In 1905 representatives of 43 groups who opposed the policies of American Federation of Labour, formed the radical labour organisation, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW's goal was to promote worker solidarity in the revolutionary struggle to overthrow the employing class. Its motto was "an injury to one is an injury to all".
At first its main leaders were William Haywood, Vincent Saint John, Daniel De Leon and Eugene V. Debs. Other important figures in the movement included Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Mary 'Mother' Jones, Lucy Parsons, Hubert Harrison, Carlo Tresca, Anna Louise Strong, Joseph Ettor, Arturo Giovannitti, James P. Cannon, William Z. Foster, Eugene Dennis, Joe Haaglund Hill, Tom Mooney, Harry Bridges, Floyd B. Olson, James Larkin, James Connolly, Roger Nash Baldwin, Frank Little and Ralph Chaplin.
Soon after the IWW was formed William Haywood was charged with taking part in the murder of Frank R. Steunenberg, the former governor of Idaho. Steunenberg was much hated by the trade union movement after using federal troops to help break strikes during his period of office. Over a thousand trade unionists and their supporters were rounded up and kept in stockades without trial.
James McParland, from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, was called in to investigate the murder. McParland was convinced from the beginning that the leaders of the Western Federation of Miners had arranged the killing of Steunenberg. McParland arrested Harry Orchard, a stranger who had been staying at a local hotel. In his room they found dynamite and some wire.
McParland helped Orchard to write a confession that he had been a contract killer for the WFM, assuring him this would help him get a reduced sentence for the crime. In his statement, Orchard named Hayward and Charles Moyer (president of WFM). He also claimed that a union member from Caldwell, George Pettibone, had also been involved in the plot. These three men were arrested and were charged with the murder of Steunenberg.
Charles Darrow, a man who specialized in defending trade union leaders, was employed to defend William Haywood, Charles Moyer and George Pettibone. The trial took place in Boise, the state capital. It emerged that Harry Orchard already had a motive for killing Steunenberg, blaming the governor of Idaho, for destroying his chances of making a fortune from a business he had started in the mining industry. During the three month trial, the prosecutor was unable to present any information against Haywood, Moyer and Pettibone except for the testimony of Orchard and were all acquitted.
Many unions refused to accept immigrant workers. This was especially a problem for Jewish and Irish immigrants. This was not true of the Industrial Workers of the World and as a result many of its members were first and second generation immigrants. Several immigrants such as Mary 'Mother' Jones, Hubert Harrison, Carlo Tresca, Arturo Giovannitti and Joe Haaglund Hill became leaders of the organization.
In 1908 the Wobblies, as they became known, split into two factions. The group headed by Eugene V. Debs advocated political action through the Socialist Party and the trade union movement, to attain its goals. The other faction led by William Haywood, and believed that general strikes, boycotts and even sabotage to achieve its objectives. Haywood's views prevailed and Debs, and others who thought like him, left the organisation.
As James Cannon pointed out: "At the second convention of the IWW in 1906, St. John headed the revolutionary syndicalist group, which combined with the SLP elements to oust Sherman, a conservative, as president and establish a new administration in the organization with a revolutionary policy. He became the general organizer under the new administration, breaking with the WFM on the withdrawal of the latter body and giving his whole allegiance to the IWW." Vincent Saint John now became General Secretary of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Activists in the IWW such as William Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Carlo Tresca, Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti, were involved in two major industrial disputes, the Lawrence Textile Strike (1912) and the Paterson Silk Industry Strike (1913). At this time the Industrial Workers of the World had a membership of over 100,000 members.
In 1913 William Haywood replaced Vincent Saint John as secretary-treasurer of the Industrial Workers of the World. By this time, the IWW had 100,000 members. In 1913 Joe Haaglund Hill helped to organize a successful strike at the United Construction Company. During this dispute Hill stayed with some friends in Salt Lake City. While he was there, John G. Morrison, a former policeman, and his son, Arling, were shot dead by two masked gunman in his grocery shop. A few weeks before the murder, Morrison had told a journalist that he had recently been threatened with a revenge attack because of an incident while he was in the police force.
After the shooting, police discovered two men trying to board a departing train at a railroad station near the store. According to the official report, officers Crosby and Hendrickson had to "empty their guns" to prevent the two men from escaping. The men were taken into custody and identified as C.E. Christensen and Joe Woods, two men with arrest warrants in Prescott, Arizona for robbery.
On the night of the murder, 10th January, 1914, Joe Haaglund Hill visited a doctor with a bullet wound in his left lung. Hill claimed he had been shot in a quarrel over a woman. Noting that the bullet had gone clean through the body, the doctor reported Hill's visit to the police. They already knew about Hill's trade union activities and decided to arrest him. Hill refused to say how he got the wound. As a witnesses standing outside Morrison's store claimed that he heard one of the murderers say: "Oh, God, I'm shot." Hill was charged with the murder of Morrison and Christensen and Woods were released from custody.
The police chief of San Pedro, who had once held Hill for thirty days on a charge of "vagrancy" because of his efforts to organize longshoremen, wrote to the Salt Lake City police: "I see you have under arrest for murder one Joseph Hillstrom. You have the right man... He is certanly an undesirable citizen. He is somewhat of a musician and writer of songs for the IWW songbook."
Leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World argued that Joe Haaglund Hill had been framed as a warning to others considering trade union activity. Even William Spry, the Republican governor of Utah admitted that he wanted to use the case to "stop street speaking" and to clear the state of this "lawless elements, whether they be corrupt businessmen, IWW agitators, or whatever name they call themselves"
At Hill's trial in Salt Lake City none of the witnesses were able to identify Hill as one of the murders. This included thirteen-year-old Merlin Morrison, who witnessed the killing of her father and brother. The bullet that hit Hill was not found in the store. Nor was any of Hill's blood. As no money was taken and one of the gunman was heard to say: "We've got you now", the defence argued that it was a revenge killing. However, Hill, who had no previous connection with Morrison, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
Franklin Rosemont has argued: "Nearly all historians have come to recognize as one of the worst travesties of justice in American history. After a trial riddled with biased rulings, suppression of important defense evidence, and other violations of judicial procedure characteristic of cases involving labor radicals, Hill was convicted and sentenced to death."
Bill Haywood and the IWW launched a campaign to halt the execution. Elizabeth Flynn visited Hill in prison and was a leading figure in the attempts to force a retrial. In July, 1915, 30,000 members of Australian IWW sent a resolution calling on Governor William Spry to free Hill. Similar resolutions were passed at trade union meetings in Britain and other European countries. Woodrow Wilson also contacted Spry and asked for a retrial. This was refused and plans were made for Hill's execution by firing-squad on 19th November, 1915.
When he heard the news, Joe Haaglund Hill sent a message to Haywood saying: "Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize." He also asked Haywood to arrange his funeral: "Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don't want to be found dead in Utah." Hill last act before his death was to write the poem, My Last Will.
An estimated 30,000 people attended Hill's funeral. The instructions left in Hill's last poem were carried out: "And let the merry breezes blow/My dust to where some flowers grow/Perhaps some fading flower then/Would come to life and bloom again." Hill's ashes were put into small envelopes and on May Day, 1916, were scattered to the winds in every state of the union. This ceremony also took place in several other countries.
In the summer of 1917, Frank Little was helping organize workers in the metal mines of Montana. This included leading a strike of miners working for the Anaconda Company. In the early hours of 1st August, 1917, six masked men broke into Little's hotel room in Butte. He was beaten up, tied by the rope to a car, and dragged out of town, where he was lynched. A note: "First and last warning" was pinned to his chest. No serious attempt was made by the police to catch Little's murderers. It is not known if he was killed for his anti-war views or his trade union activities.
The lawyer representing the Anaconda Company said a few days later: "These Wobblies, snarling their blasphemies in filthy and profane language; they advocate disobedience of the law, insults to our flag, disregard of all property rights and destruction of the principles and institutions which are the safeguards of society.... Why, Little, the man who was hanged in Butte, prefaced his seditious and treasonable speeches with the remark that he expected to be arrested for what he was going to say... The Wobblies... have invariably shown themselves to be bullies, anarchists and terrorists. These things they do openly and boldly."
Lillian Hellman claimed in Scoundrel Time (1976) that Dashiell Hammett, while working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Montana, turned down an offer of $5,000 to "do away with" Frank Little. Hellman recalled: "Through the years he was to repeat that bribe offer (to kill Frank Little) so many times, that I came to believe, knowing him now, that it was a kind of key to his life. He had given a man the right to think he would murder, and the fact that Frank Little was lynched with three other men in what was known as the Everett Massacre must have been, for Hammett, an abiding horror. I think I can date Hammett's belief that he was living in a corrupt society from Little's murder."
William Haywood and the IWW opposed the United States becoming involved in the First World War. However, Haywood did not agitate against it nor forbid members to comply with the draft. Nevertheless, politicians and employers' associations attacked the IWW as disloyal and dangerous. In a series of raids resulted in the indictment of Haywood and most of the union's leadership under the Espionage Act. After a long trial in Chicago, Haywood was sentenced to a fine of $20,000 and twenty years' imprisonment.
As Howard Zinn pointed out in his book, A People's History of the United States (1980): "In early September 1917, Department of Justice agents made simultaneous raids on forty-eight IWW meeting halls across the country, seizing correspondence and literature that would become courtroom evidence. Later that month, 165 IWW leaders were arrested for conspiring to hinder the draft, encourage desertion, and intimidate others in connection with labor disputes. One hundred and one went on trial in April 1918; it lasted five months, the longest criminal trial in American history up to that time. The judge sentenced Haywood and fourteen others to twenty years in prison; thirty-three were given ten years, the rest shorter sentences. They were fined a total of $2,500,000. The IWW was shattered."
In March 1921, William Haywood jumped bail and fled to the Soviet Union, while most of his co-defendants languished in prison. As Joseph R. Conlin has pointed out: "IWW morale was shattered. Although individuals remembered him affectionally and excused his action without justifying it, his influence on the American Left had all but vanished."
After the war leaders of the IWW were harassed by the police and suffered legal prosecutions. One member was actually taking from a prison and lynched. This approach was highly effective and by 1925 membership had declined dramatically.