Part 8 - Pioneers of Unionism
It is hard for workers in most of the other industries--especially in the East--to understand the problems, struggles and aspirations of the husky and unconquerable lumber workers of the Northwest. The reason is that the average union man takes his union for granted. He goes to his union meetings, discusses the affairs of his craft, industry or class, and he carries his card--all as a matter of course. It seldom enters his mind that the privileges and benefits that surround him and the protection he enjoys are the result of the efforts and sacrifices of the nameless thousands of pioneers that cleared the way. But these unknown heroes of the great struggle of the classes did precede him with their loyal hearts and strong hands; otherwise workers now organized would have to start the long hard battle at the beginning and count their gains a step at a time, just as did the early champions of industrial organization, or as the loggers of the West Coast are now doing.
The working class owes all honor and respect to the first men who planted the standard of labor solidarity on the hostile frontier of unorganized industry. They were the men who made possible all things that came after and all things that are still to come. They were the trail blazers. It is easier to follow them than to have gone before them--or with them. They established the outposts of unionism in the wilderness of Industrial autocracy. Their voices were the first to proclaim the burning message of Labor's power, of Labor's mission and of Labor's ultimate emancipation. Their breasts were the first to receive the blows of the enemy; their unprotected bodies were shielding the countless thousands to follow. They were the forerunners of the solidarity of Toil. They fought in a good and great cause; for without solidarity, Labor would have attained nothing yesterday, gained nothing today nor dare to hope for anything tomorrow.
THE BLOCK HOUSE AND THE UNION HALL
In the Northwest today the rebel lumberjack is a pioneer. Just as our fathers had to face the enmity of the Indians, so are these men called upon to face the fury of the predatory interests that have usurped the richest timber resources of the richest nation in the world. Just outside Centralia stands a weatherbeaten landmark. It is an old, brown dilapidated block house of early days. In many ways it reminds one of the battered and wrecked union halls to be found in the heart of the city.
The evolution of industry has replaced the block house with the union hall as the embattled center of assault and defense. The weapons are no longer the rifle and the tomahawk but the boycott and the strike. The frontier is no longer territorial but industrial. The new struggle is as portentous as the old. The stakes are larger and the warfare even more bitter.
The painted and be-feathered scalp-hunter of the Sioux or Iroquois were not more heartless in maiming, mutilating and killing their victims than the "respectable" profit-hunters of today the type of men who conceived the raid on the Union Hall in Centralia on Armistice Day-and who fiendishly tortured and hanged Wesley Everest for the crime of defending himself from their inhuman rage. It seems incredible that such deeds could be possible in the twentieth century. It is incredible to those who have not followed in the bloody trail of the lumber trust and who are not familiar with its ruthlessness, its greed and its lust for power.
As might be expected the I.W.W. Halls in Washington were hated by the lumber barons with a deep and undying hatred. Union halls were a standing challenge to their hitherto undisputed right to the complete domination of the forests. Like the blockhouses of early days, these humble meeting places were the outposts of a new and better order planted in the stronghold of the old. And they were hated accordingly. The thieves who had invaded the resources of the nation had long ago seized the woods and still held them in a grip of steel. They were not going to tolerate the encroachments of the One Big Union of the lumber workers. Events will prove that they did not hesitate at anything to achieve their purposes.
THE FIRST CENTRALIA HALL
In the year 1918 a union hall stood on one of the side streets in Centralia. It was similar to the halls that have just been described. This was not, however, the hall in which the Armistice Day tragedy took place. You must always remember that there were two halls raided in Centralia; one in 1918 and another in 1919. The loggers did not defend the first hall and many of them were manhandled by the mob that wrecked it. The loggers did defend the second and were given as reward a hanging, a speedy, fair and impartial conviction and sentences of from 25 to 40 years. No member of the mob has ever been punished or even taken to task for this misdeed. Their names are known to everybody. They kiss their wives and babies at night and go to church on Sundays. People tip their hats to them on the street. Yet they are a greater menace to the institutions of this country than all the "reds" in the land. In a world where Mammon is king the king can do no wrong. But the question of "right" or "wrong" did not concern the lumber interests when they raided the Union hall in 1918. "Yes, we raided the hall, what are you going to do about it," is the position they take in the matter.
During the 1917 strike the two lumber trust papers in Centralia, the "Hub" and the "Chronicle" were bitter in their denunciation of the strikers. Repeatedly they urged that most drastic and violent measures be taken by the authorities and "citizens" to break the strike, smash the union and punish the strikers. The war-frenzy was at its height and these miserable sheets went about their work like Czarist papers inciting a pogrom. The lumber workers were accused of "disloyalty," "treason," "anarchy" anything that would tend to make their cause unpopular. The Abolitionists were spoken about in identical terms before the civil war. As soon as the right atmosphere for their crime had been created the employers struck and struck hard.
It was in April, 1918. Like many other cities in the land Centralia was conducting a Red Cross drive. Among the features of this event were a bazaar and a parade.
The profits of the lumber trust were soaring to dizzy heights at this time and their patriotism was proportionately exalted.
There was the usual brand of hypocritical and fervid speechmaking. The flag was waved, the Government was lauded and the Constitution praised. Then, after the war-like proclivities of the stay-at-home heroes had been sufficiently worked upon; flag, Government and Constitution were forgotten long enough for the gang to go down the street and raid the "wobbly" hall.
Dominating the festivities was the figure of F.B. Hubbard, at that time President of the Employers' Association of the State of Washington. This is neither Hubbard's first nor last appearance as a terrorist and mob-leader--usually behind the scenes, however, or putting in a last minute appearance.
Next page: Part 9 - The 1918 Raid