Voice of Action
Report by Christine B. Davies
Abstract: The Voice of Action is a radical labor newspaper that was published weekly in Seattle from March 1933 until October 1936. Although the Voice of Action was loyal to the Communist Party, this was rarely ever discussed. Instead, the general focus was on issues of forced labor, unemployment, labor politics, racism, the plight of the small farmer, and the crises of the poverty-stricken from starvation to forced eviction from their homes. Each issue of the Voice of Action was brimming with information in the form of much local, some national, and a little international news relating mainly to the aforementioned issues. This paper served as a source of news that could not be found in any other publications in this area during this period.
Dates Published, March 25, 1933 -- October 9, 1936; weekly; 4 pages generally, 6 pages during a brief period in 1935.
Price: 1933 & 1934: 2 cents/issue, $1.10/year subscription; 1935 & 1936: 5 cents/issue 3/year subscription.
Political Affiliation: Communist Party (unstated until 1935 and 1936 issues)
Publishing Organizations:1933 - 1934: The State Committee of Action (SCA). This committee was made up of unpaid volunteers who were elected by delegates from 114 labor, farmer, and youth organizations that had participated in the march to Olympia on March 25, 1933 (More). 1935 - 1936: The SCA, Fishermen and Cannery Workers Industrial Union, National Lumber Workers Union, Unemployed Citizens League (UCL). The Voice of Action was printed by the volunteer labor of union printers and pressmen with donated print shop facilities. All artwork (mostly woodcuts by John Reed Club) was done by volunteer artists.
Board Members:1933 & 1934: George Bradley (Chairman), Joe Carney, W.K. Dobbins (Vice Chairman), J. Jenkins, Alan Max (Secretary), Ed Simmons, Lowell Wakefield; 1935 & 1936: C.G. Alloway (Treasurer), Victor Bidwell (Associate Editor), George Bradley (State Chairman), W.K. Dobbins (Chairman of Board), Kenneth Griffin (Business Manager), Ed Simmons (UCL Publicity), Tom Smith (Secretary of Board), Lowell Wakefield (Editor).
Business Addresses: 1933 & 1934: 110 Cherry Street, Seattle; 1935 & 1936: 302 Maritime Building, Seattle.
Research Collection: University of Washington microfilm A2653. Collection nearly complete. Some issues are missing from the spring (April - June) of 1935.
The Voice of Action published mainly news articles about unfair wages, forced labor, unemployment issues, strikes, marches, boycotts, small farmer's issues, recent local, national, and international political happenings, racial issues, and anything pertaining to the capitalist exploitation of the proletariat. The writing bears the intensity of people passionately devoted to their cause. There was also a youth section, letters to the editor, illustrations and photographs, and politically-minded advertisements.
The first paper did not yet have a name. By the third issue the name, Voice of Action, was chosen by the board out of the hundreds of names sent in by the readers. Also, the paper, by the third issue, has three mottoes in the heading explaining what the paper stands for -- Against the MacDonald Bill, Against Forced Labor, and For Cash Relief and Unemployment Insurance. The paper was affiliated with the Communist Party, but Communism was not discussed until the 1935 and '36 issues.
I. From Creation to Demise
The Voice of Action began as a nameless paper on March 25, 1933 with a strong emphasis on issues involving the unemployed. The State Committee of Action (SCA), which published the paper, was elected by delegates from 114 labor, farmer, and youth organizations that had participated in the hunger march to Olympia on March 1, 1933. The goals of this march was threefold: 1) the repeal of the MacDonald Bill, which made it legal to force the unemployed to work for their relief vouchers; 2) the distribution of emergency cash relief to the unemployed; and 3)the passing of the Jobless Social Insurance Bill. The MacDonald Bill is mentioned time and time again in the Voice of Action as being one of their main concerns for at least the first year of publication.
The Voice of Action was put out particularly for the thousands of members of the organizations which elected the publishers, but, as written in the first issue, the paper was also meant for the worker whose wages and job were threatened by forced labor; for the merchant whose profits shrink for every cut in wages or relief; for the farmer who cannot make ends meet at the present prices; for the student in search of accurate information; and "for the young fellow who would like to organize a ball league (!) of the various unemployed organizations (March 25, 1933; pg. 2)."
The Voice of Action underwent many changes throughout its four years in existence. The paper gained more and more support, which made the paper more polished and more jam-packed with content. Throughout the four years of publication, issues of concern evolved from being mainly about unemployment to the broader scope of national and international news (namely the events leading up to the second world war). Also, as the years progressed, and as the paper became stronger, it became more aggressively radical and openly Communist.
The demise of the paper came with the October 9, 1936 issue. The board of the Voice of Action decided to stop publication, in order to contribute to the strengthening of the new progressive labor paper -- Commonwealth News. The Commonwealth News represented a myriad of liberal and labor groups that were united by the Commonwealth Federation. The Voice of Action board decided it would be best to have just one paper representing the progressive labor movement in the Northwest. The Voice of Action gave its mailing list to the new paper and encouraged the Voice of Action readers to fully support the new paper. So it goes, the Voice of Action did not simply die and vanish, but rather the Voice of Action sacrificed itself in order to fertilize a new life force -- The Commonwealth News.
II. The Great Depression and The New Deal
The Voice of Action came into existence at the height of the Great Depression. Franklin Roosevelt had just taken office and unemployment in Seattle and elsewhere were at record levels. The terrible economic strife experienced by the people directly fueled the movement which the Voice of Action documented and advanced. The horrendous problems of unemployment, forced labor, wage cuts, and other economic problems all stemmed from the economic conditions of the Depression, and these problems were so unbearably bad that they drove the people to organize a social movement in response. It is the climate of the Great Depression which fueled the passion for revolution made tangible by the Voice of Action.
Roosevelt's New Deal was one of the targets of The Voice of Action. The newspaper criticized the new programs for helping the rich more than those who were really in need. The Voice of Action generally took a tone of cynicism and loathing when discussing (or mocking) the New Deal policies and programs. One woodcut illustration reads, "Another short, short story. Young unemployed fellows listen to rosy speeches [about New Deal jobs], go to camps, and out comes army ready for war (May 1, 1933)." The programs to keep the unemployed productive were seen, in this case, as simple schemes to develop the unemployed into soldiers.
III. News Highlights
1933: The Truth About the March to Olympia
This march is what spawned the Voice of Action. The paper portrayed the Olympia Hunger March of March 1, 1933 as the most impressive mass movement in Seattle since the days of the General Strike. About 3,500 delegates from 114 working class organizations marched to Olympia to petition the governor for the repeal of the Macdonald bill, for emergency cash relief, and for the Job-less Social Insurance Bill. None of these demands were met by the governor, but the march did help to bring more attention and power to the working class organizers by displaying their passion and their sheer numbers. Throughout this year, the March to Olympia was referenced time and time again.
Crowd Mobilizes to Stop Blonder Family Eviction from Home
This is another issue that was dealt with in many issues of the Voice of Action throughout 1933. Many unemployed people and their families were being evicted from their homes by their landlords during this time. This particular case involved the Blonder family that resided in Ballard. Activists, represented by the Voice of Action, mobilized to rally around the Blonder family in an attempt to stop the eviction. This action stretched out over the course of many months with some points of perceived victory until the eventual failure in the end when the family was thrown out of their home.
Organize Against the Scottsboro Boys Lynch Threat
This is another major issue covered by the Voice of Action for a period of time during 1933. This issue involved a call to action to rally against the unfair lynching planned by the Klan for eight black children in Decatur, Alabama. The eight black boys ranged in age from 12-20. They were accused of attacking two white women, but with absolutely no evidence. Their case was world famous at this time as a test of the rights of the blacks of the South. The Voice of Action wrote, "A campaign almost unparalleled in labor history has been waged for their freedom (April 10, 1933)."
Forced Labor at Tacoma Goodwill
This case involved forced labor at the Goodwill's "junk renovating outfit." Workers were forced to work for their food vouchers and were not paid a wage of any sort. This issue of wage-less labor was strongly opposed by the Voice of Action as a type of slavery that would lead to a phasing-out of wages altogether. It is considered, as you might guess, even more unethical since this forced labor practice was done by a supposedly not-for-profit charitable organization. Interestingly, the Salvation Army was also charged with forced labor a few years later.
1934: Welcome Soviet Seamen!
This is the first time the Voice of Action displayed their Soviet sympathy and admiration. The American Communists of this period thought that Communism in the Soviet Union was the nearest thing to a utopia on the earth. They longed for America to have a similar revolution. The Soviet seamen that landed in Seattle were welcomed and revered by the Voice of Action which was quietly Communist.
Russian Movie Tour Fundraiser
Yet another example of the Soviet fascination displayed in 1934 is the Voice of Action Russian movie tour to raise money for the paper.
1935: Fight Move to Bar Communist Party
Wow! The Voice of Action is now openly supporting the Communist Party. They have finally "come out the closet", so to speak. The paper is now running adverts in support of Communist candidates. The Voice of Action in 1935 becomes openly radical and Communist, perhaps because the paper is stronger and does not fear the risk associated with being Communist Party members.
Free Tom Mooney
This was a call to action to rally around the release of the wrongly imprisoned labor union figure -- Tom Mooney.
The Voice of Action becomes increasingly concerned with the spread of fascism in Europe -- particularly Spain and Germany.
1936: Hitler's Tyranny
The Voice of Action became very concerned and, in turn, full of news regarding the Hitler regime in Pre-WWII Germany. The pages of the Voice of Action are filled with news of fascism of all sorts all over Europe and of the particular crimes against humanity perpetrated by Hitler.
Kansas Hospital Bans Jews
Wow! Scary! The Hitler era anti-Semitism spreads through the US.
Boycott Hearst Publications
In each issue throughout 1936, there was an advert from the editors of Voice of Action urging readers to boycott all Hearst publications which listed all of the magazines and newspapers owned by Hearst. The Hearst corporation was despised by the Voice of Action because of their anti-Soviet propaganda and because of their lack of alliance with the striking workers.
The Words of Amelia Earhart
This was an interview with Amelia Earhart, the great female pilot of this time, about her anti-war, pacifist sentiments (September 11, 1936).
American Children Starving
The children of the unemployed suffered greatly at this time. The Voice of Action pointed out time and time again that the dogs and cats at the humane societies were allotted more money for food each day than the government provided for children each day. This was a true tragedy at the time that found much attention within the pages of the Voice of Action.
Click to enlarge
Cartoons and Woodcuts
Woodcut artist Richard V. Correll created dozens of political cartoons for the Voice of Action. Some are below. For more see Communism in Washington State- History and Memory Project
Left Wing Critics
The Voice of Action was extremely critical of what they perceived to be conservative elements in society. The publication was highly critical of Roosevelt's New Deal. The relief programs, the paper argued, would lead to fascism and continue to exploit America's workers. Additionally, the paper frequently argued against the AFL.
The Voice of Action covered many progressive issues. Stories the paper followed included the eviction of the Blonder's in Ballard--a family of activists, the Tom Mooney trial, the boycott of Hearst publications, and numerous lumber strikes.