The IWW Trial

The IWW Trial


The great and sensational case of the United States of America vs. William D. Haywood et al. resulted in a verdict of “Guilty” against the one hundred defendants who finally faced the court and jury. Although the trial consumed over four months, and al-though the witnesses were numerous and the record unprecedentedly voluminous, the jury deliberated less than two hours. This circumstance was a great surprise to the de-fendants as well as to many impartial observers. But the last phase of the trial was marked by more than one surprise. Every one concerned had been very patient all through the long and wearisome affair, yet the closing hours of the trial produced an im-pression of the keenest desire to get through on any terms, and let the jury do what it might without proper and adequate help from the attorneys in the case. The defence suddenly decided to dispense with argument and analytical review of the evidence from its point of view. The prosecution was not unwilling to acquiesce in this arrangement, although it deprived the Government likewise of the opportunity of going over the evi-dence carefully, and showing how each of the one hundred defendants had been duly connected by it with the conspiracies charged in the indictment.

Lawyers who watched the proceedings are at a loss to account for the action of the de-fence at the eleventh hour. Was it confident of an acquittal of all the defendants? How could it afford to take so great a risk as it took in waiving the right to argue the case elaborately? Or was it so certain of an adverse verdict as to all of the accused that it did not think it worth while to claim even so substantial a right as that of analyzing and in-terpreting the evidence and disproving the views and conclusions of the other aide?

The second hypothesis is positively negatived by the assertions which some of the ablest of the defendants made privately and publicly on the eve of the final day of the trial. There can be no doubt that many of them expected that they would be acquitted. There can be no doubt that most of them believed that their side had presented a pow-erful and impressive defence. None of them had complained of the slightest unfairness on the part of the court, while some had declared repeatedly that Judge Landis, the pre-siding judge, was giving them an absolutely “fair deal.” Optimism and overconfidence on the part of the defence would seem to be the likelier explanation of its action. But, in that case, its course was unwise and unjust to the jury. Could the jury be expected to re-member unaided all the evidence and to make up its mind that each of the one hundred defendants was guilty of the several conspiracies charged beyond a reasonable doubt? Be this as it may, the verdict is before the country. The great trial ended in a practically complete victory for the Government, and a vindication of the warnings and demands of those persons and organizations in the Northwest and elsewhere who had accused the I. W. W. of disloyalty, sedition, and bitter hostility towards the Government and its war policies.

Whether the verdict is justified as to all the defendants by the evidence in the record is a question which the highest court in the land will doubtless answer in due time. Certain it is that to all outward seeming the trial was fair.

None of the defendants has alleged that in the courtroom any appeal to mere prejudice was permitted or tolerated. The prosecution was, of course, technical, but by no means too technical. The court resolved many a doubt in regard to the admissibility of the evi-dence in favor of the defendants. No disposition was manifested to restrict them as to the way or manner in which they should meet the charges against them. If they were hampered — and they say that they were it was outside of the courtroom, by lack of funds, by alleged interference with their witnesses, by the failure to deliver mail to and from the headquarters of the I. W. W., and the suppression of public appeals for contri-butions to the defence fund.

It is very difficult for the ordinary citizen or even the ordinary lawyer to comprehend the case against the now convicted leaders, editors, speakers, organizers, and officers of the I. W. W. Was the I. W. W. organization as such on trial? Is that organization lawless and criminal, and could the Government have indicted all of its members had it wished to do so? Was it a crime to entertain the views held by the I. W. W.? The Government’s theory of the case must be gathered from the five counts of the original indictment, al-though the fifth count was finally quashed and withdrawn by the trial judge. Each of the counts charged conspiracy to violate a certain section of the criminal code of the United States. The Government contended, first, that each of the defendants had conspired with some of the others, or with persons for various reasons not under indictment, to commit the alleged violations, and, in the second place, that each of the defendants had committed certain overt acts in pursuance of the alleged conspiracy. Hence, under the law of conspiracy, they were guilty irrespective of the motives which had actuated them. If their acts had been lawful, it would have been necessary to prove a criminal intent, but the Government contended that the acts and methods of which the defendants were ac-cused were all unlawful to begin with.

The position of the Government was thus outlined by Mr. Nebeker, special assistant to the Attorney-General and senior counsel for the prosecution:

In the first place, there are numerous elements of unlawfulness involved in every I. W. W. strike from the beginning of the organization down to the present time . . . . The whole proposition has been that the ordinary American Federation of Labor strike, as they call it, the ordinary folded-arm strike, the ordinary strike by which men either indi-vidually or collectively cease to work, is not an I. W. W. strike. So that the old-time, the old-fashioned, strike is not in this controversy at all. In addition to that, they all said, and have said all along the line, that they would practice sabotage, strike on the job, violate the property rights of the man who owns the mine or the lumber camp, deal with his property as if it were their own. Now there will never be any way for the defendants to get away from that proposition. In addition to that, I say that during the time that the Government was in need of these basic industries for war purposes, they had no right to conduct even a folded-arm strike . . . . When it cones to a situation by which the country must have the product of these mines and of these basic industries, men must govern themselves accordingly. . . .They must cease; in other words, they must change their programme. Now, they did not do that in this case.

Not having changed their programme or their conduct, continued Mr. Nebeker, the de-fendants were chargeable with all the necessary and direct consequences of their acts; and if one of the consequences was interference with the operations of the Government, they were chargeable with that consequence, the law presuming then to have intended that too.

In the light of these explanations, one may now turn to the indictment itself. The first count charged that the defendants conspired with the late Frank Little and others to pre-vent, hinder, and delay by force the execution of several acts and resolutions of Con-gress having to do with the war; that the defendants, as officers, agitators, editors, or organizers of the I. W. W., had been engaged in propagating the ideas of that body and in managing its affairs; that they had advocated and brought about local strikes, indus-trial strikes, and general strikes in utter disregard of the rights of other persons and es-pecially of the United States; that they had regularly and systematically carried on the work of the organization, which avowedly aimed at the abolition of the existing industrial system, knowing and intending that their activities would interfere with the production of munitions of war, supplies, etc., required for the military forces of the United States; and that the defendants required members of-the organization to refuse to register or to submit to the draft.

The second count charged the defendants with conspiring to oppress, threaten, and in-timidate many persons engaged in furnishing, under contract, munitions, fuel, ships, equipment, etc., to the United States. The third count charged conspiracy to aid, coun-sel, command, and induce thousands of persons to refuse to register, and other thou-sands to desert the service of the United States. The fourth count charged conspiracy to cause insubordination, disloyalty, and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces, as well as to obstruct recruiting and enlistment. The fifth count charged conspiracy to vio-late the postal laws of the country by depositing for mailing and delivery papers, circu-lars, and “stickerettes” advocating the commission of fraudulent acts against employers, such acts consisting of sabotage, secret interference with efficient service, willful slack-ening of production, and restriction of profits.

Sixteen pages of the bulky indictment are devoted to an enumeration of “overt acts” of the defendants, said “acts” consisting of telegrams, letters, circulars, articles, and pam-phlets in which the various offences alleged in the counts were proposed, endorsed, or advocated. Only a few of the citations given in this section of the indictment can be re-produced here. The organ of the I. W. W., Solidarity, printed such sentiments as these during the period covered by the indictment and after the entry of the United States into the war:

Every war is for gain. How much of this gala do the workers get? Nothing. Who does the dying? The workers. Then, if war is declared, lot us, by all means, pull off the general strike to prevent it. What is more simple?

It is needless to say that the I. W. W. is unalterably opposed to war and conscription . . . . We consider the bombastic and far-fetched talk about freedom and democracy simply so much bunk.

Any one with good sense now objects to being told that Czar Wilson is working for the interests of the working class in trying to force them against their wills into the bloody European slaughter-fest. The treachery, duplicity, and hypocrisy of the present Admini-stration have done more to remove the time-hallowed veneration for political govern-ment from the minds of the slaves than anything that has happened in decades . . . . The refusal of American workers to volunteer and their determined opposition to being drafted into the army demonstrates clearly that war is being recognized by the slave class as a cause of class hatred.

A letter from one Phineas Eastman to Haywood referred to the uncertainty of members of the I. W. W. in regard to conscription, and enclosed a motion, unanimously adopted at Augusta, Kansas, by a branch of the organization, for the purpose of “stopping all speculation.” The motion advised all members to resist conscription “by refusing to join any band of potential murderers, or by any other effective method deemed advisable.” From Seattle, Washington, a certain strike committee wrote to Haywood that patriotism was being preached there among the workers in the mills and yards, and that the strik-ers had the good will of the German people in the community. It added: “We are going to carry our points if we have to stop every industry on the Pacific Coast. We did not de-clare war, and have not consented to the workingman giving up his liberties and being drafted.” All of the foregoing quotations the Government claimed to be typical.

The Government further contended at the trial that if the offices of the I. W. W. had not been raided, correspondence seized, plans revealed, and leaders arrested, the organi-zation would certainly have brought about all manner of local and general strikes for the purpose of paralyzing the hands of the Government and at the same time striking a powerful blow at the present industrial system. It insisted that the war, instead of caus-ing the I. W. W. to suspend its agitation and warfare against capitalism, led it to make special efforts to increase and intensify its activities. The attorneys for the Government claimed that they could have offered evidence ad infinitum of the plots and conspiracies charged in the indictment, but that they had stopped when enough evidence had been introduced to prove the guilt of the defendants beyond reasonable doubt.

Under the Government’s theory of the case, the I. W. W. cannot continue its normal ac-tivities without violating the criminal laws of the United States and exposing itself to prosecution for conspiracy. It can continue to exist only if it ceases to advocate strikes, direct action, and sabotage, withdraws from circulation its typical literature, and sus-pends all agitation against conscription, war, and the effective mobilization of the na-tional resources, human and other, for the prosecution of the war. The I. W. W. has not been formally “proclaimed” or outlawed, but it must change its tactics and methods, de-clare a sort of truce, and confine itself to theoretical criticism of the present industrial system and theoretical advocacy of a cooperative system, without the element of what it calls exploitation. This conclusion manifestly follows from the position taken by the Gov-ernment at the recent trial.

The defence of the I. W. W. leaders consisted of two distinct parts. The several conspir-acy charges were flatly and unqualifiedly denied. That is, the defendants denied that they, or any of them, had entered into any sort of agreement or understanding, or had formed any common design, to obstruct or hamper the Government in its military opera-tion or in any other of its activities. They denied absolutely that there had been any con-spiracy to resist the draft, or to advise such resistance, or to encourage desertion in the army or navy.

Of course, if there was no conspiracy, the charges fell to the ground. But what of the many “overt acts” alleged and proved by the Government? The answer was that, if any of the defendants had written or spoken against registration under the Draft act, or against enlistment, or against the necessity or justice of the war policies of the Govern-ment, they did so as individuals on their several personal accounts. Since they held cer-tain views concerning war in general, and concerning capitalism and the position of la-bor, there was nothing extraordinary in the fact that several of the defendants should have expressed, simultaneously, the same ideas concerning the present war. It would have been strange if they had not done so. At any rate, the defence claimed, such agreement regarding fundamentals like war, and capitalism as the cause of war, offers little evidence of a criminal conspiracy.

The Government, the defence argued, might have indicted and tried some of the same men for violation of the Espionage act and kindred offences; but the theory of conspir-acy was declared to be utterly baseless.

Similarly, the charge that the defendants had, pursuant to the alleged conspiracy, coun-selled and advocated sabotage, was unqualifiedly denied. True, the defendants said, the I. W. W. believes in sabotage as a permanent and effective weapon in the war on the capitalistic system; but as a matter of fact, they insisted, none of the several acts of sabotage attributed to their organization in the Government’s bill of particulars, or in the Government’s testimony, had been committed by the I. W. W., if committed at all.

Again, the defence denied unreservedly that the I. W. W., or its leaders on trial, had as-sumed a position of positive hostility towards the Government by reason of its war poli-cies. On the contrary, the defence insisted, Haywood (the acknowledged intellectual head of the I. W. W.) had repeatedly declined to commit the organization to such a posi-tion, or to endorse suggestions to that end. Evidence was offered to show that Haywood had written to fellow-members that an antiwar position might “put them out of business,” and, at another time, that the L W. W. “intended to take part in the war.” That certain of the defendants had denounced the war and the Government’s war policies and had even advised drastic action to cripple the Government, was not denied. But, as in the case of other alleged offences, it was urged the particular individuals in question might have been indicted and tried. The error of the prosecution, they averred, lay in assuming the existence of a common design, or conspiracy, and placing responsibility for antiwar and anti-Government utterances on many who had not been guilty of such utterances, but who had, indeed, sought to prevent them.

The defence did not, however, limit itself to denials where the issue was simply and plainly whether or not the defendants had done, or had conspired to do, a certain thing. It undertook to prove by direct testimony that the I. W. W. were taking part in the war, were giving and risking their lives for the Government, were making, loading, and trans-porting munitions of war, were raising food for the men in uniform; were, in short, ren-dering cheerfully and willingly a vital service to the Government. I. W. W. members in uniform took the stand and testified that they were loyal soldiers of the United States despite their affiliation with that organization. Other witnesses were placed on the stand to testify that I. W. W. men had proved to be faithful and industrious workers on farms.

This whole line of testimony and argument was forcibly presented to the jury and the court by the senior counsel for the defence, George F. Vanderveer, in his opening statement. The following is a quotation from this statement:

We are going to bring before you men in the service, men from the various [military] camps, to tell you about their fellow-workers who are with them in uniform, and about the ones who have already gone to France, and about the kind of service they are ren-dering. We are going to show you plenty of men from this organization who volunteered, who did not wait to be drafted. We are going to show you that a lumbermen’s regiment and a loggers’ regiment recruited at Spokane and at Missoula were recruited largely from our members.

Wherever, continued Mr. Vanderveer, the I. W. W. are found, they may have controver-sies with their employers, but wherever you find them free from a fight with the boss, you find them fighting in the ranks of the workingmen for their Government. Counsel re-ferred specifically to the Mesaba Range, where there was not a single strike in 1917; to the textile industry at Lawrence and Paterson, where there was not a single strike of any kind in that year; to the northern Minnesota woods, where there was not a single strike; to the copper-producing sections of Michigan; to the biggest submarine-building yards at Fore River, Mass.; to the Philadelphia docks and navy yard, and other important “war industries” on which I. W. W. are employed in large numbers, and which they could eas-ily have tied up had they cared to do so, or had their principles required them to do so.

So much for the first part of the defence. The second part consisted of interpretations and explications of facts that were not, or could not be, denied. The Government had offered testimony covering several important strikes and threatened extensions of these strikes. There had been strikes at Butte, in the Arizona woods, in Michigan, and else-where. There had been correspondence in regard to these strikes and confident expec-tations or boasts of their extension. The Government pointed to these things as weighty proofs of the conspiracies charged. The defence, on the other hand, contended that each of the strikes or threatened strikes had resulted from grievances and wrongs in the industry affected; that the war had nothing whatever to do with any of them; that the in-tent of such defendants as were connected with the strikes was not to resist or obstruct the Government, but to improve local conditions and make the lives of the workers en-durable. Moreover, argued the defence, some of these strikes were not even I. W. W. affairs, but were “regular” trade-union strikes in which I. W. W. members participated merely as individuals.

If neither the intent in calling or advocating the strikes complained of by the Government nor the methods of the strikers were unlawful, then, of course, the strikers and their leaders were not responsible, in the eye of the law, for such interference with the pro-duction of materials necessary to the prosecution of the war. If the intent was lawful, and the methods were also unobjectionable, then an I. W. W. strike did not differ in any way from an “ordinary,” old-fashioned strike. Hundreds of strikes have taken place since our entry into the war, and hundreds of thousands of workers have taken part in them. Had they been charged with conspiracy to hamper the Government and interfere with its war activities? They had not; then why impute to the I. W. W. unlawful, sinister, and disloyal designs when they called or encouraged perfectly just, reasonable, and lawful strikes?

In accordance with this reasoning, the defence essayed to justify and explain the vari-ous strikes of which the Government complained. The defence sought to convince the court and the jury that the intent of these strikes was lawful, that the strikes themselves were lawful, and that the methods advocated and adopted in these situations were not unlawful.

Judge Landis ruled that while such general literature on economic and social conditions as the Report of the Industrial Relations Commission could not be admitted as evi-dence, “the whole situation about the mines, about the lumber forests and the mills in which these activities occurred, might be put in evidence.” This ruling opened the door to much testimony concerning “intent” in calling strikes, concerning the agitation that had been carried on, the speeches delivered by defendants, the exact significance of the advice they had given, the terms they had used, etc. Much testimony which, when summarized in the press, puzzled even lawyers, who could not perceive its relevance or competence, was admitted under this very broad ruling.

For example, several of the defendants, lecturers and organizers, were permitted to make long speeches to the jury, in which they were supposed to say exactly the things they had habitually said to workmen or strikers in explanation of particular controversies with employers or of the general I. W. W. position towards such controversies. In these speeches and in other testimony the defendants placed before the jury and court the whole philosophy of the I. W. W. movement — the reason for opposing political action, the meaning of the phrase “direct action,” the exact function and limits of sabotage, the attitude of the organization towards the Government, etc. All this was done for the pur-pose of refuting the conspiracy charge as well as for the purpose of demonstrating the inherent improbability of that charge. The effort was to show that the Government had mistaken the objects and misinterpreted the aims and methods of the I. W. W. in spe-cific cases as well as in a general way.

In brief, the position of the defendants was described as follows: The I. W. W. is not making war, by its strikes and sabotage, on the democratic form of government; it is not opposed to the Government of the United States. It holds that what is called the capital-istic system has grown up within and in spite of political democracy because forms of government are not sufficient to do away with the exploitation of labor and all the evils that result from such exploitation. The remedy for these evils lies in the education and organization of the wage-workers. Industrial unionism aims at the pacific and perfectly legal abolition of capitalism. All the workmen have to do is to refuse to work on unjust terms. As free men, they have the right to say on what terms and conditions they will continue to work. When these terms are such that exploitation is impossible, the capital-istic system will come to an end. There need be no disorder, no violence, no oppression of the capitalists. Indeed, the I. W. W. do not believe in violence, in revolution, in crimi-nal tactics. They alone have openly and emphatically proclaimed the futility and folly of violence. Hence, neither their ultimate aim nor their methods are unlawful per se. The Government can afford to remain neutral in their fight with capitalism. They are not at-tacking the foundations of democracy; rather are they striving to carry democracy from the political into the industrial sphere.

As to sabotage, that term has been totally misunderstood by the Government and by society. Sabotage does not mean wanton, malicious, unlawful destruction of property. Why should labor destroy the products of labor? Sabotage is a means of drying up the sources of illegitimate profits, of exploitation. Sabotage is intended to prevent adultera-tion and to compel the capitalist to be honest with, labor and the public. Sabotage means giving no more in return for a wage than that wage fairly commands. Sabotage is needed to make strikes effective and to render resort to them unnecessary. Sabotage is a modern, humane, civilized substitute for violence and destruction, precisely as the in-dustrial form of organization and the education of labor are the substitutes for the reac-tionary idea of a physical revolution.

In view of these facts, argued the defendants, the Government’s bitterness and hostility towards the I. W. W. are unwarranted. The allegation of a deliberate conspiracy to crip-ple the Government and take advantage of the war to overthrow capitalism is un-founded. Foolish things were no doubt said by some I. W. W. editors — especially in for-eign-language papers which the American leaders of the organization could not read or properly direct — prior to and after the entry of the United States into the war. For some of these things, anarchists, Socialists, and pro-German agitators were responsible. Oth-ers were said in haste and ignorance, rashly and impulsively. The Government, alarmed by some of these utterances, had connected them with certain perfectly legal strikes caused by revolting local conditions. Finally, acts done and matter circulated by ele-ments alien to the I. W. W. were erroneously attributed to that organization. The prose-cution, in short, originated in misunderstanding, fear, distrust, and dislike of the I. W. W. At bottom, the I. W. W. had not been unpatriotic. It has not made the slightest advances towards the pro-Germans. It has not attempted in a single instance to obtain their money or their support. Not a dollar of German money was found in the I. W. W. treas-ury. Its books and accounts admittedly cleared it of any such suspicion as that. If it was not pro-German, or anti-United States, or anti-war; if it did not instigate strikes to para-lyze the Government; if it did not directly or indirectly oppose the draft or voluntary en-listments ; if its members have been allowed to work and fight for the Government — if all these things are true, then, declared the I. W. W. leaders, they are the victims of prejudice and injustice. Will not the higher courts, they asked, perceive this and set aside the verdict? Will not the record, when earnestly and judicially examined, vindicate them?

Time alone can answer these questions. Meanwhile, it is certain that the great majority of the people of Chicago, including lawyers and judges and other men of influence, are disposed to give the defendants further opportunity to present their case and establish the truth of their denials and disclaimers. The community has not been intolerant, or vindictive, or impatient. The local atmosphere was wholly favorable to an absolutely fair trial of the case.

It is in every way to be hoped that a rehearing of the case on appeal, if such rehearing is had, will be neither delayed nor impeded. If the I. W. W. lacks funds, the Government, which has won so great a victory in the first instance, might well disarm all criticism by permitting the persons who wish to do so to contribute freely to a fund for its benefit. In any event, it is a happy augury that a controversy involving so much popular feeling should thus far have been dealt with by the Federal Court in so impartial and judicial a manner, and that those who have been condemned have all along admitted the fairness of the procedure. The spectacle of a great state trial of this sort is a reminder that the courts are still open and that justice may be had.

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