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Frank Little (unionist)

Frank Little
Born 1879
Died August 1, 1917[1]
Butte, Montana
Nationality United States
Occupation Labor leader

Frank Little (1879-August 1, 1917) was an American labor leader who was lynched in Butte, Montana in 1917 for his union and anti-war activities. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1906, organizing miners, lumberjacks, and oil field workers. He was a member of the union's Executive Board at the time of his death.

Frank Little was born in 1879. Not much is known about his family background, but he told friends that he had "Indian blood" and his mother was part Native American. He was a union organizer with the Western Federation of Miners before becoming active with the Industrial Workers of the World in 1906. He took part in the free speech campaigns in Missoula, Fresno, and Spokane and was involved in organizing lumberjacks, metal miners and oil field workers into industrial unions. On one occasion, he was sentenced to 30 days in prison for reading the Declaration of Independence on a street corner. In 1910, Little successfully organized unskilled fruit workers in the San Joaquin Valley. By 1916, Little was a member of the IWW's General Executive Board.[1]

Little was a strong opponent of World War I. While General Secretary-Treasurer William Haywood and members of the General Executive Board shared Little's opinions about the war, there was disagreement about whether to proceed directly with anti-war agitation. When the US joined the war, in April 1917, Ralph Chaplin, the editor of the IWW's newspaper Solidarity, claimed that opposing the draft would destroy the IWW by visiting government repression upon the union the likes of which had not before been seen. Other Board members argued further that organized labor would not have the power to stop the war until more workers were organized, and the union should continue to focus on organizing workers at the point of production, even where it might incidentally impede the war effort. Little refused to back down on this issue and argued that: "...the IWW is opposed to all wars, and we must use all our power to prevent the workers from joining the army."  He later called soldiers serving in in Europe "Uncle Sam's scabs in uniform."[1]

In early July 1917, Little arrived in Butte, Montana, to help organize a copper miners union and lead a mineers' strike against the Anaconda Copper Company. In the early hours of August 1, 1917, six masked men broke into Little's hotel room.[1] He was beaten, tied by rope to a car, and dragged out of town, where he was lynched from a railroad trestle.[1] A note with the words "First and last warning" was pinned to his chest, along with the initials of other union leaders, and the numbers 3-7-77 (a vigilante code famously used by the vigilance committee of Virginia City, Montana).[1]

It was widely believed that Pinkerton agents were involved, but no serious attempt was made by the police to catch Little's murderers. His funeral procession was followed by thousands as he was laid to rest in Butte's Mountain View Cemetery.

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Related topics in the Connexions Subject Index

Alternatives  –  Left History  –  Libraries & Archives  –  Social Change  – 


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