February was Black History Month. For that reason, members of the Montreal IWW helped CKUT Labor Radio‘s host David Tacium to talk with history professor at Western Illinois University, Mr Peter Cole. Mr Cole is the author of « Ben Fletcher: The Life and Writings of a Black Wobbly » about the IWW’s most famous black leader Ben Fletcher. Mr Cole also wrote a book called Wobblies on the Waterfront Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia about the IWW branch Ben Fletcher was involved with : the Longshoremen Union « Local 8 » in Philadelphia in 1913.
During the interview, they also talk about the influence of the IWW in organizing black people in South African, a subject Mr Cole is studying now with the aim of writing a next book.
Peter Cole’s two books are available at the Montreal anarchist library L’insoumise on St-Laurent Street. The chapter 4 of Wobblies on the Waterfront, « War on the waterfront », is also online here.
Read short presentation of Local8 and Ben Fletcher…
At a time when Black Americans were under attack from Jim Crow laws, lynch mobs, boss racism, exclusion from the American Federation of Labor, and other forms of institutionalized racism, the « Industrial Workers of the World » welcomed all working people into the union as equals. Incidentally laborers such as Ben Fletcher, that fell outside of the AFL’s preference for skilled white anglo saxon males, were able to join forces in the « One Big Union ». (IWW’s web site on Ben Fletcher)
From its inception, the IWW has been committed to racial equality, though African Americans played a relatively small role in the organization. By contrast, Local 8, a branch of Philadelphia longshoremen, possessed the IWW’s largest contingent of African Americans as well as its most significant black leader, Ben Fletcher. (Online encyclopedia of Black Past.org)
Formed from militant longshore struggles on the Philadelphia docks in 1913, Local 8 was one of the most successful interracial labor unions in US history. Led by Fletcher, a prominent African-American Wobbly, thousands of black men allied with thousands of whites, both native-born and immigrant, to make Local 8 a force to be reckoned with in the WWI era. […] The legacy of Local 8 helped lay the foundation for subsequent unions committed to civil rights including the San Francisco Bay Area’s own International Longshore & Warehouse Union. The rise and fall of this union reveals lessons and possibilities for interracial unionism in the 1910’s one of the most racist eras since the abolition of slavery and today. (taken from IWW’s web site again)