Photo: IWW Hall and Offices of Italian Anarchist Publication “The Social Question,” in New Jersey
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as ‘the Wobblies,’ founded in 1905 along revolutionary syndicalist and anti-electoral lines, remains a continuing source of inspiration for modern autonomous anti-capitalists in North America.
While still very active in a variety of workplaces, prisons, and communities, such as in the fast food industry in the Pacific Northwest with the Burgerville Workers Union, through the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, and the General Defense Committee, the IWW is important historically for several reasons. First, the group promoted a revolutionary brand of syndicalism (unionism) that advocated for workers taking over the means of existence and abolishing outright wages and capitalism, often through a general strike. They also promoted a culture of sabotage and resistance on the job, that like all anti-authoritarian tactics, were picked up and spread by larger bodies of working-class people in struggle. They also refused to participate in the political state, and also made connections with anarcho-syndicalist unions across the world, such as the National Confederation of Labor (CNT) in Spain. Moreover, the group stood up to white supremacist organizations such as the Ku-Klux-Klan, and actively organized black workers and immigrants, speaking out against racism and segregation.
Wanting to know more specifically about the global impact and influence of the IWW, we talked with Professor Peter Cole, from Western Illinois University, who along with co-editors David Struthers, Kenyon Zimmer, helped put together the brand new book, Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW. In our conversation, Peter tells us various stories which relate the global impact of the IWW, including in Africa, South Asia, New Zealand, and beyond. We also talk about how members of the IWW took up arms as volunteers in the Mexican and Spanish Revolutions.
Mass IWW meeting in Sydney, Australia. Source: Wikipedia
The spread of IWW ideas across the world is both fascinating and inspiring, especially as our conversation discusses instances where Wobbly organizing came up against colonial and white supremacist ideology, and argued for a united working-class offensive against capital and it’s world.
More Info: Peter Cole on Twitter and Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW
Music: The Martyr Index