William Dudley Haywood

American labor leader and one of his era's most notorious radicals, William Dudley Haywood (1869-1928) led the Industrial Workers of the World during that union's heyday.

William Haywood was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, into a working-class family. His father died when Haywood was 3 years old. After a few years of school he took his first job as a miner in Nevada about 1884. He married, then floated from job to job, working as cowboy and construction worker but mostly as a miner.

In 1896, working in Silver City, Idaho, Haywood became a charter member of the local Western Federation of Miners (WFM). Demonically energetic, he held every office in the local union and was largely responsible for its success, helping administer its hospital and maintaining virtually unanimous organization of the miners. Also active in the WFM's central office, in 1899 Haywood was elected to its executive board. In 1900, elected secretary-treasurer, he left the mines for good.

"Big Bill" Haywood spoke for the militant, radical wing of the WFM and led the union's strikes between 1903 and 1905. In 1906 he was indicted for the murder of a former Idaho governor and, after being legally kidnaped from Denver, was acquitted in an internationally noted trial. Although eased out of the WFM after the trial, he had gathered a large personal following because of the publicity.

Haywood had joined the Socialist party in 1901 and was its candidate for governor of Colorado in 1906. Between 1908 and 1912 he spent most of his time on speaking tours in the United States and abroad. In 1910 he attended the International Socialist Congress and in 1911 was elected to the Socialist party's executive committee.

By 1912 Haywood was devoting himself largely to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the "Wobblies," which he had helped found in 1905 as a revolutionary alternative to the American Federation of Labor. In 1914, after moderate Socialists removed him from his party post, Haywood became secretary-treasurer of the IWW.

Haywood traveled constantly, organizing for the IWW and leading the union's famous strikes at Lawrence, Mass. (1912), and Paterson, N.J. (1913). He impressed an administrative stability upon the erratic union so that by 1916 it seemed a permanent fixture on the American industrial scene. With World War I, however, the IWW was attacked by groups ranging from patriotic lynch mobs to the Federal government. Haywood and a hundred other "Wobbly" leaders were indicted under the Espionage Acts, and after a long (and subsequently discredited) trial Haywood was sentenced to 20 years in prison and a large fine.

In 1921, out on bail pending appeal, Haywood fled the country for the Soviet Union, where he was lionized for a short time. But he lapsed quickly into obscurity and lived forgotten on a small pension in Moscow until his death on May 17, 1928.

Further Reading on William Dudley Haywood

Haywood's autobiography, Bill Haywood's Book (1929), is reliable, if incomplete. The only full-length biography is Joseph R. Conlin, Big Bill Haywood and the Radical Union Movement (1969). Two good essays on Haywood are by Carl Hein in Harvey Goldberg, ed., American Radicals (1957), and by Melvyn Dubofsky in Alfred F. Young, ed., Dissent: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism (1968). On the IWW, Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall Be All (1969), provides a good narrative history, while Joseph R. Conlin, Bread and Roses Too (1970), focuses on specific problems of IWW history.

Additional Biography Sources

Bird, Stewart., The Wobblies: the U.S. vs. Wm. D. Haywood, et al.: a play, New York: Smyrna Press, 1980.