The Ghost of Big Bill Haywood:
Big Bill Haywood was a giant of a man, and he could be a son of a bitch when he got drunk, but there was no one else who was gonna stand tall with you, club in hand, ready to face down the armed Pinkertons when the owners wanted to shut out the strikers at the mines, the mills, the factories. Yeah, back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Big Bill Haywood was the inferno burning in the heart of the labor movement, and that motherfucker could speak with a rage that would have exhausted ten men. He was blind in one eye, a big Cyclops, but that frozen pupil would stare down judges and cops, and he was beloved by workers from sea to shinin' sea in that America, back when the nation was ready to explode from the mad momentum of workers' rights.

When Haywood, who had been a miner at the age of nine, became the head of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Wobblies flourished. Sure, they never had more than 150,000 members at one time, but they had 3 million total, before the Wilson admininstration destroyed the Wobblies. And many of those went on to join the AFL, ILGWU, and other unions. Haywood knew that to face down the capitalists, you had to have a union of every industrial worker. One Big Union, they called it, the "O.B.U."

Here's Haywood on union organizing: "So, on this great force of the working class I believe we can agree that we should unite into one great organization--big enough to take in the children that are now working; big enough to take in the black man; the white man; big enough to take in all nationalities--an organization that will be strong enough to obliterate state boundaries, to obliterate national boundaries, and one that will become the great industrial force of the working class of the world."

Yes, Haywood believed in the need to vote, but he saw the political process as corrupt: "You must not be content to come to the ballot box on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the ballot box erected by the capitalist class, guarded by capitalist henchmen, and deposit your ballot to be counted by black-handed thugs, and say, 'That is political action.'"

See, Haywood fuckin' knew that the key to gettin' power back to the workers was to organize, organize, organize. He was beaten, imprisoned, and jumped bail to escape a savage American government that wanted to stop him. He was romanticized by the leftist intellectuals of the era, including Jack Reed, invited to salons and galas because of the real workers he represented. But he never bought into it. He never let that go to his head. He knew that his voice, his one-eye, his balls, and his guts belonged to the men and women laborers, whether black or white, immigrant or native. Yeah, he could be a son of a bitch, but he never forgot where he came from, and he never stopped trying to topple the powerful until he was chased out of this country.

Here's Clarence Darrow, a raiser of hell himself, defending Haywood and the Western Federation of Miners back in 1907 against charges of a conspiracy to assassinate the governor of Idaho: "I am here to say that in a great cause these labor organizations, despised and weak and outlawed as they generally are, have stood for the poor, they have stood for the weak, they have stood for every human law that was ever placed upon the statute books. They stood for human life, they stood for the father who was bound down by his task, they stood for the wife, threatened to be taken from the home to work by his side, and they have stood for the little child who was also taken to work in their places--that the rich could grow richer still, and they have fought for the right of the little one, to give him a little of life, a little comfort while he is young."

Forgiving the sexist middle there, they're words that the AFL-CIO and its dissidents should repeat, endlessly, as they work out the future of a movement that needs, desperately, to get back to its past.