Monday, September 4, 2017

Few Wobblies in Salem, but the IWW made Big Headlines

100 years ago there didn't seem to be much "wobblie" presence here in Salem, but the Industrial Workers of the World was big news, often on par with World War I for the headlines. This was convenient, too, as the war mobilization effort offered an opening to crush dissent and define a treasonous "other."

These are headlines all from the front page during the summer of 1917.

August 1st, 1917

August 2nd, 1917

August 18th, 1917

September 6th, 1917

From the Oregon Encyclopedia:
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or "Wobblies"), founded in 1905 and crushed for its opposition to World War I in 1917-1918, was the most active and most actively opposed revolutionary union of its time. In Oregon, the IWW was rooted in lumber camps and mills in the western part of the state and among field hands in eastern agricultural areas....

In the summer of 1917, during the first months of the nation’s mobilization for World War I, the federal government became alarmed by the growing unrest in Pacific Northwest lumber camps and sawmills led by the IWW. The region's logging then came under the control of the U.S. Army. Workers joined the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, a compulsory paramilitary union. Wartime sedition laws and their enforcement by the FBI, Military Intelligence, and police “red squads” also left the IWW much diminished.

The IWW never recovered and Communist groups eclipsed it after the war, but the organization still left a profound legacy in Oregon. Its members were among the first activists in the state to practice civil disobedience and to willingly endure repeated jail terms in defense of their civil liberties.[Loyal legion link added]
On Frank Little at Wikipedia:
[O]n July 18, 1917, Frank Little arrived in the Butte to help organize the copper miners' union and lead the miners' strike against Anaconda Mining Company for better safety conditions and higher wages, abolishment of the contract system, and removal of the "rustling card." The striking workers had been subject to attack by a "home guard" organized by the company, and newspapers worked to undermine public support for the workers. Little created a picket line at the mines, persuaded women to join the lines, and ultimately encouraged the other trades to join the strike. During this period, he also spoke out against US involvement in the war. When he called soldiers serving in Europe "Uncle Sam's scabs in uniform," he raised the ire of the press and Anaconda Mining Company officials who did not want the copper input impacted.

In the early hours of August 1, six masked men broke into Nora Byrne's Steel Block boardinghouse where Frank Little was staying. The men initially kicked in the wrong door in the boardinghouse, and when confronted by Byrne claimed to be (law) officers. Little was beaten in his room and abducted while still in his underwear. He was bundled into a car which sped away. Little was later tied to the car's rear bumper and dragged over the granite blocks of the street. Photographs of his body show that his knee-caps had possibly been scraped off. Little was taken to Milwaukee Bridge at the edge of town where was then hanged from the railroad trestle. The coroner found that Little died of asphyxiation. It was also found that his skull had been fractured by a blow to the back of the head caused by a rifle or gun butt.
Propaganda, with a foremother of Rosie the Riveter, for the alternative of the Loyal Legion.

"The War-Time Whistle Punk" - at Wikipedia
For vivid story-telling, see also Stewart Holbrook's Wildmen, Wobblies, and Whistle Punks. Back in May, the Mill offered a "history in the news" program, "Citizenship and Civil Liberties on the World War I Home Front."

This history is far beyond our scope here. But this an episode that deserves a revisit - or perhaps a first-time visit - and it wouldn't be surprising at all if the wobblies get something of a more popular and wider reassessment at this moment in our current history.

1 comment:

Walker said...

IWW is still here: