Oct. 20, 1909: Flynn and Jones Recount Free Speech Fight


The I.W.W. in Missoula, Mont., has practically won its fight for free speech, as we are now speaking on the streets without being molested. We didn’t appeal to justice, but the taxpayers felt the pressure on their pocketbooks and capitulated. About 40 members have seen the inside of the Missoula jails during the last two weeks, giving this town a forcible example of the motto, “An injury to one, is an injury to all.” Eight men served time; two women, Mrs. Frenette and myself, have each inhabited a cell in the county jail over night; the rest of the boys are all “enthusiastic defenders” of the city jail. At first the police were very full of fight, “blue moldin’ for a batin’,” and every man was arrested and tried to who attempted to speak. But when the night and day force had to get out night after night and the number of arrests increased by leaps and bounds, they began to lose interest in the fun. The last night there were 30 men in jail and the next night we had a list of 60 volunteers, when the police lay down and let our speakers continue. The 30 arrested demanded a jury trial each, and the judge said to me, “A little town like Missoula can not stand the expense.” The mayor got out of town to let the acting mayor settle the thing for the taxpayers, who have a steel bridge and a new court house a-building, and they began to howl about the expense. One breakfast for the I.W.W. boys alone cost the city $6.

The populace were very much in sympathy with the I.W.W. Our membership is growing steadily in spite of the A.F. of L. carpenters ordering their membership not to attend the I.W.W. meetings. One little newsboy stopped me on the street and gave me half a dozen papers “for the boys.” When we found that eating in restaurants was too expensive for the boys we put up Knust’s tent, appointed a cook and steward, and started co-operative “Mulligan” stews. Bread was given freely by some socialist bakers, and even though the city government refused to feed its visitors we could have held out for a year, feeding them ourselves.

The chief of police himself arrested me on the charge of causing trouble, inciting riot, etc. I was taken to the county jail and given an individual cell, designed for witnesses, I understand. It had a pile of old papers in one corner, an old slop-pail in another, some dirty food left from several days before, and during the time I was there, from 8 o’clock Sunday until 5 o’clock Monday, the jailer kept promising to clean it out, but the cleaning never materialized. The bonds for all the others were placed at $10 each, but bonds for me were placed at $50, so I must be quite a dangerous criminal.

When Mrs. Frenette was arrested there was an enormous crowd followed her to the jail, and while not riotous, were certainly indignant. She was arrested for speaking. I was arrested for standing on the street corner asking a man to come to the hall meeting of the I.W.W. The arrest of us two women aroused the town all right

 –Elizabeth G. Flynn

 (As Fellow Worker Flynn seems too worn out I’ll cut in here, as I as well was the other convicted criminals are free.)  

 Lecture by Sheriff.

Fellow Worker Little and I were arrested Tuesday, received a lecture from the sheriff Wednesday morning in regard to Fellow Worker Flynn bawling out Parsons, the Labor Day speaker (A. F. of Hell), whose political wings she clipped by her roast of the dope he had handed out, also a criticism of our line of stuff, and advised us to talk temperance. Wednesday evening I spoke for a few minutes and was pulled. Little got out the title of his lecture , “A Talk on Temperance,” when pinched. Appleby got out “Fellow workers”; Tucker, a forestry service C. E., told how people had fought and won this fight in Seattle and he intended to fight for it here. That settled him. Next day we were tried (?). We conducted our own cases. In the talk before sentence we told the court its relation to the working class without any polish, the result was 15 days, four arrested were turned loose and came back in we held an educational meeting in jail, the result was me being thrown into the cage, the sheriff following me in and beating me up. [sic-sentence confusing] The four arrested were turned loose and came back that evening. I was taken to the city jail., where I could get a chance to sing. In there it was a continual round of drunks for a couple of days until the boys crowded them for room. The hose was brought out, but the crowd looked ugly and they were afraid to make their bluff good. Thursday the boys refused to leave the jail and demanded trial. I was transferred back to the county jail, the doors of the city jail being left open. The boys sent out four speakers, who were not arrested; at night they were rearrested. Friday they insisted on being fed and tried. The cases came up yesterday and were dismissed.

A committee from the policing organization of the capitalist class waited on the ex-committee with two or three propositions at different times, which were turned down, and they were notified that our terms were “unconditional surrender and the release of all prisoners.”

 We were all turned loose at 4 o’clock today. Some of us had two days to serve, and four had seven days.

             I am a dog that gnaws a bone,

            I crouch and gnaw it all alone.

            The time will come—it comes not yet—

            When I’ll bite those by whom I’m bit.

 –J. A. Jones

 –Industrial Worker, Oct. 20, 1909


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