Industrial Worker #1685 (June 2006)

Articles from the June 2006 issue of the Industrial Worker, the newspaper of the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Submitted by Juan Conatz on May 15, 2006

Contents include:

- Millions strike, march in massive May Day protests

- It's no silver screen: Shattuck Cinema workers go IWW by Dean Dempsey

- U.S. to dispatch troops to Mexican border?

- Readers' soapbox - Farewell, Fellow Worker: Reino Erkkila

- Madison IWW organizing downtown workers by John Peck

- Fabric store workers make gains with new contract by x345292

- Around our union

- Workers march against war

- NYC transit union sues to make bosses accept concessions

- AK Steel lock-out in third month by x360160

- Workers of the world have nothing to lose but their Zip Codes by Eric Lee

- 1,000 activists at Labor Notes meet by Harry Kelber

- Air transport workers form industrial network by Joshua Devries

- Delphi, unions nearing concessions deal?

- "My son was killed": Workers Memorial Day, Philadelphia

- Five Amersino IWW members fired after rigged NLRB election

- Open Letter: Where were you, big labor, the day workers moved a nation?

- Intransigent in Illinois: Hey Electri-Flex, show your workers some respect! by Rik Hakala and Matt Zito

- General strike hits employers in pockets

- The machines stand idle, producing no wealth by Steve Kellerman

- Euro Mayday protests casualization

- “We’ve been robbed long enough. It’s time to strike” : Remember the 1916 strike on Minnesota’s iron range by Jeff Pilacinski

- Remembering the Coors strike by Gary Cox

- Review: Bread & roses: mills, migrants and the struggle for the American dream by Bruce Watson

- Depression-era anthem echoes immigrant struggle by Mark R. Wolff

- Pittsburgh IWW celebrates May Day & branch charter day by Kevin Farkas

- Newspaper workers stand together in Philly

- World labor solidarity

- Unions celebrate May Day amidst growing social conflict in Mexico by Paul Bocking


Farewell, Fellow Worker: Reino Erkkila

Submitted by Juan Conatz on October 5, 2014

Reino J. Erkkila, a leading figure in the San Francisco Finnish community and in the maritime labor movement, passed away at his home April 5, at age 93.

Born Oct. 2, 1912 in Oulainen, Finland, he immigrated to the United States with his parents a year later. Reino spent the next ten years in Butte, Montana, where his father worked in the copper mines. Many of the Finnish miners were involved with the IWW, including his father who was an avid reader of the IWW daily Industrialisti.

In June 1917, 190 miners died at Anaconda Copper’s Speculator mine in Butte, many of them Finns. The miners struck over safety conditions and in July IWW organizer Frank Little came to help out the strikers. In the middle of the night on August 1, suspected copper company vigilantes broke into Little’s boarding house room next to the Finnish Wobbly hall, where he was nursing a broken leg, dragged him out, tied him to the rear of a car, and dragged him through the streets several miles out of town to the Milwaukee Railroad trestle where they hung him.

Incensed by the brutal murder, thousands of miners and their families walked in a funeral procession from downtown to the cemetery, the largest ever seen in Butte. Reino Erkkila, then 5, distinctly remembered walking with his parents in that demonstration, replete with union banners.

The Erkkilas moved to San Francisco in 1923, where Herman worked as a longshoreman and was active in the 1934 strike. Reino Erkkila joined his father on the docks and in the ILWU in 1935. In 1943 he became chief dispatcher in ILWU Local 10, and was later elected president of Local 10.

Reino was proud of his Finn Wobbly family background and it motivated his own years of activity in the labor movement.

He was one of the people on my IW “paper route” here and always enjoyed reading the paper. I recited two bilingual poems at his memorial. He was a great, generous-hearted guy. I’ll miss him.


General Strike hits employers in pockets

An article about the cost to employers of the 2006 May Day immigration protests, which involved walkouts and sick-outs.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on July 5, 2015

Thousands of businesses across the country closed their doors May 1st -- some because there were no workers, others because managers preferred to avoid a fight with their employees that they could only lose. Many more worked short-staffed.

In Latino barrios throughout Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and Miami, thousands of restaurants, warehouses, newsstands, and money transfer services were closed. Many McDonald's outlets cut hours or shut down.

In Los Angeles, hundreds of sweatshop garment factories were closed. The strike paralyzed construction sites and industrial food production plants across the country.

"It was one thing to march," said Armando Navarro of the California-based National Alliance for Human Rights, referring to the earlier wave of immigrant protests. "Now we're going to hit Ôem where it hurts Ð in the pocketbooks."

Cargill, the country's second-largest beef producer, closed seven meat-processing plants employing 14,000 workers. Tyson, Perdue and other meatpackers followed suit. Tens of thousands of farm workers stayed out of the fields, and the American Nursery and Landscape Association estimated that 90 percent of the half million workers in its industry took the day off.

According to Jack Kyser, an economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., the economic impact of the strike could total $200 million just in Los Angeles County. No one has done similar calculations for the rest of the country, but the total would have to run more than a billion dollars.

While several companies threatened to fire or discipline workers who took off work for the day, and some carried out those threats, many employers' associations urged caution -- warning that such actions could lead to further actions.

"Law firms have been advising their clients that the immigrant labor boycott is protected by the National Labor Relations Act, even though it isn't specifically a union action," reported the May 2 Wall Street Journal, which had real-time coverage of the May Day actions in its online edition.

Originally appeared in Industrial Worker (June 2006)


“We’ve been robbed long enough. It’s time to strike” : Remember the 1916 strike on Minnesota’s iron range

Jeff Pilacinski takes a look back at a 1916 IWW struggle in northern Minnesota.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on June 29, 2012

On Saturday, June 3 we remember the valiant struggle of over 15,000 fellow workers and through our continued agitating in 2006, carry their fighting spirit forward. This date marks the 90th anniversary of the great mine workers strike on Minnesota’s Mesabi, Cuyuna, and Vermillion Iron Ranges – a strike that threatened the economic grip of the U.S. Steel war profiteers and strained relations between several prominent Wobbly organizers and the union’s general headquarters.

After a large uprising was crushed with the help of immigrant strike breakers in 1907, Minnesota mine workers were poised to confront the steel trust once again. In a report to the Minneapolis headquarters of the IWW’s Agricultural Workers Organization dated May 2, 1916, one organizer had “never before found the time so ripe for organization and action as just now.” The appeal from one Minnesota miner in the May 13, 1916 issue of the Industrial Worker summarized the workers’ discontent best as “the spirit of revolt is growing among the workers on the Iron Range,” and that there was a need for “workers who have an understanding of the tactics and methods of the IWW and who would go on the job, and agitate and organize on the job.” Less than a month later, an Italian worker at the St. James underground mine in Aurora opened his pay envelope and raged over his meager earnings under the corrupt contract system, whereby wages were based upon the load of ore dug and supplies used, not hours worked. By the time other miners arrived at the St. James for the night shift, production at the mine was halted. All pits in Aurora were soon shut down as the strikers proclaimed, “We’ve been robbed long enough. It’s time to strike.”

40 striking workers from Aurora, along with their families, then marched through other mining communities on the Iron Range and discontent spread like wild fire. By month’s end, almost 10,000 mine workers were out on strike. Frustrated by previous experience with Western Federation of Miners and having been ignored by the Minnesota State Federation of Labor, the disorganized strikers appealed to the Industrial Workers of the World for assistance. Wobbly organizers, including the likes of Carlo Tresca, Joe Schmidt, Frank Little, and later Joe Ettor and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn arrived to help local strike leaders draw up a list of demands. IWW membership in the Metal Mine Workers’ Industrial Union swelled amongst the strikers with the following list of demands crafted: an 8 hour working day timed from when workers entered the mine until they were outside; a pay scale based upon the day worked; pay days twice a month; immediate back-pay for hours worked upon severance; abolition of the Saturday night shift; abolition of the contract mining system. With a majority of the strikers being non-English speaking European immigrants, IWW and local leaders conversed with the workers in their native language - from Polish, German, and Croatian to Finnish and Italian. This commitment to engaging workers in the language of their homeland was sustained through IWW publications and the Work Peoples College well into the 1970s.

Without asking for union recognition or IWW affiliation, the strikers closed the mines that shipped vast quantities of iron ore to plants producing the highly profitable materials of the great European war – iron and steel. This direct threat to wartime profits forced the employing class to mount an all-out attack against the striking workers. U.S. Steel companies on the Iron Range deputized 1,000 special mine guards and strike breakers to keep the picket lines open. Bloodshed soon followed.

In the town of Virginia (where the strike was headquartered), armed company thugs confronted a group of pickets holding signs of “One Big Union, One Big Enemy” and opened fire on them. When the smoke cleared, a Slovenian striker by the name of John Alar was dead from gunshot wounds. Despite city bans against mass marches, several thousand mourning workers marched from Virginia to the fairgrounds in Hibbing where speeches in many different languages urged the strikers to maintain the struggle and fight back in spite of company repression. With this show of boldness by the workers, the U.S. Steel bulls struck back and raided the Biwabik home of a Montenegrin miner in search of a “blind pig” or illegal alcohol still. Violence ensued, leaving one deputized strike breaker and a bystander dead. Philip Masonovich and his wife were arrested along with three immigrant boarders in their home. Within a day of the incident, a number of IWW organizers (who were at strike headquarters in Virginia during the scuffle) were also jailed on the grounds that they were accessories to murder. It was claimed that their impassioned speeches against the bosses encouraged chaos. Despite violent repression and with strike leaders locked up, the miners’ struggle pressed forward.
The mining companies refused to recognize any of the strikers’ demands and instead red-baited the workers by calling them IWW revolutionaries and vile anarchists in the newspapers. After futile negotiations between U.S. Steel and local businessmen/public officials in support of the strikers, the workers looked to the federal government to mediate. Mediation broke down, and with winter fast approaching, the Iron Range locals of the IWW voted to end their strike on September 17, 1916. Though heralded as a defeat for the workers, their bold confrontation struck fear in the companies, who by mid-October granted a few of the strikers’ primary demands. In November of 1916, only two months after the strike’s end, large wage increases were introduced by all of the mining companies. The bosses claimed these increases were meant for workers to benefit from wartime prosperity, but the IWW and even the otherwise hostile local papers realized what prompted this action. The Duluth News Tribune accepted that the concessions by the bosses were an “answer to the threat of a renewed IWW strike on the ranges next spring.”

Attentions then turned to defending those still in jail from the Biwabik episode. A large defense campaign was mounted, with support coming from the IWW’s AWO office in Minneapolis and other workers from around the country, including Eugene Debs. Shortly before the murder trials were to begin, a settlement was reached between prosecutors and attorneys speaking on behalf the IWW whereby Masonovich and two of his immigrant boarders would plead guilty to manslaughter, and all others would be released. Masonovich and the two immigrants accepted the offer with the understanding that they’d serve one year. However, the three were handed terms up to twenty years with parole eligibility after one year served. This outcome angered Bill Haywood, the IWW’s General Secretary-Treasurer for what he saw as a betrayal of the workers in exchange for the freedom of the Wobbly organizers. Haywood lashed out at Gurley Flynn and Ettor, who in turn criticized the IWW’s leader of withholding much needed defense funds for the case while transforming the organization into a top-heavy bureaucracy. Some say this tension led Tresca, Ettor, and Gurley Flynn to withdraw from IWW involvement. Whatever the organizational fallout from the legal settlement, the workers on Minnesota’s iron ranges continued to participate in IWW agitation, with many of the 1916 strikers involving themselves in the great lumber workers struggle the following year.

With the 90th anniversary of the strike upon us, Twin Cities and Duluth IWWs will host a public event on Saturday, June 3rd in the old Virginia Socialist Hall, where the 1916 strike was headquartered. The program will feature music, historical presentations, poetry, and the stories of area residents about the strike. The event is free and open to the public. Area residents with old stories from the strike or the IWW are encouraged to attend and share.

We gather to remember those who came before us, and also to celebrate the renewed organizing efforts on Minnesota’s iron ranges. Fellow Workers, we’ve been robbed long enough. We must continue to bite the hand that robs us of the products of our labor.

Originally posted: May 30, 2006 at