American Labor History and the Refusal of Work
In this session, we will consider the labor movement tactic most associated with the Industrial Workers of the World — sabotage, or the collective withdrawal of efficiency — engaging the history of the American slacker to think through possibilities for working-class freedom and power vis-a-vis capital today. The term slacker originated during WWI and disparaged those (primarily Irish) coded “lazy,” “vagrant,” and resistant to a proper Protestant work ethic; it also referred to those who would not fight on the side of the Americans (and of course, the British) during WWI. We can deploy this history to analyze the relationship between labor supply and worker power, and between anti-imperialist national liberation struggles (like Ireland’s) and struggles at the point of production, drawing out these connections for a new generation of scholars taking a look at the militant radicalism of the IWW in the context of a resurgence in the US and Europe, since at least 1999, of an anarcho-syndicalist, direct action-oriented politics.
Kristin Lawler is Associate Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx. Her first book, The American Surfer: Radical Culture and Capitalism, was published by Routledge in 2011 and examined the politics of American surf culture during the twentieth century. She is a member of the editorial collective of the journal Situations: Project of the Radical Imagination; her work has been published there as well as in several edited collections, Z Magazine, and the digital forum of the Social Science Research Council. She is currently at work on her new book, Shanty Irish: the Roots of American Syndicalism.