The I. W. W., Its First Fifty Years, 1905-1955: The History of an Effort to Organize the Working Class

The I. W. W., Its First Fifty Years, 1905-1955: The History of an Effort to Organize the Working Class

The I. W. W., Its First Fifty Years, 1905-1955: The History of an Effort to Organize the Working Class

The I. W. W., Its First Fifty Years, 1905-1955: The History of an Effort to Organize the Working Class

Excerpt

The I.W.W. was started in 1905 by "seasoned old unionists," as Gene Debs called them, who realized that American labor could not win with the sort of labor movement it had. There was too much "organized scabbery" of one union on another, too much jurisdictional squabbling, too much autocracy, and too much hobnobbing between prosperous labor leaders and the millionaires in the National Civic Federation. There was too little solidarity, too little straight labor education, and consequently too little vision of what could be won, and too little will to win it.

Building a new labor movement was not a project to be undertaken lightly. Even to build a new craft union was something then to undertake with great caution and secrecy, but the six men whose meeting in the fall of 1904 gave eventual birth to the I.W.W. aimed at one organization of all labor to replace the existing labor movement. When they met it was only 18 years since the AFL had been set up to rout the Knights of Labor and to protect the craft unions from the inroads that its greater vision of solidarity was making on their vested interests. The Knights had been rendered impotent only ten years earlier, and labor leaders still watched vigilantly lest any similar movement break out. Those who could be counted upon to help were few and were already active in the existing labor movement, its socially-minded or radical minority, and were engaged in vigorous disputes among themselves over theory and policy. To identify themselves with this new effort might mean the loss of their union positions, and worse yet, turning over those positions to reactionaries who wanted, not only the job, but the opportunity to make the unions more acceptable to the plutocrats on the Civic Federation.

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