Saturday, June 10, 2017

KENNETH REXROTH AND THE IWW, 1920-23


(Taken From Rexroth's "An Autobiographical Novel")
1. THE STORY OF JOHN LOUGHMAN
John Loughman volunteered to go up and talk for the strikers in the Montana copper mines. He got into Butte in the night in somebody's car, spent several days speaking four or five times a day. Anaconda was closed and the sheriffs posse and the company's nobles kept everybody connected with the strike from either entering or leaving. Loughman disguised himself rather superficially as a drummer-he was a hard man to disguise-and went up on the train, accompanied by a body- guard of Seattle and Chicago Wobblies scattered inconspicuously around the car. Two of the biggest got off first with Loughman immediately behind them. Two deputies came from between cars and without a word sandbagged them, and, in the next motion, pulled the porter's stool from under Loughman as he stepped down, and sand-bagged him. He woke up spread-eagled across the door of his cell, his hands and feet handcuffed to the bars and a pair of handcuffs with the chain tight across his throat. The sheriff had wakened him by putting matches between his toes. He said, "I'll fix you so you'll never talk again, you dirty Red bastard," and proceeded to ram a weighted night stick into his mouth until he had broken all but two or three teeth, broken the lower jaw in two places, and smashed the palate into the sinuses. They then stripped all his clothes off and threw him out into the desert. He walked to the nearest ranch house and got a ride back to Butte. None of the doctors in Butte would touch him, but after he had been patched up by a sympathizer, he went back to Chicago where a leading specialist was one of our group and carried a red card. This man did a complete job of restoration, a silver plate inside the roof of his mouth and an extraordinary set of lightweight dentures.
All this took about four months to heal, the strike was still on, and John went back to Anaconda. This time he got ofi the train in the center of eight men with springfield rifles. This was the generation of Wesley Everest, Frank Little and Joe Hill, and it's just an accident that these freinds of mine didn't get it too.
2. AS AN IWW ELECTRICIAN'S HELPER
One day a girl came in when I was alone in the office. She said, "Do you do locksmithing?" and I said, "Sure." She said, "Licensed locksmiths" and I said, "Yes, sure." "Could you change a lot of locks for us? Could you change them so that they all have different keys?'"Yes. Simplest thing in the world." And she said, "You'd have to do this at night. It's a big office building and we want all the keys in the office building changed." I said, "Fine." Dick came in and I told him what the girl wanted and he asked what was the building, and I said, "U. S. Five." He said, "Fellow worker, what have we got?" I looked puzzled and he said, "You know what it is, don't you?" "It's a group of insurance companies." "Yeah, I know, but they're big in this so-called industrial insurance business. They hire stool pigeons. One of the companies made a fortune off the Great Steel Strike. It is that industrial insurance outfit in that building which hired all the stool pigeons within the leadership of the Great Steel Strike, besides all the goons and plug-uglies, and right now they are hiring people on all sides for the coal war down at Centralia."
We went over with our kit that night, and the same girl, who was the secretary of. the manager of the building, let us in and left. The first thing we did was to go to the files of this one company, and there was the dope all right. It didn't take us long to find it. Later, Dick, who was handsome, always had a bottle of liquor in his hip, and was full of blarney, was able to find out from the girl why the locks were being changed. The place was being prowled by another detective agency and by the Department of Justice, which had apparently been unable to get its own trustworthy agents inside. Here was a file of both private and Federal stool pigeons, provocateurs, police agents, labor spies, the business. We got the same two girls, Angela and Liz, and we copied it all night for a week.
However, we were pretty naive in those days. The evidence we uncovered had a good deal to do with the split in the IWW at that time. Several people were quietly forced out of the IWW because of the evidence we uncovered. There were dossiers on agents in Bill Foster's Trade Union Educational League, which had been the ginger group of the Great Steel Strike, and on confidants of Fitzpatrick, the Ieader of that strike and of the Chicago Labor Council-an incorruptible individual and one of the finest men in the American labor movement. There were dossiers on agents in the United Mine Workers, the West Virginia Federation of Miners, the Progressive Miners Union, and the old Western Federation of Miners, intimate friends of Biil Dunne, the newspaperman from Butte, Montana, and leader of the Silver Bow Miners' Federation, who became a prominent Communist journalist and was eventually expelled with Browder. The ordinary trade unions and every conceivable radical sect had their stool pigeons-they were all there. Besides the documents on the employees of the insurance company there was material on every other kind of labor spy. They had to keep track: you couldn't have people going around shooting one another who were on the same side, although that is precisely what happened at Centralia that next year-possibly because parties unknown fouled up the records. They had dossiers on all the Department of Justice people and Pinkerton Detectives and Burns Detectives and all their competitors' employees. It was all there in a battery of filing cases. We could take care of our own and we gave the information to the regular Anarchist groups and to the Socialist Party and to the tradeunions. But what to do about the Workers' (Communist) Party?
Finally Dick said, "Well, I guess it's a workers' party. We'll go and see General Goosey. This was the Ukrainian Red Army general who had succeeded Pepper. He wouldn't see us, so we got hold of William BrossLloyd, the millionaire who was under indictment, having been arrested in the Michigan raids, and his lawyer, and we arranged an interview with Lloyd, the lawyer and General Goosey. Lloyd accused us of being police agents and stormed and raged at us and threw the stuff at us and threw us out of the place. The General sat, fat and impassive, and said nothing. We decided that they must all be employees of the Department of Justice. A few days Iater a woman at whose home I had met the General called me up and said, "Come over. I want to talk to you." She said, "You don't understand the position of the Party. The General can't talk to you about this directly, but we know all these people and we tolerate them. Many of them are double agents, the rest of them we keep track of and use for our own ends." Since the list included a sizable percentage of the leadership of the Communist Party, it was just a little difficult to see who was watching whom. p. 278

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