A lot. Red November, Black November is a great read, well written and documented.

There are three main things I like very much. First, here’s what I don’t like.

Salerno emphasizes that the IWW formed what he calls an oppositional culture or, as he puts in this quote,
“an associational context.” That’s fair. I mean, he’s done the research and the interpretation is plausible. And he’s right that historians of the IWW tend to neglect that. But he seems to celebrate it. Perhaps that’s a corrective to the neglect he notes. The thing is, the times and places where the IWW was primarily a cultural phenomenon were themselves at least sometimes controversial within the IWW: some people involved wanted to be more than a culture, but a functioning organization. Some of those people were less enthusiastic about some of the developments Salerno likes (mixed locals, for one). That goes largely unaddressed. Also unaddressed is the relationship between culture and organization, which is partly but not solely a question of the relationship between informal and formal – in some cases the IWW was a culture because it had failed or was failing to be an organization. In other locations, perhaps, the IWW may have been an organization with insufficient culture – certainly this is possible of organizations, I’d say this is a condition which tends toward either dissolution or bureaucratization. This is also not addressed.

Here’s what I do like, three things. Salerno emphasizes the role of immigrants in the IWW, he emphasizes IWW exchanges with and borrowings from sources outside the US (the CNT, for instance) for elaborating ideas on what the IWW was and should be, and he emphasizes cultural forms (visual art and songs, mainly) as a mode by which the IWW thought about itself and by which ideas were exchanged within it.

The first could be used to expand further on migration as a theme in IWW history. There’s immigration to the US. There’s emigration from other locations to the US and the IWWs relationship with that (I have a vague recollection of at least one case of IWW contacts in Italy moving leaflets saying something like “the company claims about how many jobs are available and what the payrate is are false, there’s a strike on, if you come over to X location please don’t scab”). There’s emigration from the US of people who spent time in the IWW (Bill Haywood being one sad example, I’m sure there are other more positive ones) there’s sojourners to the US – involuntary ones like the many people deported for their IWW involvement, and voluntary ones like James Connolly – all of whom carried their experiences with them in some way and the influence of which hasn’t been studied as far as I know. There’s also migrations internal to the US, so to speak, like migrations to the ‘frontier’ and back, and the many local deportations after the end of the Free Speech Fight phase.

The second, European influences, I like for its focus on IWW intellectual culture. There’s a bit less emphasis than I’d like on individual intellectual processing of experiences – I think some cases there may have been cases of parallel evolution on ideas etc. I also like that this makes things like the CNT etc relevant for understanding the IWW.

The third I like for its emphasis on cultural works as a way of thinking and arguing with as much dignity and legitimacy as works which are more immediately recognizable as theory.

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