Actually, we never fully went away. Even though the 1980's were some lean years for the Industrial Workers of the World in Montana, vestiges of our militant union have persisted since we first arrived shortly after the founding of the IWW in 1905. Wobbly organizers came to help organize the exploited miners and timber beasts of the rugged old west.
Missoula, Montana can proudly proclaim itself to be the site of one of the first free speech fights in the U.S. IWW organizers like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn came to Missoula in 1909 to speak out on the streets and to announce to the world that "the working class and the employing class have nothing in common." For exercising their rights to free speech, hundreds of Wobblies and working class men and women were jailed in Missoula. After overfilling the jail cells and having no where to put the overflow of free speech fighters and no way to feed them, a decision was made to just let them out. And that is how free speech as we actually understand it was born in this country, not through the U.S. Constitution! (Perhaps we have even more rights than we know, we just have never effectively exercised them...?)
Fast forward to July, 2007 when a couple of Wobblies met in the Break Expresso coffee house on Higgins Avenue and simply said: "Let's start a General Membership Branch!" And so, in six short months this goal was realized. We now have a branch and we are finding people everywhere that are interested in our work and ready to get organized. We are finding job sites to organize and we are finding enthusiasm for our radical critique.
Over the past few months we've increased our visibility to the public by participating on a panel of international labor rights, a labor film festival, and a university film series. A standout event was hosted in Butte, America at the site of some of the IWW's most important history. This IWW social was recognized by the mainstream press on television, and state-wide papers. The IWW carries with it a great deal of meaning in the state of Montana, and so our return is big news.
On May 1 and 2, 2008 in Missoula we will be putting on two days of commemoration and celebration. On May 1, we will be participating in what is recognized around the world as the actual Labor Day. We will be meeting in Kiwanis Park at 5:30 PM for a commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre and International Workers' and Socialists' Day. From the park we will march to the University of Montana to watch a film appropriately titled "The Wobblies."
On May 2, we will gather at the site of the 1909 free speech fights in front of the Florence Building on Higgins Avenue for a re-enactment of those speeches and the reaction of the police. We will be joined by historians, poets, musicians and Wobblies that want to speak out! From there we are going to the Union Hall to host a Utah Phillips Benefit Concert. The headliner is "America's most famous unknown folksinger," Mark Ross.
Join the One Big Union today! If you are in Missoula, come to one of our meetings on the first Monday of every month at the Union Hall at 7 PM.
Don't wait any longer to wage slavery and take control over your own life.
The Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies: Opening the Dialogue - Presented at an Open Forum for the Interim Director of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. March 11, 2011. Also available as a PDF and as slides...
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