portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary oregon & cascadia

actions & protests

Resistance IWW style

Cramming the system.
I've been reading "Joe Hill" by Wallace Stegner, a "biographical novel" about a famous member of the Industrial Workers of the World. The IWW was America's most militant union from 1905 to the early 20s. They believed in fighting. A lot of them were killed or jailed. Some of their strategy, however, was nonviolent, and we could learn something from it.

"The Wobblies crammed half the jails from Everett to San Diego with belligerent workers fighting ordinances against free speech and street meetings, piling in until they jammed a town's whole system of law and order, pouring down from the woods and the camps, beating their way up from skid roads and winter boardinghouses, streaming in from the harvest country. If they did not like a jail's food they 'built a battleship,' pounding on the walls and floors until frantic police turned firehoses on them or gave up. They organized and kept their jails spotless, and they sang till townspeople gathered laughing outside to listen."

We need to make ourselves visible by speaking and passing out literature in the streets, and we should think about cramming the system. That should be easy to do in Oregon, since voters are not willing to tax themselves to support the state, and "public safety," a euphemism for putting working-class people in jail, is being starved along with everything else.

Eugene's city council has passed an ordinance, clearly unconstitutional, making it illegal for more than 25 people to gather in a group downtown. On Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. people are gathering at Cosmic Pizza to go caroling downtown and deliberately violate the ordinance. Should be interesting. Join us.

homepage: homepage: http://www.portlandwriters.com

Well, kind of... 23.Dec.2003 12:37

An Older Wobbly

Hi George,

I would put a couple of caviats on your article,

1) The IWW is stil around and quite active in both Portland and Eugene.

2) The Free Speach Fights actually, in many ways, limited the IWW and weakened it in the long term. They isolated the IWW from the wider working class and made it easier for the capitalists to demonize us. I think the lessons of the Free Speach movement are ones that are of vital importance now.

3) The IWW's practices were always non-violent, with the proviso of the right of self-defence. You cannot build solidarity with a sword.

4) Steigers book, while very well written, is factually inaccurate. Steiger had the opportunity to interview several of Joe hill's friends for the book, which he refused to do.

Wobblies 23.Dec.2003 16:02


Does anyone know how to get in touch with the local GDC branch of the IWW?

you rang? 23.Dec.2003 18:12

GDC member

Give us a call at 503-234-4518 and leave a message.

not as old as the older wobbly, but old enough 23.Dec.2003 18:22

Henry McGucken

The IWW largely abandoned the "free speech fight" strategy in 1915. When the agricultural workers section of the wobs was formed at that time, they went as far as to say that agitating belonged at work, as it was too costly to spend cash on getting people out of jail for getting picked up on the street with no return on results. There is a similar praxis taking place in the anti-globalization movement now; less and less are into protests, where we scrap with the cops and go to jail--and more are into building counter institutions, including unions on the job.

Unfortuately, the lefty/liberal historians tend to romanticize IWW history, highlighting the personalities,instead of focusing on the not-so-sexy campaigns that won (i.e. the Marine Transport Workers, Agricultural Workers Organization, the Machine Metal Workers IU 440, etc, all IWW campaigns from 1915 to about 1955).

The book to read is Fred Thompson's "IWW:the first 70 years".

G B 23.Dec.2003 18:56


Rock on, on Wednesday. How large is Critical Mass in Eugene? It the "chatter" you know.

The current increase to Howdy or High by the Fear Czar Tom Ridge is due to him hearing a massive number of reports of strangers in neighborhoods all over our great nation. These outsiders were also standing around singing songs of peace. In our great nation people singing songs of peace, during the most unimportant "war" in our history people, outsiders, strangers singing songs of peace. ALARM, ALARM, ALARM.

They are hearing 'Chatter' alright it is called wassailing, the singing of songs of Peace and Joy by bands of happy people. Of course they are afraid, when they spend so much time making us scared, happy people will piss them off. Can you imagine how much of a threat 'Peace and Joy' is to them. And the very concept of freedom of movement from block to block must drive them nuts.

1915 23.Dec.2003 20:41


In 1915, the IWW was in its infancy. They were using trial and error to figure out ways to succeed.

"they went as far as to say that agitating belonged at work, as it was too costly to spend cash on getting people out of jail for getting picked up on the street with no return on results. "

This makes practical sense. They wanted to concentrate the struggle where it could be most effective. If half or more of their members/sympathizers were locked up in jail, then they couldn't be very effective. If they ran out of money trying to liberate these prisoners, then their voice would be effectively silenced through lack of any ability to finance any sort of campaigning. The IWW later adopted a tactic of converging on towns that arrested individuals supporting their organization. They would then commit petty crimes that would get them locked up, to the point at which the jails in these towns would become so overcrowded with IWW peeps that the powers that be would be forced to submit to their demands and release everyone. The IWW, and indeed many social justice organizations, tried many tactics. Some worked, some didn't, but for you to highlight one that they used almost one hundred years ago and use it as evidence to support your insinuation that they are illegitimate is ridiculous.

Anti-globalization, disruption 23.Dec.2003 20:59

George Bender

I support unions, but I question what they can do about globalization. I don't think just supporting Democrats is going to do it, unless unions are willing to put a legislative price on their support. We need a labor party in the U.S., but traditionally U.S. unions have refused to support that. I would prefer a labor party to the Greens, because it would be more focused on economics, which is the main issue for working-class people. The Greens do support economic justice and living wages, but their message includes so many other issues that it's diffuse, not pointed enough.

I also question whether any strategy that does not include disruption can change American politics. As I recall Howard Zinn wrote, in A People's History of the United States, that large changes for the better in this country have only come as a result of disruption that threatened those in power. There has to be some price for business as usual. One reason I voted Green in the last two presidential elections, and probably will again if they have a candidate, is that I see it as a form of electoral disruption. We're not allowing business as usual.

That's what I get for being so reactionary 23.Dec.2003 23:47


To Henry McGucken: I should have finished reading your post before I responded. My foot is firmly planted in my mouth, and the crow is heating in the oven.

More on cramming 24.Dec.2003 12:20

George Bender

There are other ways to cram the system that don't involve going to jail or getting beat up. Years ago I read about a town where the cops were harassing young people for no good reason. The young people got tired of it and ran the cops ragged by making fake crime calls. When the cops got tired of running all over town for nothing they stopped harassing the young folks.

If you do this, call from a pay phone. They have caller ID.

Use your imagination.

Pay phones 24.Dec.2003 15:11

3 5 8 13

Don't get to chatty on the pay phone all calls to the police are traced as placed, well under two seconds. Of course then they have to respond pick a large phone bank. Reach out and touch someone.

Phone cramming 24.Dec.2003 16:45

Teddy Ruxpin

This is of course, illegal, but if you are doing it in the spirit of civil disobedience, I have som suggestions.

Go to a pawn shop and pick up a deactivated cell phone for five bucks. They always work for dialing 911, and unless you get caught with it on you there is no way for them to trace it to you (do NOT use this trick by buying one off eBay, that can be traced to you. Go to a pawn shop and buy some old crappy ones).

Use pay phones in hotels, then simply leave. If you look mainstream, they will never tag you.

Wear gloves. I doubt they will ever bother with prints, and the prints would never hold up in court on a public phone anyway, but wear gloves.

Co-ordinate with friends to simulatniously call from multiple location within the same precinct (note: calling from seperate precincts is not as effective because it gives them more manpower and less stress)

Don't pull this trick druing rush hour, earthquakes, floods, etc. The cops are pigs, but they are often buisy saving lives at those times. Wait until later when they are resting up and being horrible to people again. Of course, all is fair game during protests and riots.

Some things cops don't have to come out for, like burglary, vandalism, etc. They can mosey out any old time and take a report, so not much stress here. You can either do a lot of these calls and keep them buisy with reports (and keep them free to be useful if society actually needs them for some reason), or you can concentrate on fight reports, robbery reports etc and make them come right away (but also run the risk of taking them away from a car wreck or helping a battered wife get away from her hubby). Use your judgement as to which of these situations they most deserve, but don't bother running both at once.

Get off the phone ASAP.

While you are at it, you can even report real crimes, since they still have to follow up. My suggestion is to report the cop' own crimes against the homeless and such, just report them to a different agency (like the sheriff, state cops, FBI, etc).

IWW 26.Dec.2003 07:42

Walter Held

Granted there may be some things that we can learn from the past history of the IWW, there were some pretty good ideas flowing from them before they became the anarchist grouping that they are today.The old IWW had many different types of ideas (socialists and commies even) and they even learned from there mistakes.The IWW now is a bunch of has beens who try to re-invent the wheel every six weeks and have learned nothing from history.Just a bunch of liberals playing at radicals dressed in black.