History of the Labor Movement in the United States - Vol. 4

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 20
What's Wrong with the I.W.W.?

On July 21, 1915, Solidarity issued a Special Number celebrating the tenth anniversary of the founding of the I.W.W. It featured articles evaluating a decade of contributions by the Wobblies to the American working class and the labor movement -- even to the A.F. of L. "Not the least of the 'ten years of the I.W.W.' has been its educational influences. Many an A.F. of L. union owes its industrial tendencies, such as they are, to I.W.W. teachings and example." All in all, the I.W.W, after ten years of existence, was judged a success. B. H. Williams, editor of Solidarity, summed it up:

"No matter what may be the particular task engaged in by our organization, whether it be the carrying on of strikes of unskilled workers; the waging of fights for freedom of speech; the conducting of legal battles in the courts; the use of direct action tactics on the job; the lining up of the unemployed to demand rather than merely to beg for the chance to exist; or the many other forms of its activity -- looking to the complete organization of the working class -- the I.W.W. had demonstrated its efficiency as a fighting organization."

Yet for a movement that had "demonstrated its efficiency as a fighting organization," the I.W.W. had little concrete to show for it when it celebrated its tenth anniversary. It did not even hold a convention in 1915, and Solidarity itself teetered on the brink of extinction until an outright gift of $1,000, which one of the members had inherited, saved it.1 Membership statistics show the declining fortunes of the I.W.W. from 1912 to 1915. For 1912: 18,387 (reflecting the gains of Eastern textile workers); for 1913: 14,851; for 1914: 11,365, and for 1915: 15,000.2 And these official figures were probably exaggerated.

Even the activity among the unemployed during the economic crisis had yielded little in organizational growth. As one Wobbly pointed out in Solidarity on May 15, 1915: "Conditions were favorable to our purpose -- discontent, high cost of living, unemployment due to capitalist mis

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