Susan Erenrich Feb 2018


The Grassroots Leadership & the Arts for Social Change Corner
Early Horizontal Leadership Pioneers: Joe Hill, The IWW, & Fellow Workers

By Susan J. Erenrich

STREAM: Listen to Episode 39 of Wasn't That A Time, "Remembering Joe Hill, The IWW & Fellow Workers With Magpie"

ILA Members - LOGIN to DOWNLOAD: Chapter 9 of Grassroots Leadership and the Arts for Social Change, "They Were All Leaders: The IWW & Songs for Revolution"

 Susan J. ErenrichSusan (Susie) J. Erenrich is a social movement history documentarian. She uses the arts for social change to tell stories about transformational leadership, resilience, and societal shifts as a result of mobilization efforts by ordinary citizens. Susie holds a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change from Antioch University and is the founder/executive director of the Cultural Center for Social Change. She has more than four decades of experience in nonprofit/arts administration, civic engagement, community service, and community organizing and has taught at universities, public schools, and community-based programs for at-risk, low-income populations. Currently a professor at American University, she is the editor of Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: An Anthology of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and Grassroots Leadership & the Arts for Social Change (a volume in ILA's BLB series).  She is the producer/host of Wasn't That A Time: Stories & Songs That Moved The Nation, a live community radio broadcast on WERA.FM. Listen on-demand or live every Friday from 1:00 - 2:00 PM Eastern time.

Dear Friends,


Welcome to the second issue of The Grassroots Leadership & the Arts for Social Change Corner. In this corner, I am sharing a chapter from my book penned by Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino. The piece is titled, They Were All Leaders: The IWW & Songs for Revolution. For those not familiar with this period in American Labor Movement history, I’ll provide a bit of background information.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), otherwise known as the Wobblies, were a band of revolutionaries, socialists, anarchists, and trade unionists. At their first convention, held in 1905, the IWW formed, becoming one of the early social movements in the United States. They developed an extensive literature and lore utilizing “their songs, poems, stories, anecdotes, skits, language, and visual symbolism to transmit their own values within the structure of a society they wished to change” (Kornbluh, 1998, p. ix).

Most importantly, they were community-based, autonomous, democratically led, and were egalitarian in practice. IWW members opposed traditional top-down methods of running unions. And they opposed a bureaucratic system that held the rank and file down. First and foremost, for our purposes, the IWW were pioneers in horizontal leadership protocol long before the field of leadership became a discipline.

Joe Hill, on the other hand, was one of the IWW’s most celebrated martyrs. Born Joel Emmanuel Hagglund, in Gavle, Sweden, he immigrated to the United States in 1902. Once on U.S. soil, he unofficially changed his name to Joseph Hillstrom and then to his pen name, Joe Hill. In 1910, while working on the docks in San Pedro, California, Joe Hill joined the IWW. He traveled throughout the West, organizing workers under the IWW banner and composing political songs and satirical poems. Some of his most popular songs include “The Preacher and the Slave,” “Casey Jones,” “There Is Power in a Union,” and “Rebel Girl,” written for Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a fiery labor organizer.

In 1914, Joe Hill was arrested in Salt Lake City on murder charges for the killing of John G. Morrison, a former police officer turned butcher, and his son, Arling. After a controversial trial, Joe Hill was convicted on circumstantial evidence. He maintained his innocence all the way to his grave. On November 19, 1915, Joe Hill was shot by a five-man firing squad in the prison yard of the Utah State Penitentiary. He was 33 years old. His last word was “Fire!” Three of the four bullets went directly into Hill’s heart. He was pronounced dead at 7:44 a.m. (Smith, 1984).

Following his execution, Joe Hill’s body was brought to Chicago where 30,000 mourners marched in one of the greatest funeral processions ever seen in this country. Joe Hill’s songs were sung all the way to the cemetery. “As soon as a song would die out in one place, the same one or others would be taken up along the line” (Glazer, 2001, p. 195). Eulogies were delivered in nine languages, including Swedish, Hill’s native tongue. After the funeral, Hill’s body was cremated and his ashes were placed into envelopes, distributed to IWW members, and scattered throughout the United States and on every continent. No ashes were dispersed in Utah. Joe Hill said, “I don’t want to be found dead in Utah” (Smith, 1984, p. 179).

I invite you to join me on a walk down memory lane and learn from these noteworthy vanguards who blazed trails for the rest of us. I hope you enjoy Terry and Greg’s chapter along with the dramatic reading and music that compliments their piece.


Kornbluh, J. (1998). Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology. Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr.

Glazer, J. (2001). Labor’s Troubadour. Urbana, IL: The University of Illinois Press.

Smith, G. (1984). Joe Hill. Salt Lake City, UT: Peregrine Smith Books.