From ContraCostaTimes.com, Joe Blackstock, Staff Writer, 30 May 2011.
[CA]–There were no more sinister initials to an Inland Valley rancher than IWW.
Just a hint of the presence of the IWW – Industrial Workers of the World – in the neighborhood was enough to make employers quake in their boots.
A strong, socialist-leaning union, sometimes nicknamed the Wobblies, the IWW helped foment strikes throughout the nation especially during and immediately after World War I.
Some believed the IWW was associated with the Bolsheviks and the Soviet revolution in Russia, though that link was very tenuous, if at all. Nonetheless, most local newspaper articles did not hesitate to refer to its leaders as Bolsheviks or Russians.
The union did make some gains nationally, especially since it welcomed minority and foreign workers that many mainstream unions did not.
In 1919, the agricultural Inland Valley was right in the sights of IWW organizers hoping to bring the area’s farm workers – mostly Mexicans, Japanese, Chinese and Asian Indians – into their fold.
As it turned out, the IWW never made much impact here as the combined might of ranchers and businessmen backed by the strong arm of police suppressed the union at every turn.
Police routinely arrested organizers for relatively minor infractions. Some were threatened with deportation.
Two “Mexican agitators” were arrested and sent to county jail in San Bernardino for spreading “discord among the men residing in Chino,” wrote the Ontario Daily Report of Feb. 10, 1919.
“Constable Tebo promptly arrested the two Mexicans when he found them passing out strike literature.”
A few days later, Francisco Zamora, an IWW worker and native of Mexico, was arrested while encouraging a strike among Mexican workers in the groves of Pomona and Covina.
“Zamora was arrested by deputy sheriffs only after they had drawn guns and threatened to shoot their opponents, numbering more than 40,” reported the newspaper on Feb. 26. One deputy “had his wrist broken when friends of the prisoner attempted to take him from the officer.”
Deportation proceedings were begun against Zamora and fellow organizer Manuel Sastre. Zamora, however, was released on bail in May and immediately returned to the fields to continue his organizing.
William Goldberg, described as one of the “Russian I.W.W. trouble makers,” was convicted on Feb. 13 of disturbing the peace in Covina and jailed for 30 days.
Meanwhile, some workers did follow IWW leadership and refused to work. The issue championed by the union was over wages.
The IWW encouraged Mexican and Japanese workers in the orchards to demand a straight $4 a day wage, rather than the existing daily wage of $3, plus one cent a box of picked fruit.
There’s no evidence that any concessions were won. Some Mexican workers told ranchers they feared coming to work because of threats of violence against them by IWW supporters.
After a few days off work, most of the Mexican workers – given assurance of their safety – returned to the groves. High school boys in Ontario also volunteered to help in the orchards.
In desperation, a group of orange growers approached the U.S. Attorney’s Office and asked that strikers be deported to Mexico.
Their plea was turned down, according to the Daily Report, because “they would get back into the United States about as quickly as the officers (who) escorted them to the line.”
In early July, downtown Pomona was littered early one morning with fliers urging people to join the union: “Up and at them, workers! The time is ripe to get your just dues! Down with the capitalists and slave drivers who work in with the A.F. of L. Join the one big union, the I.W.W., and do away with your work enemies.”
At the bottom in big letters: “BE A RED.”
Passion locally against the IWW reached a zenith in November when newspapers reported that during an Armistice Day parade in Centralia, Wash., a group of war veterans was suddenly ambushed by gunfire from the IWW. Several veterans were killed, including Dale Hubbard, whose wife’s sister lived in Ontario and who had just visited the city on his honeymoon the month before.
As it turned out, the details of the attack were rather distorted by news accounts. It was the veterans who had initiated the battle by breaking into IWW headquarters, with unionists then firing on them.
Nonetheless, veterans groups locally were up in arms, demanding justice in the form of resolutions condemning the killings.
The IWW, which at one time had as many as 100,000 members, declined as a major force in labor by the mid-1920s. It still exists today, with headquarters in Cincinnati.