The Radical Range: The IWW as Homemaking Myth in the Transnational American West, 1905–17

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM
Chicago Ballroom D (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Gerald Ronning, Albright College
The work of many scholars has revealed a measure of sectionalism in the history of the Industrial Workers of the World: an eastern IWW, perhaps more European in origins, and a western division that seemed to have drawn more of its heritage from a native born, hard rock mining past. Indeed, scholars have frequently highlighted the sectional differences between the IWW in order to make arguments about the origins and ideological nature of the union, especially whether or not the union’s radicalism derived from its European members or from a native born radicalism forged in the hard rock mines of the US West. In this paper I will argue that this sectional history was not as relevant for the workers who struck and organized under the aegis of the IWW, but rather that European immigrant workers across the nation the activities of the western IWW that brought together Mexicans, Americans, and European immigrants on the so-called frontier of the New World served as shared source for an American homemaking myth – a foundation myth of blood-sacrifice that highlighted a shared ideological relationship between immigrants and Americans that, according to historian Orm Overland, served a “function of claiming the United States as the rightful home” for working class immigrants. The western IWW, active in a region rich with symbolism of an imagined past that symbolically tied Anglo Americans together, performed a similar symbolic task in bringing together multiple nationalities along the border between Mexico and the US and uniting them in class-based struggle, struggle that having occurred in the US West served as an authenticating narrative for immigrant workers across the nation.
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