Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Hobo Union

The only Union that would work with the migrant work force in the two decades of the 20th century was the Industrial Workers of the World. In Chicago in 1905 a new kind of organization was founded to organize the unorganized among the industrial working class of the world. They were industrial unions, organizing all workers of a single industry into a single union and all industrial unions federated into “One Big Union”. The ultimate goals was to change the world by ending wage labor and make all the workers the collective owners of the world’s shared industrial wealth. All privately owned capitalist property and all government was to be replaced by communal worker controlled global cooperative commonwealth federation. This new philosophy spread through the Hobo Jungles.

I.W.W.  halls sprung up through the Western parts of the United States and Canada. The halls became centers where migrant workers could rest, get something to eat, meet old friends, and pick up books and pamphlets to read. Those Hobos attracted to the IWW were avid readers, many self taught reading whatever the IWW provided.

Because the migrants mostly traveled by trains the Wobblies (IWW) organized the trains to make them safer to ride. They organized flying squads to chase away the railroad detectives (cinder dicks or bulls). When ever the brakeman tried through the “bums” off the Wobblies would prevent this. Red trains were known and the preferred means of transportation.

Between 1905 and 1909, there were over nine hundred Wobbly locals that sprang up in the West. The first serious battle fought out by the Wobblies was the Goldfield Nevada strike. The struggle was over the eight-hour day. By 1907 3,000 workers were out the owners were forced to accept the eight hour day. An agreement was reached and miners returned to work. At which time federal troops were called out to crush the Union and repeal the eight-hour say. The IWW did gain great deal of credibility, how ever and when new strikes broke out the IWW would called in to help.

The first line of defense preached by the IWW, was non-violence. Their preferred tactic was sabotage, and sabotage was a much-loved word. It was used to mean strikes, slowdowns and working to specific specification without any extra effort for capitalists’ profits. Most of all stopping production the stop profits. Violence was preached against, as the government is always better at the use of violent behavior than we are. The use of sabotage was confusing because Wobblies knew that Capitalists cared more for property and profits than people. The government and the news media defined any disruption of production for profit as violent and then tried to represent the Wobblies as being violent against people. Armed guards and spies were employed throughout the West to protect businesses. The newspapers and churches reacted with rage against the IWW.

In 1909 in Missoula Montana there began a free speech movement. The city council made street speaking illegal. In answer to this unfair law hundreds of Wobblies arrived in Missoula to speak illegally. The jails became over crowded. The high was used to hold Prisoners. The University buildings were turned into jails. The high costs and trouble of policing down town and housing all the prisoners forced the city council to repeal the law.

Spokane also made public speaking illegal. For a time the law was obeyed, but when the Salvation Army was allowed to speak and sing in public the Wobblies decided it was time to fight back. They retaliated with another free speech movement. November 2, 1909 thousands of Wobblies marched on Front Street knowing they would be arrested. The fight continued until March 10, 1910 when public speaking was allowed. Between 1910 and 1916 25 other free speech movements were carried on through out the West.

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