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The Purple Prose of the I.W.W.


I’ve read a lot of writing by members of the Industrial Workers of the World. Propaganda, songs, pamphlets, newspapers, posters, etc. The I.W.W. may have been completely ineffective at actual unionism, but it sure could articulate the disgust many working-class people had toward capitalism in the early 20th century.

Still, I’ve never quite seen an article like one the I.W.W. newspaper Industrial Worker published on July 3, 1913. Entitled “Cossacks Rule in Oregon City,” the writing just drips with outrage. I just had to present you all with an excerpt. If anyone wants to see the whole thing, e-mail me and I’ll send the PDF. It’s classic.

Reports of a strike, plus numerous arrests of I.W.W. agitators took us to Oregon City. We arrived at 5:35 p.m. By accident (of course) a scatter-brained, scarecrow-faced deputy sheriff accompanied us from Portland. We got off about a quarter of a mile from the business section of the town. On almost every street corner, in front of saloons, cigar stands, etc., stood excited groups of Rubes, Ninnies, and Boobs. They were loudly proclaiming against I.W.W. and Socialist agitators. Their assinine, bovine, and swinelike dials gave credence to their utterances of contentment and satisfaction. No sow, cow, or ass, with its belly full of oats, grass, or swill ever looked less intelligent, or more self-satisfied than this aggregation of boss-loving, belly-crawling scissorbills. The air of Oregon City stank with the abominable odor from the decaying and rotting sheep hides in the basement of the woolen mill. It reeked of vile fumes from the pulp mills. But the most abhorrent of Oregon City’s many and varied stinks, was the stinking free booze breaths oozing from the putrid mouths of those offscourgings from the sewage of the hell, the militia, deputy sheriffs and the hired sluggers of the mill owners. The most human looking face among this horde would do service for a butcher’s block. A trinity of stenches are here enumerated. Portland has likewise a trio of stenches. They are the Morning Miasma alias the Oregonian, the Evening Cesspool alias the Telegram, and the Afternoon Sewer alias the Journal. This smellsome set of trinities have almost a sextette affinity. If the Pittock, Leadbetter, and other such interests behind the Reptile Rags do not control the officials of Oregon City, then it is a mistake. An answer as to “who owns the paper and pulp mills of Oregon City?” might not please the Pittocks, Leadbetters and other such Sassiety Scum. Neither would the TRUTH about the ownership at Camas, Washington please these gentry, eh? The kept jades of Portland’s infamous trio of Reptile Rags were as venomous in their attacks on the girl strikers of Camas as on the Oregon City strikers. The reason in both cases being the same. The despicable Iditorials were goaded into life by the same interests, namely Pittock, Leadbetter, and the ilk.

The air of Oregon City was charged with an atmosphere of “there’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.” The stammerings, stutterings, and splutterings of gun, star and billy bedecked, blood-soaked savages, militia, deputy sheriffs, stew bum gun men were easily understood. These mis-carriages of nature were prepared at a moment’s notice to slaughter every union man or woman in town.

Well, it goes on from there.

To say the least, we don’t exactly write about class and labor this way anymore.

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