Butte Remembers Big Bill Haywood
The ghost of Big Bill Haywood is stalking the scarred battlements of Butte's copper hill again, prompting and dominating the Butte miners' union, Local No. I of the International Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers- an industrial union. Butte was Local No. 1 in the Western Federation of Miners, Bill Haywood's bloody, roaring army of thirty years ago, which fought and died on a hundred fronts in the cause of industrial unionism. From its agony was born the Industrial Workers of the World, America's first truly proletarian revolutionary movement.
Butte is still Local No. 1 in W. F. M.'s successor, the A. F. of L.-affiliated International. But in the interim it has traversed the full historical cycle; from the hell-roaring belligerency of the past, when it ruled its roost with an iron hand, it has passed through civil war and death and decay; now under young, aggressive leadership, it has surged back to militancy, a warning and a portent for the American Federation of Labor.
Local No. 1 is so big it can control its International--it has nearly a third of the total votes and handles them in a disciplined manner. Moreover, since its name begins with "B" and its neighbor's, Anaconda, with "A," they lead the voting at International roll calls, and when fence-sitting delegates from other, more timorous locals hear those thumping votes recorded at the start of the ballot, most of them jump off on the "left" side.
The new president of Local No. 1 is Reid Robinson, aged twenty-seven, son of Jim Robinson, a veteran labor scrapper who helped keep unionism alive in Butte in the lean years. (Currently Father Jim is running for International president against Tom Brown of Butte, who some insist was elected last time by mistake because the miners thought they were voting for Bob Brown, at that time the militant president of the Butte local.) Dennis McCarthy, the financial secretary, is thirty-five; Vice-President Mickey Ryan and Recording Secretary James Leary are both in the early thirties. Bob Brown, older, experienced, but just as aggressive, and Donald Mundy, an able class-conscious miner of about thirty who divides his time between the pits and the pen, make up the press committee which publishes the local's monthly newspaper, the only one in the International.
Local No. 1 sent a young, tough trio of delegates from the International to the A. F. of L. convention: Paul Peterson of Park City, Utah, Alex Cashin of Burke, Idaho, both in their thirties, and Reid Robinson. With them they took Butte's slate of resolutions adopted by the International, demanding immediate reorganization of the A. F. of L. for industrial unionism, a general strike in the event of a serious war threat, a labor party pledged to replace capitalism by collectivism, the Lundeen workers'-unemployment-insurance bill, workers'-rights and child-labor amendments, withdrawal of army officers from the CCC and an increase of pay in the CCC to $75 monthly, and other measures favoring labor.
The villain of the piece is the whole entrenched, wealthy craft-union hierarchy in the A. F. of L.; in particular it is John P. Frey, head of the metal-trades department and foremost craft-union spokesman. Local No. 1 and Frey met in a preliminary skirmish in 1934, it was an indecisive affair but sufficient to test the mettle of the combatants. Frey won the first round, after which there was talk of riding him out of Butte on a rail; but, said a miner a bit regretfully, "you can't do that sort of thing nowadays!" Second round was Butte's, third was Frey's, and the fourth was foredestined to be his, too; but Butte is far from licked. Here's the round-by-round story:
Twenty years ago the International Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers were given by Gompers the right--on paper -to organize everybody in the metal mining industry with minor exceptions. This was accomplished in some small camps, but never in Butte, biggest of them all, where the crafts were already strongly entrenched. In the big copper strike of 1934 involving 5,000 men, Butte crafts went out with the miners, though they represented fewer than 500 of the total, with the electrical workers their only important faction. However, the entering wedge for the bosses in ending that strike was driven by Frey when he negotiated a separate agreement for the crafts and came to Butte to see that his subjects signed it. Frey's round.
"We knew," said a miner, "that when an A. F. of L. big shot came to Butte it wasn't to help us!" It was after the miners discovered the import of Frey's maneuver that a few suggested his escorted departure astride a rail; nothing came of that, and instead the miners set to work to make the best of it and concluded a settlement so superior to the one Frey had obtained that he had some difficulty persuading his followers to go through with his. Butte's round.
The lesson learned, the miners attempted to take advantage of that paper right to organize craftsmen on the hill, and failed. The political machines of the craft bosses, the fear of losing fraternal insurance benefits, and other factors worked against them, and in the midst of the campaign the crafts protested to the A. F. of L. Whereupon the executive council, ignoring Gompers's promise and overriding Lewis and Gorman, ordered the miners to cease and desist. Frey's round.
Appeal from that ruling was carried to the October convention by the International; this was the fourth round" and even the miners admitted that Frey would win it. But it provided a medium for continued agitation of the industrial-union principle: "We'll raise enough hell to keep it stirred up," said Butte. Frey and his cohorts are old and tiring; Butte has just started.
Unionism was born in Butte in 1878. Some twenty years later its local helped to form the W. F. M.; 5,000 strong, it was credited by Bill Haywood with being the largest union in America. In 1914 the I. W. W., charging Butte's local had become a company union, smashed it with blood and dynamite; but the Wobbly union which followed lasted less than a year, being broken by impeachment of Butte's Socialist mayor, harboring of troops in the city, and sentencing of its leaders for "kidnapping" scabs.
In 1915 the W. F. M. became the present International and entered the A. F. of L. In Butte it retained barely enough members, perhaps twenty, to hold its charter--which is inscribed with the mottoes "Labor produces all wealth"; "All wealth belongs to the producers thereof." Butte, they said, had died; labor would never come back.
So it was in 1933, with a score of union miners. Suddenly, under the deceptive wing of the Blue Eagle and out of the bitterness born of depression injustice, the union was reborn. The next year it conducted a moderately successful strike and won the closed shop. Not bad for a fledgling! Now, two years later, it has more than 4,000 active members in Butte and some 7,000, counting unemployed and absentees, on its rolls. Old timers say it is even more militant, Marx's better educated, and better disciplined than it ever was under the W. F. M. Its newspaper has two front-page "ears" alongside the mast-head. One quotes Marx's "Workers of the world, unite," the other Jefferson's "The tree of liberty must frequently be nourished by the blood of tyrants." Local No. 1 is young, confident, even cocky, new to union intrigue but reared in a warlike tradition. It is going places; and in the meantime, just to keep its hand in, it intends to keep on annoying the A. F. of L.