Melby Dubofsky’s insights and perspectives, as well as obtained historical information from comprehensive research and studies, on the life of industrial workers are reflected on his book, “We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World. ” Dubofsky’s main purpose in writing the book was to provide a primary reference on the history of the working class, known as the Industrial Workers of the World or IWW, which has received little attention throughout the years.
Joseph Anthony McCartin (vii), the editor of the book has expressed the limited number of resources tackling the issues and concerns of the IWW. What people do not know is that the IWW constitutes a great part in shaping the history not only of the labor sector, but also our nation. In his book, Dubofsky offered an inclusive documentation of the history of the IWW veering away from prejudice and inequity. The rise of the IWW may be attributed to the series of perplexing changes in our nation’s economy and society as an entirety from 1877 onwards.
It was the shared vision by all of a grown and developed civilization that has forced the nation to focus on capitalizing on labor in order to realize their goal of urbanization. The nation has acknowledged the in invaluable role of manpower in accomplishing various goals and objectives in meeting the standards of progress and development that may be seen in an urbanized and industrialized community. However, as the labor economy expanded and as people saw the outcomes of manual labor, the worth transcribed to industrial workers has lessened.
Majority of laborers constituted populations who experienced poverty because of the extremely low wages that some of them received. Aside from problems brought about by the economic incongruity between the proletariat and the nobility, social gaps brought about by racial distinctions were also prevalent during that time. The proletariat was mostly composed of African Americans, immigrants, and minorities. Due to the unfairness and repression experienced by laborers during that time, the radical IWW was founded. (Dubofsky, 1-6)
In an effort to provide a precise and methodical account of the history of the IWW, Dubofsky organized his book in such a way that he was able to narrate significant issues and events sequentially through a series of chapters. Each chapter covers a certain period of time in history, and each focuses on various significant issues, from the social and economic setting which instigated radicalism until the IWWs decline, sometime within 1918 to 1924, because of internal conflicts and vacillations that bogged down its foundations.
The first chapter covers 1877-1917 within which the nation started to develop the labor sector in order to build an urbanized and industrialized society. This particular chapter also narrates the social and economic conditions prevalent during that time that have caused the labor sector to rally against injustice and repression. The second chapter talks about the events that happened within 1890 to 1905 pertaining to urbanization and industrialization. In this chapter, Dubofsky was able to make an inventory of various developments in the labor sector which were borne out of the capitalist society.
It may be said that this particular period in our history was dominated by corporations and capitalists as they moved on to inhabit various states in America. Chapters 3 to 4, from 1894-1905, chronicle the series of conflicts between the labor sector and capitalists which brought about the development of various laws in favor of corporations in order to limit the ability of laborers to appeal for justice and equality. Because labor unions failed in combating against power-hungry corporations, their strategy shifted from pure and simple unionism to radicalism.
On the other hand, Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8 were devoted to keeping track of the various movements and activities conducted by the IWW in order to fight for their civil liberties and privileges, not merely as laborers but citizens as well, ever since it was carped and assailed by the capitalists or industrialists. The IWW has focused on realizing its ideologies and points of view by founding its advocacies on syndicalism. Aside from that, the IWW sought for liberation in terms of the acknowledgement of the rights of laborers to express their thoughts and perspectives on issues concerning them.
It was one of the primary aims of the IWW to initiate social, economic, and moral revolution by airing their thoughts and ideologies which were focused on endorsing how society as a whole should view the labor sector. Chapters 9, 10, and 11 are specific accounts of the inopportune events that have both influenced man and the environment from 1909 to 1912. Apparently, steel and lumber towns were noted as various locations in the past that have subjugated and demoralized laborers because of extremely low wages and unsatisfactory working conditions.
Housing conditions for laborers were also disappointingly and insufficiently provided. Under these pretexts, laborers, particularly African Americans and immigrants, engaged themselves in a series of strikes. The issue concerning the “Satanic Dark Mills” has also been a significant reason for strikes, not only because of the poor conditions under which laborers were subjected, but also the effects of the milling industry to the environment and the health of the people. Chapters 12, 13, and 14 tackle various changes and reforms on labor conditions and the IWW within 1913 to 1917.
In these chapters, the conditions of laborers in the Western coast were discussed as well as the role of miners and lumberjacks in strengthening the foundations of the IWW. Because of the massive demonstrations and strikes by laborers all over the country, other laborers in other countries have become conscious of the conditions that capitalism has brought them into. Corporations within the local and international scenes were not able to contain the radical movements of laborers. However, after a short period of time, corporations were able to bounce back by subjecting their counter-active charges under the constitution.
Within two years, from 1917 to 1919, the issues between the labor sector and corporations were brought to court. These topics were discussed in chapters 15, 16, and 17. After a long and arduous court battle, the final decisions were seemingly in favor of industrialist perspectives, consequently leading to the decline of the IWW. Based on a comprehensive analysis of Dubrofsky’s recitations of the indigestible and quaint history of the IWW, I have realized the significance of reading this book for the purpose of trying to understand the effects of capitalism and industrialization on human beings.
I agree with McCartin when he said that there are only few references exploring issues concerning industrial workers because most books and other sources focus on industrialism, urbanization, and capitalism, and mostly their positive effects to society and man. However, what we fail to realize is how these phenomena have affected the lives of people working behind it, forming that line that divides society into classes. Perhaps majority of our population have failed to recognize how our society’s major problem, that is poverty, was borne out of the vision of growth and development as promised by industrialism, urbanization, and capitalism.
Under these pretexts, I find that Dubrofsky’s work is highly significant in coming to terms with the realities of urbanization, industrialism, and capitalism, especially in understanding the importance of labor unions and how these groups or organizations attempt to balance visions of advancement and ethics and morality. Moreover, the factual narrations in the book will help its readers appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of laborers in the past, particularly in capturing the attention of society in order to make people conscious of various societal issues and concerns brought about by urbanization, industrialism, and capitalism.
In terms of the technical aspect of Dubrofsky’s work, he was able to capture the quintessence of history by discussing past events thoroughly and systematically first by reviewing the societal and economic setting from which the IWW was borne out of, and from then, continued to narrate significant and interesting events that detained the situations, conditions, difficulties, and struggles of industrial workers before World War I.
Dubrofsky’s book, therefore, serves as a valid and reliable point of reference in studying the conditions of labor in history, as well as the structure of industrialization. Works Cited Dubofsky, Melby. “We Shall be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World. ” University of Illinois Press, 2000.