Co-Sponsored by the History Department of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northern Illinois University, and the Labor and Working Class History Association
Friday, February 10, 2006, 3:00-5:00pm
The Newberry Library
"The West is Dead": Manifest Destiny and the Ideological Origins of the Western IWW
Gerald Ronning, Albright College
Commentators: Brian Hosmer, University of Illinois at Chicago and Toby Higbie, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
This paper considers the relationship between the twin legacies of Euro-American conflict and the industrial expansion of the American West at the close of the nineteenth century and its effect on the ideology of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The Westís history of conquest and development furnished the IWW with webs of cultural meanings and ideas surrounding not only class and the class struggle but indigenismo, indigenism, and Indianness that increased the unionís appeal and strength prior to World War I. The IWW managed to unite workers throughout the North American West across international boundaries and over multiple racial and ethnic divides. Scholarly debate over the origins and appeal of the unionís unique ideology has often dwelled on the question of whether American or European influences dominated the character of the union and its struggles. This paper suggests, at least in the case of the Western IWW, that members of the union drew on a uniquely American source for its appeal to the Westís diverse industrial workforce. The Western IWW played upon a distinctly New World cultural affinity, loosely organized around the notion of indigenism. This cultural identity, neither American nor European, a product of the transnational character of the West and overlapping narratives of colonialism and conquest provided a potent defense against charges of un-American and anti-American motivations and beliefs while at the same time offering an appealing cultural space in which to galvanize an international membership.
All papers are pre-circulated. For a copy of the paper, e-mail Ginger Shulick at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 312.255.3524.
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