History

IMG_6943Wobblies, umherschweifende Musiker und Agitatoren, Wanderarbeiter*innen

Wir haben den Namen geklaut. Die Overall Brigade war ursprünglich eine umherschweifende Musik- und Agitationstruppe der Industrial Workers of the World, die etwa um 1907 in Spokane oder Portland an der nördlichen Pazifikküste der USA und in den Rocky Mountains entstand und die gesamte Westküste und den mittleren Westen bereiste, um für die One Big Union zu werben und Arbeiter_innen zu ermuntern, für ihre Rechte zu kämpfen.

Die historische Overall Brigade wurde von James H. Walsh und Haywire Mac geleitet. Hier entdeckte auch Joe Hill seine Begabung. Sie agiertierten mit einigem Erfolg unter Ernte-, Wald- und Hafenarbeiter*innen.

Die Overall Brigade trug Jeans-Latzhosen, schwarze Hemden und ein rotes Halstuch. Sie werden in von Zeitzeugen als echte rebellische rot-blütige Malocher („genuine rebels red-blooded working stiffs“) oder – von politischen Gegnern – als Kaffee- und Donut-Schnorrer („coffee and doughnut bums“) beschrieben. Daniel DeLeon sprach verächtlich von „the bummery“ (etwa: der Schlendrian, die Faulpelze, Müßiggänger).

Im Spielfilm „Joe Hill“ von Bo Widerberg, Schweden 1971, ist die Overall Brigade in einer längeren Sequenz dargestellt.

iww_band_lafayette_colorado_1927
So ähnlich dürfte die Overall Brigade ausgesehen haben: Arbeiter-Kapelle aus Lafayette, Colorado 1927. (Möglicherweise aus Protest gegen den Justizmord an Sacco & Vanzetti zusammen getrommelt.)

Die Overall Brigade spielte eine prominente Rolle bei den Free Speech Fights – Kämpfen für öffentliche Rede- und Versammlungsfreiheit, die von lokalen Autoritäten und Vigilanten in den USA regelmäßig brutal unterdrückt wurde.

Trotz ihrer Bedeutung für die IWW, die amerikanische Arbeiterbewegung und die Folkmusik vor dem 1. Weltkrieg, und obwohl sie zum Schrecken der braven Bürger und Geschäftsleute der Westküste wurden, gibt es unseres Wissens keine Fotos der historischen Overall Brigade. Sie ist allerdings in einigen Textstellen erwähnt, die z.T. voneinander abgeschrieben sind.

Overall Brigade vs. Daniel de Leon | I.W.W. Convention 1908 in Chicago

Im Jahr 1908 fuhr die historische Overall Brigade von der Westküste mit Güterzügen quer durch das Land zur Allgemeinen Versammlung (General Convention) der IWW nach Chicago, um dort den marxistischen Sozialdemokraten und Parteipolitiker Daniel DeLeon zu bekämpfen, der die IWW zu einem Werkzeug der von ihm dominierten Socialist Labor Party (SLP) machen wollte. Dieses Ereignis hat ganz offenbar einen großen Einruck hinterlassen, ebenso der Song „Hallelujah I’m a Bum!“ (Autor: Haywire Mac), der gleich in mehreren Quellen erwähnt wird.

A major dispute at the 1908 convention gives the flavor. This battle was over political strategy. Socialists like Daniel DeLeon supported electoral politics, while other members scorned the ballot box in favor of „direct action‘ battling bosses right on the job.

A key block of votes in the direct-action camp came from a crew of migratories assembled in Portland by organizer James H. Walsh. Clad in denim overalls, black shirts, and red bandanas, this 20-person „Overalls Brigade“ embarked on a 2,500-mile odyssey by boxcar, holding street meetings and selling IWW literature along the way. Their itinerary included an unscheduled overnight stop in the Seattle hoosegow after armed railroad guards sidetracked them in Auburn.

In Chicago, DeLeon scornfully dubbed the Overalls Brigade „the Bummery“ for their fondness for singing the hobo anthem, „Hallelujah, I’m a Bum.“ But the western hoboes helped boot DeLeon from the union and establish direct action as its modusoperandi.

Quelle: Doug Honig, „One Big Union,“ The Weekly. May 8, 1985, as reprinted in Landmarks. IV # 1 , p. 69-73. http://search.tacomapubliclibrary.org/unsettling/unsettled.asp?load=Industrial+Workers+of+the+World&f=labor\indwrkrs.iww

When the convention was called to order by Mr. St. John on September 21, 1908, there were twenty-six delegates in attendance, controlling an aggregate of seventy votes. Two delegates were debarred from seats in the convention Max Ledermann of Chicago and Daniel DeLeon of New York and St. John was made permanent chairman.

The West especially the Pacific Coast was well represented for the first time. There were delegates in attendance from Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and Spokane.
The West was spoken of as furnishing the „ genuine rebels the red-blooded working stiffs,“ and this was said to be the first revolutionary convention ever held in Chicago composed of “ purely wage- workers.“ The largest and most important delegation from the West was popularly known as the “ Overalls Brigade,“ brought together in Portland and Spokane by one J. H. Walsh, a national organizer of the I. W. W. The “ Brigade “ numbered about twenty men who “ beat their way “ from Portland to Chicago, holding propaganda meetings en route. A member of tht delegation reported this propaganda trip :

„We were five weeks on the road [he said]. We traveled over two thousand five hundred miles. The railroad fare saved
would have „been about $800. We held thirty-one meetings. The receipts of the first week from literature sales and collections were $39.02. The second week, $53.66. The third week.“

In the Industrial Union Bulletin for September 19 was published a long letter from Organizer Walsh giving a detailed record of the trip. It was given such heads as these: „ I.W. W. Red-Special! Overall Brigade,“ „On its way through the continent. Thousands listen to the speakers. Gompers and his satellites furious with rage !“ „The Overall Brigade,“ according to Rudolph Katz, „ consisted of that element that traveled on freight trains from one western town to another, holding street meetings that were opened with the song, ‚ Hallelujah, I’m a Bum,‘ and closing with passing the hat in regular Salvation Army fashion.

Quelle: THE I. W. W. – A Study of American Syndicalism, BY PAUL FREDERICK BRISSENDEN, http://archive.org/stream/iwwstudyofameric00brisuoft/iwwstudyofameric00brisuoft_djvu.txt

The picturesque singing „Overall Brigade“ from Portland, Oregon; IWW militants from other parts of the west; wobblies from all over the country hoboed to the Chicago convention. They saved the IWW from the reformers and politicians who connived to cripple the IWW.

Quelle: Sam Dolgoff: Revolutionary Tendencies in American Labor – Part 2, http://www.iww.org/en/history/library/Dolgoff/newbeginning/5

On the other was a collection of delegates from the West popularly known as the „Overalls Brigade“ who had tramped their way from Portland to Chicago on freight trains. Concerning these, Paul Brissenden writes:

The western IWWs had not borrowed any theoretical criticism of the state from the French syndicalists, but the actual concrete experiences of the lower grades of workers in the western states had developed in their minds a conception of the political party very similar to that of the revolutionary syndicalists of France. Indeed, the Western American Wobblies looked upon the whole modern system of congressional or parliamentary government with considerable disdain.
Parliaments, they say, are little more than clearing-houses for the exchange of „vague and sterile platitudes.“ In so far as they do more than this, they merely further the designs of the big business groups whom they serve as retainers. [1]

[1] Brissenden, Paul F. _The IWW: A Study of American
Syndicalism_. (New York: Russell & Russell, 1957), 232-233.

Quelle: POLITICS V. SYNDICALISM: A CASE STUDY OF THE IWW, by Luther M. Gaylord, http://www.spunk.org/texts/groups/iww/sp000698.txt

Outstanding characteristic of the I. W. W. was the amazing rapidity with which they got around the country. When iron miners on the Mesaba Range went on strike, Wobbly loggers of Oregon flooded Minnesota. Dirt movers of Montana construction camps appeared as by magic on the picket lines around California hop fields.
In 1908 when Wobbly ranks were torn by factions warring over dogma, what was known as the „overall brigade“ and was composed chiefly of loggers, jumped freights heading East out of Seattle and Portland, and captured and dominated the I. W. W. convention in Chicago that year.
The overall boys voted, and their vote became a part of the organization’s policy, that Wobblies should pay no attention to political activity, which was a snare and a delusion; they should concentrate on bringing the Revolution by means of strikes, sabotage, and the eventual taking over of the sources of production by the workers-who, of course, would all be good Wobs.
The results of the 1908 convention were soon apparent. Strikes broke out suddenly in all sawmilling and logging centers. They were sporadic, never lasted long, and were accompanied by riots, sabotage, and other violence.

Quelle: Stewart Holbrook, „The Wobblies Come,“ Wildmen, wobblies and whistle punks. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1992, p. 156-166.

Finally, it was announced that the „Overall Brigade“ was coming in large force from the Far West to attend the convention. This „Overall Brigade“ was really not what the name would imply, namely, men in their working clothes, but consisted of that element that traveled on freight trains from one Western town to the other, holding street meetings that were opened with the song, „Hallelujah, I’m a Bum,“ and closed with passing the hat, in regular Salvation Army fashion.

The „Overall Brigaders,“ though they traveled in box cars where conductors do not collect fares, were nevertheless upholders of „organized labor“ ethics–they would only steal rides on railroad lines that employed union men and would rather walk the ties than „patronize“ a scab road. It is safe to say, however, that the directors of such scab railroad lines did not consider a boycott by the „Overall Brigaders“ a serious blow.

Quelle: World Socialist Movement Forum, http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/WSM_Forum/message/18985

The 1908 I.W.W. convention put a finish on the separation. This was known as the “I’m a bum” convention. A grafter of the cheapest order by the name of Walsh had appeared during the previous months in the West. His brag was that he could “bum” a meal out of any “joint” and “bluff” the bill in any hotel. A six-footer and well-proportioned, his brag was that he never worked and never would. Whether he was an outright stool-pigeon never was actually settled. He did damage enough to the labor movement, however, so that the capitalists could well have afforded to pay him a pension. In the months previous to the convention he moved eastward, picking up “delegates” from all the more than half defunct mixed locals of the West. These “delegates” he organized into an “overall brigade of coffee and doughnut bums,” who by alternately “sapping the tires” and “riding the bumpers” arrived in Chicago in time for the convention.
There they bunked in headquarters or at bums’ lodging houses and got their coffee and doughnuts as best they could. Walsh at this time was known to “flash big bills.”
The story of the “1908 convention” is history, and its details do not enter here. St. John, by this time the real field-marshal, maneuvered the packed convention. One former S.T. and L.A. man was slugged. De Leon’s credentials were protested, he was unseated, and probably saved from bodily injury only by the fact that a strong bodyguard surrounded him night and day during his stay in Chicago.

The I.W.W.’s short and eventful saga as a real labor organization was ended. It continued until the World War, however, as a sensational outbreak now here, now there, an army of footloose gentry swarming over the country with it to “the field of operations.” Now it was a “free speech fight” with the slogan “fill the jails”; now it was a strike of lumber workers, dock workers, steel workers, textile workers—legitimate as to purpose of a workers’ rebellion but shamefully exploited and always led toward final disaster and tragedy by the I.W.W. carrion crows and stool-pigeons who made a regular business of “following strikes.”

Quelle: Olive M. Johnson (Socialist Labor Party), http://www.slp.org/pdf/slphist/slp2_omj.pdf