Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Today in Labor History

Canada declares the Wobblies illegal - 1918 ~De

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or the Wobblies) is an international industrial union that was formed in 1905. The origin of the nickname "Wobblies" is uncertain.

The IWW promotes the concept of "One Big Union", contends that all workers should be united as a social class and that capitalism and wage labor should be abolished. They are known for the Wobbly Shop model of workplace democracy, in which workers elect their managers and other forms of grassroots democracy (self-management) are implemented. IWW membership does not require that one work in a represented workplace, nor does it exclude membership in another labor union.
The IWW was active in Canada from a very early point in the organization's history, especially in Western Canada, primarily in British Columbia. The union was active in organizing large swaths of the lumber and mining industry along the coast, in the Interior of BC, and Vancouver Island. Joe Hill wrote the song "Where the Fraser River Flows" during this period when the IWW was organizing in British Columbia. Some members of the IWW had relatively close links with the Socialist Party of Canada.

Arthur "Slim" Evans, organizer in the Relief Camp Workers' Union and the On-to-Ottawa Trek was once a Wobbly, although during the On-to-Ottawa Trek he was with the One Big Union. He was also a friend of another well-known Canadian, Ginger Goodwin, who was shot in Cumberland, British Columbia by a Dominion Police constable when he was resisting the First World War. The impact of Ginger Goodwin influenced various left and progressive groups in Canada, including a progressive group of MPs in the House of Commons called the Ginger Group.

Today the IWW remains active in the country with numerous branches in Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto, Windsor and Montréal. The largest branch is currently in Edmonton.

Among current and more notable IWW shops in Canada is the Ottawa Panhandlers' Union, which continues a tradition in the IWW of organizing disenfranchised workers on relief or in work camps started during the Great Depression. In the spirit of organizing industrially, any who make their living in the street, such as buskers, street vendors, or panhandlers are welcome to join the Ottawa Panhandlers' Union.

Listen to the song
Utah Phillips - Where the Fraser River Flows (by Joe Hill)

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