Labor History in 2:00

November 15 - The IWW is Raided

November 15, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1919. 

That was the day that federal agents stormed the offices of the Industrial Workers of the World in New York City, looking for evidence connecting the organization to radical Communists or Anarchists.

The ransacked office was part of the infamous “Palmer Raids,” when Attorney General Alexander Palmer responded to the growing Red Scare hysteria by raiding the offices of leftist organizations and arresting thousands. 

Hundreds of immigrants to the United States were deported during the raids without legal due process.

The 1917 Russian Revolution had stoked fears about a spreading communist threat.

Newspaper headlines helped to drum up public panic. 

A week before the IWW raid, a headline on the front page of the Evening World, published in New York City declared, “Reds in U.S. Plotted Revolution; Deportation for All Radicals.”

The day after the IWW raid, a Washington Post headline read “Law to Crush Reds.”

Writing in 1920, Attorney General Palmer warned “The chief appeal communism makes is to “The Worker.”  If they can lure the wage-earner to join their own gang of thieves, if they can show him that he will be rich if he steals, so far they have succeeded in betraying him to their own criminal course.” 

Palmer went on to describe how Communists had “stirred discontent,” “caused irritating strikes,” and “infected our social ideas with the disease of their own minds and their unclean morals.” 

Palmers’ references to workers and irritating strikes demonstrate that he perceived the labor movement as part of the communist threat. 

Anti-Communist hysteria took its toll on the most radical elements of the U.S. labor movement, especially the IWW.

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