The International Working Men’s Association 150 Years Later: Labour and Globalization Then and Today

Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, York University

International Collaboration Grant 2013-15

Summary of project

Major political and economic shifts have succeeded one another over the past twenty-five years. The rise to prominence of ecological issues, social changes generated by neoliberal globalization, and – most recently – one of the worst world economic crises ever, compels us to reflect urgently on the need for alternatives to the capitalist system. In its brief life, the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) became the symbol of class struggle and influenced the ideas of millions of workers all over the planet. The 150th anniversary of its birth (1864-2014) offers an important opportunity to reread their resolutions, to learn from the experiences of its protagonists, and to better theorize solutions to our contemporary issues. 

The research project involves several interrelated initiatives – in particular the sourcebook Workers Unite! The International 150 Years Later –, assessing and reflecting the history and the contemporary relevance of the IWMA and its ideas. With the recent socio-economic crisises – that has sharpened once more the division between capital and labour –, the political legacy of the IWMA has regained profound relevance, and its lessons are today more timely than ever.

Principal investigator

Marcello Musto (York University, Canada)

Goals and Objectives

The IWMA helped workers to grasp that the emancipation of labour could not be won in a single country but was a global objective. It also spread an awareness in their ranks that they had to achieve the goal themselves, through their own capacity for organization, rather than by delegating it to some other force; and that it was essential to overcome the limits of the capitalist system itself, since improvements within it, though necessary to pursue, would not eliminate exploitation and social injustice.

The research will centre on the following:

1. A compilation of IWMA texts consisting mainly of the addresses, resolutions, circulars and appeals that outline with some clarity the nature of post-capitalist society and how it should be organized politically and economically. All the anthologies published in the twentieth century reproduced the IWMA congress documents in multiple volumes that were difficult for a non-expert public to digest. On the contrary, the sourcebook Workers Unite! The International 150 Years Later includes the most valuable documents (30 appearing for the first time in English) of all the currents of the IWMA. Carefully selected and translated, this volume is an invaluable resource for all those interested in the foundations of labor movement history’s as well as in the critique of capitalism. 

2. Several publications on the history of the IWMA and, in the light of present-day concerns, a critical examination of the theories developed by its chief affiliates. 

3. Audio-visual material to help new generations of researchers, students and interested members of the public to understand the importance and value of the ideas of the IWMA. 

The International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA) offers an important opportunity for more profound historical and political study of the experience that it represents. The production and dissemination of the research output will seek: 

1. to provide themes of interest to political debate in Canada and elsewhere, especially in relation to work and globalization, economics and democracy; 

2. to offer an innovative critical reading of the IWMA, in contrast to most of the ideological reconstructions developed in the twentieth century; 

3. to compare and contrast the IWMA with contemporary political and labour movement organizations; 

4. to encourage international academic reflection and publication on the IWMA and both the similarities and differences with respect to global protest movements today.

Published Research Outputs


“Documents from the International Workingmen’s Association” [Selection and introductory notes], Socialism and Democracy, vol. 28 (2014), n. 3 (July): 39-58.

Notes on the History of the International”, Socialism and Democracy, vol. 28, n. 2 (July 2014): 5-38. 


Marcello Musto (Editor), Workers Unite! The International 150 Years Later, London–New York: Bloomsbury, 2014, xviii + 312 pages


Labor’s Battle Against Exploitation by Capital, 150 Years Ago and Today”, The Japan Times (Japan), 30 September 2014, p. 9.

Book Chapters

Introduction”, in Marcello Musto (Ed.) Workers Unite! The International 150 Years Later (Editor), London–New York: Bloomsbury, 2014, pp. 1-68.



2014, Oct. 27. “A Associação Internacional De Trabalhadores: efeitos no processo de organização e luta no cenário atual”, Universidade Federal Do Rio Grande Do Norte, Departamento de Psicologia, Natal (Brazil).

2014, Oct. 24. “150 Anhos Da Associação Internacional De Trabalhadores: um balanço histórico”, Universidade Federal Do Rio Grande Do Sul, Departamento de Historia, Porto Alegre (Brazil).

2015, Aug. 24. Presented Paper “Insurreições, passado e presente: a experiencia da Primeira Internacional”, International Conference “Marx e o Marxismo, 2015: Insurreições hoje: desafios e perspectivas”, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niterói (Brazil).

2014, Nov. 3. Presented Paper, “Emancipación y luchas obreras: el legado de la Associação Internacional de Trabalhadores”, at the international conference “Aprendendo com a Primeira Internacional: as lutas pela emancipação”, Universidade Federal Do Rio De Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).

2014, Oct. 31. Presented Paper, “Anticapitalismo e internacionalismo: ayer y hoy”, at the international conference “Lutas sociais globais em 1864 e 2014”, Universidade Federal de Bahia, Salvador (Brazil).

2014, Oct. 30. Presented Paper, “La lucha de la Associação Internacional de Trabalhadores”, at the international conference “Os desafios da organização Internacional da classe trabalhadora ontem e hoje”, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo (Brazil).

2014, Oct. 29. Presented Paper, “Historia y legado de la Associação Internacional de Trabalhadores”, at the international conference “A Associação Internacional de Trabalhadores: suas origens, seus debates”, Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Campinas (Brazil).