‘The Story of Agricultural Workers Industrial Union No. 400’ by Mat Fox from One Big Union. Vol. 1 No. 7. September, 1919.

‘The Story of Agricultural Workers Industrial Union No. 400’ by Mat Fox from One Big Union. Vol. 1 No. 7. September, 1919.

WHEN the A.W.O. was first organized in the spring of 1915 we went over in fine shape. In spite of the fact that there was some who predicted dire failure and who were constantly raising the cry of “you can’t organize the harvest stiffs.” While it is true that these few crepe-hangers were proven bum prophets, there is no denying the facts that our task did appear to be almost a hopeless one, for the conditions in the harvest fields were indeed pitiful.

The long hours of hard work, the uncertainty of the job lasting any length of time, the poor food and the poorer pay together with the brutality of the small town marshall, hostile railroad shacks, the dangers from unscrupulous and merciless hi- jacks (hold-up men) all tended to weaken the stamina of the habitual harvest worker.

Nevertheless the job of organizing him was undertaken and none knew better the hard and difficult task it was to be than those that met at the first convention at Kansas City and those who first took out credentials in the new union of Agriculture Workers No. 400 at a time when the I.W.W. was almost financially and numerically bankrupt. It was under these most adverse conditions that the A.W.O. was launched.

No money in the treasury, the members almost penniless. But while there was a lack of finances there was an abundant supply of courage and a will to do or die possessed by those who tackled the job and said it could be done.

With pockets lined with supplies and literature we left Kansas City on every available freight train. Some going into the fruit belts of Missouri and Arkansas, others spread themselves over the state of Kansas and Oklahoma and everywhere they went, with every slave they met on the job in the jungles or on freight trains, they talked I.W.W. distributed their literature and pointed out the advantage of being organized into a real labor union. Day in and day out the topic of conversation was the I.W.W. and the new Agricultural Union No. 400.

One every hand stickers and leaflets calling on the harvest slaves to organize were prominently displayed, the delegates were everywhere; men who never before had heard of the I.W.W. and those who had heard of it were beginning to discuss the advisability of joining and a great many of them did so.

After spending their last few dollars for initiation fee and dues and after a most successful drive through Oklahoma and Kansas the delegates came right up into Nebraska and North and South Dakota and even into Canada while others went into Montana and Washington and also Idaho.

Everywhere they went the good work went on, the organization gathering tremendous momentum all the way. Along with the large increase of the membership the status of the harvest stiff was perceptibly improved.

Small town marshalls became a little more respectful in their bearing towards any groups of workers who carried the little red card and the 4000 boys once or twice. As for the hi-jacks and bullying and bo-ditching shack had a wonderful change of heart after coming in contact with the boot-leggers one or two examples of “Direct Action” from an organized bunch of harvest workers served to show them that the good old days at last for them was now over, and that there was a vast difference between a helpless and unorganized harvest stiff and an organized harvest worker. But best of all the farmer after one or two salutary examples of solidarity invariably gave in to the modest request of the organized workers, with the result that wages were raised, grub was improved and hours shortened. Those farmers that had full I.W.W. crews were highly satisfied, and many stated that from that time on they would hire none but I.W.W.

Everything went along well with the Agriculture workers for two years, and then the raids in the fall of 1917 upset the organization, and in the summer of 1918 the A.W.I.U. found itself with only about a score of delegates in the middle of June and the result was that we did not get one new member from the entire Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska harvests.

About one month later our delegates got started through the fields again and we did very well considering that many of our active members were drafted into the Army and many others were in class five and liable to be called away at any time; when everything that we were up against last season is considered we certainly did very well and all last winter the members were laying plans for a gigantic drive which would start in Oklahoma and be carried on up through the Dakotas in to Canada.

There was a convention held at Sioux City this Spring and it was broken up by the Sheriff and 300 Gunmen of that town but the membership present there decided that they would finish their meeting and they did so. Officers were elected on the streets where the meeting was concluded, and the boys started down through Oklahoma and Kansas and the financial report for the month of July which shows an increase of membership of over 1300 is a testimony to the work they did.

The harvest is now on in the Dakotas and the delegates writing in state that they are out for an increase of 10,000 new members for the month of August; everyone who can read and write is taking out credentials and every job in the Dakotas will have at least one delegate on it for the next three months.

MAT K. FOX, Sec’y-Treas.

One Big Union Monthly was a magazine published in Chicago by the General Executive Board of the Industrial Workers of the World from 1919 until 1938, with a break from February, 1921 until September, 1926 when Industrial Pioneer was produced. OBU was a large format, magazine publication with heavy use of images, cartoons and photos. OBU carried news, analysis, poetry, and art as well as I.W.W. local and national reports. OBU was also Mary E. Marcy’s writing platform after the suppression of International Socialist Review., she had joined the I.W.W. in 1918.

PDF of full issue: https://archive.org/download/sim_one-big-union-monthly_1919-09_1_7/sim_one-big-union-monthly_1919-09_1_7.pdf

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