Open Thread - Thurs 25 Aug 2022 - Wobbly?
The person I supported in my local primary election for Congress this year, Rebecca Parson, lost.
This isn't surprising, she was running against one of the more rightward leaning Dems in Congress; a guy who has been in the seat since 2012 or so. And she's pretty radical. The guy she ran against, Derek Kilmer, is pretty centrist. Anyway, after she lost, she sent out an email thanking all of us supporters and asking us to answer a question about what she should concentrate on next.
Surprisingly, unionization was the answer that got the most votes. I think that's good. The result made me remember some of what I learned about unions when I was young and moved to the PacNW. One of the unions I learned about was the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), the Wobblies. The Wobblies were, and are still, quite active in the PacNW, for example, in Seattle.
I love this saying! It's so true!
The IWW was founded in 1905, in Chicago. The union grew quickly, and in the 1910s and 1920s was very strong in the American West, achieving quite a few of its short term goals. But, it was considered to be 'too radical' by other unions like the AFL, and it lost membership and popularity when the government cracked down on socialist, anarchist and radical groups during the First Red Scare after WWI. One of the things I really like that the IWW promotes is workplace democracy, in which workers elect their own managers. (Wikipedia has a pretty decent general overview of the union's history, as do the the webpages of the Union itself, and the Seattle arm of the union).
On Nov 5, 1916 the Everett Massacre (also called Bloody Sunday) happened. Wobblies had come north from Seattle on several boats to join striking workers in Everett, WA. The striking workers were called shingle weavers, they cut cedar into shingles with mechanical saws and then stacked the shingles into piles. They were striking in Everett because they hadn't had their wages restored to the levels they'd had prior to a recent (to 1916) slump in logging, after that slump was over. Anyway, the boats were met by the sheriff of the town, who, of course, supported the owners of the timber mills (and shingle factories), and a bunch of armed vigilantes. The vigilantes opened fire as one of the boats was docking. The workers couldn't even disembark. Several of the workers (at least five) were killed and 27 or more were wounded, but they'd come prepared to fight and two 'deputies' (deputized vigilantes) were killed, with 20 wounded. Over 70 Wobblies were arrested. The leader of the Wobblies was tried for murder and acquitted by jury. After that the charges against the other 73 Wobblies who had been arrested were dismissed and they were released from jail. Ironically, the deputies did not die by gunfire from the Wobblies, but were shot in the back by other deputies! It's likely many of the vigilantes who were hurt were also wounded by 'friendly fire'.
One of the more famous early members of the IWW, although you might not hear a lot about her now, probably, was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. She was from the East Coast, but when she was 19 she traveled to Spokane WA to help with a free speech fight on behalf of the IWW (of which she was a member and organizer). This was in 1909. She chained herself to a lamp post to delay her arrest. The fight/protest was because the local government was shutting down speech rallies and such, defying (as usual) the free speech clauses of our Constitution. The local government relented in 1910 and let the IWW hold speech meetings. The government also released the members of the IWW it was holding in prison. Flynn helped found the ACLU in 1920. She joined the Communist Party of America in 1936. She fought for women's rights, birth control, and women's sufferage. She was arrested and jailed in 1951 for two years during Red Scare II (or was it III, or IV, which one are we on now? 12? 21? I don't know). She died in 1964 in Moscow, Russia. She was given a state funeral there, over 25,000 people attended.
Another famous early member of the IWW was Joe Hill. He was martyred in 1915; executed by firing squad for a crime most people thought he didn't commit. He was born in Sweden! He wrote several iconic songs and poems, and came up with the common phrase 'pie in the sky'. I first learned about him from Pete Seeger's cover of the song, 'I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night'. Joe Hill wrote, 'There is Power in a Union' and I have to admit I love that song, so here's one of my favorite versions by Billy Bragg.
I think what these tiny tidbits show is that, sad to say, nothing every really changes, even as everything changes. We still have to chain ourselves to lamp posts. We still have to protest, the rich still take everything and the poor still starve, the police, the army and the vigilantes still shoot at us. But there are times of triumph, long periods where there can be peace and prosperity for all. So let's keep fighting!
A movie made in 1979 about the Wobblies has been restored and re-released recently, for May Day 2022.
Here's some links about it:
https://quillette.com/2022/06/01/the-return-of-the-wobblies/ (from Australia!)
Here's the unrestored version...
For information about unions and strikes that are happening now, check out 'Who Gets the Bird' a blog by Jonah Furman on substack.
So, thanks for reading and here's the open thread - and remember, everything is interesting if you dive deep enough, so tell us about where you're diving!