Industrial Workers of the World was founded in Chicago on 27 June 1905. My “birthday present” for the 115 organization is to publish here a writing that is based on my proseminar study at Political Science in Turku University in May 1987. The original title of my study was (a rough translation from Finnish to English) Industrialisti and its view on the significance of the IWW during the three periods within the years 1917–1953. I have deleted the footnotes, but I give the list of the books (some of them in Finnish language) in the end of the article.
In this work I am going to introduce briefly the Industrialisti newspaper that was published in the United States from 1917 until 1975. It was the paper of Finnish immigrants, in Finnish language and it was supporting the IWW, the worker-led union dedicated to direct action, workplace democracy, and industrial unionism, as summarized on the union’s website.
The main purpose of the study was to find out what was Industrialisti’s view on the duties and significance of the IWW in various times and if they have changed during those years, particularly when thinking that the decline of the IWW started already in the beginning of the 1920s when the authorities of the United States started persecuted it.
The period of times I had chosen were 1917–1918, 1929–1930 and 1952–1953. I had chosen the first period because the newspaper had just commenced and the IWW was still big. The other two periods of time were chosen to see if different kinds of economic situations had affected the contents of the paper. Concerning the first period of these two, to be able to see the biggest influences of the Great Depression on the employment situation, I should have chosen a bit later time span. The last period is the time of Korean War, when the economic life was blooming and the level of unemployment was low. I had chosen the periods purposely thinking about different economical situations (which naturally affected the employment situation) because Industrialisti was the paper of the working class.
IWW and Finnish immigrants
The IWW was the union for those people that the American Federation of Labor was looking down – women, blacks, unskilled people and immigrants. The Finnish immigrants were mostly without professional skills and had no knowledge of English language. It was natural that they became interested in the IWW, which was the organization just for these kinds of unskilled people working in logging and mining industries. The IWW got most support from the most radical Finnish Americans in Middle and Western areas’ mining towns and logging sites.
Organization of Finnish Socialists (read more here) was founded in 1906. There had been discussions about the stance on the IWW and in 1914 a split happened. About 3000 members (of the total 12 500 members) left. These who supported the IWW started a newspaper of their own called Sosialisti (“Socialist”). It was issued two and half years, until December 1916. Then the name was changed to Teollisuustyöläinen (“Industrial Worker”) and the first issue came out in December 1916. Now the IWW had a Finnish organ. But it was short-lived. A new company was replaced the company that had published Teollisuustyöläinen. It was called The Workers Socialist Publishing Co. and it started to publish a newspaper called Industrialisti.
The organ of the fighting working class
The first issue was published on the 19th of March 1917. First it was a weekly paper but from the beginning of April it was issued daily.
From the very beginning the IWW Preamble was published in the paper to show that the paper follows the ideas of the IWW. In the beginning the journalists were ordered to work in industrial jobs after working a year in a paper in order to maintain “the pure proletarian sense of class”, but for practical reasons they had to stop this practice.
Between 1917 and 1919 Industrialisti was an official organ of the IWW and at that time the circulation was about 10 000, and thus it was at least temporarily the biggest newspaper of Finnish immigrants in the States.
The attitudes started to tighten and it affected on the activities of Industrialisti, too. In May 1920 the paper was found guilty on “teaching and spreading syndicalism” and a couple of months earlier the company and officials were convicted “on that clause which forbid spreading the kind of printed matter, in which the political or economical aim is urged to achieve by using violence”. And these were not the last proceedings against the paper.
Industrialisti was a long lasting paper. In 1955 it was besides one Hungarian paper the only foreign language IWW newspaper. It survived economically thanks to the money coming from adverts and because of its supporters’ associations. After the Second World War the activity of the Finnish IWW members was mostly patronage of the paper. It was published until 1975. The emblems had stayed but the contents had changed. In the last years it was edited only one person, Jack Ujanen, who was over 80 years old at that time.
The publisher of the paper was also a tiny publishing company publishing for example works by Leo Laukki and Upton Sinclair’s Sadan prosentin patriootti (Finnish translation of One Hundred Percent:The Story of a Patriot). Besides these it published several IWW booklets.
IWW’s time of prospects
Industrialisti was emerging at a very convenient moment. It was full of fighting spirit. That was as a result of the economic boom of the First World War and at the same time there were a lot of strikes in the States. In these strikes the IWW was bringing together its separate activist groups and it was very victorious. And it also got new members during these times; new members were especially agriculture workers and loggers. Also lots of Finns were joining the union as mentioned earlier. During these days the number of members was highest and its influence was biggest. In the first issue of Industrialisti (19th of March 1917) the paper wrote (please note, that the quotes from the paper are my translations from Finnish language and sometimes it was a bit hard to understand the meaning behind the words and get it translated correctly):
Industrial Workers of the World is the organization, that has been able to show in a short period of time and as a small organization to the large crowds of workers, what kind of things it is able to do, and also, that it is only for the crowd which is locked outside the trade unions, in the fullest sense of the word…
But at that time when the I.W.W. has turned to be dangerous to capitalists, because it takes the hands of the workers straight to the capitalist’s pockets with a wallet [—] that’s why it has started a furious persecution towards the I.W.W., using all kind of means to [suffocate] it.
In fact this pressure coming from the state authority was one of the matters that helped the IWW to close its ranks.
In the second issue (26th of March 1917) Industrialisti wrote that it was born in the time when it was most needed. “The whole world is the field of a passionate class struggle. In Europe there is a terrible war going on and the storms of revolution. In America there is a severe class war and the rise of industrial unionism.” So Industrialisti considered the IWW a very important organization during these days.
On the 24th of May in the same year Industrialisti wrote:
Now the I.W.W. has the best ever time for action. Never before industrial unionism has had so good ground in America […]
The improvement in production technology has prepared a ready-made ground for class unionism. The professions have been set aside when the industry has developed and thus made even the operation of trade unions ineffective in industrial sector.
The same theme continued in June’s paper (5th of June 1917), where it was written that the IWW does not even try to build any kind of harmony, and the workers’ only way to overthrow capitalism is through to occupy the production machinery.
In the early issues there could be seen a strong confidence in the possibilities and the means of the IWW. In the papers there were writings about forming new unions and descriptions of their benefits. This is what Industrialisti wrote about forming the mariner’s and longshoremen’s IWW union (16th May 1917):
… if there’s a strike somewhere and a common fight is seen necessary and advantageous to gain improvements, so, instead of a strike on one port and others in full operation thus breaking the strike, all the workers in all ports will join the strike and thus make it effective, and the mariners belonging the same union will join the strike as well making it even more efficient…
IWW was considered as an important union and Industrialisti was “serving” it. Reino Kero has written in his book Suuren lännen suomalaiset that even the announcement of deaths and marriages were serving the ideas of one big union.
IWW eliminating unemployment
The upturn of the business life between 1924 and 1929 was one of the longest in the States. The collapse in October 1929 was thus even darker. Now it was hard to cover up the weakness of economy. Because of the new technology etc., productivity of the labour force had increased noticeably and also the real wages had increased, but at the same time also unemployment had increased. Textile industry and coal mines were suffering because of the depression and farmers’ earnings remained low. Industrialisti wrote about these things, too (7th of July 1929):
Wages are reduced, working day is prolonged, work fanaticism is increased, larger and larger crowds of workers are driven to unemployment, to suffer of utmost misery and to starve to death. We have to tempt larger crowds of workers to our battlefront and fight continuously, tirelessly, until we have gained the victory.
In the papers of this second research period (1929–1930) there started to emerge quite a lot of articles about unemployment and how it might be solved. On the 16th July 1929 Industrialisti wrote that the workers should pay more attention to get the working hours shortened, because that’s the only way to abolish the unemployment. The paper continues: “It’s counted nowadays that the six hour working day would be long enough, and the I.W.W. union is working to reach that by organizing workers into industrial unions to fight to gain this demand.”
The tone of the articles compared to ones in the first research period is very similar despite the different kind of economic situation. There had been little IWW’s activity, but according to certain writings the faith of the rise of the movement had not died. On the 5th of September 1929 the paper wrote that there had been signs of the rise, and a new local branch was formed in Illinois. In the same article it was mentioned that “nowadays every day augments those reasons that make the working population’s organization in industrial unions necessary”. Industrialisti continued writing about the shorter working hours and the need of getting organized again on the 13th of November. Now the collapse of economy is already a fact:
Never before a capitalist economic system has been on the brink of a deeper gorge than it is now. A general panic would lead at present to bigger collapses than never before. Every part of economic life is firmly depended on other parts. A collapse in one area is forced to cause collapses every where…
Where is the system that is good enough to replace the capitalistic structure?
There is none. And it is not possible to be developed in any other way than along the plan that the I.W.W. has introduced.
On the 13th of March 1930 Industrialisti wrote: “The I.W.W. is nowadays the same organization concerning principles, structure and the mode of action as it was ten years ago.”
IWW was still needed
During 1952 and 1953 the Korean War took place among other things. Both the economic life and employment were good. Was there a need for the IWW in this kind of situation? From Industrialisti on the 20th of May 1953:
If I.W.W. organization, on account of its name and the weakness of its activities, because of the mistakes in the activities, can’t rise anymore to be the class struggle organization of this country, it has still left behind things that we should recall with respect.
…Even though there is a need of negotiation and making working agreements between employers and workers that belong to different classes, it doesn’t mean that the class boundaries have been removed (…) That’s why we still need workers’ class organization.
There has been some kind of changes in the style of writing when comparing the texts with the previous period I was researching. Ideological writing had decreased and the name of the IWW is rarely seen. It could be seen that the activities of IWW had stopped. The post war era had been economically ascending and presumably the members felt that the old-style battle would be frustrating. Despite all this the principles of Industrialisti stayed unchanged. The IWW Preamble was still on the paper and in the annual meeting of the publishing association there was introduced that this (below) should be thought over (from the paper published on the 21st of April 1953):
Industrialisti shall still be edited according to the principles of industrial unionism represented by the I.W.W.
Those socio-economic relations and the relations between classes, that were the compulsive factors in the birth of the I.W.W. union about half a century ago during the time when the big industry was building up, are still there, almost unchangeable (…) No other workers’ organisation except the I.W.W. has introduced a clear programme to eliminate the disagreements between classes. The working class has no other way to be freed from the exploitation than getting industrially organised in One Big Union and endeavouring to control the production and the deal through it.
The IWW was not totally beaten. In the mid February 1953 the IWW had a congress in Seattle and there was considered that it would be possible to found new branches on the West Coast . It was believed that there were possibilities for concrete activities. In the same article, published in Industrialisti on the 2nd of March 1953, it was also mentioned that in the congress there was a discussion of reorganizing maritime workers into a new union.
On the 12th of June 1952 Industrialisti published a translation from the English language organ of the IWW (unfortunately I have no idea of the original article and what was the paper where it was originally published), and the tone of this writing was much more pessimistic than the articles published in Industrialisti during the same time. In this article it was written e.g.: “If we have a courage to look at the situation as it is, we have to admit that the original radical movement (anarchism, syndicalism and revolutionary socialism) is lying on the ground with its face down in the puddle (…)”. But there was still some hope in this writing: “Yet we are not as weak as some people think we are. We still have the organization.” And finally: “There has never before been a bigger need for a real, combative freedom movement than at present.”
The officials of Industrialisti seemed to still have faith in the movement or they tried to maintain this faith by hook or by crook. There was no other news about the activities of the IWW on the pages of Industrialisti but the reports of the IWW congress. In the article (22nd January 1953) it’s written that there had been several quiet years, but there had been signs of recovering in organizational work.
Even though my material was quite limited, it shows something about Industrialisti‘s view of the IWW as well as the relations between the paper and the union. In the early years of Industrialisti, when the IWW was still powerful, it was considered as a big agent that was able for big acts. Without doubt the IWW strikes had had influence. The IWW started to lose strength in the twenties and thus it’s a bit surprising that it was still considered as quite an important factor during the period of the Great Depression. In the fifties the IWW was not any more in the topics, but the IWW Preamble was still published in the paper and the old themes of class struggles were still there. This is comprehensible because Industrialisti was an organ of the union. (And thus it is not possible to get objective vision of the importance of the IWW through Industrialisti.) In an article published in 1953 there was still talk about the new rise of the movement.
In order to get more depth in the study, I should have studied the later issues, too. It would also have been interesting to see what the more objective sources are telling about the significance of the IWW in the later years and compare them to the writings in Industrialisti.
There was no change of principles concerning the significance of the IWW in the writings in Industrialisti during these three periods. In every period there were writings telling that getting organized is important. And anyway, this was and is the most important activity of the IWW.
Please note that this was a university study dealing with a tiny part of the IWW, a Finnish language newspaper. And the study was also dealing just a small part of this paper, concentrating on a very narrow theme. Industrialisti doesn’t exist anymore, but the IWW is still here. I will come back to the IWW in some way or another in my future writings.
Text © Katriina Etholén
The issues of Industrialisti used for the study are from these three periods:
19th March 1917–8th May 1918
15th May 1929–23rd March 1930
16th May 1952–1st July 1953
Sources (many of them being in Finnish):
Pekka Nevalainen: Tuplajuun tiellä – Sodanvastaisuus amerikansuomalaisessa anarkosyndikalismissa vv. 1914–1919 lehdistön valossa. MA thesis (about the development of pacifism and the Finnish IWW), Univ. of Joensuu, Finland 1986.
Geoff Brown: Sabotage. A study in Industrial Conflict. Spokesman Books, 1977.
P. George Hummasti: ‘”The Working Man’s Daily Bread”, Finnish-American Working Class Newspapers, 1900–1921’ in Michael G. Karni et al. (eds.): For the Common Good. Finnish immigrants and the Radical Response to Industrial America. Työmies Society, 1977.
Reino Kero: Suuren lännen suomalaiset. Otava, 1976.
William Miller: Yhdysvaltain historia. WSOY, 1969.
Douglas Jr. Ollila: ‘From Socialism to Industrial Unionism (IWW): Social Factors in the Emergnece of Left-labor Radicalism among Finnish Workers on the Mesabi, 1911–19’ in Michael G. Karni et al. (eds.): The Finnish Experience in the Western Great Lakes Region. Institute for Migration (Turku, Finland), 1975.
Elis Sulkanen: Amerikan Suomalaisten Työväenliikkeen Historia. Amerikan Suomalainen Kansanvallan Liitto, 1951.
Hans Wasastjerna (ed.): Minnesotan suomalaisten historia. Minnesotan suomalais-amerikkalainen seura, 1957.
If you find this interesting, please check also this: ‘A Dissenting Voice of Finnish Radicals in America: The Formative Years of Sosialisti-Industrialisti in the 1910s‘ by Auvo Kostiainen.
Please note that the font I have used in my cover image is not the same than used on the front page of the Industrialisti newspaper, but it’s very close to it. Unfortunately I don’t have a single issue of the paper itself. When I was doing my research, I used microfilm versions, not real paper versions.