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The state of Washington at the beginning of the 20th century


Industrial Workers of the World
Industrial Workers of the World

During the years before World War I (1914-1918) and immediately thereafter, a strong labor movement flourished in Washington. There were two major labor unions: the older, more conservative AFL, which consisted of small craft unions; and the militant, more radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which demanded one union to represent all workers, and whose members were called Wobblies. In 1909 a national IWW protest movement took place in Spokane. Union members set up platforms near employment agencies that the IWW accused of unfair labor policies. They gave speeches protesting these unfair practices, sang labor songs, and passed out pamphlets. City officials outlawed the union’s practice and arrested union members.

As IWW speakers were sent to jail, their colleagues from all over the country came to take their places on the platforms. The movement, which became known as the Spokane Free Speech Fight, ended when Spokane officials revoked the licenses of those employment agencies.

In 1916 the IWW tried to implement a similar free speech campaign in Everett. When about 250 IWW members arrived by ship in Everett to meet with shingleweavers, Snohomish County officials were waiting for them at the dock. A shot was fired and the ensuing battle left 7 dead and about 50 wounded. At the end of World War I, Washington’s economy experienced a downturn, and dockworkers protested wage reductions.

Labor unions organized the Seattle General Strike of February 1919, which lasted for five days and was itself peaceful. The strike was finally settled by the intervention of outside labor leaders. Employers’ associations convinced many people that the strike was affiliated with the Russian Bolshevik Revolution and encouraged violence against dissenters and radicals.

On Armistice Day 1919, at Centralia, an American Legion parade ended in a violent struggle with the IWW. Several men were killed, one was lynched, and across the state almost 1,000 Wobblies were sent to jail. In the so-called Red Scare that followed, union members were subject to harassment and arrest. By 1923 AFL membership had declined sharply, and the IWW was reduced to a much smaller organization. "Washington" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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