The International Workers Order and the Struggle for Economic Justice and Civil Rights, 1930-1954Robert 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?
Mining extensive primary sources, Robert Zecker gives voice to the workers in “A Road to Peace and Freedom.” He describes the group’s economic goals, commitment to racial justice, and activism, from lobbying to end segregation and lynching in America to defeating fascism abroad. Zecker also illustrates the panoply of entertainment, sports, and educational activities designed to cultivate the minds and bodies of members.
However, the IWO was led by Communists, and the Order was targeted for red-baiting during the Cold War, subject to government surveillance, and ultimately “liquidated.” Zecker explains how the dismantling of the IWO and the general suppression of left-wing dissenting views on economic egalitarianism and racial equality had deleterious effects for the entire country. Moreover, Zecker shows why the sobering lesson of the IWO remains prescient today.
"Based on extremely impressive research, 'A Road to Peace and Freedom' offers the first comprehensive history of the International Workers Order, a large Communist-initiated federation of immigrant insurance benefit societies that also lobbied for the rights of workers and the foreign-born. Zecker makes his arguments concrete by looking at the lives and aspirations of rank-and-file members. His book is a fascinating analysis of an organization, and well-positioned within a historiography open to seeing positive contributions by Communists."
—David Roediger, Foundation Professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas
"(D)ensely researched.... Zecker argues convincingly that the IWO’s (International Worker's Order) commitment to fighting both racial and class inequities far surpassed that of others on the left.... 'A Road to Peace and Freedom' enhances our understanding of the Communist Party’s role in American life and the possibilities for multiracial and multiethnic politics that the IWO so passionately advocated." — American Historical Review
"This thoroughly researched, detailed study of the International Workers Order (IWO) tells an important story of the narrowing possibilities of voluntary associations and political discourse resulting from the rampant governmental anticommunism between the 1930s and the 1950s.... Zecker has illuminated an important story, and we are in his debt for the superb research and clear writing of his account." —Journal of American History
"Robert Zecker has provided a major service in bringing (the International Workers Order's) history to light. 'A Road To Peace And Freedom' is highly recommended."
— People's World
"‘A Road to Peace and Freedom’ makes for a great read.... (The) mutual benefit society Zecker describes...existed from 1930 to 1954. It was the International Workers Order (IWO).... If any IWO solutions might work today, we should consider them. Professor Zecker suggests they might work.... Zecker details the IWO as never before – at the grassroots level. He talks about the practical side of insurances and other benefits offered. He details the IWO’s efforts to expand social security. He describes its multiracial, multiethnic organization and activities....Zecker’s excellent work is warming up some ideas from the past: more, please!"
— Labor History