Workers of the World

Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology

edited by Joyce L. Kornbiun
University of Michigan, 422 pp., $12.50

As the Seattle boat swung up the wharf…the IWW men were merrily singing the English Transport Worker’s song Hold The Fort. When the singers…crowded to the rail…Sheriff McRae called out to them:

“Who is your leader?”

“We are all leaders!”

“You can’t land here.”

“Like hell we can’t!” came the reply…A volley of shots sent [the Wobblies] staggering back…

So began the Everett Massacre of 1916, in which a shipload of Wobblies on their way to contest the right of free speech in a Washington lumber town were shot down by several hundred gunmen, scabs, militiamen, ex-policemen, “and other open-shop supporters.” At dusk of Bloody Sunday, at least five Wobblies had been killed, and thirty-one wounded. But this was the One Big Union, not CORE or SNCC. The toll for the Everett vigilantes, which included “lawyers, doctors, business men…and ignorant university students”: nineteen wounded, two dead.

Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology is a selection, in large part from the Labadie Archives at the University of Michigan Library, of poems, stories, songs, satires, and cartoons. The collection was gathered and kept for years by the millionaire spinster, Miss Agnes Ingles of Detroit. Our debt to her and to the editor of this book is great. Mrs. Kornbluh’s achievement in putting together this anthology seems especially commendable when we consider how difficult it is to reconstruct the subject by the printed word. Indeed, much of the material is anonymous, or signed “By an Unknown Proletarian,” “The Wooden Shoe Kid,” “J. H. B. the Rambler,” “A Paint Creek Miner,” “Scotti,” “Card No. 512210.”

On a June morning, 1905, William D. Haywood—“Big Bill”—then secretary of the Western Federation of Miners, walked to the front of Brand’s Hall in Chicago through a crowd of 200 “socialists, anarchists, radical miners and revolutionary labor unionists,” picked up a piece of loose board and hammered on the table for silence. “Fellow workers,” he said, “this is the Continental Congress of the working class.” It almost was.

Machine technology, and the classwar character of industrial struggles east and west of the Mississippi, had brought tens of thousands of wageworkers to an insubordinate frame of mind. There was no place for most of them in the skilled craft unions of Samuel Gompers’s A.F. of L. By fighting back they had little to lose. Just before the great Lawrence mill strike in 1912, “A report of the U. S. Commissioner of Labor…showed that…textile employees, including foremen, supervisors, and office workers [my italics] averaged about $8.76 for a full week’s work…well over half were women and children.” The Western Federation of Miners, shaken by crushing strikes in Colorado and Idaho, took the lead in trying to find a way out.

The IWW’s purpose was never veiled. Eugene Debs, who had sat on the platform in Brand’s Hall, said “The Industrial Workers is not organized to conciliate but to fight the capitalist class.” Job rights were to be protected on the job, by sabotage (“the conscientious withdrawal…

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