The history of the International Workers Order's struggle to enact a social-democratic, racially egalitarian vision for America
A Road to Peace and Freedom
The International Workers Order and the Struggle for Economic Justice and Civil Rights, 19301954
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Robert M. Zecker
The International Workers Order was an American consortium of ethnic mutual self-insurance societies that advocated for unemployment insurance, Social Security and vibrant industrial unions. This interracial leftist organization guaranteed the healthcare of its 180,000 white, black, Hispanic and Arabic working-class members. But what accounted for the popularity—and eventual notoriety—of this Order?
"With eloquence and wit, Robert Zecker provides a crucial, previously hidden history of the International Workers Order, a communist-affiliated mutual aid society. Archivally rich and theoretically deft, the book connects questions of 'working class fun' and multiracial solidarity to histories of labor and civil rights struggle. Zecker laces a familiar story of Cold War repression with crucial insight about the arts of community survival. Based on a twentieth-century organization, 'A Road to Peace and Freedom' addresses a key issue for the 21st century: How can political movements address fundamentals such as the social welfare and well-being of their constituents?"
"Building on a mountain of research, Robert Zecker reconstructs the rise and destruction of the International Workers Order, which offered its interracial membership life insurance, sickness benefits, and a vision of a better world of economic and racial justice. 'A Road to Peace and Freedom' traces the IWO's career in all its complexity and contradiction-as an insurance consortium with a largely Communist leadership and a politically diverse membership, a mass organization that brought black, Latino, and white ethnic workers into campaigns against lynching and colonialism and for national health insurance, and a financially sound enterprise whose property was expropriated by state officials on political grounds. This compelling story leaves us wondering about the potential for interracial working-class mobilizations and the tragedy of roads not taken-or shut down-in twentieth-century America."
Robert M. Zecker is Associate Professor in the Department of History at Saint Francis Xavier University. He is the author of Race and America's Immigrant Press: How the Slovaks were Taught to Think Like White People.