In November we remember - Jon Bekken

Joe Hill's funeral in Chicago (Source: NY Daily News)
Joe Hill's funeral in Chicago (Source: NY Daily News)

An article by Jon Bekken about the numerous martyrs of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) over the years. Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2005).

Submitted by Juan Conatz on June 24, 2016

Every November we remember the rebel workers murdered by the employing class; a long list which grows longer every year. Fred Thompson used to speak of an IWW soapboxer whose rap went something like this: 'Workers are being fired for joining the IWW. Workers are being killed... Join the IWW.' It demonstrated, Fred used to say, a fine sense of solidarity but was not necessarily the best way to sign up new members.

The IWW has contributed more than its fair share of labor's martyr, because we have always been in the forefront of the struggle for workers' rights. By some accident of the calendar, many of our fellow workers have fallen in November, from the Haymarket Martyrs murdered Nov. 11, 1887, to the Nov. 4, 1936, death of FW Dalton Gentry, shot on an IWW picket line in Pierce, Idaho.

Some, like Joe Hill (killed Nov. 19, 1915) are famous; others, like R.J. Horton, largely forgotten. Fellow Worker Horton was shot down by a Salt Lake City cop Oct. 30, 1915, while giving a speech protesting the impending execution of Joe Hill.

Some died in prison, like Samuel Chin (March 1910) in Spokane, or Thomas Martinez (March 3, 1921) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Some were murdered by vigilantes, including Joe Marko (April 8, 1911) in the San Diego free speech fight and Wesley Everest (Nov. 11, 1919) in Centralia. Others were killed by police, such as Steve Hovath (August 2, 1908) in the McKees Rocks strike or Martynas Petkus (Feb. 21, 1917) in Philadelphia.

It is a long list, even if too many are unknown, including the Stettin, Germany, dockworkers murdered by the Nazi regime, or the fellow workers who fell to military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina and Peru. A researcher is uncovering the names of Wobblies who died in Spain, fighting the fascists in the 1930s, but who will recover the names of the Wobblies murdered as they rode the rails, organizing the harvest stiffs?

In 1973, Frank Terrugi was killed by the Chilean junta; the next year the Philippines army killed FW Frank Gould. We can not forgot those who while grievously injured were not killed, through no fault of the bosses, such as Judi Bari who survived a 1990 assassination attempt but spent the rest of her life in pain, or the 15 Tulsa oil workers who survived a lynching party Nov. 7-8, 1917.

The November 1996 Industrial Worker printed a long list of IWWs killed on picket lines. The list includes Roy Martin, Decatur Hall, Ed Brown and J. Tooley murdered by gun thugs in May 1912 in Grabow, Louisiana; Anna LaPizza and Joe Ramey killed the same month during the Lawrence strike; John Smolsky (Lawrence), FW Donovan (Missoula) and Nels Nelson (Marysville CA), strikers killed Oct. 19, 1912; Felix Baran, Hugo Gerlot, Gus Johnson, John Looney and Abraham Rabinowitz killed Feb. 2, 1915, in the Everett Massacre (several more disappeared overboard that day); James Brew, murdered July 12, 1917, during the Bisbee Deportation; John Eastenes, Nick Stanudakis, Mike Vidovitch, J.R. Davies, E.R. Jacques and G. Kosvich, all killed Nov. 21, 1927, in the Columbine Massacre...

However long we make the list, it falls short by the thousands. But the victims we honor for asserting themselves are but a handful compared to the millions victimized by the meekness of the working class: miners killed in unsafe mines, seamen lost in ships they knew were overloaded, construction workers killed because safe practices cost too much, textile workers who succumbed to brown lung, the millions who have died in the bosses' wars, and the millions more who have died of hunger in a world of potential abundance. Consider these numbers next time someone tells you it doesn't pay to stick your neck out.

Every right we possess today we possess because our fellow workers fought and died for it. We owe it to them not simply to defend the rights and conditions they won, not just to preserve their memory, but to carry the struggle they began forward - to bring an end to this brutal system built on murder and exploitation.

Originally appeared in the Industrial Worker (November 2005)

Originally posted: November 2, 2005 at