Joyce L. Kornbluh (ed.), Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology.

Author:Pinta, Saku
Position:Book review

Joyce L. Kornbluh (ed.), Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology

Oakland, CA: PM Press, Chicago: Charles H. Kerr; Pontypool: Merlin Press, 464pp; ISBN-13: 978-0850366-51-8.

Rebel Voices has been consistently praised as the best single-volume history of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) union since it was first published in 1964, and it is difficult to disagree with this assessment. The book examines the history of the I.W.W. from the union's founding convention up to the 1960s, as told by the members themselves through an excellent collection of their writings, songs, poetry and artwork. Kornbluh divides the volume into twelve thematic chapters. Included in this new (third) edition are Fred Thompson's 1987 introduction, a new preface by I.W.W. Starbucks union campaign co-founder Daniel Gross, and Franklin Rosemont's brilliant essay on Wobbly cartoons.

Founded in Chicago in 1905, the I.W.W. set out to build a revolutionary model of labour organisation as an alternative to craft or trade unions. Machine production and the resultant 'deskilling' of the workforce, argued the union's founders, had rendered craft or trade forms of organisation outmoded and ineffective in fighting the increasingly concentrated power of capital. In place of the craft unions, the I.W.W. sought to organise workers on an industrial basis, meaning that all workers in the same industry were to belong to the same industrial union, without regard to the tools they used in production or their gender, ethnicity or skin colour. Revolutionary industrial unions were to be formed not only for the purpose of winning improvements in wages, hours, and working conditions, but also in the task of overthrowing capitalism and carrying on production without bosses. Direct action, rather than a reliance on paid officials or politicians, was the preferred tactic.

Kornbluh focuses primarily on four occupational groupings: textile, lumber, mine and agricultural workers. Of note are chapters on the 1912 Lawrence 'Bread and Roses' textile strike and the 1913 Paterson strike--two of the most famous Wobbly industrial disputes. The fascinating chapter on the powerful I.W.W Agricultural Workers' Organisation (A.W.O.) which numbered 70,000 members at its peak in 1917, shows the inner workings of one of the union's most successful initiatives. Agricultural workers in this period were regarded as 'unorganisable' by many in the labour movement given the highly mobile nature of their work. One...

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