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The Wobblies
The Wobblies
Directors: Deborah Shaffer, Stewart Bird
Genres: Documentary
NR     2006     1hr 29min

"Solidarity! All for One and One for All!" With that slogan, the Industrial Workers of the World, aka the Wobblies, took to organizing unskilled workers into one big union and changing the course of history. Along the way...  more »


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Movie Details

Directors: Deborah Shaffer, Stewart Bird
Creators: Judy Irola, Sandi Sissel, Deborah Shaffer, Stewart Bird, Peter Gessner
Genres: Documentary
Sub-Genres: History
Studio: Docurama
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 06/27/2006
Original Release Date: 01/01/2006
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2006
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 29min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

A Great Start for Grasping What is Right, Left, and Wrong in
Kerry Walters | 03/04/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is a good beginning point for anyone who wants to grasp whatever it is that can be called a "labor movement." In my eyes, the IWW (Wobblies) had it mostly right and its been downhill since. The Wobs were internationalist, anti-racist, militant, and understood the fact that an injury to one only goes before an injury to all (solidarity). They grasped that hierarchy and leadership can be a contradiction that is resolved in social practice. They were anti-racist, action oriented, and, to a notable degree, anti-sexist. Their critique of the AFL was on target; it was an is an arm of the employer disguised as a union and, today, the AFL-CIO and it'stepchild, Change to Win, stand for nothing the Wobs saw as vital principals. Educators, in particular, should use this dvd in high schools and universities to give our youth a view of what could be, and what has been--how the past, present, and future, connect. A great deal of leftist activity in the US can be tracked back to the founding days of the Wobs. The IWW was mostly demolished in the Palmer Raids but the IWW lives today, small, but still insisting, correctly, that "the working class and the employing class have nothing in common..." Anyone can see the influence of the IWW on the big education activist group in the US, the Rouge Forum. A good companion book would be Kornbluh's, "Rebel Voices.""
In the Heroic Age of the Industrial Workers of the World (Wo
Alfred Johnson | boston, ma | 03/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"A review of the life of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as Wobblies) leader Big Bill Haywood. An appreciation of the role of the Wobblies in early 20th century labor history by American Trotskyist leader (and former Wobblie) James P. Cannon. An urgent call to help old time Wobblie folksinger/storyteller Utah Phillips. A reading of a biography of "Rebel Girl" Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (later, unfortunately, an unrepentant Stalinist hack). And now a DVD review of the film The Wobblies. For a writer who holds no truck with anarcho-syndicalist solutions to the problems of the class struggle this certainly has nevertheless turned into the Year of the Wobblie. And, dear friends, that is as it should be. Before the formation of the American Communist Party in the immediate aftermath of World War I the Wobblies were, front and center, the central revolutionary labor organization in this country. We honor those struggles, the memory of those old comrades and try to learn the lessons from their fights. And that, ultimately, is the beauty of the film under review.

Most docudramas or documentaries are filled with learned `talking heads' telling us what the historical significance of this or that event meant. And that concept has its place in our search for understanding of our history, good or bad. The filmmakers had seemingly gone out and found every last old time rank and file or middle level cadre Wobblie that still uttered breathe at the time of the film creation (1979). Here we get the voice, sometimes loud, sometimes confused, sometimes haltingly, sometimes not very articulately telling the story of the Wobblies down at the base-the place where all class struggle ultimately has to be resolved.

We hear old itinerant lumberjacks; migrant farm workers, hobos and `stiffs' get their say. And frankly it is very nice for change of pace. Damn, I wish we had some of those, old as they were, feisty labor militants around today. These were the American equivalent of the rank and file of the Russian Bolshevik organization. They represent the memory of the class in better times. Interspersed in between interviews is excellent film footage of some of the early labor struggles (some that I had never seen before like the Bisbee, Arizona deportations-to the New Mexico border- of the copper mine strikers in 1917). And in the background accompanying the footage many of the old Wobblie labor songs created by Joe Hill and others in order to bolster labor solidarity. Ah, those were the times.

Note: This film gives a good chronology of the development of the IWW from its founding in 1905 to the hard times during World War I and its aftermath. It provides less information about latter times. Moreover, outside the opinions of the various old Wobblies it is hard to get a sense of the disputes in the organization, and there were many particularly about the relationship with the Russian Revolution in 1917, and what caused the failure of the old organization (apart from the obvious destructive role of the government crackdowns). For more on the politics check my entries in this space on James P. Cannon on the IWW and the Life of Big Bill Haywood.

"To be people, not nobody"
Kerry Walters | Lewisburg, PA USA | 07/20/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

""To be people, not nobody"--that, according to a Patterson, NJ, woman interviewed in the film "The Wobblies," was what she and her fellow-workers wanted to be. And after enduring both the exploitation of the bosses and the apparent indifferent of the conventional labor unions, they believed they found the vehicle to humanity in the Industrial Workers of the World, the "one big union" founded in Chicago in 1905.

"Wobblies" is the story of the IWW, from its origins to its near destruction during World War I. Disliked by industrialists and labor leaders alike, the IWW was really the only radical workers organization the US has ever spawned. It accepted everyone who earned a wage, crossing all color lines in a day and age when the more conventional labor unions refused to admit people of color. Led by stalwarts such as Big Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the IWW grew in strength from coast to coast, organizing first lumberjacks and miners, and then factory workers, stevedores, and other unskilled laborers. It fought the Lawrence textile mills in 1912 and won; the Patterson factories in 1913, and lost; the the railroads on the Pacific coast in 1917, and won again. It was an up and coming force, and it scared the heck out of the political and financial powers that be.

So in 1917, with Woodrow Wilson's blessing, the government busted the IWW on rigged charges that it encouraged young men to resist serving in the armed forces. Virtually all the leadership was sentenced to incredible prison sentences under the Espionage Act, and the Wobblies, already beginning to splinter internally from feuds between anarchist and communist members, declined.

But it was a great and glorious dream. One of the things that comes through most clearly in the interviews with now quite aged Wobblies is how articulate, intelligent, and even now idealistic they come across. There is a dignity to them of people who have fought the good fight, even though they eventually lost.

Another very good aspect of "The Wobblies" is the director's wise focus on song. The martyred songwriter Joe Hill is, of course, famous way beyond IWW circles. Thanks to Hill and others, Wobblies throughout the country were inspired and educated by dozens of songs. The old-timers interviewed in the film can still sing them by the boatload.

When I was a young man working my way through college by taking one crappy job after another, I got radicalized and joined the Wobblies. My membership lapsed years and years ago. But seeing this film makes me think that I ought to sign up again. Perhaps the dream isn't dead after all..."