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B.J. Widick

In the Trade Unions

(25 April 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 27, 25 April 1939, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

With the odds at 50–50 that war will break out this spring and 80–20 that it will begin by next fall, there isn’t much time left to prepare the union movement for the trials and tribulations ahead under war-time conditions.

A study of the events in America in the last world war give a clear picture of what can be expected tomorrow, and incidentally, shows how phoney the last war for “democracy” was.

Spearhead Against I.W.W.

It was inevitable that the spear-head of the bosses’ drive against; unionism should be concentrated on the I.W.W. with its militant traditions and unrelenting struggle for the oppressed.

Chief union strength of the I.W.W. was in the Lumber Workers of the Northwest, 30,000; the Metal Mine Workers, 40,000, primarily in the Rocky mountain and Minnesota and Michigan iron ore regions; the Agricultural Workers, 24,000 and others.

In the spring of 1917 a number of small lumber strikes developed under the inhumane conditions and low wages that made work unbearable. They spread in Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana.

The government reply to the strikes was quick in coming. Infantry troops from Oregon were sent to leading strike centers and a round up of all pickets began. A concentration camp was erected at Ellensburgh, Washington, where many strikers were held for months without any charge being placed against them!

Resentment aver this brutal treatment spread to other lumber centers, and combined with agitation for an eight-hour day and sanitary camp conditions, a strike of 50,000 lumberworkers in the rich timber belt of Puget Sound resulted.

Miners Strike

At this time the country was scandalized to read about a disastrous fire at the Speculator mine in Butte, Montana that took the lives of 260 miners. 14,000 miners went out on strike to obtain union control of safety appliances underground and the abolition of the blacklist.

The whole Northwest and West was seething with unrest It was then that the unionists got a real taste of the “democracy” for which American workers were losing their lives in Europe.

A vigilante “Loyalty League” in Jerome, Ariz., kidnapped 100 strikers and drove them out of the area. Police aided them by arresting the strikers after they were freed by the vigilantes.

In Bisbee, Ariz., 2,000 company officials, etc., armed with rifles, dragged 1,200 strikers from their beds early on July 12, 1917, and marched them to Lowell and other nearby cities, The strikers were corralled like cattle in railroad cars used for animals amid beatings, etc. and the murder of one striker.

After the train departed, U.S. soldiers took charge of it and put the strikers in an encampment at Columbus, N.M., where they stayed for over three months! Those who left and returned to the scene of the strike were arrested!

Company gunmen kidnapped Frank Little of the General Executive Board and hanged him on August 1, 1917!

Whip Up Lynch Spirit

Meanwhile, the press of the country, as emphasized in the study made public recently by John Hopkins University, was whipping up additional lynch spirit by seeking to tie the Wobblies to the “German-Huns.” All Wobblies were German spies, according to the newspaper headlines.

The hysteria aroused by this campaign created the basis for the nationwide raids, arrests, beatings and murder of the I.W.W. members. On September 5, 1917, almost every hall of the I.W.W. in the country was raided.

The convention of the Construction Workers Industrial Union, 15,000 strong, was busted up and forty-seven delegates arrested to be held for months without charges or trial.

While many of the lumber strikes were broken, the use of a modified “sit-down strike” tactic applied as “job action” by the strikers who were forced back to work secured the eight-hour day and improvement in the sanitary conditions!

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Last updated: 15 January 2016