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									Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

Time Travelers
Jeff Wiltse

Week 10
Organized Labor and Industrial Conflict in the NW

   I.    Introduction
         A. This is Time Travelers Unit 2, Lecture 5 on industrial strife and the fate of
             organized labor in the NW during the early twentieth century.
         B. Organized Labor and Industrial Strife in U.S. history
                  1. The rise of organized labor and industrial strife are two of the
                        most important features of U.S. history between 1877 and 1919.
                  2. In many ways they punctuate the era.
                         a. The Great Labor Uprising of 1877 marks its beginning.
                         b. The Homestead Strike of 1892 and the Pullman Strike of
                             1894—both of which were alarmingly violent—stand out as
                             defining events of the 1890s.
                         c. And, the violent strikes and repression of radical labor
                             unions during and immediately following WWI marks the end
                             of this period in U.S. history.
                  3. In short, class conflict is one of the central themes of U.S. history
                        during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.
                  4. At the time, many Americans believed that a second civil war was
                        imminent, this one not between the North and South but between
                        labor and capital.
         C. Organized Labor and Industrial Conflict in the Northwest
                  1. The Northwest exemplifies the rise of labor unions and industrial
                        strife during this period, but what is particularly noteworthy in the
                        NW was the popularity and influence of radical labor unions,
                        especially the Industrial Workers of the World, commonly known
                        as the IWW and the Wobblies.




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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                 2. Radical leftist labor unions operated throughout the country, but
                     they had most of their success organizing workers in the West
                     and particularly in the Northwest.
                 3. There are a couple explanations for this:
                      a. Workers in the Northwest tended to be more transient than
                          in other regions.
                            ∙This made it easier for organizers for radical unions to
                               remain anonymous as they moved from one area to
                               another.
                            ∙The high rate of turnover also meant that workers tended
                               not to develop attachments or loyalties to employers.
                      b. The most significant factor in workers’ receptiveness to
                          radical unions was that a relatively high percentage of
                          workers in the NW lived in “economic families” as opposed
                          to “natural families.”
                            ∙An economic family meant living with fellow workers,
                               whether in a boardinghouse, a hotel, or in a
                               construction, timber, or mining camp.
                            ∙Nationally, only 3.4 percent of workers lived in economic
                               families.
                            ∙Percentages were much higher in the NW
                                 -15.3 percent in MT
                                 -13.8 percent in WA
                                 -7.4 percent in ID
                            ∙This type of living arrangement contributed to labor
                               militancy in several ways:
                                 -Workers could increase their frustration by griping to
                                     one another outside of work.
                                 -Organizers for radical unions could access workers
                                     more easily




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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                                  -Workers did not have the moderating influence of
                                      home and family.
                  4. Anyway, the critical point is that radical unions gained
                     considerable traction in the NW, and some of the most important
                     confrontations between the IWW and employers and the IWW
                     and the government occurred in the NW.
         D. For the rest of the lecture, I will talk about two examples that reveal much
             about industrial strife and the fate of organized labor during the early
             twentieth century.
                  1. Murder of Frank Little in Butte
                  2. Seattle General Strike of 1919
   II.   Murder of Frank Little
         A. Introduction
                  1. Frank Little was an Industrial Workers of the World organizer who
                     was murdered in Butte on August 1, 1917.
                  2. The murder—which I will describe in a minute—was gruesome,
                     but let me first explain how Little ended up in Butte, because it
                     reveals much about the state of organized labor during the early
                     twentieth century.
         B. Mine workers’ union in Butte
                  1. During the late nineteenth century, mine workers in Butte were
                     some of the highest paid workers in the nation, and the local
                     miners’ union had a constructive and mostly friendly relationship
                     with the mine operators.
                       a. Workers bargained collectively through the Butte Miners
                           Union, which later became part of the Western Federation of
                           Miners.
                       b. They enjoyed a closed shop, meaning all workers had to
                           have a union card to work in the mines.
                       c. Workers rarely resorted to strikes because there were good
                           lines of communication between them and management.


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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                      d. A couple of the reasons for this good worker-management
                          relationship were:
                           ∙Marcus Daly—the head of Anaconda Mining—was a
                               former miner and was sympathetic to the interests of
                               the company’s workershe closely identified with his
                               workers.
                           ∙During the War of the Copper Kings—which Harry lectured
                               on in Unit 1—Daly and William A. Clark competed with
                               one another for the votes of workers, so they both had
                               a political incentive to treat their workers fairly.
                 2. The fate of unions in Butte changed around the turn of the 20 th
                     century, when Marcus Daly died, the War of the Copper Kings
                     ended, and Amalgamated Mining—an outside holding company—
                     gained control of most mining operations in the city.
                      a. Amalgamated was controlled by Standard Oil money and the
                          majority owners were not nearly as sympathetic to the
                          interests of miners as the local operators had been.
                      b. Between 1903 and 1915, Amalgamated Mining, to quote one
                          historian, “rendered Butte’s labor unions helpless.”
                           ∙It forced workers to accept “open shops,” meaning that
                               miners did not have to belong to the union.
                           ∙Amalgamated introduced the “rustling card” system, which
                               meant that miners had to have a card issued by the
                               company permitting them to work in the mines.
                                 -This was one of the ways employers used to keep
                                    union organizers and other “troublemakers” from
                                    working in the mines.
                           ∙Amalgamated refused to bargain collectively with its
                               miners, bringing an end to collective bargaining.
                           ∙As a result, the local miners’union collapsed.




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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                                 -As one historian writes, “17,500 union miners
                                     became 16,000 unorganized workers.”
                      c. And, not surprisingly, the relationship between miners and
                          operators turned from one of trust and good will to mistrust
                          and animosity.
         C. 1917 Butte Strike
                 1. The Speculator Mine Disaster
                      a. As was often the case during this period, tragedy served as
                          the spark to re-ignite the moribund labor movement in Butte.
                      b. On June 8, 1917, a fire broke out in the Speculator Mine,
                          which was owned by the Anaconda Company.
                            ∙In violation of state law, the bulkheads were solid cement
                                rather than iron doors which could be opened.
                            ∙Rescue crews later found many dead bodies piled up
                                against the cement bulkheads, with their fingers worn to
                                the knuckles in an attempt to escape.
                            ∙In total, 164 miners died.
                      c. The disaster caused a spontaneous strike, in which miners
                          demanded safer working conditions, better wages, and strict
                          observance of state mining laws.
                      d. The disaster also re-invigorated the local labor movement.
                            ∙On June 13, less than a week after the Speculator fire, the
                                Metal Mine Workers’ Union was founded.
                      e. In sympathy with the miners, other workers in other trade
                          unions walked off the job, including the machinists,
                          boilermakers, and blacksmiths.
                            ∙Important point to noteunions were divided along
                                occupational lines. There was not one big union, but
                                rather different unions for each different “trade.”
                 2. By the end of June, 15,000 workers were on strike, and mining on
                     the Butte hill was virtually paralyzed.


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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                      a. The strike obviously had national and international
                          significance because the U.S. was supplying war material to
                          Great Britain and France and was preparing to enter the
                          World War I itself.
                      b. Copper was a critical raw material in the production of
                          armaments, and therefore the mining of it was considered
                          essential to the winning of the war.
                 3. After a couple weeks, the mine operators had gained the upper
                     hand and the strike seemed about to collapse.
                      a. They had successfully portrayed the striking workers as
                          unpatriotic and even treasonous in the media.
                      b. They had isolated the miners by convincing the other trade
                          unionists to come back to work by offering them better
                          contracts.
                      c. And, some of the striking miners had come back to work as
                          well.
         D. Frank Little and the IWW
                 1. It was at this point that Frank Little arrived in Butte.
                      a. Little was 38 years old, small, frail, and had only one good
                          eye.
                      b. He was a well-known organizer for the Industrial Workers of
                          the World
                            ∙The IWW, better known as the Wobblies, was one of the
                                  most radical labor unions in the U.S.
                            ∙It advocated industrial revolution, meaning:
                                  -An end to wage labor
                                  -And worker control over the means of the production
                            ∙It also advocated political revolution:
                                  -Wobblies wanted to do away with nation states and
                                     bring about a world wide revolution of the working
                                     classes


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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                                -And, they considered the U.S. government to be a tool
                                    of capitalist interests.
                 2. Little’s activities in Butte
                      a. Little gave two public speeches Butte and spoke before
                          several closed-door meetings of the Metal Mine Workers’
                          Union.
                            ∙Little reportedly encouraged the mine workers to “use any
                                means necessary,” including violence and sabotage, to
                                win the strike.
                            ∙He also reportedly urged the mine workers to purposely
                                hinder the war effort and start a class revolution in the
                                U.S.
                            ∙In one of his public speeches, on July 27, Little referred to
                                the Constitution as “a mere scrap of paper which can
                                be torn up,” described President Woodrow Wilson as a
                                lying tyrant, and declared that the IWW was willing to
                                “fight the Capitalists but not the German.”
                      b. It is unclear how much support Little and the IWW had within
                          the Metal Mine Workers’ Union.
                            ∙Union leaders later testified that they believed that Little’s
                                speeches hurt their cause and encouraged him to leave
                                town.
                            ∙And yet, Little was allowed to attend and speak at closed
                                door union meetings, which suggests he had some
                                support.
                      c. Given that Little spoke these workds as the U.S. was
                          preparing for war, many Montanans were outraged and
                          demanded that he be arrested.
                            ∙Local District Attorney Burton K. Wheeler investigated
                                Little but could not find any basis for prosecuting him.




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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                                 -Wheeler was quite liberally minded and did not
                                     believe that the government should restrict political
                                     speech, even during wartime.
         E. The Murder of Frank Little
                 1. Five days after the speech in which he advocated tearing up the
                     Constitution and encouraged workers to fight the capitalists and
                     not the Germans, Frank Little was murdered.
                 2. The Murder
                      a. At three o’clock in the morning of August 1, five men kicked
                          in the door of Room 32 at the Steele Block boardinghouse.
                      b. They pulled Little from bed and dragged him outside to a
                          waiting car.
                            ∙Dressed only in his underwear.
                      c. After driving a short distance, they tied him to the bumper
                          and dragged his body through the empty streets of Butte.
                            ∙They must have dragged him a considerable distance
                               because his kneecaps were later found to have been
                               scraped off.
                      d. Little was then taken to the Milwaukee Bridge, where he was
                          severely beaten and then hanged from a railroad trestle.
                      e. A note was pinned to the body which read: “Others take
                          notice, first and last warning, 3-7-77.”
                            ∙The numbers were an insignia used by vigilantes during
                               Montana’s early territorial days.
                 3. Most public commentators condemned the murder but added that
                     Little had it coming to him.
                 4. No one was ever arrested for the murder and it is still not known
                     who the killers were.
                      a. Some claimed it was agents of the Anaconda Company.
                      b. Some claimed it was soldiers stationed in Butte, who Little
                          had called “uniformed scabs.”


                                             8
Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                       c. Others claimed that Little was murdered by rival union men.
                       d. Still others claimed that superpatriotic members of the
                          Montana Council for Defense murdered him.
         F. Who committed the murder, however, is not as significant as what
             happened after it.
                  1. Fearing further violence and a shutdown of the mine, the federal
                     government quickly sent troops into Butte.
                       a. The presence of federal troops effectively ended the strike
                          by pressuring the remaining striking miners to return to work.
                       b. The failure of the strike rendered unions in Butte largely
                          impotent and certainly increased the power of the Anaconda
                          Company vis-à-vis its workers.
                  2. More generally, Little’s speeches and his spectacular murder
                     inflamed wartime emotions and contributed to the frantic search
                     for traitors and subversives in Montana.
                  3. In particular, the Little affair led to the passage of Montana’s
                     Sedition law, which made it illegal to criticize the federal
                     government, the armed forces, or the state government in
                     wartime.
                       a. The law read:
                            ∙[A]ny persons who shall utter, print, write or publish any
                              disloyal, profane, violent, scurrilous, contemptuous,
                              slurring or abusive language about the form of
                              government of the United States, or the constitution of
                              the United States, or the soldiers or sailors of the United
                              States, or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of
                              the army or navy . . . or shall utter, print, write or publish
                              any language calculated to incite or inflame resistance to
                              any duly constituted Federal or State authority in
                              connection with the prosecution of the War . . . shall be
                              guilty of the crime of sedition.


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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                       b. Ironically, some proponents of the law justified it by claiming
                            that it could have saved Frank Little’s life.
                             ∙If it had been on the books before, Wheeler could have
                                 had Little arrested and the lynching would not have
                                 been necessary.
                       c. In total, 47 people were prosecuted and imprisoned under
                            the terms of the Sedition Act, some with sentences of 20
                            years or more.
                       d. And, the Montana Sedition Act became the model for the
                            infamous Federal Sedition Law, which was enacted in May
                            of 1918.
                       e. Both the state and federal laws were used to stifle criticism
                            of the war and to punish and silence people who publicly
                            expressed unpopular points of view.
                             ∙In particular, the laws were used to crush left-wing labor
                                 unions, especially the IWW.
                             ∙After the WWI era, the Wobblies would never again be a
                                 significance presence in the United States.
          G. One final note about the Frank Little murder: there is a documentary film
             on the murder titled “An Injury to One.”
                  1. I have not seen it, but I have read some positive reviews.
                  2. Much like I have tried to do in the lecture, the film places the
                     murder in the larger context of the labor movement at the time.
   III.   The Seattle General Strike of 1919
          A. Introduction
                  1. I have spent a lot of time talking about organized labor in Butte
                     and the Frank Little murder, so I will speak very briefly about the
                     Seattle General Strike of 1919.
                       ∙I will only have time to introduce it to you and attach a little
                            significance to it.




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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                 2. There is a very good web resources on the strike, which include
                     background information, photographs, print documents, a video
                     clip, and other source materials.
                      a. It is the Seattle General Strike Project put together by a
                          professor at the University of Washington.
                           ∙So, the information has been vetted by a reputable
                               scholar.
                           ∙There is a particularly interesting article on the role of
                               women during the strike, especially
                      b. The web site is: http://faculty.washington.edu/gregoryj/strike
                      c. You could use the web site to develop a really good lesson
                          plan on organized labor and industrial strife.
                 3. Brief background on the labor movement in the U.S.
                      a. Back in the 1870s and 1880s, the largest and most important
                          labor union in the U.S. was the Knights of Labor.
                           ∙The Knights organized workers in all trades and
                               occupations, organized workers of all skill levels, and
                               organized men and women, blacks and whites, native
                               born and immigrants.
                           ∙The only people excluded were liqueur dealers, land
                               speculators, gamblers, and people of Chinese ancestry.
                           ∙The key point is that the Knights brought together almost
                               all workers into one big union.
                      b. During the late 1880s and the early 1890s, the American
                          Federation of Labor replaced the Knights of Labor as the
                          largest and most powerful labor organization in the U.S.
                           ∙Unlike the Knights, the AFL organized workers into
                               separate unions based on their particular trade.
                                 -And so, rather than one big union, there were dozens
                                    and dozens of unions based on the type of work
                                    someone did.


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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                            ∙Furthermore, the AFL did not actively organize women,
                               black Americans, or unskilled workers.
                            ∙By dividing workers into many separate unions, the labor
                               unions of the time limited the scope of a strike.
                                 -If railroad brakemen, for example, decided to go out
                                     on strike, it did not mean that the engineers or
                                     others who worked the trains would necessarily
                                     join them.
                                 -And it certainly did not mean that workers in other
                                     industries would go out on strike as well.
                                 -As a result, there were not “general” strikes during
                                     the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
                 4. This background is necessary because it sets up the historical
                     significance of the Seattle strike of 1919.
                      a. The Seattle strike was a general strike, meaning that
                          workers throughout the city in many different industries and
                          occupations went out on strike.
                      b. The strike was a test case of whether diverse workers could
                          act in concert with one another and maintain a united front.
         B. The Seattle General Strike of 1919 in a Nutshell
                 1. The strike began as a shipyard strike on January 21, 1919.
                      a. On that day, 35,000 union members, most of them affiliated
                          with the Metal Trades Council, walked off the job.
                      b. Shortly thereafter, workers in other unions voted to join the
                          shipyard workers on strike.
                      c. The date for the general strike was set for February 6.
                      d. At the date approached, fear gripped the city, in part,
                          because the strike occurred during the midst of the post-
                          WWI red scare.
                            ∙Many Seattleites viewed the general strike as the entering
                               wedge of an attempted communist revolution.


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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                           ∙Locals stockpiled guns and ammunition and barricaded
                               themselves within their homes.
                           ∙Some feared that the long anticipated class-based civil
                               war was about to begin, and it was going to begin in
                               Seattle, Washington.
                 2. The General Strike
                      a. Despite the dire predictions of violence, the strike began
                          peacefully and left the city in an eerie state of inactivity.
                           ∙Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson described it this way: “Streetcar
                               gongs ceased their clamor; newsboys cast their unsold
                               papers into the street; from the doors of mill and
                               factory, sotre and workshop, streamed 65,000
                               workingmen. School children with fear in their hearts
                               hurried homeward. The life stream of a great city
                               stopped.”
                      b. During the strike
                           ∙During the strike, the strike committee ensured that
                               essential city services continued and unions set up food
                               stations to feed striking workers and the general public.
                           ∙The government dispatched army troops from nearby Fort
                               Lewis to maintain order in the city.
                           ∙Somewhat amusingly, Mayor Hanson deputized 2,400
                               students from the University of Washington who
                               belonged to fraternities and other student organizations.
                                 -They carried clubs and in some cases guns.
                           ∙More seriously, Hanson took a hardline with the strikers,
                               publicly warning that “death will be their portion is they
                               start anything.”
                      c. In the end, the strike was a total failure




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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                           ∙Shortly after it began, Hanson issued an ultimatum that
                               the General Strike must end by 8 am Saturday,
                               February 8, or he would declare martial law.
                                 -This was another example of his hardline approach.
                           ∙The general strike lasted for only five days.
                                 -By February 11, only the original shipyard workers
                                     remained off the job and they soon returned to
                                     work as well.
                 3. Significance
                      a. Clearly, the strike did not amount to much, which raises the
                          question of why we should study.
                           ∙Like the Frank Little murder, it had several important
                               consequences.
                      b. For one, the strike crippled labor unions in Seattle for over a
                          decade.
                           ∙Ole Hanson, employers, and newspapers successfully
                               portrayed the unions un-American and subversive.
                               -Whatever support unions and workers may have had
                                    among the middle-class public largely evaporated.
                           ∙After the failed strike, many employers successfully
                               instituted “open shop” rules, which meant that workers
                               did not have to belong to a union to work in their
                               businesses.
                           ∙Overall union membership plummeted and continued to
                               decline throughout the 1920s.
                      c. Furthermore, Mayor Hanson’s actions during the strike
                          served as an object lesson for employers and other public
                          officials faced with striking workers.
                           ∙Do not give in to demands and portray union organizers as
                               communists and strikes can be soundly defeated.




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Time Travelers: Teaching American History in the Northwest, 2007
Regional Learning Project, University of Montana

                            ∙This hardline approach began standard during the 1920s
                                  and crippled the labor movement throughout the nation.
                            ∙Organized labor in America did not recover until the mid-
                                  1930s.
                       d. Finally, the rapid breakup of the General Strike exemplified
                          the persistent divisions among American workers.
                            ∙For a brief moment workers of different skill levels in
                                  different industries were capable of concerted action,
                                  but it was how brief that moment was that really stands
                                  out.
                            ∙Workers in different industries, with different levels of skill,
                                  and of different social backgrounds simply could not
                                  maintain a united front.
   IV.   Conclusion
         A. These two examples raise several important questions that may be
             worthwhile talking about with your class:
                  1. Should there be limits placed on freedom of speech? What about
                      during times of war? What should have happened to Frank Little?
                  2. Should workers be guaranteed the right to organize into unions?
                      Why might workers choose to join unions and why might they
                      choose not to?
                  3. Why is there not a strong socialist political movement in America
                      as there is in almost every western European nation?
         B. These are interesting questions that I have found students enjoy thinking
             and talking about.




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