Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

Peter Cole, David Struthers, and Kenyon Zimmer, Eds., Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW (London: Pluto Press, 2017)

Academic journal article Labour/Le Travail

Peter Cole, David Struthers, and Kenyon Zimmer, Eds., Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW (London: Pluto Press, 2017)

Article excerpt

Peter Cole, David Struthers, and Kenyon Zimmer, eds., Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW (London: Pluto Press, 2017)

A BRITISH FOREIGN Office report prepared during World War 1 characterized the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) as "the most lawless labour movement which has ever existed." (69) The meaning of this back-handed acknowledgement is addressed in Wobblies of the World, which seeks to correct misperceptions about the radical labour union. This rich collection of essays confronts the near-total lack of attention to the IWW's international activities in the first three decades of the 20th century. Contributors treat overlapping themes, including transnational influences on the IWW, Wobblies' own international activities, and their engagement with larger events. The contributors eschew the tendency in IWW historiography to focus on the United States and English-language sources. Points made by essayists both confirm and supersede established literature.

Wobbly organizing in the United States and repression during World War I are familiar subjects dealt with from new perspectives. David M. Struthers holds that Wobblies practiced "on-the-ground internationalism" in the US Southwest. (74) Mexican and Indigenous workers were part of this process, as Wobbly organizer Frank Little recognized by (inaccurately) claiming Indigenous heritage. Wobblies participated in the "Baja raids" in support of the Mexican revolution. Beto Alonso shows Spanish anarchists were committed to a "single global union" of maritime workers, initially from within the conservative International Seamen's Union, affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. (98) This included participation in strikes on the Philadelphia waterfront in 1913. The First Red Scare destroyed cultural networks. In adapting the French Confederation General du Travail's notion of sabotage, Dominique Pinsolle contends, American Wobblies opened themselves to wartime repression which conflated the concept with treason, a perception that also came to be held on the US left. Both US authorities and the Soviet Cheka also employed anti-sabotage rhetoric.

Moving to Canada, Saku Pinta argues Finnish IWW organizers in northern Ontario split with conservatives in the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) and the Finnish Socialist Organization of Canada. IWW influence was evidenced by the 1916 Work People's College Support Ring and a 1918 log drivers' strike. In World War I, the government banned the IWW and declared Finnish an "enemy language." (150) Mark Leier studies "practical transnationalism" in British Columbia with its multi-ethnic work force. (157) At least one lumber worker local had a large Indigenous membership.

Essays deal with individual Wobblies. Peter Clayworth focuses on Patrick Hodgens Hickey, an itinerant New Zealander. Having joined the WFM in Utah and later helping to organize the New Zealand Federation of Miners, Hickey advocated revolutionary industrial unionism and political involvement. He gradually came to see the IWW as the enemy of a unified working class. Heather Mayer writes about Edith Frenette, a "rebel girl" in free-speech fights in the Canadian-US borderlands. (228) Frenette faded from view after the 1916 Everett Massacre. Paula de Angelis' subject is syndicalist Tom Barker. After working in English-speaking lands and being president of a Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union (MTW) local in Buenos Aires, he went to Europe and the Soviet Union after World War I. He backed a scheme to establish a commune jointly run by the IWW and the Soviets. Johan Pries studies P.J. Welinder, who favoured "short bursts" of direct action over building state institutions in interwar Sweden. (266) Bucky Halker surveys the dissemination of Joe Hill's songs from Hill's lifetime to folk music circles today.

A remarkable group of essays examine episodes during the world revolutionary wave of a century ago. …

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