The "Wobblies"

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), popularly known as “the Wobblies,” was founded in 1905 by representatives of 43 different labor groups who were opposed to the “pure and simple” unionism of Samuel Gompers's American Federation of Labor.

The most extreme of America's pre-World War I labor groups, the IWW rejected political action, arbitration, and binding contracts. Instead they put their faith in the strike and nothing but the strike. Inspired by European syndicalism, the IWW wanted to organize all workers into “One Big Union,” with the ultimate goal of a revolutionary general strike that would overthrow capitalism and create a workers' society.

The principal founders of the IWW were Daniel De Leon of the Socialist Labor Party, Eugene V. Debs of the Socialist Party, and William D. (“Big Bill”) Haywood of the Western Federation of Miners. De Leon and Debs came out of the social democratic tradition of the socialist left. Haywood's ideological base was the militant unionism of the Western Federation of Miners, which spent a decade fighting mine owners and the government in its efforts to unionize hard rock miners and smelter workers.

Essential

“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common . . . Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.” (Preamble, IWW Constitution)

In 1908, the Wobblies split into two factions. One faction, led by De Leon and Debs, argued for creating change through political action by socialist parties and labor unions. The other faction, led by Haywood, came down in favor of syndicalist-style direct action: general strikes, boycotts, and sabotage. The syndicalists won and expelled the socialists from the organization.

Under Haywood's leadership, the Wobblies adopted an American version of syndicalism: class warfare based on direct industrial action. The IWW's actions often led to arrests and sensational publicity. Haywood himself was arrested and acquitted on a labor-related murder charge in 1906-1907. The group led a number of important strikes in the east between 1907 and 1913, but its main area of operation was among western workers in mining, lumber, transportation, and agriculture

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