My Great Grandfather, Big Al, settled in the Centralia, Washington area in the early 1900's. He had moved there from the northern Washington State area, near Spokane. His grandfather had moved there from Oregon City, Oregon, after crossing the country in a wagon train.
Big Al was a very smart man but he had to provide for his family the best he could, and that meant cutting down trees. In the early 1900's, cutting down trees was like taking fruit from a cornucopia. Take one down and another appeared in it's place. There was no reason to believe they were doing anything other than contributing to society and family. So he and his brother Dan, my Great Uncle, and their familes moved to Centralia because of the robust timber industry.
Big Al was also a conscientious man, one who felt strongly that all men were equal and deserved equal and fair treatment. Part of that was because of his size, he rarely encountered opposition, but he saw those less fortunate who did, and that always angered him. But he was also disgusted with the conditions in the lumber camps and the treatment many received. So when he moved to the Centralia area he was ripe for what was happening there.
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was a union formed in 1905 in opposition to the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Primarly made up of socialists, anarchists, and radical trade unionists from all over the nation, their goal was to promote worker solidarity in the revolutionary struggle to overthrow the employing class, i.e., those with the power and money, the employers, big business early 1900's style.
The Wobblies, as they were called, differed from other unions of the time in favoring industrial unionism, or a rank and file organization instead of one represented by empowered leaders on behalf of the workers. The IWW was the first union to resist contracts which disallowed the right to strike. The IWW was the first union to include diversity in it's ranks with African Americans, women, and immigrants in it's early organizations. The IWW Lumber Strike of 1917 led to an 8 hour day in the Pacific Northwest and vastly improved working conditions.
So the IWW became very active in the Pacific Northwest in the lumber and mining industries. My grandfather, being a lumberjack and a kind and fair man, was immediately attracted. However he knew the dangers of becoming associated with the IWW as he had experiences in Northern Washington prior to coming to Centralia. His first loyalty was to his family, including my grandfather, so he didn't want to carry the stigma and declined to officially join. Even so, he privately supported the Wobblies and occasionally helped them, as many were homeless and looking for work. Serious trouble brewed with the opposition, mostly from the American Legion, Lumber companies, business leaders, and anti-communist groups. The Bolsheviks had come to power in Russia and the ideas of the IWW were thought to be along the same ideology. The Wobblies had been against World War I and this didn't sit well with the American Legion and those brainwashed about the coming Red Scare. During a parade in 1918 a group of thugs hired by the lumber companies and local business leaders trashed the rented IWW union hall and beat and humiliated the Wobblies in the streets. My grandfather was furious with what had happened but knew that the troubles weren't over.
Then came Armistace Day, November 11,1919, and a celebration marking the end of WWI and commemorating the millions of victims. Centralia, Washington, a town founded by the first black pioneer to the Pacific Northwest, former slave George Washington in 1852, became a national flashpoint in the nation's (first) Big Red Scare. The parade was larger than normal that year because Centralia combined with neighboring town Chehalis for the parade. Both towns had a large number of American Legion members and rumors before the parade pointed to another confrontation with the Wobblies. The Wobblies were rightly paranoid and carried weapons along the parade route and with men stationed in their newly rented union hall.
My Great Grandfather, Grandfather and family were at the parade. They were on an adjacent block when the gunfire started. He quickly escorted his family to safety at a hotel with other citizens and went to see what had happened. By the time he got there, the gunfire had stopped and revenge was in the streets. He knew all of the men involved in the massacre. Fortunately, he was recognized as a decent man without ties to either groups so he had no problems and took his family home.
Whether both groups had pre-conceived plans or not is still in question. But during the parade, which was much larger than normal and planned on a tight route through the town, the two opposing groups became close and tempers flared. American Legion members stormed the union hall and gunfire erupted and in the end, 6 were killed, 5 were wounded, and 8 Wobblies were convicted of second degree murder. All were subsequently paroled or had their sentences commuted after long struggles by IWW sympathizers.
Basically what happened was a public hysteria created by government and big business that tied the IWW with the Bolshevik revolution and socialism, the next evil identified after World War I. The IWW was fiercely against WWI, believing that the country should focus on it's labor problems at home. This of course did not sit well with those that were brainwashed about WWI and the coming Red Scare.
Trying to help the simple working man and woman was their goal. They fought for what they believed in and were beaten and killed for it. My Great Grandfather escaped such treatment, as he was a wonderful family man who was very careful. But he later joined the IWW, as did my Grandfather, and contributed to the struggle and for that I am proud.
Big Al is my hero. I know he would not be happy with what is happening in this country now. He would think that the Republicans who are trying to destroy the working class are evil people who we should stand up to and repudiate. He would think that people who demonize unions are simpletons who have been brainwashed by the ruling classes. I agree Great Grandpa, we will repudiate, and we will continue the struggle. Rest in Peace.
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