Sam Scarlett - Wobbly

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T La Palli
Joined: 9-02-09
Feb 3 2012 17:43
Sam Scarlett - Wobbly

Does anybody have any biographical information for Sam Scarlett? What I am after is any information on his life prior to moving to the Canada.


Sam Scarlett, a skilled machinist, a talented athlete and football player, and a superb public speaker, was one of the most interesting and colourful labour activists in Saskatchewan trade union history. Born in Scotland, he immigrated to Canada around the turn of the century, settling in Galt, Ontario. He went to the United States in 1908 or 1909, where he was soon involved in huge labour struggles such as the massive strikes by iron miners on the Mesabie Range in northern Minnesota. He was a trusted colleague of legendary figures such as “Big Bill” Haywood and Joe Hill of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies). As part of the authorities’ campaign to suppress syndicalists and labour agitators Scarlett was framed on a murder charge and accused of over a hundred separate crimes. He was imprisoned a number of times for several years. Sympathetic biographers estimate that he was arrested 160 times while fighting for workers’ rights and defending picketers. After being released from one jail sentence in a general amnesty, he was deported back to Scotland.

Scarlett returned to Canada in the early 1920s as a harvest hand, and began organizing again for the IWW; he also joined the Communist Party. Sam Scarlett was one of the best platform speakers of his day. He could move listeners to laughter and tears in quick succession. He used to rent a theatre in Saskatoon on Sundays when movies were not permitted, and speak to large audiences about some radical or militant subject. He was a devoted syndicalist and an admirer of the Soviet Union. For a time in the late 1920s he lived in the Porcupine Plain district of northeast Saskatchewan. He was always available to go to the support of working people locked in battle with their bosses. Scarlett became a legendary figure in the labour movement for his self-sacrifice and devotion to the working class. After the IWW faded, he did a lot of work for the Communist-sponsored labour federation, the Workers Unity League (WUL).

In the late summer of 1931 Sam Scarlett and other organizers for the Mine Workers Union of Canada were sent to the Bienfait-Taylorton area to organize a union among the underground coal miners. Scarlett was in poor health at the time, but his obvious commitment to the workers and his ever-present good humour brought many of the coal miners into Local 27 of the Mine Workers Union of Canada, a WUL affiliate. After the Estevan Coal Strike ended with the murder of three strikers by police, Scarlett was arrested and charged with rioting and disturbing the peace. He was convicted, at least in part on perjured testimony by the coal operators, and sentenced to one year in jail and a $100 fine.

Sam Scarlett moved to New York City during World War II to avoid incarceration, which was a fate encountered by other Communist Party members in Canada in the 1940s. He died there in 1941.

fnbrill's picture
Joined: 13-01-07
Feb 3 2012 18:23

You can probably find info on him through the RCMP Security Bulletin's Archive

Wayne State University in Detroit has the IWW's archive, you can ask them.

also check out Labour/La Travail magazine's archive. It's the labour history magazine in Canada. All articles are available for free.

T La Palli
Joined: 9-02-09
Feb 3 2012 18:49

Cheers fnbrill

Joined: 15-04-06
Feb 3 2012 23:25

Obviously he was not very well liked by the IWW in 1937. I gather he served in the International Brigades:

"they are racketeers of the Sam Scarlett type who will say anything they are told as long as the pork chops are coming in."

A soldier returns: from One Big Union Monthly, September 1937

Here's one Wobs reminiscent of Sam:

"{Begin deleted text}"{End deleted text} In Chicago, Sam Scarlett was delivering a streetmeeting lecture. That was just before our getting into the war, in 1916. Sam was a crackerjack speaker, and his Scotch wit was generally ready for whatever happened. At that time some rather nasty cracks were {Begin deleted text}fashonable{End deleted text} {Begin inserted text}{Begin handwritten}fashionable{End handwritten}{End inserted text} concerning us. A favorite one was taking the initials of our organization and twisting them {Begin page no. 4}out of all semblance to what it really was. Industrial Workers of the World, usually shortened to just I.W.W., became frequently, by those against us, as {Begin inserted text}{Begin handwritten}'{End handwritten}{End inserted text} I wont work {Begin inserted text}{Begin handwritten}'{End handwritten}{End inserted text}, or {Begin inserted text}{Begin handwritten}"{End handwritten}{End inserted text} I want whisky {Begin inserted text}{Begin handwritten}"{End handwritten}{End inserted text}, or some such foolish taunt. {Begin deleted text}"{End deleted text} Well, as Sam was talking, a big shiny limousine pulls up on the outskirts of his meeting, and soon as the elegantly attired lady within had satisfied herself as to the nature of his speech, she shrieks forth 'I wont work'.
Sam turns around and says {Begin inserted text}{Begin handwritten},{End handwritten}{End inserted text} 'You dont need to boast about it madam. It is obvious without your shouting it. We are all aware as to how [you?] make your living. But I'm talking to working men, men, contrary to you, who will work, and do work, and would also prefer to see the likes of even you {Begin inserted text}{Begin handwritten},{End handwritten}{End inserted text} do a little work once in a while.' {Begin deleted text}"{End deleted text} {Begin handwritten}73 12 [md]716{End handwritten}{Begin page}{Begin deleted text}Part (2){End deleted text} "

(Wayne Walden ,Oct. 26, 1938)

Quite loved by the CP Canada:
Sam Scarlett

Joined: 23-11-12
Nov 23 2012 02:09

I too have searched for Tom ever since I wrote 'Red Finns on the Coteau' published in 1984. I'm aware of all the material written above and also his work at two Red Finn halls in west-central Saskatchewan. During the Estevan coal strike and following the ill-fated parade with the shooting death of three miners, Sam went into hiding at a Finnish Canadian's farm near Birsay, Saskatchewan. I would like to know more about his time in the 1920s spent on a farm near Porcupine Plain.
The biggest mystery regarding Sam is the time between 1905 until 1914 when he gets involved in union work on the Mesabi Iron Range. During this interval he was apparently working in the American southwest. Butte? Bisby, Arizona? The Wobbly Republic that was set up in Mexico just south of Los Angeles? I had also heard that he had been married to Nina Lane, a Wobbly who was the daughter of Oregon Senator Harry Lane.

If anybody knows anything at all about his time between 1905/14, I'd be ever grateful to hear about it. Also, if anyone is interested in 'Red Finns on the Coteau,' my email address is