Submitted by Juan Conatz on April 18, 2015

Major organizing efforts in 1933 were made in the hop fields near Yakima, Washington and in the auto industry at Detroit. There was also activity in Cleveland, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Schenectady, Oakland, Toledo, at Boulder Dam and at Port Arthur, Ontario as well as in a few other places.

The work at Detroit increased in tempo during a strike at the Briggs Manufacturing Co., body builders. The workers at that plant went on strike at the end of January in protest against a cut in pay. Strike headquarters for I.D. 440, Metal and Machinery Workers, I.W.W. were set up at 121 Victor Street in the center of the strike zone. Mass meetings were held at which several I.W.W. organizers spoke. One of the most prominent of speakers was F.R. Cedervall. I.W.W. educational literature was passed out at these meetings and many Briggs strikers joined up. Ralph Chaplin, writer of the recent book "Wobbly" spoke to strikers and other auto workers at the Northern High Auditorium, Sunday evening, March 19. The title of his talk was "The I.W.W. Way Out." 1

Attempts were made to organize the auto workers at several plants. The I.W.W. was probably most successful with the workers of the Murray Body Co., but workers at Chrysler's, Plymouth, Ford, Michigan Malleable Iron and other Detroit companies also joined. Several of the organizers were arrested. F.R. Cedervall, for instance, was arrested three times in one week. One of these arrests was based on the charge that he had been obstructing traffic. It was claimed that a man had been run over by an automobile while listening to him speak.

There were several interesting features connected with this organization drive. I.W.W.s of the different nationalities would address the workers in separate groups in their native tounge. Radio educational talks were given over Station WEXL. Meetings were held outside of the different factory gates before and after work and during the noon hour. Severe competition was received from the U.A.W.

On August 16, metal finishers at the Briggs Mfg. Co., went on strike for more pay and to secure the adjustment of certain grievances. The I.W.W. immediately went into action to assist the strikers, many of whom were members. The company acceded to the strikers demands immediately. It was a strike at this company in January, which caused such a great increase in organizing activity in the early part of the year.

I.U. 440 called a strike at the Murray Body Plant on Sept. 27 to secure recognition of the union. This unsuccessful strike was called off on Nov. 9 after a bitter struggle. Mass picket parades had been staged on several occasions. Warrants were issued for the arrest of about fifteen strikers for "conspiring to obstruct and impede persons in the lawful pursuit of their business." The Detroit Times editorialized on the merits of the "right to work." The regional labor board was drawn into this dispute by a letter from F.W. Thompson of the I.W.W. The board ruled in favor of the company.

During this period of activity in Detroit, the I.W.W. opened an unusually grand hall at 53 Sproat Street. The opening night was the occasion for a gala celebration.

Yakima, Washington was the center of organization activity in the hop fields of the Northwest.2 On May 12, the union drafted a list of objectives including the eight hour day, a minimum of thirty five cents an hour, and elimination of child labor. They planned to call a general strike of all agricultural workers in the Yakima valley if their demands were not met. On May 15, a strike was called on the ranch of a Mr. Slavin. This was the signal beginning a bitter struggle between the workers and the ranch owners, assisted usually by the police. Gun thugs were imported and many pickets were arrested. Mass meetings of the workers were held in several little towns and in the open fields in the area.

On August 11, another strike was pulled by I.U. 110 on the ranch of D.O. Traubarger. The Condon ranch at Selah, Washington was struck on August 23. These and other strikes in the area were accompanied by a great deal of violence. Several strikers were arrested, organizers were deported, and vigilante committees were formed. A.J. Farley, who was Secretary-Treasurer of the I.W.W. in 1948, was one of the members active in and around Yakima at the time. More than one pitched battle took place between the farmers of the area, helped by the State police, and the workers.

In New York City activities were stimulated by the opening of a new hall at 94 Fifth Avenue, in June. This increased the number of I.W.W. halls in New York to five. Others were located at 31 Coenties Slip, 85th Street and Third Avenue, 2036 Fifth Ave. and 158 Carroll Street, Brooklyn. During this period the principal I.W.W. activities were a strike against the American Merchant Line in protest against a cut in wages, and the defense of "class war" prisoners, including an individual named Athos Terzani, who had been indicted for murder.3

Progress was made in Philadelphia also. The Textile Workers' Union, No. 410, obtained an increase in pay for the workers at the Densten Felt and Hair Company; I.U. 330, the Construction Workers Union, was on strike at Villanova College, and against three apartment building contractors in Ardmore. It was also attracting members in nearby Camden, N.J. In addition, the Marine Transport Workers' Union, No. 510, was picketing ships bringing sugar cargoes from Cuba.

The Marine Workers' Union was also active in New Orleans. In September it held a seven day convention at which its objectives were carefully considered. Prior to the convention, it had assisted I.U. 310 in its strike against the Seims Helmers Construction Co. on its Mississippi River bridge job.

  • 1 Industrial Worker, 2/7/1933, 3/21/1933, 5/11/1933, 8/29/1933
  • 2Ibid 5/30/1933, 6/6/1933, 6/13/1933, 7/14/1933, 8/22/1933, 12/19/1933
  • 3Ibid 7/11/1933, 8/15/1933, 8/22/1933, 9/19/1933