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Labor Leaders from the Past

Our old labor leaders, who worked with the International Workers of the World (IWW) Wobblies, had names that represented the world. Names like Vincent St. John, Big Bill Haywood, Joe Hill aka Joseph Hillstrom, Ralph Chaplin, the Magon brothers, Frank Little, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Joe Ettor, and Arturo Giovannitti. These people were the shock troops of labor. The IWW’s weakness was that they really liked to fight better than they, the Wobblies, liked planning, negotiating or politicking. The IWW ideas were the anarcho-syndicalist ideas that had stirred France a little earlier with its methods and shibboleths (sabotage)—even the wooden shoe is a symbol of sabotage. The IWW membership was an American mixture with a large percentage of foreign-born, who were the most politically awakened. It was a conflict of the bloodiest kind that kept the IWW together. It existed for the sole purpose of making the first breaches in the resistance of entrenched industry. The IWW’s greatest single contribution was the production of martyrs. They were militant in a period when being militant meant floggings, jail, and bloodshed. They fought fire with fire, dynamite with dynamite against police and newspapers. The middle class citizenry were all against them, and sometimes, as at the Centralia, Washington, riot, martyrs were created, such as Wesley Everest, a World War I veteran, beaten, castrated and then lynched pumped full of bullets. Then there was Frank Little, a World War I protester, whose crippled, lynched body swung from a Butte, Montana, bridge a long time before anyone cut him down. Let us not forget IWW striker Anna LoPizzo, who was killed during the Lawrence textile strike, aka the Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912, which is considered to be one of the most momentous struggles in U.S. labor history. The IWW is still here—belligerent as ever, dissenters to the end of a long resistant life, hating the ballot boxes as dups despising yellow socialists. I think the IWW spirit is in all wage slaves’ hearts. They are just waiting for the right leader or leaders and the right moment and when it comes how will it be negotiated? Dynamite? So far it looks like 50-50 either way and I am sure there is planning in both camps. Either way it is my hope the wage slaves finally win which would make the martyrdom well worth it after all these years.

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