The New York Times Magazine, September 2, 1917, Page 57

Menace of the I. W. W.

Senator King Says Both Labor and Capital Face Peril from Criminals Working for Nation's Enemies

IN the West the I. W. W. has been most active. From a Western man, William H. King, United States Senator from Utah, comes the sternest arraignment of that organisation hitherto uttered. Utah, as is well known, had to face the I. W. W. menace at the time of Hillstrom's execution, and probably no man of prominence in this country is better posted on the doctrines and activities of the I. W. W. than the Senator, who has studied these doctrines in order to expose their danger to this country. How seriously he regards that danger is presented for the first time below.

Senator W. H. King of Utah, Who Says I. W. W. Is Foe of Law and Decency
Sen. W. H. King of Utah
Mr. King, though a new man in the Senate, has won recognition there because of his direct and fearless way of meeting issues. It was he who was prompt to counter on Senator La Follette's recent "peace resolution" with a resolution that "the Government of the United States will not make peace * * * until the German Government shall have acknowledged and expiated its crimes and shall seek terms upon which it may be admitted to the community of civilized and enlightened States. * * * "

When asked what he considered the peril of the I. W. W. to be, Senator King answered:

"Perhaps there is no greater menace to the internal peace and domestic tranquillity of our country than this diabolical association. It is difficult, in view of our standards of civilization and the Christian ideals and ethical concepts of the American people, to comprehend how such a malignant growth could fasten itself upon our industrial system. However, we find in nature the strange paradox that extremes sometimes meet; and so, in society and in Government, the righteous and the progressive forces are often clogged by dark and destructive elements.

"Numerically the I. W. W. organization is not strong. I do not think its membership exceeds 50,000, and yet its name has become a source of terror and fear, for the same reason that a mad dog in the crowded thoroughfare, or a murderous maniac at large, might terrify a large community.

"I say that it is a treasonable organization. This is not overstating it, because it is giving aid and comfort to the enemies of this Republic. Its leaders and members defiantly announce that they will commit deeds of violence, and assail the very foundations of the Government and of society. They attack in subtle and in open manner the industrial life of the nation to bring about the result that there will be no resources for military organization or preparedness, so that this country may be prevented from giving any aid or support to the forces of the great nations with which we are united in an effort to defend liberty and defeat Prussian militarism.

"The members of this organization have no interest in this Government or in any Government. Indeed, they disclaim any nationality. They know no flag except the flag of revolution, and no emblem except that which stands for murder and the most savage depravity. They refuse allegiance to any country, deny the authority of any Governmental agency, and desire the destruction of every form of authority or Government, national and municipal. Having no flag and no country, and wishing the overthrow of this great Republic, they are doing everything within their power to prevent the nation and the people from mobilizing their resources, developing their industries, raising armies and building navies, and taking effective steps to vigorously prosecute the war.

"If German troops were upon our shores they would furnish information that would aid in their efforts to subjugate our people. If they can communicate any information to our enemies that would aid them in their efforts against us they will willingly impart it. Indeed, their plan is to do everything possible to hinder and prevent the prosecution of the war; to sow the seeds of internal revolution; to spread sedition; to inflame the passions of the ignorant, and to demoralize and disorganize all of the forces that make for law and order.

"The evidence seems to be very strong, though more or less circumstantial, that members of the organization are in the employ of Germany. Certain it is that many of them are supplied with an abundance of gold, and denounce this country and speak approvingly of Germany. In some sections where Austrians were employed the I. W. Ws. urged them to strike, using as an argument, among others, that they were producing materials which would be used by the Allies and by this country against their countrymen in Austria. In several instances these appeals were effective and resulted in serious strikes and disorders. I feel sure that the Department of Justice, which has been diligent in protecting the interests of our country and our people, has a mass of evidence supporting this view, and upon the trial of some of these I. W. Ws. indubitable evidence will be produced connecting members of the organization with German intrigues.

"The members of this criminal species find their way into the industrial circles and among all the laboring classes. Their purpose is to compel by threats or other means all laborers to strike, in order to arrest all of the forces necessary to the life of the nation. They attempt to close every mine, shut down every factory and manufacturing plant, stop every train, prevent the planting of all crops or the reaping of the harvest. They declare that they are a revolutionary organization, and that the question of right and wrong does not concern them, their methods, or their aims. They boldly declare, as a part of their creed, that the interference of the Government will be opposed by open violation of the Government's orders, and they advocate the use of militant and 'direct action,' by which they mean the use of force and violence, the employment of every weapon to destroy government, paralyze industry, and demoralize society.

"They see in this world war an opportunity, as they believe, to bring about their plan of destroying all government and capital, and of seizing whatever there is corporeal or physical in this world. In pursuance of this nefarious design they destroy property by the use of dynamite and in an incendiary way.

"They have been especially active in their efforts to shut down the copper and lead producing mines of the West. They appreciate the imperative necessity of our Government, not only for its own uses, but for the use of the nations with whom we are co-operating in this war, procuring immense quantities of copper and lead. Accordingly, they invaded peaceable mining camps where high wages were paid and general prosperity existed, and by violence, intimidation, seditious utterances, and poisonous, treasonable efforts, they caused thousands of miners to leave their employment, as a result of which mines have been shut down and a chaotic condition produced.

"The agricultural districts were invaded and the torch applied where unsuccessful efforts were made to prevent the harvesting of crops. Every bridge and tunnel of our land, and particularly in the West, has to be guarded by armed soldiers against the treacheries of this criminal class, who would destroy them and thus prevent the operation of the trains and halt the transportation forces of our country. They would, if they had the power, destroy all bridges, railroads, and ships.

"They terrorize the honest wage earner, and do not hesitate to assassinate him if they cannot secure his allegiance by other means. Life has no sacredness to them, and it does not stand in the way of the accomplishment of their designs. They openly teach murder, and they defiantly advocate the destruction of property and the overthrow of government

"Their organization, under any and all circumstances, is a menace to organized society and government, but it is particularly deadly in a crisis such as confronts our nation today. In order to carry on the war successfully our fields and farms must be productive; our factories must be operated to their full capacity, and every resource of the people must be employed in the most efficient way. We must produce and produce still more. This means organization, union, co-operation, domestic tranquillity, and contented, patriotic, enthusiastic people in all the broad land.

"'Sabotage' is a word employed by them, and they urge 'sabotage' as applied to our vast industrial machine. As they employ the word, it means intimidation, coercion, and any means necessary to gain an end; it means the throwing into the delicate machinery of the industrial organization any foreign substance that will destroy the machine. This foreign substance is generally force, violence, or murder.

"They declare that by revolution and violence capitalism must be destroyed and all of the industries of the world surrendered to them. They proclaim that there is a guerrilla warfare as well as a battle; that the battle is between two opposing forces and must culminate in the destruction of human government, organized society, the ownership of property, and our civilization. It is not higher wages or improved conditions for the laboring man for which this organization is striving. It is admitted that whatever demands are conceded by employers today others shall be made tomorrow; that whatever agreements may be entered into they should be violated; that instead of orderly development and harmonious relation between employer and employe, there should be revolution and no amity or friendly co-operation.

"Some people entertain the view that the I. W. W. organization is seeking the amelioration of the condition of the laboring man, and there has been some sympathy in certain sections for members of this organization. As stated, such is not its object. The people might as well know exactly the character of the association. It as bitterly assails the laboring man who believes in labor unions, in government, in law and order, in the Christian civilization of the day, as it does the man who employs labor.

"If 50,000 men should meet together in some public square in the City of New York, and there openly and synically deny the existence of a God, of all moral restraints, of all standards of ethics or righteousness, and should proclaim eternal opposition to the sanctity of marriage and the building of homes and the assumption of the obligations entailed by the rearing of a family, and to all forms of government, either municipal, State, or national; and if they should further declare that they intended to shut down every factory, close every store, prevent the operation of the street cars, take possession of the city, deprive owners of their property, whether large or small; and if, following these declarations, they did attempt to carry them into effect, and did close factories and plants, and turn men out of employment, and cause violence, strikes, murders, arson, and the wanton destruction of life and property; and if they further attempted to take possession of the Government, and made war upon those who were attempting to preserve peace and order, and, finally, they succeeded in reducing everything to welter, chaos, and ruin, then some idea might be obtained of the plans and purposes and methods of operation of this hideous, malevolent association of the I. W. W.

"So far as I can learn, the overwhelming majority of the membership are aliens. It was stated in some of the newspapers that of those recently deported from Bisbee, Ariz., one-half were Mexicans, and a considerable number were Austrians, and only a small proportion were native-born Americans. They are nomadic, houseless, and homeless. They have no family ties: no habits of thrift or sobriety, and, in every sense of the word, are utterly at war with our institutions, our form of society, and our industrial and Governmental life. They resent those habits of industry and thrift which are regarded as virtues among all decent and civilized people.

"To I. W. W. members there is no God, nothing infinite, immortal, or eternal. We are in a blind world of chance without design and without purpose. Order, union, law, government, wholesome restraint, religion—all of these words are meaningless to them, and the forms, influence, and powers behind them, and accompanying them; are the objects of their hatred and implacable fury. Of course, such a creed will attract to the Godless, the wicked, the corrupt, the criminal, and all those whose brutish instincts rebel at decency and right thinking and right living. And so most of the I. W. Ws. are vagabonds and tramps. They are the flotsam and jetsam on the tumultuous sea of life. Many go from the penitentiary to the I. W. W. organization, and many go from the I. W. W. organization to the penitentiary—and more should go there.

"It is singular, but we find some bitter opposition from the I. W. Ws. to trade unions as to the capitalists, so-called. The result, of course, must be that the members of the labor unions cannot be, and are not, in sympathy with the I. W. W. Trade unionism fosters, as the I. W. W. says, industry and the belief that there is a common interest be tween the employers and the employes. Trade unionism brings stability among the laboring people and seeks to have Industry, peace, and order and proper development. The true laboring man is anxious for the perpetuity of society, the maintenance of good government. and proper growth and development in all of the activities of trade and commerce. The I. W. W. proclaims the abolition of the wage system and declares that capitalism must be destroyed. One of their principal teachers says: 'The question of right and wrong does not concern us. * * * All opposition, so long as the wage system lasts, is but an armed truce. At any favorable opportunity the struggle for more control of industry is renewed.'*)

"It is obvious that such an organization is an outlaw. It cannot exist in a country where property rights are respected, where law, order, schools, religion, industry, business, progress, and civilization are found. It is difficult to deal with this menace, but the situation today calls for vigorous repressive measures. Already the Government is moving to repress the activities of its leaders and to prevent its treasonable and lawless course.

"The secretary of the organization, Mr. Rowan, was recently arrested, and doubtless others will soon be brought before the bar of justice. I think it should be said that perhaps some of the followers of this revolutionary movement do not quite appreciate the inherent viciousness of the system and the ultimate end of its preachments. Of course, the person cast from society, one whose crimes, have isolated him from society, would naturally gravitate to an organization which aimed at the destruction of society. A man without conscience—the cold-blooded murderer—would seek comrades among an organization teaching such abhorrent doctrines.

"A few years ago a number of the members of the association came to the State of Utah. One of their number, named Hillstrom, with one of his associates, committed a foul murder. After a fair trial he was convicted and executed. The courageous Governor of the State, William Spry, refused commutation of his sentence, and members of the organization attempted to assassinate the Governor. The executed criminal became an idol of these outlaws, and a number of them followed his ashes as they were carried through the streets of Chicago and glorified his death and the wicked cause with which he was identified.

"A number of measures supplementing existing law are now pending in Congress that perhaps may aid in dealing with some of the activities of this criminal body. One of the bills which I introduced provides that if two or more persons shall conspire or combine together to oppose the execution, or to impede the operation of any law of the United States, or to intimidate any officer or person charged with the enforcement of any law of the United States; or if any person or persons counsel, advise, or incite by words or statements, whether spoken or printed, sedition, riot, insurrection, or unlawful assembly, to oppose the execution or enforcement of any law of the United States; or if any person or persons shall advise, counsel, persuade, or incite, or shall utter words or statement which shall tend to persuade or incite any person to break any contract with the Government of the United States, or to break any contract which has to do with the production, fabrication, manufacture, or transportation of any article, commodity, or thing for the use of or intended for the use of the United States, he or they shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall he punished by imprisonment.

"This bill is aimed at the activities of the I. W. W., and seeks to punish them for their efforts to paralyze the arm of the Government and prevent it from prosecuting the war. I hope a broad and comprehensive law will be enacted that will more effectively aid the Government in its efforts to protect industry and labor and to punish and overthrow, if possible, an organization the objects of which are so grave a menace to the foundations of society and government."


Transcribed by J. D. Crutchfield from a PDF on the New York Times's archive site.

Last updated 20 April 2008.