In the early twentieth century, when many US unions disgracefully excluded black and Asian workers, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) warmly welcomed people of color, in keeping with their emphasis on class solidarity and their bold motto: “An Injury to One Is an Injury to All!” Ben Fletcher: The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly tells the story of one of the greatest heroes of the American working class.


A brilliant union organizer and a humorous orator, Benjamin Fletcher (1890–1949) was a tremendously important and well-loved African American member of the IWW during its heyday. Fletcher helped found and lead Local 8 of the IWW’s Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union, unquestionably the most powerful interracial union of its era, taking a principled stand against all forms of xenophobia and exclusion.


For years, acclaimed historian Peter Cole has carefully researched the life of Ben Fletcher, painstakingly uncovering a stunning range of documents related to this extraordinary man. Ben Fletcher: The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly is the most comprehensive look at Fletcher ever to be published. It includes a detailed biographical sketch of his life and history, reminiscences by fellow workers who knew him, a chronicle of the IWW’s impressive decade-long run on the Philadelphia waterfront in which Fletcher played a pivotal role, and nearly all of his known writings and speeches, thus giving Fletcher’s timeless voice another opportunity to inspire a new generation of workers, organizers, and agitators. This revised and expanded second edition includes new materials such as facsimile reprints of two extremely rare pamphlets on racism from the early twentieth century, more information on his prison years and personal life, additional recollections from friends, greater consideration of Fletcher from a global perspective, and much more.


“This stirring collection gives us the drama, largely in his own exciting words, of the life and work of black radical labor leader Ben Fletcher. It is a story of suffering, fighting, and organizing but also of thinking deeply and writing clearly about the social power of labor, and particularly of maritime workers, and the possibility of a world beyond racial division and class exploitation.” —David Roediger, University of Kansas, author of Class, Race, and Marxism


“This book tells the unusual story of an African American who became a leader of racially integrated dockworkers in Philadelphia before, during, and after World War I. It poses two questions. First, can a black worker become a spokesperson for a workforce made up of blacks from the American South, whites born in the United States, and immigrants from Europe? The inspiring answer is yes. The second is, to what extent can Wobbly ideas be made part of a local union with a collective bargaining agreement so that what results is ‘a radical yet stable union.’ Here the evidence is more mixed, but the question is an essential one and every reader should feel challenged to find their own answer.” —Staughton Lynd, author of Wobblies and Zapatistas and Labor Law for the Rank and Filer

Ben Fletcher: The Life and Times of a Black Wobbly, Second Edition

  • PM Press 2021

    New paperback

    288 pages