Monday, May 23, 2011

ON HISTORY: Snowball fight, 1895.

I love this old original footage of some kids having a snowball fight in France in 1895.  It was shot by the Lumiere Brothers, Auguste and Louis, probably near their factory in Lyon, one of the very first films in the world (shot around the same time that Thomas Edison was creating early Kinetoscope images in the USA).  The primitive technology required the film to be hand-cranked through camera and projector, giving it a jerky quality.
 
Instead of differences, though, what shows through this unvarnished window into the past is a wonderful common thread of humanity: people laughing, joking, having fun, playing in the snow, enjoying their friends and lives on a crisp winter day.  They are the age of our great-great-grandparents facing a future of multiple world wars and strife -- but that's no concern right now.  They are no better than us, no worse than us, not very different from us.  To me, that's one of the amazing constant re-discoveries of history.   Enjoy-- 


Friday, May 20, 2011

FAMILY HISTORY: Jewtown, New York City. 1890.

New York's lower East Side, Hester Street at corner with Clinton,
circa 1890.  Photo by Edwund Gillon, Jr.  Click on image for full size. 
Last week, I told you about my grandparents, Yetta and Sam Akierman (Ackerman), the love story behind their decision to leave Poland back in the 1910s, and the intense hardship they found on reaching the USA and settling in the Jewish enclave of lower Manhattan.  (Click here.)


Forget the nostalgic stereotypes.  Life for immigrants was tough and unforgiving.   My grandparent's tiny tenement 5th-floor, no-heat, walk-up apartment where they raised their children during this period was a stone's throw from the photograph above (Clinton Street near Hester) on New York's lower East Side.   To give you more a flavor of life during back then, here below is how journalist-muckraker Jacob Riis described it in his classic l890 expose on New York City slums,  How the Other Half Live.  The writing is raw, and the casual bigotry is typical of the era.  Some of the crude antisemitic stereotypes make you cringe.  But that was the world back then, even in progressive America --.   




Chapter X:  JEWTOWN


… Men with queer skull-caps, venerable beard, and the outlandish long-skirted kaftan of the Russian Jew, elbow the ugliest and the handsomest women in the land. The contrast is startling. The old women are hags; the young, houris. Wives and mothers at sixteen, at thirty they are old. So thoroughly has the chosen people crowded out the Gentiles in the Tenth Ward that, when the great Jewish holidays come around every year, the public schools in the district have practically to close up. … There is no mistaking it: we are in Jewtown.   




It is said that nowhere in the world are so many people crowded together on a square mile as here. The average five-story tenement adds a story or two to its stature in Ludlow Street and an extra building on the rear lot, and yet the sign “To Let” is the rarest of all there. Here is one seven stories high. The sanitary policeman whose beat this is will tell you that it contains thirty-six families, but the term has a widely different meaning here and on the avenues. In this house, where a case of small-pox was reported, there were fifty-eight babies and thirty-eight children that were over five years of age. In Essex Street two small rooms in a six-story tenement were made to hold a “family” of father and mother, twelve children and six boarders.

… Life here means the hardest kind of work almost from the cradle. The world as a debtor has no credit in Jewtown.
"Street Arabs."  A gang of kids from
Mulberry Bend, circa 1890.



Thrift is the watchword of Jewtown, as of its people the world over. It is at once its strength and its fatal weakness, its cardinal virtue and its foul disgrace. …  Money is their God. Life itself is of little value compared with even the leanest bank account. In no other spot does life wear so intensely bald and materialistic an aspect as in Ludlow Street. Over and over again I have met with instances of these Polish or Russian Jews deliberately starving themselves to the point of physical exhaustion, while working night and day at a tremendous pressure to save a little money. An avenging Nemesis pursues this headlong hunt for wealth; there is no worse paid class anywhere. …

Penury and poverty are wedded everywhere to dirt and disease, and Jewtown is no exception. It could not well be otherwise in such crowds, considering especially their low intellectual status. … “The diseases these people suffer from are not due to intemperance or immorality, but to ignorance, want of suitable food, and the foul air in which they live and work.” 1 The homes of the Hebrew quarter are its workshops also.  You are made fully aware of it before you have travelled the length of a single block in any of these East Side streets, by the whir of a thousand sewing-machines, worked at high pressure from earliest dawn till mind and muscle give out together. Every member of the family, from the youngest to the oldest, bears a hand, shut in the qualmy rooms, where meals are cooked and clothing washed and dried besides, the livelong day. It is not unusual to find a dozen persons—men, women, and children—at work in a single small room.

… Typhus fever and small-pox are bred here, and help solve the question what to do with him. Filth diseases both, they sprout naturally among the hordes that bring the germs with them from across the sea, and whose first instinct is to hide their sick lest the authorities carry them off to the hospital to be slaughtered, as they firmly believe.  … It has happened more than once that a child recovering from small-pox, and in the most contagious stage of the disease, has been found crawling among heaps of half-finished clothing that the next day would be offered for sale on the counter of a Broadway store; or that a typhus fever patient has been discovered in a room whence perhaps a hundred coats had been sent home that week, each one with the wearer’s death warrant, unseen and unsuspected, basted in the lining....

Attached to many of the synagogues, which among the poorest Jews frequently consist of a scantily furnished room in a rear tenement, with a few wooden stools or benches for the congregation, are Talmudic schools that absorb a share of the growing youth. The school-master is not rarely a man of some attainments who has been stranded there, his native instinct for money-making having been smothered in the process that has made of him a learned man…. But the majority of the children seek the public schools, where they are received sometimes with some misgivings on the part of the teachers, who find it necessary to inculcate lessons of cleanliness in the worst cases by practical demonstration with wash-bowl and soap. “He took hold of the soap as if it were some animal,” said one of these teachers to me after such an experiment upon a new pupil, “and wiped three fingers across his face. He called that washing.” ….

Only the demand of religious custom has power to make their parents clean up at stated intervals, and the young naturally are no better... It is surprising to see how strong the instinct of dollars and cents is in them. They can count, and correctly, almost before they can talk.

… The Pig-market is in Hester Street, extending either way from Ludlow Street, and up and down the side streets two or three blocks, as the state of trade demands. The name was given to it probably in derision, for pork is the one ware that is not on sale in the Pig-market. There is scarcely anything else that can be hawked from a wagon that is not to be found, and at ridiculously low prices. Bandannas and tin cups at two cents, peaches at a cent a quart, “damaged” eggs for a song, hats for a quarter, and spectacles, warranted to suit the eye, at the optician’s who has opened shop on a Hester Street door-step, for thirty five cents; frowsy-looking chickens and half-plucked geese, hung by the neck and protesting with wildly strutting feet even in death against the outrage, are the great staple of the market. Half or a quarter of a chicken can be bought here by those who cannot afford a whole. It took more than ten years of persistent effort on the part of the sanitary authorities to drive the trade in live fowl from the streets to the fowl-market on Gouverneur Slip, where the killing is now done according to Jewish rite by priests detailed for the purpose by the chief rabbi. …

The crowds that jostle each other at the wagons and about the sidewalk shops, where a gutter plank on two ash-barrels does duty for a counter! Pushing, struggling, babbling, and shouting in foreign tongues, a veritable Babel of confusion. An English word falls upon the ear almost with a sense of shock, as something unexpected and strange. In the midst of it all there is a sudden wild scattering, a hustling of things from the street into dark cellars, into back-yards and by-ways, a slamming and locking of doors hidden under the improvised shelves and counters. The health officers’ cart is coming down the street, preceded and followed by stalwart policemen, who shovel up with scant ceremony the eatables—musty bread, decayed fish and stale vegetables—indifferent to the curses that are showered on them from stoops and windows, and carry them off to the dump. In the wake of the wagon, as it makes its way to the East River after the raid, follow a line of despoiled hucksters shouting defiance from a safe distance. Their clamor dies away with the noise of the market. The endless panorama of the tenements, rows upon rows, between stony streets, stretches to the north, to the south, and to the west as far as the eye reaches.







Monday, May 16, 2011

MAY'S OTHER ANNIVERSARY: The Haymarket riot, Chicago 1886.



Sketch of May 1886 Haymarket riot, from Harper's Weeky, May 15, 1886.
Late one night in May 1886, a stunning spasm of violence left seven policemen dying on a street corner and sparked America's first brutal “red scare” panic and crackdown against free speech and dissent. The street corner was called Haymarket Square.  The city was Chicago.

This spring of 2011, as we mark the 150th anniversary of Fort Sumter and the start of the American Civil War, let's not forget the other important anniversary this month: the 125th marking of Chicago's Haymarket riot, an episode with shadows almost as long.

The rise of giant corporations in the US after the Civil War – railroads, textile mils, mines, ironworks, and the rest – had produced vast wealth for a lucky few, but had also produced a vast new class of industrial workers ripe with grievances – sweat shop conditions, low pay, no benefits, autocratic controls, and violent suppression of any complaints.  As a result, labor agitation by the 1870s and 1880s reached a boiling point.  In 1877, President Rutherford Hayes had called out National Guard troops to crush a nationwide railroad strike, killing over 70 people in resulting clashes.  During the 1880s, industrial workers focused their energies on an eight-hour workday, and on May 1, 1886, over 50,000 workers nationwide walked off their jobs. Two days later, at Chicago's McCormick Reaper factory, police fired on unarmed strikers, killing six and wounding many more.

Local Chicago agitators, calling themselves Anarchists after the European model, decided to use this incident to drum up support.  In posters, speeches, and through their newspaper The Alarm, they demanded revenge and urged workers to arms themselves with guns and dynamite. They also announced plans for a mass meeting to protest the killings.

Chicago officials knew the ring leaders very well: Albert Parsons, August Spies, and Samuel Fielden. These three agitators, leaders of Chicago’s local International Working People's Association, had long been popular speakers at labor rallies, lakeside picnics, and meetings in saloon basements, spinning visions of class warfare and armed struggle, touting new-fangled theories by Marx and Engels. Often, their meetings attracted as many Pinkerton detectives and police spies as actual recruits.

The night came for their big protest at Haymarket Square, but rainy weather kept the crowd small. Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison came to see for himself if trouble might break out, but by 10am all seemed calm and he decided to go home. Still, about an hour later, as the speeches were winding down, a squad of police led by Inspector John Bonfield moved into the narrow street with clubs drawn. 

Samuel Fielden, the last speaker, was just finishing. standing on the back of a wooden wagon facing the crowd of about a hundred shivering men, when he saw the police, their blue uniforms and whiskered faces illuminated by torches and gas lamps. One officer interrupted Fielden and told him to break up the meeting. “We are peaceable,” Fielden said. He climbed down from the wagon and began to walk away.  Most of the crowd followed him.


Even Thomas Nast, whose cartoons helped destroy NYC's Boss Tweed
in the 1870s, joined the mob against the Haymarket anarchists.

Then, in a flash, terror struck -- a steak of fire, followed by an explosion. Someone had thrown a bomb that landed directly in the line of police. After the initial blast, gunfire erupted, coming from all directions. It lasted just a few minutes. When it was over, seven policemen lay dead or dying and fifty people wounded.

 
Riot! Anarchy! Murder! Panic swept the city, then the country. Newspapers and politicians immediately accused the Anarchists of cold-blooded murder and insurrection.  In the days after the so-called “riot,” police claimed to discover small grounps of  radicals all across the country, painting them as a secret menacing vanguard of revolutionaries plotting against America. Most were German and central European immigrants who spoke little or no English.

In Chicago itself, police arrested eight radical leaders including Parsons, Spies, and Fielden. No evidence tied any of these men to the actual Haymarket bomb. Five of the eight were not even at the Haymarket street corner when the bomb exploded. Still, a jury convicted them all of murder in a trial held six weeks after the riot – while tempers were still red hot. Pleas for clemency poured in from around the world, but four were hanged. A fifth killed himself in jail by swallowing a dynamite blasting cap the day before his scheduled execution. Over 150,000 sympathetic Chicagoans attended their joint funeral.

The “red scare” following Haymarket – the first of many in America – finally played itself out after a few years, but its stain had set. By 1893,, when Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld reviewed the trial transcript and felt compelled to pardon the final three prisoners, his action caused outrage and wrecked his political career.

Decades would pass before a modern organized labor movement would evolve. But a much darker shadow emerged in the aftermath of Haymarket, what historian Richard Hofstadter later would call the “paranoid style in American politics.” To Chicago businessmen and civic leaders in 1886, the Haymarket demonstrators were criminal radicals, the tip of an immense international conspiracy bent on overthrowing law and order – a European virus of “communism” brought to America by immigrants. By contrast, to the mass of industrial workers in 1886, the Haymarket Anarchists were heroes and victims, crushed by all-powerful capitalists who were hogging the nation’s wealth while manipulating police, courts, and voting booths.
Portraits of the seven Chicago policemen killed in Haymarket Square, from Harper's Weekly, May 15, 1886.

It was one conspiracy versus another, with no middle ground.

 So let's not let this month pass without remembering the Haymarket martyrs on both sides: the seven policemen killed doing their jobs, and the radicals hanged and incarcerated for exercising free speech. All were heroes, and they speak to us through the ages as much as the heroes of Fort Sumter and the other Civil War.

              

Friday, May 13, 2011

FAMILY HISTORY: Reminder of a love story.

My sister Phyllis found it about six months ago -- a creased, crumbling yellowed page covered with smeared ink handwriting. Each side had what looked like a cross, the stained remains of glue from rotted scotch tape. Unfolding it risked destroying the pages completely. The back bore what looked like an official government stamp in faded purple. We recognized the words as Polish, but had no idea what they meant.  Still, three things jumped off the page: the year 1888 and two names repeated throughout: Zys and Acierman (or Akierman).


We found a Polish speaker who translated the title. It was a marriage certificate (Akt Slubu), signed and sealed long ago in the faraway town of Modle-Borzyce (pronounced Masel-Budgets) in southern Poland, far away from upstate New York, USA. It could have been from another planet.


Click on image to make full size.
What was the point of these rotting old pages? Somebody, in fact several people -- parents, grand parents, great grandparents - clearly had made a huge effort to hold onto them, carrying them across the Atlantic Ocean when the family emigrated to the US, keeping them safe during decades of poverty, and passing them down now to three generations over a span of 120 years. Still, this was no fancy certificate to frame and put on a wall. And a Jewish wedding, even back in autocratic Russian-dominated pre-independence Poland, needed no official government stamp to be recognized in the Shtetl. Who would care?


The answer lay in a family story, obscure and half-forgotten. The particular marriage sealed by this paper had come as a shock. It had defied the rules and the odds. The bride, a young Yetta Zys, was the daughter of a very rich man, doctor Chaim Zys, who owned the biggest house in their little town. The groom, a young man named Sheah (or Sam) Akierman (later Ackerman), was a nobody, a destitute shoe-maker from a poor family.


Jews in Poland back then had rules on these things. Children were not allowed to chose their own husbands or wives. Instead, it was the parents who arranged marriages for them, often when the children were barely in their teens. A family hired a matchmaker (or yentl) who made sure that rich daughters married rich husbands, poor daughters married poor husbands, and so on.


Yetta and Sheah broke this rule. They refused to wait for a yentl. They fell in love.


Modle-Borzyce town square on market day, late 1800s.
Modle-Borzyce in the 1880s was a tiny hamlet of about 900 people, made up of small buildings around a square that served as a marketplace. Young Sheah Akierman came to the Zys home one day around 1887, apparently on business, to fix someone's shoes. He was amazed at what he saw. "My father was a good looking young man, blond and blue-eyed," my Aunt Rachel (Sheah's daughter) wrote about him years ago. "The first time he came to visit my mother's house he was so shocked he couldn't move. He had never seen such a rich house. All the walls were covered with mirrors and paintings."


Then he laid eyes on the rich doctor's beautiful daughter. She happened to come in at that moment while he was standing in a corner. He remembered her wearing a white ermine coat and carrying a white muff in her hands. "He told me that he'd never seen such a beautiful girl," my Aunt Rachel went on. "He fell in love with her immediately. The next time he saw her was at their wedding."


But it wasn't so easy.  Love mattered back then, but not very much. We don't know what actually happened behind closed doors -- the arguments, the threats, the diplomacy, the shrill voices. Why did Dr. Chaim Zys finally relent and permit his beautiful daughter to marry a penniless cobbler? It's a mystery, but somehow, Yetta and Sheah had insisted on having their way, on demanding their own choice in who they marry, and they were stubborn enough to win.


"If anybody got married the ceremony was in the square under the stars," my Aunt Rachel wrote of Modle-Borzyce. "The whole town -- the Jewish part -- went to the wedding. Everyone came even if they were not relatives." So it was with Yetta and Sheah Akierman.


They had their beautiful day, but life for them would then prove terribly hard. "My mother started with a dowery of jewels and furs but these items soon disappeared as they had one child after another," Rachel wrote. They would have seven children altogether. Sheah, always described as outgoing, generous, and surrounded by friends, could never hold jobs very long. Reaching New York City in 1908, they were poor even by lower East Side standards. The family lived for years in a 5th-floor walk-up apartment with no hot water and only a coal stove for heat. Yetta and the little children had to carry the coal by hand in pails from the basement up the six flights of stairs. For money, Sheah did everything from cobbling shoes to selling goods from a pushcart to making whiskey on the kitchen stove (it was during Prohibition) to sell for a few dollars. (Click here for more on the neighborhood.)


These were tough times, but though it all, they had their lodestar -- that yellowed, ink-stained piece of paper, the Akt Slubu or marriage certificate. It was their reminder of the love story that had cemented their marriage, proven their commitment, and made it possible to carry the later burdens.


These were my father's-side grandparents, Sheah and Yetta Ackerman. Sheah died before I was born and Yetta when I was far too young to remember her. Their youngest son, Bill, my father, born just before leaving Poland but raised in America, would establish himself as a lawyer in depression-era New York City and ultimately move our family to the relative splendor of upstate Albany (about 150 miles north of NYC). He too held on to that old Polish marriage certificate, passed down from his parents, for the rest of his life, though he never mentioned it or showed it to us. When he and my mother died years ago, this old scrap of paper landed in an ignored folder in my sister's house. By then, it had been forgotten.


Until now. There's value in these mysterious old things - especially the ones that people hold on to at all costs. They tell the best stories, and remind us of their best sides.


Confused about the dates? Here's the math: I was born in 1951, the youngest child in our family, when my father, Bill Ackerman, was 44 years old. He was born in 1907. My father, in turn, was the youngest child of Sheah/Sam Ackerman, born when his father also was about 40 years old. As a result, Sheah, my Grandfather, was born in 1867 -- two years before Ulysses Grant became president of the USA. If you ever wonder why I'm a history fanatic, think of how close you are in age to your own grandparents, then try wrapping your head around this little calculation.


My Aunt Rachel compiled her family memories in a quirky, funny, self-published little book called Horseradish: Jewish Roots. It's a great read. In a perfect world, it would be a best seller.


Visit modern Modle-Borzyce on this very cool road trip through the neighborhood, courtesy of YouTube--


Thursday, May 5, 2011

REALITY CHECK: The killing of Osama Bin Laden.


All this cheering for an execution -- even one so well deserved as that of Osama bin Laden, the mass murderer behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on our country -- turns me cold.  Yes, it was important, just, and even essential to hunt him down, and hats off to the military, intelligence, and diplomatic teams that performed this difficult job with honor and precision, particular the amazing Navy Seals, and to President Obama for having the backbone to give the order. 

But all the gloating misses the point.  September 11 ten years ago unleashed evils into the world that still continue to shadow our lives.  Killing Bin Laden settles a score -- the man had blood on his hands --but doesn't start to undo the damage.   For instance--


  • Killing Bin Laden will not stop Al Qaeda terrorism.  Since 2001, Al Qaeda has decentralized, with semi-independent secret cells in cities around the world --including a particularly malicious group in Yemen.  Each can launch strikes on its own, and they seem to have plenty of recruits.  Killing the leader may slow them down and hurt morale, but they won't disappear.

  • It will not help us better navigate the complex diplomatic chessboard presented by this year's Arab Spring democratic uprisings, particularly the bloody face-offs in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain.  Handling these correctly probably gives us our single best chance to avoid a next generation of Bin Ladens, but the issues here are vastly deeper and more complex than old-news Al Qaeda rhetoric.

  • It will not end the danger of a country like Pakistan collapsing into an anti-American terrorist state with nuclear weapons, dramatized by this week's evidence of Pakistani collusion in sustaining Bin Laden's hiding place. 

Still, the demise of  Bin Laden gives reason for optimism.  Is it not too much to hope that perhaps it might clear the air enough to finally try and put some of the worst post-2001 demons back in their bottles?  Here is my quick list of five: 

  • 1.  The pervasive US paranoia over security since 2001.  Fighting this debilitating drain on our national productivity, psyche, and personal freedom will not be easy, since we have now institutionalized our paranoia into (a) massive new government agencies like the Departament of Homeland Security and TSA, (b) ingrained habits like metal detectors at every major building and casual acceptance of intrusions like warrantless government domestic spying, endless security at airports, and a multi-milltion-name terrorist watch list, and (c) a huge, multi-billion-dollar industry of contractors and high-tech companies making their living off  the new "security business."  Yes, we as a country face threats, and hats off to the excellent security professionals who keep us safe.  But we are also the land of the free, a beacon for talented people from around the world.  Can we please restore some balance here? 

  • 2. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Ten years later, these have become swamps where we remain stuck, turning us into an odd reflection of the old British Empire, circa 1890.   With Al Qaeda now headless and largely moved away of the original war zones, maybe it's time for us to move on as well.

  • 3. The guilt-by-association prejudice against our Arab American fellow citizens who had nothing at all to do with the attacks. 

  • 4. The self-inflicted bankrupting of our national treasury since 2001, a product of many factors (most totally unrelated to Bin Laden or the Middle East), but which poses a threat to the country far bigger than anything to do with terrorists.  With Bin Laden gone, perhaps some perspective can return?

  • 5.  The pathetic finger-pointing that has become a defining feature of our national politics since September 2001, with politicians feeling free to acccuse each other of treason or "softness" on terror, just  to score debating points.  (When did being anti-torture start becoming anti-American?)  With Bin Laden gone, can we stop this?

Call me naive, but I miss the America of September 10, 2001, before the Bin Laden disease infected our country.  I think Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, got it right this week when he said in a radio interview :  "In the USA, our day is not September 11.  Our day is July 4th."  

I'm for fireworks, hot dogs, watermelon, beer, and the First Amendment.    

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Hunt Brothers -- Actually heroes of the 1980 silver drama?

Last week, I wrote about the Hunt Brothers, Bunker and Herbert, and their 1980 corner of the silver market.  (Click here for original article.)  Call me old fashioned, but I had always assumed that the Hunts were the villains in the episode, since manipulating a financial market is a federal crime, and that the return of silver prices last week to $49 per ounce -- a level not seen since the height of the Hunt brothers' 1980 scheme -- signaled something very wrong with today's US economy.  

I have since discovered -- to great surprise -- that I had it all wrong.  The Hunts were not villains, but actually victims, heroes, role models.  The real villains in the silver story were the banks, the government, and the Federal Reserve, trying to destroy our currency with cheap paper dollars.  Downright unpatriotic.  The Hunts were simply fighting back, standing up for their rights, as any good American should.

And right now, with silver at $46 per ounce and gold topping $1,550, both having enjoyed huge recent price run-ups, it is hard to argue these are not two of the smartest investments around -- unless, of course, they're headed for a crash.

Where's the truth?  Time will tell, and I have suspicions.  But for now, listen to some of the newer voices.  Enjoy-- 








Sunday, May 1, 2011

For May Day -- We give you Big Bill Haywood

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 1910.
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.   


Here is Joan Baez singing her famous version of the ballad to Bill Haywood's best-known IWW organizer, Joe Hill.  Enjoy-- 





The best book on Bill Haywood is his own autobiography, published in 1929.