Monthly and the IWW's Swedish-language Nya Varlden in 1919. Although Sandgren did not explicitly voice his anarchism in these publications, he was removed from the One Big Union Monthly in 1920 after publishing anti-Bolshevik editorials and translations of anti-communist articles from Swedish anarchist and syndicalist papers, at a time when friendly feelings toward Soviet communism still persisted among many Wobblies. Sandgren also opposed IWW affiliation with the communists' Red International of Labor Unions (the Profintern), and supported affiliation with the Berlin-based anarcho-syndicalist International Working Men's Association (see Thorpe in Chapter 6). Nor was Sandgren the union's only Swedish anarchist newspaperman; Gustav Bergman, an "active anarchist in Sweden" before coming to America, edited Seattle's bilingual Swedish-Norwegian Industri-Arbetaren in 1924–25.


Excerpted from "Wobblies of the World"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Peter Cole, David Struthers, and Kenyon Zimmer.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments Introduction Part I: Transnational Influences on the IWW 1. 'A Cosmopolitan Crowd': Transnational Anarchists, the IWW, and the American Radical Press by Kenyon Zimmer 2. Sabotage, the IWW, and Repression: How the American Reinterpretation of a French Concept Gave Rise to a New International Conception of Sabotage by Dominique Pinsolle 3. Living Social Dynamite: Early Twentieth-Century IWW-South Asia Connections by Tariq Khan 4. IWW Internationalism and Interracial Organizing in the Southwestern United States by David M. Struthers 5. Spanish Anarchists and Maritime Workers in the IWW by Bieito Alonso Part II: The IWW in the Wider World 6. The IWW and the Dilemmas of Labor Internationalism by Wayne Thorpe 7. The IWW in Tampico: Anarchism, Internationalism, and Solidarity Unionism in a Mexican Port by Kevan Antonio Aguilar 8. The Wobblies of the North Woods: Finnish Labor Radicalism and the IWW in Northern Ontario by Saku Pinta 9. 'We must do away with racial prejudice and imaginary boundary lines': British Columbias Wobblies before World War I by Mark Leier 10. Wobblies Down Under: The IWW in Australia by Verity Burgmann 11. Ki Nga Kaimahi Maori ('To all Maori Workers'): The New Zealand IWW and the Maori by Mark Derby 12. Patrick Hodgens Hickey and the IWW: A Transnational Relationship by Peter Clayworth 13. 'The Cause of the Workers Who Are Fighting in Spain is Yours': The Marine Transport Workers and the Spanish Civil War by Matthew White 14. Edith Frenette: A Transnational Radical Life by Heather Mayer Part III: Beyond the Union: The IWWs Influence and Legacies 15. Jim Larkin, James Connolly, and the Dublin Lockout of 1913: The Transnational Path of Global Syndicalism by Marjorie Murphy 16. Tom Barker and Revolutionary Europe by Paula de Angelis 17. P. J. Welinder and 'American Syndicalism' in Interwar Sweden by Johan Pries 18. 'All Workers Regardless Of Craft, Race Or Color': The First Wave of IWW Activity and Influence in South Africa by Lucien van der Walt 19. Tramp, Tramp, Tramp: The Songs of Joe Hill Around the World by Bucky Halker

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