Every month is a good month to be an IWW in Minnesota. Don’t ask me though – if I had to pick my least favorite months to walk picket lines, or be outside on the union grind, July and August are probably those months. I’m one of those people to make the most of our snow, ice, and biting cold while offering no apologies. Sadly though, the struggle doesn’t take a break for my climatological preferences and the bosses don’t seem to care that I’d rather picket in an old red snowmobile suit as opposed to a bathing suit.
IWW history in Minnesota is rich and deep, and with this piece, I hope to kick off a series chronicling a small selection of the union’s activities during its first few decades of existence. I’ll be particularly focused on those happenings – the workers, the industries, the places involved – that have been lost in the historical record and with which a Twin Cities IWW might not be familiar. For this issue, we’ll be looking at Minnesota IWW history in the hot, humid months of July and August.
July 8, 1905 – In Chicago, the IWW’s founding convention adjourned on this July date. Most know the story of Lucy Parsons’ powerful speeches, or Bill Haywood calling the “Continental Congress of the Working Class” to order by pounding some random planks of wood on the speaking stand. However, most don’t know about the “January Conference of Industrial Unionist” – the group of 20 plus workers who gathered in January 1905 to adopt the manifesto calling for the formal founding of the IWW later that year. There were two Minneapolis railroad workers who joined the likes of Mother Jones at this clandestine (not really) January conference – Fred Henion, an engineer residing in what’s now the Logan Park neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis; and William Bradley, a steamfitter boarding in a building near where De La Salle high school sits on Nicollet Island. A third railroad worker – William Walsh, was invited to attend but had to bow out due to poor health. Walsh was a switchman who lived near Cedar Field Park in what’s now the Phillips neighborhood.
July 10, 1905 – Daniel De Leon delivers a speech entitled “The Preamble of the IWW” at Minneapolis’ Union Temple in the immediate wake of the founding convention. The building referred to as Union Temple stood at 26-28 Washington Ave. S., adjacent to the city’s Bridge Square, near the intersection of Washington and Nicollet. The text of the speech is provided here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/deleon/works/1905/050710.htm. De Leon’s ideas and place within the union would become controversial in the lead-up to and fall-out from the IWW’s Second Convention in 1906.
August 22, 1905 – Charles Sherman, the first and only president of the IWW, delivered a speech on industrialism on this date at the A.O.U.W. Hall that stood at the intersection of modern-day Central and University Aves. About 150 people are said to have listened to Sherman’s speech, and it’s noted in the Minneapolis Tribune that this is Sherman’s second visit to the Mill City since the union’s founding. It’s also mentioned that Sherman planned to return to Minneapolis within a month’s time when an “active campaign will be made among the labor organizations of the city to interest them in a combination of the unions of the country”. This visit by Sherman would go down as Minneapolis’ first IWW meeting. Sherman too would stir up trouble within the organization with his dubious methods and difficult personality – he’d eventually be forced out the “real” IWW. That’s a story for another time.
July, 1907 – We see the first recorded visit by an organzier acting on behalf of the broader international union during this month. The General Executive Board (GEB) instructed organizer Lillian M. Forberg to “proceed at once to Minneapolis, to take up work in that city”. Little is known about Forberg, but she received much praise for her previous work in Kansas and according to the minutes of the union’s Founding Convention, she was affiliated with the “Industrial Workers’ Club” of Chicago. Upon Forberg’s arrival there were four chartered IWW locals between the Twin Cities, a “mixed industries” local each in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and two “industrial” unions in Minneapolis – one in transportation/rail and the other referred to as the Scandinavian branch. There were also locals chartered in Hibbing, Keewatin, and Bovey amongst mine workers on Minnesota’s Mesabi Range. Duluth had a mixed local organized by July 1907 as well.
Forberg’s organizing focus seems to have been in two industries – laundry workers and workers in rail, the latter of which already boasted a sizeable IWW presence here. By the time, Forberg had arrived back in Chicago in August of 1907, a laundry workers industrial union had been organized in St. Paul and Secretary Johnson of that city’s mixed local heaped praise upon Forberg and stated that “great credit should be given her for opening up so successfully in that reactionary city”. Forberg’s final report to the GEB said that “conditions there promise a healthy growth for the IWW in the twin cities [sic] in the near future”.
August, 1907 – The first reported mass job action by IWWs happened during this time. Industrial Union 552 of Hibbing voted strike “in sympathy with” the thousands of mine workers striking in association with the Western Federation of Miners organizing campaign in Northern Minnesota ore ranges. There’s no mention of how many IWWs struck or who exactly was involved, but we do know that a Swedish worker named August Brodin was secretary of the Hibbing local around this time, and that the action was taken to “protect the members from being called scabs.” It’s interesting to note that Vincent St. John was in Minnesota at this time helping to organize the striking miners, though not on behalf of the IWW.
July 15, 1909 – Charles Axelson submitted a report that IWWs are “working and agitating with great success. Members are taken in at our meetings in bunches of 20 and 40…” in Minneapolis. He praises the Industrial Worker as an effective recruitment tool in their organizing efforts.
I’ll be sharing more about Axelson in the future, as he’s the local Wobbly most engaged in growing the IWW’s ranks during its infancy. Axelson was a noted Swedish organizer in the Twin Cities and outstate area – he also acted as a local delegate at several conventions and would serve as one of the first GEB members from the Twin Cities. And of course, his activities and efforts have been largely ignored by historians.
July, 1911 – A Free Speech Fight kicked off in Duluth. According to the report in Solidarity, “After politely ordering the IWW off the streets, Duluth authorities have decided to “wink the other eye”.” An excerpt from the Duluth News Tribune is included where the Socialist party members disavow the IWW and claim to have “no strife with the city regarding free speech and a movement of this kind should not be confounded with our party”.  The union became famous for its Free Speech Fights around the country, but most don’t know anything about the Duluth fight, or the one waged in Minneapolis in 1912. That too is a story for another time.
August, 1911 – Minneapolis Local 64 and its secretary, Walter Nef, placed an order for “4,000 stickers, and good big batches of the following leaflets: Two Kinds of Unionism, Union Scabs, War – Why? How? When?”. The editor of the IWW newspaper Solidarity said “We look for more sub orders from Minneapolis. Wherever Sec’y Neff goes there is renewed activity. He raised the bundle order for the past three issues from 40 to 100 copies a week; and paid in advance. Neff also raises hell with capitalism”.  Nef was at the center of several pivotal moments in the union’s early history – his name would become synonymous with the creation of the “job delegate” system, a variation of which endures to this day. This system was the building block of the IWW Agricultural Workers Organization (AWO). Nef was also involved in the dynamic struggles of Local 8 on the Philadelphia waterfront – he’d eventually be jailed in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary as part of the mass arrest, conviction, and incarceration of IWWs under the Espionage Act of 1917 and its viler, amended sibling called the Sedition Act of 1918.
July, 1912 – A dockworkers strike hits the Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior. According to the Duluth News Tribune, “Men employed on the flour, cement and general merchandise docks here walked out yesterday. All day and last evening crowds of the men gathered in groups around the docks and listened to talks from the more bold of their brothers, and to discuss their grievances.” “An organizer from the I.W.W. association of Duluth addressed the men last night” and “a general strike was called at the Great Northern docks and only about 100 men, members of the steady, or contract gang, were on hand to transfer the merchandise.” The News Tribune piece then quotes an unnamed Duluth labor “official” as saying that “Agitators have caused this mix, and if we can secure their expulsion from the city, I am sure that the men will return to work.” A subsequent newspaper article would articulate the workers’ demands: “35 cents an hour for general merchandise. 40 cents an hour for handling cement, steel rails and plates. No time off for change of shifts. No discrimination against Superior and Duluth Dock Workers’ union after strike is settled. Quit work at 10 o’clock p.m., after that hour, time and a half.” The article also states that strike committee was elected that included “Sam Hoyt, Tom Camon, Herman Burgner, Julius Lucas, Mike Zoks, James Moka, Lewis Masman, Pete Use. These men represent the different nationalities employed as “dock wallopers.”” News of 1912 strike and the IWW’s involvement would reach well beyond the Twin Ports, though again, very little has been written about this struggle. However, that pattern would change with a strike in August of 1913, when IWWs would again bring the ports to standstill.
August 11, 1912 – Elizabeth Gurley Flynn spoke at two Minneapolis events on this date. One event was held on public park land near 38th and Minnehaha, and the second in Dania Hall, which stood in Cedar-Riverside on the lot next to today’s Nomad World Pub. Gurley Flynn spoke of the IWW strike in Lawrence, MA and made appeals on behalf of Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti, who had been jailed due to their participation in the strike. A local newspaper reported that the first meeting was well attended “despite the fact that the Park Board refused the use of public parks.” The revolutionary songs sung by local IWWs were a big hit with the crowds. Attendees were packed tight at the Dania Hall event “despite the hot weather.” By the summer of 1912, Gurley Flynn had already spent quite a bit of time in Minnesota, where she had met her first husband back in 1907/1908. The great IWW organizer would crisscross the state in later years, most notably in the fateful (and incredibly hot/humid) summer of 1916.
July, 1913 – This month would be a busy one for the union in Minneapolis. Eight workers at the Eureka Restaurant – then located in a building that stood at 209 Nicollet – struck against a reduction in wages. One report said: “The waitresses were receiving $8 a week and their aprons were laundered free, which was valued at 50 cents. The manager’s wife, who works as a cashier in the restaurant, told one of the girls that she wanted to talk to them about a proposition of having their wages cut 50 cents a week. The girls got the impression somehow that the wages were to be cut to $7 a week. One girl was a member of the IWW and reported the matter to that organization. Just before the noon hour, members of the IWW filled the restaurant and ordered ice cream. Soon after noon one girl stepped up to the manager’s wife, presented a paper and asked if she would meet their demands. She requested them to wait until she could send for her husband, who was out at the time. This they refused to do and walked out. Members of the IWW then congregated in front of the restaurant and forcibly prevented customers from entering the place. In the afternoon, the manager called the girls and offered them $8 a week with one day off each week, and requested them to join the union. The girls accepted these terms and returned to work that evening.” This was one of the first IWW strikes ever carried out in Minneapolis – certainly the first involving ice cream and a march on the boss.
IWW agitation amongst street car workers had started in 1912, and gathered considerable momentum by the summer of 1913. One July 1913 report stated that “The street car organization of the Twin Cities is making such rapid headway that the traction management is at its wits ends to stem the rising tide of organization. Their spotters are everywhere and are no inconsiderable item of expense.” “W.B. Carper, who has worked for the company for over 11 years, was spotted by a barn-foreman and taken to task for his attendance [at an organizing meeting]. He refused to give a promise that he would not attend such meetings and avoid the I.W.W. organizers. He was fired on the spot. This is as fair a sample of American freedom as obtains elsewhere in other employments. Freedom. Ye gods!!!!” The workers would charter the Street Car Employees Industrial Union 263 – and their organization would lay the framework for the massive Twin Cities street car strike of 1917.
July 31/August, 1913 – Almost 450 workers at the Allouez dock in Superior stage a wildcat strike after two ore trains collided, killing several people. Sympathy strikes by workers on the docks in Duluth would all but bring the shipment of ore to a halt in the region. Strike meetings were held throughout Duluth and Superior by IWW workers and organizers, the likes of which included Ed Doree, James Cannon, and Frank Little. Historians have devoted a little time to this massive work stoppage, but as it happens, most of that time is given to the tale of Frank Little’s beating, kidnapping, and subsequent rescue by union members. Many of the strike’s unmistakably IWW-esque nuances have been overlooked, such as the fact that the meetings featured speakers in many different languages, and the workers elected a strike committee that represented all nationalities employed on the docks. The representatives were: “Archie Verhane, Willie Laurala, Emil Hill, Ero Litho, Fred Carlson, Ben Middag, Jim Hobson, and Tony Bunkowski.” The strikers’ demands were interesting too: “Permission to elect one man on each shift whose duties will be to supervise the switching of cars on each dock and to give the proper signals for transmission of trains; ore pockets between must be closed when not in use; workers shall have the right to force the discharge of foremen checkers whom they have reason to believe are objectionable.” That last one should be the demand in any strike worth its salt! Since information on this strike is fairly accessible and I’m limited in my space here, I’ll leave it to you intrepid Wobblies to find out more on your own.
Speaking of limited space, the editor of The Organizer is telling me I must cut out my rambling and finish things up. And to think that I was about to tackle the summer of 1916, which would probably go down as one of the union’s busiest and most famous in the annals of Minnesota IWW history. It would also go down as one of the hottest summers in our state’s history – no joke. I will promise to give 1916 its due in the near future, whether that’s in a later issue of The Organizer or on the blog.
Thanks for following along thus far – hopefully you IWWs found something of interest. Drop a line to editor at email@example.com and let them know if you’d like to see more about a particular piece of Minnesota IWW history, or want to learn more about the specific people and places involved. For the works!
 Duluth News Tribune, July 28, 1912.
 Ibid, July 30, 1912.
 New Times, August 17, 1912. Image of Dania Hall, circa 1906, from the City of Minneapolis http://www.minneapolismn.gov/hpc/landmarks/WCMS1P-139683. Image of Gurley Flynn in MN, circa 1916, from the Industrial Workers of the World Surveillance Photographic Collection, Minnesota Discovery Center http://ironrange.cdmhost.com/cdm/singleitem/collection/p4002coll1/id/1395/rec/11.
 Fourteenth Biennial Report of the Dept. of Labor and Industries of the State of MN, 1913-1914.
 Industrial Worker July 17, 1913. Manifesto image taken from Solidarity, June 28, 1913. Streetcar worker cartoon taken from New Times, July 20, 1912.
 Duluth News Tribune, August 2, 1913. Image of telegram taken from Industrial Worker, August 14, 1913.
 Image taken from the Jean Spielman Papers in the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) archives. Bradley and Henion’s signatures are visible in the upper right hand corner.
 Minneapolis Tribune, August 23, 1905.
 Minneapolis Journal, August 25, 1905.
 Industrial Union Bulletin, July 6, 1907.
 Ibid, July 20, 1907.
 Ibid, August 17, 1907.
 Ibid, August 31 and December 21, 1907. Image of Hibbing mine workers, circa 1901, from the MNHS collections http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display.php?irn=10818937.
 Industrial Worker, July 15, 1909.
 Solidarity, July 22, 1911.
 Ibid, August 12, 1911. Nef image taken from the book “A Wobbly Life: IWW Organizer E.F. Doree”, by Ellen Doree Rosen.