From Internationalism to Transnationalism: The Industrial Workers of the World in the Borderlands, 1905–20

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:50 AM
Chicago Ballroom D (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
David Struthers, University of Copenhagen
Shortly after an amalgam of interests convened in Chicago at the end of June 1905 to form the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an independent socialist group in Los Angeles called the Emancipation Club reformed themselves into an IWW local. The IWW joined a crowded field in the region of radical left wing activists spanning trade unionists, socialists, and anarchists. The initial group in Los Angeles was English-speaking and predominantly Anglo, but the syndicalist union soon attracted many members from the region’s diverse working class. The IWW in Los Angeles and the Southwest organized the region’s Spanish speakers with more enthusiasm and more successfully than any other group. They also organized alongside the Partido Liberal Mexicano and other anarchist groups. The transnational history of the IWW in this region is an outgrowth of their local non-English organizing, especially in Spanish. Los Angeles became the center of Spanish-language IWW and anarchist newspapers. These papers circulated internationally and expanded the reach of the union beyond the local group and their interpersonal connections. When World War I-era repression came, a number of key organizers successfully avoided prosecution by fleeing to Mexico, where they continued to organize. This paper will expand the history of the IWW to discuss the flexible solidarities that saw many of the group’s adherents maintaining multiple affiliations. It will also discuss the transnational connections that these members created through organizing activities, personal connections, and their newspapers. It relies on an extensive review of IWW and other radical periodicals from Los Angeles and the Southwest in English, Spanish, and Italian, as well as archival documentation on two continents.