Under the Iron Heel


A dramatic, deeply researched account of how legal repression and vigilantism brought down the Wobblies—and how the [near] destruction of the union haunts us to this day.

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The Wobblies and the Capitalist War on Radical Workers

By Ahmed White
University of California Press

In 1917, the Industrial Workers of the World was rapidly gaining strength and members. Within a decade, this radical union was effectively destroyed, the victim of the most remarkable campaign of legal repression and vigilantism in American history. Under the Iron Heel is the first comprehensive account of this campaign.

Founded in 1905, the IWW offered to the millions of workers aggrieved by industrial capitalism the promise of a better world. But its growth, coinciding with World War I and the Russian Revolution and driven by uncompromising militancy, was seen by powerful capitalists and government officials as an existential threat that had to be eliminated. In Under the Iron Heel, Ahmed White documents the torrent of legal persecution and extralegal, sometimes lethal violence that shattered the IWW. In so doing, he reveals the remarkable courage of those who faced this campaign, lays bare the origins of the profoundly unequal and conflicted nation we know today, and uncovers disturbing truths about the law, political repression, and the limits of free speech and association in class society.

“No American union has come close to approximating the revolutionary potential and dynamism of the IWW. Ahmed White’s deeply researched, powerfully written book hammers home a fundamental point too often forgotten: ferocious repression, by the government and businesses, was the primary reason for this revolutionary union’s decline. In greater depth than any previous work, White explains systematic efforts by the federal government, dozens of state governments, and businesses across the nation to crush the IWW and all for which it stood.”—Peter Cole, author of Ben Fletcher: The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly

“Provocative, extensively researched, and heartbreaking, Ahmed White’s Under the Iron Heel tells how the state conspired with powerful business interests to break the IWW while revealing important truths about repression’s role in the making of modern America.”—Paul Buhle, author of Marxism in the United States

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