Sunday, October 27, 2013

The IWW and Class Warfare in the Early 20th Century

I. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)

A. Founding

1. The Continental Congress of the Working Class--The IWW was founded at a meeting of political and labor radicals in Chicago in 1905. Attendees at the meeting included Eugene V. Debs, Daniel DeLeon, Helen Gurley Flynn, and Mother Jones. Perhaps the most important attendee was the vice-president of the Western Federation of Miners, William D. "Big Bill" Haywood, however. Haywood not only chaired the meeting, but also represented the largest contingent of workers in the now organization

2. Western Federation of Miners--The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) was founded in 1893, founded by groups of miners in the west. Whereas the UMW represented largely coal miners, the WFM represented a lot of  "hard-rock" miners, those mining minerals, in the region. As did the UMW, the WFM attempted to organize not only miners, but also surface workers; eventually, the WFM transformed itself into the Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers.

a. Bloody conflicts between the WFM and mine operators--in particular in the Cripple Creek strike of 1903-1904, when the full weight of the state of Colorado was used to crush the strike, the WFM determined that they needed radical allies.

3. Left-wing factionalism--besides the WFM contingent, the founding convention also featured the two leading socialiss of the time, Eugene V. Debs and Daniel DeLeon. DeLeon was know for his hostility toward the AFL; Gompers was a "labor fakir" and "the greasy tool of Wall Street," while the AFL was "a cross between a windbag and a rope of sand." This hostility, however, also was oftentimes evinced against other leftist who had differing opinions from DeLeon's, as well. The Debs' faction evolved into the Socialist Party of American (SPA), which became the largest most radical political party, while DeLeon was forced out of the IWW in 1906.

4. "Big Bill" Haywood--among the variety of humanity at the convention, the person who became the most important to the IWW was the chair of the meeting, William Haywood. A rugged hulk of a man, Haywood was well-known for his sinister appearance, in part the result of a boyhood whittling accident. Haywood followed the footsteps of both his mather and his stepfather by entering the mining profession at the ripe old age of 14. His belief that "the working-class and the owning class have nothing in common" was shaped by his early personal experience.

a. Boyhood in Utah--Haywood's father died of pneumonia when Haywood was just 3 years old, leaving him and his mother destitute. The economic situation of the family improved only slightly when she re-married; Haywood entered the mines at the age of 14 because of family need.

b. Haywood also attempted to make a go of it as a homesteading farmer after his marriage, but lost his claim when the US government seized the property (with no compensation) to make an Indian reservation.

5. Cripple Creek--During an organizing drive in the goldfields southwest of Denver in 1903, the WFM was attempting to organize miners, smelter workers, and reduction workers near Cripple Creek. A couple instances of minor violence (whether instigated by strikers or agents of the mine owners is under dispute), the governor of Colorado agreed to call out the militia--over the local sheriff's objections. Insisting that the state could not afford to keep the militia on duty for an extended period of time, the governor insisted--and local mine owners agreed--that the mining companies would pay for the militia. This led to the wholesale arrest and deportation of strike leaders and other "trouble-makers," without trial or even charges being brought forward. From this experience, the WFM leadership concluded that radical allies would be needed.

B. The Spirit of the Wobblies--The IWW had the greatest appeal to itinerant workers of the West--mainly miners, workers on construction gangs, and migratory harvest hands, among others. IWW organizers also had some success immigrant workers in steel mill, packing plants, and textile mills.

1. Free speech fights--IWW members gained some noteriety in cities in the west for their insistence upon exercising their rights to free speech--clambering on top of soapboxes on sidewalks to rail against the evils of capitalism. For these acts, members were hauled off to jail, beaten, fed rancid food, and sentenced to inordinately long jail terms--which induced hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of other members to come to town to join their comrades.

2. The Man Who Never Died--Joel Emmanual Hagglund, sometimes known as Joe Hillstrom, but best known as Joe Hill, is best remembered today as the bard of the IWW, the most popular songwriter of an organization known for its love of song. Hill was executed in 1914, convicted of a murder the evidence suggested he never committed.

3. 1916 Everett Massacre--IWW organizers working with shingle fanners in Everett, Washington were run out of town by a "Citizens Alliance" (sponsored, of course, by shingle manufacturers), some 300 Wobblies returned determined to again exercise their First Amendment rights. The men boarded two ferry boats, and sailed back across Puget Sound from Seattle to Everett. Upon their arrival, the sheriff called out, "Who is your leader?" The Wobblies replied en masse "We are all leaders!"--whereupon, the shore party opened fire, killing at least five and perhaps as many as 12.

4. 1917 Bisbee Deportation--in July 1917, after the IWW called a strike against the Phelp-Dodge Mining Company which had refused to bargain with the union (and 80 percent of the workers walked off the job), company officials and company allies (and there were plenty, since Bisbee was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Phelps-Dodge) rounded up strikers and strike sympathizers and transported them--against their consent--from Arizona to a deserted spot about 20 miles east of Columbus, New Mexico, leaving them in the desert their with no food or water.

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