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Always lose? “Oh surely not,” you assure me. “Just look at all of labor’s victories. Why, there was he sit-in in Flint Michigan. There was the drive to organize steel, and what about the 8-hour day movement?” you say.

luddites

And yet I say we always lose, and I ask “Why?”

When we talk about our losses, we usually ask what we did wrong. We have our theories like:

The Knights of Labor, the most successful organizing effort of the 19th century, failed because its Master Workman, Terence Powderly, was too timid, too vain, and too afraid to admit it when he was wrong.

The Industrial Workers of the World failed, according to one theory, because they tried to be a revolutionary organization and an ordinary trade union both at the same time, and they couldn’t decide which.

The American Federation of Labor failed because it was too conservative and the Congress of Industrial Organizations failed because it was too brash.

In the political arena, Hillary Clinton failed because she was too backward and Bernie Sanders failed because he was too advanced. Eugene Victor Debs was too nice and Joseph Stalin wasn’t nice enough. If the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela comes crashing down tomorrow, we’ll think of some reason to blame them for it. We always blame our own side and discourage ourselves unnecessarily and incorrectly.

We didn’t just lose, we were beaten

The point is, our losses aren’t our fault. We may have played the game very well. The other side just played better. On labor issues, the other side is the employers. They’re very good at defeating working people. They have a lot of resources. More importantly, for purposes of this discussion, they always know that there are two irreconcilable sides to any war and they know which side they are on.

Oftentimes, we don’t. When we lose, and we always lose because we never settle things for the long term, we blame ourselves. That’s just wrong.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on http://knon.org 89.3 FM every Saturday at 9AM

Botkin, Jane Little, Frank Little and the IWW. The Blood that Stained an American Family. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2017

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The author will speak in Butte, Montana, on August 1

A giant hole in American labor history has been filled.

Frank Little’s Great Grand Niece has explained every known detail of the great union organizer’s life. 125 pages of careful notations testify to her ability as an historian of the first rank, but she also reveals family records hidden for a century. She has written not only the best biography of Frank Little possible, but she also put the events of his life and times in context so that a reader can, from this one book, draw the important lessons of the missing chapters, 1905-1919, of American history.

Why Frank Little and His Times Matter

Frank Little was a top organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW, the Wobblies, the One Big Union, the OBU. At the time he was lynched, one hundred years ago on August 1, he was Chairman of the General Executive Board. Not all details are known, but his legacy probably includes:

1. Implementation of passive resistance tactics decades before Gandhi or MLK
2. Implementation of organizing itinerant farm workers decades before Cesar Chavez
3. Implementation of Industrial Organizing (as opposed to craft organizing) decades before the CIO
4. Champion of the argument that workers should stay out of World War I
If Frank Little had survived his 39th year, and if his ideas had survived, civil rights would have been greatly advanced. Labor would have put aside all arguments against minorities and immigrants long ago. Itinerant farm workers would have been organized far earlier. Divisions in the ranks of organized labor would have melted away. Thousands of soldiers’ lives would have been saved and American workers would have had a far better understanding of capitalism, imperialism, and socialism than they do now or have ever had. This last point is based on Frank Little’s adamant opposition to World War I. He was one of the two most outspoken labor leaders in the world on this point. The other one was V.I. Lenin in Russia.
In our spare time, my wife and I have tried to collect what little we could find out about Frank Little. I posted it years ago at http://labordallas.org/hist/little.htm.
The new book shows that I was wrong on several small details, but my only general mistake was to have underestimated the man and his importance.

Why Didn’t We Already Know All This?

Within a month of Frank Little’s lynching at the hands of the copper bosses of Montana, The United States government launched the fiercest attack against the working class in our history. Free speech, one of Frank Little’s greatest accomplishments, was trampled. Unionists were hunted down and deported or arrested and tortured. Heavy jail sentences were laid on any of the hundreds railroaded for having “conspired with Frank H. Little” to undermine war production.

Union halls were raided and all records were confiscated. History, especially any history associated with Frank Little, was wiped clean. Fear was so great that even Frank Little’s relatives dared not remember him. Fear was so great that the silence lasted almost 100 years, until now.

–Gene Lantz

You can still find me every Saturday at 9AM Central Time on http://knon.org

I write on http://tx.aflcio.org/dallas and http://texasretiredamericans.org