The IWW gave working class rebellion its first soundtrack. Neither the organization's ideology nor tactics were completely new to the labor movement. What was new was the creation of an extensive body of music and poetry, which inspired and united a multicultural, American workforce. Sung at mass meetings, on the picket lines, and in the jails, Wobbly songs kindled a spirit of solidarity and strengthened the will to resist. Most importantly, IWW songs articulated the sentiments and aspirations of the working class in a way that a thousand well-argued pamphlets and manifestos never could.

"Dump the Bosses off Your Back," which appeared in the ninth edition of the IWW's "little red songbook," was written by John Brill and set to the tune of "Take it to the Lord in Prayer. It represents a call to workers everywhere to wise up to their exploitation and fire their bosses. [Click here for lyrics.]

See the Traveling Wobbly Show for a schedule of centennial exhibits.

The formation of the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905 marked a revolutionary turning point in the history of the American labor movement. At a time when the goal of other labor organizations was to secure better wages and suitable working conditions, the IWW was bent on abolishing the wage system and establishing a cooperative commonwealth of workers. At a time when labor was being told to take their grievances to the ballot box, the IWW was calling for direct action in the factories. At a time when the working class was waging pitched battles over the recognition of their right to negotiate, the IWW was putting forth the radical notion that labor did not need to negotiate; that workers, organized industrially at the point of production, could make the world stand still simply by folding their arms. Finally, at a time when access to working class organizations was predominantly restricted by issues of gender, race, ethnicity, and skill, the IWW was enrolling all of the nation's toilers - including women, African-Americans, immigrants, and the unskilled - into what workers everywhere came to know as the "One Big Union."

Instrumental to forging the bonds between all these various groups of people were the contributions of Wobbly artists, songwriters, and poets. IWW cartoons, songs, and poems not only functioned as a means of disseminating abstract theory among the working masses, but were also crucial in shaping a vibrant folk culture that strengthened the bonds of solidarity that linked rank-and-file workers. This creative, unifying culture remains the Industrial Workers of the World's most original and enduring contribution to the American labor movement.

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