The Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the “Wobblies,” was founded at a 12-day convention in Chicago, June 27, 1905.
The “Continental Congress of the Working Class” established the industrial Workers of the World with cooperation of sections of the Socialist Labor Party/Socialist Trades & Labor Alliance, Socialist Party of America, Western Federation of Miners, and survivors of the International Working People’s Association.
Participants included the legendary William “Big Bill” Haywood, head of the Western Federation of Miners. Other prominent early IWW organizers included Lucy Parsons, Eugene Debs, “Mother” Mary Jones, Frank Little, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn – whom Joe Hill dubbed the “Rebel Girl.” Flynn later became a leader of the Communist Party USA.
The IWW was a pioneer in labor and socialist organizing. It advocated industrial unionism and called for “one big union” that would overthrow capitalism through general strike action. However, it opposed political action, believing that transformation of society would stem from strikes and street protests.
The Wobblies advocated for equality. Its famous motto was, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
At its peak, the IWW membership was about 40,000, with especial strength in the west. Its numbers declined in the 1920s and beyond due to a number of factors. These included splits in the organization, government suppression of “reds” and “agitators” in general, emergence of the Communist Party which championed political as well as labor organizing, and changes in the industries and labor force where it had its greatest strength.
The IWW had a major impact on the organization of America’s major mass production industries, on other later social struggles, and on American culture. The Wobbly movement produced famous songs still sung today, with the most famous being the union anthem “Solidarity Forever.”
Photo: An IWW demonstration in New York, April 11, 1914. Wikimedia Commons