History Of Butte

At Butte, Montana, where the Anaconda Copper Company held reign, the Finns were the second largest ethnic group, next to the Irish. The Finnish miners were among the most radical, and the Finn Wobbly hall was the only Finn hall in town. Butte was always full of labor strife. The Speculator Mine explosion, in which numerous Finns perished among others, caused a powerful reaction and a series of strike actions. Company spies infiltrated both the IWW and Butte Miner’s Union and created dissension. IWW General Executive Board member and its premier organizer Frank Little came into town and addressed a crowd of strikers at the Butte baseball park on July 31. That night a group of vigilantes hauled him out of bed in the Finnish rooming house where he was staying next door to the Finn IWW hall, and tied him to a car bumper and hauled him out of town and hung him on a railroad trestle. Little’s murder aroused the miners and citizens and perhaps five thousand people walked in his funeral procession several miles to the cemetery where he was interred. The late Reino Erkkila, a retired San Francisco longshoreman and union official, recalled being in that parade as a small boy with his parents, his miner father Herman Erkkila being an avid Industrialisti reader. from http://www.peacehost.net/FinnLabor/US-FinnHistory.htm

In the immediate post war era during the Palmer raids, numerous foreign-born radicals were deported from the United States to their countries of origin, including Finnish Wobbly Niilo Wallari who later led the Finnish Seamen’s Union.


In the spring of 1917 the momentous Russian Revolution came with the overthrow of Czarism. followed by the Bolshevik Revolution in October. This aroused great fear among the world capitalist powers and high hopes among millions of workers and the dispossessed. Finns for the most part rejoiced in the initial stages, regardless of politics. It could mean independence for Finland which it eventually did. The Finnish workers organizations, both Socialist and IWW, joined in the celebration here as a harbinger of a new freedom for the world’s workers. But then came the Finnish Civil War in early 1918 when Finnish socialists hoped they could repeat the experience of their Russian brethren against Finnish White reaction. It turned out to be a horrid tragedy. It divided not only the Finnish people but the American immigrants. Conservative Finns generally supported the Whites, the Finnish-American labor movement, all factions included, the Red Guard and the Socialists. With the assistance of a German expeditionary force, General C. G. E. Mannerheim’s White Guard overcame their opponents in brutal bloody fighting. The victorious White government showed no mercy and thousands of Red prisoners were shot or died of hunger and disease in concentration camps. These included two of my socialist uncles, Pekka and Matti Siitonen, neither of them having fought in the war. In fact, my uncle Pekka was a Tolstoyan pacifist. Eventually, the situation calmed down, and amnesty was granted by President K. J. Stahlberg to the remaining Red prisoners. Thousands of the Red Guardsmen had fled to Russia, with most of the leaders of the ill-fated Socialist government who escaped, turning Bolshevik. Democratic rule, albeit conservative, came back in Finland and the SDP was resurrected under Vaino Tanner along more moderate lines, and the trade union movement was resuscitated again. The Communist Party remained outlawed.