Since the AFL-CIO under present leadership seems just as conservative as the notoriously conservative AFL under Samuel Gompers, and since organized labor seems on the brink of irrelevance, with prevailing wage laws under attack in multiple states and Scott Walker as likely a nominee as any for the GOP, I thought it would be instructive to dip into an account of a real union radical, Big Bill Haywood. Joseph Conlin's book, weighing in at a little over 200 pages, is a delight. He covers all the main points with erudition and ease -- Haywood's beginning in the mining camps of Utah, Nevada and Idaho; his rise in the Western Federation of Miners; his presence at the creation of the Industrial Workers of the World; the Steunenberg murder trial which vaulted him to international acclaim; his involvement in the Socialist Party of America; the espionage show trials after the U.S. entered WWI; and his eventual skipping bail to Moscow where he became a trophy for the Bolsheviks. Along the way Professor Conlin provides a compact history of the Spokane free speech fights -- I didn't know Wobblies were tortured and murdered in jail in Spokane -- and how reformist leadership of the Socialist Party of America led to the organization's marginalization. Terrific book, very timely in today's corporate-dominated political environment.
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