RADICAL/LABOR HISTORY NOTES: WOBBLIES,
METAL MINERS, SOCIALISM,
ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM, COMMUNISM [AND A NOTE ON UNITY] UPDATED 2009
The bulk of this involves a piece I have posted a couple of times before -- but not for some time. We do have quite a number of newer members on both the Redbadbear and Marxist lists who might find this reasonably interesting as one of several "root slices" of the rich, vital, and much living tradition of Rebel American radicalism.
As my own years have accumulated, so has my very large library of books on Native Americans, militant labor and radicalism, civil rights, civil liberties. In addition, I have gathered, along the trail, much really primary stuff -- including a great deal on the Industrial Workers of the World -- and its always-kindred International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers.
With respect to the following post, I suggest a few participants' books [of many] which would be helpful if anyone wished to go further: Bill Haywood's Book: The Autobiography of William D. Haywood, International Publishers, New York, 1929 -- and many subsequent editions; Ralph H. Chaplin's autobiography, Wobbly: The Rough and Tumble Story of an American Radical, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1948; Fred Thompson, The I.W.W. -- Its First Fifty Years [meticulous in its accuracy on even the finest of details], I.W.W, Chicago, 1955; Mike Solski and John Smaller, Mine Mill: TheHistory Of The International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers -- In Canada -- Since 1895, Steel Rail Publishing, Ottawa, 1985. One of the really better academic works is Joseph Conlin, Big Bill Haywood and the Radical Union Movement, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, N.Y., 1969. [Joe continued to write on the Wobbly saga and he and I corresponded congenially and at length on the "wild crusade."]
There is not, as yet, a good history of the Mine-Mill union in the United States, but Mike Solski's book embraces some of that history. Mike was a key official in the Canadian Mine-Mill at several levels. I was pleased to receive from him an inscribed copy of his quite good work [which includes a plethora of photos]. I, in turn, reviewed it for the United States-based Labor History journal and the several pages of that favorable review/essay are contained in my website athttp://www.hunterbear.org/jrs.htm [along with other Mine Mill pieces of mine.]
Haywood is rightly well known historically and I discuss him herewith. I discuss my old friend, Fred Thompson, a bit in the attached post. A word on the lesser known Ralph Chaplin [who died early in 1961 at Tacoma]: A long time I.W.W. poet, editor, and song-writer [e.g., Solidarity Forever], he served Federal prison time, refusing to join Haywood and several other I.W.W. leaders in their departure to Soviet Russia. [In that version of the Red Scare -- World War I/Post War -- 150 key I.W.W. activists were targeted by the Feds and imprisoned.] Chaplin remained with the I.W.W., much of this as a key editor, until about 1936 -- and then worked with other unions, including the AFL Central Labor Council at Tacoma. In the latter stages of his career, he was a vigorous advocate for Native American rights. In 1986, I gave a presentation at the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association annual gathering, and I described Chaplin in his final years as a "libertarian radical, close to the Catholic Worker movement."
I have written a great deal -- print and web -- on all of these topics. But I won't bore anyone with the bibliography! I do have much on my website -- just scroll down its long Directory/Index.
UPDATE NOTE: FRIENDLY WOBBLY TALK [HUNTER BEAR 8/15/2005]
With the last of the really old-time IWWs six
feet under and years so [Fred
Thompson, a younger old timer, passed into the Spirit World, almost 90, in
1987 -- soon after my son, Peter, and I spent a great afternoon with him at
Chicago] -- it's become broadly fashionable in a number of diverse circles
to "interpret" the Wobblies through one's favorite glasses. My
qualifications for commenting on the old Industrial Workers of the World
involve plenty of archival work -- but far more than anything else, they
involve my spending a vast amount of time visiting and informally
interviewing genuine old timers in the Pacific Northwest and the
Intermountain West and the Duluth [Minnesota] region from the beginning of
1955 into 1961. I doubt there are very many on any current discussion list
that can say that. I also add that I have a Finnish/Saami/Scandinavian
spouse of more than 44 years and an ancient IWW card -- #323147 -- issued at
the very onset of 1955 [only my Social Security and Army numbers are as well
remembered] -- which can be seen on our Website and at the bottom of our
To cut quickly to the bone [apropos of several recent discussions in various
quite reputable discussion quarters], the Industrial Unionism of the
Wobblies [sometimes called syndicalism or anarcho-syndicalism; I like the
term, "frontier syndicalism"] was hardly, as some say, "reformist." It was
Blood Red -- indigenously so, and has been that way all the way through. It
was also, especially in its hey-day years and in their afterglow,
When war-time inflation in 1917 carried prices sky high in the context of
static wages and huge corporate profits, the IWW carried out many
essentially economic strikes. And its many opponents used the War as an
excuse to smash its militant unionism. It did not take a clear cut formal
position on World War I -- though its basic inclination was certainly
against that sanguinary debacle. [Frank H Little, one of its key
spokespersons and a Cherokee Indian, referred to "that sonofabitch of a
War." He was lynched at Butte on August 1 1917.] Indicted and subsequently
convicted by the Wilson Administration under the infamous [anti-Labor]
"Espionage Act", some of the 150 defendants [in the Chicago, Wichita, and
Sacramento drum-head trials], such as W.D. Haywood, spoke eloquently and
movingly of their personal opposition to the War and militaristic war in
Many IWW leaders [not all] rejected personal affiliation with the Communist
movement -- as was the case with most [not all] rank-and-file. The
organization itself formally turned down any affiliation with the Communist
International and the Red International of Labor Unions at the very
beginning of the 1920s and remained with that position.
In the late 1940s, as yet another Red Scare mounted, the surviving and
former Wobblies in and around the International Union of Mine, Mill and
Smelter Workers were consistently steadfast in their support of Mine Mill --
against the metal mining corporations, the Federal government, some state
governments, and vigilantes. [A case in point was Eli Hill, a veteran
Finnish-American Wobbly and copper worker at Great Falls, Montana, who had
started out decades before in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.] IUMMSW was,
of course, one of the several Left unions that was ousted from CIO in 1950
on trumped up charges of "Communist domination."
Here are two of several [previously posted] pieces of mine which might be
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
[Some July 2001 discussion list writings by Hunter Gray]
This is with respect to David's post/question on Wobblies,
anarcho-syndicalism, and anarchism.
The primary driving force -- not the only one but the basic one -- behind
the formation of the IWW in 1905 was the Western Federation of Miners:
frontier unionism born in the Coeur d'Alene crucible of North Idaho in
1892-93 -- and then developed by a flow of extremely rugged conflicts across
the Mountain West [and into the Canadian West.] From the beginning, WFM was
certainly socialist -- but its socialism contained a very understandable
wariness of politicians [not many of whom were dependable friends and most
of whom were foes] and a powerful reliance on direct action -- primarily
strike action but also other mass action -- as the primary economic/social
justice and social change force. For workers in the hard-rock metal mining,
milling, smelting and refining industry context, this has continued into
Although the IWW initially was committed to political as well as direct
action, this changed at its 1908 convention -- with the ouster of Daniel
DeLeon of the Socialist Labor Party and the revision of the Wobbly Preamble.
I think DeLeon's personality had a good deal to do with the 1908 split --
but, again, was just one of several basic currents. In his excellent and
colorful memoir, Bill Haywood's Book: The Autobiography of William D.
Haywood [New York, International Publishers, 1929] -- and many subsequent
editions -- Haywood's recollection of DeLeon is certainly jaundiced: saw him
as a supercilious, dogmatic, theoretical, factional ideologue. Vincent St
John certainly disliked DeLeon intensely in an obviously personal way. It
was very much mutual. For his part, DeLeon referred to many of his critics
at the 1908 convention as "The Bummery" -- and, following his ouster from
the IWW, then endeavored to set up the not very successful Workers'
International Industrial Union [I think I have that correctly] as a rival
IWW, based at Detroit.
The Western Federation of Miners and its leaders -- Haywood, St John,
Charles Mahoney, Al Ryan et al. -- were the founding force behind the
organization of the IWW in 1905. That ethos played a major role in Wobbly
history and sociology for many, many decades. And it also blended easily
with the traditions of other Western [oft-migratory, unskilled and
semi-skilled workers. ]
By 1907, relative "conservatives" in the WFM were taking factional
advantage of Haywood's incarceration in Idaho in the infamous frameup case
involving the murder of an anti-labor, [former] Idaho governor -- Frank
Steunenberg -- in which Clarence Darrow secured acquittal for the WFM
defendants in the Boise Trials; and were engineering what eventually became
the withdrawal of the WFM from IWW. But many WFM rank-and-file remained
Wobblies, still, or at least strongly sympathetic; and the IWW launched
its own and essentially quite successful metal mine workers' union.
WFM eventually reaffiliated with AFL [they had been briefly together years
before -- and was rechristened International Union of Mine, Mill and
Smelter Workers [Mine-Mill.] Fading to only a tiny handful of Western
locals by the early '30s, it revived rapidly in the New Deal period -- very
radical and very militant, was a founder of CIO and then, in 1950, was
forced out of CIO [and the CCL of Canada] on the phony charges of
"Communist-domination." It survived unrelenting attacks from all sides --
mine bosses and managers, local and state and Federal governments,
vigilantes, AFL-CIO unions [especially Steel] until, in 1967, it merged in
the 'States and Canada with the Steel union [save for one local -- 598,
Falconbridge Nickel, Sudbury, Ontario, which, very much preserving its
unique Mine-Mill identity and autonomy, hooked up with CAW several years
ago.] The Wobbly traditions always remained very strong in Mine-Mill --
and continue in many of the surviving old locals -- and, as I've indicated,
the WFM traditions continued very strongly in IWW over the long haul.
Western metal miners [and, to a large extent, the integrally related ore
millmen and smelter and refinery workers] have always been characterized by
a very strong and necessarily dominant sense of solidarity engendered by the
dangerous nature of the work. And that strong solidarity is certainly
strengthened, too, by the consistently vicious opposition of the mining
bosses and their [ e.g.,"copper-collared" ] governmental allies to any kind
of bona fide effective unionism. This adamantly anti-union opposition by
mine owners and managers has certainly contributed to the inherently and
explicitly exemplified homegrown radical nature of metal mine workers'
unionism [a very basic and usually non-hairsplitting radicalism] -- and to
its consistently militant, hard-fighting character.
The generally [not always but mostly] isolated and insular nature of the
mining, milling, smelting and refining towns -- mainly in the context of the
still quasi-frontier Rocky Mountain West -- are certainly factors
strengthening the strong solidarity among the metal mine workers and, in the
broader social sense, great cohesion among their respective families. In
this local context, the metal mine workers' local union is very much a
broad-based, multi-faceted and vitally important community organization.
And workingstiff inter-dependency and strong all-around cohesive solidarity
add up to a very strong and vital sense of rank-and-file democracy -- and
racial and ethnic egalitarianism -- consistently very strong characteristics
of unionism in the hard-rock metal mining industry.
In all of this, government -- certainly state and Federal -- tends to be
seen as relatively remote and an uncertain ally at best. It's often seen,
with considerable justification, as an implicit enemy and sometimes as a
very open one.
Direct action -- i.e., militant strikes -- are always seen by metal mine
workers as the most fundamental, primary means through which economic and
social justice can be secured. [Until 1960, many of the IUMMSW [
Mine-Mill ] contracts still provided -- "legally" -- for wildcat strike
action in lieu of arbitration in the resolution of grievances -- and wildcat
strikes in this context are still not uncommon.] Political action is
recognized, of course, as necessary -- but it's never been seen as the
tactic of reliable first choice!
The class struggle, a reality everywhere, has always been, because of the
particular nature of its employing class, brutally obvious in hard-rock
metal mining, milling, smelting, refining. It is also brutally candid,
course, in countless other frameworks as well. But for Western metal mine
workers it has always been Written Big -- and often Bloodily. In the old
days, hard-rock mining strikes became -- because of the violent tactics of
the bosses -- virtual civil wars in the Rocky Mountain states. In
contemporary times, metal mine strikes are frequently prolonged and
extremely bitter struggles -- again, because of the ruthless opposition by
the bosses and their political allies. Red-baiting is anathema to most metal
mine workers. Union leaders have been called "Reds" by reactionaries since
[Because of all of this, the Western miner always wants his own union.
International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers was genuinely
excellent in all respect -- from the revival of Mine-Mill in the early '30s
all the way through -- always.]
All of these elements were certainly much to the fore in the fateful 1908
IWW convention in which the rough-and-tough metal miners and other Western
workers [often unskilled and migratory] clashed with the dogmatic and
arbitrarily professorial personalities of DeLeon et al. -- and other
Easterners. The primary open arena in which all of this was fought out was,
of course "direct action vs. political action" and the Western
direct-actionists won. DeLeon and his followers were forced out and the
"political action clause" stricken from the Wobbly Preamble.
Hit somewhat by the fallout of the fight was Gene Debs who, although never
attacking the IWW [ which he, and DeLeon also of course, had helped found]
and, certainly -- unlike DeLeon -- maintaining friendly relations with it,
never played again a conspicuous role in the IWW. But many Wobblies,
including Haywood, maintained a Socialist Party affiliation. Some of these,
including Haywood, were forced out of SP in 1912 by conservative, "Yellow"
Socialists who deliberately distorted the non-violent nature of the Wobbly
meaning of "sabotage" and used fear/hysteria tactics to purge the Reds
[e.g., Haywood et al.] from the Socialist Party. This bore bitter fruit
when the US was maneuvered by the capitalists and Wilson et al. into World
In time, relationships between the dwindling IWW and the always relatively
small SLP improved significantly. I personally recall , in the
Seattle/Tacoma Skid Road settings of many decades ago, the toughness of
Wobblies and former-Wobblies frequently providing free speech protection
for the SLP and other radical groups.
What emerged as the basic philosophy of the IWW was, then, its own kind of
anarcho-syndicalism -- usually referred to by the Wobblies as "Industrial
Unionism" : the pervasive organization and thrust of militant and democratic
revolutionary unionism ["One Big Union"] which will achieve basic systemic
change [via, among other things, the general strike] and will then
administer the new cooperative industrial democracy [in which formal
governmental bureaucracy will be quite minimal.] This was never
intricately finessed -- and the Vision tended to vary somewhat here,
somewhat there, depending on the spokesperson and the setting. But, all in
all, it remained a pretty consistent version of indigenous Western American
anarcho-syndicalism: grassroots, very worker-oriented and worker-led,
democratic, egalitarian. As I mentioned yesterday, a primary radical mentor
of mine and a founder of IWW in 1905, was C.E. "Stumpy" Payne -- almost 90
when I was barely 21. An influential organizer and writer and editor, he
was very much a Western anarcho-syndicalist -- and he drew his thinking in
large measure from the communalistic nature and structure of certain Pacific
Northwestern Native tribes with which he was quite familiar. He eventually
put his thoughts into a pamphlet -- Industrial Government -- which he gave
me and which I have in my huge collection of old-time Wobbly and long-time
But there were always Wobblies who also considered themselves -- all the way
through the years -- to be socialists. An old and very long-time IWW friend
and another key mentor of mine, Fred Thompson [Scottish and Micmac],
prominent Wobbly organizer and editor over many decades [Fred died in 1987,
almost 90], started his radical career as a Canadian socialist and always
remained a socialist as well as a vigorous Wobbly. Based in Chicago for
much of his latter life, Fred often sent me socialist material -- much of it
The old IWW was not "anarchist" -- and the contemporary IWW is not. Then and
now, its version of anarcho-syndicalism -- Industrial Unionism reaching to
and achieving a global Industrial Democracy -- is that of a very
well-organized , egalitarian, and democratically coordinated humanistic
The legacy of Haymarket certainly affected the IWW from its outset and there
were anarchists who were, of course, quite cordially close to the IWW .
Carlo Tresca would be a notable case in point.
But, in ultimate response to David's question -- finally! The IWW from the
outset -- and, in the organizational sense, completely after 1908 -- saw the
workingclass and it alone as the emancipating force.
There are probably as many anarchist views on the components of emancipation
as there are anarchists.
Again, on IWW defense of the free speech rights of other radicals: I
myself directly saw this at a number of points in the mid-1950s in the
Seattle and Tacoma Skid Road districts. [In the West, it's always Skid
Road -- and never skid row!] In those settings,
Wobblies and former Wobblies -- all tough and capable -- often provided
protection for SLPers, Trotskyists, and Communists in a time and setting
where right-wing thugs were rife.
I miss those old rough days where a good fist carried much more effective
weight than a leaflet.
In Solidarity -
Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear]
Louis has stated that, "It is no accident that all the major leaders of
the IWW switched to the new CP after 1917."
Quite the reverse, actually. The substantial majority of IWW leaders, of
whatever echelon in that essentially decentralized [and NOT anarchist]
organization, did not convert to Communism.
Many certainly remained for many years with the IWW through continued
repression [a myriad of vicious Western state "criminal syndicalism"
prosecutions through much of the '20s], heavy factionalism in 1924 [much of
it on a US East v Far West basis], a number of
significant labor struggles over the years ahead [again, mostly in the
West -- but some substantial organizing victories and struggles in Ohio as
well.] By the '30s, most of the old guard leadership had either become
inactive or passed away [ e.g.,Vincent St John] or continued with the IWW
[ such as C.E. Payne, a founder of the IWW in 1905, who mentored me in 1955
when he was almost 90 and the IWW was then formally listed by the U.S.
Attorney General as "subversive"], or went with many Wobbly concepts into
the CIO industrial union movement [ e.g., Mine-Mill and International
Woodworkers of America and National Maritime Union.]
Those Wobblies who joined the emergent and attractive Communist movement
did include some very capable individuals. [William Z. Foster, BTW, had
left the Wobblies years before American involvement in World War I.]
William D. Haywood, of course, and George Andreytchine were two of the ten
who, among the 150 convicted under the phony Federal "Espionage Act,"
understandably enough jumped bail and went to the USSR in 1921. In the
United States, very capable Wobblies such as Jim Cannon, Harrison George,
Vern Smith, and George Hardy joined the new faith -- but Elizabeth Gurley
Flynn did not until almost a generation had passed. The IWW very early
rejected affiliation with the Third International and the Red International
of Labor Unions.
Of the rough-and-tough rank-and-file Wobblies, only rarely a real ideologue
among them, it's safe to say that proportionately even fewer affiliated with
the Communist movement than was the case with the leadership. Some
certainly did -- sooner or later -- but most remained with the fading IWW
and/or went eventually into the burgeoning CIO movement as their prime
Awhile back, I read an old post by Ken Lawrence which claimed that the
Wobblies involved and victimized in the tragic Centralia Massacre of 1919 --
[ where Wesley Everest was castrated and lynched] -- and, where a number of
other Wobblies convicted of "murder" as a result of their self-defense
served long prison terms at Walla Walla -- all [or mostly all]
joined the Communist Party. None of them did -- but their capable and
courageous attorney, Elmer Smith, did eventually.
I've always respected age and experience. I've learned a great deal from
many veterans of radical and militant labor struggles -- and some of those
from whom I learned much indeed that was extraordinarily valuable were
people who had Communist backgrounds: especially those in militant Western
But, in 1955, in the Pacific Northwest, I was privileged to hear
authoritative and extensive accounts of the Centralia Massacre and
aftermath -- and many other heroic IWW struggles -- directly from a whole
crew of very sharp old-timers [and many somewhat younger Wobblies ] who
were delighted to pass their traditions and stories along to an eager
half-breed kid from Northern Arizona who has always so very much appreciated
their friendship and their teaching.
But now, to shift for a moment to Bert Cochran of the old American Socialist
Forum and the excellent American Socialist magazine. I like this List
[Marxism Discussion List] and the present situation and ethos are something
that I personally find very troubling. People -- some of whom I like
much -- are cutting out and I see significant voids
developing. When I joined this List last fall, the aura of Bert Cochran
[someone to whom I'm also much personally indebted] was High in the Sky.
Cochran, of course, sought to bring [essentially but not precisely
like-minded] people and groups together into an ecumenical, expanding,
out-reaching kind of Movement Circle. We need to remember that -- now.
Let's get back together, sisters and brothers, and in an atmosphere of
congenial [ however cordially critical] mutual respect -- and where we can
all (even if we don't want to admit it) still learn something about the art
In Solidarity -
Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear]
AN APT QUERY -- AND MY RESPONSE [HUNTER BEAR] MARCH 3 2009
Greg writes and asks:
Hunter Gray wrote:
In the end, of course, I've always felt most emotionally comfortable with the free homegrown spirit and stirring idealism exemplified by the American -- and particularly the Western -- Wobblies.
Having been a wobbly out on the east coast for some time (James Connolly upstate NY Branch) I'm more than curious about the differences with our brothers and sisters out west. Was this more to do with the different unions that incorporated into the IWW or was this due to cultural distinctions?