In his opening address to the conference William D. ‘Big Bill’ Haywood of the Western Federation of Miners stated that ‘We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working class movement that shall have as its purpose the emancipation of the working class from the slave bondage of capitalism’. The Preamble to the IWW made it clear that ‘The working class and the employing class have nothing in common’. As well as taking aim at American capitalism the conference also attacked what delegates saw as the inadequacy of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the principal American labour organization of the period. As a craft-based organisation, the AFL, by design or default, excluded the majority of American workers from its ranks – women, those who were unskilled, migrant workers, and, of course, recent immigrants. The IWW saw its mission as to go out and recruit those workers into the struggle against capitalism and to avoid all forms of conciliation with their employers. In essence this meant organising in areas that had never been organised and often working with ethnic groups in whom the AFL appeared to have no interest and whose presence in America some of its membership actively opposed.
After a stuttering start the IWW grew into an impressive and, it might be argued, rather prescient organisation. It soon showed itself capable of remarkable creativity in its use of tactics. Banned from speaking at street corners in a city it would create a battle over free speech. Every time an IWW member was arrested for speaking, another would take their place with the aim of flooding jails and jamming the legal system. It employed the use of song and cartoons to rouse members and mock opposition. It practiced sabotage in all its aspects while encouraging and supporting strike action whether organised