Charter-Industrial Workers of the World, Vancouver Industrial Mixed Union No. 322, British Columbia Federation of Labour fonds, University of British Columbia Library Rare Books and Special Collections, RBSC-ARC-1056.

An important radical labour organization in the early 20th century was the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Founded in Chicago in 1905, the IWW was unique in that they sought to include all races in unions.

No one promoted class struggle more vigorously than the IWW. They also considered racism the bosses’ tool of division, asking white workers to “do away with racial prejudice and imaginary boundary lines, recognize that all workers belong to the international nation of wealth producers, and clearly see that our only enemy is the capitalist class and the only boundary line is between exploiter and exploited”. [1]

“By early July [1912]…posters appeared on the boardwalks of Steveston, appealing to both fishermen and cannery workers. ‘Let no nationality or anything else get between you and the price of your fish,’ said the broadside from the Industrial Workers of the World. ‘It makes no difference whether you are a Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Indian or Britisher, the bosses rob you all alike,’ said the IWW. ‘You all belong to one nationality, the working class. The boss is the foreigner. Let him get out of the country if he does not like it, let him go to work for once in his life, then he will know what working for wages is.'”[2]

The anti-colonial politics of the Ghadarites intersected and overlapped with the cultural campaign of the IWW. Reports from this time indicate that Ghadar activists were not only seen speaking at IWW meetings in the United States, but some also held formal posts in the union for some time, such as notable Ghadar leader Har Dyal.[3]

Although reactionary journalist Agnes Laut [4] expressed alarm at seeing “long lists of subscriptions from Hindu workmen to the IWW Strike funds” at the IWW Hall in Vancouver in 1912, there is little evidence the IWW was successful in recruiting many South Asians to its ranks in BC. Its beliefs were however, a radical challenge to the conservative established labour movement.[5]

For a brief time, the IWW was the province’s largest union, but its influence peaked in 1912.

  1. The Industrial Worker, November 30, 1912 in Kornel S. Chang, Pacific Connections: the Making of the U.S.-Canadian Borderlands. E-book, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 135. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/heb.33204. Accessed March 6, 2021.
  2. Geoff Meggs, "Blockade at Hell's Gate". The Fisherman, December 13, 1989, 26.
  3. Maia Ramnath, Haj to Utopia, 4-8.
  4. Agnes Laut, (1913). Am I my brother’s keeper? : a study of British Columbia’s labor & Oriental problems, Toronto: Saturday Night, 1913. https://dx.doi.org/10.14288/1.0056403
  5. For more information on the link between the IWW and early Indian nationalists, particularly Ghadarites see: Seema Sohi, "Race, Surveillance, and Indian Anticolonialism in the Transnational Western U.S.-Canadian Borderlands", The Journal of American History: 2011, 424.


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