New book about Frank Little, a fine labor history
Frank Little's Grave | "Frank Little and the IWW" Facebook page

A giant hole in American labor history has been filled. By Jane Little Botkin in her new title, Frank Little and the IWW: The Blood That Stained an American Family.

Frank Little’s great-grandniece has explained every known detail of the great union organizer’s life. A hundred and twenty-five pages of careful research testify to her ability as a historian of the first rank. She also reveals family records hidden for a century. She has written not only the best biography of Frank Little possible, but she also put the events of his life and times in context so that a reader can, from this one book, draw the important lessons of the missing chapters—1905-1919—of American history.

Why Frank Little and his times matter

Frank Little was a top organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World—the IWW, the Wobblies, the One Big Union or OBU. At the time he was lynched, one hundred years ago on August 1, he was Chairman of the IWW General Executive Board. Not all details are known, but his legacy probably includes:

  1. Implementation of passive resistance tactics decades before Gandhi or Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  2. Organizing itinerant farm workers decades before Cesar Chavez
  3. Industrial organizing—as opposed to craft organizing—decades before the CIO
  4. Champion of the argument that workers should stay out of World War I.

If Frank Little had survived his 39th year, and if his ideas had survived, civil rights would have been greatly advanced. Labor would have put aside all arguments against minorities and immigrants long ago. Itinerant farm workers would have been organized far earlier. Divisions in the ranks of organized labor would have melted away. Thousands of soldiers’ lives would have been saved and American workers would have had a far better understanding of capitalism, imperialism, and socialism than they do now or have ever had. This last point is based on Frank Little’s adamant opposition to World War I. He was one of the most outspoken labor leaders in the world on this point. Another was V. I. Lenin in Russia.

In our spare time, my wife and I have tried to collect what little we could find out about Frank Little. I posted it years ago at http://labordallas.org/hist/little.htm.

Botkin’s new book shows that I was wrong on several small details; but my only general mistake was to have underestimated the man and his importance.

Why didn’t we already know all this?

Within a month of Frank Little’s lynching at the hands of the copper bosses of Montana, the United States government launched the fiercest attack against the working class in our history. Free speech, one of Frank Little’s greatest causes, was trampled. Unionists were hunted down and deported or arrested and tortured. Heavy jail sentences were laid on many hundreds railroaded for having “conspired with Frank H. Little” to undermine war production.

Union halls were raided and all records were confiscated. History, especially any history associated with Frank Little, was wiped clean. Fear was so great that even Frank Little’s relatives dared not remember him. The fear silenced his story for almost 100 years, until now.

The author will speak in Butte, Montana, on July 31, at the book reading and signing hosted by the Butte-Silver Bow Archives, Butte Labor History Center, and Clark Mansion.

Jane Little Botkin
Frank Little and the IWW: The Blood That Stained an American Family
University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2017,

Hardcover $34.95, Kindle eBook $29.95


CONTRIBUTOR

Gene Lantz
Gene Lantz

Gene Lantz is a long time activist and trade unionist who writes from Dallas, Texas.

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