A Tale of Two Workers: IWW Haywood and BP Hayward

A Tale of Two Workers: IWW Haywood and BP Hayward

Bill Haywood, not to be confused with Tony Hayward who oversaw the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, (including the loss of eleven workers when the oil rig exploded and set on fire), opened the 1905 Industrial Workers of the World Conference (IWW) with these words: “Fellow Workers, this is the Continental Congress of the Working Class. We are here to confederate the workers of this country into a working-class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the Working Class from the slave bondage of capitalism.” (1)

Haywood, who was born and raised in Utah and worked as a miner’s helper and Pony Express rider, understood very well the importance of Working Class emancipation. Not only did he learn the principles of industrial unionism and socialism from the Knights of Labor, but he lost his homestead when the federal government seized it. (2) As head of the Western Federation of Miners in Silver City, and later editor of the Miner’s Magazine, Haywood helped oversee labor camp schools, hospitals and stores that served workers. He also fought corporate bosses, their abusive practices, and hired security thugs. (3)

It was not long, though, for Haywood and the newly formed Industrial Workers of the World to be labeled and framed as militant socialists, specifically since they believed a revolutionary union, not another working-class political party, should be the vehicle for radical economic and political change. By organizing workers into one large union, the IWW and Haywood’s goal was to lead a massive general strike in which capitalism would be overthrown, leaving industry to be run in a more decentralized, democratic fashion. (4) It would finally be industry and industrialization for the people, by the people, and of the people.

Haywood’s goal was immediately aborted when in 1906, he was charged with the bombing murder of a former Idaho governor, who had ordered the breaking of strikes resulting in the deaths of several workers. Haywood was eventually acquitted, and as an organizer of the IWW helped lead several successful labor strikes for better pay and safer working conditions. (5) However, the captains of industry disapproved of Haywood’s “sabotage” rhetoric. For Haywood, “Sabotage meant to push back, pull out or break off the fangs of Capitalism.” (6) Both politicians and the government interpreted Haywood’s words as pro-militancy and pro-violence (7), and as a threat to the status quo.

During World War I – and even though Haywood did not agitate against the war or forbid IWW members to comply with the draft, but only spoke against U.S. entry – politicians, patriotic organizations, and monopolists attacked the union and Haywood of being disloyal and dangerous. (8) A series of government raids resulted in the indictment of Haywood, along with most of the IWW’ leadership. Even though there was a lack of evidence, under the Sedition Act, Haywood was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment and fined $20,000. (9) He later fled the U.S., while the IWW and many of its members were either broken or left in shambles.

BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward, on the other hand, is still employed, despite one of the worst labor and industrial disasters in the history of the United States. Even though some experts predict he might lose his job, including a $1.5 million salary and a $3 million bonus in stock options, Hayward will more than likely receive a lucrative severance package and a multi-million dollar pension. After endangering the lives of workers and the Gulf region by cutting costs and by not abiding to safety standards, not to mention the livelihood and health of hundreds of thousands of people living along the coast, one has to wonder who is really guilty of sabotage, and who is the really at fault for damaging the Working Class.

In other words, when workers attempt to improve the plight of the Working Class in the United States, it is called sabotage. When corporations and their executives do sabotage the Working Class in the United States, it is called an accident. Will this valuable lesson from a tale of two workers: IWW Haywood and BP Hayward, including Working Class emancipation, ever be learned and realized?

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(1) Gutman, Herbert and Stephen Brier. Who Built America?, Working People And The Nation’s Economy, Politics, Culture And Society From the Gilded Age To The Present, Volume II. New York, New York: Pantheon Books, 1992., p. 192.
(2) Buhle, Mari Jo, Paul Buhle and Dan Gerogakas. Encyclopedia Of The American Left. Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1992., p. 298.
(3) Ibid., p. 298.
(4) Gutman, Herbert and Stephen Brier. Who Built America?, Working People And The Nation’s Economy, Politics, Culture And Society From the Gilded Age To The Present, Volume II., p. 192.
(5) Ibid., p. 299.
(6) Ibid., p. 299.
(7) Ibid., p. 299.
(8) Ibid., p. 299.
(9) Ibid., p. 300.