Joe Hill — labor organizer, musician, song writer, revolutionary — was executed in 1915 by the state of Utah for a crime that many believe he did not commit. Now there's proof.
July 5, 2011
Review, The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon, by William M. Adler
Review by Richard Myers
Big Bill Haywood used to call revolutionary industrial unionism, the organizing philosophy of the Industrial Workers of the World, “socialism with its working clothes on.” Writing for the International Socialist Review from his prison cell, Joe Hill offered an example of such hands-on belief. Hill had recently arrived in Utah from the docks of California where many of the jobs were temporary. Therefore it was “to the interest of the workers ‘to make the job last’ as long as possible,” Hill wrote in his article, “How to Make Work for the Unemployed.” Joe continued,
"The writer and three others got orders to load up five box cars with shingles. When we commenced the work we found, to our surprise, that every shingle bundle had been cut open. That is, the little strip of sheet iron that holds the shingles tightly together in a bundle, had been cut with a knife or a pair of shears, on every bundle in the pile—about three thousand bundles in all.
"When the boss came around we notified him about the accident and, after exhausting his supply of profanity, he ordered us to get the shingle press and re-bundle the whole batch. It took the four of us ten whole days to put that shingle pile into shape again. And our wages for that time, at the rate of 32c per hour, amounted to $134.00. By adding the loss on account of delay in shipment, the “holding money” for the five box cars, etc., we found that the company’s profit for that day had been reduced about $300.
"So there you are. In less than half an hour time somebody had created ten days’ work for four men who would have been otherwise unemployed, and at the same time cut a big chunk off the boss’s profit. No lives were lost, no property was destroyed, there were no law suits, nothing that would drain the resources of the organized workers. But there WERE results. That’s all."
Joe Hill didn’t mention how the “accident” occurred, nor who the “somebody” was that created all of this extra work. He simply observed that it was a practical means of redistributing capitalist profit among workers, and thereby recommended such circumstances to others. It is little wonder that capitalist interests in Utah saw merit in executing Hill when they had the opportunity.