“The Wobblies”: Iconic Film on the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Is Rereleased for May Day | Democracy Now!

“The Wobblies”: Iconic Film on the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Is Rereleased for May Day | Democracy Now!

We end todays show with a film that informs the story of the first union for all workers. I dont give a breeze of my fingers whether competent employees join this union or not. The employees at that time, unskilled employees, had no unions. Because we knew that there were– there had to be still Black workers living in Chicago– in Philadelphia who had been part of the union. Many, lots of IWW organizers went on to end up being organizers for the CIO, the Congress of Industrial Unions, which did represent unskilled workers and was organized in the 30s.

AMY GOODMAN: “There Is Power in a Union,” written by Joe Hill, from the 1979 documentary The Wobblies. Among the voices you simply heard because musical break, Alice Gerrard, Joe Glazer and Mike Seeger, the half-brother of Pete Seeger.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Im Amy Goodman.
This Sunday, much of the world will commemorate May Day, International Workers Day, in the middle of a wave of union arranging in the United States that includes ratings of Starbucks shops and the recently formed Amazon Labor Union. We end todays program with a film that tells the story of the very first union for all employees. The Wobblies is a documentary that came out in 1979 and has actually simply been restored and participated in the Library of Congresss National Film Registry.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Whats your name?
SAM SCARLETT: Sam Scarlett.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Whats your religious beliefs?
PROSECUTOR: That aint no religion!
SAM SCARLETT: Its the only I got.
WOBBLY 1: No, I am an industrial worker of the world!
JACK MILLER: The one who is a working man might not be denied membership for any reason, as long as he was an actual wage worker. Race, creed, color, any– for any reason.
VIOLET MILLER: Sex.
JACK MILLER: Sex, whatever.
IRMA LOMBARDI: Industrial Workers of the World. “Work, great salaries and respect.” Thats what they desired for the workers, to be people, not nobody.
ROGER BALDWIN: In the grain fields, we harvested every significant grain that grew in North America– wheat, oats, barley, rye.
UNSTEADY 2: The heat was 110 to 112 to 114 degrees temperature level out in the sun. And you might look throughout the plains and see a freight train from miles away.
AMY GOODMAN: The Wobblies, featuring narrative histories with elderly former members of the IWW, who were in their eighties and nineties in the 1970s. Its narrated by the late Roger Baldwin, among the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union, who died in 1981. This is another clip.
ROGER BALDWIN: But inexperienced labor had nearly no representation whatever. The AF of L didnt take in inexperienced employees. And they had no voice to speak for them. It was these conditions that were largely accountable for the starting of the Industrial Workers of the World.
PREAMBLE: The working class and the utilizing class have nothing in typical. Between these 2 classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world arrange as a class, acquire the earth and the equipment of production, and abolish the wage system.
ROGER BALDWIN: I remember reading of the starting convention of the Industrial Workers of the World, which took place in Chicago in 1905 and headed by men who were already well known to newspaper readers–” Big Bill” Haywood, for instance, of Western Federation of Miners, and Eugene V. Debs, prospect for president on the Socialist Party ticket, and Mother Jones and lots of others.
” BIG BILL” HAYWOOD: Fellow workers, this is a Continental Congress of the working class. I do not offer a breeze of my fingers whether proficient employees join this union or not. We do not require them. There are 35 million workers in this nation that arent organized. What we want to establish at this time is an organization that will open large its doors to every man or lady that makes his income by brain or muscle.
AMY GOODMAN: The words of IWW leader “Big Bill” Haywood in the film The Wobblies.
For more, were signed up with by the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Deborah Shaffer, who co-directed this impressive documentary with Stewart Bird in 1979. Its just been brought back and screens nationwide on May Day, this Sunday, online at the end of May.
Deborah, welcome to Democracy Now! Its a remarkable film. Tell us the story of the Wobblies.
DEBORAH SHAFFER: Well, the Wobblies themselves was a union, as you heard in the clip, that was founded in 1905 out of requirement, really. The workers at that time, inexperienced employees, had no unions. There was no such thing. There was an– the AF of L existed, however they only admitted and arranged proficient employees, primarily white, mostly male– you know, bricklayers, masons, people with highly proficient jobs. So the masses of industrial workers– remember, this was the early days of industrialization in the United States. The fabric mills were growing. The lumber mills were expanding. The cotton gins were booming. The employees had no representation at all. And they were being expected to work seven days a week, 12-hour days, no breaks, no meals, underpaid, overworked. Kids were working. You understand, conditions were excruciating and terrible.
AMY GOODMAN: I wished to return to your film. In this clip, we hear from Black longshoreman James Fair after, well, one of the founders of the ACLU, Roger Baldwin.
ROGER BALDWIN: In the ports of the Atlantic and of the Gulf Coast, Black and white workers were organized in the very same unions, which the AF of L and the established unions did not allow.
JAMES FAIR: Well, we were on the farm, and conditions were just bad. My parents heard of Pennsylvania, and, so to speak, why, you might make up cash out of the street. And they chose, you know, to come North. Getting tasks, as far as the Negroes or Blacks is concerned, was pretty rough. And the IWW was the only thing that was accepting Negro or Black workers, you know, without– you understand, I imply, easily. We had Fletcher. He was a Negro. And we had one Nef. He was white, but he was an extremely dedicated union guy, both of these men. We would have our pep talks and whatnot. And Fletcher, after he d make a speech or something or another, “Solidarity, all for one, and one for all.”
We were given the roughest jobs, obviously. They would have a rough job or even on deck, and if a white came along, why, I didnt have no task. I d have to go back to something else. The work was so rough. We needed to use hand trucks, and two guys would pack that truck with freight, and we d need to truck it over really rough floors to the side of the ship to be loaded. We worked 10 hours. Individuals were getting hurt one after another, just going to the hospital. We had no medical or security rules or anything like that.
When the contract ran out, we d go in for a contract. Nothing doing. We needed to go out on strike. The results of that, while we were on strike, people were carried from different parts of the nation to break strikes. Some would be having, you know, guns, as like they were the law. And there would be these vans decreasing. They would be accompanied by authorities escorts on motorbikes. And a striker would have as much opportunity before the strikebreakers as a rabbit would have before a gunner.
AMY GOODMAN: Black longshoreman James Fair. I wish to go to another clip of The Wobblies. The IWW was imaginative with its methods. In this clip, we speak with migratory employees Joe Murphy and Jack Miller.
ROGER BALDWIN: Another one of the IWW techniques was sabotage, which was anything from decreasing on the task to threatening violence, which they didnt practice, as a matter of truth. It took an afraid company into believing they did.
JOE MURPHY: If Freedoms road seems tough and rough,
And strewn with thorns and rocks,
Just put your wooden shoes on, pard,
And you will not injure your corns.
To teach and arrange, no doubt,
Is excellent– thats real,
However still you can not get along without
The Good Old Wooden Shoe.
The wood shoe is a sign of the sabot. The sabot was the French. And a French employee, when he desired to rest, he d toss his sabot in the equipment and would simplify. And thats where the word “sabotage” came from.
JACK MILLER: Now, if you would like to know what sabotage truly means, it dont suggest as the French used the word “sabot,” toss a wood shoe into the machine. Nor does it suggest burning down sawmills, for what is the reason– what would be the sense in burning down your source of employment?
INTERVIEWER: What did sabotage suggest?
JACK MILLER: The conscious withdrawal of efficiency.
AMY GOODMAN: I suggest, thats another clip from The Wobblies. It is incredible, Deborah Shaffer, that you discovered these workers, now in their– at the time– I indicate, now many of them are dead, of course– in their nineties and eighties.
DEBORAH SHAFFER: Yeah, I believe our most– finding James Fair, the longshoreman from Philadelphia, was our most tough. Remember, we made this film in the late 70s. There was no internet. We could not put out a call through social media. We really created a brochure that we had people distribute on the docks in Philadelphia, a physical, like, color-printed paper leaflet, stating, “Was your grandpa a Wobbly?” Since we knew that there were– there needed to be still Black workers living in Chicago– in Philadelphia who had actually been part of the union. And we ultimately found James through, I think, a church that he belonged to, a minister understood and led us to him.
And we just didnt understand if we d discover, you understand, 10 or 20 still alive, I mean, in 1977. The union had been established in 1905. We were– you understand, individuals, as you said, were currently extremely senior.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to another clip. I indicate, this movie is so excellent. The archival video footage is astounding, as well. In this clip, its what? 1917, and World War I had started. We speak with Roger Baldwin, yep, the creator of the American Civil Liberties Union and storyteller of this, and Wobblies Jack Miller, Nels Peterson and Tom Scribner. It begins with the words of then-American Federation of Labor President Sam Gompers.
SAMUEL GOMPERS: This is individualss war, labors war. The last outcome will be determined in the factories, the shops, the mines, the farms, the production and transportation firms of the different countries. The workers have a part in this war equal with our combating boys.
ROGER BALDWIN: The American Federation of Labor, which, naturally, was the established union and are patriotic, participated in an arrangement with the federal government not to strike during war. The IWW would not subscribe to that. War production required tremendous quantities of wood, and the IWW actually managed the terrific lumber locations of the Northwest, therefore attracting the governments attention, particularly when the IWW took part in strikes against the conditions under which logging was done.
TOM SCRIBNER: The general strike established in the summertime of 1917, and it spread out up and down the Pacific Coast. And it was led by the IWW.
JACK MILLER: In the summertime of 1917, the woods were practically sturdily organized. The lumberjack, the most individualistic worker that you can think about, the huge guy idea, Paul Bunyan complex. Now the solidarity was such, not one logger remained in the camps any place we could get in communication with that camp to inform them that a strike was on.
NELS PETERSON: They tried every method to separate the strike. They sent out soldiers therein, soldiers that had never had an ax in their hand. They didnt understand– they d get lost if they walked around a huge stump.
ROGER BALDWIN: They organized the Spruce Division. Thats the method they used the Army as strikebreakers.
NELS PETERSON: They called them the Loyal Legion of Loggers. We called them the lousy long-legged loggers– wave the flag with one hand and rob you with the other.
AMY GOODMAN: Another clip of The Wobblies. The director, Deborah Shaffer, is with us. There is so much to talk about. If you could talk about what happened to them in World War I, the Palmer Raids, and their relationship with the more facility AFL?
DEBORAH SHAFFER: Well, the AFL desired absolutely nothing to do with the IWW, naturally. They saw them as a risk, although I need to say that later on– skip over to the end of it, what youre asking me about– the IWW really was the precursor to the CIO. Many, numerous IWW organizers went on to become organizers for the CIO, the Congress of Industrial Unions, which did represent unskilled employees and was organized in the 30s.
The Wobblies were put out of business by the federal government. Theres just no other method to put it. I found out how– in the procedure of making the movie, how really deep and dreadful the repression from the federal government was, similar to– like, lately weve seen there was a movie a number of years ago about the murder of Fred Hampton, which had actually been organized by the FBI. And this was a really similar attack on the IWW organized by, you mentioned, A. Mitchell Palmer, who was the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the time. His excited beaver young assistant was J. Edgar Hoover. And they detained people right and. They deported any immigrant employees. Anybody who didnt have their citizenship papers were just put on boats and deported out of the U.S., never to be enabled to return. A hundred and one members, and primarily management people, all across the nation were arrested in 1917 during the war. They were jailed and charged with sedition, put in prison. In the end, it was a sham trial. And they were–.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 15 seconds.
DEBORAH SHAFFER: They were charged with– they were given 20 years in jail for having arranged the IWW. I simply wish to state I discover, shockingly, the movie is more pertinent now than it was when we released it in 79. Thats what surprises me.
AMY GOODMAN: And its being put into the Library of Congresss National Film Registry, which is extraordinary, soon to be offered to everybody, opening on May Day, which is Sunday. Deborah Shaffer, I desire to thank you for being with us, co-director with Stewart Bird of the 1979 documentary The Wobblies, thats just being launched as soon as again. Im Amy Goodman.


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