The Industrial Workers of the World were once at the vanguard of the class war. They formed in Chicago in 1905, with such labor history luminaries as Big Bill Haywood, Mother Jones, and Eugene in attendance at their inaugural meeting. They composed a constitution, the preamble of which began: “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.”
The Wobblies, as the group came to be known as, would go on to strike fear into the heart of corporate America. Their ultimate goal was the upturning of the capitalist order and the replacement of the rule by the rich Few with one in which the producers held the levers of power in an “industrial democracy.”
The Wobblies’ greatest victory took place in Massachusetts in 1912, in the textile city of Lawrence. The battle began when the mill owners, who lorded over a beaten-down city of impoverished workers, cut wages after the state passed a law that shortened the work week from 56 to 54 hours. A Wobbly local organized the workers in protest, and on January 12, 1912, the workers struck.
The Lawrence strike lasted over two months, involved over 20,000 workers, and resulted in a stunning victory for labor. Not only were dismissed strikers reinstated, but they got a pay raise. The mainstream labor movement, headed by the conservative AFL, stood in disbelief as a rag tag bunch of radicals headed a union filled with immigrant womenundefinedlong dismissed by the mainstreamundefinedin a signal victory that demonstrated that unity and perseverance could win the day over the harsh demands of management.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Lawrence strike. Today, the Few have never been fewer. Will the Many ask, as did the Wobblies 100 years ago, for Bread and Roses?