Cartoon art

Item no. 28188
September 1916
Collection: Other

'Organizing the Harvest Hands' by Ralph Chaplin, Solidarity, September 30, 1916.

The IWW's thrust into agriculture could be said to have begun with the Wheatland strike of 1913, an event that focused national attention on the exploitation of migratory farm workers. E.B. Durst, California's largest employer of itinerant labor, had deliberately advertised for twice the number of workers than were necessary for the harvest season in an effort to attract a surplus army of labor and thereby depress wages. Workers who were fortunate enough to secure employment found that living accommodations were inadequate for even half their number. General overcrowding and the inadequacy of toilet facilities quickly led to the spread of disease.

On August 3rd, workers held a mass meeting in protest of these conditions. When the sheriff came to break up what had been a very peaceable meeting, a battle ensued in which two workers, the district attorney and a deputy sheriff were killed. Two Wobblies, Blackie Ford and Herman Suhr, were charged with inciting a riot which led to the bloodshed and convicted of second-degree murder. Having given two martyrs to the cause of labor, the IWW quickly gained popularity among the agricultural workers. New locals sprouted up all over California until 1915 when the IWW created the Agricultural Workers Organization. Only a year after its creation, the AWO was 20,000 strong, accounting for one third of the IWW's total membership.

The AWO was the first union to take up the task of organizing the harvest workers. In the grain belt of Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, harvest hands saw a rise in wages, a reduction in hours, and a steady improvement of working conditions. This cartoon celebrates that achievement, showing the AWO leading the harvest workers down the road of emancipation to industrial freedom. As always, the threat of sabotage is present, symbolized by the black cat and the sabots.

See this image in the Solidarity Forever: A Look at Wobbly Culture exhibit.

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