Part 10 - The Conspiracy Develops
The cessation of hostilities in Europe deprived the gangsters of the cloak of "patriotism" as a cover for their crimes. But this cloak was too convenient to be discarded so easily. "Let the man in uniform do it" was an axiom that had been proved both profitable and safe. Then came the organization of the local post of the American Legion and the now famous Citizen's Protective League--of which more afterwards.
With the signing of the Armistice, and the consequent almost imperceptible lifting of the White Terror that dominated the country, the organization of the loggers began daily to gather strength. The Chamber of Commerce began to growl menacingly, the Employers' Association to threaten and the lumber trust papers to incite open violence. And the American Legion began to function as a "cats paw" for the men behind the scenes.
Why should the beautiful city of Centralia tolerate the hated Union hall any longer? Other halls had been raided, men had been tarred and feathered and deported--no one had ever been punished! Why should the good citizens of Centralia endure a lumberworkers headquarters and their despised union itself right in the midst of their peaceful community? Why indeed! The matter appeared simple enough from any angle. So then and there the conspiracy was hatched that resulted in the tragedy on Armistice Day. But the forces at work to bring about this unhappy conclusion were far from local. Let us see what these were like before the actual details of the conspiracy are recounted.
There were three distinct phases of this campaign to "rid the woods of the agitators." These three phases dovetail together perfectly. Each one is a perfect part of a shrewdly calculated and mercilessly executed conspiracy to commit constructive murder and unlawful entry. The diabolical plan itself was designed to brush aside the laws of the land, trample the Constitution underfoot and bring about an unparalleled orgy of unbridled labor hatred and labor repression that would settle the question of unionism for a long time.
THE CONSPIRACY---AND A SNAG
First of all comes the propaganda stage with the full force of the editorial virulence of the trust-controlled newspapers directed against labor in favor of "law and order," i.e., the lumber interests. All the machinery of newspaper publicity was used to vilify the lumber worker and to discredit his Union. Nothing was left unsaid that would tend to produce intolerance and hatred or to incite mob violence. This is not only true of Centralia, but of all the cities and towns located in the lumber district. Centralia happened to be the place where the tree of anti-labor propaganda first bore its ghastly fruit. Space does not permit us to quote the countless horrible things the I.W.W. was supposed to stand for and to be constantly planning to do. Statements from the lips of General Wood and young Roosevelt to the effect that citizens should not argue with Bolshevists but meet them "head on" were very conspicuously displayed on all occasions. Any addle-headed mediocrity, in or out of uniform, who had anything particularly atrocious to say against the labor movement in general or the "radicals" in particular, was afforded every opportunity to do so. The papers were vying with one another in devising effectual, if somewhat informal, means of dealing with the "red menace."
Supported by, and partly the result of this barrage of lies, misrepresentation and incitation, came the period of attempted repression by "law". This was probably the easiest thing of all
because the grip of Big Business upon the law-making and law-enforcing machinery of the nation is incredible. At all events a state's "criminal syndicalism law" had been conveniently passed and was being applied vigorously against union men, A.F. of L. and I.W.W. alike, but chiefly against the Lumber Workers' Industrial Union, No. 500, of the Industrial Workers of the World, the basic lumber industry being the largest in the Northwest and the growing power of the organized lumberjack being therefore more to be feared.
No doubt the lumber interests had great hope that the execution of these made-to-order laws would clear up the atmosphere so far as the lumber situation was concerned. But they were doomed to a cruel and surprising disappointment.
A number of arrests were made in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and even Nevada. Fifty or sixty men all told were arrested and their trials rushed as test cases. During this period from April 25th to October 28th, 1919, the lumber trust saw with chagrin and dismay each of the state cases in turn either won outright by the defendants or else dismissed in the realization that it would be impossible to win them. By October 28th George F. Vanderveer, chief attorney for the defense, declared there were not a single member of the I.W.W. in custody in Washington, Idaho or Montana under this charge. In Seattle, Washington, an injunction was obtained restraining the mayor from closing down the new Union hall in that city under the new law. Thus it appeared that the nefarious plan of the employers and their subservient lawmaking adjuncts, to outlaw the lumber workers Union and to penalize the activities of its members, was to be doomed to an ignominious failure.
RENEWED EFFORTS---LEGAL AND OTHERWISE
Furious at the realization of their own impotency the "interests" launched forth upon a new campaign. This truly machiavellian scheme was devised to make it impossible for accused men to secure legal defense of any kind. All labor cases were to be tried simultaneously, thus making it impossible for the defendants to secure adequate counsel. George F. Russell, Secretary-Manager of the Washington Employers' Association, addressed meetings over the state urging all Washington Prosecuting Attorneys to organize that this end might be achieved. It is reported that Governor Hart, of Washington, looked upon the scheme with favor when it was brought to his personal attention by Mr. Russell.
However, the fact remains that the lumber trust was losing and that it would have to devise even more drastic measures if it were to hope to escape the prospect of a very humiliating defeat. And, all the while the organization of the lumber workers continued to grow.
In Washington the situation was becoming more tense, momentarily. Many towns in the heart of the lumber district had passed absurd criminal syndicalism ordinances. These prohibited membership in the I.W.W.; made it unlawful to rent premises to the organization or to circulate its literature. The Employers' Association had boasted that it was due to its efforts that these ordinances had been passed. But still they were faced with the provocative and unforgettable fact, that the I.W.W. was no more dead than the cat with the proverbial nine lives. Where halls had been closed or raided the lumber workers were transacting their union affairs right on the job or in the bunkhouses, just as though nothing had happened. What was more deplorable a few Union halls were still open and doing business at the same old stand. Centralia was one of these; drastic measures must be applied at once or loggers in other localities might be encouraged to open halls also. As events prove these measures were taken--and they were drastic.
THE EMPLOYERS SHOW THEIR FANGS
That the Employers' Association was assiduously preparing its members for action suitable for the situation is evidenced by the following quotations from the official bulletin addressed privately "to Members of the Employers' Association of Washington". Note them carefully; they are published as "suggestions to members" over the written signature of George F. Russell Secretary-Manager:
June 25th, 1918. "Provide a penalty for idleness...Common labor now works a few days and then loafs to spend the money earned...Active prosecution of the I.W.W. and other radicals."
April 30th, 1919. "Keep business out of the control of radicals and I.W.W....Overcome agitation...Closer co-operation between employers and employees...Suppress the agitators...Hang the Bolshevists."
May 31st, 1919. "If the agitators were taken care of we would have very little trouble...Propaganda to counteract radicals and overcome agitation...Put the I.W.W. in jail."
June 30th, 1919. "Make some of the Seattle papers print the truth...Get rid of the I.W.W.'s."
July 2nd, 1919. "Educate along the line of the three R's and the golden rule, economy and self denial...Import Japanese labor...Import Chinese labor."
July 31st, 1919. "Deport about ten Russians in this community."
August 31st, 1919. "Personal contact between employer and employee, stringent treatment of the I.W.W."
October 15th, 1919. "There are many I.W.W.s--mostly in the logging camps...."
October 31st, 1919. (A little over a week before the Centralia raid.) "Run your business or quit...Business men and tax payers of Vancouver, Washington, have organized the Loyal Citizen's Protective League; opposed to Bolsheviki and the Soviet form of government and in favor of the open shop...Jail the radicals and deport them...Since the armistice these radicals have started in again. ONLY TWO COMMUNITIES IN WASHINGTON ALLOW I.W.W. HEADQUARTERS." (!!!)
December 31st, 1919. "Get rid of all the I.W.W. and all other un-American organizations ... Deport the radicals or use the rope as at Centralia. Until we get rid of the I.W.W. and radicals we don't expect to do much in this country...Keep cleaning up on the I.W.W....Don't let it die down...Keep up public sentiment..."
These few choice significant morsels of one hundred percent (on the dollar) Americanism are quoted almost at random from the private bulletins of the officials of the Iron Heel in the state of Washington. Here you can read their sentiments in their own words; you can see how dupes and hirelings were coached to perpetrate the crime of Centralia, and as many other similar crimes as they could get away with. Needless to say these illuminating lines were not intended for the perusal of the working class. But now that we have obtained them and placed them before your eyes you can draw your own conclusion. There are many, many more records germane to this case that we would like to place before you, but the Oligarchy has closed its steel jaws upon them and they are at present inaccessible. Men are still afraid to tell the truth in Centralia. Some day the workers may learn the whole truth about the inside workings of the Centralia conspiracy. Be that as it may the business interests of the Northwest lumber country stand bloody handed and doubly damned, black with guilt and foul with crime; convicted before the bar of public opinion, by their own statements and their own acts.
Next page: Part 11 - Failure and Desperation