The ‘Wobblies’ Mystery Revisited

Further to the mystery of how the Industrial Workers of the World came to be known as the ‘Wobblies’ (how irritating it is by the way to find the IWW still occasionally referred to as the International Workers of the World by writers who should know better), Hummer has received two further tid bits of information. Stephen Murray Smith writes that the term sprang ‘obviously from the W’s, and on looking up my dictionary of American slang I see it is said to be from a supposed Chinese-American pronunciation of IWW’. Peter Sheldon ran across the following explanation in the autobiography of Rose Pesotte, a leading American labor organiser, anarchist and Jewish feminist. Evidently Harrison Gray Otis, labor hating editor of the Los Angeles Times is said to have originated this label and the IWW was ‘spoken of as ‘Wobblies’ by their enemies, supposedly to indicate instability’. The IWW, however ‘ignored the derisive implication and adopted that term as a convenient handle’. (Reference: Rose Pesotta, Bread upon the Waters, ILR Press, Cornell University, 1984, p. 143) With two prominent Australian academics preparing books on the IWW no doubt further contributions to the mystery will be forthcoming (and welcome).