As seen in the Ragtime novel when Evelyn Nesbit visits the poor, The I.W.W. was founded in Chicago in 1905. The goal of the organization was for all workers to be united as a class to abolish the wage system. The motto of the I.W.W. is "An Injury to One is an Injury to All". Leaders believed the most effective way to gain power was through strikes, propaganda, boycotts, and their controversial strategy of sabotage. Sabotage as defined by the I.W.W. does not mean the destruction of property or machinery. It is the collective withdrawal of efficiency by workers at the point of production, also called "direct action". When other leaders began to disagree with these strategies, the I.W.W. split in 1908. By 1912, the I.W.W. had over 50,000 members and was involved in over 150 strikes. They are sometimes known as the "singing union" because of their iconic Little Red Songbook.
Another icon of the I.W.W. is a black cat called the "sabo-tabby" (from the word sabotage). This was one of many "silent agitator" graphics used as symbols for workers to communicate. Some have suggested that the adoption of the word "cat" by beat poets and jazz musicians comes from the I.W.W.'s use of the word.
Members of the I.W.W. were called Wobblies. There are a few theories as to how they got their name:
Read a much more in depth history of the I.W.W. here.
Dramaturgy for the Ragtime musical and novel.
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