IWW on trial in Chicago draws attention

Members of the IWW on trial in Chicago in April, 1918, lost no opportunity to garner attention to themselves and their cause.

After a raid on offices of the Industrial Workers of the World, a trial was begun before federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis in Chicago.

To get to the courthouse from the jail, they had to walk a mile down Clark Street. That walk, reported the New York Tribune on April 4, “is becoming more and more hazardous.” More than 120 members of the union were on trial in the early days of the case. There was a deputy U.S. marshal for every two of them and each couple was handcuffed.

They walked in “squadrons” of 10 prisoners each, the paper reported. Some of the groups had come up with money to charter cars for the trips, but the paper said it was unlikely that would continue.

Nevertheless, the Tribune said, the government might have to provide transport for them “in order to keep the peace.” The prior day, it said, a streetcar motorman “cheerfully tried to bump his car into the last handcuffed couple of one of the squads and grinned in reply to the curses that greeted him.”

The Wobblies would sing as they walked to court, with their favorite song being “Hallelujah! I’m a Bum.” (See the illustrations for words and music, taken from the organization’s “Little Red Songbook,” whose stated purpose was “to fan the flames of discontent.)

The singing identified the men to passing crowds, and thus “any number of arguments were started, in which the prisoners proved themselves masters of repartee, not all of which is by any means printable.”

(These sidelights help tell a more complete story of the fight between the government, at all levels, and the IWW during the years around World War I.)

Words to "I'm a Bum"


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