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IWW History Project



If you have a few minutes, checking out the IWW History Project at the University of Washington is well worth your time. It contains a lot of great visuals, maps, timelines, etc. The labor historian James Gregory:

The IWW History Project is now live. Based at the University of Washington, the online project reveals in new ways the rich history of the Industrial Workers of the World during the formative years, 1905-1935. The project has many dimensions, but at the center are interactive maps and datasets that show the geography and density of IWW activism.

One set of maps locates more than 1,800 strikes, campaigns, arrests and other acts of persecution, allowing us to see year by year or month by month where the IWW was active. Another set of maps and charts shows the locations of more than 900 local unions. The maps are linked to chronological yearbooks of events that are based on data collected from the Industrial Union Bulletin, Industrial Worker, Solidarity and other sources.

These visualizations bring surprises and invite new understandings about the radical organization. The scope of activity is one surprise. IWW local unions were found in more than 350 towns and cities, in 38 states and territories of the United States and five Canadian provinces. We are familiar with some of this geography–the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest, the Northeastern textile belt—but seeing the density of activity in Oklahoma, Texas, Indiana, and Ohio is eye opening. So is the IWW’s place in New York City which hosted dozens of unions and many strikes, including one by the Macaroni Workers Industrial Union No. 301. The city was also home to seventeen IWW affiliated newspapers published in seven languages.

Macaroni Workers Industrial Union No. 301 would a pretty good band name.

This is a really great resource. I look forward to using it myself.

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  • Mike in DC

    Mmm. Macaroni.

  • howard

    Great-looking resource, thanks.

  • My grandfather was an IWW member in Colorado, also a Western Federation of Miners organizer. He died in 1960. He used to rant to me about the bosses — never trust them. That was back when union organizing was a contact sport. He had a few scars to show for it from nightstick blows.

    • You can travel up to Victor and still see the bullet holes in the IWW hall.

  • steeleweed

    Thanks for the link – will rummage around when I have a moment to spare.
    For another angle, listen to Utah Phillips sing and talk about his days as an organizer.

    • Although by the time Phillips came around, the IWW was nothing more than a shell of itself. Really it’s been a completely irrelevant organization since 1920 except in the hearts and minds of radicals.

  • keta

    Posts like this are a big reason I read here.

    Thanks, Erik.

  • Woodrowfan

    OK, a question. According to the map there is no IWW presence in West Virginia. that surprised me. Why was the IWW shut out of such prime mining territory? Successful government and business opposition? Shut out by existing unions? Or is the data from that state missing?

  • Back in the early 1950s my girlfriend the Contessa and I frequented the IWW Labor Temple and Café on the Houston waterfront. The place was headquarters for Blackie Vaughn’s Marine Transport Workers’ Industrial Union 510 and a kind of social hall that served hamburgers and beer. Blackie did the cooking. He was a compact, limping man in his mid-fifties, his hair gone white. I can still see the way he would stop in mid-hamburger, raise his spatula, and entrance us with stories about the Wobblies. He liked to say he had been “in every important jail in the Western Hemisphere.” Important or not, he had been in more than fifty of them, including a long stint in prison in the Bahamas. The limp came about because he had crushed his toes when hopping a freight. The story was that Blackie cut off his shattered toes with a pocket knife and whisky for an anesthetic.
    Underneath the toughness was kindness. Goodwill shimmered in his eyes and you knew that here was a man who would help, if help you ever needed. Blackie had an acolyte, an emaciated stick-figure of a man who comported himself with the formality of an English butler. Once he asked the Contessa (she claimed to be Italian royalty), if she had given any thought to Marx’s theory of surplus value. She gulped, looked down at her plate, and said she hadn’t. He was glad to explain.
    Years and decades later, my father was dying. Some nights I stayed with him in the hospital, leaving before dawn to jog on the downtown streets. Other nights my mother and I would stay past visiting hours and leave the hospital by a side door. On the way home would stop at the neighborhood ice house for a beer. Deep down into Alzheimer’s, she could tolerate the ice house if people didn’t approach too closely.
    On the night in question the place was empty except for a cadaverous old man wearing a checkered sports coat and a felt hat pushed back at a jaunty angle. We took our places at the end of the bar. He followed, head down and muttering, and stood beside me.
    “What ship are you on,” he asked.
    Flattered that marks of the sea still showed, I said, “No ship,” adding that I had once served aboard the Texas Clipper.
    He did not know the vessel and went into one of those private discourses that drunks have with themselves. Only the word “Blackie” was intelligible.
    “You don’t mean Blackie Vaughn?” I don’t know why that name came to mind. I hadn’t thought of Blackie Vaughn in decades.
    “The same.”
    “Blackie’s dead. He was already old back at the time of the IWW Worker’s Temple.” The image of the place – dull varnished paneling, scrimshaw hanging on the walls, white-haired Blackie behind the bar – came back and I recognized the man. He was Blackie’s disciple, the one who had asked the Contessa what she thought of Marx.
    “Saw him in Hong Kong last August,” he pronounced those words with the finality of a police report.
    After much prodding, the story trickled out. When they broke the IWW local, Blackie, who had no means of support, went to Singapore where he dealt drugs. He got busted, but beat the rap with the help of friendly American officials. Blackie was now working on the back alleys of Hong Kong, selling only to seamen he knew from the old days. When he finished talking, the man scanned my face and I pretended to believe.
    The story they tell on the waterfront is different: Blackie Vaughn stayed in Houston, where he tended bar well into his eighties. Some old-time seamen helped him out by continuing to pay dues to the defunct union. And then Blackie died like any other mortal man. But, like the IWW, he lives.

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