RADICALS AND THE BLACK WORKER
The Industrial Workers of the World, popularly known as the “Wobblies,” was founded in the summer of 1905 by progressives in the American labor and socialist movements who were convinced that the working class should be organized without regard to skill, color, sex, or national origin. Although the IWW did little to organize black workers during the first four years of its existence, in 1910 it launched a determined recruiting campaign. Widely distributed leaflets and pamphlets emphasized that Negroes were discriminated against not only because of their race, but also because, disproportionately, they were unskilled workers. Only a union such as the IWW, organized along industrial lines, could solve these twin problems. IWW literature constantly reminded readers that, since employers would force wages down to the level at which the poorest blacks would toil, whites had no choice but to unionize them. The IWW denounced black strikebreakers as “niggers,” but heralded black unionmen as “Negro fellow workers,”119
The Wobblies denounced all manifestations of Jim Crowism, and condemned lynching as utter “savagery.” Unlike most other unions, the IWW practiced what it preached, even in the deepest South. Since it opposed political action at the ballot box as a waste of energy, Negro disfranchisement was not a serious obstacle to IWW plans for building racial unity. It has been estimated that 10 per cent of the one million membership cards issued by the IWW between 1909 and 1924 went to Afro-Americans, but the actual number was probably much lower because the organization was most active in areas of the country where few blacks lived. The IWW did recruit large numbers of black dockmen along the Atlantic coast waterfronts. In fact, the Marine Transport Workers was the most powerful docker union in Philadelphia from 1913 until the early 1920s. The union itself was organized by Benjamin Fletcher, a black IWW organizer. Fletcher subsequently was imprisoned on a federal charge of conspiracy and violation of the Espionage Act (see not 138).
One of the most inspiring chapters in IWW history is the organization of the yellow pine lumber industry in Louisiana and Texas. Blacks comprised more than half of the workers in that industry. As with other fields of labor, black lumbermen received less pay for doing more work than their white counterparts, but both lived as economic vassals of the lumber barons. In 1910 the lumbermen secretly organized into the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, and by 1912 had a membership of more than 20,000, half of whom were blacks organized into segregated “colored lodges.”
In 1912 the BTW became affiliated with the IWW. William “Big Bill” Haywood (see note 127), the driving force behind the IWW, and Covington Hall, who, as editor of The Lumberjack was the BTW’s chief publicist,120 attended the BTW convention in Louisiana to present the case for affiliation. When Haywood learned that the black members could not meet in the same hall without breaking the state law, he called the black brothers to join with the whites. “If it is against the law, this is one time when the law should be broken,” he said. The men discovered for the first time that “they could mingle in meetings as they mingled at work.” The lumber barons immediately launched an intensive effort to destroy the interracial union. They resorted to every weapon in the anti-union arsenal, but none of these measures succeeded. When the union struck the American Lumber Company in Merryville, Louisiana, the company imported blacks, European immigrants, and Mexicans, but the scabs refused to break the strike. A committee of Merryville businessmen, who sided with the company, organized the “Good Citizens League,” which then hired strong-arm men and deputized them. The coalition unleashed a violent offensive which crushed the strike and destroyed the union. The assault was part of a broader effort by the Southern Lumber Operators’ Association, led by John Henry Kirby, the owner of the largest lumber company in East Texas, to break the union throughout the pine region. Violence characterized the assault, but nowhere more dramatically than at the small mill town of Grabow, Louisiana. In a ten-minute gun battle precitipated by company gunmen, four men were killed and forty wounded (see note 133).121
The documents presented in Part VII reveal the attitudes and relationships between black workers and the radical wing of the American labor movement.
The Socialists Invite Afro-Americans to their rank and hold out Flattering Inducements
Editor Colored American:—In your issue of August 18th, you give an editorial on the Steel Strike, in which you indicate that the Negro must side with the capitalists. It should therefore be interesting to you and your readers to hear what the Socialists propose for the Negro.
The Appeal to Reason, of Girard, Kans., is the largest Socialist paper in the country and in its issue of Aug. 17th, it gives the Socialist platform. Among the planks is this:
“Whereas, The Negroes of the United States, because of their long training in slavery and but recent emancipation therefrom, occupy a peculiar position in the working class and in society at large,
“Whereas, The capitalist class seeks to preserve this peculiar condition and to foster and increase color prejudice and race hatred between the white worker and the black, so as to make their social and economic interest to appear to be separate and antagonistic in order that the workers of both races may be more easily and completely exploited.
“Whereas, Both the old political parties and educational and religious institutions alike betray the Negro in his present helpless struggle against disenfranchisement and violence, in order to receive the economic favors of the capitalistic class; be it therefore
“Resolved, That we, the Sociliasts of America, in National Convention assembled, do hereby assure our negro fellow worker of our sympathy with him in his subjection to lawlessness and oppression, and also assure him of the fellowship of the workers who suffer from the lawlessness and exploitation of capital in every nation or tribe of the world; be it further
“Resolved, That we declare to the negro worker the identity of his interests and struggles with the interests and struggles of the workers of all lands, without regard to race or color or national lines: that the causes which have made him the victims of social and political inequality are the effects of the long exploitation of his labor-power that all social and race prejudices spring from the ancient economic causes which still endure to the misery of the whole human family, that the only line of division which exists in fact is that between the producers and the owners of the world—between capitalism and labor; and be it further
“Resolved, That we, the American Socialist Party invite the negro in membership and fellowship with us in the world movement for economic emancipation by which equal liberty and opportunity shall be secured to every man, and fraternity become the order of the world.”
FRANCIS B. LIVESEY,
The Colored American, August 31, 1901.
Evansville Politicians Are Blaming Socialists for Race Riot
Do Not Dare to Support Their Accusation by Naming any Socialist as Implicated —Slander Gives Opportunity for Debs to Declare Socialists’ Opposition to Race Prejudice.
EVANSVILLE, Ind. July 17.—Some capitalist spokesmen, journalistic and otherwise, of this place and elsewhere in this part of the country, have made a strenuous but ineffectual effort to put upon the Socialists of Evansville the responsibility for the recent disgraceful lynching and rioting episode.
Captain A. W. Dudley, commanding Company B, of the National Guard, if not the author of this outrageous slander, was at least the principal mouthpiece for those who devised it. He declared, and some of the papers gave prominent place to his statement, that the mob was led by Socialists. Called on to name the men or even one of them, he could not do so, but took refuge in the statement that the sister of one of the men shot by the militia admitted that her brother was a Socialist. Afterwards, pressed still further to substantiate his charge, he and his friends shifted their ground and said that the Socialists were not so much to blame, after all, but, there were “Anarchists of the worst type in Evansville, who were responsible for the trouble. This is, of course, as baseless a fabrication as the other.
Eugene V. Debs has made a forcible reply to these falsifiers through the columns of a local paper, bringing out the real facts of the case. He said, in part:
“If Captain Dudley is correctly quoted, he is an ass. As a matter of fact, not a single Socialist was connected, directly or indirectly with the Evansville outrages. The Socialists are the only ones who recognize not merely the political and economic equality of the negro, but his social equality as well. Among Socialists there is not the slightest trace of race prejudice and to charge that they instigated the riotous crusade against the negroes in Evansville is an infamous calumny.
Dudley’s Party to Blame
“Instead of the Socialists the fact is that the rotten and vote buying political party to which Dudley belongs is responsible for these crimes. In the late municipal election at Evansville hundreds of negroes were imported from Kentucky to help elect the present Republican Mayor of that city. The negro whose murder of the policeman precipitated the conflict, was one of these. He was a Republican, the policeman he murdered was a Republican and the city officers for whom he acted as political plugger were also Republicans. After the election this negro felt that as one of the main props of the administration he could strut and swagger at will. This was the starting point of the present trouble which since then has been brewing and required only some spark to set it off. The whole trouble is the culmination of the negro as a factor in politics and, as is notoriously true, a corrupting factor, since he finds ready sale for his votes in the political market of Evansville. The Socialists never purchased a negro vote nor imported a negro voter to debauch politics and incite race war in Evansville. Will Dudley says the same for the party to which he belongs? In the light of these facts who is responsible, the Socialists or they who seek by the cry of stop thief to criminate them in order to divert attention from the consequences of their own crimes?”
Comrade Debs also warmly denounced the riotous attack upon the colored waiters at Linton, feeling that if it was true that union miners were involved in the affair, as alleged, they had proven false to the principals of their union as formulated by its conventions and by President Mitchell:
Miners Should Repudiate
“It is generally understood that the mob at Linton was composed of union miners. I am not ready to believe this but whoever it consisted of they merit unqualified condemnation. I am opposed to all forms of violence, but do not hesitate to give it as my opinion that if, in the absence of any effort on the part of the state to protect them, the negroes massed their forces and marched into Linton to resent the outrages perpetrated upon their people, they would be eminently justified in doing so. This, however, is not the way to proceed in such an extremity and the negroes do well to bear with patience and bide their time.
“The miner’s union cannot afford to bear the odium of such an outrage and they owe it to themselves to disavow all connection with or responsibility for it. They can scarcely do less in view of the fact that their organization is appealing to the negroes of Kentucky and West Virginia to help them fight their battles. At this very hour, President Mitchell is in Kansas assuring the negroes that the miners’ union is their friend and proposes to recognize them on terms of equality.”
The Worker, July 26, 1903.
There are too many workers who feel that color, race or nationality and not status as a worker should determine what their attitude should be towards other workers. They argue that blood alone can tell. I would not train a child of mine like that for any sum of money. I rejoice greatly in being absolutely free from such feeling. I could associate with a negro or a Chinaman, or any other nationality or color, provided the person behaves as a man ought to behave and does not live on the produce of other people’s labor. If “The Negro was created solely for surveying land with a jackass,” I see no reason why that work is not as honorable as surveying a board with a jackplane.
Some of our Southern brothers have evidently not studied the labor problem very deeply when they can write “that there is no need to ever fear the competition of the disorganized colored carpenter;” for the unorganized colored carpenters of the South are not only a danger to those who live in the South, but the unorganized carpenters in New Orleans are a danger to the organized carpenters of San Francisco, and the unorganized, unskilled workers in China are a danger to the most skilled workers in America. The workers are a class, and when one worker is degraded the whole class suffers without regard to color or nationality; and if we can lift up one branch of the working class the whole class is benefited.
It may be best for our colored brothers to have their own unions where the race prejudice exists; but sitting with a colored brother in a lodge-room does not require us to invite him to our home, any more than it would compel me to invite to my home J. P. Morgan, Mark Hanna, J. D. Rockefeller, or anyone else of the capitalistic rich white trash of the “Four Hundred,” who might belong with me to some lodge or order like the Masons, Knights of Pythias or Odd Fellows. I might have to sit with some of that rich white trash in a lodge, but that would not force me to invite them to my home to torture my family with their fashionable snobbery.122
There are capitalists and rich people who do useful work, and earn their own living, who are just as good as any ordinary workingman; but an industrious negro who works to earn his own living is surely a more desirable companion in a lodge or at home than a capitalist who lives in luxury on what he obtains by speculation, interest, rent or profit from the products of the labor of other people. Let us have the colored carpenters organized. Let us have all the colored people organized in unions, and let us have organized all the “poor white trash” all over the land that does useful work. Let us unite and so reorganize the government of the United States that we shall have an industrial government instead of the present military government with its soldiers to kill working people who ask for more pay for their work. Let us study the industrial problems and learn the tricks by which the larger part of the wealth we produce is diverted from us into the pockets of those who do not do any useful work; and when the working people, as a class, realize that it through the machinery of government that their products are turned over to the nonproducers, we will soon find a remedy by assuming control of the government; and our labor unions are needed to teach us to stand together, white or colored.
TARAL T. FRICKSTAD
Local Union 36
The Carpenter (September, 1903): 6, 10.
“There is no clash between the white man of the South and the negro of MY CLASS!” said John Mitchell, Jr., President of the Mechanics’ Savings Bank of Richmond, Va., at the convention of the Bankers’ Association in New York City. Mr. Mitchell declared that no color line was drawn between the “better class” of whites and the “better class” of blacks, and that the negro was learning that as a business man the negro would be respected and not discriminated against. “He was received with enthusiasm and his brief remarks proved to be one of the memorable features of the convention. Among the Southern delegates a feeling of genuine satisfaction was expressed and they united in praising Mr. Mitchell’s speech,” says the New York “Evening Post.” And when the colored banker had finished and was being cheered and congratulated on all sides, the bankers were roused to new enthusiasm by a response from one of the South’s best-known financiers, Col. Robert J. Lowry of Atlanta, who said: “I am delighted to hear from my Southern brother. There is no fight, no hostility, between his class and my race in Georgia—or anywhere else. I am glad to hear this gentleman from Virginia. The gentleman is right in what he says.”
This touching scene in which the Southern white capitalist greeted the black capitalist as a gentleman and a brother in a striking proof of the fact that the race question is at bottom, like all other questions, a class question.
It is undoubtedly true that the negro has suffered much discrimination and outrage merely because of race feeling, and on the surface it may seem that the hatred of blacks is wholly caused, by repugnance to those of another race. But the real source of this race feeling is to be found in the fact that the negroes AS A RACE were once, as slaves, almost the sole working class in the North together with the fact that most of them are now working people—wage slaves instead of chattel slaves.
The non-productive ruling class, whether it be a slave holding class or capitalist class, always looks down upon and despises the other class which toils and sweats for it and feeds it and produces all the wealth upon which it lives in luxury. The capitalist’s contempt of the white workingman is restrained only by the consideration that it is necessary to get his vote, by the fact that it is necessary to maintain the illusion of social and political equality in order to keep the white workingman contented with his lot. The white workingman is used to believing himself “as good as any man” and it is therefore necessary for the capitalists to keep up this flattering illusion in order to persuade him to continue to submit to the present industrial system of legalized robbery. But because the negro working class is not long used to political freedom, and because the master class of the South once owned him bodily as a chattel slave, the contempt of the Southern ruling class for the negro workingman is entirely unrestrained, and the negro’s age-long habit of submission is taken advantage of to throw out his vote or disfranchise him.
That the Southerner’s contempt for the negro is not really based on any physical repugnance to him as a person is proven by the fact that the rich whites of the South think nothing of tolerating the presence of the black man as a personal servant waiting upon them, shaving them, attending them in baths and performing all sorts of services which bring the colored man into the closest personal contact with his master. And the thousands of mulatoes in the South are living proofs that many of the white men who express their horror at the thought of “social equality” freely enter into the most intimate of all personal relations with the women of the black race, as did many of the old slaveholders who considered their female slaves as sexual property as well as sources of material profit.
As a matter of fact there is no “social equality” between the workingmen and the rich men of any race. The white capitalist moves in the “cultured and respectable society” of hos own class and would regard as preposterous and abhorrent the idea of receiving the “coarse and vulgar workingman” on a basis of equality; the workingman is admitted to his circles only in a despised menial capacity in some places special street cars for workingmen have been proposed (just as the South has its “Jim Crow” cars for negroes) in order that the fine ladies and gentlemen of the capitalist class may not have to soil themselves by riding in the same cars with “the dirty, ignorant workingmen.”
That the Southern capitalist has no more regard for the workingman of his own race than he has for the negro is shown by the fact that wherever white workingmen go on strike, the capitalists never hesitate to replace them with negro scabs, and the black man who will do any equal amount of work for less wages can always get the job of the white. When a question of capitalist profit is involved race lines disappear and class division, regardless of race, stands out clearly for all to see. And that the negro is despised by the Southern upper class really for the reason that he is a workingman, and consequently poor, is proven by the fact that both the negroes and the prosperous whites consider the “poor white trash” of the South still lower than the black race itself.
The speech of the colored capitalist at the convention of the Bankers’ Association, and the way to which it was received by the Southern gentry present, prove that the Southern capitalist does not say: “All ‘coons” look alike to me.” To the Southern capitalist the black banker is evidently a “gentleman” and a brother in the fraternity of capitalist parasites, but the black workingman is despised as a “loafer” and an inferior being, as is the white workingman. And the black banker has a delightfully simple solution of the race problem: Just let all negroes become bankers or business men and then they will be respected and race hatred will disappear. White workingmen are familiar with the same advice: Just let them save enough capital out of their wages, by the practise of industry, thrift, frugality and other capitalist virtues, to compete with multi-million-dollar trusts and then they will be eminently respectable citizens.
It is part of the instinctive policy of the capitalist class to perpetuate itself by creating and playing upon race hatred in order to keep workingmen of all races and nationalities from uniting to overthrow the infamous industrial system by which the capitalists profit. And it is also part of capitalist policy to use a weaker race to undermine the efforts of the more intelligent workingmen to better their conditions and emancipate their class. So it happens that Booker T. Washington and other prominent colored men are coddled by the ruling capitalist class and need to teach the colored men to be hardworking, submissive and contented under the tyranny of capitalism. . . .
Booker T. Washington, the best type of the negro leader who is entirely satisfactory to the capitalist, has recently been put to a crucial test on the question of working class vs. capitalist class. During the recent great meat strike, in which so many of his race were used as strike breakers, he was asked by the union of the workers in the stockyards to address a meeting, which both union and non-union workingmen were invited to attend, on the question: “Should negroes act as strike breakers?” In this position, so awkward for a man who has dined with the capitalist President who stands for the “open shop,” Booker escaped by pleading the convenient excuse of “a previous engagement: which would prevent his being present.
Some negro papers openly advise the colored man to show his “faithfulness” and his industrial power by taking a job wherever he can get it, even if he is thus helping to break a strike, and promise that this will result in capitalist favor and respect; notwithstanding the fact that the strike breaker is always despised even by the capitalist himself and kicked out when he can no longer be used.
The Socialist movement, on the other hand, appeals to all workingmen, without regard to race, color, or previous condition of servitude (but with very lively regard to present condition of servitude), to realize that their interests are in common and against the interests of all capitalists and to unite to overthrow capitalist rule.
Many of the Southern trade unions are realizing this, in some measure, by admitting the negroes to membership equally with the white, just as the bankers recognize their common class interest by welcoming the negro banker.
To the negro Socialism says: As a workingman you are oppressed by your capitalist boss as you were as a slave by your master, you are enslaved and robbed of the product of your labor under wage-slavery as you were under chattel slavery; you must unite with all other workingmen in the Socialist movement to free yourselves.
To the white workingman Socialism says: “If you do not realize your common interests with your black fellow-workman he will be used against you by the capitalist, who is the enemy of both of you. You must recognize that his interests as a workingman are the same as yours and must enroll him as a comrade in the fight against capitalism.
And to the white Southerner who fears the bugaboo of “social equality” with the negro, and objects to Socialism on that ground, it may be said. No one who objects to “social equality” with the negro, or with anyone else, can be forced to associate with those who are uncongenial to them under Socialism or under any other system. No one need invite to his home or seek the company of those who are displeasing to him. Socialism stands for political and economic equality, and in all public relations men of all races must have the same rights as human belings; but private association is a matter for each individual to decide for himself. And finally it should be remembered that as repugnance to the colored man has its chief source in his subservient position as a worker, together with all the lack of advantages which that position implies, therefore under Socialism, when opportunity for education and culture will be open to all, the negro and all others who are now crushed and degraded by capitalism will develop to a point where they will no longer be “inferior,” and consequently no longer repellant or uncongenial.
The Worker, October 2, 1904.
Rev. Geo. W. Slater, Jr., Pastor Zion Tabernacle123 3000 LaSalle St., Chicago, Ill.
In the struggle between labor and capital the former is the under factor, and therefore suffers. Labor revolts against capital because it cannot, and also because it is not well for it, to be satisfied with less than the full product of the toil. This position of labor is a just one.
Compulsory education has increased intelligence among the laborers. Because of this increase in education, higher has become the general taste and greater his demands. To satisfy this higher taste and to supply this greater demand, he needs comparatively greater returns from his toil. Hence, he asks for higher wages. The capitalist’s greed for gain causes him to raise higher the price of food.
When the laborers’ demand for higher wages is acceded to by the capitalist, the capitalist in turn raises still higher the prices of goods for the purpose of preserving his profits. This raising of prices continues until it has reached the limit of the ability and willingness of the consumer to purchase. When the capitalist reaches the consumer’s limit he finds that the laborer is still demanding more, which more wages encroaches perceptibly upon his profits. At this the capitalist balks. Then the laborers in one way or another protests, which protest usually takes the form of a strike.
In order to break the strike the capitalist is forced to find two agencies, as
1. He must find either laborers who are willing to work for less wage than that demanded, by the contending laborers.
The colored laborer, more and more, is becoming a factor, one way or another, in labor disputes. Frequently he is used as a strike breaker. For this purpose it appears from certain indications that the capitalist will attempt to use the colored man more and more. It is certain that the business, industrial and agricultural schools are fast qualifying the colored man so that he can do the capitalist’s work satisfactorily. (By the way, you know that he is being educated in capitalist schools). Because of this increasing preparation, the doubt as to his ability for such an agent in the hands of the capitalist, supported by a capitalist owned and controlled police and army, is fast disappearing.
Under the existing economic conditions there can be found white men who will readily serve as strike breakers, for the temptation for a hungry, freezing, clothesless and houseless man to work for half loaf when he hasn’t any under these conditions the temptation is too strong, especially at this time of his little information and class consciousness. Also the colored man has the same strong temptation confronting him. Also it is true that the colored man has as much right to take the place of a striker as a white man.
While it must be admitted that the colored laborer has as much right as a white man to be a strike breaker, yet the question is patent whether it is wise for the colored man to be recognized by the poor white laborers as a menace to his laudable aims.
To my mind it is very unwise, for the following reasons:
1. The good that the strike breaker resolves is but temporary, because soon he is reduced to the same necessity to protest against low wages or to starve. The new position which he holds is not because the capitalist thinks any more of him or desires to give him good wages. He has the new position he is willing to work for a lower wage than the other, thus the capitalist can make out of him more profits. From press, pulpit, platform and school rostrum, practically, the people have been taught that the great desideratum is the “almighty dollar” the “rule of Gold” instead of the “Golden Rule.” Therefore it is inwrought in his very make-up that the more dollars he has, the more respected hs is on earth (which is no lie), and also in heaven (which is a lie).
Profits are the outcome of exploiting the weak. The selfishness, great and cunning which is necessary to produce profits is still with the capitalist, and he continues to systematically, exploit the strike breaker just as he had done the striker.
2. It is unwise, because by becoming recognized as a strike breaker he is intensifying the already dislike of a strong foe organized labor—the foe which is strong because it is intelligent, large numerically, well organized and its members enjoy the elective franchise, throughout the country, which unique qualifications this body used against whatever and whoever it considers a menace to its aims. The poor white laborers of this country are largely in the majority in every walk of life, and through the influence of organized labor they are becoming more and more conscious of their position and power, and therefore are becoming more assertive. Even if it was desirable, it is not probable that the colored man could succeed ultimately against such odds. In a dual struggle, which is inevitable, the poor white policemen, detectives and soldiers will take the part of their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, as they usually do even now, thereby having the colored man unprotected against the vengeance of his poor white neighbor.
3. God, of one blood, made all nations to dwell upon the face of the earth in peace—not in strife. Strife between men of a common destiny is subortive of their best interests. The capitalist knows that strife among them is against the financial interests, hence the trust. The laboring people must and are learning the same thought slowly, but surely, hence, the inevitableness of economic Socialism.
Chicago Daily Socialist, January 14, 1909.
I am speaking not alone for the I.W.W., but I am speaking for ten millions of black people. The solution of the great race problem lies in the organization of the colored race industrially which is the only organization they can comprehend. . . . I don’t believe the I.W.W. wants this congress to endorse it. It simply wants you to recognize the principle of industrial organization. The cause of Socialism demands that we shall adopt the industrial form of organization because that is the form that reaches down and gets the lowest down; and we have got to get the man that is lowest down or the capitalist will use him to defeat us and defeat his own interests. Now whether it is right or wrong the white people of the south won’t mix with the negroes. Men go down there for a few months and try to understand the condition of things. I have lived among these people for forty-five years and new things come up every day. But after living in both sections, and standing impartial on this question, I believe that the industrial organization is the only solution of this tremendous problem. You cannot organize the negroes politically in the south; it would do you no good if you did. They disfranchise him. But this industrial movement will educate him; and when the white Socialists get into power, he will come in as an educated man to do his part, and will become a valuable citizen. That is why I am in favor of the industrial form of organization.
Delegate McAllister (Mo.): You say the colored man is disfranchised. Some of the comrades deny that. Will you explain that?
The Chairman: No, no. We won’t go into that. . . .
Proceedings, 1910 Socialist Party Convention, pp. 280–81.
Solidarity has received the following note from a reader in Chicago:
“You have undoubtedly read the brutally frank remarks ‘Lord’ Gompers made regarding our unfortunate fellow citizens of black color. I am an old man, have lived in this so-called republic for 58 years, have seen it as low as a corrupt and unprincipled people could make it go; but I have noted at all times a number of higher and finer souls who have striven to lift it out of the mire. Today I look despairingly for the beacon lights upon whom the nation might look in its hour of distress. I remember many a harsh, inhuman, eye, brutal expression regarding those of our fellow beings whom the superior race exploited in a manner that called forth the condemnation of the best men and women in this and other countries. But I remember nothing more brutal, more heartless, more arrogant, more foolish than the proposal of this autocrat, this ‘philosopher of right,’ this firm believer in the ‘brotherhood of man,’ whose every word belies his fine phrases that ill cover up the real object, purpose and tendency of this impudent program. I hope the members of the labor unions are not as unjust, inhuman, impudent, cruel, what you please to call it, as their star leader. If they are, the condemnation of conscientious, just, decent mankind will apply to them also. I beg of you to take note of his utterances and give them the setting they deserve. I have no faith in the socialists doing it, as they ought to. Berger is getting to be a diplomat already.”
The above allusion is to an alleged statement by Gompers at a reception on November 18, in St. Louis, given by the local A.F. of L. to the delegates to the national convention of that body. In a speech on the occasion Gompers is reported to have touched upon the race question, in which he is declared to have said that “the negro is not far enough removed from slavery to understand human rights,” and may, therefore, be legitimate subjects for discrimination by the trades union movement.
Gompers denies the statement thus imputed to him, and declares that he made a special appeal for the organization of negroes into the trades unions, and only incidentally remarked in his speech that “in our efforts to win negroes for the unions’ cause, the fact should not be lost sight of that American negroes are only half a century removed from slavery and consequently are deprived of advantages that white men have enjoyed for centuries.”
This denial will not save Gompers or the A.F. of L. from the charge of race discrimination. On the contrary, the very form of the denial but shows a desire to justify such discrimination on the part of the craft union movement. The whole history of the American Federation of Labor adds emphasis to the point, not only as regards the negro, but also with reference to every foreign white worker as well. Race and nationality discrimination is a patent fact all along the line. The A.F. of L. is an “American” organization in the narrow “Yankee” sense of that term. And it is so because the A.F. of L. is primarily based upon the “aristocracy of skill.” The skilled workers, being originally native white Americans, found thereby a lasting and perfectly justifiable (to them) reason for their “patriotism” and their aversion to foreigners and native blacks who were just emerging from chattel slavery.
As a consequence of this situation and environment, each nationality and foreign workmen in turn had to fight for a place in the craft union ranks in America. And these “favored” ones from foreign lands, who finally fought their way into the “organized aristocracy of skill” also became “patriots” and in many cases have outdone the natives in their opposition to the “pauper labor of Europe,” the yellow peril” and the “backward negro.”
Meanwhile industrial and social development have gone far beyond this narrow viewpoint of the trades union. The development of machinery, the expansion of industry, the removal of skilled processes, have enabled and compelled the employing class to scour the earth in search of all nations of unskilled labor, in every factory, store, and farm in America. Race prejudice has been fanned into flame and kept alive by capitalist agents, in order to keep the workers divided and at each others’ throats.
The A.F. of L., far from trying to remove the race prejudice, has accentuated it by its form of organization, and by its attitude towards the unskilled workers, who make you the overwhelming mass of wage slaves, and who remain almost totally unorganized. The A.F. of L. only makes a bluff at organizing the unskilled when some other organization seriously undertakes that work, and thereby invades the field of the American labor movement. But it is ONLY A BLUFF on the part of the A.F. of L., because the organization of the unskilled would destroy the craft union and the official machine that now holds it together. The negro for the most part still belongs to the category of “unskilled,” and therefore, apart from his color, is an object of discrimination by the craft union.
This state of affairs cannot be wiped out by appeals to sentiment, however justifiable they may be. It can only be removed by education and organization along the lines of revolutionary industrial unionism as proposed by the I.W.W. The latter calls upon all wage workers, regardless of color, nationality, religion, politics, or any other consideration except that they are WAGE WORKERS—skilled and unskilled—to unite in one CLASS union on the industrial field. This appeal is not based on “sentiment” or “philanthropy,” but on economic (bread and butter) interests. Leaving the negro or the Jap or the “Hunky” outside of your union, makes him a potential if not an actual scab, dangerous to the organized workers, to say nothing of his own as a worker. In spite of any supposedly inborn prejudice any of us may have for any race or nationality, we cannot escape from this point of view. Present industrial and social conditions in America force it upon us irresistibly. Hidebound craft union “aristocrats” and their blind leaders like Gompers may not see it; so much the worse for them. “Diplomatic” socialists like Berger may not see it; so much the worse for them. The WORKING CLASS, thanks to industrial and social development and I.W.W. propaganda, will ere long see the necessity of uniting AS A CLASS and sweeping all the reactionary rubbish of craft unionism into the Sea of Oblivion.
So we say to our correspondent. Be of good sheer. The strong men of the working class will save the republic, and build a new and better society —Industrial Democracy—in its place.
Solidarity, November 26, 1910.
There is no place in the Socialist movement for men with race lines, boundary lines, or color lines
(Note.—Inasmuch as many communications have been addressed to the national office inquiring about the negro resolution adopted by the Socialist party, we print below the resolutions in question at the request of the national secretary.)
Whereas, The negroes of the United States, because of their long training in slavery and but recent emancipation therefrom, occupy a peculiar position in the working class and in society at large;
Whereas, The capitalist class seeks to preserve this peculiar condition, and to foster and increase color prejudice and race hatred between the white worker and the black, so as to make their social and economic interests to appear to be separate and antagonistic, in order that the workers of both races may thereby be more easily and completely exploited;
Whereas, Both old political parties and educational and religious institutions alike betray the negro in his present helpless struggle against disfranchisement and violence in order to receive the economic favors of the capitalist class. Be it therefore
Resolved, That we, the Socialists of America, in national convention assembled, do hereby assure our negro fellow worker of our sympathy with him in his subjection to lawlessness and oppression and also assure him of the fellowship of the workers who suffer from the lawlessness and exploitation of capital in every nation or tribe of the world. Be it further
Resolved, That we declare to the negro worker the identity of his interests and struggles with the interests and struggles of the workers of all lands, without regard to race or color or sectional lines; that the causes which have made him the victim of social and political inequality are the effects of the long exploitation of his labor power; that all social and race prejudices spring from the ancient economic causes which still endure, to the misery of the whole human family; that the only line of division which exists in fact is that between the producers and the owners of the world—between capitalism and labor. And be it further
Resolved, That we, the American Socialist party, invite the negro to membership and fellowship with us in the world movement for economic emancipation by which equal liberty and opportunity shall be secured to every man and fraternity become the order of the world. (Chicago Daily Socialist.)
The Prolocutor (Garden City, La.), April 13, 1911.
In one of the later issues of Solidarity, which, through the kindness of a friend, I can enjoy to read, I find a contribution from a Californian referring to our colored fellow beings as “niggers,” thus using the opprobrious term on a par with “sheeny,” “mick,” “guinea,” “dago” and other insulting terms used by arrogant and ignorant people—usually they are both.
The writer seems to be a German. I remember the time when we were called “dutchmen” in this country, and hooted with “Nix come ‘raus ous Dutchman’s house.” The quotation your California writer perverts is to be found in Schiller’s “Fiesko,” where it reads: “Der Mohr hat seine Schuldigkeit gethan, —der Mohr kann gehen.” The irony is fine, and merited the satire; but “nigger” is not the word to use for negro, if one wishes (unity?) with the downtrodden class. . . . 124
(It may be that our California correspondent made a “bum” translation of Schiller’s apt satire. But the use of the quotation itself would tend to show that he had no race prejudice in mind. As Solidarity has all along insisted, the race problem can never be solved on the basis of sentiment, or of tact of polite language, though such are desirable; but on the recognition of the common economic interests of all wage-workers, regardless of color, sex or nationality. A striking instance came to the editor’s attention at the Sixth I.W.W. convention. The fraternal delegates from the Brotherhood of Timber Workers were all typical white southerners, imbued with all the race prejudice which is bred in that environment. They all insisted that they did not “love the negro” per se; but that they had discovered from their experience in organizing the lumber workers that the negro was an important factor, and they could not hope to successfully fight the lumber barons without taking the colored workers into the union on equal terms with white workers. They had to organize the negro in order to protect the common interests of all workers against all employers. The I.W.W. applies that principle generally; hence its program offers the only possible solution of the “race problem” For the rest, it depends largely upon the temperement of the individual whether or not he gives or takes offense at “opprobrious terms.” Even us poor native “white trash” get plenty of epithets hurled at us.—Editor Solidarity).
Solidarity, December 9, 1911.
If you allow yourselves to be made tools of by these men who are sent to hunt you up, and hold out flattering promises of good wages and good treatment, you are doing the very thing that our organization proposes to prevent and forever put a stop to. The Brotherhood of Timber Workers is the only one that has ever been organized in the South that takes the Negro and protects him and his family along with the white wage worker and his family on an industrial basis. Thousands of your race have taken advantage of the opportunities afforded by our order and have nobly and loyally performed their part in the great struggle of the wage worker for the right to organize and correct the abuses now fastened upon us by the companies. They seem to fully realize that we must all pull together and that each must perform his duty honorably if we expect to win the fight and take our proper place among the organized powers of the world. Are you one of this number of good, loyal Negroes who are willing to stand by their own class, or are you one of those fellows who have no thought of the future welfare of your race as well as yourself and family? If you go in and take the jobs that have been wrongfully taken away from honest, hard-working white and colored men, you will not only assist these mill men to keep up their system of low wages and abuses unmentionable, but you will also assist them in whipping the many thousands of white men and men of your own color and race. . . . Let us plead with you to get in and help us in this great fight for you and yours. If you cannot do this, in the name of all that is high and holy do not be misled and made tools of against the best interests of your own class and your own color.
Solidarity, December 23, 1911.
A correspondent wants to know the “I.W.W. attitude on the negro question, and on lynching.” As to lynching, all the I.W.W. men we have met are opposed to lynching, as they are opposed to savagery in whatever form, and most of all in the form of “civilized” human beings. As to the “negro question,” the I.W.W. does not distinguish that from the “labor question.” For the negro labor skinner we have no more or less use than for his white, brown, red or yellow brother labor skinner. For the negro worker, the I.W.W. invites him to join the union of his class, and shoulder to shoulder with all other workers of whatever color, help to put the labor skinners of all colors to work. Solidarity, June 8, 1912.
Don’t Allow Yourslves to be Divided from Your Fellow Workers by the Vicious Lumber Trust.
To all Negro Workers, and especially to the Negro Forest and Lumber Workers of the South, we send this message and appeal:
When the forest slaves of Louisiana and Texas revolted against peonage and began, about two years ago, the organization of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, an industrial union taking in all the workers in the sawmills and camps, the lumber kings at once recognized the power inherent in such a movement and immediately began a campaign of lying and violence against the Union and all persons connected with it or suspected of sympathizing with us.
First among the cries they raised against us was, of course, the bunco cries of “white supremacy” and “social equality” coupled with that other cry: “They are organizing negroes against whites!” which the capitalists and landlords of the South and their political buzzard and social carrion crows always raise in order to justify the slugging and assassination of white and colored working men who seek to organize and better the condition of their class. From the day you, the negro workers were “freed,” down to the present hour these cries have been used to cloak the vilest crimes against workers, white and colored, and to hide the wholesale rape of the commonwealth of the South by as soulless and cold blooded a set of industrial scalawags and carpetbaggers as ever drew the breath of life.125
For a generation, under the influence of these specious cries, they have kept us fighting each other—we to secure the “white supremacy” of a tramp and YOU the “social equality” of a vagrant. Our fathers “feel for it,” but we, their children, have come to the conclusion that porterhouse steaks and champagne will look as well on your tables as on those of the industrial scalawags and carpetbaggers; that the “white supremacy” that means starvation wages and child slavery for us and the “social equality” that means the same for you, though they may mean the “high life” and “Christian civilization” to the lumber kings and landlords, will have to go. As far as we, the workers of the South, are concerned, the only “supremacy” and “equality” they have ever granted us is the supremacy of misery and the equality of rags. This supremacy and this equality we, the Brotherhood of Timber Workers, mean to stand no longer than we have an organization big and strong enough to enforce our demands, chief among which is “A man’s life for all the workers in the mills and forests of the South.” Because the negro workers comprise one-half or more of the labor employed in the Southern lumber industry, this battle cry of ours, “A man’s life for all the workers,” has been considered a menace and therefore a crime in the eyes of the Southern oligarchy, for they, as well as we, are fully alive to the fact that we can never raise our standard of living and better our conditions so long as they can keep us plit, whether on race, craft, religions or national lines, and they have rried and are trying all these methods of division in addition to their campaign of terror, wherein deeds have been and are being committed that would make Diaz blush with shame, they are so atrocious in their white-livered cruelty. For this reason, that they sought to organize all the workers, A. L. Emerson, president of the Brotherhood, and 63 other Union men, are now in prison at Lake Charles, La. under indictment, as a result of the Massacre of Grabow where three Union men and one Association gunman were killed, charged with murder in the first degree, indicted for killing their own brothers, and they will be sent to the gallows, or, worde, to the frightful penal farms and levees of Louisiana, unless a united working class comes to their rescue with the funds necessary to defend them and the action that will bring them all free of the grave and levees.126
Further words are idle. It is a useless waste of paper to tell you, the negro workers, of the merciless injustice of the Southern Lumber Operators’ Association, for YOUR RACE has learned through tears and blood the hyenaism we are fighting. Enough. Emerson and his associates are in prison because they fought for the unity of all the workers.
Will you remain silent, turn no hand to help them in this, their hour of great danger?
Our fight is your fight, and we appeal to you to do your duty by these men, the bravest of the brave! Help us free them all. Join the Brotherhood and help us blaze freedom’s pathway through the jungles of the South.
“Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing but your chains to lose! You have a world to gain!”
COMMITTEE OF DEFENSE,
BROTHERHOOD OF TIMBER WORKERS,
Box 78, Alexandria, La.
Solidarity, September 28, 1912.
In Chicago I made arrangements to go down South into Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas to confer with the Lumber Workers. The Timber Workers Union was having a convention at Alexandria, Louisiana.
I knew that the lumberjacks and mill workers of that part of the country were both black and white, and when I went to the convention hall in Alexandria, I was very much surprised to find no Negroes in the session. When I inquired as to the reason, I was told that it was against the law in Louisiana for white and black men to meet together. The black men were meeting in some other hall.
I said, “You work in the same saw mills together. Sometimes a black man and a white man chop down the same tree together. You are meeting in convention now to discuss the conditions under which you labor. This can’t be done intelligently by passing resolutions here and then sending them out to another room for the black man to act upon; why not be sensible about this and call the Negroes into this convention? If it is against the law, this is one time when the law should be broken”
The Negroes were called into session without a murmur of opposition from anyone. The mixed convention carried on its work in an orderly way, and when it came to the election of delegates to the next I.W.W. convention, black men as well as white men were elected.
There was to be a mass meeting at the Opera House in Alexandria, at which I was to speak. I said that in this meeting as in the convention, we would have to make it known that the Negroes would come on the same terms as the white men, take part and sit where they pleased. There was to be no segretation of the Negroes in the top gallery, as the law provided. This was the first time that such a meeting had ever been suggested in Alexandria. The members did not know what might happen, but the House was crowded from pit to roof. While many Negroes went up to the gallery, probably from habit, many sat downstairs among the white workers. There was no interference by the management or the police, and the meeting had a tremendous effect on the workers, who discovered that they could mingle in meetings as they mingled at work.
Bill Haywood’s Book: The Autobiography of William D. Haywood (New York, 1929), pp. 241–42.
There is one question which, more than any other, presses upon the mind of the worker today, regardless of whether he be of one race or another, of one color or another—the question of how he can improve his conditions, raise his wages, shorten his hours of labor and gain something more of freedom from his master—the owners of the industry wherein he labors.
To the black race who, but recently with the assistance of the white man of the northern states, broke their chains of bondage and ended chattel slavery, a prospect of further freedom, of REAL FREEDOM, should be, most appealing.
For it is a fact that the Negro worker is no better off under the freedom he has gained than the slavery from which he has escaped. As chattel slaves we were the property of our masters and, as a piece of valuable property, our masters were considerate of us and careful of our health and welfare. Today, as wage workers, the boss may work us to death at the hardest and most hazardous labor, at the longest hours, at the lowest pay; we may quietly starve when out of work and the boss loses nothing by it and has no interest in us. To him the worker is but a machine for producing profits, and when you, as a slave who sells himself to the master on the installment plan, become old or broken in health or strength, or should you be killed while at work, the master merely gets another wage slave on the same terms.
We who have worked in the south know that conditions in lumber and turpentine camps, in the fields of cane, cotton and tobacco, in the mills and mines of Dixie, are such that the workers suffer a more miserable existence than ever prevailed among the chattel slaves before the great Civil War. Thousands of us have come and are coming northward, crossing the Mason and Dixon line, seeking better conditions. As wage slaves we have run away from the masters in the south only to become the wage slaves of the masters of the north. In the north we find that the hardest work and the poorest pay is our portion. We are driven while on the job and the high cost of living offsets any higher pay we might receive.
The white wage worker is little, if any, better off. He is a slave the same as we are, and, like us, he is regarded by the boss only as a means of making profits. The working class as a whole grows poorer and more miserable year by year, while the employing class, who do not work at all, enjoy wealth and luxury beyond the dreams of titled lords and kings.
As we are both wage workers, we have a common interest in improving conditions of the wage working class. Understanding this, the employing class seeks to engender race hatred between the two. He sets the black worker against the white worker and the white worker against the black, and keeps them divided and enslaved. Our change from chattel slaves to wage slaves has benefited no one but the masters of industry. They have used as wage slaves to beat down the wages of the white wage slaves, and by a continual talk of “race problems,” “Negro questions,” “segregation,” etc., make an artificial race hatred and division by poisoning the minds of both whites and blacks in an effort to stop any movement of labor that threatens the dividends of the industrial kings. Race prejudice has no place in a labor organization. As Abraham Lincoln has said, “The strongest bond that should bind man to man in human society is that between the working people of all races and of all nations.”
The only problem then which the Colored worker should consider as a worker is the problem of organizing with other working men in the labor organization that best expresses the interest of the whole working class against slavery and oppression of the whole capitalist class. Such an organization is the I.W.W., the INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD, the only labor union that has never, IN THEORY OR PRACTICE since its beginning twelve years ago, barred the workers of any race or nation from membership. The following has stood as a principle of the I.W.W., embodied in its official constitution, since its formation in 1905:
“By-Laws—Article 1. Section 1. No working man or woman shall be excluded from membership in Unions because of creed or color.”
If you are a wage worker you are welcome in the I.W.W. halls, no matter what your color. By this you may see the I.W.W. is not a white man’s union, not a black man’s union, not a red or yellow man’s union, but A WORKING MAN’S UNION, ALL OF THE WORKING CLASS IN ONE BIG UNION.
In the I.W.W. all wage workers meet on common ground. No matter what language you may speak, whether you were born in Europe, in Asia or in any part of the world, you will find a welcome as a fellow worker. In the harvest fields where the I.W.W. controls, last summer saw white men, black men and Japanese working together as union men and raising the pay of all who gathered the grain. In the great strikes the I.W.W. has conducted at Lawrence, Mass., in the woolen mills, in the iron mines of Minnesota and elsewhere, the I.W.W. has brought the workers of many races, colors and tongues together in victorious battles for a better life.
Not only does the I.W.W. differ from all organizations in regard to admission of all races, but there is a fundamental difference in form of organization from all other labor unions. You have seen other labor unions organized on craft, or trade lines. Craft unionism means that any small section of an industry has a labor union separate from all other actions that cannot act in any concerted movement of labor because of this craft separation. For example, in the railroad industry there are the engineers’ union, the firemen’s union, the conductors’ union, the brakemen’s union, the switchmen’s union and many others on the road and in the shops and yards.
Each union acts for itself and usually has time agreements with the companies for a term of years, each agreement ending at a different time than the others. When one craft union goes on strike at the end of the time agreement the other craft unions keep at work and by remaining on the job act as scabs and strike breakers in defeating their fellow workers of the craft on strike.
Thus in 1911 the men in the shops of the Marriman lines went on strike and the trainmen, who belonged to different craft unions, remained at work; the train crews took cars and delivered cars to the strike breakers in the shops because they were organized separately and had separate time agreements with the companies. That strike was lost because the railroad workers were organized wrong. The I.W.W. has INDUSTRIAL UNIONISM, which means that all crafts in any industry are organized together and act together. Had the I.W.W. been in the place of the craft unions on the Harriman lines in 1911, all workers could have gone out together, not a wheel would have turned, not a train would have moved till the companies would come to terms with the shopmen. For the I.W.W. makes NO TIME AGREEMENTS with any employer and makes AN INJURY TO ONE AN INJURY TO ALL. The I.W.W. always leaves its members free to strike when they see an opportunity to better themselves and support their fellow workers.
The foundation of the I.W.W. is INDUSTRIAL UNIONISM. All workers in any division or of any industry are organized into an INDUSTRIAL UNION OF ALL the workers in the ENTIRE INDUSTRY; these INDUSTRIAL UNIONS in turn are organized into INDUSTRIAL DEPARTMENTS of connecting, or kindred industries, while all are brought together in THE GENERAL ORGANIZATION OF THE INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD—ONE BIG UNION OF ALL THE WORKING CLASS OF THE WORLD. No one but actual wage workers may join. The working class cannot depend upon anyone but itself to free it from wage slavery. “He who would be free, himself must strike the blow.”
When the I.W.W. through this form of INDUSTRIAL UNIONISM has become powerful enough, it will institute an INDUSTRIAL COMMONWEALTH; it will end slavery and oppression forever and in its place will be a world of the thinkers, by the workers and for the workers; a world where there will be no poverty and want among those who feed and clothe and house the world; a world where the words “master” and “slave” shall be forgotten; a world where peace and happiness shall reign and where the children of men shall live as brothers in a world-wide INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY.
The following is the preamble of the I.W.W. constitution, showing the reason and form of its organization, the aims and purposes of its membership:
“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
“Between these two classes a struggle must go on, until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and machinery of production and abolish the wage system.
“We find that the centering of management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions, unable to cope with the ever-growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping to defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the workers have interests in common with their employers.
“These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any industry, or in all industries, of necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.
“Instead of the conservative motto, ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,’ we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, ‘Abolition of the wage system.’
“It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for the every day struggle with capitalists, but to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.”
The I.W.W. welcomes you as a member, no matter in what industry you may work. The initiation fee is $2, the dues are 50 cents a month. After you once join you have the right of free transfer into any industry. All that is necessary to continue membership is the payment of dues, regardless of where you go or what your work may be.
For further information write to
William D. Haywood, Gen. Sec.-Treas.127
I.W.W. Publication Bureau
1001 W. Madison St.
Pamphlet, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Papers, State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
I am under the impression that some of the workers will not join the I.W.W., or any other organization simply because, if the whites and Negroes meet in the same hall it is “Race Equality.” The white man goes to the same mill or planes and works all day side by side, day by day, year by year, pushing truck after truck of lumber, rolling and tussling with Negroes all day, drinking water out of the same bucket and the same dipper. As long as it happens at the capitalists’ mill it is all right.
But is it Race Equality and a bad offense for white and Negroes to meet in the Union Hall, tho’ the Negroes take one side of the hall and sit there with just as much respect as can be shown to the whites to try to better our conditions.
Some say, “We have the Negroes in the dark and let us keep them there and use them as a tool.” See where are we, then—in the dark with the Negroes. What are we, white and black? We are like a good many other tools—the capitalist uses us as a tool to make money with and, when they have worn us out, they throw us away and let the rust (the devil) take us.
When you speak about keeping the Negroes in the dark, then we are just as deep in the dark as the Negro is. This has been our greatest mistake; trying to keep one another in the dark; then the capitalist shuts the door on all working classes and they are going to keep us in there till we ourselves find light and get out of the dark and teach others to come to the light; teach others to join the one big union, the I.W.W.! Be a man, a Union Man.
J. H. EZERNACK
The Lumberjack, April 3, 1913.
By Phineas Eastman128
With the advent of sawmills and other big industries, and the construction of numerous lines of railroads in the South, day hands have been hard to get on plantations. So the owners rent to the negro tenant as many acres as he can cultivate. They make one stipulation; nothing but cotton is to be planted on this land and no part of it is to be devoted to the raising of garden truck. This, of course, compels the poor tenant to buy of the master, at exorbitant prices, food and clothing for himself and family, and feed for his work stock. Now if the negro is energetic and economizes with the hope of “coming out” at the end of the year with something above rent and store account he is eyed with suspicion. He is also slated for a great beating about the time his crop is to be “laid by” for the purpose of running him off the place and confiscating his season’s product. Should he, in desperation, refuse to run, the yarn, “He made a move as if to draw a weapon,” is worked again, and one more poor black peon will have gone to join the innumerable host of his fellows “in the silent halls of death.”
The negro is treated with more consideration in the southern lumber industry, but “there’s a reason.” The boss in this industry has been pitting the negro against the poor white and vice versa, and making suckers out of both. On account of the scarcity of labor he has been compelled to treat the negro with a semblance of fairness, in order to use him as club to hold over the rebellious white workers.
The negro still has a bloodthirsty enemy in the shape of the deputy sheriff stationed at each saw mill town and paid by the mill company. This contemptible tool of the master class in the South never lets a chance slip to graft on the negro in every way made possible by his ignorance and fear of the law. As these deputy scoundrels are recruited from the “bad native scissorbills,” they are just as quick to murder a negro as their plantation prototypes, the overseers.
Since the formation of the National Industrial Union of Forest and Lumber Workers of the I.W.W. in this section, the negro and white workers are fast getting together, and beginning to see a great light. They see that they have been played for fools by the bosses, and are banding together under the banner of the I.W.W. They mean to help each other in the fight for better conditions on the job, regardless of their difference in color, which they see cuts no ice with the boss, who would just as soon hire a cheap white as a cheap negro, or vice versa. There are many negroes in the Forest & Lumbers Workers’ Union. There is room for all of them. The only drawback is the lack of confidence some of them have in their white fellow-workers, caused by the poison injected in their minds by the wily boss. Employers have used every dirty method to keep the two, whose interests are the same, divided. In this way scabs are always available.
Each, though, is becoming educated to the fact that they need the help of the other. In the lumber industry they are about equally divided. To control their jobs they must fight shoulder to shoulder on the industrial battlefield, or else become peons. The negroes naturally feel solidarity among themselves. This spirit has developed through their age-long abuse and exploitation by the whites. It is not a hard matter to make the negro class-conscious. He is bound to be rebellious.
In the recent fight at Merryville, La., where the American Lumber Company blacklisted fifteen of its employees for testifying for the defense in the famous Grabow trial, when the lumber trust tried to convict fifty-nine union men in an effort to stop the agitation for better conditions in the lumber industry, 1,300 members of the Forest and Lumber Workers struck. They meant to force the American Lumber Co. to put these fifteen men back to work. Although not a one of these fifteen was a negro, our colored fellow-workers showed their solidarity by walking out with their white comrades, and no amount of persuasion or injection of the old race prejudice could induce them to turn traitor and scab.
They were arrested and jailed on different absurd charges, such as “unlawfully meeting in the same hall with white men,” but they laughingly lined up and marched to the town bastile, singing the rebel songs they had learned at the daily mass meetings in the Union Hall, and despite threats, after their release, they appeared in greater number the next day to hear the speakers, and sing more songs to fan the flames of discontent.
The writer spent four weeks at Merryville during this strike, and he and Fellow Workers Kelly, Cline and Feligno spoke to the strikers every day in the hall and on the streets, and the conduct of the negro strikers was a revelation to us all, and an eye-opener to the whites. After Fellow Workers Cline, Deeny, Baker and I were forcibly deported by thugs of the company, aided by the Good Citizens’. League, the negroes still remained firm and refused to return to work when threatened by the company’s deputies. This shows what can be done with the negro workers along organization lines with a little effort. Most of the scabs now working in the plants of the American Lumber Company are negroes gathered from the cotton and sugar plantations. All these fellows need is a little industrial union propaganda. It will then be impossible for a boss to induce them to scab on their fellow-workers who are on a strike. They will be glad to join the union and they will stick when they have become members.
A better understanding exists now between the white and black wage slaves than I thought could be possible in such a comparatively short time. Thanks to the I.W.W. and its organizers, the time is not very far off when the boss will be unable to pit these workers one against the other. They will all be in the One Big Union, which recognizes the fact that there are only two classes in the world today, the Employing Class and the Working Class, and that there can be no peace as long as one is robbed by the other.
International Socialist Review, 13 (June, 1913): 890–91.
A grave situation is rapidly developing in the South which all Negroes who care at all for their race’s advancement would do well to take note of and use all their power against, and that is the using of the lowest types of their race, the Niggers, as scabs in every struggle of the workers to better their condition. With every means at its command the I.W.W. has and is struggling to allay the antagonism of the races to bring all the workers into One Big Union for the mutual protection and final freedom of all, but, if the Negroes of the South lay down on the job and allow the Niggers to continue to disgrace their race, no earthly power can prevent a disaster to their people.
Against the Lumber Trust, we, the I.W.W., appeal to the Negro workers of the city of New Orleans to waken to their duty to their class and ostracize the Nigger scabs of the United Fruit Company, until they will be glad to quit their dirty work.
Colored Fellow-Workers! We appeal to you to awaken and to do your duty by your class.
The Lumberjack, July 10, 1913.
By Mary White Ovington
Who cares whether a colored woman in Washington can sit in a vacant seat in the forward part of a street car, or must stand in the rear while a white rowdy, lolling comfortably, blows his smoke in her face? Who is troubled when the black man is ordered out of the railroad restaurant and goes hungry on his travels? Who is concerned whether the state of South Carolina gives the colored children their equal share of the school funds or allow them one-fourth of what it allows the white child? Who bothers when the police in Atlanta or Birmingham or New Orleans arrest each Negro who is out of work as a vagrant; or who troubles himself when the court sends the vagrant to the chain gang where he is vilely housed and debauched and beaten? Who, among the many that have been filled with sympathy for the fifty thousand yellow people in California, is stirred at hearing of the segregation of eight million black-and brown-and white-skinned Americans, all conveniently classed as Negroes? Who cares?
There are two organizations in this country that have shown that they do care.
The first is the Association for the Advancement of Colored People. This organization is made up of white and colored men and women and is pledged to oppose the segregation of the Negro and to strive for the enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. . . .
The second organization that attacks Negro segregation is the Industrial Workers of the World.
When it looked as though William D. Haywood and the organization that he represents would be recognized at the National Socialist Convention at Indianapolis, Haywood turned to the delegates and said: “Now I may go back to tell the millions of women and children and the eight million Negroes that you stand with them.” The I.W.W. has stood with the Negro. The Brotherhood of Timber Workers in Louisiana have battled against their exploiters. Only one familiar with the South can appreciate the courage of this position, and the bravery demanded of both races. Mixed locals have been organized despite the fact that there is a law in Louisiana prohibiting public gatherings of black and white. The common enemy has obliterated the color line.
I wish I might cite the Socialist party, the party I so love, as the third force to stand aggressively for the Negroes’ full rights. In some Southern states, notably Oklahoma, the white Socialists have supported the blacks in their manhood struggles. In Louisiana and Texas, on the other hand, they have, at times, shown a race prejudice unexcelled by the most virulent Democrats. But it would not be just to judge the party by the action of a small group in the South. We need to note the position of the national body. This body in 1901, passed a noble resolution expressing its sympathy with the Negro in his subjection to lawlessness and oppression, and inviting him to membership and fellowship in the world movement for economic emancipation. This was in 1901, but there has been no word since. At the last National Socialist Convention, while the delegates spent hour after hour in frenzied talk over amendments to amendments of motions which no one remembered, no word, save that of Haywood’s was uttered in appreciation of the existence of this most exploited race. One Negro delegate was present, but he was not given the opportunity to speak. To this convention, the United States Negro, composing one-fifth of all the workingmen in the Union, did not exist.
And yet the color problem is not one that we can dispose of by saying, as did many at the Socialist convention, that is economic and will be solved by the coming of Socialism. Our goal is still far off; we are on the road, and we must beware of the forces that will be used to retard us. Among these forces is race discrimination. The creation of a segregated class in our democracy, a class without a ballot, without civil rights, poorly educated, with a low standard of living, will seriously retard the coming of the Cooperative Commonwealth. So we must watch every effort that is made to prevent black men and white men from meeting on equal terms.
Mary White Ovington, “The Status of the Negro in the United States,” The New Review, 1 (September, 1913): 747–49.
By Joseph Ettor 129
Mary White Ovington is a Brooklyn woman who is devoted to the cause of the Negro. Her book, Half a Man, a study of the Negro in New York, has met with favorable criticism and been praised for its knowledge of the subject. Her first-hand studies of Southern conditions have been read by many. In The New Review for September, Miss Ovington has an article on “The Status of the Negro in the United States.” It is a gloomy picture showing how the Negro, despite his emancipation and constitutional rights, is steadily being degraded into a position of social and racial inferiority by means of disfranchisement and segregation. There are some who howl against race discrimination when applied to the Japanese, as in California recently, but there are none who seem to care for the Negro. As Miss Ovington well puts it, “Who among the many that have been filled with sympathy for the fifty thousand yellow people in California, is stirred at hearing of segregation of eight million black and brown and white skinned Americans all conveniently classed as Negroes? Who cares?
Miss Ovington answers her own question by showing that “there are tow organizations in this country that have shown that they do care.” The first is the Association for the Advancement of Colored People, composed of white and colored men and women opposed to segregation on constitutional grounds. Miss Ovington is a prominent member of this association.
“The other organization that attacks Negro segretation,” continues Miss Ovington, “is the Industrial Workers of the World. . . .”
That Miss Ovington sums up correctly the I.W.W. position on segretation may be seen in the current issues of The Voice of the People, the Southern I.W.W. organ, published at New Orleans, La. The Voice of the People never tires of battering down race barriers. It is particularly active in fighting the battles of Fellow Worker Gaines, a Negro I.W.W. man who persists in preferring jail rather than commit perjury against his white fellow workers in a case involving a charge of using dynamite in the Merryville strike. The bravery demanded of both races, more particularly, the Negroes, is well shown in the Gaines episode.
But what makes Miss Ovington’s article of special interest is the contrast it affords to that of Booker T. Washington on the Negro and labor organizations in a recent issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Mr. Washington who is a protegé of Seth Low, the boss of the Civic Federation, and friend of Sam Gompers, gives the essence of replies to a series of questions put to the leaders of the American Federation of Labor. According to these replies with only one or two exceptions, the A.F. of L. is just dying with love for the Negro; and is his especial friend, when he will permit it. Perhaps the poor fellow doesn’t get the chance too often. At least, so we are lead to believe by Miss Ovington’s figures, showing the status of the Negro in the New York A.F. of L. This is almost nil.130
Now comes Miss Ovington again, and refuses to recognizes the A.F. of L. as one “who cares” for the Negro, while admitting the I.W.W. to the honor. Surely, with such an author we are not inclined to dispute; we leave that to the A.F. of L. leaders who “stuffed” Booker T. Washington; a gentleman who is not at all adverse to the pastime. judging from his many honorable capitalist connections, and the many donations that they yield to him.
Solidarity, September 20, 1913.
The Independent Political Council, a New York organization consisting mainly of Negroes who have broken away from the Republican party, has headquarters at 436 Lennox Avenue. It has about 600 members and is working along radical lines. Statement by the president, A. Philip Randolph, and Secretary Chandler Owen appeared in an interview in the New York Call, in part as follows:
Rents and the high prices of food are the chief clouds on our domestic horizon. The rents are high because there are more people than there are houses. At least, this is true of the colored people, because they are limited to certain locations by the operation of a crystallized segregation rule. The high prices of food are not due, as the Republican orators tell you, to the absence of a protective tariff. The high prices are due to the scarcity of goods. We have 611 million bushels of wheat this year. It takes 650 million bushels to feed this country. Yet we have contracts to send away 400 million, which, of course, compels the advance in the price of flour, bread, etc. . . .
For high rents we would propose the Single Tax and Socialism. We would have the land taxed heavily, while the buildings are taxed lightly or exempt from taxation. This would force the land into use, which would give us more buildings and a competition which would automatically lower the rents. Each landlord with vacant houses would be offering attractive rates to get tenants into his houses.131
But suppose the land held out for speculation were finally built up and the property occupied?
There is where Socialism must eventually come in to control the rent question. But one thing is sure: It is unnecessary to pray for lower rents, since the rents ascend as the prayers ascend, and the rents retain their ascent after the prayers have fallen. . . .
This “preparedness” is a Trojan horse. The issues we are told, are Americanism and “preparedness”, whatever they may mean. But we do know that the $662,000,000 to be spent on “preparedness” this year will be paid by those of us least prepared to pay. Rockefeller, Morgan and Hearst will be the tax collectors who will get the money, but that is all. The tax producers are the real tax payers, and the tax gatherers can only gather what is produced after it is produced. . . .
We are not Socialists. We are not anything. We are enrolled Republicans, but we have no special sympathy with the Republican party. Our only object for so registering is that most colored men enroll as Republicans and we want to have colored candidates win the primaries next year. You see, the Republican party is a religion with the colored man. He is deceived, duped and foiled by it. But he still licks the hand just raised to shed his blood. But even if we were Socialists, we would have to blacklist those Socialists in Iowa, Kansas, Pennsylvania, etc., who have replied to the crisis that they favored segregation among races. There must still be independent choice among men in all parties.
The Public, (November 10, 1916): 1067–68.
The second annual convention of the Brotherhood of Timber Workers was convened in Alexandria, Louisiana, May 6th, and adjourned at midnight on May 9, 1912.
About 100 delegates, white and colored, were in the assembly, which was undoubtedly one of the most important labor bodies that ever met in the south, for, not only was it decided by unanimous vote to refer to the membership the proposal to unite with the National Industrial Union of Forest and Lumber Workers of the Industrial Workers of the World, but, so certain were the delegates that the proposal of the convention would be adopted, that the general officers were instructed to immediately advise the rank and file as to the number of delegates the B. of T.W. should elect to the joint convention of Forest and Lumber Workers and to the general convention of the I.W.W., which conventions are to be held in Chicago this coming September.
On all other propositions also, the convention was progressive to the core. The white and colored delegates met in joint session on the second day despite the fact that the local “Democratic” authorities threatened to get out an injunction prohibiting the convention meeting at all, should this occur.
This great revolt of the Southern Timber and Lumber Workers began about one year ago when all the mills throughout southwest Louisiana were shut down in an effort to crush the young, but rapidly growing Brotherhood of Timber Workers. Not satisfied with the lockout, the Operators’ Association also began a campaign of villification against every man connected with the union blacklisted and forced out of the industry more than one thousand men and capped this act of folly by forcing every worker who applied for a job to take one of the most infamous anti-union oaths ever conceived in the rotten brain of a corporation lawyer. Failing, after all this, to beat the workers back into meek submission, the operators’ association then began to fill the lumber belt with gunmen of the very worst and lowest type, to fence in, with boards or barbed wire, the quarters where the workers lived, this despite the fact that all the lumber companies have the gall to charge rent for their so-called houses and the payment of rent, under the laws of Louisiana, is supposed to give a man the full right to control the dwelling as his own.
In one instance a whole town, Fields, La., has been so fenced in, so that people on the outside are forced to get their mail from the United States postoffice through a back window! which is certainly “some” law and order when we consider the fact that Louisiana is a “Democratic” state and has just been swept by the “progressive” wing of that party. But still the spirit of the awakened workers is unbroken and still the union grows, and ever farther and wider spreads its call to action: “One Big Union, life and freedom for ALL the workers! Don’t be a Peon—Be a MAN!”
The revolt is economic to the last degree, a thing the brutal bosses of the Lumber Trust seem absolutely unable to comprehend, for, like the Manchu mandarins, they have litereally driven the workers into rebellion.
In reality, the fight began in 1907, when, taking advantage of the panic, the Lumber Trust cut wages and increased the hours of labor throughout the South so outrageously that a spontaneous strike broke out over a wide area, which strike forced some concessions, but brought no real relief because for the concessions, the workers practically agreed not to organize a union. Fatal error! Since then the Trust has added burden unto burden, until today “common” labor in Arkansas is paid for at the rate of $1.25 per day while in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi wages, counting in both “skilled” and “common” labor, will not average over $1.45 per day, for a working day of ten to eleven hours.
On top of this, the cost of living has steadily climbed in all directions, especially in the “commissaries,” or company stores, where shoddy and canned cat are sold at a profit that would startle even the soul of Shylock.
On top of all this, the workers were forced to pay fees to support the companies’ doctors; fees to support imaginary hospitals and for imaginary treatment therein; premiums for imaginary insurance; outrageous rents for alleged houses, shacks a Lumber King wouldn’t herd his hogs in; graft on top of graft, and then more graft was piled upon the workers until human endurance could bear no more, and then came the revolt, and then the lockout, and then the blacklist, and then the oath, and then the gunmen, and now—a supreme struggle is on between the Lumber Trust and its peons in the South.
International Socialist Review, 13 (July, 1912): 51–52.
“They are trying to organize the negroes against the whites!” This has been one of the chief howls raised against the I.W.W. and the Brotherhood of Timber Workers by the Southern Lumber Operators’ Association and its hired thugs and assassins to justify the hyena-like deeds they are now committing against the white workingmen who must, perforce, take the lead in the struggle now raging for the overthrow of peonage in the South. “Organizing the negroes against the whites!”
This cry is raised for several purposes; first, to distract the attention of all the workers from the vital questions at issue, to turn their attention from such gross, material things as higher wages, shorter hours and better living conditions in the camps and mill towns to loftier ideas and ideals, such as the effect of the “spiritual significance of white supremacy” on the whisky-soaked, fossilized brain of a gun-toting Democratic troglodyte, a human brute with whom no self-respecting negro would acknowledge his “social equality;” second, having failed to split it on craft, political, religious or other lines, to split the Brotherhood into warring factions on race lines, and thereby beat all the workers back into the old meek submission to peonage; third, an attempt on the part of the cave-men of capitalism to justify in the eyes of a world, that is already in revolution against their demoniac rule, the infamous and inhuman deeds that have been and are still being committed against the timber workers and their allies by the Southern Lumber Operators’ Association and its thugs and gunmen.
And, first, second, third, fourth, to “Divide and Conquer.”
That this is true is shown by the fact that right in the midst of the war, when the tom-toms of race prejudice were sounding their loudest and wildest alarms, John Henry Kirby and his gang have not hesitated to use black scabs against white men and white scabs against black men when they dared go on strike for human conditions in the peon pens of the association. They have also used black thugs against black union men and more than one rebellious white worker, it is whispered, has met his death in the darkness of the night at the hands of a black gunman and vice versa.
More than once the association has thrown an army of gunmen around the “quarters” where lived its black slaves and dared the white peons, on the penalty of their lives, to so much as try to speak one word with them, for it was hard pressed and hard set against the “organization of the negroes against the whites,” the only “whites,” in this instance, seeming to be the Lumber Kings, their troglodyte managers, superintendents, foremen, suckers, gunmen and thugs. There were according to these “high born” gentry, evidently no “white” men in the union, though hundreds of them had white skins and were southern born for generations on generations.
And they were not white because they had grown tired of the “white supremacy” and “social equality” flim-flam, and set out to organize One Big Union of all the workers and overthrow peonage forever in the mills and forests of the South.
They had lost, thanks to the Socialist propaganda, the hallucination that the Lumber Kings cared anything about a lumberjack’s color, race or nationality, and proceeded to organize as they were worked—all together against the boss, instead of all apart and for him as heretofore. This naturally sent the boss up in the air, and you can’t blame the boss, for, for the first time in a generation the southern oligarchs saw their sacred stealings menaced by a uniting working class, which could not be tolerated; so all the methods of “chivalry” were called into play and the furies of hell turned loose on the “insolent,” “upstart” workingmen and working farmers who dared to preach and were attempting to organize industrial democracy. Strange how those simple words, industrial democracy, sends the master and pimping classes into such hydrophobic anger!
But despite all the madness of the masters, all their murdering and slugging, the Union still pressed on its way, preaching and teaching the solidarity of labor, ever crying: “A man’s life for all the workers in the mills, and forests! Don’t be a Peon! Be a Man.’
Far and wide that cry is sounding on through Dixie—the shreik of the association’s rifles at Grabow is echoing and re-echoing that message through the swamps, over the plains and up the hills, back into corners where otherwise it would have taken years for it to go, and the workers, startled from their slumbers, are asking each other in whispers: “Can it be?” “Is the New South, the South of labor, off its knees and on the march to union and victory, at hand?” “Is the dawn really breaking through the blackness of the long, long night?” It is, and there is no power that can stop it if our brothers of the North, the East and West will only stand by us as we are trying to stand together, in the brotherhood of labor, regardless of color, nationality or race, in a stone wall of the toilers against the spoilers of the world.
Now is the time, not after the next election, for the negroes of the North to act. The boys in jail are there because they fought for all the peons, black as well as white. Now, and not tomorrow, is the time to save the lives and liberties of Emerson, Lehman, Helton, Burge and their associates. Now is the hour of vengeance and retribution in your hands; now is the chance and time for all the workers to rise against the southern oligarchy and through the might of the One Big Union, organize its cruel peon system off the earth forever. Clan of Toil, awaken; Rebels of the South, arise! Workers of the World, unite! You have nothing but your chains to lose! You have a world to gain!132
International Socialist Review, 13 (October, 1912): 349–50.
THE FARM AND FOREST WORKERS’ UNION
The Farm and Forest Workers Union was the last attempt we made to reorganize in the Southern District. But for the United States entering the first World War the attempt might have succeeded. The war with its “silk-shirt” wages practically finished organization work in Louisiana, even as about everywhere else. All over the country I.W.W. members were hunted down, and twice Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer complimented President Gompers of the A.F. of L. for aid he and his organizers rendered in running down I.W.W. and “Red” agitators.
I was convinced that part of the deal between the Wilson and Gompers administrations was based on their common interest in destroying the feared and hated I.W.W. I know that the Lumber Trust used the Selective Service machinery in order to draft active union men into the army.
I helped save at least one man from them. Strange as it may seem when the officials of the court martial read my poem, “The Way of Kings, Crowned and Uncrowned;” they reduced the charge against the accused from “Desertion in time of war,” carying the death penalty, to going “A.W.O.L.,” the true charge, and gave him 90 days in the guard house.
All this persecution, plus high wages, plus the “patriotic heebiejeebies” then epidemic, made free and open organization impossible; at the end of the war the forests of Louisiana had been practically swept off the earth.
Then came the Ku Klux Klan, backed in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma by the lumber barons and oil emperors, they (like the industrial tycoons of Germany) having conceived the brilliant idea that moronocracy could be used to crush, not only the I.W.W., but the entire union labor movement of the country. But when the best labor in (the timber country, white as well as colored, began its hegira to Detroit and other Northern cities and industrial areas—that didn’t look so good!
So the barons about-faced, ordering the local managers, superintendents, etc., to get out of the Klan; worse, they cut off their contributions to the night-shirted nobility. This last had more to do with the extinction of the Klan in the states named than all the protests of all the “friends of labor” in the North and East ever did.
“What is your authority for that?” I probably will be asked. Well, I got it (as usual) from men the barons thought, because they were Catholics, naturally with them in their efforts to do away with unions everywhere.
It was in just the same conditions that the Farm and Forest Workers Union was born. Laboring men of the south were desperate, as the “Manifesto and By-Laws of the Farm and Forest Workers’ Union, District of Louisiana,” shows [see below] . . . .
This duty [that “no member shall recognize another on the job or elsewhere”] was embodied in the by-laws of the Clan, but not the recommendation to purchase a high-power rifle. These ideas probably came from fellow worker J. J. Eager, a Confederate veteran and leader of the old Ku Klux Klan. He was a “prince of a man,” but one who held the combine of corruptionists, blacklegs and neurotics then masquerading as the Klan in supreme contempt.
Reading the manifestos and by-laws of the Clan of Toil, and of the Farm and Forest Workers’ Union, some may ask: “Can any good come out of Dixie?” and comment further, “They are all crazy!” But one thing they will have to give us “Ignorant Southerners” credit for, is that when we move, we often go the limit.
I doubt if the I.W.W. would have allowed the Farm and Forest Workers Union to affiliate with it after reading its manifestos and by-laws; for, while I.W.W. men have resisted mobs and fought back with what arms they possessed, it does not believe in military action. It agreed with the capitalist tenet that “Might makes Right.” In contradistinction to its enemies, its idea of social might was based entirely on building an economic power, called the “One Big Union,” so great that it would be irresistible in the final showdown between the profiteering and the producing classes. . . .
“Not A Nigger!”
One of the heroes of the strike was fellow worker I. Gains, a Negro member. I think his first name was Isaac. The same day that 45 of its 50 guards had been discharged by the company, that night a charge of dynamite exploded in the compound where its scabs were herded. In the morning not one of the 500 could be found anywhere, and the mill again closed down.
The Union was accused of the nefarious act; bloodhounds were brought to Merryville. When put on the trail, they headed, not for some unionman’s shack, but straight for Manager Estes’ bungalow! This would never do, of course, so the dogs were called back, again put on the scent—and again they made for Estes’ home! Disgusted, the sheriff took them back to De Ridder; everybody on our side laughed and chortled until tired.
The next move was to arrest Isaac Gains. Taken to Lake Charles and jailed. There Burns detectives grilled him for 90 days. “You are nothing but a nigger, and are going to the penitentiary; but if you will confess and testify that three certain white men (whom they wished to get) are guilty, we will let you off.” Steadily, throughout the three long months, Gains refused to turn State’s witness, insisting that he had nothing to do with the explosion, and as steadily refused to implicate his white fellow workers, penitentiary or no penitentiary.
We were financially flat broke, and all we could do to aid him was to try to arouse the workers to go to his defense. This we did, week on week in the Lumberjack, until so loud and angry were the protests of all decent folks the authorities were compelled to release him.
One day, afterwards, Ed Lehman was talking to a group of lumber workers in De Ridder, trying to get them to “line up.” A fellow in the crowd volunteered the information that he would “not join the Forest and Lumber Workers Union, because it took in niggers.” “There is not a nigger in the Union,” Ed quietly answered. “The hell there ain’t,” said the guy. “Not a one,” said Ed.
“Well, what in h—- is Gains if he ain’t a nigger? He is as black as the ace of spade!” “Yes,” replied Ed, “he is as black as the ace of spades, but he isn’t a nigger.” What the devil is he then?” queried the truculent one.
“He is a man, a unionman, an I.W.W.,—A MAN!” shot back Ed, “and he has proven it by his actions, and that is more than you have ever done in all your boss-sucking life. There are white men, Negro men and Mexican men in this Union, but no niggers, greasers or white trash! All are men on the side of the Union, and all the greasers, niggers and white trash are on the side of the Lumber Trust; and you are one of the white trash. Now, get out! Go tell your boss what I said to you, and don’t you ever again come around trying to discourage men I’m trying to line up, damn you! Beat it! And he did.
Ed’s assertion that all real men were for the Union, and all “Niggers, greasers and white trash” on the side of the bosses, spread all over the lumber country, the rank and file taking it up and insisting “There are no niggers, greasers and white trash in the Union, only men!” It may sound childish, but it had a tremendous effect in countering the bosses’ efforts to stir up race prejudice, something Southerners have always to fight, especially in industrial war.
The lumber companies kept 15 or 20 colored preachers traveling up and down the Kansas City Southern Railway warning the Negro workers against joining the Forest and Lumber Workers Union. One of their chief arguments was: “All the white workingmen are trying to do is to use you as cats’ paws to pull their chestnuts out of the fire.” But this time it didn’t work.
“Maybe so,” our colored fellow workers replied, “but this is one time we will get some of the chuestnuts our paws help pull out of the fire.” And they did get their full and fair share of the chestnuts, for the Forest and Lumber Workers trial Union never violated the principle of “Equal pay for equal work,” making no distinction there between race, sex or creed.
This is not to say that we overcame race prejudice. We did smother it, and prevent our opponents from using race against race, and creed against creed, as they had often done in the past.
So strong, so impressive, was the solidarity arising from the struggle, that we were often given valuable information and tips as to what the enemy was planning, by men and women in the offices of the companies and the Trust. This came to us unsolicited, as it will when workers know a class fight is on. . . .
Covington Hall, “Labor Struggles in the Deep South,” unpublished manuscript, Howard-Tilton Library, Tulane University, 5–6, 9, 43–46.
Another Constitutional Convention, that is to say, another legalized flimflam of the people of Louisiana is soon to be assembled.
When it gets to its work, the tax rate of the small suckers will have been doubled or tripled and no political organization other than the Black Democratic party will be able to put a ticket in the field. The disfranchisement of the Working Class will be perfected and, under the guise of “antitrust” laws, the dying State will attempt to hamstring the unions and balk the rising tide of Industrial Democracy. Vain as is the hope, this will be attempted, for nothing else can be expected either with Hall, Sundberry, and the gang back of them.
Graciously, the Gang has agreed to allow “the sovereign people” to pass on the work of THEIR convention, thus placing the few remaining voters, should they approve the new Constitution, in the position of having legalized the rape of 1898, whereby, without their consent, over EIGHTY THOUSAND WHITE VOTERS and nearly all the negro and colored voters were disfranchised. Under an illegal Constitution, a Constitution the Gang did not dare to submit to even the WHITE VOTE, but traitoriously imposed on the people of the State, they now call a new convention to legalize the rape of 1898 and to realize a still further destruction of Democracy.
The convention will assemble in September, 1913. The convention will be of Property, by Property and for Property, thru and thru, and against Man from start to finish; for, on top of the thousands of workers disfranchised by the frame-up of 1898, other thousands have been disfranchised by the war panic. That’s why they are calling it at this time. When the Four Rings (City, Reform, Sheriffs and Sawdust), now united in an offensive and defensive Plunderbund, finish their frame-up there will be less freedom left in Louisiana than there is in Liberia and liberty and loot will be synonymous in “Our Fair State.”
Rebellion (June, 1915): 9–10.
I am now, great Negus, in that part of the alleged Republic of Usa which lies to the Southeastward of the North American continent and which is called by the denizens dwelling therein “Dixieland.”
A large part of these people are white in color and another large portion black, but a considerable sprinkling of them are neither white nor black but of a red, yellow and olive color, due, it is said, to to much “White Supremacy” and “Social Equality,” the first of which is a supernal vitrue and the last an unpardonable sin, according to the ruling tribe of this section, the Donkocrats, or that’s the way it sounds to me.
This tribe is very, very virtuous and has passed many laws and statutes to “protect” the Whites from the Blacks, or so it says, and to see to it that no other Tribe or Clan get a lookin at the emoluments of public office or a rakeoff out of the funds sent down here by Northern and British Plutocrats to finance “concessions,” which is the euphonious word used by all Usaians to designate what we style loot.
There is no great blasphemy that can be committed by a Dixiean than to sneer at the Donkocrats and the “religion of their fathers,” which they say is “White Supremacy,” or the doctrine that in Mazuma’s Holy Name the Donkocracy has a divine right to all the loot, license and liquor in sight and to come.
Indeed these are a peculiar people, great Negus. They actually and really believe—what won’t some folks believe!—that they are the cream of the human race, even out-doing the Chinese in this respect, and it is lafable to hear a Dixiean, suffering from pellagra, asking a blessing over a cowpea-dinner, thanking Mazuma that he is a Donkocrat, and that there are no other people on earth like and his, which is truer than he thinks methinks.
They say their God, Mazuma, made the “Niggers,” by which name they designate the tribe of Blacks, “to be hewers of wood and drawers of water forever,” and that if it wasn’t for the Plutocrats tempting the Donkocrats “everything would be all right in Dixie,” and that, if the evil Daughters of Ham had not broken the extremely just laws passed to protect the he-virgins of the Donkocracy, there would not now be a “Race Question in our midst,” by which they mean the reds, yellows and olives in their land; these “Mixed Bloods,” as they call them, being to their mind the most dangerous of all “Niggers,” since they are everlastingly getting out of the “place to which God condemned their mothers” and trying to get up to where their fathers are so easily enjoying the good things of life.
All Blacks and Mixed Bloods, if they have to work for a living, and also a part of the Donks who are called “Poor White Trash,” on account of having to work for a living, are not expected to take part in “Politics,” by which is meant the grabs of Government, so the “Niggers” are disfranchised, i.e., not allowed to vote in elections for those who shall legalize the robbing in Dixie, because they “corrupt politics;” yet, on the other hand, all females, of the Donkocracy even, are denied the “right of ballot” because “politics are so rotten that it would destroy their Supreme White Supremacy virtue.”
When I heard the two reasons why the “Niggers” and Sufferingets were kept out of office I almost fainted, but, as you know, great Negus, I am only a Barbarian and not yet quite used to the wonderful processes by which the thought of Christian Civilization is exprest. It is indeed a remarkable process.
But of all the lands thru which I have rambled since departing from home this people gets my goat, for, being red in color, I would sure be “damned a Nigger” and not allowed any “privileges” whatsoever were my pockets not full of “rocks,” as they style gold here. But by Mazuma I am spared much indignity. More anon, great Negus, from your fazed friend and humble servant.
Voc, The Barbarian.
Rebellion (June, 1915): 22–23.
Of The Farm and Forest Workers Union, District of Louisiana
To the Southern Workers, Greeting:
Less than five years ago there was an organization of the common workers of the South. Industrial conditions had become so unbearable that we, the Workers of the South, were on the verge of starvation.
As a protest against these conditions, the Brotherhood of Timber Workers was organized, and quickly grew to a membership of several thousand. But, like all mass organizations, it soon collapsed.
Then came the organization of the National Industrial Union of Forest and Lumber Workers, I.W.W.
Because of a few serious mistakes and the poverty of the membership, this union could not survive the stringent financial crisis that so heavily hit the Workers of the South during the next few years following its launching.
The menacing increase in land monopoly has, today, become the foremost economic question confronting the Southern Workers. So, as man is a land animal, we mean to take back the land and make use and occupancy the only title to land.
Therefore, we recommend that every worker who wishes a piece of land go get on it and hold it for his own.
Knowing, as we do, that the hired assassin is ever ready to obey the command of the exploiter, as exemplified by Couer D’Alene, Cabin Creek, Grabow, and the brutal murder of women and children at Ludlow and in countless other murders of Workers wherever there are labor difficulties, we recommend that every Worker purchase a high-power rifle in order that we may avoid a repetition of the same or, if not able to do this, to defend ourselves against these assassins.133
Believing that organization is necessary to our emancipation, that action coupled with power is the only way to improve our wage rate and living conditions, we, the Rebels of the South, have organized the FARM and FOREST WORKERS UNION of the I.W.W.
In this Union we have all that is necessary to “bring in the bacon” NOW and to, finally, aid in ushering in the glorious INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY.
Therefore, We ask YOU to join us in the fight for LAND and LIBERTY.
Signed: L. WILLIFORD, General Sec.Treas., Simms, La.
Signed: W. H. Lewis, Gen. Organizer, Simms, La.
Note—Southern Socialist and Labor papers, please copy.
NAME—The name of this organization shall be the Farm and Forest Workers Union.
PURPOSE—To immediately better the economic condition of the Southern Workers and to aid in the establishment of the Industrial Commonwealth.
OFFICERS—The Officers shall be: A General Secretary-Treasurer and a General Organizer. Their duties shall be strictly clerical and they shall have no governmental power whatsoever.
STRIKES—The power to call or declare a strike shall rest entirely with the membership so concerned.
DUES—The Dues shall be 25 cents a month. The Initiation Fee shall be $1.50.
DUTIES—No member shall recognize another on the job or elsewhere as an F. and F.W.U member, except in case of extreme necessity, and then the one so appealed to must respond to the best of his or her ability. Any member who violates his or her obligation will be held strictly responsible to the entire membership.
LOCALS—The local organizations shall be known as Local Unions.
DISTRICTS—There shall be one District Council in that State, and the Locals in a given State shall be connected with their respective District Councils, and the Councils to the General Office.
When I passed thru middle Louisiana in the latter part of October, 1915, I found everything shot to pieces and all except the “Old Guard” so badly locoed they were afraid to even move on the ballot box, lest the Bosses take their cowpeas away from them. It was reported to me that many were saying, “We will never join a dues-paying organization again, on account of the graft in it,” which simply meant that the Workers had swallowed, hook, bait and all, the bunc of the Lumber Trust, for, if there was any graft in the Forest and Lumber Workers Union, we who were insinuated to have received it, Emerson, Smith, Hall, Lehman, Filigno, and the rest, grafted about the cheapest and hardest living we ever bit off.
Yet supposing, just for the sake of argument, that we did graft; say we took the whole Fifty Cents a month the members paid in, and you know that is a damn lie, still YOU were WINNERS on the deal, for counting the advance in wages alone that was secured by the Brotherhood, which was most certainly not less than 25 cents a day, which would be $5.00 for a working month of only 20 days, YOU were $4.50 a month ahead on the graft, so you never made a better investment in all your life, even if we had grafted the whole Fifty Cents of dues and the initiation fees besides.
Again, as soon as you let the Union die, what happened? Well, YOU KNOW—the Lumber Trust started out to immediately cut your wages and bring back all the old abuses and more and worse. That’s what happened and what will keep on happening unless YOU join the FARM and FOREST WORKERS UNION and do your share toward bettering conditions.
For “God helps those who helps themselves,” and he helps no one else. Further, in this Moneyized Civilization, those who are unwilling to organize and then to finance their own organizations are the ones who are going to forever get NOTHING FOR THEIR LABOR.
The Officers of and the Men behind the F. and F.W.U. are known to all of you, all are MEN who have stood by their principles regardless of persecution and hunger, who have gone thru the fire and never been found wanting anywhere or at any time. Their fidelity and courage none can successfully question.
Now, once again they have put it up to YOU to quit crawling and be a MAN. What is your answer? There will be little advertising of the F. and F.U. and no hurrahing. It will work on and on until it is ready to strike, so if you don’t hear of it, don’t assume that it is not here, for it will be Already it has good Locals going and will soon have more. Therefore, I charge you that if you claim to be a Rebel to immediately write Secretary L. Williford, Simms, La., for information as to organizing a Local in your section, but you will get no information until you first PROVE who and what you are. Remember this. Also remember that Secretary Williford and General Organizer W. H. Lewis alone have power to credential Organizers.
Get in NOW and help better the terrible conditions existing for us in Louisiana. Let’s at least make a try to keep SOME of the wondrous natural wealth of our native land for OURSELVES.
Yours to win.
Rebellion (March), 1916): 3–6.
Behold the Democratic Party, my son.
But for it the Nigs would rule and o’er us run.
It’s busted Trusts and at the Bankers raved,
The cotton crop of Nineteen Fourteen, saved.
By lad and deed it works, by pen and mouth,
Forever holding up the Sunny South.
It saves us from ourselves, the Supreme Whites,
And for our fathers’ constitution fights.
Thru fifty years of grief and graft and toil
It won’t let any one else rob us, no—
That’s why it’s now preparednessing so.—
Year in and out, it strives for common gains.
The blood of chivalry pumps thru its veins.
Its tender heart turns no one from its door—
It is all things to all men, and some more.
Pellagrins, Tenants, Peons, all
In worship at its ancient altars fall.
The Donkey is its emblem, strength and cinch.
Its court of first resort is just Judge Lynch.
The child slaves and their mothers, too, it guards
As true knight errants watch o’er helpless wards.
It’s very virtuous, benignant, wise,
No issue dodges, and it never lies.
It’s pure and patriotic to the core.—
(It says so itself—the g—-d—— old Scalawag.)
Rebellion (April, 1916): 2.
I would rather work side by side with the blackest Union man on earth for Eight Hours and Eight Dollars a day than side by side with the chalkiest-faced white scab or sucker that ever crawled on two legs for twelve hours and a dollar day.
I would rather be a free man in a free Commonwealth equal in freedom with my Mammy’s son than be a peon or tenant slave in the most “Supreme White” Empire even the Black Democrats can conceive.
Rebellion (June, 1915): 25.
The Judge was white, the Jury was white, the District Attorney was white, the Sheriff and his Deputies were white. All the “Machinery of Justice” (?) was white and elected by a “White Supremacy Party.” Before such a court the “Nigger” had about as much show of acquittal as a snowbird has of flying across the Lake of Liquid Fire. But the “Supreme Whites” took the “Nigger” out and lynched him, and did it in the name of “White Supremacy.” Can you beat it? It’s no wonder, with such Donk brains as that running Dixie, that the Southmen are fast becoming a race of Pellagrins and that the Christian State of Mississippi votes so strong for “Preparedness,” which simply means world-wide lynch-law, the reign of the Mob over Justice, of Superstition over Reason.
Rebellion (February, 1916): 32.