Frontispiece: Samuel Gompers
Frontispiece:  Samuel Gompers

CHAPTER IX

THE NEW TERRORISM: THE I. W. W.

IT was not to be expected that the field of organized labor would be left undisputed to the moderation of the trade union after its triumph over the extreme methods of the Knights of Labor. The public, however, did not anticipate the revolutionary ideal which again sought to inflame industrial unionism. After the decadence of the older type of the industrial union several conditions manifested themselves which now, in retrospect, appear to have encouraged the violent militants who call themselves the Industrial Workers of the World.

First of all, there took place in Europe the rise of syndicalism with its adoption of sympathetic strikes as one of its methods. Syndicalism flourished especially in France, where from its inception the alert French mind had shaped for it a philosophy of violence, whose subtlest exponent was Georges Sorel. The Socialist Future of Trade Unions, which he published in 1897, was an early exposition of his views, but his Reflections upon Violence in 1908 is the best known of his contributions to this newer doctrine. With true Gallic fervor, the French workingman had sought to trans­late his philosophy into action, and in 1906 under­took, with the aid of a revolutionary organization known as the Confederation General du Travail, a series of strikes which culminated in the railroad and post office strike of 1909. All these uprisings—for they were in reality more than strikes—were characterized by extreme language, by violent action, and by impressive public demonstrations. In Italy, Spain, Norway, and Belgium, the syndicalists were also active. Their partiality to violent methods attracted general attention in Europe and appealed to that small group of American labor leaders whose experience in the Western Federation of Miners had taught them the value of dynamite as a press agent.

In the meantime material was being gathered for a new outbreak in the United States. The casual laborers had greatly increased in numbers, especially in the West. These migratory working­men—the "hobo miners," the "hobo lumber­jacks," the "blanket stiffs," of colloquial speech—wander about the country in search of work. They rarely have ties of family and seldom ties of locality. About one-half of these wanderers are American born. They are to be described with precision as "floaters." Their range of operations includes the wheat regions west of the Mississippi, the iron mines of Michigan and Minnesota, the mines and forests of Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, and the fields of California and Arizona. They prefer to winter in the cities, but, as their only refuge is the bunk lodging house, they increase the social problem in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other centers of the unemployed. Many of these migrants never were skilled workers; but a considerable portion of them have been forced down into the ranks of the unskilled by the inevitable tragedies of prolonged unemployment. Such men lend a willing ear to the labor agitator. The exact number in this wandering class is not known. The railroad companies have estimated that at a given time there have been 500,000 hobos trying to beat their way from place to place. Unquestionably a large percentage of the 23,964 trespassers killed and of the 25,236 injured on railway rights of way from 1901 to 1904 belonged to this class.

It is not alone these drifters, however, who because of their irresponsibility and their hostility toward society became easy victims to the industrial organizer. The great mass of unskilled workers in the factory towns proved quite as tempting to the propagandist. Among laborers of this class, wages are the lowest and living conditions the most uninviting. Moreover, this group forms the industrial reservoir which receives the settlings of the most recent European and Asiatic immigration. These people have a standard of living and conceptions of political and individual freedom which are at variance with American traditions. Though their employment is steadier than that of the migratory laborer, and though they often have ties of family and other stabilizing responsibilities, their lives are subject to periods of unemployment, and these fluctuations serve to feed their innate restlessness. They are, in quite the literal sense of the word, American proletarians. They are more volatile than any European proletarian, for they have learned the lesson of migration, and they retain the socialistic and anarchistic philosophy of their European fellow-workers.

There were several attempts to organize casual labor after the decline of the Knights of Labor. But it is difficult to arouse any sustained interest in industrial organizations among workingmen of this class. They lack the motive of members of a trade union, and the migratory character of such workers deprives their organization of stability. One industrial organization, however, has been of the greatest encouragement to the I. W. W. The Western Federation of Miners, which was organized at Butte, Montana, on May 15, 1893, has enjoyed a more turbulent history than any other American labor union. It was conceived in that spirit of rough resistance which local unions of miners, for some years before the amalgamation of the unions, had opposed to the ruthless and firm determination of the mine owners. In 1897, the president of the miners, after quoting the words of the Constitution of the United States giving citizens the right to bear arms, said: "This you should comply with immediately. Every union should have a rifle club. I strongly advise you to provide every member with the latest improved rifle which can be obtained from the factory at a nominal price. I entreat you to take action on this important question, so that in two years we can hear the inspiring music of the martial tread of 25,000 armed men in the ranks of labor."

STEEL-MILL WORKERS OF TODAY

A chance group which exemplifies the wide range of present-day American labor. Slovak, Irish, German, and Polish types are represented, besides several individuals of indeterminable origin. Photograph by Lewis W. Hine.

A MINER OF THE OLD SCHOOL

The predominant type in the coal mining districts thirty or forty years ago, now largely displaced by Pole and Slovak. Photograph by Lewis W. Hine.

This militant vision was fortunately never quite fulfilled. But armed strikers there were, by the thousands, and the gruesome details of their fight with mine owners in Colorado are set forth in a special report of the United States Commissioner of Labor in 1905. The use of dynamite became early associated with this warfare in Colorado. In 1903 a fatal explosion occurred in the Vindicator mine, and Telluride, the county seat, was proclaimed to be in a state of insurrection and rebellion. In 1904 a cage lifting miners from the shaft in the Independence mine at Victor was dropped and fifteen men were killed. There were many minor outrages, isolated murders, "white cap" raids, infernal machines, deportations, black lists, and so on. In Montana and Idaho similar scenes were enacted and reached a climax in the murder of Governor Steunenberg of Idaho. Yet the union officers indicted for this murder were released by the trial jury.

Such was the preparatory school of the new unionism, which had its inception in several informal conferences held in Chicago. The first, attended by only six radical leaders, met in the autumn of 1904. The second, held in January, 1905, issued a manifesto attacking the trade unions, calling for a "new departure" in the labor movement, and inviting those who desired to join in organizing such a movement to "meet in convention in Chicago the 27th day of June, 1905." About two hundred persons responded to this appeal and organized the Industrial Workers of the World, almost unnoticed by the press of the day and scorned by the American Federation of Labor, whose official organ had called those in attendance at the second conference "engaged in the delectable work of trying to divert, pervert, and disrupt the labor movement of the country."

An overwhelming influence in this convention was wielded by the Western Federation of Miners and the Socialistic American Labor Union, two radical labor bodies which looked upon the trade unions as "union snobbery " and the "aristocracy of labor," and upon the American Federation as "the consummate flower of craft unionism" and "a combination of job trusts." They believed trade unionism wrong in principle. They discarded the principle of trade autonomy for the principle of laboring class solidarity, for, as one of their spokesmen said, "The industrial union, in contradistinction to the craft union, is that organization through which all its members in one industry, or in all industries if necessary, can act as a unit."

While this convention was united in denouncing the trade unions, it was not so unanimous in other matters, for the leaders were all veterans in those factional quarrels which characterize Socialists the world over. Eugene V. Debs, for example, was the hero of the Knights of Labor and had achieved wide notoriety during the Pullman strike by being imprisoned for contempt of court. William D. Haywood, popularly known as "Big Bill," received a rigorous training in the Western Federation of Miners. Daniel DeLeon, whose right name, the American Federationist alleged, was Daniel Loeb, was a university graduate and a vehement revolutionary, the leader of the Socialistic Labor party, and the editor of the Daily People. A. M. Simons, the leader of the Socialist party and the editor of the Coming Nation, was at swords' points with DeLeon. William E. Trautmann was the fluent spokesman of the anti-political faction. These men dominated the convention.

After some twelve days of discussion, they agreed upon a constitution which established six departments,*) provided for a general executive board with centralized powers, and at the same time left to the local and department organizations complete industrial autonomy. The I. W. W. in "the first constitution, crude and provisional as it was, made room for all the world's workers."*) This was, indeed, the great object of the organization.

Whatever visions of world conquest the militants may at first have fostered were soon shattered by internal strife. There were unreconcilable elements in the body: those who regarded the political aspect as paramount and industrial unions as allies of socialism; those who regarded the forming of unions as paramount and politics as secondary; and those who regarded all forms of political activity as mere waste of energy. The first two groups were tucked under the wings of the Socialist party and the Socialist Labor party. The third group was frankly anarchistic and revolutionary. In the fourth annual convention the Socialist factions withdrew, established headquarters at Detroit, organized what is called the Detroit branch, and left the Chicago field to the revolutionists. So socialism "pure and simple," and what amounts to anarchism "pure and simple," fell out, after they had both agreed to disdain trade unionism "pure and simple."

This shift proved the great opportunity for Hay­wood and his disciples. Feeling himself now free of all political encumbrances, he gathered around him a small group of enthusiastic leaders, some of whom had a gift of diabolical intrigue, and with indomitable perseverance and zeal he set himself to seeking out the neglected, unskilled, and casual laborer. Within a few years he so dominated the movement that, in the public mind, the I. W. W. is associated with the Chicago branch and the Detroit faction is well-nigh forgotten.

As a preliminary to a survey of some of the battles that made the I. W. W. a symbol of terror in many communities it will be well to glance for a moment at the underlying doctrines of the organization. In a preamble now notorious it declared that "the working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among mil­lions of working people, and the few who make up the employing class have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world as a class take possession of the earth and the machinery of production and abolish the wage system."

This thesis is a declaration of war as well as a declaration of principles. The I. W. W. aims at nothing less than the complete overthrow of mod­ern capitalism and the political structure which accompanies it. Emma Goldman, who prides herself on having received her knowledge of syndicalism "from actual contact" and not from books, says that "syndicalism repudiates and condemns the present industrial arrangement as unjust and criminal." Edward Hamond calls the labor contract "the sacred cow" of industrial idolatry and says that the aim of the I. W. W. is "the abolition of the wage system." And W. E. Trautmann affirms that "the industrial unionist holds that there can be no agreement with the employers of labor which the workers have to consider sacred and inviolable." In place of what they consider an unjust and universal capitalistic order they would establish a new society in which "the unions of the workers will own and manage all industries, regulate consumption, and administer the general social interests."

How is this contemplated revolution to be achieved? By the working classes themselves and not through political activity, for "one of the first principles of the I. W. W. is that political power rests on economic power. . . . It must gain control of the shops, ships, railways, mines, mills." And how is it to gain this all-embracing control? By persuading every worker to join the union, the "one great organization" which, according to Hay­wood, is to be "big enough to take in the black man, the white man; big enough to take in all nationalities—an organization that will be strong enough to obliterate state boundaries, to obliterate national boundaries. . . . We, the I. W. W., stand on our two feet, the class struggle and industrial unionism, and coolly say we want the whole earth." When the great union has become universal, it will simply take possession of its own, will "lock the employers out for good as owners and parasites, and give them a chance to become useful toilers." The resistance that will assuredly be made to this process of absorption is to be met by direct action, the general strike, and sabotage—a trinity of phrases imported from Europe, each one of special significance.

"The general strike means a stoppage of work," says Emma Goldman with naïve brevity. It was thought of long before the I. W. W. existed, but it has become the most valuable weapon in their arsenal. Their pamphlets contain many allusions to the great strikes in Belgium, Russia, Italy, France, Scandinavia, and other European countries, that were so widespread as to merit being called general. If all the workers can be induced to stop work, even for a very brief interval, such action would be regarded as the greatest possible manifestation of the "collective power of the producers."

Direct action, a term translated directly from the French, is more difficult to define. This method sets itself in opposition to the methods of the capitalist in retaining control of industry, which is spoken of as indirect action. Laws, machinery, credits, courts, and constabulary are indirect methods whereby the capitalist keeps possession of his property. The industrialist matches this with a direct method. For example, he engages in a passive strike, obeying rules so literally as to destroy both their utility and his work; or in an opportune strike, ceasing work suddenly when he knows his employer has orders that must be immediately filled; or in a temporary strike, quitting work one day and coming back the next. His weapon is organized opportunism, wielding an unexpected blow, and keeping the employer in a frenzy of fearful anticipation.

Finally, sabotage is a word that expresses the whole philosophy and practice of revolutionary labor. John Spargo, in his Syndicalism, Industrial Unionism and Socialism, traces the origin of the word to the dockers' union in London. Attempt after attempt had proved futile to win by strikes the demands of these unskilled workers. The men were quite at the end of their resources, when finally they hit upon the plan of "lying down on the job" or "soldiering." As a catchword they adopted the Scotch phrase ca' canny, to go slow or be careful not to do too much. As an example they pointed to the Chinese coolies who met a refusal of increased wages by cutting off a few inches from their shovels on the principle of "small pay, small work." He then goes on to say that "the idea was very easily extended. From the slowing up of the human worker to the slowing up of the iron worker, the machine, was an easy transition. Judiciously planned 'accidents' might easily create confusion for which no one could be blamed. A few 'mistakes' in handling cargoes might easily cost the employers far more than a small increase in wages would."

Some French syndicalists, visiting London, were greatly impressed with this new cunning. But as they had no ready translation for the Scottish ca' canny, they ingeniously abstracted the same idea from the old French saying Travailler a coups de sabots—to work as if one had on wooden shoes—and sabotage thus became a new and expressive phrase in the labor war.

Armed with these weapons, Haywood and his henchmen moved forward. Not long after the first convention in 1905, they made their presence known at Goldfield, Nevada. Then they struck simultaneously at Youngstown, Ohio, and Port­land, Oregon. The first battle, however, to attract general notice was at McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, in 1909. In this warfare between the recently organized unskilled workers and the efficient state constabulary, the I. W. W. sent notice "that for every striker killed or injured by the cossacks, the life of a cossack will be exacted in return." And they collected their gruesome toll.

In 1912 occurred the historic strike in the mill town of Lawrence, Massachusetts. This affair was so adroitly managed by the organizers of the Workers that within a few weeks every newspaper of importance in America was publishing long descriptions of the new anarchism. Magazine writers, self-appointed reformers, delegations representing various organizations, three committees of the state legislature, the Governor's personal emissary, the United States Attorney, the United States Commissioner of Labor, and a congressional committee devoted their time to numerous investigations, thereby giving immense satisfaction to those obscure agitators who were lifted suddenly into the glare of universal notoriety, to the disgust of the town thus dragged into unenviable publicity, and to the discomfiture of the employers.

The legislature of Massachusetts had reduced the hours of work of women and children from fifty-six to fifty-four hours a week. Without making adequate announcement, the employers withheld two hours' pay from the weekly stipend. A large portion of the workers were foreigners, representing eighteen different nationalities, most of them with a wholly inadequate knowledge of English, and all of an inflammable temperament. When they found their pay short, a group marched through the mills, inciting others to join them, and the strike was on. The American Federation of Labor had paid little attention to these workers. There were some trade unions in the mills, but most of the workers were unorganized except for the fact that the I. W. W. had, about eight months before, gathered several hundred into an industrial union. Yet it does not appear that this union started the strike. It was a case of spontaneous combustion. No sooner had it begun, however, than Joseph J. Ettor, an I. W. W. organizer, hastened to take charge, and succeeded so well that within a few weeks he claimed 7000 members in his union. Ettor proved a crafty, resourceful general, quick in action, magnetic in personality, a linguist who could command his polyglot mob. He was also a successful press agent who exploited fully the unpalatable drinking water provided by the companies, the inadequate sewerage, the unpaved streets, and the practical destitution of many of the workers. The strikers made an attempt to send children to other towns so that they might be better cared for. After several groups had thus been taken away, the city of Lawrence interfered, claiming that many children had been sent without their parents' consent. On the 24th of February, when a group of forty children and their mothers gathered at the railway station to take a train for Philadelphia, the police after due warning refused to let them depart. It was then that the Federal Government was called upon to take action. The strike committee telegraphed Congress: "Twenty-five thousand striking textile workers and citizens of Lawrence protest against the hideous brutality with which the police handled the women and children of Lawrence this morning. Carrying out the illegal and original orders of the city marshal to prevent free citizens from sending their children out of the city, striking men were knocked down, women and mothers who were trying to protect their children from the onslaught of the police were attacked and clubbed." So widespread was the opinion that unnecessary brutality had taken place that petitions for an investigation poured in upon Congress from many States and numerous organizations.

The whole country was watching the situation. The hearings held by a congressional committee emphasized the stupidity of the employers in arbitrarily curtailing the wage, the inadequacy of the town government in handling the situation, and the cupidity of the I. W. W. leaders in taking advantage of the fears, the ignorance, the inflammability of the workers, and in creating a "terrorism which impregnated the whole city for days." Lawrence became a symbol. It stood for the American factory town; for municipal indifference and social neglect, for heterogeneity in population, for the tinder pile awaiting the incendiary match.

At Little Falls, New York, a strike occurred in the textile mills in October, 1912, as a result of a reduction of wages due to a fifty-four hour law. No organization was responsible for the strike, but no sooner had the operatives walked out than here also the I. W. W. appeared. The leaders ordered every striker to do something which would involve arrest in order to choke the local jail and the courts. The state authorities investigating the situation reported that "all of those on strike were foreigners and few, if any, could speak or understand the English language, complete control of the strike being in the hands of the I. W. W."

In February, 1913, about 15,000 employees in the rubber works at Akron, Ohio, struck. The introduction of machinery into the manufacture of automobile tires caused a reduction in the piece-work rate in certain shops. One of the companies posted a notice on the 10th of February that this reduction would take effect immediately. No time was given for conference, and it was this sudden arbitrary act which precipitated all the discontent lurking for a long time in the background; and the employees walked out. The legislative investigating committee reported "there was practically no organization existing among the rubber employees when the strike began. A small local of the Indus­trial Workers of the World comprised of between fifteen and fifty members had been formed. . . . Simultaneously with the beginning of the strike, organizers of the I. W. W. appeared on the ground inviting and urging the striking employees to unite with their organization." Many of these testified before the public authorities that they had not joined because they believed in the preachings of the organization but because "they hoped through collective action to increase their wages and improve their conditions of employment." The tactics of the strike leaders soon alienated the public, which had at first been inclined towards the strikers, and acts of violence led to the organization of a vigilance committee of one thousand citizens which warned the leaders to leave town.

In February, 1913, some 25,000 workers in the silk mills of Paterson, New Jersey, struck, and here again the I. W. W. repeated its maneuvers. Sympathetic meetings took place in New York and other cities. Daily "experience meetings" were held in Paterson and all sorts of devices were invented to maintain the fervor of the strikers. The leaders threatened to make Paterson a "howling wilderness," an "industrial graveyard," and "to wipe it off the map." This threat naturally arrayed the citizens against the strikers, over one thousand of whom were lodged in jail before the outbreak was over. Among the five ringleaders arrested and held for the grand jury were Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Patrick Quinlan, whose trials attracted wide attention. Elizabeth Flynn, an appealing young widow scarcely over twenty-one, testified that she had begun her work as an organizer at the age of sixteen, that she had not incited strikers to violence but had only advised them to picket and to keep their hands in their pockets, "so that detectives could not put stones in them as they had done in other strikes." The jury disagreed and she was discharged. Quinlan, an unusually attractive young man, also a professional I. W. W. agitator, was found guilty of inciting to violence and was sentenced to a long term of imprisonment. After serving nine months he was freed because of a monster petition signed by some 20,000 sympathetic persons all over the United States. Clergymen, philanthropists, and prominent public men, were among the signers, as well as the jurors who convicted and the sheriff who locked up the defendant.

These cases served to fix further public attention upon the nature of the new movement and the sort of revivalists its evangel of violence was producing. Employers steadfastly refused to deal with the I. W. W., although they repeatedly asserted they were willing to negotiate with their employees themselves. After three months of strike and turmoil the mayor of Paterson had said: "The fight which Paterson is making is the fight of the nation. Their agitation has no other object in view but to establish a reign of terror throughout the United States." A large number of thoughtful people all over the land were beginning to share this view.

In New York City a new sort of agitation was devised in the winter of 1913—14 under the captaincy of a young man who quite suddenly found himself widely advertised. Frank Tannenbaum organized an "army of the unemployed," commandeered Rutgers Square as a rendezvous, Fifth Avenue as a parade ground, and churches and parish houses as forts and commissaries. Several of the churches were voluntarily opened to them, but other churches they attempted to enter by storm. In March, 1914, Tannenbaum led several score into the church of St. Alphonsus while mass was being celebrated. Many arrests followed this bold attempt to emulate the French Revolutionists. Though sympathizers raised $7500 bail fat the ringleader, Tannenbaum loyally refused to accept it as long as any of his "army" remained in jail. Squads of his men entered restaurants, ate their fill, refused to pay, and then found their way to the workhouse. So for several months a handful of unemployed, some of them professional unemployed, held the headlines of the metropolitan papers, rallied to their defense sentimental social sympathizers, and succeeded in calling the attention of the public to a serious industrial condition.

At Granite City, Illinois, another instance of unrest occurred when several thousand laborers in the steel mills, mostly Roumanians and Bulgarians, demanded an increase in wages. When the whistle blew on the appointed morning, they gathered at the gates, refused to enter, and continued to shout "Two dollars a day!" Though the manager feared violence and posted guards, no violence was offered. Suddenly at the end of two hours the men quietly resumed their work, and the management believed the trouble was over. But for several successive mornings this maneuver was repeated. Strike breakers were then sent for. For a week, however, the work went forward as usual. The order for strike breakers was countermanded. Then came a continued repetition of the early morning strikes until the company gave way.

Nor were the subtler methods of sabotage for­gotten in these demonstrations. From many places came reports of emery dust in the gearings of expensive machines. Men boasted of powdered soap emptied into water tanks that fed boilers, of kerosene applied to belting, of railroad switches that had been tampered with. With these and many similar examples before them, the public became convinced that the mere arresting of a few leaders was futile. A mass meeting at Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1913, declared, as its principle of action, "We have got to meet force with force," and then threatened to run the entire local I. W. W. group out of town. In many towns vigilance committees acted as eyes, ears, and hands for the community. When the community refused to remain neutral, the contest assumed a different aspect and easily became a feud between a small group of militants and the general public.

In the West this contest assumed its most aggressive form. At Spokane, in 1910, the jail was soon filled, and sixty prisoners went on a hunger strike which cost several lives. In the lumber mills of Aberdeen, South Dakota, explosions and riots occurred. In Hoquiam, Washington, a twelve-foot stockade surmounted by barbed wire entanglements failed to protect the mills from the assaults of strikers. At Gray's Harbor, Washington, a citizens' committee cut the electric light wires to darken the meeting place of the I. W. W. and then used axe handles and wagon spokes to drive the members out of town. At Everett, Washington, a strike in the shingle mills led to the expulsion of the I. W. W. The leaders then called for volunteers to invade Everett, and several hundred members sailed from Seattle. They were met at the dock, however, by a large committee of citizens and were informed by the sheriff that they would not be allowed to land. After some parley, the invaders opened fire, and in the course of the shooting that followed the sheriff was seriously wounded, five persons were killed, and many were injured. The boat and its small invading army then returned to Seattle without making a landing at Everett.

The I. W. W. found an excuse for their riotous action in the refusal of communities to permit them to speak in the streets and public places. This, they claimed, was an invasion of their constitutional right of free speech. The experience of San Diego serves as an example of their "free speech" campaigns. In 1910, I. W. W. agitators began to hold public meetings in the streets, in the course of which their language increased in ferocity until the indignation of the community was aroused. An ordinance was then passed by the city council prohibiting street speaking within the congested portions of the city, but allowing street meetings in other parts of the city if a permit from the police department were first obtained. There was, how­ever, no law requiring the issue of such a permit, and none was granted to the agitators. This restriction of their liberties greatly incensed the agitators, who at once raised the cry of "free speech" and began to hold meetings in defiance of the ordinance. The jail was soon glutted with these apostles of riotous speaking. In order to delay the dispatch of the court's overcrowded calendar, every one demanded a jury trial. The mayor of the town then received a telegram from the general secretary of the organization which disclosed their tactics: "This fight will be continued until free speech is established in San Diego if it takes twenty thousand members and twenty years to do so." The national membership of the I. W. W. had been drafted as an invading army, to be a constant irritation to the city until it surrendered. The police asserted that "there are bodies of men leaving all parts of the country for San Diego" for the purpose of defying the city authorities and overwhelming its municipal machinery. A committee of vigilantes armed with "revolvers, knives, night-sticks, black jacks, and black snakes," supported by the local press and commercial bodies, undertook to run the unwelcome guests out of town. That this was not done gently is clearly disclosed by subsequent official evidence. Culprits were loaded into auto trucks at night, taken to the county line, made to kiss the flag, sing the national anthem, run the gauntlet between rows of vigilantes provided with cudgels and, after thus proving their patriotism under duress, were told never to return.

"There is an unwritten law," one of the local papers at this time remarked, "that permits a citizen to avenge his outraged honor. There is an unwritten law that permits a community to defend itself by any means in its power, lawful or unlawful, against any evil which the operation of the written law is inadequate to oppose or must oppose by slow, tedious, and unnecessarily expensive proceedings." So this municipal homeopathy of curing lawlessness with lawlessness received public sanction.

With the declaration of war against Germany in April, 1917, hostility to the I. W. W. on the part of the American public was intensified. The members of the organization opposed war. Their leaflet War and the Workers, bore this legend:

General Sherman said "War is Hell." Don't go to Hell in order to give a bunch of PIRATICAL PLUTOCRATIC PARASITES a bigger slice of Heaven

Soon rumors abounded that German money was being used to aid the I. W. W. in their plots. In Oklahoma, Texas, Illinois, Kansas, and other States, members of the organization were arrested for failure to comply with the draft law. The governors of Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, and Nevada met to plan laws for suppressing the I. W. W. Similar legislation was urged upon Congress. Senator Thomas, in a report to the Senate, accused the I. W. W. of cooperating with German agents in the copper mines and harvest fields of the West by inciting the laborers to strikes and to the destruction of food and material. Popular opinion in the West inclined to the view of Senator Poindexter of Washington when he said that "most of the I. W. W. leaders are outlaws or ought to be made outlaws because of their official utterances, inflammatory literature and acts of violence." Indeed, scores of communities in 1917 took matters into their own hands. Over a thousand I. W. W. strikers in the copper mines of Bisbee, Arizona, were loaded into freight cars and shipped over the state line. In Billings, Montana, one leader was horsewhipped, and two others were hanged until they were unconscious. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a group of seventeen members were taken from policemen, thoroughly flogged, tarred, feathered, and driven out of town by vigilantes.

The Federal Government, after an extended inquiry through the secret service, raided the Detroit headquarters of the I. W. W., where a plot to tie up lake traffic was brewing. The Chicago offices were raided some time later; over one hundred and sixty leaders of the organization from all parts of the country were indicted as a result of the examination of the wagon-load of papers and documents seized. As a result, 166 indictments were returned. Of these 99 defendants were found guilty by the trial jury, 16 were dismissed during the trial, and 51 were dismissed before the trial. In Cleveland, Buffalo, and other lake ports similar disclosures were made, and everywhere the organization fell under popular and official suspicion.

In many other portions of the country members of the I. W. W. were tried for conspiracy under the Federal espionage act. In January, 1919, a trial jury in Sacramento found 46 defendants guilty. The offense in the majority of these cases consisted in opposing military service rather than in overt acts against the Government. But in May and June, 1919, the country was startled by a series of bomb outrages aimed at the United States Attorney-General, certain Federal district judges, and other leading public personages, which were evidently the result of centralized planning and were executed by members of the I. W. W., aided very considerably by foreign Bolshevists.

In spite of its spectacular warfare and its monopoly of newspaper headlines, the I. W. W. has never been numerically strong. The first convention claimed a membership of 60,000. All told, the organization has issued over 200,000 cards since its inception, but this total never constituted its membership at any given time, for no more fluctuating group ever existed. When the I. W. W. fosters a strike of considerable proportions, the membership rapidly swells, only to shrink again when the strike is over. This temporary member­ship consists mostly of foreign workmen who are recent immigrants. What may be termed the permanent membership is difficult to estimate. In 1913 there were about 14,000 members. In 1917 the membership was estimated at 75,000. Though this is probably a maximum rather than an aver­age, nevertheless the members are mostly young men whose revolutionary ardor counterbalances their want in numbers. It is, moreover, an organization that has a wide penumbra. It readily attracts the discontented, the unemployed, the man without a horizon. In an instant it can lay a fire and put an entire police force on the qui vive.

The organization has always been in financial straits. The source of its power is to be sought elsewhere. Financially bankrupt and numerically unstable, the I. W. W. relies upon the brazen cupidity of its stratagems and the habitual timorousness of society for its power. It is this self-seeking disregard of constituted authority that has given a handful of bold and crafty leaders such prominence in the recent literature of fear. And the members of this industrial Ku Klux Klan, these American Bolsheviki, assume to be the "conscious minority" which is to lead the ranks of labor into the Canaan of industrial bliss.


Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield. Some misprints corrected. The photographs above have nothing to do with the text, but are included at the point at which they appear in the original, with their original captions.
Last updated 26 November 2004