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A Shoeleather History of the Wobblies

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book by Steve Thornton

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Author: Steve Thornton
Genre: American History
Publisher: Shoe Leather History project
Date Published: 2013
1 review about A Shoeleather History of the Wobblies

The sort of history that will not be taught in school

  • Aug 21, 2014
In the early 20th century, the Industrial Workers of the World, or "Wobblies," attempted to organize a working-class movement that crossed racial and ethnic lines. This book looks at one part of their story, their strikes and campaigns in Connecticut.

Free speech may seem like an obvious right for all Americans. It wasn't always that way, especially for those who opposed the prevailing order in society, like labor union organizers. There was no mass media, so the only way to reach a large mass of people at once was to do it live, whether in a local theater, or literally standing on a soapbox on a street corner. Such gatherings were usually broken up by the police, or by paid henchmen working for the owner of whatever company was the subject of the latest labor unrest.

Many of the important figures in early 20th century labor came through Hartford, the state capital. They included "Big Bill" Haywood, Eugene Debs and Emma Goldman (who actually got her start in Hartford). The long, bitter, and ultimately successful, strike in Lowell, Massachusetts was a big inspiration to Connecticut workers. While an IWW strike was in progress, one would think that the American Federation of Labor (AFL) would be willing to help whenever possible. Rarely did that happen. Among the best IWW organizers was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who traveled the country organizing strikes while still a teenager.

A constant problem for the IWW was the accusation that they were an anarchist or socialist organization. Anyone who opposes capitalism must hate America, right? After World War I came the Red Scare. Led by the Justice Department, America was convinced that Moscow was going to take over and turn America into a socialist state. This led to many arrests and deportations of union leaders, and the destruction of many IWW offices. It never recovered to its former strength, but the IWW is still around today.

This is a fascinating piece of American labor history, and of the history of Connecticut. It is the sort of history that will not be taught in school. On many levels, this is very much worth reading.

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