IWW: Womyn At The Front

The below text is a write up of Bristol IWW’s recent event celebrating International Women’s Day 2018.

Part I: The Beginnings

From its beginnings, the IWW has always distinguished itself in its resolution to be the One Big Union for ALL workers, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age…this, at a time where mainstream unions in the US were only open for membership to white men with American nationality.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn once famously remarked, when responding to criticism of the IWW for using women as shields: “The IWW has been accused of putting the women in the front; the truth is: the IWW does not keep them at the back – and they go to the front.”

Women in the IWW:

Elizabeth was one of the main organisers of the famous “Bread & Roses Strike”. She was also the inspiration for Joe Hill’s famous song “Rebel Girl” which he wrote after Elizabeth visited him in jail in 1915. I wasn’t able to give her the time she deserves at our event, but you can find lots about her online. This is a really good intro to her life and work:

Sister Mary Harris Jones aka “Mother Jones”: The Most Dangerous Woman in America

Mother Jones/ Capital & Labour:

Mother Jones and the March of the Mill Children:

Mother Jones only known original recording:

Sister Lucy Gonzales Parsons: More Dangerous Than 1,000 Rioters

More dangerous than 1,000 rioters:

The Bread & Roses Strike (1912)

Part II: 20th Century

Sister Judi Bari

Famous environmental activist and one of the founders of the activist network “Earth First”, Judi started out her activist career as an IWW organiser. She asked to have the epitaph “Don’t Mourn, Organise!” written on her grave. This radio programme gives a good introduction to her life, but you can also find lots of documentaries and interviews online.

The Judi Bari Story:

Part III: Contemporary Times

When putting together materials for this event, I was hugely inspired and galvanised by the womyn I found out more about, and the new ones I discovered (for instance, I had no idea Judi Bari was an IWW activist!). But what now, is the IWW still relevant to today’s work struggles? Do we still have space in the IWW for womyn? And do they still go to the front? The answer to all those questions is: YES. We may never be dubbed “the most dangerous womyn in the country” or “more dangerous than 1,000 rioters” but we can still – and MUST – go to the front of our own lives.

So, here’s a short interview to an IWW womyn going to the front at a picket in Chicago in 2013:

And, last but not least: one of my favourite stories of “my” IWW. In 2015 a Fellow Worker from Sheffield was discriminated against and sacked from their job for choosing to go to “the wrong toilet” in their workplace. Following a fiery campaign with the IWW, Keira got their job back.

1905 – 2018: An Injury To One Still Is An Injury To All
Womyn In The IWW Still Go To The Front

Bristol IWW

Good link with info about various historical womyn of the IWW: https://iww.org/node/5372,


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