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Tag Archives: labor history

Celebrating International Workers’ Day in Philadelphia

May 1 is International Workers’ Day, probably the most widely celebrated holiday in the world. It’s a day to remember workers’ struggles, to commemorate our martyrs, and to rededicate ourselves to building a world free of bosses and exploiters. It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate – a more urgent – time for this than today.

This year there will be many events across Philadelphia, including a large downtown rally focusing on immigrant workers rights and an evening rally in West Philadelphia. The Caucus of Working Educators (a reform caucus in the teachers’ union) is urging supporters of public schools and their workers (now almost 4 years without a contract or pay raise) to strike on May Day and join a day of protests demanding workers’ rights and support for our children and their schools.

These are the events that I know about:

  • 7:30-8:30 am: Pickets at schools with staff, parents & community in solidarity

  • Unite Here is organizing a rally at the Philadelphia International Airport in solidarity with airport workers fighting to receive what the city has designated as the minimum wage that can be paid to workers employed by government agencies and their contractors. 8:30 AM: gather at the UNITE HERE office (1415 N. Broad) to board the WE ARE HUMAN bus.
  • 9:30 am: Speak Out and Press Conference at PHL International Arrivals Hall, Terminal A West. At 10:30 am they will join Juntos at Dickinson Square Park at 4th and Tasker for an immigrant justice March to City Hall.
  • 10 am: Coalition of Working Educators demonstration, rally & press conference at 440 North Broad (School Reform Commission headquarters), followed by a March to City Hall, where CWE members will be meeting with City Council members and the mayor to demand action on education

  • 12 pm: Un Día Sin Immigrant, Black & Brown Bodies rally at City Hall, sponsored by the Black & Brown Workers Collective and Juntos.

  • 2 pm: Unite Here will send a delegation at LSG Skychefs, 8401 Escort Ave., demanding that they pay the city minimum wage.
  • 4 pm: Picket at the Hilton Penn’s Landing in solidarity with Hilton workers
  • 4 pm: Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Educator Exit Rally Lea Elementary, 4700 Locust St (West Philly)

  • March to Clark Park

  • 5 pm: May Day Rally at Clark Park, 43rd and Baltimore. Speakers, Poets, Drill Teams, Live Music, BBQ, Recognition Awards, Kids Activities and More. Sponsored by PhilaPOSH and the PA Labor History Society, and supported by over 55 area Labor and Allied Organizations.


ASR 69: Trumpocolypse

asr-69-coverAnarcho-Syndicalist Review 69 (Winter 2017) is on the press, and will ship to subscribers in early January.

This issue features a special section on anarchist responses to resisting the Trumpocolypse, as well as articles on fighting capitalism to save the planet, a special section looking back on the First International and the battle between the emerging anarchist and Marxist currents, the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, and reviews of new books on anarchism in Bulgaria and the United States, a biography of Frank Little, and more…

New ASR Available

ASR 68 (Fall 2016)

New Anarcho-Syndicalist Review


ASR 67 is on the press, and features articles on the folly of electoral politics, a history of anarchism in Ukraine, anarchism in the 21st century, and a short piece from me looking at the devastation posed by 50 years of economic stagnation — to the point where nearly half of Americans tell the Federal Reserve Bank that they would not be able to come up with $400 if they were hit with an unexpected expense that high, and would have to borrow the money or let other bills slide to cover it.

Joe Hill’s living message

hill calendar coverNovember 19 marks the 100th anniversary of the execution of Joe Hill, the iconic labor troubadour and troublemaker. The anniversary is being marked by events from Sydney, Australia, to Berlin, Germany, by soapboxing and concerts across the United States, and by the release of a new, expanded edition of The Letters of Joe Hill published by Haymarket Books, including all of Joe Hill’s surviving articles, letters, poems and songs.

Like millions of immigrants today, Joe Hill lived much of his life in the shadows. He worked the odd jobs available to immigrants, living much of his life on the road. He was press-ganged into rescue work following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, had to talk his way out of deportation when he returned to the United States after joining other Wobblies who fought alongside the Magonistas in the Mexican Revolution, and was routinely harassed by police as an agitator, but also because he was poor. And he was judicially murdered at age 36 by authorities who cared not one whit that he was innocent of the charges against him.

Today, as a result of biographies by William Adler and Gibbs Smith, we know a great deal about Joe Hill’s life, and about the sordid conspiracy that took it from him. But his fellow workers recognized a century ago the crime that was being perpetrated. Hundreds of thousands joined protests, wrote letters, and passed resolutions demanding Joe Hill’s release. Thirty thousand workers thronged his funeral in Chicago, and his ashes were scattered the whole world over.

During his five years as a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, Joe Hill wrote dozens of songs and several articles and poems for the IWW press. He served as strike committee secretary during an IWW dockworkers strike in San Pedro, California, and traveled to British Columbia to lend a hand during the IWW’s Fraser River strike of railroad construction workers, writing songs that bolstered morale along the legendary 1,000-mile picket line.

The new edition of his letters restores the full text of two letters excerpted in the first edition (edited by labor historian Philip S. Foner), published on the 50th anniversary of his execution, adds 16 letters and other writings discovered since that edition was published, and all of his surviving songs. (The new edition includes new material and expanded notes by former IWW organizer and General Secretary-Treasurer Alexis Buss, and a preface by rock guitarist and singer Tom Morello.) It is far from complete – no letters survive from Joe Hill’s first eight months in jail, and very few of his pre-arrest letters have been saved. (Four surviving postcards sent to a fellow Swedish immigrant turned up only decades after Hill’s execution. The cards were sent care-of the Sailors Union hall, and evidently carried in his seabag for years. Much of Joe Hill’s correspondence was surely lost by recipients who did not realize its historical significance, or destroyed – like the transcripts of the judicial proceedings against him – by officials who did.)

27 Ways of Striking

When the San Pedro dockworkers called off their strike in 1912, Joe Hill wrote:

The I.W.W. has 27 different ways of striking and after we have tried the remaining 26 varieties the Stevedoring Companies may be willing to grant our demands.

We pulled out about 600 men … and the tie-up would have been complete had it not been for 10 or 12 of my-country-‘tis-of-thee stiffs with sick wives, and lots to pay installments on, and other similar excuses. They are strongly in favor of an increase in wages, but when it comes to making a fight for it – Oh No! Nothing doing!

Striking on the job, Joe Hill believed, was essential to winning better conditions. In an article he wrote from prison for the International Socialist Review, he returned to this theme:

If every worker would devote ten or fifteen minutes every day to the interests of himself and his class, after devoting eight hours or more to the interests of his employer, it would not be long before the unemployed army would be a thing of the past and the profit of the bosses would melt away so fast that they would not be able to afford professional man-killers to murder the workers and their families in a case of strike.

The best way to strike, however, is to ‘strike on the job.’ First present your demands to the boss. If he should refuse to grant them, don’t walk out and give the scabs a chance to take your places. No, just go back to work as though nothing had happened and try the new method of warfare.

When things begin to happen be careful not to ‘fix the blame’ on any certain individual… The boss will soon find that the cheapest way out of it is to grant your demands. …

Striking on the job is a science and should be taught as such. … It develops mental keenness and inventive genius in the working class and is the only known antidote for the infamous ‘Taylor System.’

The aim of the ‘Taylor System’ seems to be to work one-half of the workers to death and starve the other half to death. The strike on the job will give every worker a chance to make an honest living. … It will stop the butchering of the workers in time of peace as well as in time of war.

What We Want

True freedom, Joe Hill realized, could come only through an organized working class recognizing its common humanity, organizing its solidarity, and acting in its own behalf. His songs ridiculed those who thought themselves better than other workers because of their craft or ethnicity or race. In “Scissor Bill” and other songs he takes on racism and jingoism. Hill condemns police brutality in his very first article published in the Industrial Worker, “Another Victim of the Uniformed Thugs,” a subject he returned to in several songs.

In many of his letters and songs, Joe Hill urged the organization of women. His 1913 song “What We Want” couples the organization of “the sailor and the tailor and the lumberjacks” with “all the cooks and laundry girls,” “the trucker and the mucker and the hired man, and all the factory girls and clerks. Yes, we want every one that works in one union grand.”

Hill wrote about the billions spent on guns and ammunition while millions live in misery (indeed, his very last song, written on the eve of his execution, condemned the human cost of the war then raging in Europe), the homeless chased from town to town, sweatshops and temp jobs, and the plight of workers condemned to the scrap heap once the bosses had extracted every last bit of profit.

But he also wrote of hope, of the possibilities for a better world.

Sitting in prison awaiting execution, Joe Hill was asked to write a song about the plight of the growing numbers of unemployed workers forced to turn to soup kitchens for their sustenance. His song, “It’s a long way down to the soupline,” is not content to bemoan the plight of the jobless. No, “Bill and sixteen million men responded to the call, To force the hours of labor down and thus make jobs for all. They picketed the industries and won the four-hour day…” This cheerful ditty about unemployment ends like this:

The workers own the factories now, where jobs were once destroyed, By big machines that filled the world with hungry unemployed. They all own homes, they’re living well, they’re happy free and strong, but millionaires wear overalls and sing this little song.

Joe Hill never died

So says the song written two decades after his execution, and sung since then the whole world over. Joe Hill’s legacy lives not only in his songs, many of which continue to be sung, but also in his advocacy of a labor movement that recognizes our common humanity, that organizes across borders and divides of race and gender; that empowers workers to recognize their common interests, and to act in their own behalf; and that holds fast to a vision of a better world.

If the workers take a notion, they can stop all speeding trains;
Every ship upon the ocean they can tie with mighty chains.
Every wheel in the creation, every mine and every mill,
Fleets and armies of the nation, will at their command stand still. …

Workers of the world, awaken! Rise in all your splendid might;
Take the wealth that you are making, it belongs to you by right;
No one for bread will be crying, we’ll have freedom, love and health;
When the grand red flag is flying in the Workers’ Commonwealth.’”

(Workers of the World Awaken, written in the Salt Lake City prison in September 1914)

Joe Hill centenary

There are now scores of events marking the centenary of the judicial murder of IWW songwriter and organizer Joe Hill, including concerts in at least six countries, conferences, museum exhibitions, new recordings of his songs, books, etc. Much of this is chronicled at, which includes the full text to all of Joe Hill’s surviving songs (and links to sheet music and performances for most), an extensive calendar of upcoming events which is updated weekly (starting soon are tours of northern Europe and the Joe Hill Roadshow through the midwestern U.S.), and other material.

A Joe Hill Memorial Songbook will be issued in time for May Day celebrations, which also kick off the Joe Hill Roadshow. I’ll be in Chicago May 2 for a ceremony honoring former IWW General Executive Board Chair Frederic S. Lee, who secured the release of the last of Joe Hill’s ashes from federal custody after more than 70 years. We’ll be scattering his ashes at the Haymarket Monument in Waldheim Cemetery. (The day before a representative of Sweden’s largest labor federation will commemorate Joe Hill at Waldheim during the Illinois Labor History Society’s annual observances — demonstrating the power the Haymarket Martyrs and Joe Hill hold over the imaginations and memories even of those who would never have associated with them in life.)

It’s important to remember our struggles — both the victories and the heavy price our fellow workers have paid over the years in our struggle for labor’s emancipation. Without them, we would still be working 12-hour days, six or seven days a week. Some of our fellow workers, where the right to organize has yet to be won, still are…

Bakunin bicentenary

asr 63 coverAnarcho-Syndicalist Review #63 completes a two-issue commemoration of the bicentenary of Bakunin’s birth with articles on the emergence of anarchism within the First International, the introduction of anarchism to Spain, and a brief review of recent scholarship on Bakunin.

Other articles examine anarchism and technology, the consequences of austerity in Great Britain, Colin Ward’s anarchism, the London dock strike of 1889, anarchism and Kobani, and Malatesta’s anarchism.

Joe Hill commemorative labor history calendar

The annual Solidarity Forever labor history calendar features IWW organizer and songwriter Joe Hill on the 100th anniversary of his murder by agents of the capitalist class. Copies can be ordered at (a web site still under construction which will have a wide array of materials for the Joe Hill centenary) or at http://iwwhlf.orghill calendar cover

Bakunin and the First International

I will be speaking Saturday at the Platypus International Conference, representing the anarchist cause on a panel on the split in the First International and its implications for contemporary movements. It is of course quite clear that Marx and his allies deliberately set out to destroy the International when it became clear that they could maintain their dominance only through bureaucratic means. Since then, we have had many opportunities to test in practice the Marxian program for a statist road to socialism, and as “scientific socialists” we might expect general agreement that Bakunin was right. After all, his hypothesis has been tested again and again, and has been confirmed each time!

I and another member of the ASR editorial collective will also be speaking on our work with the magazine. We have started work on a new issue, which hopefully will come together next month…

Labor History Calendar

The 2014 Solidarity Forever Labor History calendar is out, featuring photos and an essay on low-wage workers’ organizing. You can find details and ordering options at http:/