Wednesday 4 April 2018 8.30 - 10.30H-1 - LAB19 : Roundtable:Wobblies of the World
MST/03/004 Main Site Tower
When James Larkin and his family left Liverpool for the Burren in Southern County Down one wonders if this was the moment of his disenchantment with Irish romanticism. The cold, wet and isolated rocky inland, without a hint of urban landscape must have presented the young, Larkin with bleak possibilities. ... (Show more)
When James Larkin and his family left Liverpool for the Burren in Southern County Down one wonders if this was the moment of his disenchantment with Irish romanticism. The cold, wet and isolated rocky inland, without a hint of urban landscape must have presented the young, Larkin with bleak possibilities. The linen industry was there of course and some woolen manufacturing, but it was thin and certainly not Liverpool. Without skills “Big Jim” made his way into Belfast in 1907 and founded the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. The concept was industrial from the outset and it was in the most English of the two Irish cities. Gaelic had long since disappeared and the influx of Protestant Protestants reduced the Celtic influence in Belfast down to a handful of Catholics who were mostly on the bottom end of the pay scale.
“General Workers,” had to suffice for the more obvious “industrial” and these workers were hardly the hardrock miners of Big Bill Haywood and Mother Jones, but he was obviously in the ballpark of the IWW even at this early stage of his organizing career. In six short years Larkin would commence the great Dublin lockout of 1913, the biggest strike in Britain’s imperial city, a strike and a lockout that some would argue paved the road to Irish independence. James and Larkin and James Connolly tested their ideas in the Dublin walk-out of 1913 but their time in the United States and work for the IWW intertwined one movement with the other. Not all of the tactics of the one movement in the United States worked in Ireland, however, the general idea of solidarity and one big union captivated workers on both sides of the pond.
This paper explores Larkin, the Lockout and James Connolly. Larkin leaves Ireland for NYC in 1914 becomes a member of the Socialist Party and then a supporter of the Soviet Union. In New York he was eventually arrested for criminal anarchism in 1919 and he pardoned and later deported in 1923 by Al Smith. Back in Ireland he takes a post as the head of the Irish Worker League and continues to organize. His life was entwined with the history of Liverpool, Ireland, the US and then Ireland again. He was part of the migration of the Irish diaspora and brought into the IWW a true understanding of the necessity of one big union. (Show less)
Dominique Pinsolle : How the American Reinterpretation of a French Concept Gave Rise to a New International Conception of Sabotage
Symbolised by the famous black cat drawn by Ralph Chaplin, sabotage is closely associated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). However, France was where this practice was theorised (if not invented) in the middle of the 1890s, particularly by the revolutionary syndicalist Emile Pouget. The Confédération Générale du ... (Show more)
Symbolised by the famous black cat drawn by Ralph Chaplin, sabotage is closely associated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). However, France was where this practice was theorised (if not invented) in the middle of the 1890s, particularly by the revolutionary syndicalist Emile Pouget. The Confédération Générale du Travail (General Confederation of Labour, or CGT) officially adopted sabotage as a means of struggle in 1897.
At the beginning, certain French revolutionary syndicalists conceived of sabotage as a voluntary and clandestine degradation of the quality of work, of materials, or of the product itself, in order to harm the interests of the employer alone. The IWW enthusiastically embraced the concept of sabotage, including using the French term, and routinely advocated this tactic from at least 1912 until the great Chicago trial of 1918. Many historians have studied the defence of this means of action, its real or ostensible influence on the practices of the Wobblies, as well as its use by local and federal authorities to repress the organisation. However, fewer have studied the very definition of the concept of sabotage and its evolution during this period. The extreme malleability of this concept raises another question: was sabotage, such as propounded and denounced in the United States during the period when the IWW considered it a legitimate means of struggle, merely the prolongation of the tactic adopted by certain French syndicalists and revolutionaries since the mid-1890s? This paper contends that, far from being reduced to a French influence, IWW defenders of sabotage actually did so based upon a reinterpretation of this concept, which, while used by the Wobblies’ enemies to justify their attacks, ended up acquiring characteristics peculiar to the United States, the likes of which did not appear in France.
Studying the IWW from the standpoint of the practices and concepts it used distinguishes the influence of French revolutionary syndicalism on the organization but also qualifies it. Certainly, sabotage as a concept originated with the CGT. However, the IWW redefined it according to the American context. Despite the very limited conception of sabotage promoted by the IWW, its enemies associated this tactic with a form of treason in wartime. Paradoxically, a rather reductive version of sabotage, while being denounced in the U.S. as an anti-patriotic practice, subsequently contributed to the emergence of a new and much broader concept that included subversive and clandestine acts in the service of a foreign power. However, it was in the United States rather than in France, that sabotage was conceptualised as such and this transformation occurred. The defense of sabotage by the IWW, far from being the pale imitation of a French syndicalist tactic quickly reduced to nothing by the federal government, gave rise to a concept adapted to the U.S. context that indirectly contributed to the international dissemination of yet another iteration of the concept after 1918. (Show less)
Johan Pries : Tracing the Translocal Effects of the Early IWW’s Defeat: P.J. Welinder and “American Syndicalism” in Interwar Sweden
The Industrial Workers of the World’s brief moment of strength in the late 1910s can perhaps best be understood as a laboratory of class struggle. New groups of workers found themselves center stage in American class politics by experimenting with methods that took advantage of their precarious position on the ... (Show more)
The Industrial Workers of the World’s brief moment of strength in the late 1910s can perhaps best be understood as a laboratory of class struggle. New groups of workers found themselves center stage in American class politics by experimenting with methods that took advantage of their precarious position on the labor market. Most of the IWW’s organizational structures collapsed during the 1920s, but the syndicalist experiments lived on beyond what had been the Wobblies strongholds.
One of the many translocal circuits that wobbly experiences circulated along was the routes of mobility and migration that the IWW had drawn much of its strength from. How Swedish-born the IWW veteran PJ Welinder’s return to his native country, after being ousted as temporary IWW General Secretary in 1925, is an interesting illustration of how the Wobblies defeat precipitated translocal flows of political experience. Welinder join the sizeable Swedish syndicalist union SAC at the peak of its strength and instantly set to work in implementing the lesson he learnt in the US.
The SAC:s late 1920s strategy, seeking to appropriate the respectability of Swedish Social Democracy, had created tensions that Welinder soon became the primary conduit of. By drawing on the US experiences Welinder led a break-away group consisting of several thousand members attempting to try more flexible and contentious methods understood to emanate from the IWW. In this paper I examine the profound effects that the IWW experiments had across time and space by asking how “American Syndicalism” took root in and beyond the SAC from 1926 onwards. (Show less)