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Vincent Saint John

John Simkin

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In 1897 Vincent Saint John moved to Telluride, Colorado. He was an active trade unionist and in 1900 became president of the Western Federation of Miners' Union Local 63. In 1901 Saint John led a successful strike when the miners gaining a standard minimum wage. As his friend James Cannon pointed out: "Despite his modesty of disposition, his freedom from personal ambition, and his lack of the arts of self-aggrandizement, his work spoke loudly and brought him widespread fame.

As a result of his growing reputation, the Mine Operators' Association hired Pinkerton detective, James McParland, in an attempt to frame the union leader. This ended in failure but he was shot in Goldfield, Nevada by a "conservative" in the Western Federation of Miners. The two bullets in his right wrist shattered the bone, crippling his hand.

In 1905 representatives of 43 groups who opposed the policies of American Federation of Labour, formed the radical labour organisation, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). At first its main leaders were Vincent Saint John, William Haywood, Daniel De Leon and Eugene V. Debs. Other important figures in the movement included Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Mary 'Mother' Jones, Lucy Parsons, Hubert Harrison, Carlo Tresca, Joseph Ettor, Arturo Giovannitti, James Cannon, William Z. Foster, Eugene Dennis, Joe Haaglund Hill, Tom Mooney, Floyd B. Olson, James Larkin, James Connolly, Frank Little and Ralph Chaplin.

In 1908 the Wobblies, as they became known, split into two factions. The group headed by Eugene V. Debs and Daniel De Leon advocated political action through the Socialist Party and the trade union movement, to attain its goals. The other faction led by Saint John and William Haywood, believed that general strikes, boycotts and even sabotage to achieve its objectives.

As James Cannon pointed out: "At the second convention of the IWW in 1906, St. John headed the revolutionary syndicalist group, which combined with the SLP elements to oust Sherman, a conservative, as president and establish a new administration in the organization with a revolutionary policy. He became the general organizer under the new administration, breaking with the WFM on the withdrawal of the latter body and giving his whole allegiance to the IWW." Vincent Saint John now became General Secretary of the Industrial Workers of the World.

During the First World War Saint John campaigned against American intervention in the conflict. After the USA declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, several party members were arrested for violating the Espionage Act. As Howard Zinn pointed out: "In early September 1917, Department of Justice agents made simultaneous raids on forty-eight IWW meeting halls across the country, seizing correspondence and literature that would become courtroom evidence. Later that month, 165 IWW leaders were arrested for conspiring to hinder the draft, encourage desertion, and intimidate others in connection with labor disputes. One hundred and one went on trial in April 1918; it lasted five months, the longest criminal trial in American history up to that time."

Vincent Saint John was one of those who and were arrested. He was found guilty he was sent to Leavenworth Prison. He was eventually freed on the orders of President Warren G. Harding in 1923.


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