Labour historian Mark Leier’s chapter from Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW, in which he examines the transnationalism of the IWW, particularly across the US-Canadian border.
Transnationalism may seem an odd concept to apply to people moving back and forth across the US-Canadian border. As settler-colonial states largely populated by immigrants from around the world, neither country is a “nation-state” in the sense of a community sharing a common language, heritage, economy, and culture, especially during the years of the Wobblies’ greatest influence. “American” and “Canadian” were formal, legal labels signifying citizenship rather than a national identity, and citizenship did not erase privileges and stigmas of race and ethnicity. Furthermore, capital and workers flowed easily across the border, and the two countries developed in broadly similar economic and political ways, making national differences less obvious. As Samuel Gompers, longtime head of American Federation of Labor (AFL), put it, “when the Yankee capitalist” crossed the border to “oppress Canadian workingmen … it was but natural that the Yankee ‘agitator’ should follow.”
That did not mean, however, that the border did not matter. Labor organizers could expect very different reactions in the two countries. When the IWW launched free speech fights in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia (BC) between 1909 and 1912, the battles were won with relative ease. In contrast, IWW members in free speech fights in San Diego, California and Everett, Washington in the same period were met with firehoses, beatings, long prison terms, and murder at the hands of vigilantes and police. The two-year strike of coal miners on Vancouver Island between 1912 and 1914 saw workers thrown out of company housing, the militia deployed, and mass arrests, but nothing like the violence of Ludlow, Colorado, where nearly 200 people, including 13 women and children, were killed in armed skirmishes and the blaze caused when the state militia set the strikers’ tent city on fire. Despite the similarities between the two countries, then, the “national” boundary between Canada and the United States could mean a great deal, and so the question of transnational experience still has some meaning.
Gompers also proved mistaken in his assessment of the cross-border movement of union organizers. It was not one-way and not limited to “Yankee” AFL craft unionists. Wobblies in and from British Columbia demonstrated a practical transnationalism as they crossed between the two states to work and organize, and in doing so they proclaimed a radical internationalism while articulating their interests as workers.
Transnationalism and internationalism began at the IWW’s founding convention. Canadian-born John Riordan, representing the American Labor Union (ALU), and James Baker, representing the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), traveled 2,000 miles from the Kootenay region of British Columbia to participate in the deliberations. The two had learned from their experience as miners and union organizers that nationalism was nothing more than an ideology cynically deployed by both governments and capitalists to divide workers. When the ALU and WFM struck in British Columbia, they were red-baited and branded as “foreign” unions. Yet the same governments and corporations that denounced the influence of American unions colluded to bring American scabs across the border to break strikes. Conservative craft unions were no better. Canadian and American unions might use the rhetoric of nationalism to compete with each other for members and influence, but they were quick to unite and encourage their members to break the strikes of industrial unions. By 1905, Riordan and Baker were convinced that a new union movement—militant, organized by industry rather than craft, and based on international solidarity—was the only solution for workers, so they headed to Chicago.
At the IWW convention, Baker suggested that “that the word ‘international’ be used … wherever ‘national’ occurs; as ‘national president’ and ‘national secretary-treasurer’ have no place here.” When some delegates proposed calling the new union the Industrial Workers of America to avoid appearing too ambitious, Riordan had two objections. The first was the desire to avoid national chauvinism which would potentially alienate workers not as enlightened as they should be. There were, he said, some Canadian organizations and some “patriotic Canadians who do not agree with the name of an organization defining itself too closely …. It creates more or less of a prejudice when you define things so closely as to name or designate international boundary lines.” This reflected the acute competition between independent Canadian unions and the so-called international unions from the United States that Gompers encouraged to organize in Canada. Riordan’s second objection came from this experience with conservatives in both Canadian and American unions who worked with the Canadian government against the radical industrial unionism of the WFM and ALU. Solidarity had to be based on class an commitment, not national boundaries, and many workers in Canada “realize the fact that they must be cosmopolitan in a matter of this kind. They do not want to recognize international boundary lines. I for one do not.” He insisted the new union be called the Industrial Workers of the World.
Riordan was a popular figure at the convention, where he allied himself with the anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists present (see Zimmer, Chapter 1). He has been a Canadian delegate to ALU conventions and a member of its executive board, and when he was nominated for a position on the IWW’s executive board, he was referred to as “a brother who is well-known in the northwest and Chicago and especially Canada.” In the subsequent balloting, Riordan topped the polls, though this was in part of the reflection of the voting scheme that gave the delegates votes according to the membership of their unions. The executive, however, was largely made up of unionists who were not dedicated syndicalists; as the radical IWW member William Trautmann put it, “only John Riordan … was in full agreement with the principles and methods of the industrial union movement. All the others were plain ‘Reactionaries’ to say the least.”
Over the next year, Riordan literally put his stamp on the organization. Forced to pay the bloated expenses submitted by the conservatives such as IWW president Charles O. Sherman, Riordan stamped “For Graft” on the receipts to signal his disgust. At the same time, according to Trautmann, Riordan “organized the educational department of the IWW, to his everlasting credit.” Despite this, or because of it, the conservative faction purged Riordan from the executive board shortly before the 1906 convention. Their victory, however, proved short-lived, for at the second annual convention Riordan, Trautmann, Vincent St. John, Fred Heslewood, and other radicals, including Daniel De Leon, unseated Sherman and abolished the office of president (see Zimmer, Chapter 1).
We know very little about Riordan, but his life is an example of Canadian-US transnationalism. He moved back and forth across the border throughout his life. Born in Ontario, he moved to Michigan and then to BC by 1900. There he was elected financial secretary of the Phoenix Miners’ Union Local 7 of the WFM and was the local’s delegate to the 1901 WFM convention in Salt Lake City. In 1903, Riordan ran for the provincial legislature as a candidate for the Socialist Party of British Columbia, a radical part with links to De Leon and his Socialist Labor Party. Riordan finished second in a three-way race and received about 30 percent of the votes cast. In 1905, the Boundary Creek Times reported that Riordan “leaves shortly for Chicago where he will establish his permanent home,” and he took up the position of general-secretary of the ALU a few months before the IWW convention. He returned to Canada, and in 1907 spoke to a “monster parade” of Phoenix, BC miners to celebrate the acquittal of “Big Bill” Haywood on the charge of murdering former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg. He was also elected to the position of vice president of the Phoenix Public Service Union No. 155, IWW. Some time after 1910, he moved to Brimley, Michigan, but the bonds of family and the harsh reality of class brought him back to Canada in 1914. His brother Frank had continued working in the copper mine in Phoenix until he was killed along with two other mineworkers in a rock fall. After settling his brother’s affairs, John Riordan returned to the United States. He appears to have played no further role in the IWW or radical politics, though he was remembered with respect and some fondness in Trautmann’s memoirs, written more than 20 years after the two fellow workers had battled the conservatives and pie cards in the union.
The British-Canadian Wobbly Robert Gosden was also instrumental in helping to shape the IWW. Gosden emigrated to Nova Scotia around 1910, and made his way to Prince Rupert, BC shortly afterwards. He took part in a strike of road construction labourers there, and by late 1911 had headed south to San Diego. He may even have joined with other Wobblies to take part briefly in the Mexican Revolution. By early 1912, he returned to San Diego, getting arrested during its free speech fight. From his prison cell, Gosden contributed to the IWW press, notably weighing in on the debate over industrial sabotage the union had recently taken up (see Pinsolle, Chapter 2). Gosden was an advocate of sabotage, including the destruction of machinery. Strikes and free speech fights, he argued, had produced very little. The IWW strategy of the general strike to take over the means of production was no closer in 1912 than it had been in 1905, and the union’s membership was still small, perhaps 100,000 across the entire United States. But that was enough, he continued, “to tie up every industry at any time if we use sabotage, and by such action alone will we have the liberty to organize in the industries so that we can feed and clothe the world’s workers when the class war has ceased.” In another piece, he commented directly on transnationalism. “Democracy is the order in jail,” he wrote. “The aristocrat of labor bums his cigarette from his Oriental brother, and the white man argues with black. All race prejudices are swept aside.” Furthermore, fellow prisoners from Japan and China were “well informed” on industrial unionism and staunch allies in the class war. Released from jail after nine months, Gosden was deported to Canada, but as the Industrial Worker noted, “as the IWW is not particularly patriotic and there is a class struggle in Canada, we fail to see how a system based on theft has gained by making the change.”
The cross-border activities of Gosden and Riordan are important reminders that the objective links of class and the subjective links of class experience easily crossed the lines drawn by governments. Due to those links, American Wobblies such as John H. Walsh found ready audiences for their message of militancy and solidarity in BC. Walsh is better known for helping to create the IWW’s famous Little Red Songbook, and for his role at the 1908 IWW convention. Along with his wife, whose first name has been lost to history, Walsh organized a delegation of West Coast Wobblies known as the “Overalls Brigade” to ride the rails to Chicago for the convention. Nicknamed “the bummery” by Daniel De Leon, the western delegation joined with Trautmann, St. John, and others to defeat the DeLeonites and assert the IWW’s syndicalist character by disavowing political action. The year before, Walsh had led a month-long strike of Vancouver longshore workers in IWW Lumber Handlers Local 526.
Other US Wobblies came across the border to organize, agitate, and educate. Joseph Ettor, who played a crucial role in the Lawrence “Bread and Roses” textile strike in 1912, organized teamsters into an IWW local in Vancouver five years earlier. IWW speakers such as Lucy Parsons, “Big Bill” Haywood, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn stopped in BC during their speaking tours, as did “Mother” Jones, who was born in Ireland, trained as a teacher in Toronto, and was a delegate at the IWW founding convention. Edith Frenette, a friend of Gurley Flynn, traveled with her husband and brother-in-law to organize loggers in the northern region of Vancouver Island, where she gave birth to her daughter Stella in 1911 and saw her issued with IWW card number 11014 (see Mayer, Chapter 14).
The most famous Wobbly to cross from the United States into Canada was Joe Hill. An immigrant from Sweden, Hill travelled to BC in 1912 during a strike of “navvies” building the Canadian Northern Railway line. There he penned songs for the strikers, including the classic “Where the Fraser River flows,” still sung by workers in the province. Other American Wobblies joined the strike, and if they did not leave songs, they left a practical message of transnational solidarity. Henry McGuckin left his home in Paterson, New Jersey and made it to Washingston State in late 1911. There, he heard Wobblies give impassioned soapbox speeches about industrial unionism, the need for a workers’ revolution, and the ongoing Aberdeen free speech fight. McGuckin volunteered to join in the free speech fight as Tommy Whitehead signed him up in the IWW. Whitehead had been elected to the IWW executive board in 1908, along with Joe Ettor, St. John, and Trautmann, as part of the syndicalist, anti-De Leon group, and edited the IWW newspaper the Industrial Workers in 1916. In 1919, with the arrests of hundreds of Wobblies during the United States’s first Red Scare, he served as the acting general secretary-treasurer of the union.
After Aberdeen, Whitehead asked McGuckin to go to Vancouver, BC, where another free speech fight had broken out. McGuckin hiked, camped out in hobo jungles, and rode the rails to Vancouver to participate in the open-air street meetings where IWW and Socialist Party of Canada organizers proselytized and organized. In another example of transnationalism, one IWW speaker, Jack Graves, “very English,” McGuckin observed, “got up on the soapbox, and I have never heard a better or clearer presentation of industrial unionism and socialism.” From Vancouver, McGuckin went to Kamloops, BC, a railway junction town, where he walked up and down the line in a circuit that took six days, staying in the makeshift construction camps as he signed up workers in the IWW and distributed its newspapers and Little Red Songbook. He had spent nearly four months organizing when the strike broke out. Tommy Whitehead left the United States to meet him in Kamloops and become one of the strike coordinators. The intervention of the police and mass arrests soon broke the strike. McGuckin spent over four months in jail, and Whitehead was released early only because the terrible prison conditions nearly cost him his sight.
This strike gives us another way to examine the transnationalism of the IWW across the US-Canadian border. Much of what we know about IWW members and transnationalism is restricted to the lives of famous immigrants such as Joe Hill and activists of some prominence such as J. H. Walsh. Riordan and McGuckin were more typical IWW members, but their stories also are accessible because they were white and male, and more able, in the case of Riordan, to take part in public matters such as union elections. In the case of McGuckin, his experiences were recorded with the aid of his university-educated son. That we know more about them reflects the reality of class, race, and gender in their period and in the universities of ours. Although labor, gender, and immigration history have been established academic disciplines for at least 40 years, this work has largely been done by scholars limited to sources created in English. Only recently have historians tackled primary sources in other languages, which are rarely as plentiful and well-curated as the newspapers, government documents, company records, and union materials created in the dominate language.
Episodes such as the 1912 strike, however, give us some limited access to less visible aspects of the IWW’s transnationalism. The IWW insisted on organizing all workers, regardless of their nationality, race, or ethnicity. This contrasted sharply with the view of the craft unions that belonged to the AFL and the Canadian Trade and Labour Congress (TLC). R. S. Maloney, the AFL “fraternal delegate” to the 1907 TLC convention in Winnipeg, undoubtedly thought he was making a broad, inclusive statement when he told Canadian unionists that “We speak a common language, are descendants from the same races, inhabit the same land an our labor problem with all its ideals, aspirations and ambitions is alike for both of us.” However, Maloney’s conception of the working class excluded indigenous peoples, African-Americans, the one-third of Canadians who were Francophone, non-Anglophone immigrants, women, and the so-called unskilled; in short, the great majority of people. The workers Maloney and the AFL ignored made up the IWW’s target constituency, and represented many of the workers it organized in the 1912 railway strike. We get a glimpse of this reality from a Vancouver newspaper editorial that racialized and denounced the strikers:
The word “wap” [sic] in the United States language denotes a mammal whose place in the animal kingdom is that of a closely allied species to man, who works on the railway grade when he is not on strike or in town pursuing pleasures equally noisome in bottles and in skirts. He wears foot-rags instead of socks, and he has other names beside the poetical word “wap” in our abundantly endowed language. “Bohunk” is one of them and “hunk” is another …. The “waps” are the lower animals among the makers of the grade …. swept up from all parts of Europe. They are turbulent, moody, superstitious, and often wicked. They are very amenable to the intrigues of agitators. They come of mother-forgotten races feudal even yet, and misery, hopelessness, and even hunger have not been long disestablished from their lives. Italians, Bulgar, Russ, Wallachian, Croat, Hun, they have little regard for sanitary regulations, do not wash, and seldom change their shirts ….
The only advantage to the “wap,” the editorial concluded, was that the railroad could not be constructed without their cheap labor, “unless coolie labor were employed,” an even more hated group which the paper knew its white, respectable readers would not accept. The use of Chinese labor, after all, had been explicitly forbidden under the terms of the government charter issued for the new railway.
The steady organizing work of Wobblies like Henry McGuckin and J. S. Biscay paid off when, in March 1912, over 4,000 “waps” overcame differences of nationality, language, and culture to strike against the terrible conditions in the construction camps. They did more than walk off the job: they created a model of a workers’ society in the bush country of British Columbia. They built new, clean camps to live in, brought in supplies, and organized the camps to keep order. They ran classes in socialist theory and created a rough system of rules and administration. As one newspaper reported on one of the camps, it was “a miniature republic run on Socialistic lines, and it must be admitted that so far it has been run successfully.” The strike eventually was defeated when police arrested hundreds of Wobblies, but conditions for the railway workers improved considerably. As McGuckin concluded, “a strike is part of the total struggle, and where it has forced better conditions that are enjoyed by other members of the working class, it cannot be called a defeat.” It did more than that: it proved that transnationalism and internationalism could forge a workers’ organization along lines of class and across nationality and ethnicity.
The 1912 strike offers yet another insight into the transnationalism of the IWW. Fred Thompson, born in St John, New Brunswick in 1900, joined the IWW in San Francisco in 1922 and wrote a history of the union in 1955. In it, Thompson maintained that the nickname “Wobbly” came from a Chinese restaurant owner who extended credit to the striking railway workers. Unable to pronounce the letter “W,” he would ask workers if they were in the “eye wobble wobble.” Mortimer Downing, a longtime member of the IWW and an editor of the Industrial Worker in the 1920s, gave a different place and date for the story, suggesting the word was coined “up in Vancouver, in 1911” where “we had a number of Chinese members.” While later Wobblies such as the singer Utah Phillips have held that “it’s a story that we’re not particularly proud of, because it’s a racist perception” and folklorist Archie Green concluded there is “no evidence for the Chinese lingual tale,” earlier generations, typified by Los Angeles Wobbly Mortimer Downing, though “it hints of a fine, practical internationalism, a human brotherhood based on a community of interests and of understanding.”
The organization of the transnational, multi-ethnic workforce of the province was not restricted to the 1912 strike. The lumber handlers local Walsh aided in its 1907 strike was nicknamed “the Bows and Arrows” after the large number of indigenous workers who worked on the Vancouver waterfront and joined the union. It also included, as Walsh noted with some pride, “Scotch, French, Swede, Indian, German, Norwegian, half-breed, Dane, Japanese, Arabian, Italian, Chillian [sic], Filipino, Negro, Russian, Mexican, American, Portuguese … I might say here that not one of the membership, although composed of eighteen different nationalities, has proven untrue to his obligation.” The polyglot membership also gave the union a great advantage, Walsh explained: “when you go down to the mill with a body of pickets that can talk every language under the sun … when a fellow comes along to say ‘No savvy,’ he soon learns that won’t work.” In the northern seaport of Prince Rupert, an IWW organizer declared, “when the factory whistle blows it does not call us to work as Irishmen, Germans, Americans, Russians, Greeks, Poles, Negroes or Mexicans. It calls us to work as wage-workers, regardless of the country in which were born or color of our skin. Why not get together, then … as wage-workers, just as we are compelled to do in the shop.”
The IWW defended this internationalism in the face of the racism of other BC unions. When the Sandon local of the WFM announced that it “vigorously condemns the employment of Asiatic help in any capacity” and called upon “its friends and members to use every lawful and honourable effort to secure the banishment of the present Orientals” and halt further immigration, the Industrial Worker condemned the miners in strong language. It first noted that the WFM had left the IWW for the AFL, and so it was clear “they don’t know very much about industrialism” or “the profit system we are living under.” As long as labor was a commodity, “bought and sold upon the market, its price being regulated to a large extent by supply and demand …. what difference it makes to workers whether BC is black, white or yellow is hard to understand.” The answer was instead for “workers to own the means of production themselves.” To do that, the paper continued:
we must educate and organize on class lines; we must do away with racial prejudice and imaginary boundary lines; we must recognize that all workers belong to the international nation of wealth producers, and we must clearly see that our only enemy is the capitalist class and the only boundary line is between exploiter and exploited …. We must organize all workers regardless of sex, creed, color or nationality into One Big Industrial Organization.
This was more than a rhetorical flourish. As historian Kornel Chang observes, the IWW “made significant efforts to organize and ally with Chinese, Japanese, and South Asian workers in the Pacific Northwest.” This included building links with radical Chinese and Indian nationalists, whose nationalism took the form of an anti-imperialism based on socialist ideas of class and colony (see Khan, Chapter 3).
The historian E. P. Thompson famously noted that class consciousness is the way in which class experiences “are handled in cultural terms: embodied in traditions, value-systems, ideas, and institutional forms.” As immigrant and migratory workers, transnationalism was a lived experience for Wobblies and the workers they sought to organize. The class consciousness the IWW sought to build was based on an internationalism that explicitly refused the racialized, racist logic of capital, the nation-state, and conservative trade unions. It could, and often did, transcend the border between the United States and Canada and the broader borders of race and ethnicity.
 Robert H. Babcok, Gompers in Canada: A Study in American Continentalism before the First World War (Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1974), p. 36.
 Paul Craven, “An Impartial Umpire”: Industrial Relations and the Canadian State, 1900-1911 (Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1980), especially ch. 8; Judy Fudge and Eric Tucker, Labour before the Law: The Regulation of Workers’ Collective Action in Canada, 1900-1948 (Toronto, Ont.: Oxford University Press, 2001), especially ch. 2; Babcock, Gompers in Canada; Mark Leier, Red Flags and Red Tape: The Making of a Labour Bureaucracy (Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1995).
 The Founding Convention of the IWW: Proceedings (New York: Merit, 1969), pp. 28, 297, 322, 437, 492, 510, 543, 547.
 William E. Trautmann, “Fifty Years War, Book #2, The Rise and Fall of the Industrial Workers of the World,” cited in Jay Miller, “Soldier of the class war: the life and writing of William E. Trautmann,” PhD diss., Wayne State University, 2000, p. 135.
 Trautmann, “Fifty Years,” cited in Miller, “Soldiers of the class war,” p. 144.
 For the 1906 convention, see Paul F. Brissenden, The IWW: A Study of American Syndicalism, 2nd edn. (New York: Russell & Russell, 1957), ch. 5; Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (New York: Quadrangle, 1974), ch. 5; Trautmann cited in Miller, “Soldier of the class war,” p. 163.
 Greenwood Weekly Times, March 31, 1900; Electoral History of British Columbia, 1871-1986 (Victoria, BC: Elections British Columbia, n.d.); Boundary Creek Times, February 21 or 3 March, 1905—the microfilmed copy of the newspaper has “21 February” printed as the date, but that has been scratched out and “3 March” written in; Phoenix Pioneer, April 29, 1905.
 Phoenix Pioneer, August 3, 1907; January 11, 1908; August 22, 1914. I am grateful for the help of Kevin Caslor for helping unearth details of Riordan’s life. See Miller, “Soldier of the class war,” passim, for Trautmann on Riordan and his work in the IWW. A pie card is a highly paid union official concerned primarily with maintaining friendly relationships with management.
 Mark Leier, Rebel Life: The Life and Times of Robert Gosden, Revolutionary, Mystic, and Labour Spy, 2nd edn. (Vancouver, BC: New Star, 2013).
 Richard Brazier, “The Story of the IWW’s Little Red Song Book,” in Archie Green, David Roediger, Franklin Rosemont, and Salvatore Salerno (eds.), The Big Red Songbook (Chicago, Ill.: Charles H. Kerr, 2007), pp. 375-90; Heather Mayer, “Beyond the rebel girl: women, Wobblies, respectability, and the law in the Pacific Northwest, 1905-1924,” PhD diss., Simon Fraser University, 2015; Brissenden, The IWW, ch. 9; Dubofsky, We Shall be All, ch. 6; Mark Leier, Where the Fraser River Flows: The Industrial Workers of the World in British Columbia (Vancouver, BC: New Star, 1990).
 Franklin Rosemont, Joe Hill: The IWW and the Making of a Revolutionary Working-class Culture (reprint edn., Oakland, Calif.: PM Press, 2015); Henry E. McGuckin, Memoirs of a Wobbly (Chicago, Ill.: Charles H. Kerr, 1987), pp. 34-48; Leier, Where the Fraser River Flows, pp. 47-53.
 Maloney quoted in Babcock, Gompers in Canada, p. 36.
 Vancouver Sun, April 6, 1912.
 Leier, Where the Fraser River Flows; McGuckin, Memoris, pp. 42-8.
 Whatever we might conclude about racism and the “I Wobble Wobble” etymology, both stories are almost certainly false. See Archie Green, “The name Wobbly holds steady,” in Wobblies, Pile Butts, and Other Heroes: Laborlore Explorations (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1993). Green notes that it “remains too vivid a story, has circulated widely, and carries ‘the truth’ of folktales long believed,” p. 194.
 Industrial Union Bulletin, November 2, 1907. The Prince Rupert Wobbly is cited in A. Ross McCormack, Reformers, Rebels, and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical Movement, 1899-1919 (reprint edn., Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1991), p. 102.
 Industrial Worker November 31, 1912; Kornel Chang, “Mobilizing revolutionary manhood: race, gender, and resistance in the Pacific Northwest borderlands,” in Moon-Ho Jung (ed.), The Rising of Color: Race, State Violence, and Radical Movements across the Pacific (Seattle, Wash.: University of Washington Press, 2014), p. 92. Chang also argues that the IWW’s gendered and racialized concept of “revolutionary manhood” may have “disrupted but ultimately reinforced the hegemonic discourse of race and gender,” p. 96.
 E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (reprint edn., London: Penguin, 1980), p. 9.