Fascinating report on the lost world of French-speaking working class radicalism in the U.S. as the I.W.W. ‘French Branches’ meet in in Lawrence, Massachusetts for their second annual convention in May, 1908.
‘Convention of French Speaking I.W.W. Workers’ by Fred Miller from Industrial Union Bulletin. Vol. 2 No. 16. June 13, 1908.
The second annual convention of French Branches I.W.W., held in Lawrence, Mass., May 30-31, was a success from every point of view. These conventions were held for the purpose of keeping the French branches in touch with each other, and to promote the systematic propaganda of Industrial unionism among the French speaking workers. At the first convention, held in Woonsocket, R.I. last year, three branches were represented. Providence, Woonsocket, Lawrence. The steady increase in number of French branches and of their membership is due to the untiring efforts of men like Fellow Worker Louis Clacys, of Woonsocket; Paul Wandoone, formerly of Lawrence, now in New Bedford; Eugene Capeau, of Providence; Louis Picaret and Angusto Detollennere, of Lawrence, and a score more of militants, whoso steady work is bound to bring permanent results. There was a reception committee of about n hundred members of the local at Lawrence at the station as the in o’clock train from Boston pulled in, the delegates from New Bedford, Providence. Woonsockef and Philadelphia coming in together. From the depot they all marched to the Franco-Belgian Hall, where the French branch has its headquarters. A regular French punch was served to the delegates and friends present. After the singing of revolutionary songs and welcome speeches from the local men, the delegates decided to postpone the opening of the convention till the afternoon, ns it was learned that the delegates from Lowell could not arrive till late in the afternoon, as their capitalist masters played one of their peculiar tricks, that can he classed among the ways that are dark and vain. The mill’s in which the “delegates” worked were running Saturday morning, “a holiday,” although short time and curtailment of production has been the rule for. the last six months, the same being true in Lawrence, as we could hear the looms rattling, when we walked past the big Wood mill, the largest worsted mill in the world, while we were told at the same time that the mill was only working half capacity, over half the looms being stopped.
Convention opened at 3 p. m. Delegates present. Philadelphia. 1; New Bedford. 2; Woonsocket. 1; Providence, 3; Lowell, 2: Lawrence. 7.
Fellow Worker Detollennere was elected Chairman, and L. Picaret. Secretary; Lambert, Assistant Secretary. The creation of an “Information Bureau” as to working conditions, etc., in the different localities was the first subject to be discussed, and a motion carried that all the French branches exchange reports monthly to put the idea into practice, and that this matter should be brought to the notice of the National Convention by the delegates from this section. Reduction of hours of labor, and the working overtime of women, and child labor were then discussed, and a resolution was adopted that all unionists do all in their power to enlist the women in this light. Delegate Lambert, of Now Bedford, gave some details of the intense exploitation in the cotton mills of that city. At 7 p.m. the convention adjourned till Sunday, 9 a.m. Following the adjournment of the convention a concert was given by members of the union and some local talent, the program consisting mainly of revolutionary recitations and songs. At the singing of the Marseillaise a man near me remarked that it was a good patriotic song, but it was not a revolutionary song. The next one the famous Internationale, evidently filled the bill in that respect; a feature of the singing being the chorus of the songs by the entire assembly, men, women and children, a good deal of enthusiasm being displayed. This reminded me forcibly of some points made by Fellow Worker James Wilson, of Spokane, in the Bulletin of May 16. These revolutionary songs are a tremendous factor for working class solidarity in the French movement. If there is a composer or poet-musician among the readers of the Bulletin would be glad to furnish the “Internationale” (music and translation of words). It is sung all over Europe today. At 8 o’clock the ball started and it was after midnight when the orchestra struck up the “Internationale” again for the good night waltz. The proceeds of the ball went to pay the mileage of the delegates. After all the expenses were deducted there still remained some seventy odd dollars, $50 of which were set aside as a strike fund to be sent to the first I.W.W. French local getting into a strike; the balance was donated to a fellow worker in Lawrence who was sick and in want.
The convention reconvened bright and early Sunday morning, with a very interesting discussion of the educational program of the unions. A motion was carried that the convention recommend that the different locals should start libraries and subscribe to the best papers of the labor movement A plan was also suggested by which a systematic exchange of bonks, reviews, etc. could be carried on. The solidarity, or rather the lack of it, displayed by the workers in this country was the subject of a good deal of discussion. The convention went on record as favoring a special assessment of all the French branches represented, with a minimum of five cents per week per member, whenever one of the French branches become involved in a strike. The systematic agitation and propaganda of Industrial Unionism among French speaking workers was productive of a good deal of discussion. The consensus of opinion prevailed that a French speaking organizer would do a great deal of good provided he could speak two or more languages. The question of creating a French paper for propaganda purposes brought out some of the experiences of some of the delegates in this line abroad, the idea of having the Bulletin translated being favored as the best, and a committee appointed to correspond with Headquarters to get a line on the cost, or the number of readers it would require to cover the cost of this plan. Providence was selected as the place of next convention, to he called Thursday, April 29, 1909, in Textile Hall, headquarters of Local No. 530, the date being set so as to enable the delegates to attend the convention of the National Industrial Union of Textile Workers, which will open Saturday morning, May 1, 1909, in the same hall. A strong resolution was adopted protesting against the attempts to throttle the freedom of the press, reference being made to the Czarlike action of President Roosevelt in ordering the suppression of the “Questione Sociale,” published in Paterson, N.J.
A resolution extending fraternal greetings to our comrades engaged in the struggle was ordered sent to the “Voix du Peuple,” Paris. France, official organ of the “Confederation Generate du Travail,” and also to “Le Union des Travailleurs.” Charleroi, Penn. The keynote of the whole convention was work; and hopefulness for the future, no time being wasted in useless rag-chewing, although at least half of the delegates were men who could be considered good speakers anywhere. This experience coming after the Paterson Textile Workers’ Convention, comes near convincing me of the truth of a couple of pet sayings of one of our fellow workers, “The working class is today able to deal with any problem that may confront it, and solve it” and another one. “The working class can be organized at any time that the so-called leaders are willing.” With the expressed sentiment that our next convention would have representations from at least double the number of French branches how in existence, the convention adjourned at 3:30. p.m.
The Industrial Union Bulletin, and the Industrial Worker were newspapers published by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) from 1907 until 1913. First printed in Joliet, Illinois, IUB incorporated The Voice of Labor, the newspaper of the American Labor Union which had joined the IWW, and another IWW affiliate, International Metal Worker.The Trautmann-DeLeon faction issued its weekly from March 1907. Soon after, De Leon would be expelled and Trautmann would continue IUB until March 1909. It was edited by A. S. Edwards. 1909, production moved to Spokane, Washington and became The Industrial Worker, “the voice of revolutionary industrial unionism.”
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/industrialworker/iub/v2n16-jun-13-1908-iub.pdf