The relevance of the IWW and/or the Wobblies, the most radical of early twentieth century labor movements, has never been greater. The economic disparity today is greater than it was then (or ever), the fascists are on the rise again, the planet is dying, and exploitation and abuse based on race or sex still borders on genocidal to this day. And yet, labor is on the rise, we have BLM, Antifa, Extinction Rebellion, etc. If you really want to know where we stand and what can be done about it, a serious understanding of our history through movements like the Wobblies is essential.
2022 International Labor History Association Book of the Year
A dramatic, deeply researched account of how legal repression and vigilantism brought down the Wobblies—and how the destruction of their union haunts us to this day.
In 1917, the Industrial Workers of the World was rapidly gaining strength and members. Within a decade, this radical union was effectively destroyed, the victim of the most remarkable campaign of legal repression and vigilantism in American history. Under the Iron Heel is the first comprehensive account of this campaign.
Founded in 1905, the IWW offered to the millions of workers aggrieved by industrial capitalism the promise of a better world. But its growth, coinciding with World War I and the Russian Revolution and driven by uncompromising militancy, was seen by powerful capitalists and government officials as an existential threat that had to be eliminated. In Under the Iron Heel, Ahmed White documents the torrent of legal persecution and extralegal, sometimes lethal violence that shattered the IWW. In so doing, he reveals the remarkable courage of those who faced this campaign, lays bare the origins of the profoundly unequal and conflicted nation we know today, and uncovers disturbing truths about the law, political repression, and the limits of free speech and association in class society.
About the Author
Ahmed White teaches labor and criminal law at the University of Colorado Boulder and is author of The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America.
"A comprehensive account of the campaign waged by the American state to destroy the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or ‘Wobblies’) in the decade surrounding the First World War. . . . Harrowing reading." — World Socialist Website
"Under the Heel gives readers a great drama and deep tragedy, in which union militants understood that they were in a contest with capital over power, in both the workplace and the society, but could not overcome sustained and combined assaults from capital, the state, and sometimes vigilantes as well. . . . Critically important." — International Labor History Association
"Under the Iron Heel examines the role that progressive and conservative policymakers played in subduing the union, raising questions about political tolerance for organized labor today." — Yale Law Report