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One of the foremost labor radicals of the American West, "Big Bill" Haywood became a leading figure in labor activities across the United States.
Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1869, Haywood had a difficult life. He was only three years old when his father died, and at age nine he both lost an eye and for the first time worked in a mine. The economic desperation which led him to work as a child prevented him from ever receiving much formal education.
In 1884, Haywood became an underground miner at the Eagle Canyon mine in Nevada. After a brief stint as a cowboy and a failed homesteading effort, he returned to mining in 1896, this time in Silver City, Idaho. Here he began his labor career as a founding member of a local chapter of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), the industry-wide union that had been founded in 1893 in Butte, Montana. Haywood rose quickly in the union ranks, becoming secretary and president of his local, joining the national union's General Executive Board in 1900, and editing the union's magazine and serving as secretary-treasurer in 1901. Haywood became co-president of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) union in 1902.
Just as Haywood became one of the leaders of Western unions, labor relations in Colorado exploded into violence. Motivated largely by harsh working conditions, similar to the mines of Butte, Montana, the WFM launched a series of mining strikes in Colorado beginning in 1901. The next several years saw near warfare in Colorado's mining fields. The defeat of the strikes led Haywood to stress the need for "one big union" which could bring broader support to individual labor struggles; accordingly, in 1905 he played a key role in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), commonly referred to as "the Wobblies."
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The next year Haywood was charged with plotting the murder of a former Idaho governor. The jury acquitted Haywood, but businessmen and fellow labor leaders would continue to fear and even hate Haywood for his alleged endorsement of violence and sabotage. In 1915, he became the formal head of the IWW and helped to direct strikes from New Jersey to Washington State.
From 1905 to 1920, the IWW organized hundreds of thousands of workers in mines, lumberyards, farms and factories; it never had more than about 150,000 members at any one time, but over 3 million people joined at one time or another. The IWW was strongest in the West, where it organized women and men, African-Americans and whites, recent immigrants and native-born Americans into large industry-wide unions. Wobblies were explicit about their eventual goal of toppling capitalism, and many of their leaders, including Haywood, expressed open admiration for the young Soviet Union. Wobblies quickly became a part of the folklore of the West, celebrated for their staunch egalitarianism and no-holds-barred style.
The domestic repression which World War I brought ultimately crushed both Haywood and the IWW. In 1917, the federal government arrested Haywood and one hundred others and charged them with violating espionage and sedition acts for calling strikes during wartime. All were convicted. When the Supreme Court rejected his final appeal in 1921, Haywood jumped bail and fled to the Soviet Union, where he died in 1928.
(Source: Anarchy Archives.)
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William Dudley Haywood (February 4, 1869 – May 18, 1928), better known as “Big Bill” Haywood, was a founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and a member of the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of America. During the first two decades of the 20th century, he was involved in several important labor battles, including the Colorado Labor Wars, the Lawrence textile strike, and other textile strikes in Massachusetts and New Jersey.
William D. “Big Bill” Haywood ranks as one of the foremost and perhaps most feared of America’s labor radicals. Physically imposing with a thunderous voice and almost total disrespect for law, Haywood mobilized unionists, intimidated company bosses, and repeatedly found himself facing prosecution.
Haywood was born in Salt Lake City in 1869, the son of a Pony Express rider who died of pneumonia when Bill was just three. At age nine Bill punctured his right eye with a knife while whittling a slingshot, blinding it for life. (Haywood always turned his head to offer his left profile when photographed, but never replaced his milky, dead eye with a glass one.) Bill was also nine when he first began work in the mines. The 1886 Haymarket riots, trials, and executions made a deep impression on Haywood inspiring, he would later say, his life of radicalism. The Pullman railroad strikes of 1893 further strengthened Haywood’s interest in the labor movement. Then in 1896, while working a silver mine in Idaho, Haywood listened to a speech by Ed Boyce, President of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM). Haywood immediately signed up as a WFM member and by 1900 became a member of the organization’s executive board.
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When Boyce retired as WFM president in 1902, he recommended Haywood and Charles Moyer assume leadership of the rapidly growing organization. It was not an easy arrangement. Moyer was cautious by nature, favoring negotiations over strikes and violence. Haywood, on the other hand, was volatile, impulsive and inclined toward radical confrontation. Haywood was a powerful speaker, and was a master at rallying working class audiences. The campaign for an eight-hour work day became one of Haywood’s principal causes. He would shout, “Eight hours of work, eight hours of play, eight hours of sleep– eight hours a day!”
From 1902 the WFM and the mine operators and government of Colorado were locked in the Colorado Labor Wars, “the closest the United States has ever approached outright class warfare.” The war took 33 lives, including both union and nonunion workers. In one single, bloody incident at an Independence, Colorado train depot on June 4, 1904, 13 nonunion miners were killed by a powerful explosion as they waited for a train. Haywood was suspected of being behind the explosion, and a virtual open season on unionists ensued.
Haywood was a Socialist and an atheist, but hardly a great thinker. He said “Socialism is so plain, so clear, so simple that when a person becomes an intellectual he doesn’t understand socialism.” Christianity, he said, “was all nonsense, based on that profane compilation of fables called the Bible.”
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Orchard’s accusation that the Steunenberg assassination was ordered by Haywood led Colorado authorities to arrest him on murder charges in 1906 (Authorities looking to arrest Haywood found him sleeping with his sister-in-law). With time on his hands in the Boise jail, Haywood began to read. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Carlyle’s The French Revolution, were among his selections. While in jail, Haywood also ran for governor of Colorado on the Socialist ticket, designed new WFM posters, and took a correspondence course in law. When a Idaho jury announced its acquittal of Haywood in July, 1907, Haywood jumped to his feet, crying and laughing at the same time. After hugging supporters, he ran to shake hands with each juror.
In 1908, Haywood was ousted by Moyer from his executive postion with the WFM. Haywood turned his attention to the Industrial Workers of the World (the “Wobblies”). In 1915, Haywood became the formal head of the I.W.W. He led textile strikes in Massaschusetts and New Jersey and helped recruit the over three million mine, mill, and factory workers that at one time or another were Wobblies. In 1918, Haywood was convicted of violating a federal espionage and sedition act by calling a strike during wartime. He served a year in Leavenworth, then jumped bond in 1921 while out on appeal. Haywood fled to Moscow where he became a trusted adviser to the new Bolshevik government. Haywood died in Moscow in 1928. Half of his ashes were buried in the Kremlin near his friend John Reed and not far from Lenin’s tomb, an urn containing the other half of his ashes was sent to Chicago and buried near a monument to the Haymarket anarchists who first inspired his life of radicalism.