WILLIAM ‘BIG BILL’ HAYWOOD: LABOR AGITATOR

January 4, 2009 at 4:29 pm | Posted in Historical | 3 Comments
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I found these pictures in The Library of Congress archives. I laughed at the label “labor agitator.” How much of an agitator could the dapper Mr. Haywood have been?

Here he’s leaving the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC.

Where is he going?

Was he followed by paparazzi wherever he went?

It seems likely he was attending a meeting of the Commission on Industrial Relations.

Lennon, Walsh, OConnell, Weinstock and R.H. Aishton; Garretson, at Shoreham Hotel.  1915

Commission on Industrial Relations: Lennon, Walsh, O'Connell, Weinstock and R.H. Aishton; Garretson, at Shoreham Hotel. 1915

Some people say he was a very bad man.  Others say that he “was one of the most important and colorful leaders of the U.S. working class.”

William D. Haywood (between 1910 and 1915)

William D. Haywood (between 1910 and 1915)

Born in Salt Lake City in 1869, Haywood began working in the mines at the age of nine. In 1896 he joined the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) and in 1900 became a member of the union’s executive board. In 1902 he became co-president of the union.

Miners union hall. Silverton, Colorado.  September 1940

Miners' union hall. Silverton, Colorado. September 1940

After the defeat of the eight-hour workday law in Colorado, writer Ray Stannard Baker declared, “Rarely has there been in this country a more brazen, conscienceless defeat of the will of the people.”

Two gold miners down in a Colorado gold mine.  Eagle River Canyon, Colorado.  1905.

Two gold miners down in a Colorado gold mine. Eagle River Canyon, Colorado. 1905.

Frustrated at the WMF’s failure to adopt industrial unionism,  in 1905 Haywood declared, “This fight, which is entering its third year, could have been won in three weeks if it were not for the fact that the trade unions are lending assistance to the mine operators.”

Working with socialists, labor anarchists in the Haymarket tradition, and other militant unionists, Haywood described the philosophy of revolutionary industrial unionism as “socialism with its working clothes on.”  Haywood was a key organizer of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) (“the wobblies“).

Industrial Workers of the World demonstration.  New York City.  April 11, 1914.

Industrial Workers of the World demonstration. New York City. April 11, 1914.

Haywood’s labor agitation was temporarily derailed from February 1906 through May 1907 when he and two other WMF leaders were tried for and acquitted of the December 1905 murder of former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg.   His defense attorney was Clarence Darrow.

Clarence Darrow leaving the Shoreham Hotel.

Clarence Darrow leaving the Shoreham Hotel.

Haywood joined the Socialist Party of America, actively campaigning for Eugene Debs in the 1908 presidential election, and elected to the Socialist Party National Executive Committee in 1912.

Eugene V. Debs, 1912.

Eugene V. Debs, 1912.

Haywood and the IWW were a bit aggressive in the opinion of more moderate socialists who were made nervous by Haywood’s advocacy of direct action and strikes, which often led to violence. Despite the pleas of Helen Keller, Haywood was relieved of his position on the National Executive Committee in January 1913.  Thousands of IWW members left the Socialist Party with him.

Haywood and the IWW came to the aid of the Lawrence and Paterson textile workers — mostly women and children — during their  labor strikes in 1912 and 1913.

Repudiating the crafts union ideal and the cooperation policy of the American Federation of Labor, he preached the IWW doctrines of class struggle, no compromise and mass action. 

William Dudley (Big Bill) Haywood, an American labor movement leader, marching with strikers in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Circa 1912.

William Dudley (Big Bill) Haywood, an American labor movement leader, marching with strikers in Lowell, Massachusetts. Circa 1912.

In 1918, the last year of World War I, Haywood and 165 other IWW leaders were convicted of sedition. After his conviction Haywood was released on bond and in 1921 he fled to Soviet Russia, where he died in 1928.

Samuel Gompers buying Christmas seals in 1923.

Samuel Gompers buying Christmas seals in 1923.

History isn’t what happened, but a story of what happened. And there are always different versions, different stories, about the same events. One version might revolve mainly around a specific set of facts while another version might minimize them or not include them at all.

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3 Comments »

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  1. Nice photo layout of “Big Bill.” I will link it up to by blog. We could probably debate whether Haywood was a good or a bad “agitator” but agitate he did. Although not necessarily agreeing that he was totally innocent as found in the trial of 1907, I do agree it was the correct verdict under the law. Some of my family would disagree. There was plenty of deceit on all sides back in those times. We still need strong Unions and good government (perhaps better government coming in a couple of weeks) and hopefully have learned something in the 100+ years since the Haywood trial.
    John

    • i’m so glad you came by to read my little offering. i’m sure haywood was no angel but given what workers were/are up against there were probably few good choices.

      as far as the murder of the governor, my willingness to bet against haywood or the other two being involved went up after reading about the pinkertons. everyone was looking for a way to take big bill down and that was as easy a set up as one could ask for.

  2. […] polarization of the parties is now back where it was in the 1880’s, 1890s, when the Labor Movement was born. Graph from the Washington Post (click image to see […]


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