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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD (IWW)

INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD (IWW)

The INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD (IWW), dedicated to the abolition of capitalism, was active in Depression-era Cleveland largely through the efforts of Frank Cedervall, chief organizer for the Metal & Machinery Workers Industrial Union and his brother, Tor, the branch secretary. Organized in Chicago in 1905, the IWW believed that the working class and the employing class had nothing in common and were destined to be locked in struggle until the workers organized, took over the machinery of production, and abolished the wage system. Though most successful in the West, the IWW organized the stogie workers of Cleveland in 1908 and the rubber workers of Akron in 1912. Considered radical and un-American during WORLD WAR I, the IWW ceased to exist as a union.

In the 1930s a new breed of IWW leaders tempered long-range goals by addressing more traditional trade-union concerns. Frank Cedervall, a plasterer by trade, joined the IWW in 1931 and spent 3 years on the road organizing other workers. When he took over leadership of Cleveland Local 440 of the Metal & Machinery Workers Industrial Union (organized in 1918), Cedervall, with a nucleus of Hungarian tradesmen from the Buckeye-Woodland neighborhood, spearheaded organizing drives in several northeast Ohio plants, including the Ohio Foundry Co., the Draper Mfg. Co., the Cochrane Brass Co., the American Stove Co. (Dangler Div.), Cleveland Wire & Spring, and Natl. Screw. Although Cedervall proclaimed the IWW philosophy from the speaker's platform, he won support among tradesmen by bargaining for concrete benefits such as wages, hours, and union recognition, and built local IWW membership to a peak of 3,000 in 6 years. Despite setbacks, Local 440 became the most powerful IWW local in the country.

As the antileftist bias of the 1930s and early 1940s gave way to a full-blown anti-Communist movement in the late 1940s, Local 440 was faced with a dilemma. Under the Taft-Hartley Act, union members were required to sign affidavits stating that they were not members of organizations dedicated to the overthrow of the U.S. government in order to qualify the local to compete with the AFL and CIO in plant elections. The international IWW officers refused to sign the statements on principle, and when Cedervall failed to convince them that signing was crucial to the survival of IWW locals, he led Local 440 out of the IWW. In 1950 the union became the independent Metal & Machinery Workers Industrial Union 440 of Cleveland, and after a brief affiliation with the Congress of Independent Unions, it joined the MECHANICS EDUCATIONAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA, which was still active in 1995.


Wortman, Roy T. "The IWW in Ohio, 1905-1950," (Ph.D. diss., Ohio State Univ., 1971).