How to find Your Local Wobbly History by Robert P. Helms

Instructions on how to research historical Industrial Worker of the World information. From Anarcho-Syndicalist review #28, Spring 2000

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 23, 2010

One can find the forgotten Wobbly names and faces, strike stories, union halls and martyrs' graves in any city where the IWW earned its legendary reputation. It is easy to find thorough information on the luminaries, such as Tresca, Flynn and Giovanitti, but what about those local organizers who invited these major figures to town, and then kept working after they were gone, pouring the wine of rebellion into workers' hearts? It may take some time, but in all probability you'll find syndicalist monuments and hallowed ground that you walk past every day, but never knew existed.

Start at the nearest college library, and gather a short stack of general works on the IWW or any of its famous travelling speakers. Look in the indexes for the name of your town, and start making a list of the local numbers, companies where the IWW was active, and especially the dates of strikes and public appearances by well-known Wobs. The most active years will usually be between 1911 and 1920. Be sure to include the date September 5, 1917, when IWW halls across the U.S. were raided by federal agents.

Take the list to the nearest large public library, and go to the newspaper room. They'll have all the local daily papers from those early years on microfilm. In most places, there were many more papers than there are now. Start rolling to the day after each of the events you've found, and read the mainstream news accounts. This is the point at which you'll start saying “oh my goodness…” because there will be photographs, names, addresses and stories that you've never heard of, and some that no living person knows about.

Take down the addresses of the union halls and get on your bike: is the building till standing? In Philadelphia, there are two. When I rang the doorbell at one of them, I was happy to learn that its present occupants had found some old union handbills in the building, and they had some framed and hanging on the wall. Take down the names of IWW activists and look them up in the city directory (ancestor of the phone book) for the same year: is the home still there now?

Search every local historical facility for the names, as well as the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. Here's where you may locate the personal papers of your long-dead comrades, and still more names, addresses, and other connections. If you find the date of someone's death you should look in the papers for an obituary, figure out where they were buried, and call up the cemetery. (Some libraries and historical societies maintain a file of local obituaries from the papers, organized by name, which can be a big help.) I got lucky and found the tombstone of the martyred Wobbly organizer Martin Petkus just a few miles from where I live. Martin was shot down by riot police during an IWW sugar refinery strike in 1917.

There will be thousands of minute details that will lead you to other details, and the thread will never end. Once you start hitting pay-dirt and getting acquainted with the labor activists who walked the same streets as you do, but long, long ago, this may become your hobby or even your obsession, as is the case with me. Now that you've been warned, sharpen your pencil and get to work. You'll benefit enormously from the help of librarians at every single step, so always be nice to them.

Taken from The Kate Sharpley Library



13 years 6 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on December 24, 2010

Just to say that if you do find any local wobbly history, post it up here on libcom! We have a massive section on the IWW, but the more the better


13 years 6 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Bonaventura on December 29, 2010

Here is some international 'local' stuff:

1. Sweden

The Swedish SAC has made available online completely the Swedish language IWW-paper "Marinarbetaren" (Marine [Transport] Worker), which appeared from June 1924 to March 1925 in 10 issues. Well, you should be able to understand at least a little Swedish ...

The source is


Marinarbetaren 1924 Nr 01 (1. Juni 1924)

* Direkt aktion! Bättre villkor! Besättningarna på tre svenska fartyg i New York få alla sina krav beviljade
* Ny branch i Stettin
* Internationellt nytt
* Till herr Roth, Olsson mfl
* Vad är IWW av Walker C Smith
* Till Skandinaviens sjöfolk
* Vår engelska lektion - Our English lesson
* Är du en aktiv fartygsdelegat?
* Några krav att uppställa
* Världens Industriarbetare (IWWs) principförklaring

(ma 1924_1.pdf 1.08 MB)

Marinarbetaren 1924 nr 02 (1. Juli 1924)

* Segrande fram, dag för dag, går den direkta aktionen
* Är du aktiv fartygsdelegat?
* Svensk terror emot IWW
* Havens historia
* Broms på utvecklingen
* Kan vi lära av redarna?
* Upprättandet av en branch i Japan kräves
* Ett brev om soliga Kaliforniens skuggsida
* Sjömansfantasi dikt
* Vår engelska lektion - Our English lesson
* Världens Industriarbetare (IWWs) principförklaring

(ma 1924_2.pdf 978.15 kB)

Marinarbetaren 1924 nr 03 (1. August 1924)

* Värkliga klasskamrater
* Alltid en början
* Vårt tyska organ
* Officiellt nytt från Stettins branch
* Havens historia
* "Skeppet" är ett vrak
* IWW i verksamhet - Sjöfolket i Chile segrade
* Hand i hand
* En Världslön
* Vår engelska lektion - Our English lesson
* Vad IWW menar med systematisk aktion
* Världens Industriarbetare (IWWs) principförklaring

(ma 1924_3.pdf 1,020.49 kB)

Marinarbetaren 1924 nr 04 (1. September 1924)

* Jobbaktionen segrar när den uppbäres av "solidariteten" Hesothlinjen gav sig
* Från soliga Kalifornien
* Det gamla och det nya i brottning
* Havets historia
* "Kalle Pundhuve"
* Det bindande kollektivavtalets snara
* Vår engelska lektion - Our English lesson No. 4
* Den nya rorgängaren
* Världens Industriarbetare (IWWs) principförklaring

(ma 1924_4.pdf 998.43 kB)

Marinarbetaren 1924 nr 05 (1. Oktober 1924)

* Solidariteten hävdas av våra medlemmar
* Inburad men ändå ibland oss
* IWWs hedersrulla
* Havens historia
* "Kalle Pundhuve"
* Brev från San Pedro
* Liklukt
* Bevis på villervalla
* Behöver upprepas
* "Tryckfrihet"
* Gammalmodigt
* En industriell kvarleva
* "Salong" gillas
* "Bort med svältstrejken"
* Brev från Dacota
* Till minne av Joe Hill
* Världens Industriarbetare (IWWs) principförklaring

(ma 1924_5.pdf 951.36 kB)

Marinarbetaren 1924 nr 06 (1. November 1924)

Speciellt Joe Hill nummer

* Joe Hill
* Joe Hills sista brev
* Den vita slaven av Joe Hill
* Vad vi vill av Joe Hill
* Vad er din undskyldning
* "Kalle Pundhuve"
* Johan Block av Sege efter Joe Hill
* Annonsbladet Sjömannen
* Havens historia
* En Värklig proletärdiktare av Ture Nerman
* En skandinavisk IWW tidning
* S/s "Östhammar II"
* "Ta mej, ta mej"
* Världens Industriarbetare (IWWs) principförklaring

(ma 1924_6.pdf 1.48 MB)

Marinarbetaren 1924 nr 07 (1. Dezember 1924)

* Fram för skeppsråd
* Till väldens marinarbetare
* Brutaliteten stävjas
* Havens historia
* "Kalle Pundhuve"
* Vad vi kräva av redarna och dig
* Sagt utan blommor
* Nyheter från IWWs generalkonvention
* Till havens arbetare
* En som arbetar för "saken"
* En ny skandinavisk IWW-tidning
* Världens Industriarbetare (IWWs) principförklaring

(ma 1924_7.pdf 1.15 MB)

Marinarbetaren 1925 nr 01 (1. Januar 1925)

* En god ny idé
* Redarnas patriotism
* IWW nyheter
* Havens historia
* "Kalle Pundhuve"
* Sorgligt men sant
* Sjöfolket bojkottar sjömansprästerna
* Eländets skådespel
* Världens Industriarbetare (IWWs) principförklaring

(ma 1925_1.pdf 1.01 MB)

Marinarbetaren 1925 nr 02 (1. Februar 1925)

* Alle man på däck för ordnandet av en internationell konferens
* San Francisco länsfängelse
* Ett rent helvete
* Segerrik kamp i Mobile
* Havens historia
* Lås oss diskutera
* De gamla unionernas konsekvens
* "Upplysning" som fördummar
* "Kalle Pundhuve"
* En sjöman på "luffen"
* Skibsrederne og patriotisme
* Till verket alltså
* Världens Industriarbetare (IWWs) principförklaring

(ma 1925_2.pdf 1.20 MB)

Marinarbetaren 1925 nr 03-04 (März - April 1925)

* Däcken klara för aktion!
* Fosterlandets belöning
* Varför tillhör du IWW?
* Havets historia
* "Kalle Pundhuve"
* Den smutsiga konkurrensen
* Besvara frågan
* IWWs metoder
* Världens Industriarbetare (IWWs) principförklaring

(ma 1925_3_4.pdf 1.02 MB)

2. Germany

"Ny branch i Stettin" (Marinarbetaren No. 1/1924) announces a new IWW-branch in the Baltic Sea harbor town Stettin (then Germany, since 1945 Polish Szczecin); Thompson/Murfin (The I.W.W.: its first seventy years 1905 - 1975, p. 161) write: "A branch of the MTW had been started at Stettin, Germany, in 1929." This date is obviously wrong.
Hartmut Rübner, in his history about the German anarchosyndicalist union movement before Nazism (Freiheit und Brot. Die Freie Arbeiter-Union Deutschlands. Eine Studie zur Geschichte des Anarchosyndikalismus [Freedom and Bread. The Free Workers Union of Germany. A study on the history of anachosyndicalism], Berlin/Köln 1994 {Libertad Verlag, ISBN 3-922226-21-3}) has a very good chapter on the IWW in Germany (p. 114 - 123). It is in German - sorry, another outlandish language - but it is worth to be translated.