Benjamin Fletcher (1890-1949) was a union leader and organizer in the early 1900’s. He joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) while employed as a dockworker in Philadelphia in 1912. The IWW, nicknamed Wobbly, was the one union that welcomed members from all races and treated them fairly and equally.
Fletcher was active in the union and soon stood out for his intellect and oratory skills.
In 1913 he helped establish the Philadelphia Marine Transport Workers Industrial Union Local 8, the local or Philadelphia branch of the IWW.
The membership of Local 8 was made up of African Americans, European immigrants and West Indians. Fletcher believed that worker solidarity in the workforce was more important than racial solidarity. He realized that integrated union groups prevented employers from using race to pit different ethnic groups against each other, and made sure the leadership of Local 8 reflected the diversity of its members.
The IWW was against war and passed an anti-war resolution at the union’s 1916 convention. This view made the IWW leadership a target of the FBI. They were accused of treason and arrested for conspiring to strike. Fletcher was convicted in 1918 and sentenced to ten years in prison.
African American leaders, including W.E.B. DuBois, and civil rights leader, Asa Philip Randolph protested Fletcher’s imprisonment. In 1920 Fletcher was released on bail. President Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence in 1923, and in 1933 he received a full pardon from President Franklin D Roosevelt.