Black Cat symbol
c. 1910 —

Black Cat

Anarchism / Trade Unionism

The 'sabo-cat' or 'wild cat' has its origins in early 20th century American labour agitation as a symbol of wildcat strike action and has since become associated with anarchism.1 Its influence can be seen in the visual language of the Black Panthers and is still used as a symbol of radical unionism today.


American labour activist and Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) member Ralph Chaplin is credited with adopting the symbol as a warning to uncooperative employers that they should be wary of their workers’ potential for ‘wildcat’ strikes and industrial sabotage — in many Western traditions a black cat is seen as a conduit of misfortune and, as such, its path should not be crossed.2


There is a long tradition, particularly in northern European folklore, of black cats representing malign or dark supernatural forces. These beliefs have been remarkably resilient and still linger within the popular imagination today. It was these folk-memories that Caplin was tapping into when he chose a black cat to symbolise the power of organised labour to disrupt and threaten an uncooperative employer class.


It is interesting to consider what may have influenced Black Panther iconography and indeed, the party’s name itself. Their ideology was concerned not only with racial justice, but also with issues of economic justice and was informed by radical left-wing ideas.3 It is difficult not to conclude the their iconography was at least partially influenced by the earlier use of the black cat symbol and its origins in the labour movement.

Black Panther symbol
IWW logo symbol
Black Cat symbol