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Research Guides

Industrial Workers of the World Photograph Collection: Race & Gender

Interpretive exhibit examining the historical and cultural context of the the Industrial Workers of the World Photograph Collection at the Labor Archives of Washington, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.

Women's Role

Women were not excluded from the IWW; they were seen workers who also needed their rights protected. The IWW did not focus on battling the sexual bias women faced; they instead concentrated on the exploitation of women as a working class. It was believed that “all female workers must have full membership and equal rights in the One Big Union.” Women had the advantage in protests because police were reluctant to attack female strikers and orators. Government officials also avoided the prosecution of women. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was the most prominent female leader for the IWW; she was their true ‘Rebel Girl.’ Joe Hill was also a strong advocate for women’s role in the IWW, claiming the IWW needed them or they would be a lop-sided beast.

Asian Americans

   Asian immigration was strongly opposed by the general American population, especially in concerns of labor. There was a predominate prejudice towards Asians, especially on the West Coast. There was the belief of the “yellow menace”, claiming that Asian workers would steal away jobs and depress the standard of living. While all other organizations excluded Asian workers, the IWW had welcomed Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and other Asian workers. By doing so, the IWW had set a new standard for the solidarity of organized labor.

Inclusion for All

"To Colored Workingmen and Women
If you are a wage worker, you are welcome in the IWW halls, no matter what your color. By this you may see that the IWW is not a white man's union, not a black man's union, not a red man's union, but a workingman's union. All of the working class in one big union."

~Bird, Stewart, Dan Georgakas, and Deborah Shaffer. 1985. Solidarity forever: an oral history of the IWW. Chicago: Lake View Press.Pg. 140

The UW IWW Photograph Collection holds a strong Euro-American representation of its members, some women (Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Katie Phar), one Native American (Frank Little) and Hispanics members such as Enrique Flores Magon. Asian and African American members are not in this specific collection but were apart of the IWW. Solidarity Forever has a few passages on IWW universalism that address members of all races, and other sources can be found.

Native Americans

The Native American membership in the IWW was a considerable amount. One of the most famous IWW members, Frank Little, was part Cherokee. He was very proud of his Native American heritage and even teased other members that he was the only genuine red and real American out of them. Frank Little was very successful in his time with the IWW, as he formed the Agricultural Workers Organization.

Hispanics

The IWW did not exclude Hispanic immigrants; in fact, many of their organized unions had high populations of Hispanic immigrants. The IWW miners and marine workers had demanded for an upgrade for the standard of living for every worker. In the southwest there was a high participation of Mexican immigrants in the IWW mine and harvest unions. The East Coast held 50% of Hispanic membership in the Marine Transport Workers Union. One of the most prominent Hispanic members were Flores Magón brothers who founded and lead the Mexican Liberal Party, which worked with the IWW during the San Diego Free Speech Fight.