1936

On January 17, the I.W.W. shop committee at American Brass Co. in Cleveland was recognized as the workers' bargaining agency. On July 1, a five per cent general increase was negotiated; however, apparently the company changed its mind, and as a result the workers went on strike. Picketing was carried on for sixty nine days until an agreement was finally reached that the strikers would be hired without discrimination, and that a five per cent raise be given, effective thirty days after the return to work. The I.W.W. Claims to have agreed to these unfavorable terms, because some of the workers, who did not belong to the union, had been negotiating separately with management and were about to break ranks and go to work.

In the meantime I.U. 440 was having difficulty with the management of the Dangler division of the American Stove Co. which had been moved to Lorain to get away from the union.1 Organizers were frequently arrested, and the I.W.W. was even unable to get a hall in Lorain to serve as organizing headquarters. The' union claimed that the workers were being asked to sign a "yellow-dog” contract, also. Shortly after the I.W.W shop committee had been refused recognition by management, an increase ranging from three to six cents an hour had been granted the workers.

During this year the I.W.W. was most active among the lumber workers of the Northwest. A conference of the lumber workers had been held in December, 1935 in the new hall at 207 Main Street in Seattle.2 After the customary resolution had been passed regarding the release of Tom Mooney and Warren K. Billings plans were laid down for a drive among the lumber workers which was to be very effective during the coming year, particularly in Washington and Idaho. Among other things these plans called for demanding a six hour day, minimum wages of five dollars a day, improved living conditions, and better safety standards. Another conference was held by I.U. 120 on March 2, in Spokane, which further stimulated the drive. Shortly after this conference three short strikes were pulled against Potlatch Forests Inc., all of which were successful and resulted in raises in pay and improved conditions. In May additional short strikes were called against the Winton Lumber Co., as well as against Potlatch Forests. Picket lines were set up at various times at Coeur d'Alene, St. Maries, St. Joe, Fernwood, Clarkia, Bovill, Kendrick, Elk River, Pierce and Orofino. Finally in July the lumber companies began to fight back by importing strikebreakers. Eventually, martial law was declared; a number of pickets and organizers were arrested; and, violence and gun play were in evidence Evert Anderson, G.E.B. representative was deported out of Idaho. On August 19, the strikers at Pierce, Idaho voted to return to work. Although the lumber strikes were eventually broken, pay and conditions had been improved in most cases.

During 1936, I.U. 440, in addition tobeing active in Cleveland, also opened an organizing drive in the Los Angeles area. I.U. 420, the Furniture Workers' Industrial Union was active in Chicago. I.U. 460, the Foodstuff Workers' Industrial Union was active in New York. In addition, the Marine Transport Workers Union, No. 510, was active in several ports, particularly Philadelphia and Boston, where it waged strikes against the United Fruit Co.

Ralph Chaplin resigned as Editor of the Industrial Worker in March, 1936. He explained as follows: "This step is unavoidable. Very serious disagreement with the policy and personnel of the newly elected Administration of the I.W.W. has made any other course impossible." Fred Thompson succeeded him. Mr. Thompson had been elected General Secretary-Treasurer as of March 1.

The twenty-second General Convention of the I.W.W. met eight days in Chicago, beginning on Nov. 9. In addition to usual reports and discussion of organization plans, it was decided to publish a monthly magazine to be called One Big Union Monthly.

  • 1. Industrial Worker, 1/25/1936, 6/27/1936, 9/19/1936
  • 2. Ibid 3/14/1936, 6/10/1936, 6/23/1936, 7/3/1936

Comments

syndicalist
Apr 22 2015 22:19
Quote:
Ralph Chaplin resigned as Editor of the Industrial Worker in March, 1936. He explained as follows: "This step is unavoidable. Very serious disagreement with the policy and personnel of the newly elected Administration of the I.W.W. has made any other course impossible." Fred Thompson succeeded him.

I know Chaplin moved to the right. is his resignation letter or similar document available?

Juan Conatz
Apr 22 2015 22:50

I've never seen it. He goes over his reasons in his autobiography but I've never seen that either.

EDIT: from reading old GOBs I remember he was expelled from the GDC around this time, maybe his resignation was related.

syndicalist
Apr 22 2015 22:56
Juan Conatz wrote:
I've never seen it. He goes over his reasons in his autobiography but I've never seen that either.

I read "Wobbly: A rough and tumble life" many decades ago. I'll have to dust it off an look it over again. As I recall, it wasn't very detailed. Certainly not like his withdrawal letter.

Juan Conatz
Apr 22 2015 23:22

The May 1936 GOB has a statement from the GEB saying that Chaplin sent his resignation letter to be printed, but it broke the rules so they put a hold on it until they could discuss. If it was published in a later one, I don't have access to it.

syndicalist
Apr 22 2015 23:31
Juan Conatz wrote:
The May 1936 GOB has a statement from the GEB saying that Chaplin sent his resignation letter to be printed, but it broke the rules so they put a hold on it until they could discuss. If it was published in a later one, I don't have access to it.

Interesting. Let me see what the book says. I have an original edition, so if it's not fragile I'll make a photo copy of the relevant pages and pass it along to you.

Juan Conatz
Apr 23 2015 02:33

For anyone reading and interested but not me or syndicalist, I tracked down his resignation letter. I can't post it but I'll give the details when I get the chance.

fnbrilll
Apr 23 2015 02:36

thanks for doing that!

syndicalist
Apr 23 2015 15:27

The Chaplin book does not go into particulars. He said he left the editorship to someone "less impatient" then he

fnbrilll
Apr 23 2015 15:41

Chaplin's auto-bio is problematic as it was heavily edited by the publisher to make him appear more anti-communist/wobbly than he actually was. Which is why he never let another edition be released.

Juan Conatz
Apr 26 2015 05:28

So it seems that Ralph Chaplin in 1936 was the Industrial Worker's editor and 'business manager'. He identifies as the latter in the January 1936 General Organization Bulletin (GOB), in a delinquent accounts posting.

In January 1936, the General Recruiting Union #3 in New York passed a vote of confidence of Chaplin as editor of the IW. This indicates there was some controversy going on.

In February, Fred Thompson took over as General-Secretary Treasurer (GST). Not sure if this has anything to do with what happens with Chaplin, but I think people underestimate Thompson's maneuvering and agenda when it came to the IWW, as well as his version of history. While I admire anyone who puts in as much effort in radical organizations and the workers movement as he did, I've learned to treat him a bit more suspiciously as I've become more familiar with him. However, I'm not sure if this has more to do with what he did or that we would likely be in a disagreement on a lot of issues in the IWW if he was still around or I was around back then.

I previously mentioned that Chaplin was expelled from the General Defense Committee (GDC). I was mistaken. Actually, it was an individual named Ralph Chevrin.

It is indeed true that Chaplin resigned as editor of the IW in March 1936. The news of this seemed to have circulated in the organization, although not the reason. That same month the Seattle joint branches, the Seattle Lumber Workers Industrial Unon and the Seattle Agricultural Industrial Union passed resolutions asking Chaplin to reconsider and elected a committee to talk to the General Executive Committee (GEB) of the IWW to find out more information on the resignation. The General Membership Branch (GMB) in Port Angeles, WA passed a similar motion, which does indicate conflict between Chaplin and the General Administration.

In April 1936, Fred Thompson, the GST and Charles Velsek, the Chair of the GEB took over as editor of the Industrial Worker, splitting whatever stipend/salary that position had. This would have been in addition to the salaries they were receiving from their elected positions. That same month, the Aberdeen GMB passed a motion requesting the GEB to, barring Chaplin reconsidering, to get a competent editor, rather than Thompson. The Seattle Agricultural Worker Industrial Union passed a similar motion, also again asking for futher information on Chaplin's resignation. The Seattle joint branches passed a motion to communicate directly with both Chaplin and Thompson on what happened. In May, several NY and NJ bodies of the IWW passed similar motions.

Like I mentioned, Chaplin actually had written a statement and sent it for publication in the GOB, but it was referred to the GEB because it violated the rules of the GOB, which historically (and currently) don't allow for personal attacks. Also, the GEB thought maybe Chaplin issued it while angry and so apparently allowed time to make sure he didn't want to retract. However, in between Chaplin issuing this statement and it being published in the GOB, "The Chicago Committee Opposed to Dictators", who suppadly was an expelled member (Bill Thompson?) and an "associate" circulated Chaplin's statement along with introduction that accused General Administration of suppressing the reasons that Chaplin resigned, as well as conspiring to oust him.

The statement was finally published in the June 1936 GOB. In it, Chaplin acknowledges that he has received requests for a statement, but doubts issuing one would clarify anything. He mentions a "conspiracy" by "would-be dictators" and claims a member named Bill Thompson was expelled for exposing it. Chaplin seems to call Fred Thompson a "Hitler in the General Office" and condemns the rank-and-file of the IWW for being fooled by "ambitious politicians" in the organization. He then goes on to say he is finished with the IWW and claims that letters for him are being withheld by the General Administration. Also in this GOB are letters from individual Wobblies, advocating that membership get to directly elect the Industrial Worker editor. This is how someone becomes editor now, I wonder if this situation is the root of that change.

I'm still pretty unclear of what happened.

fnbrilll
Apr 26 2015 13:12

yeah, I've been thinking a visit to the Chaplin papers in Tacoma.

syndicalist
Apr 26 2015 17:17

Right quick. The Chaplin autobiography basically said (more or less) it was time to move on from the IWW. reading between the lines, it's clear enough there were other things going on. One suspects personal, maybe "political" hard to say. Even from the stuff Juan quotes from, the main issues seem blurred. Perhaps on purpose.

While I do not want to knock those who "held the fort", I am not surprised by Chaplin's comments either. The whole process and apparent politiking around the proposed then rescinded IWW affiliation to the IWMA seems to have a certain similiar feel to what Chaplin describes. And I recall Dolgoff being highly critical of Fred Thompson (and others) over this situation. That said, without seeing stuff in black and white, some of this is only conjecture