International Workers Order (IWO)

The IWO was founded in 1930 as an immigrant fraternal order that provided high-quality, low-cost health and burial insurance and other benefits for members. The origins of the IWO / JPFO arose from a decade of splits (1920-1930) concerning the U.S.S.R., the Bolshevik Revolution and Communism that consumed the Jewish Federation of Socialists and the Arbeter Ring (Workmen’s Circle) groups associated with Eugene V. Debs’ Socialist Party. While the vast majority of the IWO’s members—~200,000 at its peak right after World War II—did not belong to the Communist Party of the United States of America, the IWO’s politics and leadership were largely aligned with those of the Party. For those familiar with the Yiddish speaking immigrant Left, this group was often referred to as "Di Linke" or the Left. The IWO was legally disbanded in 1953 due to the Cold War “Red Scare.” This closure followed on a famous and unprecedented court case, in connection with which the organization’s insurance funds and records were seized by New York State’s Insurance Department. The presence of a substantial portion of the IWO Records (#5276) in the Kheel Center at Cornell’s ILR School is a direct result of that seizure.

Kheel Center Resources: International Workers Order (IWO)

IWO Digital Collections at Cornell