Fanning the Flames of Discontent: The Free Speech Fight of the Kansas City Industrial Workers of the World and the Making of Midwestern Radicalism
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This project deals with the free speech fight of 1911 that occurred in Kansas City and was organized and led by the Industrial Workers of the World. The free speech fight serves as a case study in localized Midwestern radicalism, specifically its unique manifestation in Kansas City. While many scholars of labor radicalism have focused on the larger metropolitan areas such as Chicago, New York City, and Detroit, this study departs from that approach by examining how labor radicalism took root and developed outside of the metropolitan centers. The Industrial Workers of the World, one of the most radical unions in American history, provides an excellent example of an organization that situated itself outside of the traditional spheres of labor organization through its intense focus on recruiting and radicalizing large segments of the unskilled and marginalized workforce throughout the country. In the Midwest, particularly in Kansas City, this focus evolved into a growing recognition that in order to be a stable, combative, and growing union in the Midwest, traditional notions of only recruiting white skilled workers employed in industry would not work. The IWW recognized that Kansas City, geographically and economically, attracted migrant workers and immigrant workers who were eager to find employment. Industries such as textiles, railroad construction, and meatpacking formed the backbone of Kansas City’s industry, while migrant farm labor and small farming, especially in wheat, employed a large percentage of workers in eastern Kansas and around Kansas City. This led the IWW in Kansas City to embark on a different trajectory dictated by local conditions in which the industrial workers, who were largely immigrant and nonwhite, would be united with agricultural migrant workers in the same union. This proved to be instrumental in the campaign for free speech in 1911, since without this unity and combative stance the small branch in Kansas City would have been defeated by the better organized and numerous police force.
Table of Contents
Abstract -- Acknowledgements -- Text -- Reference list -- Vita