Julian Assange and Big Bill Haywood

Ideas and Issues

Haybill2Miami There are some pieces of this story that none of us really want to believe are happening, there are other parts that are way across the line are need huge pushback, as I have argued.   Talking to Canadian associates last night about the case, there was consensus that this was a “family-oriented” blog, so I should skirt away from some of the Swedish surprises other than to say it has always been a solid rule of organizing to keep away from the volunteers, and clearly these sisters weren’t volunteering for quite the full package here.  All that will sort out somehow, god knows, and stuff happens, and I’m petty alcohol was on the screen:  young people!

But Attorney General Eric Holder, Senator Lieberman (?-CT), and the right wing bar’s new found love affair with the World War I era Espionage Act gives me the total creep out even more.   We are past long memories certainly, but that doesn’t mean that history is not worth attention and that the warnings should be heeded.

The Espionage Act was categorically a blunt weapon to attack progressives and others out of favor.  The great Non-Partisan League and its chief organizer, Arthur C. Townley, certainly one of the greatest ever, and many of its leaders had built a huge base starting in North Dakota and then sweeping like a prairie fire through the Plains and Mountain states with a pro-farmer, anti-corporate program and an organizing strategy that Townley famously attributed to “$5 and a Ford,” meaning dues and mobility for his organizers and his program.

Even more widely known was the use of the Espionage Act to eviscerate the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which then was something much different that the small time, marginal wannabe and cover band of today.  They had organized frontline strikes in important industries in textiles, around free speech in San Diego and throughout the west, in the mines through the Western Federation of Miners which held sway in whole towns and counties in some parts of Idaho and Montana, and with leaders like Big Bill Haywood and other organizers, they were well known and highly regarded from coast to coast.  They were not much of a business unionism operation and their disputes with Samuel Gompers and the fledgling American Federation of Labor (AFL) were equally contentious.  They were a problem though, because politically they were pretty much stone cold anarchists, which is highly discomfiting to governments and other power structures because even when dissent and difference is tolerated, it has to be by a certain consensus on rules of engagement, which as we can see now from some of Assange and Wiki-leaks more bizarre pronouncements and threats is not part of the anarchist playbook as a rule.

When the U.S. Government arrested Big Bill Haywood and charged him under the Espionage Act, he did get bail, unlike Assange in the London this week, but of course one-eyed and gnarly Big Bill was not about to deny who he might have been, when it was as obvious as the day is long.  As I recall it was in Chicago and the trial was scheduled for there as well.  Haywood skipped bail and fled the country believing with damn good reason that no fair trial was possible for a fiery speaker and union leader as crusty as he had been.  He ended up in Russia which in the wake of WWI and the Russian Revolution was the “it” place at the time.   Emma Goldman, John Reed, and others were extending the grand tour to the east, so Haywood could expect some sympathy and support for his brand of politics and action.

I’m sure the authorities weren’t thinking about Big Bill as Julian Assange was denied bail in England, nor does Attorney General Holder or Senator Lieberman seem to be especially astute citizens of history in the kangaroo courts some of them are running, but Assange is clearly a rolling stone with increasing risks particularly about where he lays his head to rest, so who knows where he might have ended up.  It might be worth Assange thinking about Big Bill Haywood and the demise of the IWW through this persecution of political differences in times of war and threats.

It’s fair to call it an ever present danger.