IWW during WWI: Wobblies arrested in Stockton, CA

Guest post by Cairie Riney, a digitization/online access intern at the Balboa Park Online Collaborative (BPOC). For the past few months, Cairie has been working with MOPA to digitize some of the Museum’s special collections.  

Big Bill Haywood, "Mother" Mary Jones, Frank Little…any of those names sound familiar? These people were leading voices for the organization The Industrial Workers of the World, also known as IWW or if referring to its members, Wobblies. The IWW was first founded in 1905 in Chicago at its first convention. This convention is considered one of the most important events in industrial union history. Although the IWW is often referred to as the "International" Workers of the World, on the IWW website it states that the "I" stands for "Industrial."  The IWW was an industrial union that wanted to eradicate the wage system and usher in a new economic system based on direct democracy. In short, they fought for people over profit and cooperation over competition. The Wobblies were also criticized early on because of their inclusion of African Americans, Asians, and women. Wobblies were branded as anarchists and socialists, against American capitalism and "democracy." They were also looked down upon because most the members were immigrants, not the pure blood "American." 


Around the time of World War I the IWW was under harsh repression. Big Bill Haywood tried to silence some member's opposition to World War I because he knew the government would crush the organization and it almost did. The years 1916 - 1918 was a time of tribulation for Wobblies. In 1916 the Everett Massacre or Bloody Sunday occurred when hired citizen deputies had a shootout with local members. This killed 2 citizen deputies and anywhere from 5 to 12 Wobblies.  The Tulsa Outrage happened in 1917 when the Knights of Liberty, a faction of the Klu Klux Klan, tarred and feathered 17 Wobblies. The members were arrested for not having war bonds and were handed over to the Knights by local authorities. The men who later defended the members in court were also fined and submitted to the same torture! Also in 1917 Frank Little, an IWW organizer and outspoken opponent to World War I, was lynched by copper bosses. Again in 1917 1,200 copper strikers were deported from Bisbee, AZ. Those are just the most frequently discussed events in 1917, there are definitely more. As you can see, the government's and industrial owner's view of the IWW was critical and often lethal. 


Now we enter the year that the men below were arrested. In 1918 there was a trial in Chicago that convicted 100 Wobblies for espionage. The men featured below were put under a Federal Investigation and originally arrested in Stockton, CA for trespassing.  I wasn't able to find any specific information on IWW activity in Stockton but if I do, I'll report back here. For now, take a look at the men below. There are two IWW workers in one picture then one on the other. Looks like an electrician and two general laborers. 


This is a very abbreviated overview of the IWW from 1916 - 1918. If you're interested in this subject, check out the myriads of books, documentaries, and even graphic novels. The IWW has a great website where they display a chronology of events as well as common myths about the organization.  The IWW is still alive today and has in fact, gone international.