History of the Labor Movement in the United States - Vol. 4

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
The Free-Speech Fights, 1912-1914

For several months after the Fresno victory, the I.W.W. in California had merely to threaten to use "Fresno tactics" to win the right of free speech. When Wobblies were arrested for speaking on the streets in San Jose and Marysville and arraigned before a police judge, they had only to threaten an I.W.W. invasion similar to the one that had taken place at Fresno. The defendants were quickly released, and the Wobblies held their street meetings unmolested.1

The same situation prevailed in Washington. In August 1911, the Tacoma commission announced that it planned to pass an ordinance forbidding speaking on the streets and that it was specifically aimed at the local members of the I.W.W. The Tacoma Times promptly warned the commission that if it went through with its plans, "there will be one delightful fight in this town.... It will cost the city a bunch of money to carry on such a fight -- and it will lose in the end. Spokane lost a lot of money trying to stop free speech. So did Fresno, Cal." The Tacoma press notified the city authorities that the I.W.W. "will be backed by the 13 Socialist unions in the city," and quoted A. C. Cole, secretary of the Tacoma I.W.W, as threatening to bring 10,000 men into the city. The city commission abandoned the plan to adopt the proposed ordinance.2

The influence of I.W.W. free-speech victories spilled over into Canada. In the summer of 1911, the police in Victoria, B.C., revoked the right of the Wobblies and Socialists to hold meetings on street corners anywhere in the city and assigned them a part of one street in an isolated section of the community. Charging discrimination against their organization and the Socialist Party because the Salvation Army was not so restricted, the Wobblies announced their determination to speak on the forbidden street corners. On Sunday evening, July 21, a group of Wobblies, accompanied by several Socialists, mounted the box on one of the forbidden street corners. The speakers were promptly arrested and hauled into court on the charge of obstructing traffic. The following Tuesday, J. S. Biscay, I.W.W. organizer, arrived in Victoria. In an interview with the prosecut

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