The Dynamite Campaign

As the nation-wide strike ground on, the Ironworkers watched helplessly as weaker Unions of Carpenters, Bricklayers and Masons were smashed by the NEA and the government. BSIW members clamored for action. Between 1908 and 1911, 87 to 150 bombings took place at work sites. Some suggested that some were set by management themselves for propaganda against the Unions.

Others took the view that the BSIW was meeting fire with fire with a nation-wide campaign of sabotage against the NEA. Property damage to NEA contractors averaged about one thousand dollars. Structures erected by non-union labor, plants and equipment of non-union contractors, and building material destined for non-union projects were the main targets. The dynamite was directed at property, not people.

Many bombing took place in the and around the Chicago area as this list shows:

  • 3/15/1906  Steel girders for the Northwestern Elevated Railroad, Dynamited.
  • 8/8/1908  Illinois Central Railroad bridge over the River at 133rd Street, Dynamited.
  • 9/18/08  Attempt to Dynamite hoisting engine of the Chicago Junction Railroad at 38th and Central Ave. Edward Francis, an Officer of the Local One Ironworkers Union was questioned and released. Jerry Lynch, a watchman was killed before the explosion.
  • 10/24/1909  Telephone exchange, sawmill and garage at Indiana Harbor, Dynamited.
  • 4/19/1910  A railroad bridge at Terre Haute Ind., Dynamited
  • 6/24/1910  Two loads of girders at Lake Shore & Michigan Railroad, Dynamited.
  • 7/10/1910  International Harvester Plant at 39th and Rockwell, Dynamited.
  • 9/04/1910 Lucas and Son Ironworks at Peoria Il wrecked by Nitroglycerin.
  • 9/04/1910  Girders for the Peoria and Pekin Railroad bridge, Nitroglycerin.
  • 9/16/1910 Winslow Plant at 47th and Harrison, Dynamited.
  • 2/24/1911 Iroquois Ironworks in South Chicago had an Explosion.
  • 3/01/1911  Western Fuel Plant in Milwaukee Wis., Dynamited.

And the campaign was somewhat successful. The NEA learned the hard way that there is no easy answer to a planned campaign of sabotage. The NEA began to fragment, and many contractors began to hire Ironworkers again and jittery contractors began to grant concessions rather than to face the late-night consequences of intransigence.

In 1917, the employer apologist Robert Franklin Hoxie described the BSIW actions as “Guerrilla Unionism.” “It operates always directly against it’s employers, never in combination with them, and it cannot be bought off. It is secret, violent and ruthless, seemingly because it despairs of attaining what it considers to be legitimate ends by business, uplift, or revolutionary means.” He also said, “Nor was the recent dynamite bombing by the BSIW the product of revolutionary unionism. Here, rather, was a case of a conservative union fighting with it’s back against the wall against a campaign of annihilation by an employers combination. In the last ditch, it turned, not to revolution, but to Guerrilla Warfare and Guerrilla Unionism.