Cartoon art

Item no. 28204
February 1910
Collection: Other

"They Go Wild Over Me by anonymous, Industrial Worker February 12, 1910.

The work of organizing the unorganized was not an easy task, particularly when it came to migrant workers. Roaming from job to job and place to place, migrant workers presented one of the most pressing challenges for labor organizers. The IWW was the only union willing to take up that challenge. They did this by sending recruiters and speakers to the urban centers of western cities where itinerants often gathered in between seasonal jobs. Here, Wobbly orators competed for the attention of the workers with local employment sharks. The employment sharks were the chief grievance of migrant workers who complained about the exorbitant fees they were forced to pay labor agents in return for a job (occasionally a job that did not exist).

The exploitation of workers was worsened by the practice of fee-splitting between the agents and the company foremen. The foreman would hire a worker recruited by the agent and receive a share of the agent's fee. After the first paycheck, that worker would be fired and another worker was recruited to take their place creating what was known as the "three-gang system," whereby there was always one crew on the job, a second crew going to the job, and a third crew heading back to the employment agency.

The IWW organized a campaign against the employment sharks in which they publicized the corrupt practices of local agencies, advised workers not to buy jobs, and demanded that employers hire through the union hall. Eager to silence their exposé and frightened by the prospect of an organized work force, the employment agencies and business interests pressured their city council to prohibit the radical rabble-rousers from speaking in public. Ordinances banning public speaking were passed and any Wobbly caught mounting a soapbox was promptly arrested.

See this image in the Solidarity Forever: A Look at Wobbly Culture exhibit.

Item image not found

View other items in the thematic set Pre-1920s