Mr. Holbrook, one of America's foremost historians, recalls the rugged days of the "I Won't Works," who made today's labor difficulties look like pantywaist picnics
Author of Iron Brew, Holy Old Mackinaw, Murder Out Yonder
Early in the afternoon of November 5, 1916, one of the many sawmill whistles of Everett, Washington, suddenly broke into a hoarse roar. It lasted a full minute, then died in a long moan that echoed through the brooding, timbered hills of Snohomish County. The whistle had an ominous sound, for this was a Sunday. The mills did not work on Sunday.
This particular blast, indeed, was not calling men to work. It was a signal for Everett's law-enforcement officers and a group of volunteer vigilantes to gather at the Commercial Club. It was a hurry-up call, too, and soon more than 300 men were making their way on foot and by street car and in automobiles to the club building situated in the main business district of town.
Everybody in Everett, children and all, knew what was up. The Wobblies, those hell-raising and hated and feared members of the Industrial 'Workers of the World, were about to attack the sawmill city of Everett (population 35,000), to tear it apart and leave it in ruins. These Wobblies, the rumor ran, would probably sack and burn the whole city. Hence the gathering of police and vigilantes, the latter hurriedly sworn in as deputies during the past few hectic weeks.
Tragedy was gathering.
At the Commercial Club the arriving men were armed, some with clubs, many with firearms; and then in automobiles that were bristling with rifles and shotguns they were taken down to the waterfront and direct to the city dock.
Citizens began to swarm the hills around Everett's Bay-side Harbor. Hundreds, then thousands of men, women and kids lined the high points that looked down upon the blue waters of Puget Sound. They were excited enough, but they were quiet for the most part, quiet with the foreboding of something evil to happen.
They were right; something evil was to happen, there before their eyes. For two hours it had been known that a good-sized steamer and a smaller vessel, both loaded with Wobblies, had left Seattle, thirty miles away, at noon; and Wobbly leaders in the group had vowed that they would land in Everett and there hold a street mass meeting in pro-test against the free-speech ban that city had put upon all labor groups.
As the minutes passed, rumor made the fleet ever larger, the coming Wobblies more numerous. Word went through the crowd that no less than 500 IWWs, all armed to the teeth, were coming in a fleet of monstrously great ships. Some said that the wild Wobblies had cannon aboard. Others claimed to know that the ships carried dynamite to blow up Everett's score of shingle mills and sawmills.
Actually, there was no powder aboard the coming SS Verona and SS Calista. But the situation itself was filled with dynamite; all kinds of it.
It would be unfair, both to the citizens of Everett and to the IWW, to relate the tragic story of that bloody Sunday without saying something of the events that led up to it. They were complicated. For many months Everett had been in the throes of a strike by the International Shingle Weavers Union, which had once been affiliated, under a different name, with the American Federation of Labor, but which was now going it alone, having no connection with either the AFL or the IWW.
The shingle weavers' strike had droned along through the summer of 1916 without any great excitement until August. Then a group of eighteen pickets at the Jamison mill were set upon by a gang of strong-arm men, apparently imported from Seattle, and badly beaten up. Following this, there had been retaliation in which shingle weavers turned the tables, beating up the imported strike-breakers, or thugs, or whatever they were.
With all except one mill picketed, and with the shingle market soaring to a new all-time high by demands of a world that couldn't get enough red cedar shingles, the Everett operators were naturally doing their best to resume manufacture. They would not, however, treat with the shingle weavers' union. The shingle mills were open shop and open shop they would remain, the operators said.
Meanwhile, the IWW had held a big organization meeting in Seattle and had decided that Everett, among other towns, would be a nice, ripe place to extend its membership. James Rowan, who must have been a courageous man indeed, was sent to Everett by the general executive board of the IWW. He went there promptly, and when he attempted to speak from a soap-box, was promptly taken to jail.
Released, Wobbly Rowan got out his soapbox again. And again he was thrown into jail. This time there was to be more to it; that night he was removed from his cell by Sheriff Don McRae and driven to a spot near Silver Lake on the outskirts of the city, where he was shown the interurban railway tracks to Seattle and told to get going.
Rowan was happy to get off so easily. He struck out down the tracks. But he had gone only a little way in the dark when he was set upon by a mob armed with clubs and whips and beaten within an inch of his life.
Next day, the little Wobbly hall that had just been opened in Everett was raided and the secretary was taken to jail.
The IWW press, as loud as any press ten times its size, now sounded the old free-speech call, and foot-loose members from all over the West headed for Seattle. On October 30, some forty of them chartered a boat and started for Everett, with the determination of holding a meeting at the corner of Hewitt and Wetmore Avenues, in the downtown business district. Met at the city dock by police and vigilantes, the Wobs were more or less sapped-up,*) loaded immediately into automobiles, and taken to Beverley Park, a suburb. Here, under cover of night, they were released and made to run the gantlet between two rows of large and strong men armed with clubs and saps.
The business stopped short of murder, but it had been brutal enough. The president of the Washington State Federation of Labor, which incidentally had no use for the IWW, went to Beverley Park next morning to investigate the scene. Said he in a report he made public: "The tale of the struggle was plainly written. The roadway was stained with blood. The blades of a cattle guard at the railroad crossing were also bloody. . . There can be no excuse for nor any extenuation of such inhuman method of punishment."
Such was the state of affairs in Everett. In addition, there had been other local beatings of IWWs. Then, on Saturday, November 4, handbills suddenly appeared at the doors of Everett homes and in stores, poolhalls and places of business generally. On the handbills was an appeal from the IWW:
CITIZENS OF EVERETT ATTENTION
A Meeting will be held at the corner of Hewitt and Wetmore Avenues on Sunday, November 5, at 2 P. M. Come and help maintain your and our constitutional right.Committee.
It must have been obvious even to the dullest-witted that the two opposing forces were drawing near for a major effort.
Then, twenty-four hours later, in the quiet of a Sunday afternoon, came that long, ominous note from a mill whistle.
News of the Verona's and the Calista's coming had been telephoned to Everett by Seattle police, who reported the larger vessel to contain 260 men, most of them IWWs. The other boat, with a smaller number of Wobs, was following in the Verona's wake.
The scene of the tragedy was now set, and the audience, one of the largest ever to witness a tragedy, lined the hills above the bay. The motor cars filled with armed men rolled down to the dock. Sheriff Don McRae, in charge of the group, placed his men in two lines across the wharf. At the land end of the dock a rope was stretched to keep out all save deputized persons.
In adjacent warehouses other deputies piled up sacks of potatoes and other goods to serve as breastworks, then tore away boards of sidewalls to give a commanding view of the landing place. Then they took their positions, guns ready. *)
On came the SS Verona, steaming slowly into the harbor. Folks on shore could hear the Wobblies singing one of their battle hymns, the favorite known as Hold the Fort. The Verona's decks were crowded to the rails. One young fellow had climbed high on the boat's flagpole and there waved to the crowds on shore.
As soon as the vessel touched the wharf and a bowline had been made fast, Sheriff McRae walked toward it. Holding up his hand to silence the singing Wobs, he shouted: "Who's your leader?"
"We're all leaders," came the answering shout.
"You can't land here," said Sheriff McRae.
Then it happened.
A shot rang out, sharp, clear and authoritative, shattering the tense quiet as if someone had exploded a question that demanded an immediate answer. Whence it came and who fired it was never proved. The Wobs said it came from the shore. The deputies said it came from the boat. In any case, the shot was logical enough. Here they were, two groups of opposing and determined men facing each other, before an audience of thousands of people. It would have been nothing short of a miracle had a shot not been fired.
Following that single, experimental shot was a moment of awful silence. Then, all hell broke. For the next ten minutes the Everett waterfront seethed as never before, or since.
Gunfire rattled, while spurts of brief smoke and flame came from the warehouses, from deputies elsewhere on the wharf and from the Verona. The men on board that ill-fated vessel made a frantic dash to get to the off-side of her, out of range. The Verona keeled and almost went over. Then her engine began to turn and she slowly backed away, snapping the one line that held her.
The mean whine and thud of bullets continued. Men grunted, or screamed. Deputies on the dock were falling wounded, while on the Verona there was panic. Blood splattered her decks, as Wobblies were seen to slump sickeningly, holding their sides or stomachs.
The lad who had climbed the flagpole cried out, then fell like a plummet to the ship's deck. Others on the vessel leaped over-board into the bay, while bullets ripped the water all around them.
On shore Sheriff McRae had gone down, groaning, wounded in several places. Deputy C. O. Curtis lay still, shot through the head.
The Verona, her sides and deck house riddled like a sieve, reeled away from the smoking wharf, turned about and started for Seattle, filled with the dying, the dead, and with wounded.
She warned the Calista, which turned about, too, and followed her.
Back in Everett ambulances were already clanging their way to the city hospital, carrying with them the wounded and one dying man.
The score: Everett deputies, two dead, sixteen wounded; the IWW, five dead, thirty-one wounded, four missing. Whether or not the four missing Wobs were ever accounted for is not clear.
Such was the noted Everett Massacre. It was neither the first nor the last bloody battle in which the Wobblies had a part. From their inception, in 1905, the men and women of the IWW have known more excitement, more troubles and riots and killings and lynchings than has been the case with any other group of American labor unionists. Where the Wobblies were, there was sure to be action, and there was often blood.
The Industrial Workers of the World came into being on January 2, 1905, when thirty-two men and women of radical faith or leaning met in a dim hall in Chicago with the idea of founding One Big Union that would merge all workers, regardless of job, race, or color, into a single group. It was to pay no heed to the ballot as a way of progress, but was to bring about a dictatorship of the proletariat by "direct action," by which was understood violent methods.*)
The biggest man present, a mighty figure over six feet, with the neck and shoulders of an ox, picked up a piece of board and slapped the table. "Fellow workers," he roared in a bull-like voice,*) "the aims and objects of this organization shall be to put the working class in possession of the power to control the machinery of production and distribution, without regard to capitalist masters."
The giant was William Dudley Haywood, an official of the Western Federation of Miners, who proposed to make his tough union the core of the new Industrial Workers of the World; and the IWW was to make labor history. But for more than a year the public, even employers of labor, were not aware of the new and aggressive spirit that had been set to boiling in the mines, in the logging camps and on the construction jobs of the West.
Then came the Haywood-Moyer-Pettibone case; and the IWW burst in the face of a complacent America like an unsuspected charge of nitroglycerine.
This affair had its inception in the murder of Frank Steunenberg, an ex-governor of Idaho, by a set-bomb placed by one Harry Orchard, who when arrested admitted the crime and alleged he had been paid to commit itand many othersby officials of the Western Federation of Miners, namely, William D. Haywood, Charles H. Moyer and George A. Pettibone. At the time of Orchard's confession, in Boise, Idaho, the three mine union officials were in Colorado. The crime had been committed in Idaho. Idaho sheriffs invaded the other state, arrested the three men and whisked them away in a private railroad car to Boise. It was patently an illegal act.
Now the new IWW went into its first battle. It shouted "Kidnapping!" By meetings in streets, and in the halls of mining camps and sawdust cities, it collected large sums to engage Clarence Darrow as legal counsel for the arrested men and aided The Appeal to Reason, Socialist weekly, in spreading the word by editions that ran to more than 4,000,000 copies each.
The trial took place in 1907, with William E. Borah prosecuting. It was a national event, being covered by representatives of fifty-four daily newspapers and nearly a score of periodicals. Haywood was acquitted, and so was Pettibone. The charge against Moyer was dropped. Orchard had turned state's evidence and was committed to prison for life, where he still is, perhaps the oldest prisoner in point of service in the country.
It was a big victory for the IWW and other radical groups, and the Wobblies made the most of it; modesty has never been a fault of the Wobs. Their foot-loose organizers swarmed into the sawmills, the logging camps and mines of the Western states, and invaded the textile and other manufacturing cities of the East. Big Bill Haywood, who saw more with his one good eye than most labor leaders with two, left the Western Federation of Miners to become chief organizer for the IWW, as well as its greatest figure.
Haywood was a keen, uneducated, intelligent and ebullient man of striking appearance and forceful speech, a born captain for the rough-and-tumble group he had helped to found. Working stiffs who had been ignored by the comparatively aristocratic American Federation of Labor felt that here was a man and a union that could be trusted to do something for them. They rallied to the IWW banner.
The pace set by Big Bill and his lieutenants was to be swift, and marked with blood, though its first efforts were fairly mild. Into Goldfield, Nevada, in 1906, went IWW organizers to stage a quick strike of miners and win a minimum wage of $4.50, much better than theretofore. Almost simultaneously they struck in Portland, Oregon, shutting down a score of big sawmills there, being beaten by city police and company guards, but winning higher wages for some 3,000 workers.
The next one wasn't so easy. The Wobblies invaded the Big Steel country of Pennsylvania, finding a likely spot at the McKees Rocks plant of the Pressed Steel Car Company. Conditions were bad there, wages low. After two or three IWW street meetings a strike was called; and 8,000 men, representing sixteen nationalities, left the plant. The Pennsylvania State Constabulary, better known as the Coal & Iron Policeand by the Wobblies called Cossackswas called in. On August 2, 1909, a striker named Harvath was shot and killed by the troopers. The IWW strike committee promptly issued a formal statement to the Coal & Iron Police commander, saving that for every life of a striker, the Wobs would take the life of a police officerand that they didn't care which police officer.*)
On August 29, a clash occurred between police and strikers. This was bloody enough. The McKees Rocks streets were dense with powder smoke. Men shot at one another from windows, from saloons, from behind posts, from behind company fences. Five troopers were killed, and six Wobblies; and the troopers were driven from the streets and into the company yard, where they were besieged.
McKees Rocks, its hospital's beds and floors covered with the wounded, seethed for another two days, and the press made a demand for the National Guard. But the strike was settled and the men went back to work at higher wages. The IWW had won again, though at heavy cost of life.
The troubles at McKees Rocks had scarcely quieted when the IWW fever broke out in distant Spokane, Washington, where James P. (Big Jim) Thompson, IWW organizer, had been prohibited by city police from speaking on a street corner. The IWW press sounded the tocsin, and so did fast-moving organizers. Hoboes around a "jungle" fire beside the tracks of the Southern Pacific, or the Great Northern, or the Santa Fe, got the word when a Wobbly agent chopped off a freight to urge them on to Spokane, to "fight for the right of free speech." Harvest hands in Manitoba, miners in Utah, loggers in Oregon, all got the word incredibly fast by the jungle telegraph. And hundreds of them bopped rattlers for Spokane.
That unhappy town found itself with something on its hands. From every freight that pulled into its yards time debouched a dozen to fifty working stiffs, to take turns on the soapbox, to be arrested, one after another, and thrown into the Spokane jail, which was soon filled to overflowing with howling, singing men who said they wanted nothing more than to speak on Spokane streets for the One Big Union.
The town clownspolice to youwere frantic. As fast as they pulled a man from a soapbox, another took his place. And then came a girl, a handsome, fiery, black-maned youngster, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, riding into town on a manifest freight. In a misguided moment the cops arrested The Flynn, too, as she mounted the sacred soapbox. It was an error Spokane police never forgot. BRUTAL SPOKANE COPS ASSAULT YOUNG GIRL, shouted the IWW press in studhorse headlinesand still more migrants headed for that city. It was a case of Beauty in Distress, and many a. male who cared nothing for union or The Revolution hastened to Spokane to help liberate the pretty girl with the flaming red tie.
This was wonderful stuff for the new IWW. Their jailed members shouted louder than ever, they refused to eat, they kept up a mass singing that prevented sleep for blocks around. It was too much. The city fathers met and hurriedly passed an ordinance permitting soapbox oratory on the streets. Another result of the Spokane affair was to bring Gurley Flynn to the front. This talented young woman was to catch the imagination of working stiffs and become their heroine.
Wobblies employed the same tactics of ganging-up in subsequent free-speech fights in Fresno and San Diego, California. It was at about this time that the term Wobbly came into use as a usual designation of a member of the order by both his fellows and himself. There are a dozen theories as to its origin, but it may well have been the work of a Chinese.
This heathen was the proprietor of a small and portable eating establishment with which he followed the crews of Swedes, Irish and hunkies who, in 1910, were pushing the Canadian Northern rails into the far reaches of Saskatchewan. Many of the laborers were either "packing red cards," as the phrase has it, or at least had strong leanings toward the IWW; so the Chinese, being a go-getting business man, lined up with the gang. In a laudable effort to cash in on his affiliation he would show his Wobbly card to potential customers, telling them he was a member of the IWW. But the Oriental tongue was not equal to the letter w. "Me likee I wobbly wobbly," was the best it could do. It proved enough. "Wobbly" spread from man to man; from job to job, by those mysterious but effective jungle news channels, until soon it was used not only by the Wobblies themselves but by all Western newspapers.*)
In 1912, the Wobs struck again in what was to be their great stronghold, the Pacific Northwest. They shut down most of the sawmills and many of the logging camps in western Washington and Oregon. In Aberdeen and Raymond, vigilantes rounded up red-card men, herded them into box cars, locked the doors, and shipped them out of the districts like so much freight. There was also some slugging, and some sabotage, but no murder.
The Wobs' next great upheaval was 3,000 miles awayin the textile city of Lawrence, Massachusetts. It was a principle of the group, ably expounded by Haywood, that wherever workers were dissatisfied to desperation, there was the place for the IWW to agitate and organize. In 1912, Lawrence was in a condition perfect for the purpose. Wages were well below subsistence levels. There was no one to speak for the employes, but conditions were so bad that in January the workers at one plant decided to quit in a spontaneous strike. Out came the crew, to parade through the city's industrial section, calling on employes of other plants to leave the looms. Windows were broken, company property was damaged. Within twenty-four hours Lawrence's spindles were silent. The big bell in the Town Hall clanged, calling out all police and police reserves.
Wobbly Organizer Joe Ettor hurried to Lawrence and set up a committee to organize and discipline the strikers. A young, goodlooking chap who spoke three languages, he soon had the strikers pretty well organized. He began to hold outdoor meetings. The National Guard was called in, and soon there were street battles between strikers and guardsmen. But the strikers maintained their pickets around the mills.
On January 19, police discovered dynamite secreted in various places in the city and charged that strikers were planning to blow up the factories. Ettor declared the explosive had been "planted" to create hostile public opinion. He went on with his mass meetings. He was soon joined by Arturo Giovannitti, editor of an Italian Socialist paper. Just then, in another street riot, a girl striker named Annie Pizzo was shot and killed. Police arrested Ettor and Giovannitti and charged them with "unlawful conspiracy." They were held in jail without bail.
Now the IWW arrived in force, headed by Big Bill Haywood, who was accompanied by Gurley Flynn, famous since the Spokane battle, and Bill Trautmann. Funds were low. The strikers had no savings to draw upon. So, under Haywood's leadership the children of strikers were sent to relatives in other cities. This was carried on with the consent of parents and with efficiency. It served to lighten the strikers' load. It also served to give the city of Lawrence a heap of unwanted and adverse publicity. Police took steps to prevent any more departures.
In February a party of some forty youngsters, together with their escorts, were in the Lawrence railroad station, waiting to take a train for Philadelphia, when the police appeared in full force. The officers swarmed into the depot, tore kids away from their parents and arrested thirty adults. The cops seem to have been either brutal or careless, and a number of women and children were injured in the ensuing riot.
Newspapers played it up, many of them taking the side of the strikers. Congress discussed the Lawrence situation and ordered an official inquiry. In mid-March the mill officials gave in, and the strike was over, with wages slightly increased.
But Wobblies Ettor and Giovannitti were still in jail. The IWW continued agitation for their release and kept all Massachusetts in a turmoil, what with meetings, pamphlets and sensational issues of Wobbly newspapers. On November 23 the two men were released.
The Lawrence Revolution had been a great advertisement for the IWW. By the time it was done, the Wobblies were known to workers and the general public from Maine to California. Their next riot was in the Sunkist state.
During a strike of hop-pickers, on the big Durst ranch near Wheatland, Richard (Blackie) Ford and Herman Suhr, Wobbly organizers, moved in and took over. When a party of county officials came to the ranch, to break up a Wobbly mass meeting of strikers, and allegedly fired into the crowd, a Porto Rican worker grabbed a gun from one of the deputies and opened fire, killing two of the officers. The Porto Rican was also shot dead on the spot, and a number of strikers were wounded.
The whole valley flared up. Armed bands of vigilantes were hurriedly formed and ranged the neighborhood at night, beating up Wobblies and suspected Wobblies. A hundred new deputies were sworn in. Ford and Suhr, neither of whom had fired a shot, nor even held a gun, were arrested, tried and sent to prison under life sentence.
If it wasn't one thing with the Wobblies, it was another. They got into another free-speech fight, although this time the battle originated in what is still referred to with considerable delight, in the Puget Sound area of Washington, as The Great Nude Bathing case.
The affair began in Home Colony, a community at Joe's Bay, on the Sound, which had been founded in 1897 by anarchists and had attracted assorted radicals and eccentrics from all parts of the United States and Europe, including members of the IWW. Bill Haywood had gone to Home Colony to speak on occasion, so had Emma Goldman, Albert Hubbard, William Z. Foster and other radicals. Exponents of various food fads had lectured there. Theosophists lived at Home, and Freethinkers, Pantheists andso it was said in nearby Tacoma and Seattlefreelovers.
Stories of horrible sex orgies at Home Colony were current and popular with orthodox Washingtonians. Much of the talk stemmed from articles in the Home paper, the uninhibited Demonstrator (weekly), as untrammeled as a yearling Durham bull put to pasture in May. The Demonstrator seldom appeared without a few remarks on something very similar to Free Love. The colony itself never held any canons regarding the desirability or otherwise of free love. That there were domestic arrangements in certain homes of Home which had not received the benefit of either church or state was common knowledge, but these were neither sanctioned nor condemned.
In 1910 the colony had split into two factions over the subject of landholding. This was finally settled, amicably on the whole, and each member was given a deed to his two acres. The Home Colony Association was dissolved, although the co-op store and Liberty Hall were continued as community enterprises. The store, indeed, may have been a factor in attracting to the colony a number of small farmers who liked the low prices at the Home co-op but had no sympathy for Home's live-and-let-live policy. In any case, it was from these Philistines that a complaint came to county officials, naming names and charging that certain Home radicals were bathing in the nude, men and women together.
The charges were true enough. Many simple Russians who had come to live at Home many years before brought their samovars with them, and brought also their custom of mixed nude bathing. It had been going on at Home for almost a decade, without scandal. But now, because of the Philistines, one man and four women were arrested, tried and found guilty of indecent exposure. The trials made front page news, not only in the Pacific Northwest, but all over the country. Home was in the great big black headlines.
At this period Home's own newspaper was edited by Jay Fox, a Wobbly, an anarchist and a Freethinker. He was also an able journalist, and now he came out with a sizzling editorial, The Nudes and the Prudes, in which he suggested that all lovers of Liberty should ostracize the persons who had brought the charges of indecent exposure.
Editor Fox was hauled off to jail and charged with "encouraging disrespect for the law." The prosecution, naturally enough brought "anarchy" into the case, mentioned the alleged proclivity of anarchists to make and heave bombs, and generally played up Home Colony as a place comparable to The Pit that has fire but no bottom. Fox was convicted and sentenced to two month in Pierce County jail. On appeal, the state supreme court upheld the decision.
Now the Wobblies and other radical groups the country over: took hold of the Great Nude Bathing Case and made it into a national sensation. Dances and rallies for the Jay Fox Free Speech Fight were held in Wobbly halls and in the streets o cities from Seattle to Skowhegan, Maine; and money was raised for an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, which found the lower court's verdict proper. Fox gave himself up and went to jail for six weeks, being given an unconditional pardon by Governor Lister of Washington. It had all been a rather unusual, though exciting and titillating effort, for the Wobblies
Meanwhile the ghastly Ludlow Massacre was brewing in Colorado. It had its inception in a strike by members of the Western Federation of Miners, late in 1913. The strike continued, and during the winter many miners and their families were evicted from coal-company houses at Ludlow. The Colorado Fuel & Iron Company recruited a large army of guards. The governor of the state declared martial law, and the militia was ordered into the district.
The ousted strikers set up a tent camp for their families, and began procuring arms and ammunition. Then, of course, it had to happen: On April 20, 1914, either a striker shot at a non union "scab" or at a soldier, or a soldier shot at a striker, near the tent camp. It was enough. A real battle got under way in which 500 strikers opposed some 200 national guardsmen and company police.
The militia had a few machine guns. These were turned on the tent camp with fearful effect, riddling the tents, bringing death to men, women and children alike. The miners fought back, picking off a guardsman here and there. The jerrybuilt camp took fire. Smoke rolled high, and the flames, spread by strong mountain winds, leaped and spread with incredible rapidity. Screams and groans rose through the hubbub of battle as the strikers tried to get their families out of the inferno. At the end of fourteen hours of fire and shooting, the tent camp lay in smoldering ruins. Thirty-three persons, either militia or striker, were dead. More than a hundred more were hospitalized.
Miners who had escaped the battle at the tent camp now organized into guerrilla raiding parties and attacked the mine heads, setting them afire, damaging or destroying other mine property. The riot ranged along a front of three miles. More strikers were killed, and so were more guardsmen.
Back in Washington, President Woodrow Wilson ordered federal troops into the region. They arrived promptly and disarmed both the strikers and the company guards. Although Ludlow was not originally a Wobbly strike, the Wobs were there in force, haranguing the strikers, riding in procuring weapons and raising money elsewhere to feed the strikers and their families.
While the Ludlow affair was going on, the State of Utah was preparing, whether it knew it or not, to give the Wobblies their great IWW martyr, in the person of Joseph Hillstrom, Wobbly poet, better known as Joe Hill.
Joe Hill was a Swede, a hobo, a Wobbly and probably something of a yegg and all-around stickup artist, who happened to be in Bingham, Utah, when the IWW was organizing a strike against the Utah Construction Company.*)
Having no connection with the strike was a holdup of a store in the neighborhood and the killing of its proprietor by an unknown person or persons. Joe Hill was arrested and charged with the crime. He was also convicted, and on November 19, 1915, he was executed by an official firing squad of the State, but not before he had given Bill Haywood a message for the Wobblies: "Don't waste time in mourning. Organize!" And, poet that he was, he sent his "Last Will" to the Wobbly press. You will find it in every copy of every edition of the IWW Little Red Song Book:
My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide.
My kin don't need to fuss and moan
Moss does not cling to rolling stone.
My body? Ah, if I could choose,
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow.
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my last and final will,
Good luck to all of you,
Guilty or not of the crime with which he was chargedand more than one old-time Wobbly has told me Hill was guiltyJoe Hill dead became and remains the great martyr of the IWW. He has been put into novels, ballads, plays and operas, and the legend of him has so grown with the years that it is impossible to separate the man from the myth. Every Wobbly hall had an oil painting of Joe on the wall. His doggerel verses, set to popular tunes, were sung on picket lines and in jails across the continent. They were being sung within five months of Joe's death in the biggest strike of iron miners this country has ever known, that of the Mesabi.
Early in the spring of 1916, redheaded woodpeckers drummed away at stumps on the Mesabi iron range in Minnesota, and a young, red-scarved woman, handsome as a very she-devil, flitted over the region drumming up trouble for the mine companies. She was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the same who had raised so much hell in Spokane, and again in Lawrence.
The mine barons knew nothing of The Flynn's visit to their domain. She spoke without molestation at hurriedly called meetings in Aurora, Eveleth, Virginia, Chisholm and Hibbing. She told the miners that the war in Europe had sent iron and steel prices to the highest points ever known. She said that the miners' wages were far too low. When some homeguard stood up in meeting to say that mine wages were pretty good on the Mesabi, anyhow, The Flynn gave him and his wages a sneer. And when The Flynn sneered, it was sneer enough to wither the head of a diamond drill.
"And what are wages, anyway?" she demanded. Then she told them the story about the pelican and the Chinese.
"Away back in the dim past," said the pretty girl with the red tie around her throat, "long before even Andy Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller was born, there sat on a river bank in China an old Chinese. He was fishing, and he wasn't having much luck. He didn't get a nibble all day.
"Close by, a large pelican was fishing too. The old Chinese watched, and he saw that the bird was doing very well. Down he would go, then up, with a big fish in his mouth, which he swallowed with great satisfaction. Over and over again the pelican came up with a fish.
"Now, my boys, the Chinese are a reflective race. The old fisherman watched the bird all day, and he thought a good deal. That night he sneaked up on the sleeping pelican and caught him. He put a string on the bird's legs and next day the old gent sat on the river bank, this time with the pelican doing the fishing for him.
"But it didn't work out very well, at first. The pelican continued to dive and catch fish, but before the Chinese could haul him in, the bird had swallowed the prey. A good idea, my boys, but it had gone haywire."
By now the miners were sitting up, brows furrowed in an effort to connect pelicans with wages. The clear vibrant voice of the girl went on:
"But, my lads, the Chinese are a very reflective people. The old fisherman thought a while, then he forged a collar out of brass which he put around the pelican's neck. The collar, you understand, was small enough to prevent the bird from gobbling the fishwhich, doubtless, the poor pelican thought was his own fishbut large enough not to discourage the bird entirely."
A gleam of understanding, hardly bright yet but growing, flashed across the faces of the listening miners. The Flynn talked on:
"Well, boys, it worked like a charm. The bird caught a fish, the old man pulled him in, took away the fish, and sent the bird back for more. Every once in a while, just to encourage the pelican to greater effort and also to keep him alive so he would catch more fish, the Chinese would give him a few fish heads and tails to eat."
By now the boys were sitting on the edges of their seats. And The Flynn let them have it:
"And that collar around your necks, right under the place where you ought to have heads and brainsthat collar is the Wage System. The Boss gets the fine parts of the fish. You, you working stiffs, you get the heads and tailsthe wages."
The working stiffs of the Mesabi got the idea. Night policemen in the range towns must have heard the delighted applause at Gurley Flynn's meetings, but if so they thought nothing of it; there had been no trouble on the Mesabi in ten years.
But there was going to be trouble, now, in 1916.
Gurley Flynn waved her bright red scarf and went away. Forty-five days passed. Then, on the second day of June, miners at Aurora suddenly threw down their tools and struck. It may have been but probably wasn't just coincidence that at that identical moment Arthur Boose, a Wobbly organizer known as the Old Warhorse, appeared in Aurora, called a mass meeting and formed a strike committee. He was immediately arrested and thrown into jail, charged somewhat vaguely with "inciting to riot." The Old Warhorse had expected something like this, for he had warned the committee that, no matter what happened to him, news of the strike at Aurora must be spread at once. "Spread it like wildfire," shouted Boose as the cops closed in and took him to jail.
Some of the spreading fire was carried out of Aurora that night by a young Finnish miner whose first name was Ormi. He had no horse, nor was there a train of cars handy. So out of Aurora that June evening Ormi walked until he was well beyond the possible observation of mine police. Then he ran.
Young Ormi was in the prime of manhood, and he ran swiftly through the falling dusk, traveling like a shadow blown along by the soft Mesabi wind. At Biwabik he told the boys what was up, then ran on to McKinley, stopped briefly, and continued on into Virginia, rousing the secretary of the Finnish Brotherhood lodge there. It had been a good twenty-mile run through the night. Next morning few miners showed up for work anywhere along the eastern section of the big range.
The fire ran fast across the Mesabi, traveling west. Out of the open pits and underground mines came the Finns, the Italians and men of those nationalities designated collectively by unthinking American natives as hunkies. Warhorse Boose had also managed to get word to Chicago and Cleveland, and the Wobblies, who always worked fast, sent their best organizers, among them Sam Scarlett, Frank Little and the celebrated Carlo Tresca, he whose murder at Fifth Avenue and 15th Street, New York, as recently as 1943, still mystifies Manhattan police. In less than a week all mining was stopped for fifty miles across the Mesabi, from Aurora to Coleraine, and striking miners had trooped over to the small Cuyuna range, calling out the boys there.
If the mine companies had been sleeping, they roused quickly enough, now that the strike was on. Under David Foley, chief of the Oliver Iron Mining Company's police, and as brave a man as ever stood, hundreds of deputies were sworn in at Virginia, armed and officially designated as the Citizens Committee. The committee ordered all "agitators" to leave Virginia before sundown. The agitators paid no heed. That night strikers and members of the committee met head-on. Guns belched and roared in the streets. One striker was killed, several wounded.
At Biwabik, slugging and sniping and sabotage at the mines grew into a terrible battle. Deputy J. C. Myron was killed. So was a striker, Tom Ladvalla. A number on both sides were badly wounded.
There was rioting at Gilbert, at Eveleth, at Hibbing. Leading strikers were set upon, clubbed, and driven out of town at gun point, with threats of lynching in their ears.
Police arrested Tresca, Little and Scarlett, and five other Wobbly organizers. They were charged with the murder of Deputy Myron and taken to jail in Duluth.
The range now blew up with violence of all kinds. Steam shovels and other equipment went up with a roar and came down in pieces, as expert Wobbly saboteurs broke out caches of stolen dynamite and applied it as prescribed. Green and nervous deputies shot at miners and at one another. Wives and children of miners and deputies hugged their homes in fear. Church bells tolled. So did fire bells, and the volunteer departments had plenty on their hands, what with false and real alarms. The hospitals were overflowing with the wounded. Sombre processions followed a hearse here and there to a local cemetery, as some striker or deputy was taken to his grave.
Chaos and Old Night had come to the Mesabi, and the Wobblies worked hard to make it worse. From all parts of the Westwhich included Oregon and Californiafoot-loose Wobblies moved in, bringing the number of agitators to an estimated 700.
With them the Wobblies brought tons of IWW literature and a spirit new to the mine ranges. They distributed Wobbly newspapers to every miner's shack in every Mesabi town. Several of them moved over to the Gogebic and Menominee ranges, to be met by city and mine police, efficiently beaten up and hurried back whence they came.
Early in July Gurley Flynn appeared on the Mesabi again. This time the police were ready for her, but they didn't quite catch her. Instead, they got into hot water and lawsuits by arresting six other women, all of whom they mistook for the Wobbly she-devil. The Flynn escaped.
The technique of the mine companies, however, continued to improve. They rode herd on the Wobs and their sympathizers so hard that in September the strike was called off. Officially, it was lost. But something was gained, too. The Wobblies gained respect for having fought United States Steel to a standstill for three months. Moreover, wages did go up after the strike; and working conditions were much improved.
But the IWW was in for trying times. In April of 1917 the United States declared war on Germany; and in June, through passage of the Espionage Act, it declared war on American dissenters of all sorts. The act gave wide powers to the government; war is no time for any nation to permit subversive activities within its borders.
Branches of the IWW in many towns and cities were raided by police, sometimes by mere mobs; and the halls were wrecked, the Wobblies beaten up. In Butte, Montana, the "biggest mining camp on earth," murder was done. At 3 o'clock in the morning of August 1, 1917, Wobbly Organizer Frank Little, the same who had helped to fan the Mesabi strike, was asleep in his room in a Butte lodging house. Six masked men kicked in the door, dragged him forth in his night clothes, and bundled him into a waiting automobile. The car was driven to a railroad trestle on the edge of town, and there Little, a cripple, was hanged, though not, apparently, before a truly desperate strugglehis flesh was bruised and torn in many places.
Morning found his corpse at the end of a rope, to it pinned a card, rudely lettered with the legend "First and Last Warning -3-7-77," followed by initials thought to be those of the lynchers. The numbers were those used by early-day vigilantes in Montana and referred to the dimensions of a grave, 3 feet wide, 7 feet long, 77 inches deep.
Whoever had the idea that lynching Little would somehow stop the Wobblies from organizing and agitating in Butte was mistaken. The funeral was probably the largest ever held in the state. Wobbly miners wearing red sashes took turns carrying the coffin on their shoulders during the five-mile walk to the cemetery. More than 3,000 men and women were in the procession, and thousands more lined the way, their heads bared. Frank Little then and there became one of the great Wobbly martyrs, fit to sit with Joe Hill.
In July, when IWWs were striking against the Copper Queen outfit at Bisbee, Arizona, some I,200 of them and their sympathizers were herded into a ball park, put into cattle cars and shipped out into the desert, where they were turned loose to shift for themselves. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, seventeen Wobs were tarred and feathered, then told to get out and keep going.
Then came the great raids. On September 5, every IWW office in the country was visited by police, and 160 Wobbly leaders were arrested, among them Haywood, The Flynn, Arturo Giovannitti, Emma Goldman and the Wobbly poets Ralph Chaplin and Charles Ashleigh. Ninety-three of the defendants were found guilty, of "obstructing the draft," or of "conspiracy" of one sort or another. They were sentenced to prison for periods ranging from three months to twenty years. Wobbly Poet Chaplin, who also edited the IWW paper, Solidarity, drew the long stretch. Still defiant, he sang from behind the bars:
Mourn not your captive comrades who must dwell
Too strong to strive
Each in his steel-bound coffin of a cell,
But rather mourn the apathetic throngThe cowed and meek
Who see the world's great anguish and its wrong
And dare not speak!
Eugene Debs, the Socialist, went to prison, too, to become Convict No. 9653 in the federal pen at Atlanta and to receive, while still behind the bars, almost one million votes as a candidate for the highest office in the United States.
In midsummer of 1917, the IWW entered a strike that had been called by the Shingle Weavers and Timber Workers unions in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. With their usual speed, the Wobs sent organizers to almost every camp and sawmill in the vast region, and set up their picket lines. There was a lot of slugging. Wobblies were tossed into mill ponds, beaten up, chased into the woods, ridden on rails. The strike quickly slowed production to such a point that the Army sent troops to protect mills and workers that were making lumber for the Camp Lewis cantonment. Sensing a defeat, the Wobs announced they were calling off the strike but also "transferring it to the job"which meant a "conscious withdrawal of efficiency," or shoddy work, or even down-right sabotage on machinery. Mysterious fires broke out in the timber. Large spikes allegedly were found in sawlogs. Emery dust appeared in the gears of donkey engines. Stickers depicting mean-looking black cats and wooden shoes (sabots) were found everywhere. (A "sab-cat" in Wobbly language is an expert in sabotage.)
One of the demands of the lumber strike was for the eight-hour day; and in 1918 this was granted. Meanwhile, however, the government had put thousands of soldiers to work in the woods, getting out spruce for airplane manufacture; and it also formed the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, a group of workers pledged to the prosecution of the war against Germany and also to use of arbitration in the business of industrial relations. And peace came to the troubled Northwest timberfor a while.
The titanic struggle we now call World War I came to an end on November 11, 1918. Hundreds of Wobblies remained in jails and prisons all over the country, but other Wobs were busy re-opening IWW halls that had been closed, usually by raids, legal and otherwise, during the war.
Then came the most famous, or most notorious, incident in the whole history of the IWW. It happened in the small city of Centralia, Washington, a sawmill town in the center of a large logging area.
It was November 11, 1919. At about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, a band played Over There and Madelon in the flag-decked town, and Centralia's first Armistice Day parade swung proudly into Tower Avenue and moved north.
In the line of march were troops of Boy Scouts, two lodges of Elks, ex-sailors of the Navy, Canadian veterans, Red Cross nurses and members of two posts of the newly formed American Legion. Everybody, or nearly everybody, in Centralia felt that this was a happy patriotic affair.
When it reached Third Street, the parade countermarched, turning about to retrace the same route back down Tower Avenue. This twice-used route of march led past the IWW hall, in the Roderick hotel, a false-front, ramshackle building. When the Centralia contingent of the American Legion was abreast or almost in front of the Roderick, it was halted by its commander, Warren O. Grimm. "Halt . . . close up," was the specific command given.
There, in front of the IWW hall, the Centralia Legion boys paused a moment. What happened in the next split second has been hopelessly in dispute for the past twenty-nine years.
What is assuredly and horribly known is that shouts and cries and the dry, sinister crackle of rifle fire broke out simultaneously. And that Warren Grimm reeled and fell to the sidewalk, clutching at his stomach, mortally wounded.
And that Arthur McElfresh, Legionnaire, went down dead with a bullet through his head.
And that Ben Casagranda, Legionnaire, was halted by a leaden slug and crumpled on the pavement.
And that Earl Watts and Eugene Pfitzer and Bernard Eubanks, Legionnaires all, were felled in a rain of bullets that stung and left scars but did not kill.... It was bad enough already, yet these dead, dying and wounded were only the beginning of Centralia's ghastly tragedy.
Shouting and screaming in sudden tear and dismay, the Legion men stormed the Roderick, crashing the windows and battering down the barred and bolted door of the Wobbly hall, to sweep in just as a man ran for the back door, automatic in hand, firing as he fled out and into the alley.
"Get him!" someone shouted. "Get him! He's the Wobbly secretary!"
Out the back door and into the alley rushed the Legion men. The man with the automatic was only a little ahead, running fast and reloading. Through back yards, over fences and across vacant lots went the Wobbly, the crowd after him. Once the man stopped to empty the pistol at his pursuers, vainly, then turned to run again.
The chase led into the open fields that line the small Skookumchuck River, with Dale Hubbard, Legionnaire, in the lead. The rest were stringing along far behind.
When he got to the river, the fleeing Wobbly, who was Wesley Everest, recently discharged from the Army, walked into the water and started to cross. But rains had swollen the stream and it was deep, swift and swirling. The Wobbly turned and waded quickly back to shore, where he stood in the tall grass, pistol in hand, waiting. Dale Hubbard came on without pause.
What the Wobbly said and what Dale Hubbard said will never be known. The Wobbly raised the pistol and fired, and Hubbard went down in a heap, to die shortly after. The Wobbly then threw the gun into the grass. The crowd of Legionnaires was now upon him and they took him into custody.
Yet "custody" is hardly the word. Wesley Everest was unmercifully battered and beaten up by the time he had been led, a rope around his neck, to the Centralia police station. But it was a day of violence, and it was far from done.
Everest was not the only Wobbly implicated. When the Legion men burst into the hall they found Britt Smith, the IWW secretary, and Bert Faulkner, a logger. Both were taken to the police station. In a large icebox, in the rear of the hall, the crowd found Ray Becker, Mike Sheehan, James McInerney and Tom Morgan.
But the deadly fire that had mowed down the Legionnaires had come not only from the Wobbly hall but from elsewhere. Witnesses had seen streaks of flame and smoke spurt from a window in the Arnold hotel, across Tower Avenue almost opposite the IWW hall; and others had seen a man firing a rifle from a window in the Avalon Hotel, half a block away on the avenue and south.
Nor was that all. Other witnesses had seen men with rifles on the side of Seminary Hill, perhaps a quarter of a mile from the hall. These men, it was vowed, had fired into the massed Legionnaires and townspeople at some time during the brief battle.
A couple of hours after the shooting, two more Wobs, John Lamb and O. C. Bland, were taken at their homes by police and Legion men and put into the city jail.
By the time the early November night came to Centralia that day, the city was filling up with ex-soldiers who had heard of the tragedy and had flocked in from surrounding towns. The story went that Wobblies had, with no reason at all, shot down and killed American Legion men who were holding a parade.
Then, at 7 o'clock that evening, every light in Centralia suddenly went out; somebody, unknown then and unknown today, had pulled the main switch at the city's power house.
Swiftly through the darkened streets a mob converged on the city jail. There was no talking, little noise of any kind; and if the police made any opposition, it is not in the record.
Quietly the mob went about its work. It took Wesley Everest, who had killed popular Dale Hubbard, from his cell and put him in an automobile. Then a cavalcade of cars moved out of the darkened city. Once more the street lamps went on.
When the motor column arrived at a bridge over the Chehalis river, a mile or so out of town, Wobbly Everest was bundled out and onto the planking. And now, with the glare of a dozen automobile lights playing upon the scene, a rope was put around Everest's neck, the other end tied to a beam. Then the man was kicked off the bridge.
While the body dangled, dancing horribly and twisting in the brilliant lighting, it was riddled with bullets. It dangled thus until after daylight, when an unknown hand mercifully cut it down.
The record of Centralia's Armistice Day of 1919: five dead, three wounded.
On the melancholy morning of the 12th, a huge man hunt got under way. Tragedy accompanied the man hunt, too, for jittery fingers were on the triggers of almost a thousand guns: John Haney, member of a posse, was shot and killed by a member of another posse who mistook the unfortunate man for a Wobbly. Much of western Washington was under arms and in a state of fear and hate that the present younger generation will find hard to understand. The name Wobbly had grown into a terror-word, something equivalent to "monster."
Bert Bland, Wobbly, was taken at Independence by deputies. Loren Roberts, Wobbly, gave himself up to police. Eugene Barnett, Wobbly, was discovered in his home in Centralia. One "John Doe" Davis and one Ole Hanson, who soon were to be badly wanted, were not found.
Elmer Smith, Centralia lawyer and attorney for the IWW in that city, had been arrested at his home immediately after the shooting.
Shorn of all its legal verbiage, the charge against the Wobblies named in the indictment was that they had conspired to bring about the murder of Warren Grimm. On a change of venue, the trial was held in Montesano, in an atmosphere of fear that was increased in no small part by the appearance of federal troops.
George Vanderveer, Wobbly counsel, maintained that the accused had not conspired to kill but instead had lawfully determined to defend their hall against a raid that had been planned and fostered by the "business and industrial interests of Centralia." The American Legion members, so the defense sought to show, had been the unwitting tools of this conspiracy to raid the hall. Defense also maintained that no shot had been fired until the Centralia Legion contingent made a massed attack on the hall.
What IWW Counsel Vanderveer wanted to get into the evidence, but which was not permitted by the court, was the fact of a previous raid on the Centralia IWW hall. It had been made in May of 1918, during a parade staged to raise money for the Red Cross. Its perpetrators were described only as a "group of Centralia business men." In any case, the hall was raided, men found inside were beaten and the furniture and records were destroyed. Hence, said Vanderveer, Wobblies feared another raid.
What was more, the Wobs had advance information about a second raid; and a week before Armistice Day of 1919, the Centralia IWWs had prepared and distributed a pamphlet to townsmen, saying an attack was planned and asking all law-abiding citizens to join in preventing it.
Although these important items of defense testimony were not permitted at the trial, the jury found nobody guilty of pre-meditated murder. Instead, it convicted, on second-degree charges, the following Wobblies: Eugene Barnett, John Lamb, O. C. Bland, Bert Bland, Britt Smith, Ray Becker and James McInerney. Loren Roberts was found insane.
The sentences ran from twenty-five to forty years, in the state pen at Walla Walla. Today, in 1948, all the defendants have been freed, except McInerney, who died in prison.
If authorities thought that the Centralia affair, which was technically a defeat for the Wobblies, had laid the IWW in its grave, they were mistaken. The Wobs, propagandists to a man, used what they termed the "Centralia Conspiracy" for recruiting and money-raising purposes, most successfully. Ralph Chaplin, Walker C. Smith and others wrote able pamphlets setting forth the IWW side of the story. Elmer Smith, the IWW attorney, toured the West, holding meetings and speaking for money with which to appeal the case to higher courts. Picnics that attracted thousands of people were held to raise more money. Not until the last Centralia "victim" had been freed did the Wobblies cease their efforts.
The ranks of the Wobblies increased steadily during the period from 1920 to 1923. In 1923 they pulled the last of their really great strikes in the lumber industry of the Pacific Northwest. I covered portions of that upheaval, which ranged over an immense territory, 600 miles up and down the map and 600 miles across. A striker on a picket line in Aberdeen, Washington, was shot and killed. A clash between pickets and nonstrikers in Raymond, Washington, resulted in the death of one and the wounding of another. Once, I nearly got it myself. As a newspaperman I was in the Coos Bay region of Oregon, checking on the strike, and this day was walking up a timber-lined road that led along a sidehill to the Coos Bay Lumber Company's sawmill.
There was no sign of a picket along or beside the road, yet suddenly a big rock, then another, sailed over my head and crashed in the woods below the road. I couldn't see a soul, and didn't stop long to look, for another stone, the size of my two fists, barely missed me. I quickened my step. Another rock, then another and finally a whole rain of them came out of the timber above me and so over my head. I learned later, as I had already guessed, that the woods above the road was fairly crawling with Wobbly pickets, and they didn't care whom they hit.
Throughout the 1923 strike, the slogan "Remember Centralia" was often used by IWW organizers.
Many a logger and sawmill worker who had little sympathy for the IWW as a labor union did stand with them on the Centralia affair.
The 1923 strike was only partially successful in tying up production. So far as I am aware, it was never officially called off. It merely petered out. It brought a good many of the younger men into the group, however, and also served to keep the Wobblies in the public eye.
The IWW press, which at that time had weekly papers in Chicago, Duluth and Seattle, as well as a monthly magazine, was always a rambunctious affair. Its so-called news columns were filled with stories that more often than not had little relation to fact but were cynically written to madden the proletariat into a profound desire to overturn The System, by which was meant capitalism.
The Wobbly editors had a cause celebre, or some sort of Menace, on tap at all times. A good Wobbly editor could take a walkout of a dozen men in some haywire logging camp and, in print, make it sound as if 10,000 starving lumberjacks were striking for subsistence wages, for the right of free speech, for white sheets on their bunks and also to free from the dark holes of Walla Walla the "Centralia Victims."
It was the custom of most Wob editors to serve six months at a stretch, then to "return to the point of production"; i.e., a job as a working stiff. In this way IWW editors were kept from becoming mere theorists.
Just a fairly good IWW editor was capable of turning a scuffle on a picket line into a Charge of the Light Brigade against the massed ranks of the unspeakable minions of slavering capitalists, ogres to a man, who liked to eat workers' babies for breakfast. Black studhorse headlines of Second-coming size ran away across the front page and were somehow maddening, even to illiterates. Wobbly cartoonists produced fat, barrel-like apes in silk hats who wore diamond rings the size of walnuts and were usually seen treading with monstrous feet the helpless bodies of women and children.
For many years, the IWW's Industrial Worker had for its leading columnist one T-Bone Slim, a sardonically humorous person whose stuff was so goodand often so subtlethat I suspect it went over the heads of many readers of Wobbly papers. T-Bone was a maker of words and phrases. He paid his respects to B. C. Forbes, the financial writer, by pointing out that a working stiff who believed that by buying some Good Safe Stocks & Bonds, he would one day join the ranks of Morgan and Rockefeller, was "suffering from the first stages of hydro-forbesia."
Slim was forever ribbing a featured Hearst columnist of the day by referring to Brisbanalities. Either Slim or some other voluble Wob was always at work cooking up language. Carrying a balloon became Wobbly talk for carrying a bedroll or blankets. A nosebag show was a camp where midday lunch was carried to the job in a lunch bucket. Packing the rigging meant that a man was carrying IWW organizing supplies, such as membership cards, propaganda literature and such.
One of the most useful Wobbly terms is dehorn. This word originally had a surgical meaning in cattle country, but the Wobs used it to designate anything in opposition to IWW teachings. When one has no horns, i.e., class consciousness, then one has no weapons to battle with the monster of capitalism. Dehorn goes further. Rum in any form, gambling, automobiles, fiction magazines, the Kept Press, prostitutesall these are dehorn, for they take the mind of the worker off the class struggle. A dehorn committee is one which, during Wobbly strikes, keeps strikers away from liquor joints, seraglios, and gambling places, and thus, in theory at least, prevents members from throwing them-selves too quickly on the strike funds.
At the head of T-Bone Slim's column, the Worker's editor ran a line-cut of a grinning man who looked not unlike the conventional pictures of the Devil himself, his hair made into horns. "The picture looked very much like him," so Fred Thompson, present editor of the paper tells me.
"His name was Matt Valentine Huhta, born of Finnish parents in Ashtabula, Ohio. His most regular occupation was that of barge captain in New York harbor. But, come harvest time, he grabbed himself a boxcar and went west, usually to Minnesota and the Dakotas. There he ranged around until all the wheat was in, riding freights, living in hobo jungles, working a few days here, a few there, as a harvest hand. He kept his eyes wide open."
Slim moved around so fast and so far that I used to think he was three or four men, all using the same by-line. Not so, says Editor Thompson. Slim knew all the railroad lines and junctions, and he was uncanny in his ability to time the arrival of a freight at some forlorn watertank. He was, in short, a notable boomer among a crowd of boomers. He died in 1942.
In 1923 the Wobbly press and organizers went into battle with the State of California, which had passed a Criminal Syndicalism Act and was beginning to enforce it. The law made mere membership in the IWW a crime. More than a thousand arrests were made, and the trials went on for months. On June 14, 1924, at San Pedro, a mob armed with clubs attacked the IWW hall, where the Wobs were holding an entertainment to raise money for defense. The mob beat men and women alike and upset a coffee urn which seriously burned several small children.
Then, with the Wobblies screaming and running for safety, the mob captured seven, threw them into a truck and took them outside the city. There they were tarred and feathered and turned loose. The grand jury could find nobody to indict.
As for the Wobblies, they continued to agitate against the CS Act, as they called it, and so successfully that public opinion turned against the law and it became a dead letter.
But if the Wobblies thrived on persecution from without, they ceased to thrive when they started fighting among themselves. The internecine trouble began in 1924. Like all civil wars between opposing factions of a single group, it was extremely bitter; and it marked the decline of the Industrial Workers of the World.
A dozen or more reasons for the split have been cited, and the subject still comes up for an airing when two or more old-time Wobs get together. It would appear, for one thing, that some Wobs were so enthused about the revolution in Russia and the establishment of the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat of the soviets that they wanted the IWW to support it actively, even with donations of cash. Other Wobs felt the group had no business in Russia and should stick to organizing all American workers into One Big Union.
There were arguments, too, as to whether more of the money collected by the IWW should go to lawyers for the purpose of getting members out of prison, or less. There were also hot arguments as to what should be done about gyppo loggersthose who worked by contract and not for wages and were thus on the way to becoming either capitalists, or bankrupts. Finally, there were clashes of personality among the Wobbly leaders.
The stewing and bubbling blew up one night in Chicago with a violence reminiscent of Wobbly battles with the minions of capitalism, when a raiding party of one faction attempted to take over by force the general offices of the IWW, which were defendedand that is the proper wordby the other faction. Blackjacks swung high and fast, along with clubs and fists, and many a head was bloodied. It was open war. The result was two separate and distinct groups, each of which called itself the one and only blown-in-the-bottle IWW.
The "outs" declared themselves to be the "Emergency Program." They opened a new general office, started a new paper, the Industrial Unionist, and soon opened branch offices. Thus, cities like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Butte, Minneapolis and Duluth had not one but two Wobbly halls, each claiming to be the only and original brand.
It was bewildering to the common working stiffs, and they quickly began to drop the double-headed organization. A man might have paid his dues to a traveling delegate, and had his Little Red Card properly stamped up to date; and then, perhaps a week later, along would come another delegate, also claiming to be the genuine article, who wanted to collect more dues. Most of the time the working stiff would just tear his card, genuine or not, and say the hell with the Wobblies.
And to cap the whole dismal business, the two factions took the war into the courtsthe courts of capitalism, of The System.
The decline of the IWW was prompt and speedy. just how far it went isn't clear, but before the strife was healed by compromise, the once powerful group had been reduced, in numbers and in effectiveness, to merely local actions. Employers, police, so-called patriotic groups and even working stiffs paid less and less heed to it.
Yet the Wobblies had some life left in them. It bubbled up and over in Colorado, at daybreak on the morning of November 21, 1927, to go into Wobbly history as "The Columbine Massacre."
In October, the IWW had called a strike among Colorado coal miners, and claimed that more than 12,000 out of 15,000 men had responded. A majority of the coal mines closed down, but in Columbine the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company continued to operate. Wobblies set up a picket camp near the mine and spread pickets across a road at a point allegedly not on company land.
State police had been called to the mine, and presently, in the usual clash with strikers, two of the latter were shot and killed.
Wobbly organizers on the job made certain that news of the killings reached all strikers in the Columbine area. Then the strikers, inflamed by speakers, held a mass meeting. Miner musicians formed an impromptu brass band. With an American flag at its head, the band and a procession of striking miners, including their wives, moved onto company property. Shooting started. When the smoke cleared, four more strikers were dead, and ten or a dozen wounded. The Colorado National Guard was moved in and martial law was declared. The strike continued for many months more.
But the Wobblies were fading; they have never been able to regain the membership they had in 1923. In Portland, Oregon, long a stronghold of the IWW, there is today no Wobbly hall, and not many Wobblies. But Arthur Boose carries on. He is the same Old Warhorse Boose who bore the torch on the Mesabi range when the Wobs gave battle to United States Steel and went to prison for his efforts. You'll find him every Saturday at the corner of Third and Burnside Streets, on the most celebrated skid-road in the Northwest and perhaps in the world.
I enjoy hearing him peddle his papers. "Get your copy of the Worker," he chants, "get your double-dose of industrial unionism hot off the griddle, learn the truth about the labor fakers, get into the One Big Union, be a man, five cents buys a complete education for any scissorbill, get your Worker now."
High wind, rain. sunshine, sleet or snow, or even troublesome cops and street evangels, they are all the same to the Old War-horse. He is doing his best to convert the dehorns, the scissor-bills, the finks, hoosiers and bums into rebels; and the only rebels who count with Boose are members of the Industrial Workers of the World. (He loathes Communists, American or otherwise, with a cold hate.)
It irritates the Warhorse to call him The Last Wobbly. He claims there are some 20,000 members of the order in this country and Canada. Maybe there are, but they are not in evidence in the Pacific Northwest, the real home of the Wobs.
Against the common charge, made by almost all other unions, that the IWW never sought stability as a union, Boose counters by saying the IWW always sought stability. He gets pretty warm on the subject.
Fred Thompson explains the matter of stability logically. "The IWW's efforts have necessarily been among those not organized," he says. "Our organizing campaigns have thus been among people who did not take unionism of any kind for granted, who thought merely of organizing as a way to conduct a strike and letting the organization drop out of the picture until they struck again.
"The IWW did a lot of pioneer work that has resulted in the eventual growth of other unions, and we do not entirely regret this either. We expect to get them all back, with the maturity of the labor movement, into One Big Union. Although just at present we are not so much in the headlines as before, we have actually achieved more stability than ever we had, and have more funds and members than we often did in the more hectic years."
The old fire and punch, though, seem to have gone. A few months ago the New Republic published an article about the Wobbly hero Joe Hill in which the author concluded that Joe was probably guilty of the crime for which he was executedas, indeed, it seems likely he was. Thirty years ago a story like that would have summoned forces from every hobo jungle cast of the Mississippi; there would have been verbal fireworks and maybe fights as well and surely plenty of noise. What actually happened? A few forlorn pickets gathered outside the New Republic's offices and paraded up and down carrying protesting placards. Most New Yorkers paid little or no attention to them; and the papers hardly mentioned them at all. It wasn't like the great days.
Given as they were to violence, however, the Wobblies were as much a part of expanding America as buckwheat cakes, or mulligan stew boiled in a tin can over a hobo jungle fire, down beside the railroad tracks. Unquestionably many a sober, businesslike and "respectable" union today owes a great deal to the red-card hoboes who rode the rods and the blinds and raised more particular working-stiff hell than any other group before or since. The Wobblies were wild, but they exerted a tremendous influence.Stewart Holbrook
Copyright © 1949 Fawcett Publications
Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield from a scan of the original magazine. I tried to locate Fawcett Publications to request permission to post this story, but they are apparently out of business.
Last updated 11 January 2005