1919 November 14

Nebraska Governor Orders Arrest of All I.W.W. Members


On the basis of a document stating that the IWW, a radical labor union, was sending “strong men” to several Nebraska cities, Nebraska Governor Samuel McKelvie on this day ordered law enforcement officers in the state to arrest all members of the union. Under the governor’s order, all members of the group were to be arrested solely because of their membership and not because of any specific illegal acts.

The IWW (for Industrial Workers of the World) was the most radical labor union in the country prior to World War I, and had been subject to severe repression by the federal government and private vigilantes after the U.S. entered the war (see July 12, 1917). The attacks on the IWW continued into the post-war Red Scare period (1919–1920), as the Nebraska incident demonstrated. The IWW never recovered from the repression of the war years and the Red Scare.

Prior to the World War I, the I.W.W. had been involved in a number of highly publicized free speech fights (see below), and had been defended in some of them by the Free Speech League, the predecessor to the ACLU.

Learn more: Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World, 2nd ed. (1988)

Watch a documentary on the IWW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6os8BRJxvI4

Learn more about the free speech fights of the I.W.W.: Matthew S. May, Soapbox Rebellion: The Hobo Orator and the Free Speech Fights of the Industrial Workers of the World, 1909-1916 (2013)

Learn more about the I.W.W. today: http://www.iww.org/

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