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The Limitations of a “Workingmen’s Democracy”: The Industrial Workers of the World and the Roots of “Solidarity” in the United States

Janine Giordano Drake

Pages 509 - 525



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

Creative Commons License

The mythology of American democracy, that concept that the United States was formed as a contract among free and equal men, has uniquely shaped the American labor movement. Nineteenth-century trade unions and labor parties demanded higher wages and better working conditions but implicitly revered the systems of White supremacy and settler colonialism. The American Federation of Labor, the largest U.S. trade union federation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, thwarted efforts to build a labor party or stir working-class consciousness across the lines of race, gender, or skill. Trade union leaders largely opted to demand improvements to contracts on the basis of White male respectability. In the early twentieth century, collaborative work between the Industrial Workers of the World and the Roman Catholic Church gave birth to new American concepts of human rights and international solidarity, ideas that offered a real counterpoint to the concept of democracy revered within the American parliamentary system. Father Hagerty, author of several founding documents for the Wobblies, including his famous “Wheel of Fortune,” was one important figure who brought European concepts of solidarity and human rights into the American mainstream.

Key Words: Workingmen’s Democracy; Industrial Workers of the World; Catholic Social Teaching; solidarity; producerism; Knights of Labor

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