D. Haywood and The Radical Labor Movement
William D. Haywood is
widely considered one of the foremost and most feared of America's labor leaders.
Tall and gruff, "Big" Bill was a fiery speaker, powerful organizer and
uninhibited critic of government and big business.
Haywood was born in Salt
Lake City in 1869, the year the transcontinental railroad was linked in Utah
at Promontory Summit. Brigham Young was still serving as President of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when Haywood was born in Bingham
Canyon, the son of a former Pony Express rider. At the age of nine Haywood
punctured his right eye in a whittling accident. For the rest of his life,
Haywood would offer his left profile to photographers in an effort to hide
his blind eye.
Before his tenth birthday
Haywood had left school and entered the mines to help support his family.
While working in a silver
mine in northern Idaho in 1896, Haywood was exposed to the unionizing efforts
of the Western Federation of Miners. After a meeting with WFM organizer Ed
Boyce, Haywood threw himself into union membership and activities. Within
a few years he was serving as Secretary-Treasurer of the WFM, and traveling
throughout the West as a union organizer. Because of increasing conflicts
between miners and mine owners, Haywood often traveled secretly through embattled
mining camps to avoid arrest.
At the turn of the twentieth
century Haywood and the Western Federation of Miners campaigned for eight
hour working days for underground miners. Most mining camps required underground
workers to log ten hours on the job each day, not counting transportation
time up and down the mine shafts, and to work thirteen out of fourteen days.
Because of the WFM efforts, Utah became the first state in the nation to enact
an eight hour work day for miners.
By 1902 Haywood joined
with Charles Moyer to form the leadership of the Western Federation of Miners.
It was an uneasy partnership from the outset. Moyer was cautious by nature,
and generally believed in negotiation rather than conflict. Haywood urged
strikes and confrontation as the most practical path to forcing company officials
to treat workers fairly. The emergence of Moyer and Haywood coincided with
violent clashes in the mine fields of the West. Dozens died in showdowns between
striking miners and company owners in Colorado, culminating the bombing of
a train carrying non-union miners near Independence in 1904. Thirteen people
died in the attack, and company officials were quick to tie the bombing to
the fiery rhetoric of Big Bill Haywood. No charges were ever filed.
Haywood skyrocketed to
national notoriety in 1906. The publicity would cement his infamy in the eyes
of some, his celebrity in the eyes of others.
Shortly after Christmas
in 1905, former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was returning to his home
in Caldwell after a day in his nearby office. As he opened his garden gate
a bomb exploded, shattering the forty-four year old Steunenberg's body. He
died within hours.
Local police quickly
arrested a suspicious figure staying in a Caldwell hotel. He eventually was
identified as Harry Orchard. Under grueling questioning by law enforcement
and Pinkerton private detectives, Orchard confessed to being an assassin hired
by the Western Federation of Miners. He identified dozens of victims, including
the non-union miners killed in the Independence, Colorado train bombing of
1904. Orchard claimed the murder of Frank Steunenberg had been ordered by
WFM President Charles Moyer, former board member George Pettibone, and union
Secretary-Treasurer Bill Haywood.
executed a secret raid and arrested Moyer, Pettibone and Haywood in Denver,
Colorado. Foregoing any attempts at formally extraditing the men, the Pinkertons
in effect kidnaped the suspects and hurried them on to a private train that
raced through the night, delivering them to Boise for trial. On their arrival,
the chief Pinkerton detective announced the men "would never leave Idaho alive."
Haywood appealed his
arrest, claiming it was nothing short of kidnaping. As the case wound its
way through the court system, he busied himself in the Idaho Penitentiary
by taking a correspondence course in criminal law and running for Governor
of Colorado on the Socialist ticket. When a decision was finally handed down,
the United States Supreme Court decried the abduction of the suspects but
ruled that the arrests should stand. In Idaho, prosecutors decided to try
the defendants individually, with Big Bill Haywood as the first test case.
Haywood went to trial in Boise in the summer of 1907 on a charge of conspiring
to murder Frank Steunenberg. Prosecutors said their only goal was the death
From the outset the court
drama was billed "the trial of the century." Dozens of reporters packed the
tiny courtroom on a daily basis. Much of the attraction was focused on the
attorneys in the case. Wiiliam Borah, recently confirmed to sit as a United
States Senator from Idaho and a close personal friend of Frank Steunenberg,
led the prosecution team. Clarence Darrow, perhaps the nation's best known
defense attorney, agreed to defend Haywood. Darrow's fee was paid by hundreds
of small donations from union members around the nation.
Despite weeks of testimony,
the trial turned on the confession of Harry Orchard. On the stand Orchard
recounted in detail his arrangement with the Western Federation of Miners,
and repeatedly identified Haywood as the force behind the violence. Under
cross-examination, Darrow emphasized Orchard's criminal history, the absence
of any evidence to back-up his story, and Orchard's negotiations with Pinkerton
detectives to spare Orchard from execution.
Darrow's defense turned
on depicting Haywood as the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy concocted
by mine owners who wanted to silence Haywood's radical voice in support of
miners. On the stand, Haywood firmly denied Orchard's story, asserted his
innocence, and recounted stories of how his union activities had been targeted
by mine owners and the government.
After painfully long
closing arguments that stretched the endurance of jurors, judge and audience
alike in the blazing summer heat, the case went to the jury on the afternoon
of July 28, 1907. By midnight there were rumors that the jury had voted 11-to-1
to convict Haywood, and that the last holdout would soon change sides. The
Idaho Statesman prepared a headline announcing Haywood's conviction.
The next morning the
jury filed back into the courtroom. The foreman passed the verdict to court
clerk Otto Peterson, who read the note aloud. "We, the jury in the above entitled
case, find the defendant William D. Haywood. . .not guilty."
Despite complaints that
the trial had been rigged, either through bribes or death threats from the
Western Federation of Miners, Bill Haywood walked out of the Boise courtroom
a free man.
But the long months of
the trial had taken a toll on the leadership of the WFM. Haywood and Moyer
argued repeatedly during their months in the Idaho penitentiary. Haywood was
becoming more militant in his approach to labor conflicts, and Moyer was convinced
that compromise and negotiation were the most effective tools for workers
to use in dealing with the system. Haywood's demands for actions clashed head-on
with Moyer's demands for patience, and in 1908 Haywood left the Western Federation
Looking for a new, aggressive
organization Haywood threw his energies behind the Industrial Workers of the
World. Vowing in its preamble that the working class had nothing in common
with capitalists, the IWW represented the most radical labor organization
of its day. The group sought to organize the most recent immigrants and the
most unskilled workers into the IWW to give them a voice in the workplace.
Nicknamed "wobblies," the group also advocated sabotage or "direct action"
against employers who refused to recognize the IWW unionizing efforts. By
1915 Big Bill Haywood was head of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Haywood was at the center
of a string of dramatic labor conflicts that shook the nation in the years
leading to America's entry into World War One. He was an atheist, and his
blunt and caustic public comments on Christianity and the Bible made him a
target of clerics throughout the nation. His speeches in support of IWW songwriter
Joe Hill claimed vast conspiracies of government and industry to destroy the
rights of workers, but did nothing to stop the execution of Hill for murder
in Utah in 1915. Haywood encouraged numerous strikes throughout the nation,
and forged an image of the IWW as a group that would use any means at its
disposal to change a system it despised. At its peak, the group had more than
three million members.
Haywood was an outspoken
critic of America's entry into World War One, claiming it was an invention
of capitalists to make business rich, and that young men on all sides would
be sacrificed to powerful elites. He urged workers to resist joining the army
and to slow down their work in defense industries. In 1918 Haywood was convicted
of violating federal espionage and sedition laws when he called for a strike
during wartime. He briefly went to a federal prison, but was released on bail
as his case was appealed. He seized the opportunity to flee the country, and
made his way to join the bolshevik revolution in Russia.
While journalist John
Reed (Ten Days That Shook The World) is often recognized as an American
playing a role in the revolution that resulted in the Soviet Union, Big Bill
Haywood arguably had a more significant presence among the leaders of the
new government. Cited as a "trusted advisor," Haywood was often used by the
bolshevik government as a spokesperson for the advancements in worker opportunity
claimed by Marxist theorists like Vladimir Lenin.
Plagued by ill health,
Haywood quickly faded from prominence in Moscow. Several historians have claimed
that Haywood ultimately rejected the "worker's paradise" of the Soviet Union,
viewing it as an abusive police state that provided few true benefits for
the peasants. He died in 1928. Half of his ashes were ceremoniously buried
in a wall of honor at the Kremlin, next to the remains of John Reed. The remainder
were quietly returned to the United States and buried in Chicago, near a monument
to American workers.