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Ben Fletcher at the Derry Radical Bookfair


IWW Ireland chaired a book launch at Derry Radical Bookfair on Saturday 30 January – “Ben Fletcher the Life & Times of a Black Wobbly” (2nd edition, PM Press), by our friend Professor Peter Cole of Western Illinois University, is an examination of how beginning in 1913, Fletcher built up a powerful IWW branch on the Philadelphia waterfront which organised Black, Irish and other European immigrant workers in an unprecedented way.

They managed to galvanise the waterfront workers and saw many victories and the building of international solidarity through a strong union which maintained the right to strike, unlike others.

Fletcher was the consummate Wobbly, clearly aware that the working class must organise to free itself, and he applied workplace organising to such great effect that he was soon seconded round the USA in order to spread the IWW’s revolutionary industrial unionism.

Having previously escaped lynching, he was among over 100 IWW members who were jailed on trumped up treason charges and while serving a 10 year sentence helped found the ‘University of Radicalism’ in Leavenworth penitentiary. After three years his sentence was commuted and he returned to the fray.

The talk concluded with lively discussion about lessons for today from Ben Fletcher’s legacy, the place of racism as part of capitalism, and a clear recognition that there is much to be learned from Fletcher’s anti-racist, anti-capitalist workplace organising.

IWW Ireland Area Organiser

You can buy Peter Cole’s latest publication ‘Ben Fletcher: The life and times of a Black Wobbly’ directly from PM Press or at all independent booksellers

Watch the discussion with the Derry Radical Bookfair HERE.

Peter Coleis a professor of history at Western Illinois University in Macomb and a research associate in the Society, Work and Development Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cole is the author of the award-winning Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area and Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia. He coedited Wobblies of the World: A Global History of the IWW. He is the founder and codirector of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 Commemoration Project.

Ben Fletcher: The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly