Frank Little, IWW Organizer

Frank Little, IWW Organizer

This portrait is from the IWW website,

Born 1879. Died August 1, 1917.

Not much is known of Frank Little's early life. He was active in the free speech campaigns in Missoula, Fresno, Spokane, and Peoria, and organized lumberjacks, mineworkers and oilfield workers into industrial unions. By 1916, he was a member of the General Executive Board of the Industrial Workers of the World, the One Big Union, which was dedicated to the notion that the workers and the employers have nothing in common. The IWW advocated direct action, no accommodation with capital, and refused to work for electoral reforms. It was the first U.S. labor organization not to discriminate against the Chinese; it championed the rights of the most marginalized-farmworkers, women, immigrants, African Americans, and itinerant workers. It was strongest in the West, but had substantial influence in the textile industries of Massachusetts and New Jersey.

When the IWW called a strike at the Bisbee mines in June, 1917, Little counseled against it, finding it premature, but was overruled. He was deported on July 12, with 1,185 other strikers, to Hermanas, New Mexico. He then made his way to Butte, Montana, where workers were on strike against Anaconda Copper. There he spoke out against the war, boasting of having told Arizona's Gov. Campbell, "I don't give a damn what country your country is fighting, I am fighting for the solidarity of labor." An energetic campaign was unleashed against him by the local newspapers. On August 1, Little was kidnapped and lynched in Butte, Montana by masked vigilantes; no one was ever arrested for the crime. According to Big Bill Haywood, leader of the IWW, "Little was murdered because there is a strike in Butte, and he was helping to win it." Some sources alleged that documents found on his body showed him to be a detective, but that is generally thought to be unlikely. With his death, he joined Joe Hill and Wesley Everest in the IWW trinity of martyrs. Three thousand people marched in his funeral procession.

[Sources: James W. Byrkit. Forging the copper collar: Arizona's labor management war of 1901-1921. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1982; Arnon Gutfield, "The Murder of Frank Little: Radical Labor Agitator in Butte, Montana, 1917," Labor History 10 no.2 (1969): 177-192; IWW website,]