The Mason Missile, November 23, 2018

Greetings!

I hope everyone within the sound of this newsletter voted. I did my modest role in the process; as a committee-person in my division, I handed out flyers throughout my ward, and I served as Clerk in my division’s election board, taping up posters and helping take the information from the machines after the election.

In my division, it was an epic turnout; serious issues were at stake in this election, such as the environment, tax codes favoring the wealthy and placing the tax burden on already stressed working families, dilapidated schools, and aging infrastructure-along with a commander-in-chief who runs the government like a mafia family, who does not honor military veterans or people who died in the service of their country, and whose deepest thoughts are on Twitter (nothing against social media, he’s not that deep a thinker).

But it shouldn’t take an impending national catastrophe to motivate people into voting; politics, and the issues of the community affected by politics, are the concern of each person. Now that the election is (for the most part) over, we can take a breather-burnout and wearing down are problems for activists-then continue our work on educating ourselves on the issues and meeting to plan strategy; politics is not about elections,  it’s about working with, and on, the governing system for the benefit of the entire community.

I’m pleased with some of the results; we didn’t get the Senate, but we have the House, with a new cadre of women members-over 100 at last count; recounts have added to the number. A definite, long-overdue sea change is coming to our politics. We have Sharice Davids in Kansas (Native American and gay), Deb Haaland in New Mexico (Nate American), Rashida Tlaib in Michigan (Muslim) and Ilhan Omar in Minnesota (Muslim and Somali-American),   and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York (Hispanic and the youngest female member elected). In Colorado, Jared Polis (Democrat) will be the first openly gay man to be elected governor of a state (Kate Brown of Oregon is already the first openly bisexual governor of a state). Marsha Blackburn will be Tennessee’s first female US Senator.

The question-Should there be new leadership for congressional Democrats? Often congressional Democratic leaders, like Steny Hoyer and Chuck Schumer, have gone along too much with accommodating Republicans, giving up too much to them; and Majority Leader (and possible Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi does not want to take the radical measures necessary for the country and the economy, like “Medicare for all,” to make our health care system closer to Canada’s single-payer system, preferring to stick with the Affordable Health Care Act (“Obamacare”).

Alas, taking corporate money, and the Clinton “centrist” tendency to imitate the Republicans in accommodating corporations with “free trade” deals detrimental to workers, like the North American free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), have rendered the Democrats incapable of challenging the Republican program.  And so we have been taught that “free trade” is the new normal, the reality we have to accept, and any challenge is just plain silly.

Oh? This new crew of Democrats in Congress hopefully could challenge this belief. But do we have to accept Pelosi as Speaker again? Would any attempt to dislodge Pelosi weaken the Democrats in Congress, at a time when the Republicans are now weakened by their own President, and may not ever recover? This is a great test of political skills for the new crew, to be ready to deal with the established leadership, but from a position of strength, to advance their agenda within the framework of the party caucus.

The party leadership would have to consider first the needs of the American people and the issues Americans face on a daily basis, and the leaders would have to finally be weaned away from the corporate trough. The new members represent the American people as they are-not so affluent, not so white, mainly female, many not heterosexual, and not all of them identifying as Christian. Eventually, with practice of political skills like committee work, public speaking, and negotiating, these newbies will attain leadership positions.

The new congressional crew will have to deal with such serious issues as income inequality, health insurance, dilapidated schools and infrastructure, the environment, factories closing and jobs moving to low wage regions, then overseas (a phenomenon dating back to the fifties and sixties, supposedly a golden age for the American worker). For the good of the nation-seriously-the new crew and the old heads must come together for the people’s welfare. (I’m not an either-or thinker; the new crew and the old veterans have their virtues, skills, experience, and energy.)

This election has also exposed the terrible reality of voter fraud, particularly in Georgia, Texas, and Florida, during their senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns. How interesting it is that while people were exercising the most simple and basic act of a citizen-voting-machines, lost electric power or were not open on time, absentee ballots were misplaced until the deadline for counting them passed, and people suddenly found themselves NOT on the voting rolls, even though they voted for decades. Fortunately, the results of these voting suppression schemes are observed and challenged. And IF these candidates are “elected” by fraudulent means, like Brian Kemp in Georgia (who, while running for Governor, was still the state’s Secretary of State, in charge of the voting system), we don’t have to accept them as the legitimate holders of those offices. This is not about “being a good sport” and “you lost get over it.” This is serious business, not a kid’s backyard ball game. These offices affect how people’s lives work-law enforcement (will it turn into state repression?), pollution, discrimination, you name it.

And do the conservatives think that we the people will take this? NO! We will continue our work of activism, agitation, education, and voter mobilization.  Rest assured I’ll do my part, and if we all come together in this work, we can and will win. Please forgive the cliché, but “Many hands make light work.”  Bye!

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The Mason Missile, October 12, 2018

On Super Bowl Night this year, my friend Sheila Modglin was struck by a car and was severely injured. She is still in rehab and is making slow but sure progress. She is a bartender at my favorite spot, Dirty Frank’s on 13th and Pine streets in Philadelphia, and we at Franks’ and others in the area have come together to raise funds for her, since hospital care is still an expensive commodity in this country. Throughout October, various restaurants and bars in Philadelphia, such as Fergie’s Pub and Franky Bradley’s, will hold fundraising events for Sheila; for information about these events, please check the web site https://www.diningoutforsheila.com/.

We have been through the High Holy Days-Rosh ha-Shana and Yom Kippur-along with Simchat Torah, where we celebrate the cycle of reading the portions of the Torah. In the cycle of our lives, and in the cycle of our reading the Torah and other works, we are not the same person as we were last year; we mature (hopefully) as we go forward, and gain a deeper understanding of our lives and of our learning. Let us keep that work up.

Brett Kavanaugh-federal judge-darling of the Federalist Society, believer that the President could not be indicted for any crime while in office, upper-class party animal at Georgetown Prep and Yale- will become a Justice on the US Supreme Court. This is after three accomplished women have stepped forward and complained about Kavanagh sexually assaulting them at Georgetown Prep and Yale. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford had to overcome fear when speaking about the event before the rich old white men of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but she went through it, and I commend her.

Blasey Ford kept her composure-but Kavanaugh later let out a harangue about the 2016 election, the Clintons, and “the Left,” leaving no doubt that 1., he would be a partisan enforcer for the Republicans while using the constitutional powers he has, and 2., he is furious that anyone would dare to stand up to him, showing all the sense of entitlement and his class and gender bestows upon him in this society.

It’s the same sense of power and entitlement that the senators and our commander in chief have; for centuries men like these have controlled the nation, including the media, corporations, the military, and higher education institutions, deciding what would be the facts to present to the rest of us, what goes into the news and history books, where we would fight wars and against whom, and who have profited from the labor of everyone under them. They are the ones who decide the fate of the nation and everyone in it; Kavanaugh is cut from the same cloth as George W. Bush and trump-rich kids who don’t have to worry about paying bills or evading military service or getting the plum positions.

I have with me a copy of the New York Times of October 3, 2018, and I found two very important articles which lead to the same thing-the power and sense of deserving to rule the universe that trump, Kavanaugh, and the rest of the American oligarchy have. The most famous of these is the one showing the various tax dodges trump carried out on behalf of his father, Fred trump, himself a major New York real estate developer. trump inherited $413 million from his father, starting at age 3, and was a millionaire by age 8, and at 17 Fred gave Donnie part ownership of an apartment building.

Fred made Donald a landlord over some of his properties, as well as a manager, banker, and consultant for the properties. Fred also floated Donald loans constantly, many of which went unpaid. (Could you or I get away with that? I don’t think so.) Fred gave Donald money for a car, stocks, hiring employees, and renting and upgrading office space. All of this was to avoid paying inheritance and gift taxes, and it was done in manners that tax experts say were either unethical or illegal; but the courts and the IRS have long been indulgent towards our oligarchs on such schemes. Fred had also been close to Brooklyn’s Democratic machine, which gave him access to political power and legal support.

Another article in the October 3 edition, page A21, tell of Kavanaugh’s fun times at Georgetown Prep, telling of Kavanaugh and his affluent buddies throwing parties where they fought to drain the kegs dry-while under the legal drinking age-and writing rude remarks about girls in the yearbook-and the parents aren’t around, except to bail them out if anything goes wrong.  This is the class that rules our lives: they go to the same schools, hang out at the same clubs and restaurants; they write the laws on taxes and regulations from the government, for their benefit; they decide who gets drafted into the military for war; and they know nothing of the lives of minorities or of the lower classes-the same people they would rule over and make judgements on. This oligarchy-let’s call it that, because that’s what it is-looks after itself; their kids will most likely be sent to the Supreme Court or the Senate-or the White House-rather than boot camp in the Army.

I hereby cite a study by Professor Martin Gilens of Princeton, and Professor Benjamin Page of Northwestern, entitled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens;” (https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746)

(https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/article/testing-theories-of-american-politics-elites-interest-groups-and-average-citizens/62327F513959D0A304D4893B382B992B/core-reader) This report shows what we progressives, Democratic Socialists, and labor activists have shown all along, and I cite a quote:

“Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

“A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18% of the time, while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45% of the time.”

“When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favour policy change, they generally do not get it.”

And to conclude: “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.”

You call this “democracy?” I believe our elites depend on the myth of this country being a “democracy,” mostly in patriotic festivals and reruns of Lawrence Welk, to hide the facts of oligarchy-plutocracy we’re up against.

Do we absolutely HAVE to accept this plutocracy as our nation’s fate? We can’t. This class makes the laws that permit corporations to pollute the air, land, and water we use, leading to future environmental catastrophe (but they only worry about quarterly profits); who draw up the trade agreements, like NAFTA, that move entire industries out of cities and ultimately the country, leaving workers without jobs to feed, shelter, and clothe their families, leading them to finding targets for their anger, like minorities, and looking for false messiahs, like trump;  who decide that goes into the media for sports, entertainment, and news; who decide who pays the taxes and how they are to be spent-and we working and low-income people are out of the discussion.

We must NEVER accept this! On November 6, I urge you all to get out and vote-and of course, vote Democratic, since the resurgence of democratic (small d) populism is in the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party in power is running the government on behalf of the corporate oligarchy. (The Democratic party, alas, is also infected by the disease of corporate cash paying for campaigns; but if we go out is a flood to vote, the party leaders MIGHT see that money is not the everything of politics, the party needs to listen to its people.)

Again and again, I say, go out November 6 and VOTE!

Bye!

 

 

Election Time 2018

As a committeeman for my ward in South Philadelphia, and as an American, I urge you to get out there and VOTE in the general election. The last day for voter registration is October 9; the last day to apply for a civilian absentee ballot if October 30; and the election itself is on November 6. Here are the candidates I endorse:

US Senate from Pennsylvania, Bob Casey; and

Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolfe.

Not only must we get out and vote, but we must do so in record numbers, to show the politicians of both parties that we the people are conscious of what is going on in our nation and in our communities, and we want to hold them accountable and not take us for granted.

Later on the Presidential elections will come up; and hopefully the Democratic party leadership will have learned not to cheat the progressive element of their voice or votes, that the progressives of the party are raising serious issues:

trade treaties that move manufacturing, and the jobs that go with them, out of local communities and cause unemployment for workers, with its accompanying sense of hopelessness;

gun violence that kills young lives;

banks receiving virtual welfare-such as grants from the Federal Reserve-while delivering perks to executives and buyout deals for incompetent CEOs;

tax benefits for corporations and the wealthy which, in spite of the myth, do NOT simulate the economy, but stay in the foreign bank accounts of billionaires;

and the racism crawling out of the woodwork, thanks to (sarcasm alert) the wonderful example set by our commander-in-chief.  This list just scratches the surface.

Not only must you vote, but inform yourself of what goes on in the community an the world, so the politicians see you are paying attention to what is going on.

 

 

 

The 4th of July, What To Do About It

Independence Day, July 4th, the day where we celebrate our liberties, is tomorrow. I said “liberties;” what do we have to celebrate right now? we have a “President” who talks like some drunk in a bar at 3 AM; who brags of his deal-making genius, but has been conned by North Korea, which is continuing its nuclear program, while he called off military exercises with South Korea; who tells his supporters at rallies, “Knock the crap out of them,” and glorifies the days when you can beat up your political opponents; who, daring to call himself a “populist,” brings mockery to that idea by supporting a tax cut for the wealthy, while also supporting cuts in Social security, Medicare, and other pro-people programs; who appoints people into certain agencies who oppose that agency’s mission, such as Scott Pruitt at the EPA; who supports the separation of children from their parents, causing untold suffering to both parents and children; who makes religious and racial minorities, and fine, hardworking journalists into scapegoats for his supporters to hate-the list goes on.

Protests has come about, and are not stopping, against the Muslim ban in immigration, against the taking of the children of immigrants, against the racism he encourages, against the disrespect he has shown to women, among others. Such examples are the confronting of Stephen Miller and Krisjen Nielsen in MEXCAN restaurants for the immigration policies, marches and pickets at ICE offices-all in the finest traditions of American protest. But of course-it’s as predictable as snow in December-people would say, “You’re being too confrontational, it’s not nice what you’re doing, it plays into trump’s hands.” It’s a subtle hint for us to be quiet.

I’m sure the agitators who helped to start our OWN revolution also heard talk like this; but they kept at it, they prevailed, and so our country was formed. Our enemy must not dictate to us what our strategy should be, and we must never stop standing up for what is right, and to what is wrong.

This is serious business, and we should treat it as such; but, we must also take a break and relax, and be fresh for the ongoing fight, so enjoy your 4th.

The Mason Missile, July 2, 2018

Greetings!

This is Independence Day-what do we have to celebrate? We have a regime (I won’t call it an “administration”) that separates immigrant children as young as several months from the parents, as a bureaucratic form of punishment for entering this country “illegally” (which is classed as a misdemeanor).

That has never happened before, and this practice inflicts trauma upon these children and their parents-but what to the alpha males ruling our affairs care? They show what kind of big strong men they are by terrorizing people who can’t resist, talking about a “zero tolerance policy,” and have sadistic fun doing it.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions used the Bible, the Apostle Paul letter to the Romans, chapter 13, verses 1-7, (RSV) as an excuse to justify this: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.  For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”

That verse had always been a favorite of slaveholders and authoritarians, using some biblical justification for their domination of their subjects. It would not hold sway except for some true believers of the Leader.

(Were he to go further down the chapter, Sessions would have found verses 8-10 “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”)

This is the kind of thing that conservatives, who have whined about “big government taking control of our children,” have warned us about- but it’s happening to dark-skinned foreigners, so they say nothing. I’m pleased, though, that people have risen up against this; I doubt, though, if it would influence this regime from ending the practice, but hopefully, it would make people on the ground ashamed to implement such policies on behalf of their superiors up the chain. There is also institutional resistance to this evil practice, as several state governors have refused to send their National Guard units to the border for this kind of duty.

There is also publicly confronting the top officials responsible for these policies, such as the crowds shaming Stephen Miller and Kristjen Nielsen-as they ate at MEXICAN RESTAUANTS-and Sarah Huckabee Sanders being asked to leave the little restaurant. Now the conservatives complain that the officials are being oppressed and bullied-any worse than the little kiddies in the detention centers separated from their families, scared out of their minds, feeling lost and abandoned, put through possibly all kinds of abuse, not knowing if they’ll ever see their parents again?  Can’t we look at THAT, Americans, and know the shameful thing going on in our name, and with our tax dollars?

With protests against unjust conditions, there are always complaints about how the protestors behave-“They’re not polite, they’re not civil, they use such bad language!” But what about trump’s line in a rally, “I’d like to punch him in the face”? His instigating violence against protestors by his fans? The incidents of white people calling the police on African-Americans for such crimes as sitting in a Starbuck’s, playing golf, napping in a dorm at Yale, holding a cookout in Oakland, mowing a neighbor’s lawn for a few bucks, selling water for money for tickets to Disneyland?

It’s as if we need permission by our conservative superiors to protest unjust conditions, from which they benefit, and the consequence of which they don’t suffer (so it’s no skin off their asses)-and such permission won’t be forthcoming. No one will give us our rights-we’ll take them. It’s just a way for them to not deal with it-but there are people who deal with it every day, and they won’t take it anymore, and will let everyone know they won’t take it.

Again, let’s discuss “big government“-the boogie of right-wing propaganda for decades, since the New Deal and beyond. This is the scare used when the issue is using the mechanism of government, local, state, or federal, to restrict the ability of corporations to swindle consumers and oppress workers. Added to this is the Labor movement, the institutional gathering of workers for their mutual benefit, to prevent corporate bosses from forcing workers into long hours, in oppressive and unsafe worksites, for merger pay.

With the Janus decision of the Supreme Court-which says workers who don’t want to be in a union do not have to pay the “agency shop” fee, but would still be protected by the union-The ability of unions to protect workers is in trouble. But do we take it lying down? No, we organize, just like our forbearers did a century ago, in the face of company thugs, police and militias, and hostile courts, judges, and governments. We have a history and tradition to draw our strength from.

Indeed, activism abounds throughout the nation against the trump agenda-and NO, I will not show him any respect! Along with the protests against the immigration policies along the border, there are protests by high school kids against the gun violence they witnessed, when they had to see their friends killed by gunmen who had too easy an access to an AR-15, and the #MeToo movement of women who refuse any longer to put up with sexual harassment from rich and powerful men.  The Labor movement can tap into that energy, and once again be the insurgent force our plutocratic masters fear it to be.

Bye!

The IWW at 110

I am currently reading volume four of Philip Foner’s History of the Labor Movement in the United States, on the history of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the “Wobblies,” which was, in the period before the US’s entry into the First World War, the most colorful and radical labor movement in this nation’s history-and this June is the 110th anniversary of the IWW.

In June 24, 1905, a convention of the nation’s leading radical labor activists gathered in Brand’s Hall in Chicago to organize a labor movement that would be an alternative to the conservative craft-based union organizing of the American Federation of labor (AFL). Under Samuel Gompers, the AFL focused on organizing according to craft, which meant that several unions would be in the same factory, with differing contracts that would expire in different times, and if one union went out on strike the other unions in the factory would remain on the job, thus weakening the workers’ bargaining power. These craft unions concentrated on white, native-born workers, neglecting the Black, female, and immigrant workers that would be used in the mass-produced manufacturing jobs that required little skill, thus making the craft unions and their specialized members irrelevant.

Also, Gompers, apparently trying to make his labor movement socially acceptable to the corporate titans dominating the economy and therefore the country, pretended that the goals and aspirations of both labor and management were one and the same, and there was no real class conflict.

Assembling for such an alternative to the conservative craft unionism of the AFL were such leading radicals as Mary Harris “Mother” jones, the legendary organizer of mine workers; Eugene V. Debs, organizer of the American Railway Union, and perennial candidate for President under the Socialist Party of America; Daniel De Leon, Socialist theorist and leader of the Socialist Labor party; and William D. “Big Bill” Haywood, legendary organizer of mine workers and Secretary-Treasurer of the Western Federation of Miners, who presided over the convention.

Haywood began the convention, “Fellow workers, this is the Continental Congress of the working-class. We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working-class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working-class from the slave bondage of capitalism. The aims and objectives of the organization shall be to put the working-class in possession of the economic power, the means of life, in control of the machinery of production and distribution, without regard to capitalist masters.”

This was the long-term goal of the IWW, the organization that came out of this convention-organize the workers according to their industry, without regard to race, nationality, or gender; then, when the workers are organized, they would go out in a great general strike, and collapse the capitalist system and have a society run by the workers through their unions, the idea called Anarcho-Syndicalism, of which the IWW was the greatest exponent in the United States, scorning the AFL’s belief in trying to negotiate with the coroprate moguls of the era and in political campaigning.

The depth of the IWW’s militancy is found in the Preamble of the IWW Constitution:  The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wage system.

The history of the IWW is filled with dedicated activism towards organizing unskilled workers, immigrants, African-Americans workers, and female workers-workers which the old AFL would not bother with. The IWW fought to organize workers in the lowest-paid and oppressed occupations of that time, like lumber workers and agricultural workers, who were recruited by employment agencies, or “sharks,” who for a fee would send migrant workers to lumber camps or farms which had poor toilet facilities, poor food, and bunkhouses filled with lice.

The IWW made its name with the “free speech fights” in the western lumber and agricultural cities, where their activists got on soapboxes to speak to workers and citizens, and as soon as they started with “Fellow workers and friends,” they were grabbed by police and enraged “respectable” citizens-who formed vigilante gangs or served as “special police”- and were hauled to local jails, where the IWW activists continued their protests, which included singing spirited protest songs, and the fire department would turn the fire hoses on them. At that, the IWW office sent the word out to all their available members to go to these cities, attempt to speak on the street corners, get arrested, and continue the protest in jail, causing a burden for the jails and the courts. These workers, shunned by the AFL and scorned by respectable people, felt pride in themselves, uniting in a great revolutionary cause.

Part of the IWW’s legacy, along with their demonstrations and strikes, are the songs they sang, sung to the tunes of the popular songs of the day, and of the religious hymns played by the Salvation Army bands, paid by the capitalists to drown out the IWW street speakers. Joe Hill, one of the IWW’s greatest activists, was also its greatest songwriter, writing such great protest songs for the IWW as “Rebel Girl” (in honor of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, on of their most famous activists), “The Preacher and The Slave” (to the tune of “In The Sweet By and By”), and “Casey Jones The Union Scab.” Charged in Utah with the murder of a grocer over the man’s wife,  Hill was the focus of a worldwide campaign to exonerate him, the charges being an excuse to remove a prominant agitator. HIll was executed by a firing squad in November 2015; before his death, HIll wrote to Bill Haywood, “Goodby, Bill, I die like a true rebel. Don’t waste time mourning, organize.” (The story was that Hill himself ordered “Fire!” to the firing squad, indeed dying like a true rebel.)

Another great IWW martyr was Frank LIttle, a veteran of the Free Speech Fights in the west. Little was active in organizing lumberjacks, oil field workers, fruit pickers, and metal miners, once arrested in Spokane for reading the Declaration of Independence. A member of the IWW’s General Executive Board, Little vocally opposed the United States’ entry in to the First World War, and he was also active in organizing copper miners in Butte Montana, and was beaten and lynched on August 1917, with notes pinned to his clothes warning other workers; Pinkerton detectives and possibly city police were involved in Little’s murder.

Among the greatest triumphs of the IWW was the great strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912. Thousands of workers- underpaid, living in deplorable slums, despised for coming from Eastern European countries and called “wops,” “polacks,” “hunkies,” and other ethnic slurs-went on strike over pay cuts-no small matter for underpaid workers-and other issues, effectively shutting down the textile mills of the city. The IWW sent in their finest organizers-Bill Haywood, Joe Ettor, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (the legendary “rebel girl”)-to guide this strike comprised of 22,000 unskilled workers, comprised of dozens of ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups.

The main strength of the IWW was its ability for spectacular protests and demonstrations, spirited songs, and dedicated activists willing to risk their lives to help workers attain a better future; but its main weakness was its inability to sustain its victories, to form a cohesive structure to run a union and handle its health and welfare system and enforce contracts with employers. The IWW, ideologically opposed to dealing with the state and considering the government, with its police, courts, and military an enforcer for the corporate masters-which it was-counted on the solidarity of workers, rather than formal contracts, to fight off oppression from the capitalist of that day. (Solidarity among workers is wonderful, but having friends in political office certainly helps.)

When the United States entered the First World War, corporations and the government found the excuse to repress the IWW and other radical movements, especially after the Russian Revolution; the fear and possibility of social uheaval in the United States were real among corporate and governmental elites. Although Haywood, then IWW Secretary-Treasurer, and most of the IWW leadership wanted to maintain a low profile about the war, federal, state, and local law enforcement, along with company detectives and freelance vigilanties (including the re-forming Ku Klux Klan) sought to destroy the IWW, with federal agents (including future FBI director J. Edgar Hoover) raiding IWW halls, seizing the union’s records and publications, and vigilanties assaulting and killing IWW members.

One such case was the Centralia (Washington) Massacre, when in 1919 members of the newly-formed American Legion raided the IWW hall and the Wobbies inside shot at the raiders in self-defense; one fo the IWW members, Wesley Everest, was a lumberjack and veteran of the First World War, and he was oooverpowered by the mob, hauled to the local jail, was turned over to a lynch mob, and was hanged and shot.

During the First World War, over a hundred of the IWW’s leading officials and activists, including Bill Haywood, were put on trial in Chicago, for 10,000 for each of the defendants. After a long show trial worthy of the old Soviet Union, Haywood and the other IWW defendants were convicted of “conspiracy” and sentenced to 20 years in prison each. Many of them were sent to the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, along with other radicals and dissenters such as Mennonite pacifists.

With the founding of the Soviet Union and the forming of the Communist Party USA, several prominent Wobblies, like Haywood, took up the offer to defect to the new state, in hopes of helping to build the first state of, by, and for the workers. The fledgling Communist party promised to pay the bail money for Haywood and the other defectors, but he party reneged  on the deal. After a campaign for amnesty by the IWW’s supporters, Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin College released the imprisoned Wobblies; but the union was divided by whether or not they should accept clemency and stay pure in their revolutionary intent, and whether or not to ally with the Communist Party.

The IWW is now a small radical faction; but its legacy of demonstrations, songs, and militancy lives on.