What to Remember this 5th of November

There’s plenty to remember about the 5th of November, and as this is the hundredth year since the Everett Massacre, so let us remember.  Some random photo.

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A lot has changed in a hundred years, in the Puget Sound area.  In 1916, Seattle’s latest mega-project, the Ballard Locks, was nearly ready to open.  Pioneer Square looked close to how it does now, but Seattle was a different place.  Imagine a city with streetcars, burlesque shows, spittoons, newspapers and unions.  All around Seattle, the timber business dominated.  Up north, in Everett, the shingle business was big.  Wobblies of the IWW, in Seattle, were advocating for the shingle workers to join the IWW, but the shingle workers saw themselves as ‘skilled’ workers and disdained the Wobblies for unionizing with unskilled workers, at least that’s how it is described in this account from the Everett Public Library.

 

 

In hindsight one can see that a confrontation had been in the making for some time. Everett was an industrial mill town, with a predominance of lumber and shingle mills. Workers faced long hours in dangerous working conditions. Accidents were so common that it was said a shingle weaver could be recognized by his missing fingers, lost in accidents with unguarded saws. Cedar dust permeated the workplace, and many workers contracted “cedar asthma.” Some lost their lives in horrible industrial accidents. The shingle economy operated in boom and bust cycles and wages were unsteady. For these reasons, much of the city’s male work force was unionized by the early 1900s. Labor support was so strong in Everett that in January of 1909 the region’s Labor Journal began publication from the local union hall on Lombard, and Everett gained regional prominence for its union strength.

In spring of 1916 the shingle economy had recovered from a sharp recession, yet workers in Everett mills were not receiving scale pay. They struck in hopes of regaining their 1914 wage scale. Proud of their status as trades workers, they were often at odds with the radical Wobblies who wanted to create a union that included unskilled workers in their ranks. The Wobblies had come to Everett to proclaim their message on numerous occasions. A group of 40 street-speaking Wobblies had been taken by deputies to an area known as Beverly Park where they were brutally beaten and told to get out of town. Despite severe injuries some were forced to walk the 25-mile interurban track to Seattle. The Wobblies vowed to return, in greater number, to show solidarity for their cause. Clearly neither side expected that the escalating confrontations would culminate in the tragedy remembered as The Everett Massacre; Everett’s Bloody Sunday.

It is not hard to imagine the vengeful resolve that would fill a beaten striker on a 25 mile walk back to Seattle on the Interurban.  In, “Hobo Orator Union: The Free Speech Fights of the Industrial Workers of the World, 1909-1916,” a July 2009 dissertation, by Matthew S. May, a free speech movement is detailed that centers in Spokane, 1909-1910, Fresno, 1910-11, San Diego, 1912 and Everett, 1916.  I used it quite a bit for what follows, and I hope the link goes unbroken, if anyone reading this wants to know more.  It is currently online here, and is a great way to get past the death toll figures from the bloody confrontation at the dock on the Everett waterfront.  May’s dissertation uses the term ‘soapbox oratory,’ to describe the expression of free speech by the Wobblies.  It is hard to imagine this form of public expression, a hundred years later, but it was an element of Wobbly organizing.  The Wobblies pushed back against repressive municipal ordinances.  They clashed with authorities.  The shingleweavers of Everett were striking in 1916 and were in the mood to associate with the Wobblies.  This meant soapbox oratories on Hewitt Street in Everett, which, in turn, meant arrests and clashes.  The clashes began to get more and more serious.  The Commercial Club of Everett had an answer, Sheriff Donald McRae was the, “shingle weaver turned sheriff,” who “offered to purge the industry [shingleweavers] of “troublemakers””  Quotes are from May’s dissertation.  A string of incidents detailed in the dissertation are brutal showdowns between the police and the IWW in support of the shingleweavers.  By August 30, 1916, Sheriff McRae had deputized 200 citizens.

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As summer turned to fall a reign of terror visited the city of Everett.  Wobblies were denied transportation to Everett from Seattle, so they started to charter steam boats.  There is an account of a ship captain getting pistol whipped in the harbor by Sheriff McRae.  Mass beatings became frequent, sometimes as a parting gift while leaving jail for giving an oratory.  Sheriff McRae was notorious.

An ugly night was October 30, 1916.  A tip came into Sheriff McRae from the Seattle police that Wobblies had boarded the Venture and were headed to Everett.  McRae met them in the harbor and then packed the Wobblies in vehicles taking the workers to Beverly Park where they were given severe beatings.  This provocation was not to go unanswered.

The date of November 5, 1916, at 2 p.m., at the corner of Hewitt and Wetmore was selected for the Wobblies to come maintain their constitutional right.  The papers did not have much trouble convincing Everett readers that a riot was on the way to town in the form of “the Wobbly menace.”  Sheriff McRae with the backing of the Commercial Club was able to deputize hundreds of citizens.

The loading of the Verona was reported to McRae by a Pinkerton spy.  McRae and his deputies prepared for an ambush.  McRae let the Verona get its bowline secured and then he yelled to the vessel:

            “Who’s your leader?”

“We are all leaders!” the passengers enthusiastically replied.

McRae shouted, “You can’t land here!”

“The hell we can’t” the Wobblies responded as they made their way toward the gangplance.

A gunshot broke the silence, and then a massacre.  The panic on the Verona was so severe that passengers rushed to the starboard side and nearly capsized the boat, and many passengers fell overboard and were never heard from again, and never show up in the official death tally.  From another good account, is the following on the Everett Massacre aftermath.

            The source of the first gunshot has never been decisively determined.  Two deputies were killed and five IWW organizers.  Scores on both sides were injured.  Thomas Tracy was arrested and tried for murder.

Thomas H. Tracy was acquitted. His Wobbly trial lawyer, George F. Vanderveer (1875-1942), considered this to be one of the notable victories of his career, and it was certainly a high-water mark for IWW activity in the Pacific Northwest.

The turn toward nationalism in the lead-up to the Great War is attributed to the fizzling of the labor movement, especially in the form of the Wobblies.  The Everett Herald published a great piece with many stories still coming out and people afraid to take sides.  Interestingly, the article states a whole new trove of information has become available to researchers.

The documents are from the estate of Albert Carpenter, a private investigator hired by Attorney Fred H. Moore, who led the Wobbly defense team. They include witness statements gathered by Carpenter as well as more than 400 letters sent to and from Moore’s law office. Some are handwritten on hotel stationery; some typed on onion-skin paper.

It is an event that merits mention.  So, let us not just remember, remember the fifth of November, let us also not forget the Everett Massacre.

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