Labor

Labor: 1905

Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or “Wobblies” are founded in Chicago with the aim of forming “one big union” dedicated to the mission of the working class doing away with capitalism. Unlike other unions that bar people of color from membership, the IWW welcomes members of all races and national origins.

Labor: 1910

Fresno police revoke the IWW’s permit to conduct street meetings after IWW member Elmer Shean is arrested for trying to recruit members on a Fresno street. Wobblies respond by descending on Fresno, getting arrested for street corner orations, and filling the jails.

Los Angeles Bridge and Structural Iron Workers go on strike. At the prompting of business leaders, the city council passes an anti-picketing ordinance.

A bomb destroys the Los Angeles Times building, owned by anti-union publisher Harrison Gray Otis.

Labor: 1911

Fresno city officials rescind the ban on street speaking and release all IWW prisoners.

Union leaders and brothers James and John McNamara shock their supporters by admitting to bombing the Los Angeles Times building. The confession results in a serious decline in union membership and the success of business leaders in keeping unions from gaining power in Los Angeles.

Labor: 1912

In response to IWW organizing, the San Diego city council passes an ordinance banning public speaking within 46 blocks of the city center. IWW issues a call for members go to San Diego. City leaders respond with vigilante violence and eviction of IWW members from San Diego county. Vigilantes violently assault anarchist leader Ben Reitman, prompting Governor Hiram Johnson to call for an investigation, which quells vigilante activity and restores free speech to the city.

Labor: 1913

Yuba County sheriff and deputies try to break up a rally of hop pickers led by IWW organizers Blackie Ford and Herman Suhr to protest the squalid, dangerous, and unfair conditions on the Ralph Durst ranch in Wheatland. A riot ensures and two workers, a district attorney, and sheriff’s deputy are killed. Ford and Suhr are convicted of second-degree murder. After a statewide campaign to free them, both are released from prison in 1926.

See a documentary excerpt about the Wheatland incident:

Labor: 1916

A bomb explodes at the corner of Market and Steuart Streets in downtown San Francisco during the “Preparedness Day Parade,” killing 10 people.

Labor: 1916 - 1917

Militant labor organizers Tom Mooney and Warren Billings are convicted of the “Preparedness Day Parade” bombing. Mooney is sentenced to death and Billings to life imprisonment.

Labor: 1918

Free Tom Mooney leafletFree Tom Mooney leafletGovernor William Stephens commutes Tom Mooney’s sentence from death to life imprisonment. Over the following two decades, activists worldwide call for the pardon of Mooney and Billings. Key witnesses recant their testimony and admit that District Attorney Charles Fickert framed the two labor leaders. Nine of the ten living jurors petition Governor Clement Young to pardon Mooney and Billings. Even the judge who sentenced Mooney appeals to the governor saying that Mooney is innocent.

Dissent, Labor: 1919

California legislature passes the Criminal Syndicalism Act, outlawing advocacy of force or violence for political change or a change of industrial ownership. Because the law is broad and vague, it is used against non-violent labor organizers and political radicals.

Dissent, Labor: 1923

SinclairSinclairDuring the course of a strike by longshoremen at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, police and hired goons attack strikers and their supporters who are protesting bad working conditions, low wages, and the imprisonment of union leaders under the Criminal Syndicalism Act. Police prohibit strikers from holding public meetings. At a rally on Liberty Hill in support of the strikers, author Upton Sinclair is arrested for violating the Criminal Syndicalism Act by reading the U.S. Constitution. Sinclair helps found the ACLU of Southern California.

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