Monday, May 20, 2013

McMahon: Industrial Workers of the World

Ryan McMahon

Industrial Workers of The World
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was a radical industrial union group that was a prominent during the early 1900s. The IWW was founded in Chicago in 1905. The group promoted the ideas of the abolishment of capitalism and wage labor, and a movement towards all workers being united under one social class. The group was founded by socialists and anarchists, and radical trade unionists from across the United States. The I.W.W was a very radical right wing organization. It opposed left wing conservative unions mainly as the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Though the radical actions of the IWW were construed has detrimental it created more improvements to the United States working class environment than it did chaos and havoc, starting with these founding members.

William Dudley Haywood aka Big “Bill” Haywood was the founder and leader of the IWW. During the early 1900s Haywood was involved in many labor disputes. The most significant of these labor disputes included Colorado Labor Wars, and Lawrence Textile Strikes. The Colorado Labor Wars was a bloody labor dispute between miners and mine operators in Colorado, where eventually the National Guard was called in to restore peace. The Lawrence Textile Strike was a strike that was led by immigrant workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912. The immigrant workers had the backing of the Industrial Workers of the World. The strike was brought about when mill owners decide to lower wages. Haywood had a very significant role in this strike as the IWW leader. In which, “Haywood personally led the strikers in this conflict. He marched at the head of picket lines, organized committees, made speeches, and toured the country to raise funds.”1 With the effort of Haywood and the IWW the mill workers won their case. They received, with shorter work weeks, an increase in both wages and overtime. Haywood great success in striking with the IWW, but he had a bigger picture in mind with the idea of striking. He hoped that one day the workers would be able to control a whole city or industrial area with this weapon known as striking. He hoped that “this weapon was to be the final one in the arsenal of the working class, and its ultimate use would be preventing the outbreak of world wars.”2 This idea showed the true intentions of Haywood and what he wanted for IWW during his years of leading the organization.
The next leader, Eugene V. Debs was also a founding member of the IWW. Debs was an American union leader and party candidate for the Socialist Party of America. Debs would be arrested, like most of the IWW members for speaking out against the United States participation in World War I. Speaking out against United States during World War I was in direct violation of the Espionage Act of 1917. Debs was the most significant member to get arrested during the Red Scare Era. Not because he was a founding member of the organization, but because of the speech that he gave during his trial. The speech was considered to be one of the masterpieces of American oratory. In his speech Debs compare sailors in rough seas to the working classes struggles. He explained that when sailors are at sea, during rough seas, they turns his head towards the Southern Cross. And when it bends it shows the sailors that easier times are coming. At the end of his speech he speaks of hope being just around the corner for the people [working class], “let the people take heart and hope everywhere, for cross is bending, the midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning.”3 Even in times of hardship Debs does not stray from his ideology and passion of a united, free working class. Despite his passionate speech Debs would still be sentence to a prison term of ten years. Debs was one the most influential and significant IWW leader and member. After his prison sentence he was met by masses of people, in front of the Atlanta Penitentiary.
The next member of I.W.W was not a founding member or leader but had close ties to them. Emma Goldman was an anarchist and was best known for the pivotal role that she played in the development of political anarchist political philosophy in both North America and Europe. Like Haywood and Debs, Goldman was an advocate for the working class and was strongly against the United States involvement in World War I. On May 18, 1917 Emma Goldman made a speech at the Harlem River Casino, New York City. The speech that Goldman was about conscription in World War I. Like most I.W.W members Goldman was against conscription and the war in general. She believes that working class men and women of the United States were suffering at the hands of the capitalists. And that the capitalist are responsible for the war. She believed like most of the working class that America was not in this war to spread democracy but for conquest, money and power:
“I, for one, am quite willing to stand up face to face with patriots every night--patriots blind to the injustice committed in this country--patriots who didn't care a hang. We are willing to stand up and to say to them: "Keep your dirty hands off America." You have no right to tell the people to give their lives in behalf of democracy, when democracy is the laughing stock before all Europe. And therefore, friends, we stand here and we tell you that the war which is now declared by America in the last six weeks is not a war of democracy and is not a war of the urging of the people. It is not a war of economic independence. It is a war for conquest. It is a war for military power. It is a war for money. It is a war for the purpose of trampling under foot every vestige of liberty that you people have worked for, for the last forty or thirty or twenty-five years and, therefore, we refuse to support such a war” 4
Goldman was an advocate for working class. She was strong believer and supporter of freedom of the working class. And with this speech against conscription and World War I Goldman believed that this was a capitalist plot and the working class was suffering at the hands of this plot. She strongly believed, like most of the IWW that America was losing their identity as a nation for liberty, democracy and freedom of the people. She wanted the United States to get back to representing the people, the working class. Rather than supporting a war of capitalist agenda. This is the ideology that seemed to echo with all of the members of the IWW.
A tool used to organize and spread this ideology that the IWW had, was the use of free speech fights. The I.W.W used this tool to publicly speak out about labor issues. A famous free speech fight occurred in Missoula, Montana. In September 1909 a young 19 year women name Elizabeth Gurley Flynn moves to Missoula with her husband, Jack Jones. A reporter reported that Flynn was the type of women “of considerable power as a speaker and of unquestionable courage when engaged in the work of her organization”5 Jones would be arrested on September 29 for preaching out against the state government about labor issues and exploitation of workers in the Montana. This free speech fight occurred on Higgins Avenue and West Front Street. After the arrest of Jones, Flynn wrote back to I.W.W headquarter urging for more member intervention. This request would be granted and more IWW member arrived in Missoula to join the fight. They too would soon be arrested. Member were often offered their freedom but refused without a jury trial. Missoula officials would soon grow tired of dealing with the onslaught of the IWW and they would soon drop the charges. The free speech fight in Missoula, Montana would become a significant IWW victory. Many other free speech fights would occur across the United States mainly in the mid-west and western states. These other fights would also be IWW organized. These fights occurred in Kansas City Missouri, Fresno, California, Aberdeen Washington, and San Diego, California.
During the years leading up to World War I the IWW had this public view of a violent organization. The public had such a high view that, “in popular eye, the IWW was a conspiracy of desperate villains who set fire to wheat fields, drove spikes into saw-mill bound logs, derailed trains, destroyed industrial machinery, and killed policemen.”6 This reputation is what led people at the time to believe that the IWW was an organization that was detrimental to society and was the exact opposite of what being American was. And they had every right to believe this at the time. But history shows that the IWW, who was a group of based on non-violent action according to its, founder Big Bill Haywood, only used violence in self-defense situations. But if we look at all of the IWW protest that ended violence, like the Colorado Labor Wars or the free speech fight in San Diego, California. These events were preached in non-violence, and had a purpose for growth within the United States. This was the main agenda of the IWW, to improve the lives of the working class and protect them from the capitalist agenda. Whether this ended in non-violence or violence was a means to an end.
Therefore the IWW was an organization that represented the working class of the United States. Who were against the United States involvement in World War I, and were against the capitalist agenda of the war. They were a non-violent group stricken by violent situations. But their only purpose was to protect the working class and, help the working class environment improve and grow.

1 Fisher, William. ""Big Bill" Haywood in the American History Class." No. 5 (1950): pp. 293-296.

2 Fisher, William. ""Big Bill" Haywood in the American History Class." No. 5 (1950): pp. 293-296.

3 Oestriecher, Richard. "A Note on the Origins of Eugene V. Debs' "Bending Cross" Speech." Vol. 76, no. 1 (1980): pp. 54-56.

4 Emma Goldman, “We Don’t Believe in Conscription” (speech, Harlem River Casino, New York City, May 18, 1917), The Emma Goldman Papers,

5 The Butte Miner, October 4, 1904 p. 3.

6 Joseph R. Conlin. The Wisconsin Magazine of History, “The IWW and the Question of Violence”, Vol. 51, No. 4 (Summer, 1968), pp. 316-326. Published by: Wisconsin Historical Society

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