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  • 8/6/2019 Haunted Halls


    AMER ICAN Some Brief CommentsN O T E B O O K On the Domestic Scene

    The Haunted Hall: I.W.W. of Fifty

    Dan WakefieldYou don't remember the Wobblies. Y ou were too young. Orelse not even born yet. There has never beeii anything likethem, before or since. They called themselves materialist-economists but what they really were was a religion. Theywere workstiffs and bindlebums like you and me, but theywere welded together by a vision we don't possess.

    From Here to Eternity by JAMES JONESBob Willock is a

    man in an empty room whose win-dows provide slanting glimpses ofWall Street towers, to the east, andthe waterfront, to the west. It is themeeting hall of the M anhattan branchof the Industrial Workers of theW orld "the Wobblies" an organiza-tion sustained by a vision that refusesto die in the face of all facts andfuneral rites. The IWW is fifty yearsold now and largely forgotten, but thevision that made it the greatest radi-cal movem ent in Am erican labor stillholds men like Bob Willock, whostared at it once, to the several scat-tered halls across the country that areso full of mem ories and empty of men .The mem ories are many riding therails to Spokane to support fellowworkers in the free speech fights ofthe west, following the harvest withthe dreams of better wages and thesong s of Joe Hill, striking and picke t.

    ing the textile mills at Lawrence,Ma ss., when Joe Ettor raised his voiceabove the jailings and killings to tellthe employers that "You can't weavecloth with bayonets."The men are fewbut the miracleis that there are any left at all. Whatsort of men in our practical timeshave the hea rt to stay loyal to a visionthe world all around them laughs offas obsolete?BOB WILLOCK wen t to sea out of Gal-veston in 1925 on the old Savannahline (like m ost of the stuff of his past,it is gone now) and by the time hedocked in Boston a fellow on boardhad persuaded him to take out aWobbly book. He didn't think muchabout it at the time but two ye ars laterhe was trying to ship from the gulfagain and a fellow from the Interna-tional Seamen's Union tried to shakehim down for extra dough to get an


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    ISU book. Bob wouldn't pay and wentaround to the Wobbly hall. They gothim a ship on condition he'd strikewith the other Wobbly crewmenagainst the line's plan for cutting thedeckhands and lengthening the watch,and he did, and the ship sailed withfull crew and customary hours andBob has been a Wobbly ever since.For the last six years he has alter-nated between the sea and the job ofsecretary of the IWW Marine Trans-port Workers Union, No. 510, Man-hattan Branch.

    It occupies a fading lime-coloredroom above a Chinese laundry onBroad Street, and by the rules andtraditions of the IWW, Bob Willockcan't get paid more to run it thanthe average wage of the workers whobelong. At the bac k of the hall a par-tition creates his home and office,which consists of a hotplate, a fold-ing bed, a large cluttered desk, anda bookcase. The Wobblies still readjust as they did in the early dayswhen IWW migratory workers tooktheir books from ha rvest to harvest inthe west and they talk, and remem-ber. That is almost all they have left,and that is primarily what Bob Wil-lock's job is. He keep s a pot of coffeeon and passes the time with the fewwho walk in from the past, like the"fellow who used to be a cellmate ofBig Bill Haywood at Leavenworth,drops by just about every Sund ay, justto talk.""W e really aren't doing any organ -izing now," Bob told a visitor notlong ago. "The fellows who still be-long, it's mostly an ideal with them.You can't keep paying dues in twounions, and the one that gets you ajob is the one you take."THE CAUSE lost most of its rem aining

    missionaries in 1949 when the U.S.government administered the most re-cent of the many dea thblows that theIWW has absorbed. It was placed onthe Attorney-General's list of subver-sive organizations because its member-ship, estimated at 1400 at the time,was feared as a group that " ... seeksto alter the form of governm ent of theUnited States by unconstitutionalmeans." W. H. Westman, the IWWGeneral Secretary-Treasurer, wrote toTom Clark to ask for a reversal ofthe ruling, or at Ieast an explanationof it, but was granted neither, andthe ailing Wobbly treasury was tooweak to do battle with the govern.ment it threatened by carrying thematter into court.

    Big Bill Haywood had tried to ex-plain back in 1918 at the trial of the101 W obbly leaders indicted for sub-versive activities that the Wobblydream was not political at all; that itdidn't seek to change the form of gov-ernment, but the form of economy;that its aim was to organize indus-trially to "form the structure of thenew society within the shell of theold."Those leaders were left to form thenew soc iety within the jails of the old,and when Warren Harding granted acommutation of sentence four yearslater, the leaders came out with theirvision clouded, and the IW W was nev-er quite the same. Haywood said toRalph Chaplin once that "The handsof our people are calloused an d scar-red from trying to make a dream cometrue," and after four years at CookCounty Jail and Leavenworth, thehearts were scarred too. Haywood andGeorge Andreytchine went to Russia,and the loss was the deepest the IW Whad to bear.The W obblies had lost their leaders


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    before, but this was a different kindof loss. It was one thing to lose FrankLittle to a lynching mob when hetried to organize the miners in Butte,Montana; and to lose Joe Hill to afiring squad in Salt Lake City and beable to tell the world his last wordswere "Don't mourn for meorgan-ize!" It was quite another thing tolose Haywood and Andreytchine to aforeign land.

    There were others, later, who didn'tgo physically to Russia but movedspiritually to the Communist Party,and the Party's activities in the U.S.after the first world war were one ofthe vital drains on the health of theIWW. It was one of the deepest blowsof all, in the way that Haywood's exilewas, to see old Wobbly leaders ex-change the grass-roots American radi-calism of the IWW for the Soviet-grown dream of the party. In 1923the IWW paper Industrial Solidaritycalled across the ideological miles toits former Fellow Worker William Z.Foster with a kind of brotherly mes-sage to a black sheep who'd strayedaway from home for good:

    Willie, you may print a ton ofLabor Heralds each month in theyear, and fill them from cover tocover w ith robber, thief, highjack.You m ay shout reactionary, yellow,to the top of your breath, but aft-er it is all over, the IWW will stillbe the IWW that it was when youwere third cook in that lumber-camp in the Northwest.

    Elizabeth Gurley Flynn went, too,and Earl Browder, and many others.Those that remained were often bruis-ed and bullied by the Communistswho stole so much of their thunderand used it against them. Ralph Chap-lin, the IWW poet and editor, wasspeaking for the Wobblies at a soap-box meeting in Chicago in the Thir-

    ties when a Communist youth grouptried to lead his crowd away. Theycalled him a reactionary and finallydrowned out his voice by singing "Sol-idarity Forever"the song he had writ-ten years before for the IWW.Assignment to the subversive listwas a particularly unpleasant irony forthe Wobblies, who had fought theCommunists right down the line, andwere battered by them as they werebattered by employers, and the ranksof Respectability. The MTWU of theIWW had fought them on the water-front throughout the thirties when notmany others were fighting them; andfor their efforts the Wobblies nowbear a "subversive" brand, and thatis one more factor in their loneliness.Their old friends on the waterfrontmust now risk a taint by even comingto see them, and Manhattan Branch510 hasn't had enough men to holda meeting in a year.

    "It used to be we had to have fif-teen men for a quorum," Bob Willocktold his visitor. "This union's mostlytransient, though, you know. Wechanged it to seven a few years back,but there hasn't been that many tohold a meeting with for well, I guessabout a year now."

    The afternoon the visitor came toask questions, there were only twomen, besides Bob. "Not too many yearsago," he said, "this hall was so crowd-ed you couldn't get inside the doorat this time of night. The old fellowsused to drop by for old times sake,even though they didn't belong any-more. But then, a few years back, theother unions moved their halls up-town, and it was too far to come."0 THERE is a tall, straight lighthousewith bold initials "IWW" and twowhite beams shining out from its tow-


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    er. Churning against it from everyside are tidal waves pouring from adark region labeled "Reaction" andwritten in the waves are the symbols"CIO," "AFL," "NLRB," a swastika,and a hamm er-and-sickle.The scene appears in a three-col-umn, page one cartoon of The Indus-trial Worker, official fortnightly news-paper of the IWW. Unread copies,stacked in piles according to dates,clutter a table in the corner of theManhattan Wobbly hall.The visitor picked up an issue fromthe pile at the front, unfurled the fourpages to their flag-like width, and no-ticed two large portraits. One was ofW esley Everest (killed by a m ob in araid on his union hall at Centralia,W ash., Nov. 11, 1919); the other wasof Joe Hill (shot by a firing squad inSalt Lake City for a disputed murdercase after organizing a strike nearby,Nov. 19, 1915). On the first page ofthe paper is a black-bordered list of18 IW W mem bers killed while servingthe union on various dates of pastNovembers, and the heading is "InNovember We R emember." The m ostrecent date is 1927.The dates, the pictures, the old-style seven-column makeup, the poetry,bear that unmistakable flavor of thepast that is a part