‘Recollections of Socialist Beginnings in Montana’ by M.P. Haggerty, Western Federation of Miners from The International Socialist Review. Vol. 12 No. 2. August, 1911.

Bill Haywood (standing seventh from left, turned to the side as always) working at the Trade Dollar Mine in Silver City, Idaho in the 1890s.

Michael P. Haggerty, veteran of the Western Federation of Miners and founding member of the I.W.W. with a valuable looks back at how the W.F.M. brought the Good News of Socialism to Montana around the turn of the last century.

‘Recollections of Socialist Beginnings in Montana’ by M.P. Haggerty, Western Federation of Miners from The International Socialist Review. Vol. 12 No. 2. August, 1911.

By An Old Member of the Butte Mill & Smeltermen’s Union, No. 74, W.F.M.

The progress of the revolutionary labor movement in Montana, an incident of which is the victory of the Socialist party in Butte, brings to mind recollections of work done in that state years ago. If the workers elsewhere surmise that the labor movement in Montana, which is the most effective and progressive in the land, grew out of the soil without careful nurture, they are mistaken. Agreed, the soil was rich with the elements demanded for revolutionary growth, but intelligent cultivation was now wanted. About twelve years ago, a group of revolutionists in Butte, most of whom were members of the Mill & Smeltermen’s Union, set themselves to the task. A brief retrospect may be interesting to the readers of the INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST REVIEW.

It should be understood that the character of the work in which the men were engaged required strong, vigorous manhood. Our union was composed of the best working class elements of anywhere in the world. Even the agricultural portions of the United States could not furnish men bolder nor of more independent mind. These men had been brought together by reason of great provocation. The smelters were operated twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. Men worked thirteen hours on the night shift and eleven hours on the day shift. The work was very arduous. Strong as were the men, they could not endure labor throughout the year. Great numbers of them sickened and died.

Butte’s smelting mills.

The growth of the Western Federation of Miners, that classic example of what an industrial union can accomplish, is too well known to need describing here. It is our opinion that its temporary annexation by the A. F. of L. will not ruin the organization. Its principles of organization are too sound, and its membership far too intelligent, to permit disruption by craft unionism. I am sure that it will soon be found again in the van of the American labor movement.

It was Local No. 74 which made it possible to organize the old labor party in the state of Montana. The purpose of that organization was to secure the enaction of a law making eight hours the legal working day for all men engaged in and about the mines, mills and smelters. Such a law was enacted by the legislature in January, 1901. It is now a part of the State Constitution, having been made such by popular referendum.

It cannot be denied that good came from the labor party movement of 1900. It helped give to the state the best labor conditions in America. The moral effect of the law is certainly greater than any direct results. Those who did not receive the benefit of the Act demanded that their hours of labor be shortened so it had nearly the same ultimate effect as though enforced throughout the state. The only objection which can be made to the labor party is that some workers are likely to be satisfied, now that they have secured the eight-hour day. These fears are not based upon facts. Reports coming from Montana surely prove that the workers are not satisfied. They are proceeding from victory to victory. More power to their industrial and political organizations. But the labor party eleven years ago was justified both by its causes and its results.

Butte smelters.

The record shows that our union was organized in November, 1896. From the beginning the members assiduously applied themselves to the work of education. What we understood by education is seen upon reading Art. 6, Sec. 3 of the By-laws of the Union:

“Five per cent of the revenue of this Union shall be placed in an educational fund. This fund shall be placed in the hands of a Press Committee at the end of each month. This committee shall purchase such literature and secure such educational speakers as they may deem advisable and report to the Union with an itemized account of the expenses incurred to secure same, the money received and the amount on hand, whenever so requested by the Union.”

At the convention of the Montana Trade and Labor Council held at the City of Helena, Sept. 21-3, 1899, No. 74 had a resolution introduced asking that body to formulate a plan for the carrying on of active propaganda work among members of the Union, as well as the unorganized workers throughout the state. The convention adopted the resolution and elected a committee to carry out its provision. Ten per cent of the income of the organization was to be applied to the work. The committee was further authorized to solicit contributions to the educational fund. During the first year $400 were expended and 16,000 pieces of literature were distributed. Local No. 74 took special interest in the work. It created an Educational Committee of the Local to work in Butte and vicinity. At first it set aside three per cent of the funds of the Union and later five per cent for this purpose. This gave us a fund of about $1,800 per year. No. 74 still continues to distribute from 500 to 600 pieces of reading matter per week. The Committee sends much literature to mining camps and logging camps throughout the’ state.

WFM members.

At the seventh annual convention of the Western Federation of Miners, held at Denver, May, 1900, Delegate W. W. Whiteley introduced a resolution pledging the Federation to make an effort to unify the labor movement of America. At the time this was not fully endorsed by a majority of the delegates and so failed to pass. But Time, the great unfolder of all things, has thrown some light on what Comrade Whiteley had in mind. Ina few words, Comrade Whiteley’s resolution sought to bring about in the labor world one union of all the workers. It may be hoped that this purpose may some lay be realized. Such a movement is needed not only on national lines, but international as well. It must be organized along the lines upon which the capitalist class is organized.

At the same convention of the W.F. of M., there were introduced two other resolutions of great interest. One was that the W.F. of M. take up the work of distributing literature over the whole territory covered by the Federation. This work was to be supported by setting aside a per cent of the income of the W.F. of M. The other resolution purposed to call the attention of the delegates and of the membership of the W.F. of M. to the advisability of establishing a college where- in the sons and daughters of the miners could be educated so as to be able to instruct the members of their own class. The Rand School of Social Science, located in New York City, is the best illustration of what can be thus accomplished by the working class. The workers should found, in various parts of the country, institutions similar to the one referred to, where sound knowledge upon the social movement might be imparted.

The old form of labor organization is passing away. With it goes the old organizer with his obsolete methods. “Get together” was his rallying cry. But his organization lacked the cement of intelligence which is necessary to make the parts adhere.

Our plans were to have a State Educational Conference composed of delegates from the local unions throughout the state. This conference was to confine itself wholly to educational work. Each union was to have a separate educational committee to select such reading matter and speakers as might be desired by the Local. There were, also, to be county organizations. Finally, the state organizations were to be united in a great National Educational Bureau.

Long experience in the labor movement has made me cognizant of the fact that we must specialize the work. There are organizers who are gifted with peculiar ability to assemble the workers and perfect an organization. But the best organizer I have ever met cannot instruct the workers in the profound matters which need understanding before the movement will yield its largest results.

Of course, not all cities in America are like Butte. That great mining town contains ten thousand men connected with the mining industry. The workers come and go, hence it is an excellent place to propagate industrial unionism and Socialism. Through the smeltermen going from Butte and Anaconda the seeds of revolutionary working class Socialism have been carried as upon the four winds of the heavens. They have established in remote mining camps and logging camps movements such as they have left behind them in Butte and Anaconda.

A word must be said concerning the Laborers’ Union and the Miners’ Union at Butte. Their work on the educational field has been similar to that of No. 74. The former local has long been active in this way. The latter has more lately come to its period of sound development. Miners’ Union No. 1. of Butte, has a larger membership than any other local union in the country. It is in a position to accomplish much good for the working class.

Butte miners.

One man deserves to be remembered particularly in connection with this movement of ten and fifteen years ago. The name of the late Martin Elliott is the one that will be remembered longest and with deepest gratitude by the workers of Montana. He was in the great A.R.U. strike with Eugene Debs in 1894. Coming to Montana he took up the work of circulating literature. This was a hazardous and disagreeable task at that time. But Martin Elliott was a true revolutionist. Woodstock jail had no terrors for him. He was the pioneer in the educational work which has been described.

Reflection upon our early labors in Montana and the thought that it was not in vain recalls to mind a line from “Onward,” by Florence Glendenning:

“From the peaks of lofty mountains,
Where sets the western sun,
Come a unison of voices
In praise of work well done.”

The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v12n02-aug-1911-ISR-gog-Corn-GR.pdf

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