This weekend I picked up a copy of the book Fellow Worker: The Life of Fred Thompson. Thompson is a much storied former member of the IWW. The book is compiled from letters and writings into something like an autobiography. There’s an anecdote I like very much on page 19, from a time when Thompson was 18 or so.
“[W]hen I was working for the sugar refinery, my job once in a while made it necessary to see that certain cars of coal were moved from one place to another, and the man who could arranged that stayed in a little shanty right across from the sugar refinery. That man, sitting in that little shanty to do jobs like that, was the president of the Trades and Labour Council of Saint John. He wasn’t a socialist, he wasn’t a radical, but I think he understood some of these things better than this young whippersnapper, myself. I remember with some embarrassment a time when my boss told me to tell him we absolutely had to have those cars moved so that we could unload the coal right away; so I went over there with some of my boss’s authoritarianism on my shoulders, and I told him, “We need those cars moved right away!” He looked and me and knew that I was secretary of the Socialist local and he said, “You say we need those cars right away and you call yourself a Socialist? You think you and the company own those cars? And you call yourself a Socialist?” I think I learned a little bit from this old non-socialist trade unionist on that occasion. I think I’ve tried to avoid that misuse of the word “we” ever since. I find that it’s very frequently misused.”