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

By Philip S. Foner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The I.W.W., 1905-1907

REACTION TO FORMATION OF I.W.W.

The launching of the new industrial union aroused a mixed reaction in trade union and Socialist circles. Gompers, his earlier apprehensions relieved by reports from A.F. of L. observers at the Chicago convention, could not restrain his joy. He promptly informed the Executive Council of the "absolute failure of the Chicago gathering to cause even a ripple upon the minds of our fellow trade unionists." He had learned that "even those who were enthusiastic for the movement are all at sea as to what they shall do, and have lost heart." In a circular to the labor movement, Gompers tried to cover the "august gathering" with ridicule. "The mountain labored and brought forth a mouse, and a very silly little mouse at that." He characterized the I.W.W. plan of organization as "fantastic," and prophesied that "the future...will record the Chicago meeting as the most vapid and ridiculous in the annals of those who presume to speak in the name of labor, and the participants in the gathering as the most stupendous impossibilists the world has yet seen."1

The only thing that seemed to worry Gompers was that all Right- wing and most Center elements in the Socialist Party echoed the charges of the A.F. of L. leaders against the I.W.W. For these attacks on the new industrial union were coupled with appeals to the Socialist rank and file not to antagonize the A.F. of L. by supporting "a dual union movement," but to bore steadily within the Federation and transform the A.F. of L. members into Socialists. "There is one result, however, of the [ Chicago ] gathering," Gompers wrote to John B. Lennon, "which I feel we will ave to meet, and that is that the Socialists will more thoroughly concentrate their efforts in the Federation of Labor to try to capture it."2

Actually, precisely the opposite happened, for one of the main results of the launching of the I.W.W. was that the conservative leaders of the A.F. of L. gained a tighter control over the affairs of the Federation. A number of Socialists who had been combatting the Gompers' leadership

-60-

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