Joe Hill was executed 100 years ago today. His funeral in Chicago was attended by tens of thousands of mourners, amongst them Irish labour leader Jim Larkin, who gave one of the funeral orations. Below is the text of this, first published in International Socialist Review, December 1915:
‘“Fire! Let her go!” With these words on his lips passed to the great beyond a few hours a go Joseph Hillstrom, murdered by the hired assassins of the capitalist class, who, for a few dirty pieces of silver, shot to death a man for the alleged killing of the man Morrison and his son, in what has been well named the City of Undiscovered Crime, Salt Lake City.
While we here respectfully tender our sincere condolences to the bereaved woman Morrison, it must be said, Comrades, that lie as they may, apologize and explain as they may, Joe Hill was shot to death because he was a member of the fighting section of the American working-class, the Industrial Workers of the World.
It is necessary that this should be said by one like myself who is not a member of that organisation. May be I, like many others of its critics, lack the intelligence and requisite courage to fit me for membership in the organization which in its brief life has displayed more real revolutionary spirit, greater self-sacrifice, than any other movement in the world of labor has produced – admitting that at times it has made mistakes due to over zeal on the part of its members and propagandists, and has been somewhat intolerant of less revolutionary sections.
Nevertheless, the I.W.W. has ever hewed true to the line of working-class emancipation. Never at any time or place or under the most adverse conditions can it be charged with having obscured the issue or with ever having preached permanent peace with, or given recognition to, the capitalist system. No! but true to its mission as the pioneer movement of the newer time, it advocated perpetual war on, and the total abolition of the system of wage slavery that blights humanity.
That is a record to be proud of in these days of compromise, when we are cursed with a breed of sycophants masquerading as labor leaders, whose sole purpose in life seems to be apologizing for and defending the capitalist system of exploitation and forever putting forward palliatives and outworn nostrums such as arbitration boards, time agreements and protocols.
Even the Gods cannot fight against stupidity, but when allied with that we have venal graft, lust for power and place, and a deep-seated contempt for the workers who elect them to office, animating the soul-cases of these alleged leaders, it gives us great hope and courage and strength of purpose to know of a movement that can produce a great soul like Joe Hill, whose heart was attuned to the spirit of the coming time and who voiced in rebellious phrases his belief in the working class.
Judge of the type of man he was, who on the verge of eternity, writing to Comrade Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who with many other good Comrades was making a heroic uphill fight to save that valuable life for the cause, penned the following:
“We cannot afford to drain the resources of the whole organisation and weaken its fighting strength just on account of one individual – common sense will tell you that Gurley – there will be plenty of new rebels coming to fill up the gap.”
Never thinking of self, but always of the cause, such was the type of man a vindictive jury, filled with blood lust and desire for revenge, found guilty of an atrocious cowardly murder on circumstantial evidence only. They lied in their verdict, and they knew they lied, but a victim had to be found and so the itinerant I.W.W. propagandist and poet, Joseph Hillstrom, one of the Ishmaelites of the industrial world, was to hand and they “shot him to death” because he was a rebel, one of the disinherited, because he was the voice of the inarticulate down-trodden; they crucified him on their cross of gold, spilled his blood on the altar of their God – Profit.
Because he cried out in the market place, on the highways, and in the dark places where the children of men gathered together, the truth would make men free, for such a crime they crucified the Man of Galilee, for such a crime they crucified John Ball, Parsons, and a million unnamed, aye and for such a crime they will crucify millions unborn, if we cry not halt.
Therefore, Comrades, over the great heart of Joe Hill, now stilled in death, let us take up his burden, rededicate ourselves to the cause that knows no failure, and for which Joseph Hillstrom cheerfully gave his all, his valuable life. Though dead in flesh he liveth amongst us, and cries out:
“Arouse! Arouse! Ye sons of toil from every rank of Labor,
Not to strife of leaping lead, of bayonet or of sabre.
Ye are not murderers such as they who break ye day and hour!
Arouse! Unite! Win back your world with a whirlwind of power!”
Let his blood cement the many divided sections of our movement, and our slogan for the future be: “Joe Hill’s body lies mouldering in the grave, but the cause goes marching on.”’