Although the Industrial Workers of the World was organized in 1905 and engaged in a number of important strikes in the eight years following, it really became an important factor in 1914, for at this time a new determination manifested itself among the migratory workers to retain some of the good things they had created. For about one year this activity was confined to the agricultural workers, working in the wheat fields of the middle west, but quickly spread among other migratory workers, mainly the lumber workers, miners, and construction workers. The membership increased steadily and at the time of the Tenth Convention it numbered 40,000.
At the Tenth Convention the form of organization was materially changed. This change brought about the abolition of the National Industrial Union and made the unit of organization the industrial union with branches and the General Recruiting Union, instead of locals.
The Industrial Workers of the World continued to grow and in May 1917, the Lumber Workers in the Northwest had approximately 30,000 members; the Metal Mine Workers throughout the Rocky Mountain region and on the Iron Range of Minnesota and Michigan, 40,000; the Agricultural Workers numbered 24,000; the Construction Workers 15,000; other industrial unions and the General Recruiting Union, together with locals not transferred into industrial unions, numbered about 10,000.
In the early spring of 1917 a number of small strikes occurred among the loggers of Idaho and Eastern Washington. These strikes were repeated until about the 1 of June. Two-thirds of the lumber workers of Idaho, Montana, and Eastern Washington were out and the strike had spread to the eastern slope of the Cascades in Washington. It was at this time that a series of persecutions started which continued throughout the war. Two camps of the 3rd Oregon Infantry were sent to Cle Elum and they rounded up all the pickets, threw them into the stockade at Ellensburg, Wash., where they were held for months without charges being placed against them.
Soldiers were sent to many points in Washington and Idaho where the same thing occurred. In the meantime the strike had spread into the rich timber belt of Puget Sound and by July 15, 1917, 50,000 lumber workers were on strike, their demands being a basic eight-hour day and sanitary camp conditions.
On June 12, 1917, 14,000 miners in the city of Butte, Mont., went on strike following the loss of two hundred and sixty lives in a fire in the Speculator Mine. The strike was principally for the abolition of the Blacklist and for union control of safety appliances underground. This strike was called and conducted jointly by the I. W. W. and the Independent Miners’ Union of that city. The strike was, however, taken up by the I. W. W. miners in Arizona, where 24,000 miners went out.
On July 10 nearly a hundred miners at Jerome, Ariz., were taken from their homes early in the morning by the so-called "Loyalty League." They were loaded on cattle cars. The train was headed towards California but was turned back at the state line by the officials of that state. The men were then taken to Prescott, Ariz., where they were held in jail three weeks before they were released.
At Bisbee, Ariz., at five o’clock in the morning of July 12, 2,000 company officials, gunmen, businessmen, etc., armed with rifles, similarly dragged 1,200 strikers and sympathizers from their beds and compelled them to march miles to Lowell, and neighboring towns. They were finally corralled into a ball park at Lowell, until a train of cattle cars was made up. The miners were forced into the cars amid rioting, in which one man, a striker, was killed. The train was sent through the desert and finally taken charge of by the United States soldiers encamped at Columbus, N. M.
Here they stayed for three months, being furnished army rations, waiting for the Government to give them protection in returning to Bisbee. This the government steadfastly refused to do, and finally, when the army rations were cut off, the camp broke up. Some of the men drifted back to Bisbee where they were promptly arrested. Others scattered to different parts of the country.
On August 1, 1917, Frank Little, a member of the General Executive Board, was kidnapped by company gunmen early in the morning, taken to a railroad trestle and hanged.
The press of the entire country started at this time a campaign of lies and vilifications, the keynote of which was "Crush the I. W. W." In all press dispatches weird stories were concocted, alleging the I. W. W. to be cutthroats, outlaws, and in the pay of the German Government. Whether or not any credence was given to these stories in official circles, we do not know. At any rate persecutions started all over the country at the same time as the stories appeared.
On September 5 almost every hall in the country occupied by the Industrial Workers of the World was raided, and all literature, and in many cases all office fixtures, seized. This was followed by the arrest, a few days later, of most of the officials of the organization. A grand jury was hastily called in Chicago and one hundred and sixty-six members, including nearly all of the officials, were indicted. On September 28 every hall was again raided and many members arrested.
Then followed a series of persecutions unequalled in the annals of labor. In the Northwest the lumber workers’ strike was still in progress, and the employers used every means at their command to break up the organization. In the following six months more than one thousand members were arrested on various pretexts, most of them being held for two or three months without even a charge being placed against them. Especially was this true of the alien members of the organization who were arrested and turned over to the Immigration authorities and held for deportation. Some have been held for more than a year, and few, if any, have been deported.
Starting about August 10, 1917, the lumber workers adopted new tactics. The strike was carried to the job. Men would go to work as usual and after eight hours of work would walk in a body to the camp. If one or more of their number were discharged, the rest of the crew quit, and the next crew would be sure to do the same thing. Inexperienced lumbermen had to be shown how to place a "choker" and did not know how to handle a saw. Needless to say these tactics secured the eight-hour day and a few months later blankets and beds were installed. This latter improvement in conditions was secured by the men by simply refusing to carry their own blankets with them on the job, as had been the custom for years.
The raids throughout the country on the I. W. W. halls did not have the desired effect, for many of the halls were opened soon after. The Construction Workers’ Industrial Union had reorganized and a convention was called in Omaha, Nebr., on November 13, 1917. The convention was raided the first day it was in session and all attending delegates, numbering forty-seven, were arrested. Most of the men were held for months before they were indicted. A number of those originally arrested were released for various reasons, mostly to respond to the draft call. The rest were held until December, 1918, when they were released on bonds.
During the winter of 1917-18 many outrageous acts were committed upon members of the I. W. W. Local secretaries were tarred and feathered. In Tulsa, Okla., on November 5, 1917, eleven members were arrested, taken to jail and that night taken a few miles out of the city and tarred and feathered. Their clothes were taken from them and burned, and in this condition the men were forced to walk until morning before relief could be found.
In Red Lodge, Mont., on November 17, 1917, two Finnish coal miners, members of the I. W. W., were taken to the basement of the Court House and questioned as to their membership in the I. W. W. and also asked to give information as to who the other members of the organization were in that city. When they refused to give this information they were hanged by the neck and lashed with a "blacksnake" until blood formed in pools at their feet.
In Chicago, where preparations were being made for the trial of officials and members who had been gathered in the September raids, local and federal authorities interfered in every possible way. Mail was being held up and many important members of the defense committee were arrested. Defense offices throughout the country were raided. Funds, fixtures, and mail were confiscated and persecutions continued all through the spring of 1918 and throughout the trial. Witnesses for the defense were intimidated and many other acts committed to prevent the defense from properly presenting the case. A verdict of "Guilty" was returned on August 17, 1918, and ninety-five of those arrested were sentenced to terms ranging from ten days to twenty years. Ninety-three of our members are now serving sentences at Leavenworth penitentiary.
Immediately after the sentencing of these men a bomb was exploded in the Adams St. entrance to the Federal Building in Chicago. Every known member of the I. W. W. in the city was arrested and questioned. Several of the officials were held for more than a week and two members, J. W. Wilson and Taro Yoshihari, were held as suspects for about two and one-half months.
It was at this time that the organization reached its lowest ebb. Upon the release of the then acting officials organization activities increased.
The I. W. W. press is an important factor in the organization. Before the persecutions there were seven foreign language papers in the field and two English papers. Besides the newspapers about twenty-five pamphlets of industrial union propaganda were published. A temporary setback was experienced by all the papers following the September raids, but it was not until after second-class mailing privileges were denied them, that the majority of the papers ceased publication. Attempts were made to keep them in the field as long as possible, and all sorts of subterfuge was resorted to in order to get them out at all. However, at the present time, although third-class mailing privilege is all that is allowed, the papers are being started up again and we have eight foreign papers in the field and four English papers namely: Swedish, Nya Varlden; Spanish, La Nueva Solidaridad; Hungarian, Felszabadulas; Russian, Golos Truzenika; Jewish, Der Industrial Arbeiter: Italian, Il Nuevo Proletario; English, The New Solidarity; The One Big Union MonthIy*); The Industrial Unionist, Seattle, Wash.; The Rebel Worker, New York; Der Klassenkampf—Jewish. In addition to these papers, four pamphlets dealing directly with the Chicago trial, have been published since the close of the trial.
The organization is now composed of twelve industrial unions, the General Recruiting Union, and a few locals that have not been formed into industrial unions as yet.
The General Recruiting Union, with twelve branches, has about 4,000 members.
The Metal Mine Workers’ Industrial Union No. 800, with approximately five open branches and a large number of field delegates, has about 15000 members. The headquarters of this industrial union is at Butte, Mont.
The Construction Workers’ Industrial Union No. 573, with the same number of branches, and headquarters at Chicago, Ill., has a membership of about 5,000.
The Agricultural Workers’ Industrial Union No. 400 has but a few branches. However, as this industrial union is comprised of migratory workers, a large number of delegates travel from place to place and very few stationary branches are formed. There are three central points and the headquarters is at Chicago. This union has approximately 6,000 members.
The Lumber Workers’ Industrial Union No. 500, with headquarters at Portland, Ore., was at one time the strongest branch of the I. W. W. Before the persecutions, starting in the fall of 1917, the membership totalled between forty and fifty thousand. The advent of the Four L’s, a government organization organized by the Spruce Production Corps of the United States Army, made great inroads through the use of various tactics. The arrest of everyone found carrying an I. W. W. card followed. However, at the present time, the rate of increase in the membership of No. 500 is greater than the decrease, and the membership is now estimated at 20,000.
The Metal and Machinery Workers’ Industrial Union No. 300, with headquarters at Chicago, composed largely of skilled mechanics, never exceeded at any time two to three thousand members. Many unskilled workers from the large steel mills and manufacturing plants, which began laying off men as soon as the armistice was signed and war contracts cancelled, are now coming into this union, and the Metal and Machinery Workers’ Industrial Union promises to become a very powerful factor in the future of the I. W. W. Their membership can safely be estimated at 4,000.
There are approximately 2,000 railroad men organized into the Railroad Workers’ Industrial Union No. 600, the headquarters of which union is also at Chicago. The growth of this union is very rapid considering the conservative element employed in this industry.
The Hotel, Restaurant, and Domestic Workers’ Union, an industry which is largely organized by the A. F. of L., is also making good progress. The membership of this union is estimated at 1,000, and is composed mostly of household workers and of some of the lower paid workers in hotels and restaurants.
The Marine Transport Workers’ Union No. 100 on the Atlantic Coast, and No. 700 on the Pacific Coast, have fluctuated widely in membership. The increase in membership in this industry during the last month or two has been remarkable, and the future holds great promise. The membership of each union is about 2,000.
The Ship Builders’ Union on the Pacific Coast was formed during the war and is largely a war industry. The membership of this union numbered about 1,000 before the closing of the hall in Seattle. The present membership is hard to estimate, but the reports show that it has not fallen off to any great extent.
A large number of new members have been taken in since the close of the war.
Textile Workers’ Industrial Union No. 1000, with headquarters at Paterson, N. J., has a membership of about 1,000. Great strides have been made in this industry recently, several new branches having been formed in the New England states.
The latest addition to the industrial unions of the I. W. W. is the Printing and Publishing Workers’ Industrial Union No. 1200, recently organized in New York City.
There are perhaps six or eight local unions that have never been transferred to industrial unions. This is largely due to the fact that the persecutions and arrests started about the time that reorganization was taking place. The largest of these is Local 8, of the Marine Transport Workers, in Philadelphia. This local has a membership of 5,000. The other locals, mainly in the Northeast, have a total membership of about 2,000, and are comprised largely of marble workers, bakers, rubber workers, and some textile workers.
At the present time the I. W. W. is undergoing a period of reorganization and its officials are temporary. However, these circumstances will in no way interfere with the present growth of the organization and there is every indication that the I. W. W. will be, within a short time, the most powerful union of workers the world has ever known.
The constitution itself has undergone very few changes since it was drawn up in 1905. Perhaps the most radical change was made at the Tenth Annual Convention, in 1916. Originally the whole structure and plan of the organization could be summed up as follows: The unit of organization was the local union, and in each district or territory where five local unions existed a district council was formed. An unlimited number of locals, with a minimum membership of 3,000, however, could form a National Industrial Union. Two or more National Industrial Unions formed a department.
The Constitution to-day, as changed at the Tenth Annual Convention, provides that the unit of organization is an industrial union. Each industrial union is to have its own by-laws to cover its own industry and to organize branches in its own industry. Their jurisdiction has no limit. Five or more branches in any given locality may form an industrial union district council, this to serve practically the same purpose as the former local district council, and might be compared to a Central Labor Council of the A. F. of L. However, the component parts are more closely allied. Although the constitution provides for industrial departments, up to the present time, no such department has been formed.
The constitution also calls for a General Recruiting Union, which takes in workers in industries not having enough members to form an industrial union of their own.
The officers provided for by the Constitution are General Secretary-Treasurer, and a General Executive Board composed of seven members. These are all the national officers provided for. Each Industrial Union provides for its own officers somewhat on the same general plan; a general secretary-treasurer and an Organization Committee of five members. Each branch of an industrial union elects its secretary and a local Organization Committee. However, the regular officials in the different industrial unions may differ slightly.
Some of the outstanding features of the constitution are that none but wage workers are eligible to membership ; also that no officer of the I. W. W. may run for any political office without permission granted through a referendum of the entire organization; and a free transfer system—that is, any member belonging to one industrial union is allowed to transfer into any other industrial union without paying an additional fee.
The Constitution also fixes the initiation fee at a maximum of $5.00. Provisions are also made for the monthly dues, the per capita to he paid to General Headquarters and the disposition to he made thereof, together with other minor matters in connection therewith.
It can be stated that the I. W. W. stands by itself in its relation to other political and economic organizations inasmuch as it recognizes the class struggle and is revolutionary in character. While not recognizing the necessity for political action, it is non-political rather than anti-political. The I. W. W. is not definitely opposed to political action, but it does not recognize it as a fundamental factor in the class struggle.
Acting Secretary-Treasurer, I. W. W.
In many respects the 11th Annual Convention of the I. W. W., held at Chicago May 5-16, 1919, was the most remarkable in the history of the organization. Emerging from two years of systematic persecution, the I. W. W. held its most successful convention, with more delegates present, with a greater spirit of solidarity; and formulated a more thorough and concrete plan of organization than was possible in previous conventions.
The Convention opened quietly on May 5. For several days preceding the Convention the Chicago papers did everything possible to incite the populace to mob it. Commercial bodies appealed to the Mayor to stop the Convention. The delegates were reported to be criminals who were meeting to plan the overthrow of the government. However, the urged violence did not materialize and the Convention was not interrupted in any way. The only apparent sign of watchfulness by the authorities was a court stenographer, who came on the second day and stayed until the end.
The Convention was called to order by acting secretary-treasurer, Thomas Whitehead. Fifty-four delegates answered the roll call. By the unanimous vote of the delegates Pietro Nigra, recently released from Fort Leavenworth, was seated to represent the class war prisoners.
After the seating of the delegates the first order of business was the sending of greetings to all political and industrial prisoners. Greetings were also sent to the Soviet Governments of Russia and Hungary.
Much important and constructive work was accomplished at the convention. It was not found necessary, furthermore, to deviate in the slightest from the fundamental principles of the organization. Some of the more important matters decided at the Convention are as follows :
The official adoption of the universal delegate system is already in operation. This is a system of organizing that originated with the I. W. W. and is typical of its democratic spirit. This system makes it possible to organize the workers in the most hostile territory or industry. The idea is to make every member of the I. W. W. a job delegate or organizer. The job delegates receive no pay but are empowered to initiate new members and collect dues. Travelling delegates are members under pay who travel from job to job to consult with job delegates and keep them supplied with literature, due books, etc. When this system is perfected, every member will carry universal credentials and will, therefore, be enabled to initiate a worker into his respective industrial union.
A resolution was passed barring any member addicted to intoxicating liquors from holding office in the organization.
The Convention voted that no officer should hold office for two consecutive years. This means that if a member holds office for one year, he must return to his work before being eligible again to office. It also voted that paid officials could not act as delegates to the general convention.
The policy of papers published by any subdivision of the organization is to be controlled by the General Executive Board, and no I. W. W. paper is authorized to accept commercial advertising.
The Convention went on record as being opposed to any member or group of members taking part in or helping to build up any labor organization outside of the I. W. W. This does not prevent a member from holding a membership in any labor body and in no way interferes with his political beliefs.
On the last day of the Convention the following declaration was adopted:
We, the delegates of the Industrial Workers of the World, in convention assembled, hereby reaffirm our adherence to the cause of the International Proletariat, and reassert our profound conviction that the program of industrial unionism not only furnishes a method of successful resistance against the aggression of a rabid master class, but provides a basis for the reconstruction of society when capitalism shall have collapsed. We regard the great European war as convincing evidence of the ripening of the capitalist system and its approaching disintegration; and we hail the rising workers’ republic in Russia and other countries as evidence that only the proletariat, through its economic force and by reason of its strategic position in industry, can save the world from chaos and guarantee the fundamental rights of life. We publish again the preamble to our constitution and call upon the working class of the world to unite with us upon the basis of the principles there declared in order that we may by our combined power displace the wage system with its horde of parasitic exploiters and substitute for it the communal system of industrial democracy, thereby liberating humanity from its age-long degradation and freeing it to go forward, not only to universal happiness, but also to a high and noble culture. Workers of the world, unite! You have only your chains to lose. You have the world and life to gain.
L. S. CHUMLEY.
Last updated 5 November 2004 by David Walters for the MIA’s I.W.W. Collection. We extend our heartfelt thanks to J. D. Crutchfied for granting us permission to use his collection of online pamphlets.