James Connolly


Notes from New York

(7 December 1907)

First published in The Industrial Union Bulletin, Vol. 1 No. 41, 7 December 1907.
Copied with thanks from the Apostles of Freedom blog.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Notes from New York is one of a series of reports by James Connolly written for The Industrial Union Bulletin, the regular printed bulletin of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). I am not aware of it being republished anywhere in full so I transcribe it as it originally appeared in The Industrial Union Bulletin (Vol. 1 No. 41, 7 December 1907).

Written for a very specific purpose of informing IWW activists of the activity of the union, the report is primarily of value in understanding Connolly’s activities as an IWW organiser in New York. It also outlines the tensions between the radical IWW and the “pure and simple” (non-political, “bread and butter”) trade unionism of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), as the former struggled to gain a foothold in the east coast.

Apostles of Freedom blog


As it is some little time since New York contributed anything to these columns, the readers of THE BULLETIN perhaps think that New York is inactive; but the conclusion would be very erroneous. New York is not dead, nor even sleeping, but has simply arrived at the conclusion that what is needed in the industrial movement is not a fiery seal to blow your own trumpet, but a calm determination to build, and build correctly, and that the motive power of the I.W.W. is not hot hair, but a clear conception on industrial organization.

We have had a lot of hot air in the past, and we have found that the hotter the air and bigger that blasts of it, the weaker were the walls of the industrial structure whose foundations were laid in that heated temperature. It is realized now in this vicinity that the work that counts longest is often the longest in doing, and that an excessive multiplication of charters issued is no real criterion of the spread of industrial ideas.

Hence the notes from New York will not be a list of charters issued, but a running commentary on incidents in the fight, and will aim to keep the membership posted as to the development of things in general. Also all notices and communications to members in this district will, as time and the editor permit, be run through this column.

Of all the locals in New York perhaps Local 95 has had the hardest fight against pure and simpledom and said the least about it. Scarcely a week passes without seeing some of its members fired off jobs as a result of the section of the walking delegates of the pure and simple building trades. Yet they turn up smiling at the business meeting each week, their determination to fight to the bitter end in nowise weakened. In fact, I have noticed that the men who are fired most have the biggest fight in them.

Some time ago the pure and simplers in Brownsville struck against Plasters’ Branch 7 of Local 95. They called out the lathers, thus hoping to cripple our men, and when we succeeded in filling their places with lathers whom we had been negotiating with to join the I.W.W. they organized a gang of thugs to beat them up, and as a result some of the lathers were so badly injured as to be incapacitated from work for some time.

On another occasion a number of the same branch were employed in New York City, and the walking delegates notified the employer that they would not recognize our card: if our men did not leave they, the pure and simplers, would strike the job. The boss sent for the I.W.W. organizer, and I went to see him and the pure and simple delegates. We had a short debate, which ended abruptly by the pure and simplers curtly informing the boss that if our men were left on the job all the pure and simple unionists would be brought off it in half an hour. They had no arguments, but they had the power, and so the boss surrendered.

The members of Branch 4, who are mainly carpenters, have been fired so often they have lost count; one man has been employed on nineteen different jobs in three weeks. Yet as skilled workmen they can hold their own with any in America.

Branch 11 (Bronze Workers) had an amusing experience at their meeting on November 18th . Their meeting place was in a hall much used for a similar purpose by a number of pure and simple unionists. On arriving at the place that night they were informed by the proprietor that a delegation from the other unions had waited upon him with the intimation that if he allowed our men to continue to meet there they would quit. Consequently “he was sorry to inform us, etc., etc.”

Well, this was rather depressing, but when we reached the hall upstairs to hold our last meeting there a few things happened which tended to ease a little humor on the situation. We met the prime movers in the eviction. These were the secretary and delegates of the Architectural Iron Workers, Housesmiths and Bronze Erectors, Local 52. After a few sotto voce remarks, which for rabid indecencies could not be surpassed in the lowest depths of the Tenderloin, they inquired if they would get the floor as a deputation when they returned. “Certainly.”

They returned, like lions, accompanied by another gentleman, a member of their General Council, or something of that nature. The two first worthies got the floor and emitted a series of growls, like the utterances of a bear with a toothache, in which the only intelligible words seemed to be “dual organization”, “organized by the bosses”, “scabs”, “join our organization”, “we should stick together.” In fact, at once time they seemed to urge that we should join them, at another that we were organized by the bosses to harm them and would ourselves be thrown down when we had served the turn of the capitalist enemy.

Then the new-comer took the floor. He was more courteous and reasonable, admitted he knew nothing about us and would like to, urged that we should work in harmony with them, made a pathetic plea for the iron workers, stated that they had helped every trade, but that when they were in a conflict nobody helped them (which is true), and wound up by asking to hear our preamble read.

Fellow Worker Pierson, secretary of the Industrial Union, read the preamble and made a vigorous speech, in which he answered the visitors according to their own ‘’ to the more ignorant grumblers he gave a few short rough raps which put them where they belonged, and to the inquirer he gave information, together with the proposal that the iron workers should admit one of our speakers to their meeting to explain our views, or that both parties should arrange a joint debate on the true principles of organization. One of the members of Branch 11 who had been a member of the pure and simple iron workers’ union gave a few interesting facts about the mutual scabbery of the various iron and bronze organizations upon each other; the secretary of the branch told some more, and I also said my little say.

Altogether it was an enjoyable evening; I often paid a quarter for less fun. The upshot of it all was that the General Council representatives agreed to favor the proposal for a debate, and the deputation filed out. The two first worthies trying to look good-natured, but as it was not natural to them they only succeeded in making a grimace. But Branch 11 lost its meeting place.

But this letter is getting too long. Next week I will give more information about our skirmishes with our deluded brothers of various trades. In the meanwhile I wish some information. I am just now getting a good reception amongst the branches of the longshoremen and have received credentials from their Standing Committee representing all the branches in this district, and I want particulars of our work and standing amongst bodies similarly employed all over the country. How many longshoremen or other water front employees have we organized, and where and what prospects of organizing have we? For the same reason and because of the same conditions, if any one can give me information of blacksmiths who are organized with us it will help the good work. Send the information to 60 Cooper Square, New York.

How many tickets have you sold for our ball on December 23rd?

Last updated on 15 January 2017