Distrustful of the bankers who charged interest rates up to 36 percent and wary of the railroads, big business, and the government, which did nothing to relieve them, the farmers united in the Granger and the Farmers’ Alliances movements. These organizations helped farmers organize to submit legislation and protest against high freight charges and interest rates.
As industry grew in Washington, working conditions were unregulated and sometimes factory equipment was unsafe. The American Federation of Labor (AFL), a federation of labor unions, helped skilled workers in Seattle obtain the eight-hour work day. With the help of the farmers’ organizations and labor unions, the Populist Party, or People’s Party, was formed during two conventions in 1891 and 1892 to resolve issues regarding taxation, banking practices, and voter representation. Washington was primarily a Republican state from 1889 to 1930, although Democrats usually made a strong showing, and in the election of 1892, Populists ran just behind the Democrats.
They gained adherents following the economic depression of 1893. In 1896 the Populists won control of the Democratic National Convention and nominated William Jennings Bryan, who favored the Populist program, for president. In the 1896 election, Bryan won in Washington state and a Populist, John Rankin Rogers, was elected governor. Under Rogers, an articulate man who believed in individual rights and human dignity, the Washington legislators passed laws regulating railroad rates, allowing public schools to distribute free books, and regulating work conditions.
Nonetheless, the coalition between the Democrats and Populists did not last, and many complained that the social reforms did not go far enough. In 1900 Rogers was reelected as a Democrat, not a Populist.
Over the next 15 years the legislature passed a number of progressive reforms. In response to pressure exerted by organized labor, Washington was among the first states to enact workers’ compensation laws and regulate working conditions. Child labor laws were adopted in 1903 and 1907. Farmers and lumbering interests obtained a state commission to regulate the railroads. The government also enacted a number of political reforms that gave the people greater control of government. These measures included the initiative and the referendum, through which citizens could initiate or approve laws by popular vote, and the recall, which allowed them to remove dishonest or irresponsible public officials. Woman suffrage gave women the vote, and the direct primary provided voters, rather than party bosses, with the ability to choose candidates for public office. In 1912 the Progressive candidate for president, Theodore Roosevelt, carried the state. "Washington" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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