On this day in history: IWW members imprisoned for anti-war activism

On this day, March 23, 1918, 101 members of the radical labor union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) went on trial in Chicago for opposing World War I. They were charged with violating the Espionage Act and Selective Service Act for their anti-war activities, such as distributing literature which criticized war and encouraging people to resist the draft.

The jury found them all guilty, and the judge sentenced Big Bill Haywood and 14 others to 20 years in prison. 33 others were given ten years each, 34 received five year sentences, and 18 received two year sentences. They were also fined a total of $2,500,000.

The trial imprisoned almost all of the IWW’s most active organizers — including their national/regional organizers, Executive Board members, and newspaper editors, amongst others, and played a major role in the decline of the IWW over the following years.

Militiamen in Lawrence, Massachusetts use bayonets to hold back crowds of immigrant workers during the Great Textile Strike of 1912, which the IWW played a central role in organizing
(Photo: Militiamen in Lawrence, Massachusetts use bayonets to hold back crowds of immigrant workers during the Great Textile Strike of 1912, which the IWW played a central role in organizing)