This site is a static archive. Visit the current IWW website at ▸
Skip to main content

(10) Struggles of the I.W.W.

In 1906 the eight-hour day was established for hotel and restaurant workers in Goldfield, Nevada.

In the same year sheet metal workers lost a strike at Youngstown, Ohio, due to the American Federation of Labor's filling the places of the strikers.

In 1907 textile workers of Skowhegan, Maine, 3,000 strong, struck over the discharge of active workers in the organization. The strike lasted four weeks and resulted in a complete victory for the strikers with improved conditions John Golden, president of the United Textile Workers, A. F. of L., attempted to break this strike by furnishing strike breakers.

In Portland, Oregon, 3,000 saw mill workers were involved in a strike for a nine-hour day and increase of wages from $1.75 to $2.50 per day. On account of the exceptional demand for labor of all kinds in that section at that time, most of the strikers secured employment elsewhere, and the strike played out at the end of about six weeks. The saw mill companies were seriously crippled for months, and were forced indirectly to raise wages and improve conditions of the employees. This strike gave much impetus to I.W.W. agitation in the western part of the United States.

In Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1,200 tube mill workers were involved. This strike was lost through the scabbing tactics of the A.F. of L.

In the same year 800 silk mill workers engaged in a strike at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This strike was lost on account of a shutdown due to the panic of 1907 that occurred shortly after the strike started.

From March 10, 1907, until April 22, W.F.M. and the I.W.W. at Goldfield, Nevada, fought for their existence (and the conditions that they had established at that place) against the combined forces of the mine owners, businessmen and A.F.of L. This open fight was compromised as a result of the treachery of the W.F.M. general officers. The fight was waged intermittently from April 22 till September, 1907, and resulted in regaining all ground lost through the compromise, and in destroying the scab charter issued by the A.F. of L. during the fight. This fight cost the employers over $100,000. The strike of the W.F.M. in October 1907 took place during a panic and destroyed the organization's control in that district.

Under the I.W.W. sway in Goldfield, the minimum wage for all kinds of labor was $4.50 per day and the eight-hour day was universal. The highest point of efficiency for any labor organization was reached by the I.W.W. and W.F.M. in Goldfield Nevada. No committees were ever sent to any employers. The unions adopted wage scales and regulated hours. The secretary posted the same on a bulletin board outside of the union hall, and it was the LAW. The employers were forced to come and see the union's committees.

Beginning in July 1909, at McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, 8,000 workers of the Pressed Steel Car Company, embracing sixteen different nationalities, waged the most important struggle that the I. W. W. took part in to that date. The strike lasted eleven weeks. As usual, the employers resorted to the use of the Pennsylvania State Constabulary, known as the American Cossacks, to intimidate the strikers and browbeat them back to work. This constabulary is a picked body of armed thugs recruited for their ability to handle firearms. Every strike in Pennsylvania since the institution of the constabulary has been broken or crippled by them. Men, women and children have been killed and brutally maimed by them with impunity.

Their advent upon the scene in McKees Rocks was marked by the usual campaign of brutality. Finally one of the cossacks killed a striker. The strike committee then served notice upon the commander of the cossacks that for every striker killed or injured by the cossacks the life of a cossack would be exacted in return. And that they were not at all concerned as to which cossack paid the penalty, but that a life for a life would be exacted. The strikers kept their word. On the next assault by the cossacks, several of the constabulary were killed and a number wounded. The cossacks were driven from the streets and into the plants of the company. An equal number of strikers were killed and about fifty wounded in the battle. This ended the killing on both sides during the remainder of the strike. For the first time in their existence the cossacks were "tamed." The McKees Rocks strike resulted in a complete victory for the strikers.

On November 2, 1909, the city government at Spokane, Washington started to arrest the speakers of the I.W.W. for holding street meetings. The locals at that point decided to fight the city and force it to allow the organization to hold street meetings. The fight lasted up to the first of March following, and resulted in compelling the city to pass a law allowing street speaking. Over 500 men and women went to jail during the free speech fight. Two hundred went on a hunger strike that lasted from 11 to I3 days, and then went from 30 to 45 days on bread and water; two ounces of bread per day. Four members lost their lives as a result of the treatment accorded them in this fight.

Many more free speech fights have occurred since the one in Spokane, the most notable being at Fresno, California. Here the authorities in cahoots with employers attempted to stop I.W.W. agitation, which was directed toward the organization of the thousands of unskilled workers in the San Joaquin Valley, the fruit belt of California. Street meetings were forbidden in Fresno. The I. W. W. again made use of "direct action" methods, and filled the jails of that city with arrested street speakers. The fight lasted for four months, and over 100 members were in jail for from two to three months. Arrested members refused to hire lawyers, and plead their own cases in court, or used some member of the organization as their "attorney." Finally, the organization outside of Fresno took an energetic hold of the fight, and organized a movement to "invade California." In accordance with this plan, detachments of free speech fighters started to "march on Fresno" from Spokane, Portland, Denver, St. Louis and other sections; whereupon the Fresno authorities decided that they had enough, and surrendered. Freedom of speech was completely re-established in Fresno, and the I.W.W. has never since been interfered with.

A four months' strike of shoe workers occurred in Brooklyn, New York, in the winter of 1911. This strike was most stubbornly contested on both sides, and resulted in improved conditions for the workers in some of the shops.

Next page: (11) Some of the Strikes of 1912