INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD

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The famous LITTLE RED SONG BOOK of the   thoroughly indigenous Industrial Workers of the World -- the Wobblies.  It's subtitled, appropriately, "Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent."        

The IWW was founded in 1905, primarily through the efforts of the radical, frontier hard-rock (metal)  miners' union -- the Western Federation of Miners and its vigorous, visionary leadership:  William D. "Big Bill" Haywood, Vincent St. John, Father Thomas Hagerty and many, many others.   Its  philosophy, almost from the outset, came to be a uniquely frontier American variety of syndicalism -- the primacy of democratic revolutionary unions in effecting systemic change and administering the new cooperative society.  In a very real sense, the IWW was the first homegrown American  revolutionary movement since 1775:   fearless, hard-driving, visionary -- and the epitome of  grassroots democracy reaching out to all workers, unskilled as well as skilled, regardless of race or ethnicity or gender.  One of its major spokespersons and organizers  was Frank H. Little, born of a "Quaker father" and a Cherokee Indian mother, in Indian Territory in 1879, a metal miner who became chairman of the General Executive Board of the IWW and was lynched at Butte on August 1 1917 by thugs employed by Anaconda Copper.

The lynching of Frank Little was in the context of very widespread, prolonged, and extraordinarily bloody and brutal repression levied against the IWW by company gunmen, state and local "lawmen," vigilantes, and then increasingly by the Federal Government.  This was strike-breaking and union-busting wrapped up in the hypocritical cloth of a phony World War I "patriotism."

Frank Little's murder was preceded, for example, by the "Loyalty League" deportation of almost 100 Wobbly  copper strike activists at  the rugged mountain town of Jerome, Arizona (southwest of Flagstaff) on July 10 1917.  They were dumped in the California desert without food or water and were  next  forced back into Arizona at gun-point by a California sheriff's posse --  and then imprisoned at Prescott, Arizona.  This operation was directed by the United Verde Copper Company.  On July 12, at Bisbee, Arizona (on the Mexican border), a very large, so-called "Loyalty League" rounded up 1200 IWW-led copper strikers (not counting three that they killed), loaded them onto cattle cars, and dumped them into the desert near Columbus, New Mexico, without food or water.  All of this was carried out under the direction of the Phelps-Dodge Copper Corporation.

All of these events and others are still very much a part of the living,  blood-dimmed  legacy of labor relations in the Western hard-rock mining industry -- an industry characterized consistently by the utter recalcitrance of the mine owners and managers.

One of Frank Little's closest friends was Ralph H. Chaplin, IWW editor and poet and author of the primary American labor anthem, "Solidarity Forever."  In his memoir, Wobbly: The Rough and Tumble Story of an American Radical  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948),   Chaplin recounts his last visit with Frank Little during an IWW General Executive Board meeting at Chicago that fateful summer of 1917:

"Frank Little was the first to arrive.   This time he was on crutches.  One leg was in a plaster cast.  There had been an automobile accident in Jerome, Arizona, where he had been directing I.W.W. organization in the copper mines of the Southwest.  But Frank wore his Stetson at the same jaunty angle, and his twisted grin was as aggressive as ever. . .Frank was leaving that day for Butte, Montana, to direct the organizational drive on Anaconda Hill.  I marveled at his courage at taking on a difficult and dangerous assignment like that in his present condition.

"It's a fine specimen the I.W.W. is sending into that tough town," I chided him.  "One leg, one eye, two crutches -- and no brains!"

Frank laughed.  He lifted a crutch as though to crown me with it. "Don't worry, fellow-worker, all we're going to need from now on is guts."

That was the last time I saw Frank Little alive."

 

In a long and stirring memorial poem always contained in the editions of the old-time Wobblies' Red Song Books, Phillips Russell  concluded:

"...We'll remember you, Frank Little!

The papers said:  "So far as known,

He made no outcry."

No, not you!  Half Indian, half white man,

All I.W.W.

You'd have died a thousand deaths

Before you'd have cried aloud

Or whimpered once to let them

enjoy your pain.

 

We'll remember you, Frank Little!

Long after the workers have made the world

Safe for Labor,

We'll repeat your name

And remember that you died for us.

The red flag that you dropped

A million hands will carry on;

The cause that you loved

A million tongues will voice.

Good bye, Frank Little!

Indian, white man, Wobbly true,

Valiant soldier of  the great Red Army,

We'll remember you!"

 

In 1949, the IWW -- its philosophy unchanged   -- was  designated "subversive"  by the  United States Attorney General and placed on his infamous Red Scare "subversive list."

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