Saturday, May 21, 2011

More Reader Comments, Joe Hill, Unions, Violence/Non-Violence, Harry Orchard, etc.

Below is additional analysis from Richard Myers. Once again, he is providing a lot of information and links that I want to share with readers. I have previously posted some of Richard's comments on this blog and will continue my attempts to provide various viewpoints that are based upon creditable arguments and references. Although Richard and I may come to different conclusions and/or assertions, he has certainly contributed greatly to the discussion.

You will notice that Richard both
cites and contributes to Wikipedia. I believe Wikipedia must be looked at with a critical eye (that is in fact one of its strengths), as anyone can enter information and text on any subject. That being said, I am impressed with the writing, detail and referencing Richard has contributed. I too utilize Wikipedia from time to time and have had a collection of links down in the left hand column of this blog for a couple years. One of these days I will have to start doing a bit of writing and editing there myself.

Despite (or be
cause of) Richard's association with the present day IWW, and mine with the Steunenberg family, we have much in the way of common interests driving our continuing search for the truth. You, the reader, will have to decide how we are doing when it comes to those efforts.

I added the picture of the the Joe Hill book below. Richard also refers to The Corpse on Boomerang Road, which is still on my got to read list. And be sure to check out the Victor Heritage Society website that he contributes to and was kind enough to link to this blog. John

Comments below from Richard:

I am reading an advance copy of the new book about Joe Hill (available next August) by Bill Adler, which is here:

A number of books and plays have been written about Joe Hill. Although they were the products of research, none of them were the result of deep research. Anyone who reads this book is likely to conclude beyond any reasonable doubt that Joe Hill was innocent, and a different man guilty. No other account of Joe Hill’s life has ever achieved this, because no one uncovered the many hundreds of new facts that Bill Adler has uncovered. Bill even traveled to Europe in his research efforts, and the result is a work so remarkable that we can finally set aside speculation and myth about Joe Hill.

This, together with MaryJoy Martin’s impressive research on the Telluride strike (The Corpse on Boomerang Road), lead me to believe that there is much information about all of this history that is yet to be uncovered.

In Telluride, the anti-union forces successfully blamed the union for several murders in which the bodies had “disappeared”. After all the anti-union propaganda, the business community and their supporters (under the leadership of Colorado National Guard and the Citizens’ Allliance) drove all of the union workers and their supporters out of the area.

In at least two cases, the bodies of the “murdered” individuals disappeared because the men simply went somewhere else. MaryJoy found these “murdered” men in history, and they remained very much alive. Once again, this was a result of deep research.

We know that the Western Federation of Miners used violence in Idaho in 1892, and in 1899.,_Idaho_labor_strike_of_1892


And, WFM union members (almost certainly without union leadership, because union leadership opposed it) used violence in Leadville, Colorado in 1896-97.,_Miners%27_Strike

William Philpott, who researched that strike, saw it as a catalyst for change in the WFM. The philosophical lessons took a while to sink in, but began to permeate the WFM at the turn of the century. It was, in my view, a move away from the early militant concepts and proposals of WFM founder Ed Boyce, and toward a more global concept of union.

In the WFM, Boyce had created a very conservative union, yet one that was very willing to fight.

For example, in 1897, Boyce said that “Every (local) union should have a rifle club.” While Boyce was a socialist who clearly embodied both the conservative and radical impulses of the hard rock miners during this period, I believe his proposal to arm 25,000 union men was more of a conservative idea than a radical idea, and I’ll explain the difference below.

As Moyer and Haywood took the reins of the WFM and went through the crucible of union-wide struggle, they began to embrace radicalism moreso than a conservative-based militancy.

The conscious beginning of this turn for the WFM was probably announced in the 1897 proclamation:

As an explanation of the difference between conservative militancy and radicalism, I will offer the history of the United Mine Workers (who organized coal miners) as an example. The UMWA miners were very militant. But as an organization, the UMWA was never radical. Their battles were the outgrowth of their conservative views and their militant policies. They had participated in the Ten Days War which followed Ludlow Massacre (this was the bloodiest insurrection since the Civil War), the Matewan Massacre in which miners killed a squad of detectives, the Battle of Blair Mountain (this was the largest insurrection since the Civil War), and the little-known but horrific Herrin Massacre, all of this during the period from 1910 to 1925.

Some of these are familiar, but one might wish to explore the nature of the Herrin Massacre to fully understand my point:

Throughout, the United Mine Workers remained a deeply conservative union, ever purging radicals such as Alexander Howat of Kansas, out of leadership roles.

Conservative union principles do not preclude violence. During the Ten Days War, thousands of the United Mine Workers torched and dynamited mining camps. Would they have done that if their union philosophy was based in part upon a possibility of future ownership of these very properties by the miners themselves?

In contrast, the Industrial Workers of the World (which the WFM helped to launch in 1905) had a reputation for violence, but that reputation was mostly based upon a reaction to the IWW’s radicalism, and not based upon its militancy, nor on its actual history.

How did this play out? Employers were more alarmed by the IWW’s non-violent message, than by more conservative unions’ actual violence.

One clarifying event was in 1928. The IWW was running the strike that started in October of 1927. They said to the miners, if someone is to be killed, let it be one of our men first.

At the Columbine Mine, the state police and mine guards turned machine guns on unarmed pickets, and six were killed. The IWW counseled the angry miners with the words of Joe Hill: don’t mourn, organize.

Josephine Roche of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, which operated the Columbine mine, decided it was time to recognize a union. She negotiated briefly with the IWW. But then she made a fascinating decision. Even after the Ten Days War, the Matewan Massacre of Baldwin Felts agents, the Battle of Blair Mountain, the Herrin Massacre, and many other incidents in which the United Mine Workers turned to weapons to resolve disputes, Roche invited the United Mine Workers to return to Colorado to organize Rocky Mountain Fuel Company in place of the non-violent IWW.

My point in all of this: In 1900, Boyce, Haywood, Vincent St. John, and the WFM were beginning to see that violence wasn’t succeeding. They were beginning to think about ideas such as extending industrial unionism to the entire West, and thence, to the entire country. Thus, they formed the Western Labor Union,

which became the American Labor Union, which became the IWW. Haywood, St. John, and other radicals were evolving into what would ultimately become the IWW philosophy of non-violence, so clearly on display in 1927-28

Initially, the WFM was the biggest industrial department in the IWW.

Here’s another aspect of union philosophy that I consider important to understanding this history.

The IWW preached sabotage, which was then a fancy French word for union tactics which Bill Haywood defined as the “withdrawal of efficiency.” The word sabotage underwent a public conversation, and ultimately, even the IWW distanced itself from the meaning that society put upon the word. But let us concern ourselves with the period immediately prior, from about 1910 to 1914. The American Federation of Labor, and even the Socialist Party, abhorred the idea of preaching sabotage. The Socialist Party evicted Haywood from their executive board in about 1913 for precisely such advocacy. Yet one of the remarkable historical facts related to this appears to be that, in terms of actual property damage, historians have for the most part been unable to trace the use of sabotage to the IWW. It was often said that the IWW preached sabotage, but didn’t practice it; while the AF of L practiced sabotage but didn’t preach it. This was evident in the coal strikes, the railroad srikes, the steel strikes, the automobile company strikes, and many others.

How can we account for this? In my view, we must also understand what the IWW’s actual message was, and why that message resulted in it being so feared by employers.

The AFL had one guiding principle—pure and simple trade unionism, often summarized with the slogan a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. The IWW embraced two guiding principles, fighting like the AF of L for better wages, hours, and conditions, but also promoting an eventual, permanent solution to the problems of strikes, injunctions, bull pens, and union scabbing. This ultimate goal was often referred to as industrial democracy, or the workers’ commonwealth.

The IWW adopted the idea that labor is entitled to all it creates. It preached that employer control of industry is a temporary circumstance. Therefore, why would workers who embraced the IWW philosophy destroy anything significant, if they hoped to one day have worker ownership of those industrial resources?

On the other hand, the conservative unionist philosophy had no such goal. Conservative unionists were content to let employers keep control of the means of production. Therefore, what matter if trains were wrecked, or buildings burned? What did it matter to the WFM miners in Idaho in 1899, still embracing many of the union’s early conservative ideals, if they blew up the Bunker Hill mill?

But in 1900, the WFM was beginning to put its hope into the industrial union philosophy of a federation in opposition to the AF of L. They were beginning to hope that through organization, they might realize a new era of industrial democracy.

Some of that process is revealed here:

Bill Haywood renounced violence as a union policy sometime during this period. This was a practical consideration, because violence didn’t work; it came with too high a price. We don’t know exactly when Haywood first renounced violence, but Arno Dosch certainly recorded that this was true by 1913, and at that time it appeared to have been the case for some years. It was certainly a formative process, perhaps resulting from Cripple Creek and prison in Idaho, but (in my view) there isn’t any real evidence to prove he hadn’t been troubled by the backlash against union violence much earlier.

The WFM paid a price for its violent history in more ways than one. With allies of the employers such as Governor Peabody, Bulkeley Wells, Sherman Bell, and (perhaps the most deadly anti-union agent, because he operated a vast secret network of labor spies) James McParland, it was not difficult for union detractors to foment or initiate any sort of violence, and have the WFM blamed for it.

Of course, we may never know Harry Orchard’s complete role in all of this. But (in my view) the 1903-04 WFM strike was a period of history ripe for union busting, simply by using the tools that spymasters (such as McParland) had refined during prior decades. For background, one might read:

And in those incidents related to the 1903-04 WFM strike which actually resulted in courtroom appearances and testimony -- that is, the attempt to derail a train, Major Ellison’s testimony about violence perpetrated by the National Guard, and the trials of Steve Adams -- put together with the research about framing the union in Telluride, and the Pinkerton depredations recorded in the Pinkerton Labor Spy and other sources,

I think it likely that the WFM was more victim than perpetrator in Colorado.

Certainly, Orchard was a tool. But whose tool?

The history of the WFM is a conservative union committing violence, gaining little thereby and sometimes paying a high price, joining and leaving the AF of L, flirting with radicalism, becoming enmeshed in some very dramatic and controversial history, and then, ultimately, embracing conservatism again and rejoining the AF of L. The radicals from the WFM (Haywood, St. John, others) moved to the IWW, and eventually through splits and purges, the IWW became a more pure vision of their radical philosophies.

The IWW engaged in fiery rhetoric and, with just a few exceptions, conducted strikes which were remarkable for their lack of violence.

Much of the character of the WFM just prior to, and after, the 1905 birth of the IWW, therefore, was the result of a struggle of ideas.

The WFM was accused by spymaster McParland and others of having an “inner circle” that operated in secrecy, but when the secret operations that we DO know about point more toward guilt by the railroad and Mine Owners Association detectives, the National Guard, and the Pinkertons than toward the union, is it not open to question whether the union really conducted such cloak and dagger operations at all?

The union was heavily infiltrated by McParland’s agents (as was the United Mine Workers during the same period.)

The violence carried out by and against all of the unions in U.S. history can be roughly compared, and secret operations were much more the practice of anti-union forces, in my judgment.


The WFM’s membership received reports of income and expenditures at each annual convention. Any questions about activities were open to discussion by any member. How could the union hope to keep such endeavors from being discovered, if they really did occur?

Well, certainly, some level of secrecy was possible. Ideas to keep scab workers away from the mines were undoubtedly considered, and acted upon. But if we focus on what was perhaps the most significant event in the Colorado strike, the explosion at the Independence Station (which was never investigated), all of my research tells me that we don’t have any more evidence and motive pointing at the union, than we have pointing at the employers and their allies.

If we judge it solely on the basis of who benefited, it was most definitely not the union.

Then we have the Idaho assassination. Why did Harry Orchard make no effort to leave town, or even to hide the evidence in his hotel room? Did he perhaps believe the “authorities” wouldn’t question his activities, because after all, he had been their man?

I know that there is more history to be uncovered; perhaps some day much of this will be clear.

richard myers

Well, can't resist a short comment. I am pretty much with you Richard until that last paragraph. Maybe Orchard really did want to get caught or believed he could pull it off and keep everyone fooled. Even if you believe that he did not think authorities would question his activities (but of course they did), he must have known that the Steunenberg family and influential friends would surely see that justice was carried out. Of course that just raises more question than answers. jr

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