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Finnish-American Workmen's Associations

Auvo Kostiainen

Lic.-of Phil.
University of Turku

1. Introduction

The form of social life in the Finnish-American immigrant community that has, perhaps, attracted the most outside attention has been the activity of the workmen's associations. The reactions aroused by these associations have been both negative and positive. The negative side is connected mainly with the activeness of the Finnish-American labor movement in the political and social spheres. The positive aspect is the extraordinary organizational skill of the members of the associations, which has come to the fore best in the cultural life and collective endeavors of the Finns.

In the following, an attempt will be made to examine the evolution of the Finnish-American workmen's associations from the inception of the Finnish-American labor movement to the present day. The evolutionary process is considered against the background of the labor movement in Finland and the social conditions prevailing in the United States. Owing to the summary nature of the presentation, attention will be paid mainly to the period Finnish-American labor movement really flourished - the period between 1910 and 1930 - with the emphasis laid on the various central organizations active inside the movement.1

Picture 1
Finnish miners in Alabama in 1919. (University of Turku, Emigration History Research Center.)

2. The Origin of the Finnish-American Labor Movement

The rapid economic development of the United States during and, especially, at the end of the nineteenth century, demanded more and more manpower. Immigrants formed a suitable, nearly inexhaustible labor reserve for the American economy. Immigrants generally became migrant farm workes, bush workers, construction workers, and miners; and they flocked into the growing urban centers. Many of the Finnish immigrants settled in the mining and lumbering areas of the Midwestern states and, in the industrial centers of the East or found work in the forest and fishing industry in the West. Sooner or later, many of the Finns acquired their own farms.

The Finnish immigrants who had arrived in America at the end of the nineteenth century came mainly from rural areas and peaceful conditions and, therefore, had not been involved much with the class struggle stemming from the labor movement. According to Kero, in the great emigration year of 1905, 71.3 % of the Finnish emigrants had a peasant background, while 17.7 % were designated as "workers".2 Nearly 20 % of the immigrants from Finland between 1893 and 1914 were "workers".3

Picture 2
Finnish lumberjacks cutting down gigantic American trees in 1906, in Matlock, Wash. (Folkkultursarkiv, Helsinki.)

Examining the areas of departure of the emigrants geographically, one will observe that the largest proportion overwhelmingly came from the provinces of Vaasa and Oulu. Kero notes that, proportionally, most of the members of the Finnish-American labor movement came from southern and eastern Finland, which were the industrialized parts of the country of that time.4

Among the early leaders of the Finnish-American labor movement, there were many who had previously participated in the labor movement in Finland, men like F. J. Syrjälä, Mooses Hahl, and A. F. Tanner. It appears that in the early stages of the development of the Finnish-American labor movement they played a leading role.

Especially after the strike waves of 1906 and 1907, the radicalizing influence of American society began to be felt in the Finnish-American labor movement. At the same time, also the leadership of this movement fell more and more into the hands of men who had, practically, been ignorant of the labor movement in Finland.

The desire to improve working conditions appears to have been one of the most important factors leading Finns to join the labor movement in large numbers. On the other hand, workmen's associations were often the only form of social activity outside the church, and this attracted Finnish-Americans more and more into workmen's associations.

Finnish immigrants, however, were often first exposed to socialist ideas in temperance societies. It was in these groups that many officers of the workers' societies and socialist locals learned their organizational skills. With the spread of socialist ideas, many of the temperance societies fell more and more firmly under the domination of the church. In other societies, however, the supporters of labor ideology gained a majority and temperance societies of this kind slowly turned into workmen's associations.

In 1890, the first Finnish-American workmen's association, named Imatra, was formed in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was based on bourgeois reformism, like Wrightism in the Finnish labor movement: employers cooperated with the workers and stress was put on the improvement of educational opportunities among the working people. Imatra's purpose was thus the promotion of higher aspirations and mutual aid among the Finnish-American workers.5

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the ranks of the Finnish immigrants included an increasing number of those who had acquainted themselves with the ideas of the international labor movement. One of them was Anton Ferdinand Tanner, under whose leadership the socialist local Myrsky (Storm) was formed in 1899 in Rockport, Mass. This was the first Finnish socialist local to join the Socialist Party of America. After this, socialist locals were formed all over the country in accordance with the advice of Tanner and his disciple Martin Hendrickson. Other noteworthy socialists who influenced the labor movement were Taavi Tainio, A. B. Mäkelä, Alex Halonen and Vihtori Kosonen. All of them had been active socialists already in Finland.

Matti Kurikka also arrived in America around this time. In Finland, he had been one of the labor movement's most conspicuous figures.6 Under his leadership, a utopian colony, called Sointula (Harmony), which was based on socialist principles, was formed in British Columbia, Canada. People were persuaded to go there to escape the "clutches of capitalism and the rapacious class struggle".

Kurikka's communal enterprise, however, caused the first factional dispute in the Finnish-American labor movement. Many Finnish-American supporters of pragmatic socialism, members of the so called reformist political school, had gone to Sointula dazzled by the images of utopian society painted by Kurikka. They soon, however, returned disenchanted with the colony and the serious dissension that broke out there.7 In this first conflict over policy among the Finnish-American socialists, the antagonists were the advocates of utopian socialism and the champions of pragmatic action.

3. The Central Organizations

The period preceding 1903 may be considered to be the period of awakening in the Finnish-American labor movement. "Apostles of socialism" travelled around the country, many workmen's associations were formed and their activity was lively.8 The first workmen's association on a national scale, Amerikan Suomalainen Työväenliitto Imatra or the Finnish-American Labor League Imatra, was formed in 1903 in Gardner, Mass. In the by-laws of this organization, as in those of the Imatra associations, stress was laid on temperate and decent living habits. The locals were advised to assist league's members in finding work, and so on. The league's membership was mainly concentrated in the Eastern and Midwestern sections of the United States and, at its height, 32 local associations belonged to it. One of the main purposes of the Finnish-American Labor League Imatra was also the preservation of Finnish-American labor movement on an ethnic basis.9 Each association bore the name Imatra and was differentiated by number.

From the beginning, among the associations belonging to the league there were many followers of international socialism. At the same time as the Imatra League, there was formed another workmen's central organization, Amerikan Suomalainen Työväenliitto or the Finnish-American Labor League, in the Midwestern states. Its first convention was held in August 1904 in Duluth, Minn. The most important question discussed there was whether or not the organization should join the Socialist Party of America. The opponents of such move still, however, carried the day.10

But the Duluth convention did decide that in October of the same year a general conference of the Finnish-American workmen's associations would be held in Cleveland, Ohio, where the issues of joining the Socialist Party and creating new organizational structure would be reconsidered. The Cleveland convention then carried nearly unanimous resolutions to support international socialism and join the Socialist Party of America.11 In practice, each association became a socialist local. These formed state organizations, after which the state organizations joined the Socialist Party of America.

The Cleveland conference presupposed the breakup of all the former federations. Even the Imatra League broke up so completely that all the associations except the parent association situated in Brooklyn, N.Y. turned into socialist locals. On the debit side of the ledger stands the fact that many members quit as a result of the Cleveland conference. According to Sulkanen, however, the meeting did create a practical basis for disciplined management of the associations in their ideological disputes.12

Picture 3
"The Fifth Avenue Hall" - the most magnificent building of the Finnish-American Labor movement. (Sulkanen, 1951).

Now, the activity of the newly formed state organizations began to concentrate mainly on the holding of festivals, the arrangement of appearances for speakers and lecturers and the distribution of literature. The regional dispersion later hampered greatly the operations of the state organizations, and the next step was to be the creation of a common organization for the country as a whole.

Picture 4
One of the most important Finnish newspapers in America is the Raivaaja. The editorial staff was once housed in this building in Fitchburg, Mass. (Institute for Migration, Turku).

In about 1905, at the time of the great General Strike and the Viapori mutiny in Finland, many city and industrial workers who had already belonged to labor organizations in their homeland arrived from Finland to America. Many of them later became leaders of the Finnish-American labor movement. Among these men were A. B. Mäkelä, Taavi Tainio and John Viita.

The General Strike and the Viapori mutiny had aroused great enthusiasm among the workers by offering examples of the methods available to them in carrying on their struggle. At the very time the Finnish-American socialists met at Hibbing, Minn. in August 1906 to form a central organization for the Finnish socialist locals. The Viapori mutiny was a topic of heated discussion.

The actual reason for the formation of a new organization was the difficulty of cooperation on the executive level of the party. Language difficulties caused all kinds of problems in the management of things and, in addition, there existed a desire to create a unifying agency for the scattered Finnish inhabitants of the country.13

The Hibbing convention established Suomalainen Sosialistijärjestö or the Finnish Socialist Federation, which was the first foreign language federation to join the Socialist Party of America. The federation selected its own secretary-translator, who set up his office at the party headquarters in Chicago. Established there, the secretary-translator could act as a link between the party and the Finnish Socialist Federation. The arrangement was found to be so successful that other ethnic groups likewise soon placed their own secretary-translators in the Socialist Party's headquarters.

The executive arm of the Finnish Socialist Federation was its central committee. To faciliate practical operations, the country was divided into three "agitation districts": Eastern, Western and Central districts. Työmies, founded in 1903, and Raivaaja, founded in 1905, were approved as party newspapers.

At the very first meeting of the Finnish Socialist Federation, as then repeatedly later, the question of the stand to be taken toward the Industrial Workers of the World arose. At first the I.W.W. had been in close contact with the Socialist Party of America. It had been formed in 1905 to coordinate the activities of different organizations in trade union movement.14 The I.W.W. soon changed, however, into a near anarchistic syndicalistic, oppositionist movement, the slogans of which were "direct action", "sabotage" and "general strike". The I.W.W.'s main objective was to bring the factories and, at the same time, society as a whole under the, control of the workers. The procedure aimed at was organization "industry by industry".

At the Hibbing convention, there were also many I.W.W. adherents who demanded the breaking off of relations with all the old trade unions completely. The largest of these was the American Federation of Labor (A.F. of L.). The majority of delegates, however, opposed the adoption of a hostile position to trade unions and in the end, after long debates, a compromise resolution was accepted. It demanded the ending of cooperation of every description with the "bourgeoisie" and the supporting of a tradeunion movement that was based on class struggle and that upheld the work of socialist education.15

After the course to be followed by the federation had become laid out in this way, the rise of Finnish-American socialism began. New socialist locals were established in nearly every community where there was even a small number of Finns. The number of Finnish Socialist Federation locals and their membership before the great communist split are given in the following tabulation:16 


Number of locals

Average membership











































The membership, then, increased steadily up to the year 1913. Conflicts over policy, which will be discussed later, raged in the federation in 1913 and 1914. The expulsion of members resulted, causing a downward turn in membership.

From 1906 to 1914, the Finnish Socialist Federation - and the FinnishAmerican labor movement in general - flourished as never before or after. At no later time did any Finnish labor organization in the United States attain comparable membership. It is true, however, that, the combined number of supporters of Finnish-American socialism, communism and the I.W.W. in the 1920s did exceed the Finnish Socialist Federation's membership in 1913.

The regional support of the Finnish Socialist Federation in the United States is examined in the following in the light of the situation prevailing at the end of 1911.18

The largest number of registered members was in the area of the Central district, 5,733 members in 97 locals. There were 4,046 members in 56 locals in the Eastern district and 3,888 members in 54 locals in the Western district.19 On the average, counting the whole country, 4.8 % of the Finnish population were members of socialist locals according to the 1910 census statistics.

Numerically, most of the Finnish Socialist Federation members lived in Minnesota (2,824), Massachusetts (1,928), Michigan (1,478), Washington (1,062), Montana (681) and New York (650). Comparing the number of socialists with the total Finnish population in each area, one will observe that the highest percentages are generally found in the Western states. In Nevada, 26.2 % of the Finnish population belonged to socialist locals, in Wyoming, 27.8 %, in Arizona, 14.8 % and in Idaho, 12.8 %. In the Midwestern states there were proportionally the most socialists, with 19.1 % in Illinois, 17.1 % in Indiana, 6.4 % in Minnesota and 5.5 % in Wisconsin. In the Eastern states, the largest proportion occurred in West Virginia, 29.4 %, in Vermont, 15.3 %, in Pennsylvania, 12.7 % and in Massachusetts, 11.9 %.

At the end of 1911, there were the most registered members, 470, in the Quincy, Mass. Finnish Socialist local. There was the largest number of paid-up members in the New York local, 344, in Duluth, the number was 231, in Fitchburg's Saima, 222 and in Chicago's Socialist Local No. 1, 217.20

The activity in the locals took on many forms. Various committees were set up to specific tasks: agitation committees, women's work committees, and so on. Special committees were also formed to collect money for local members in material straits, for the promotion of election propaganda, etc.

Ideological activity played an important role, which was most often the concern of the agitation committee. The Finnish Socialist Federation hired lecturers to travel around the country to speak at the different locals on topics of the day and, at the same time, to spread the ideals of socialism. Courses were often arranged in which series of lectures were held on selected topics. Especially popular were also the so-called debating sessions, at which two speakers would introduce the proposition at length and then proceed with briefer arguments, after which the audience could take an active part in the debate.

In 1912 all 63 Finnish socialist locals owned a meeting hall, in American Finnish called haali, or some other building. The activity was centered in the halls - if a building was not owned by the local, then one was rented. For practical purposes, there was activity in the halls every night of the week. In 1912 Finnish-American socialist locals sponsored the following subsidiary organizations: 106 dramatic clubs, 83 agitation committees, 12 women's associations, 22 glee clubs, 28 bands, 89 sewing circles and 53 athletic clubs.21 Many locals had large libraries and reading rooms, which received newspapers also from Finland. The variety of activities is reflected in the fact that the socialist locals arranged English-language courses as well as Sunday and summer schools for children. At the beginning of the century, the ideals of the cooperative movement began.to spread among the Finnish-Americans, but it was not until the 1920s that it really began to flourish.

Because of the variety of the activities that centered in the halls, the charge has been made that Finnish-American socialism was only "hall socialism". By this is meant that socialism, as an ideal, remained secondary and the main thing for the Finnish-American socialists was social activity: plays, gymnastics, cooperative enterprise and so on.

The important share of social functions in the halls cannot be neglected. The activity, however, can hardly be dismissed as mere "hall socialism" because there was also considerable participation in the activities of the parent party and the effort was made to spread socialism among not only the Finns but also other ethnic groups.

Newspapers were very important for the Finnish-American labor movement as means of not only keeping in contact but also spreading socialist ideals. Around the turn of the century, there were many short-lived attempts at establishing newspapers sympathetic to the labor movement. Indeed, in January of 1900, A. F. Tanner founded the first socialist newspaper for Finnish-Americans, Amerikan Työmies (American Worker). However, no more than 24 editions of the paper were published.22

Amerikan Suomalainen Työmies (Finnish-American Worker) began to be published in Worcester, Mass. in 1903. The next year it shifted to Hancock, Mich. and later from there to Superior, Wis. The same newspaper still appears, now called Työmies-Eteenpäin (Worker-Forward). Another strong Finnish-American socialist newspaper was Raivaaja (Pioneer), which is still also in existence. It was established in 1905 in Fitchburg, Mass., where it has been published ever since.

A third important Finnish-American socialist daily was Toveri (Comrade), which was published on the West Coast, in Astoria, Ore. from 1907 to 1931. In 1931 it merged with Työmies.

Each newspaper has had several publications on the side, such as Toveritar (Woman Comrade), especially for women, the special agricultural paper Pelto ja Koti (Farm and Home), and so on. At the beginning of 1912, the following Finnish-American socialist newspapers and periodicals were being published: Työmies in Hancock, Mich., circulation about 12,000; Raivaaja in Fitchburg, Mass., circulation about 6,000; Toveri in Astoria, Ore., circulation about 4,000. The monthly Säkeniä came out in Fitchburg and Lapatossu in Hancock.23

The Finnish-American workmen's associations also took quite an active hand in publishing, which, for practical reasons, was carried on in cooperation with the newspaper companies. The literature published by the Finnish-American socialists varies considerably: textbooks, fiction, poetry, essays, plays, various kinds of anniversary publications, calendars, etc. Besides textbooks, perhaps the most important educational literature to be published might be classified as ideological, for the majority of the so-called classic works by socialist theorists have been published in Finnish in the United States. In addition, it should be noted that in nearly all the literature published, an ideological outlook was also presented in one way or another. The fiction, whether translated or original works by Finnish-American socialist authors, poetry, plays, etc., reflected "class consciousness".

A noteworthy role was played by Työväen Opisto or the Work People's College in the development of the Finnish Socialist Federation. The original institution was founded in 1903 as a result of the activity of Kansalliskirkkokunta or the National Church organization, in Minneapolis, Minn. The name of the college became Suomalainen Kansanopisto ja Teologinen Seminaari or the Finnish People's College and Theological Seminary. The next year it was moved to Smithville, a suburb of Duluth.

The college was constantly beset by economic difficulties, the number of students was small and its debts were very high. The socialists had bought quite a few shares of stock in the college during its formative stages, and now they saw a favorable opportunity to seize control of the college in a perfectly legal way by purchasing more shares. In 1907, the National Church lost finally control of the college, which was then renamed Työväen Opisto.24

As a workers college, the institution managed well economically, too, and it was officially made the educational seat of the Finnish Socialist Federation. The curriculum of the college became centered mainly on practical subjects such as English and mathematics. In fact, the training of the federation's functionaries played a central role in the life of the college.

Picture 5
The school originally founded as a Christian college in the early 1900's at Duluth, Minn. was soon taken over by leftists and turned into an ideological training center under the name of The Work People's College. (University of Turku, Emigration History Research Center).

The ideological side was, however, very important and slowly the Work People's College started to advance more radical ideas, which tended largely to reflect the I.W.W. thinking. When the I.W.W. schism spread to the Finnish federation, the Finnish I.W.W. adherents gradually gained control of the school, and in 1914 it could be seen that the Finnish Socialist Federation no longer controlled the Work People's College.

Picture 6
Strikers' demonstration in Mohawk, Michigan, 1913. Photo J. Nara Collection. (Institute for Migration, Turku).

Between the years 1906 and 1914, Finnish-American socialists took part in many strikes, which left a clear mark not only on the development of the Finnish Socialist Federation but also on the position of the Finnish-American socialists in American society.

The Finns played a leading part in the strike in the Mesabi area, Northern Minnesota, in 1907.25 Also in 1912-1913, there were major strike movements in the United States; in particular, the eight-month strike in the Copper Country in Michigan aroused attention. In this Upper-Michigan mining area, there worked many Finns who actively participated in the strike. The conflict between strikers and management became so serious that the Federal Government had to send troops to pacify the situation.

These and many other labor disputes in which Finns played a prominent role had the general effect of giving the American Finns a "reddish" reputation. Some employers placed all Finns on their black list, and this forced many Finns to take up farming. On the other hand, in some areas the churchgoing Finns organized protest movements to re-establish the reputation of Finns as good workers. Among them were the so-called Judas resolution movements.

The strikes, on the other hand, had their effect on the Finnish Socialist Federation. The labor disputes often took a very tough turn and this provoked discussion about tactics: what were the best-methods for the workers to achieve power? During the course of the strikes, the I.W.W. especially flexed its muscles and egged the workers on to "direct action" rather than dabbling in politics, which was the main concern of the Socialist Party's program. No wonder the I.W.W. drew more and more adherents from the ranks of labor. Among Finnish-Americans, industrial unionism gained a foothold especially in the Midwestern and Western states.

4. The Breakup of the Finnish Socialist Federation

Disagreements between the advocates and the opponents of political action led finally in 1914 to the breakup of the Finnish Socialist Federation. Of the total membership of 12,500, 3,000 quit or were expelled. The largest proportion of expulsions was in Minnesota. Those who joined the I.W.W. soon established their own newspaper, Sosialisti (Socialist), which later took the name Industrialisti (Industrialist).

The reason for the first major schism in the Finnish Socialist Federation was the disagreement between the advocates and opponents of political action. The opponents of political action were not satisfied with waiting for "slow improvements". They demanded swift changes. A greater embarrassment than membership losses was, however, the weakening of solidarity and confidence in the labor movement.

Hardly had the Finnish Socialist Federation had time to recover from the rupture caused by the I.W.W. faction when the threat of a new schism appeared. This was a result of the Russian October Revolution and the newly born communist movement. The revolution carried out by the Bolsheviks was solidly approved by the Finnish-American workers; but when the question arose whether or not the methods used by the Bolsheviks could be applied in the United States, differences of opinion were voiced.

Feelings became more heated later when the Communist International began to play a leading role in the international labor movement. Moreover, disagreements became sharper over the stand to be taken on the situation following the Civil War in Finland, and friction was created by the issue of the establishment of the Communist Party of Finland by the refugees from Finland in Soviet Russia.

The social democratic wing of the Finnish-American labor movement emphasized the difference in the conditions prevailing in the United States and the fact that, special methods had to be chosen for each country. The Finnish-American left wing tended more and more to follow the Bolshevik line. In the Socialist Party of America there developed a strong left wing, which then in the fall of 1919 split into two rival communist parties. The Socialist Party broke up in this process so that from that time on it became more insignificant than ever in the American community.

Finnish-American Socialists had on the whole opposed every tendency to divide their party. Remembering the confusion into which their ranks had fallen in 1914 they wanted to preserve the unity of the Finnish Socialist Federation. This was not possible in the long run, however, for support of the left wing continued to grow; and at the next convention of the organization, a resolution was passed in favor of splitting with the Socialist Party because of its "opportunistic aspirations". The vote was not unanimous, however, and it was contended that the delegates from the Midwestern and Western states were bent on driving the Finns into the communist camp.

The vehemence of the debate and the nature of the language used are vividly reflected by the following passage published in Raivaaja. The writer, who used the initials F. H., expressed the fear that the supporters of an independent federation intended to engineer an out-and-out merger with the Communist Party:

"Must the Finnish Socialist Federation follow the example of others by plunging into the same pit where they have fallen? Must everything that has been achieved be destroyed? Must we set out on unknown seas without having a sure course? It would be like casting our compasses into hell and steering the ship only by the Bible. And no sensible person would step on board such a ship of his own volition."26

The matter of seceding from the Socialist Party of America was put to the vote among the members of the federation. After a fierce propaganda campaign, the voting ended with over 60 per cent of the membership in favor of remaining in the party. The situation in the Finnish Socialist Federation did not calm down, however, for a long time, and in the convention held at the turn of the years 1920 and 1921, the advocates of secession from the party gained the upper hand. The federation decided to declare itself an independent organization unaffiliated to any party, but each of the Socialist locals was empowered to make its own decision in the matter.

The supporters of the independent organization had no intention of merging the Finnish Socialist Federation - at least, not immediately - with the Communist Party but only aimed to follow developments in a "spirit sympathetic to the Communists". In reality, however, the organization's declaration of independence signified the beginning of the Finnish-American communist movement.

In line with the resolution passed, therefore, each local decided for itself whether to belong to the Socialist Party or to stay with the now independent federation. After disputes that in many cases reached a violent pitch, some 180 socialist locals finally joined the independent organization. About 60 locals remained under the wing of the Socialist Party. Nearly 30 locals split, with the result that in their communities two rival factions formed. Of the 7,000 or so members belonging to the independent organization, about 3,000 were located in the areas of both the Eastern and the Midwestern states and slightly over 1,000 in the Western states. More than 3,000 members stayed with the Socialist Party of America, and practically all of them lived in the region of the Eastern states.

The communistic parties referred to were soon forced underground because of the persecution to which radicals were subjected by the authorities. Rather few Finns were members of these underground parties. The Finns had always demanded abidance by the law and democratic procedure, and when the Worker's Party of America, a legal communist party, was founded at the turn of the years 1921 and 1922, the independent Finnish Socialist Federation joined it.

At the beginning of 1922, the Finnish-American working class movement was thus divided into three main groups: the "IWWs", or supporters of syndicalistic ideas, the socialists and the communists. In addition, there were a few independent labor associations, which had not joined any of the major organizations.

5. The I.W.W. Finns

The Finnish-American supporters of the Industrial Workers of the World had therefore broken away in 1914 from the Finnish Socialist Federation. Right after this, the I.W.W. movement experienced its heyday, with several thousand Finnish-Americans joining its ranks. It is not possible to arrive at any exact count, for the Finns did not form any separate language group officially within the I.W.W. fold but were all members of the same great organization. Conceivably, the number of Finns belonging to the I.W.W. was somewhere between five and ten thousand.

The Finns appear to have been a somewhat deviant group within the organization. Their activity continued in nearly the same style as in connection with the Socialist Party; that is, they still had their own "halls", in which they held social functions, staged plays, arranged dances, and so on. To maintain contact among themselves, the Finns had their own regional associations - but no official organization of their own based on language within the broader framework of the I.W.W.

The activities of the Finnish-American I.W.W.'s seemed to be centered to a fairly large extent around two institutions, the journal called Industrialisti and the Work People's College. After the 1914 split, the Finnish-Americans supporting the I.W.W. had founded their own newspaper, which they named Sosialisti (Socialist) and began to publish in Duluth. It was not long before publication had to be discontinued, but the paper made a comeback under the name of Teollisuustyöläinen (Industrial Worker). In 1915, the name was changed to Industrialisti. Its circulation apparently reached its peak in the early 1920s, when it probably exceeded 10,000. The circulation of the paper also reflects the distribution of Finnish-American support of the I.W.W. over the different sections of the country. The area of strongest I.W.W. support was clearly the Midwest, particularly Minnesota and Upper Michigan, along with the West Coast. Also the I.W.W. adherents living on the Canadian side of the border were diligent readers of Industrialisti.27

The Work People's College continued to operate actively in Duluth but its student enrollment was steadily on the downgrade. It became officially an I.W.W. institution and quite a few English-speaking students began to be admitted, too. The school continued to serve as an I.W.W. seat of learning until World War II, after which it ceased to function as an educational institution.

Finnish-American members of the I.W.W. continued to be active in the publishing field. This activity was also concentrated in Duluth, at the Worker's Socialist Publishing Company. The Work People's College published literature, and the Finnish "wobblies", as the members of the I.W.W. were popularly called, had their own periodical, firstly Ahjo (Forge) and later on Tie Vapauteen (Road to Freedom). In addition, a special Christmas issue was produced under the name Industrialistin Joulu (The Industrialist's Christmas), and now and then other publications came out on the side.

From the beginning of the decade of the 1930s, support of the I.W.W. steadily dwindled among the Finnish-American population. Even before that, at the beginning of the preceding decade, a sizable break in the ranks had occurred, when many Finnish syndicalists moved over to the communist camp. Around 1924, there had also taken place the so-called Rowan rupture, when communistic elements attempted to take over control of the I.W.W. The attempt was foiled, and many "wobblies" with communistic leanings apparently quit the organization to join their ideological brethren.

It was at the end of the 1920s that the Great Depression hit the United States and increasing unemployment forced many of the jobless to wander around the country in search of work. The wobblies' ties to their organization evidently weakened and in certain cases broke entirely. Another reason for the dwindling of the I.W.W.'s influence was the emergence of a new generation. The immigrants who had come over from Finland were getting old and the younger generation did not feel the same interest in the common activities of their elders but preferred to seek their contacts among Americanized contemporaries. The same phenomenon is to be observed in all the organized activities of the Finnish-Americans - in church just as surely as among the wobblies, socialists and communists.

Since World War II, the Finnish-American adherents of the I.W.W. have concentrated more and more on supporting Industrialisti. It appears as if new blood has not come their way, and the support of the paper rests mainly on the shoulders of the old-time immigrants. A new center of I.W.W. activity among the Finnish-Americans, in addition to Duluth, has developed in Florida, where the wobblies have established a meeting hall, too. Industrialisti has pockets of support in other parts of the country as well.

6. The Finnish Federation of the Socialist Party of the United States

With the breakup of the Finnish Socialist Federation, the majority of its members threw in their lot with the communists, while the minority stayed in the Socialist Party. These socialists formed a new Finnish Federation within the fold of the party. Support of the organization came mostly from the Eastern states, where in the 1920s and 1930s it had from three to four thousand members. The main Finnish-American stronghold of socialism was the state of Massachusetts, especially the city of Fitchburg, where the newspaper Raivaaja is published.

The activity of Yhdysvaltain Sosialistipuolueen Suomalainen Järjestö or the Finnish Federation of the Socialist Party of the United States has continued along established lines: essentially, it consists of functions held in the meeting halls and the maintenance of contact among people of Finnish blood. Some of the hall associations continue to function to this day; but, as in the case of the wobblies, the activity of the Finnish-American socialists has largely centered on the support given their newspaper, Raivaaja.

The Finnish-American socialists gave the American Socialist Party their loyal backing and participated in its election campaigns. They were also active participants in some of the big labor strikes in the Eastern states in the early 1920s. In the mid-1930s, new factional strife broke out within the Socialist Party, and as a result the Finns parted company with the parent party. According to Sulkanen, the Finns took to waiting for the appearance of a truly influential political working-class party. They did not want to be part of a quarrelsome group whose influence was nearly negligible.28

For the maintenance of social and cultural activity, a few years later, in 1940, Amerikan Suomalaisen Kansanvallan Liitto or the Finnish-American Democratic League was formed. The members were given a free hand to join progressive movements, provided they remained sincere defenders of democratic institutions.29 During the Finnish-Soviet Winter War and after World War II, the Finnish-American socialists took quite an active hand in sending material aid to Finland.

As in the case of the syndicalists, the biggest problem facing the socialists has been the steady dwindling of their ranks, owing to the toll taken by age. The young Finnish-American socialists joined English-language organizations and no longer took any noteworthy part in the work of the Finns' own associations. Publication activity continued, but in an ever narrower groove, obviously forced to cut back by dwindling economic resources. Activity has therefore to a large extent been centered around Raivaaja and the work of supporting it. The aim of the movement has been to spread its doctrine and plant its ideas. Its teachings have been based on "enduring social-democratic principles and the results of modern studies of life in society".30

Perhaps the most important field in which the Finnish-American socialists have been active since the 1920s is the cooperative movement, which carries the specified, desirable progressive label. The cooperative activities of the Finns were marked by vigor and enterprise not only in the Eastern states, notably the New England area, but also the Midwestern states. In 1917, the Finns formed Keskusosuuskunta or the Central Cooperative Exchange in Superior, Wisconsin; in 1931, the name was changed to the Central Co-operative Wholesale. In the late 1920s, the Finnish-American socialists and communists worked together for the most part in the same cooperative organizations. Around the year 1930 the final split took place in the Midwestern states between the socialist-controlled and "leftist" cooperatives.

When, at the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, the Central Co-operative Exchange was reduced to a field of battle between the advocates of more clean-cut cooperative enterprise and the politically motivated elements, the more radical faction lost and its representatives were removed from leading positions in the organization. The Workers and Farmers Co-operative Unity Alliance was then established as the new central organization of the cooperatives that broke with the Central Co-operative Exchange.

Cooperative activity has never been confined solely to the business of wholesaling and retailing. The Finns in America have also established cooperative restaurants and credit institutions based on cooperative principles, built cooperative apartment houses and so on. Since World War II, the cooperatives exclusively owned and managed by Finnish-Americans have generally disappeared: they have become just plain American, without the hyphenated appendage, with the Americanization of their membership, and they have merged into larger organizations.

Since the 1930s, the work of collaboration between the Finnish-American socialists and other groups has been carried on in Minnesota by the Minnesota Federation o f Finnish Civic Clubs. The associations belonging to it have been the agencies of Finnish collaborative efforts at influencing policy making on the municipal level. They have stimulated social activities and have arranged general festivities.

7. The Communists

The third Finnish-American leftist group, the communists, kept the name of their organization, the Finnish Socialist Federation, for a few years following the great schism in the socialist ranks in the period between 1919 and 1921. The group officially joined the public communist party, known as the Workers' Party, at the beginning of 1922. In 1924, the Finnish Socialist Federation took on the name Workers Partyn Suomalainen järjestö or the Finnish Federation of the Workers' Party of America.

During the early years, the activity of the Finnish-Americans in the communist movement consisted of organizational work and building up the party. Party ideology was vigorously propagandized among the Finns, who also took an active part in organizational tasks of the party. The Finns were the biggest national group belonging to the Workers' Party by far, for in 1924 the party had 7,099 Finnish members, or 40.8 % of the total membership.31

The Finnish-American communists soon found themselves at heated odds with the parent party. The Communist International, or Comintern, had decided that the world communist movement as a whole would have to be reorganized through so-called Bolshevization. The leadership of the Workers' Party accepted the commands of the Comintern almost totally as early as 1923. According to the directives laid down, common street and working-place cells composed of different nationalities and races were to be formed as the basic units; this meant that the former organizations based on nationality had to be done away with.32

It was not very easy to persuade the Finnish communists to accept the new organizational structure, for they would have wanted to keep former organizations based on language. The chief reason for this was the difficulty the Finns had with the English language - Finnish activies in America have always tended to gravitate inward. The Finnish-American resistance to change was so strong that the Comintern had to send Yrjö Sirola from Moscow to settle the differences between the Finnish-American communists and the Workers' Party. It was largely due to Sirola's efforts that the Finns finally yielded and the Finnish organization ceased to function.

Picture 7
Yrjö Sirola, a Finnish leftist leader, with his family in Hancock, Mich., in 1913. (Kansan arkisto, Helsinki.)

Not all the Finnish-American communists joined the new international cells, however, but only less than 2,000 members.33 Since the international cells exercised such a weak attraction on the rank and file, the Communist leadership took measures to create a new Finnish mass organization. The result was the formation of Yhdysvaltain Suomalainen Työväenjärjestö or the Finnish Workers Federation of the United States34 - controlling power was given through the Finnish party headquarters to the leaders of the Workers' Party and through them to the Comintern.

Picture 8
Oskari Tokoi has told about his colorful life in the United States in the late 19th century in his memoirs, Maanpakolaisten muistelmia, 1947. (John I. Kolehmainen, 1955).

By no means all the Finnish-American communists were happy, however, over the continual interference of the Comintern and the Workers' Party in the internal affairs of the organization. The Finns, again, were accused of bourgeois leanings and adherence to social-democratic ideas. As a consequence, the ranks of the Finnish-American communists were purged and in the years 1928-1930 a large number of Finns, both leaders and ordinary rank-and-file members, were expelled from the Finnish Workers' Federation and also the party.

The opposition critical of the Comintern and the Workers' Party was concentrated for the most part in the area of the Eastern states, especially New York, and the City of Superior in the Midwest. It was in Superior that the newspaper Työmies was published too, sticking fast to the Comintern line in its staunch advocacy of international communism. The opposition assailed the Finnish organization for its dictatorial treatment of members. The critics contended that rank-and-file members had no say in deciding the internal affairs of the organization and that all the activity was directed from party headquarters. The opposition would have wanted to preserve the Finnish character of the organization whereas the leadership unconditionally favored pursuing the more international line proclaimed in the slogan urging all the workers of the world to unite.

Support of the opposition became so widespread that Finnish-American communists were once more sent over from Moscow as advisers. This time, it was the turn of Kullervo Manner and Otto Ville Kuusinen's second wife, Aino Kuusinen. Manner, it is true, operated mainly on the Canadian side, but Aino Kuusinen concentrated her attention on the United States' side between 1930 and 1933. She assumed the name A. Morton and succeeded in establishing her position in the Finnish Workers' Federation so firmly that for a while she was its real leader. In achieving such a position, she was greatly assisted by her husband's fame as an international communist leader. By making use of Otto Ville Kuusinen's name as background support, she was able to carry out quite a number of changes to her liking within the organization.

Further spread of the opposition's support was therefore checked. However, during the 1930s, there were other factors dangerous to the development of the communist movement at work too. Mention has already been made of the rupture in the cooperative movement. In this connection, many members of the Finnish Workers' Federation quit the political field to concentrate their efforts more on purely cooperative activities.

Another important factor was the so-called Karelia fever that raged in Finnish-American circles in the early 1930s. Soviet Karelia was in sore need of skilled workmen - construction workers, men with experience in various jobs in the woodworking industry, and so on. Since at the same time the whole Western world was undergoing a severe economic depression, it is no wonder at all that many Finnish-American communists were overcome by "Karelia fever". After selling all their possessions, they left with their families to return to the old continent to build a "real socialistic state". In the early 1930s, several thousand Finns left the United States and Canada for Karelia35 and as a result many workers' associations ceased to function altogether.

The growth of the Finnish-American communist movement was, actually, cut short at this point. A more important factor in halting development than the organizational disputes or the emigration to Soviet Karelia was, however, the same as in the case of the socialists and the "wobblies" - the aging of people. The quota system introduced by the Immigration Act of 1924 imposed tight restrictions on immigration to the United States; the measure limited the number of arrivals from Finland each year to only a few hundred. The younger generation did not join the communist organization; the younger people became Americanized and either stayed outside the labor movement or joined the American movement proper. Up to the 1950s, several men of Finnish blood held leading positions in the communist movement in the United States. The best known, perhaps, of these men is Gus Hall (originally Hallberg), who was the communist candidate for president in the 1972 elections.

Finns have made up a substantial part of the membership of the communist movement in the United States. It has already been pointed out that Finns have also held leading positions in the party, but in the main they have been the exceptions. The Finnish contribution to the communist movement has been significant particularly in the economic sense: Finns have participated in countless fund drives; they have given aid and comfort to strikers; and they have taken active part in public demonstrations and generally in the spreading of propaganda.

As in the case of the socialists and the members of the I.W.W., the activity of the Finnish communists in the United States since the heyday of the labor movement has been limited largely to upholding the cultural interests of the Finnish-American community. Newspapers have been among the main channels of communication. To this day, Työmies-Eteenpäin and Naisten Viiri (Women's Banner) continue to be published in Superior. Social activities have continued vigorously: plays are performed, summer festivals held and various kinds of cooperative projects undertaken.

An examination of the influence of their newspapers on the FinnishAmerican community reveals that they have zealously endeavored to propagate class ideology. The communist papers have faithfully hewed to the party line. But it is just as true of the communists as of the socialists and I.W.W. adherents that their newspapers have become increasingly vehicles of communication within the Finnish-American community.

Picture 9
A Finnish American boarding house ("Poikatalo") in Red Lodge, Mont. in 1910. (University of Turku, Emigration History Research Center).

In 1941, the International Workers Order (IWO) was established in the United States and it was joined by the Finnish-American communists. Operating in association with the IWO, they gained better connections than before with the American labor movement. When, in the late 1940s, repressive action began to be taken once more in the United States against radicals, the IWO had to disband. Since then, the political activity of Finnish-American communists has become increasingly integrated with the American party, and Finnish activities as such have therefore been concentrated in the cultural sphere.

As for trade union activity among the Finnish Americans, the information for the period since the decade of the 1920s is not very accurate because the organizations involved were simply American, with scarcely any differentiation of foreign language groups. On the whole, however, it may be stated that the Finnish-American role in the trade union movement has been noteworthy, for the Finns fall into the ranks of organized labor in American society. The Finns have done estimable work, generally speaking, by promoting the organization of the workers and, in particular, by building up the CIO.

Picture 10
An American Finnish saloon called Fennia Saloon and Hotel, photographed in 1906. (Åbo Akademis Bildsamling.)

Worthy of mention, furthermore, is the participation of Finnish-Americans in the devolopment of the F-L parties. The role played by Finns has been especially significant in the ranks of the Democratic Farmer-Labor party in the Midwestern states.

8. Summary

The Finnish-American labor movement has thus been characterized by divisiveness brought about mainly by disputes of both an ideological and a personal nature. At the same time as other groups of Finnish-American immigrants have dissociated themselves completely from the labor movement, the divisions between the various factions within the movement have been sharp and clear. On the other hand, the so-called bourgeois groups in the Finnish-American immigrant community have by no means put on any united front but have been at least as disunited as the Finnish-American workers ranks: the temperance movement broke up in its time into different groups, and the same thing happened to the church-going people.

What, then, has been the significance of the Finnish-American workers' organizations to American society? The answer to this question is that the labor movement - the political labor movement, in particular - is an area where the Finnish-Americans have truly called attention to themselves. In the political labor movement, they have made an impact on society at large by agitating for improvements in the general condition of the working class, working for social reforms, and so on. Although the Finnish-American labor movement has always been accused of isolationism, the very fact of its joining the international labor movement and American labor parties indicates that its main objective has not been only social and cultural activity within the circle of its own membership. Compared with certain church groups, for example, the Finnish- American labor movement has shown a far more marked tendency to cooperate with other American groups. Even though the aspirations of the Finnish-American working-class movement have often been branded revolutionary, its dynamic character cannot be denied and the fact remains that its basic aim has been to better the lot of the lower social classes.

Furthermore, the significance of the Finnish-American labor movement must be recognized in fostering cultural interests and promoting feelings of solidarity among the Finnish immigrant population. The aims of the Finnish workmen's organizations have included the raising of the general educational level and the advancement of all kinds of cultural activities, publishing ventures, dramatic performances and other general educational endeavors. What they have done to spread the good word about cooperation among the American population at large should not be forgotten, either. The view has even been expressed that the cooperative movement is the Finns' greatest contribution to American society.

1. Few studies relating to the post World War II period, especially the 1950s, exist.The information on this perios comes mainly from Mr Carl Ross of Minneapolis, Minn., and Mr. Onni Kaartinen of Yonkers, N.Y.

2. Kero, Reino, Migration from Finland to North America in the Years between the United States Civil War and the First World War. Vammala 1974, Table 11, p. 88.

3. Suomen Virallinen Tilasto (Official Statistics of Finland , XXVIII Siirtolaisuustilasto (Emigration Statistics) 1-11.

4. Kero, Reino, The Roots of Finnish-American Left-Wing Radicalism. Publications of the Institute of General History, University of Turku, Finland. No. 5. Studies edited by Vilho Niitemaa. Turku 1973, especially pp. 53-55.

5. Sulkanen, Elis, Amerikan Suomalaisen Työväenliikkeen Historia. Fitchburg, Mass. 1951, p. 56.

6. For information on Kurikka's activity in the early Finnish labor movement, see Soikkanen, Hannu, Sosialismin tulo Suomeen. Ensimmäisen yksikamarisen eduskunnan vaaleihin asti. Porvoo 1961, especially pp. 63-64, 67-68, 149-150.

7. Sulkanen, op.cit., pp 68-72; see also Halminen, Matti, Sointula, Kalevan Kansan ja Kanadan suomalaisten historiaa. Helsinki 1936.

8. An excellent description of this period is given in Martin Hendrickson's memoirs Muistelmia Kymmenvuotisesta Raivaustyöstäni. Fitchburg, Mass. 1909.

9. Sulkanen, op.cit., p. 75

10. Hendrickson, op.cit., pp. 67-68.

11. Sulkanen, op.cit., pp. 81-82.

12. Ibid. p. 83.

13. Report of the Secretary-Translator, V. Watia, for the convention of the Finnish Socialist Federation. In Kolmannen Amerikan Suomalaisen Sosialistijärjestön Edustajakokouksen Pöytäkirja. Kokous pidetty Hancockissa, Mich. 23-30 pvä elok. 1909. (Proceedings of the Third Convention of the Finnish Socialist Federation. Convention Held in Hancock, Mich., August 23-30, 1909) Toim. F. J. Syrjälä. Fitchburg, Mass. n d., p. 15.

14. About the formation of the I.W.W., see Brissenden, Paul F., The I.W.W. A Study of American Syndicalism. Second printing of the second edition. New York 1957, pp. 57-82.

15. Sulkanen, op.cit., pp. 97-102.

16. Syrjälä, F. J., Historia-aiheita Ameriikan Suomalaisesta Työväenliikkeestä. Fitchburg, Mass. n.d., p. 86.

17. The number of members for 1906 is evidently quite inaccurate. The incomplete statistics published prior to the Hibbing meeting state that there were 50 associations with a total of 2,695 members These statistics include only two-thirds of the associations. Sulkanen even mentions that, according to some source, at the end of 1906 there were 89 locals with a total membership of about 7,900. Sulkanen, op.cit., p. 89.

18. The numbers and membership of the locals were obtained from the minutes of the 1912 convention. Suomalaisten sosialistiosastojen ja työväenyhdistysten viidennen eli suomalaisen sosialistijärjestön kolmannen edustajakokouksen Pöytäkirja 1-5, 7-10 p. kesäkuuta, 1912. (The Minutes of the Convention of the Finnish Socialist Locals and Workmen's Associations or the Third Convention of the Finnish Socialist Federation, June 1-5, June 7-10, 1912) Toimittanut Aku Rissanen. Fitchburg, Mass. n.d., pp. 29-53.

19. The 1910 census data were obtained from Askeli, Henry: Suomalainen Sosialistijärjestö. Kalenteri 1918 Amerikan Suomalaiselle Työväestölle. Fitchburg, Mass., 1918, Table on p. 33. In examining the percentages, one should take into consideration the fact that membership statistics for all the locals have not been obtained. On the other hand, the membership figures do not include children, as do population statistics. Accordingly, the proportion of socialists among adult Finnish-Americans is relatively higher.

20. Pöytäkirja 1912 (Minutes of 1912 Convention) op. cit. p. 55.

21. Report of the Finnish Translator-Secretary to the Socialist Party National Convention 1912. In National Convention of the Socialist Party Held at Indianapolis, Ind. May 12th to 18th, 1912. Edited by John Spargo. Chicago, Ill., n.d., pp. 237-239.

22. Sulkanen, op. cit., p. 64-68.

23. Report of the Finnish Translator-Secretary to the Socialist Party National Convention, 1912 op. cit. p. 238.

24. For an account of the transformation of the People's College into a Work People's College, see Kostiainen, Auvo, Religion vs. Socialism. Finnish Socialists Capture the People's College and Theological Seminary. A study made at the University of Minnesota, May 1974.

25. The best description of the Mesabi strike is in Betten, Neil, Strike on the Mesabi -1907. Minnesota History, Fall 1967, pp. 340-347.

26. Raivaaja, Nov. 22, 1919.

27. The circulation of Industrialisti may be examined by for example looking into the distribution of published Christmas greetings. In December 1930, the greetings were distributed as follows, according to the states: Minnesota 1940, Michigan 930, Washington 760, Montana 320, California 300, New York 260, Wisconsin 250, Illinois 240, Wyoming 210, Ohio 190. The largest number of greetings from Canada came from Ontario, 1440, and British Columbia, 260. The total number of greetings came to 8,150. Kero, Reino, Satakuntalainen amerikansiirtolaisuus ennen ensimmäistä maailmansotaa. Lähtö ja muuttoliikkeet. Licenciate thesis, University of Turku, April 1970, p. 145, footnote 5.

28. Sulkanen, op. cit., p. 254. I

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid. p. 261.

31. The Fourth National Convention of the Workers' (Communist) Party of America. Report of the Central Executive Committee to the 4th National Convention Held in Chicago, Illinois. August 21st-30th, 1925. Resolutions of the Party Commission and others. Chicago, Ill., n.d., p. 303.

32. For more detailed information on the Bolshevization among Finnish-American communists, see Kostiainen, Auvo, Finns and the crisis over "Bolshevization" in the Workers' Party 1924-25. In The Finnish Experience in the Western Great Lakes Region: New Perspectives. Editors Michael G. Karni, Matti E. Kaups and Douglas J. Ollila. Vammala 1975, pp. 171-185.

33. Puro, H., Amerikan kommunistinen liike ja suomalaiset siinä. Lehtipaja. Työmiehen neljännesvuosisatajulkaisu. Superior, Wis 1928, p. 97.

34. About the formation of the Finnish Workers' Federation see Suom. Työväen Yhdistysten Keskustoimiston Toimintakertomus Suomalaisen Työväen Järjestön ensimmäiselle edustajakokoukselle Chicagossa Ill. tammik. 24, 25, 26 p:nä 1927. Pöytäkirja Yhdysvaltain Suomalaisen Työväen Järjestön Perustavasta Edustajakokouksesta, Chicagossa, Ill., Tammikuun 24, 25 ja 26 p., 1927. (Report on the Activities of the Central Bureau of Finnish Labor Associations to the First Convention of the Finnish Workers' Federation, January 24, 25 and 26, 1927) n.p., n.d., pp. 7-15.

35. Estimates on the number of emigrants vary. According to Lahtinen, over 12,000 Finns left the United States and Canada for Soviet Karelia, 50 vuoden varrelta. Toimittanut William Lahtinen. Superior, Wis. 1953, p. 172. Holmio estimates the number to be 6,000-7,000. Holmio, Armas K. E., Michiganin suomalaisten historia. Hancock, Mich. 1967, p. 411.

Published in Old Friends - Strong Ties. The Finnish Contribution to the Growth of the USA. 1976, p. 205-234.

© Auvo Kostiainen

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