William Dudley "Big Bill" Haywood, Secretary General of the IWW

William Dudley

This portrait is from the Famous Trials Web site, http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/haywood/haywood.htm.

Born February 4, 1869, in Utah Territory. Died May 18, 1928.

A self-taught proletarian, spell-binding orator, and capable administrator, Big Bill dedicated his life to radical, working politics from an early age. Blinded in the right eye in a childhood accident, he left home at an early age, and traveled around the West as a hardrock miner. The injustice of the Haymarket tragedy of 1886, when police stormed a peaceful labor assembly, a bomb was thrown by unknown persons, and eight anarchists were charged with murder, and hung, made a deep impression on Haywood. In 1896, he joined the Western Federation of Miners, the radical maverick of the labor movement. Unlike the American Federation of Labor, a craft union which organized primarily skilled workers, the WFM was an industrial (industry-wide) union. Haywood rose quickly from the ranks and soon moved to Denver as Secretary-Treasurer. Over the next few years the WFM launched a series of strikes in Colorado, primarily against harsh working conditions; thirty-three miners were killed before the companies brought the districts under control in 1904.

In 1905, Haywood was one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World, the One Big Union, 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.

In 1906, Haywood was framed and charged with murdering former Idaho Governor Steunenberg; he was acquitted. With the advent of World War I, the IWW came under fierce attack, for advocating that workers fight in the class war and not the war in Europe. In April, 1918, Haywood and ninety-two other IWW members were convicted of conspiracy, espionage, and sedition, for calling strikes during wartime. Haywood skipped bail while awaiting appeal and fled to the Soviet Union, where he died ten years later. Some of his ashes were buried under the Kremlin Wall and others next to the Haymarket martyrs in Chicago.

[Sources: Melvin Dubofsky, 'Big Bill' Haywood, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987; IWW website, http://www.iww.org/culture/official/Haywood1.shtml.]