Saturday, May 01, 2004

Bread & Roses; Memories of a "Rebel Girl" 

When I was alive the birds would nest upon my boughs; And all through long winter nights the storms would round me howl. And when the day would come I'd raise my branches to the sun; I was the child of earth and sky - and all the world was one. ~ Laurie Lewis

One Big Union ~ Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and the I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World)

The IWW - "One Big Union For All" - was founded in Chicago in 1905. Among the delegates representing labor interests on June 27th 1905 were Big Bill Haywood, Mary "Mother Jones" Harris and Eugene Debs. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was fifteen years old at the time. Flynn joined the IWW in 1907 at the age of seventeen.

1905 perspective: "The slum population in New York exceeded the population ratio in Bombay [India], reaching a density ration of 1,000 persons an acre in some areas." ~ The Peoples Almanac, 1975

Harbor Allen, author of "The Flynn", The American Mercury, December, 1926 writes:
It was after Thomas Flynn [her father] had been defrauded out of a years pay that Elizabeth G. Flynn turned to Socialism. She was fourteen years old and zealous. An essay that she wrote on education, submitted in a contest at the Morris High School, in the Bronx, caused almost as much consternation among the teachers as the dropping of a hand-grenade in the faculty-room.

A 1906 newspaper clipping reprinted in Harbor Allen's American Mercury article, describes the grassroots oration style of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn:
"She quoted from the works of great men who had defied the existing order. Marat she gave em by ell, Mirabeau by the inch, Byron, George Eliot, Tom Paine, and Maxim Gorky by the acre and the mile."

Flynn was soon invited to speak to audiences while sharing the stage with well known Socialist speakers of the day such as author Jack London and labor activist Eugene Debs. However,....as Allen continues to explain:

...grown discontented with the pussyfooting of the Socialists, she left her compromising friends and marched out belligerently with the I.W.W.

Flynn remarked on this exit by explaining, "I felt that direct action was needed, not a concession wrung laborously here and there, but a complete overthrow of the system under which the poor are exploited in the interest of the rich." The I.W.W. offered Flynn that option, and, as Allen notes in AM, it was the kind of action that easily spooked the so-called 100% patriotic American specimen of the day.

"Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote. The relative positions to be assumed by man and women in the working out of our civilization were assigned long ago by a higher intelligence than ours." ~ Grover Cleveland in "The Ladies Home Journal" 1905

Harbor Allen continues:
In those days the very mention of it [I.W.W.] threw pious and patriotic Americans into shudders of horror. It stood for all the wickedness which has since been represented in Southern and Western minds by Clarence Darrow and Moscow. There is no more madcap chapter in the whole history of American labor than that recounting the rise of the I.W.W. [...] Upon this gaudy battlefield, with the glint of Irish pugnacity in her eye, soon emerged an eighteen-year-old leader. She confounded her enemies, the police. She laughed at them and played jokes on them. They put her in jail but they could not keep her there. Western editors combed the dictionary to find invectives against her. She remained irrepressible. No matter what they did she bobbed up again, fiery, fearless, clouting to the left and the right with her wit. Even when they triumphed over her she always saw to it that they went limping home from battle. At the very heart of the wobbly fight, revelling in the smoke and the dust, stood Gurley Flynn.

So here now listen: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn recounts the labor struggles of the IWW, Big Bill Haywood, Joe Hill, William Z. Foster, the Lawrence Strike of 1912 (which was commonly referred to as the Bread and Roses Strike), and the Red Scare of WW1 - among other significant historical events recorded in the history of the American labor movement. The following excerpts are from a lenghthy published transcript of a tape recorded address Elizabeth Gurley Flynn delivered to faculty and students at Northern Illinois University on November 8, 1962.

Flynn opens her address:
I was asked to speak about primarily the IWW. Well, those are the initials for the Industrial Workers of the World which used to be called the "I Won't Work" which was extremely incongruous because actually the people who belonged to the organization were in the basic, most difficult hard-working industries of our country. To call it the workers of the World was rather an ambitious name as actually it never did go beyond the confines of the United States and it grew out of the desire of American workers to continue the traditions and the form of organization of the old Knights of Labor.

Flynn concludes her address:
Now, I am going to tell you of a few of the things that we never heard of in those days. It is very well to realize the difference in the environment, the difference in the composition, the difference in the level of our development. We couldn't see things with the eyes of 1962. We saw them with the eyes of 1905 through about 1917. Well, we certainly never heard of such a thing and we never thought it would be possible, that there would be social security or unemployment insurance. Those were the results of the 30's. The great struggle that came out after the decline of the IWW. Also, we never heard of vacations with pay. We never heard of vacations, let alone vacations with pay. We never heard of seniority as it is understood today. There were no pensions for retirement of workers. There were no welfare funds of unions. There were no health centers of unions, and there were no trade union schools such as there are today.

All of these things have come with the unions that have come into existence since the period of the IWW.


Now, you may ask me, and I am not going on any longer because I know you want to ask me, and I talked too long, have we made progress?

Oh, we certainly have, we certainly have, in spite of all the difficulties, in spite of all the problems, the labor movement has made tremendous progress. There is a new role and a new outlook for youth today. One of the pamphlets that I read years ago, I don't know if any of you have ever heard of it, is Peter Kropotkin's Appeal to the Young and it was a beautiful appeal to the young to carry forward their responsibility to make this world a better world to live in. Now, I feel in our way we did our best but the time comes when you know, they say old age isn't a disease but I say it is. The time comes when you have to slow down and lay off and give the benefit of your experience to a younger generation, if they want it. I feel very grateful to you for this opportunity. I very rarely speak on a subject like this and therefore I feel very grateful to you for the opportunity to relive my youth in a sense and to bring to you some of the tremendous struggles and sacrifices and ideals and hopes that went into the early years of this century to building the American labor movement.

Allen concludes:
So died one of the most militant bands of rebels America ever nourished. Its philosophy was impractical, its aims often absurd, its tactics still oftener childish. [...] Yet the wobblies, at their best, were gallant and picturesque fighters, steadfast in the face of vituperance and danger, and it was these qualities which drew Gurley Flynn to them.

"Go to the strangers who are within my land and destroy them all except the Lion," said the Wicked Witch. "Bring that beast to me, for I have a mind to harness him like a horse, and make him work." "Your commands shall be obeyed," said the leader. Then, with a great deal of chattering and noise, the Winged Monkeys flew away to the place where Dorothy and her friends were walking.

Millwheels of Greed
The wives, mothers and the children all go in to produce dividends, profit, profit, profit. The brutal governor is a pillar of the First Methodist church in Birmingham. On Sunday he gets up and sings, "O Lord will you have another star for my crown when I get there?" ~ Mary Harris (Mother Jones), 1908

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn died in September of 1964 - but then again - Elizabeth Gurley Flynn's never really die at all, now do they? They are only reborn again and again, down through the roil and rock of generations. Ain't that right?

So -- Rock on left wing rebel girls!

This has been a short history in a small place, in honor of the one million plus, "...on the National Mall..."too big to ignore.'" And upcoming millions too big to ignore; See: "Take Back America Conference Agenda June 2, 3, 4 - Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington DC. Wednesday, June 2 ~ 12:00 PM Pre-Event: Jobs with Justice announces National Workers' Rights Board. ...by national leaders who stand up for workers' rights." ~ Remember Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

The leader of the Winged Monkeys flew up to her, his long, hairy arms stretched out and his ugly face grinning terribly; but he saw the mark of the Good Witch's kiss upon her forehead and stopped short, motioning the others not to touch her.

"We dare not harm this little girl," he said to them, "for she is protected by the Power of Good, and that is greater than the Power of Evil.

exempli gratia - vox populi


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