Bill Haywood (in Derby hat) leading strikers in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1912.Happy May Day, Comrades. Remember back when Red States had nothing do to with Republicans and May Day had nothing to do with trees and birds and the environment? Red meant RED, as in communist or socialist, and May Day was for Revolution.
Ninety-two years ago today, on May Day 1919, Socialists staged Red Flag marches in every major American city. It was American socialism was at its peak. Almost a million US workers went on strike against The Capitalist Enemy, led by radicals like William Z. Foster and Louis Fraina. Bolsheviks had just taken power in Russia, and Eugene Debs would soon win almost a million votes for President in 1920 running from a prison cell on the Socialist ticket. The Red Scare was at its peak, and Emma Goldman still scared the socks off complacent American bourgoisie
Bill Haywood, circa 1905.And of all the prominent lefties, the emblematic leader was Big Bill Haywood, president of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies) -- the biggest, baddest, toughest, roughest leftiest labor leader of them all.
Haywood wanted his IWW to be "One Big Union" for the entire American working class to battle the Corporate Plutocrats of J.P. Morgan's Gilded Age. IWW organizers faced lynching or murder by company detectives. Strikers faced beatings, blacklists, and trumped-up prosecutions. Still, the IWW attracted some 300,000 members at its peak.
Bill Haywood himself -- a former cowpoke and miner -- didn't hesitate to push back, He used sabotage or strong-arm tactics where needed. In 1905, he faced murder charges for the death Idaho governer Frank Steunenberg, blown up after a bitter mining strike. This set the stage for one of America's great courtroom dramas. Idaho prosecutors, backed by Pinkerton detectives, blamed Haywood for the killing, and famed Chicago lawyer Clarance Darrow traveled to Idaho to defend him. He won Haywood an acquittal.
During the World War I, Federal agents under direction of President Woodrow Wilson launched a sweeping crackdown of the IWW. His Justice Department arrested over 100 Wobblies and in 1918 tried them en masse for Espionage. Haywood, convicted and facing prison, fled to Bolshevik Russia for his final years.
So this May Day, forget the flowers and trees. Forget the Red States and Blue States. Let's all wear Red, sing The Internationale, shake our fists at the Power Structure, and toast Big Bill Haywood, a socialist's socialist, a radical's radical, a Red's Red -- as American as apple pie. (Yes it's true, back in 1920 (first Red Scare) and 1950 (second Red Scare), people in this country were arrested over singing this song in public. Free Speech is a fragile thing.)
The best book on Bill Haywood is his own autobiography, published in 1929.