The 1919 Seattle General Strike
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The International Shingle Weavers of America

By Philip C. Emerson
Washington state's important cedar shingle industry began in the 1870s and grew quickly. The skilled workers who cut and packed the shingles were called shingle weavers because of the way they handled the wood in the sharp saws. Photo Credit: Webster & Stevens - ca. 1915. Courtesy of MOHAI.

For two decades, between 1901 and 1921, the International Shingle Weavers’ Union was one of the largest, most powerful unions in the Pacific Northwest. It set the standard for the other unions of the day or yet to come. Historian, Norman H. Clark described the Shingle Weavers’ as, "The most militant and articulate representatives on the Trade Council were the shingle weavers, whose union was by far the largest and strongest." Every labor union in the state if not in the nation has benefited from the Weavers’ existence.

The reason labor unions came into being was to protect individual wage workers from the overwhelming power of business owners. By representing large groups, a labor union gives the wage workers a fighting chance to better their lives through, among other things, increased earning power, health benefits for themselves and their families, vacations, sick leave, holidays, safety and pension plans, if they can stick together as a unit.

The Shingle Weavers’ Union worked and fought hard for their union brother’s welfare and rights from the very beginnings of the organization.

The first attempt at organizing a Shingle Weavers’ Union began in 1886 on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. The union lasted a few years, then because the shingle industry was moving west, among other things, it died out. About 1890, shingle weavers of Puget Sound began to band together and formed a union under the name of the West Coast Shingle Weavers’ Union. Three years later the mill owners formed an alliance and called for an industry wide wage reduction. The Shingle Weavers’ went on strike, then three months later the "Panic of ‘93" hit. This depression was the death knell of the second organizing attempt. The third and by far the most successful and longest lasting attempt started in 1901. This is the rendition of the Shingle Weavers’ Union that the following paper will, concentrate on.

The Shingle Weavers’ Union was the first organized labor institution in the entire timber industry. Craft unions on the east side of Lake Michigan were agitating for the eight hour day, a battle that would go on for years to come. In 1886 the Weavers in Muskegon Michigan decided the eight hour day was worth the fight so they organized a local union and joined in. Soon another local was started north of Muskegon in the large timber center of Manistee Michigan. "The work day in shingle mills in those days was 12 1/2 hours. Girls and boys were working together. By organization female labor was abolished and a 10-hour day established through a strike." There are two reasons this attempt at forming a union did not last more than a few years. First, it was a very loosely structured body with no expertise on how to run a union. Second, the shingle manufacturers had already begun to relocate on the west coast due to dwindling forest resources in the mid-west, taking the jobs with them.

As new mills were established in the Puget Sound region around 1890, the shingle weavers quickly began to reorganize. They called themselves the West Coast Shingle Weavers’ Union, establishing locals in Ballard, Tacoma, Snohomish, Arlington, Chehalis and Sedro-Wooley. "Prosperity reigned in the shingle industry. Packers were receiving 10 cents a thousand, one cent more than the union makes today" [1913]. In early 1893, the mill owners in an attempt to squelch the union, formed an association among themselves and immediately announced an area wide cut in wages. The Shingle Weavers’ called a strike in protest. Three months later the crowning blow fell as the "Panic of 93" hit the Northwest. The depression killed the West Coast Shingle Weavers’ Union as well as some of the smaller shingle manufacturers.

James J. Hill, of Great Northern Railroad fame, was more responsible for making Everett Washington "the capital" of the lumber, as well as the shingle, industries than any other one person. He had a neighbor in St. Paul Minnesota by the name of Frederick Weyerhaeuser. They "spent many a long winter evening together...discussing the decline of the timber industry in the Mississippi Valley and the almost incalculable promise of the Puget Sound country." Mr. Weyerhaeuser, before coming to the Northwest, was already the most powerful man in the timber industry. In 1899 he formed the Sound Lumber Company.

In 1900 he negotiated with Hill one of the largest land transactions-and most fantastic bargains-in American history: nine hundred thousand acres of timber from the Northern Pacific land grants at six dollars an acre, a price estimated then as about ten cents a thousand feet for the wood.

The Weyerhaeuser Timber Company was organized to cut down his new timber and he ordered the first mill to be built in Everett. "The mill had no equal. It was the largest lumber mill in the world, and it expanded steadily, increasing production from twenty-eight million feet in 1902 to seventy million in 1912."

Jim Hill was not done. In 1900 the former governor of Minnesota, David Clough was on his way to Everett. "Widely regarded as one of the toughest and shrewdest of the timber capitalists...he knew, as Hill knew, that money from Minnesota would follow his reputation." Clough organized several large companies with former associates investing money including; the Clark and Nickerson Lumber Company, the Clough and Whitney Company and the Clough and Hartley Company. "The Clough and Hartley Mill dominated the waterfront on bayside and was soon the greatest producer of red cedar shingles in the world." Several other timber industrialists had relocated in and around Everett by 1902 and were welcomed into the community. "Their logs came usually from the same sources, and there were usually enough to go around."

After the panic in 1893 the shingle weavers stayed pretty quiet, until 1901. "...locals sprang up in different towns around the Sound. Within two months unions had been formed in practically every shingle center from Sedro-Wooley to Kelso in the southern portion of the state of Washington." Locals were also forming in Michigan and Wisconsin at the same time. All these local unions quickly affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. In the book Mill Town the union is described thus. "The most militant and articulate representatives on the Trade Council were the shingle weavers, whose union was by far the largest and strongest." There were several reasons prompting that statement. This union was composed mostly of men who were "native-born from older immigrant groups." This section of the population were more easily organized. They wanted to settle down in one place and had a strong desire to hold a single job for a longer duration that the typical woodsman. Additionally, the inherent dangers of the Weaver’s job built comradeship within the membership. Referring to the articulation within the Shingle Weavers’, there were several very good, intelligent men such as, J.G. Brown and Harry Ault and C.J. Folsom, but none shined brighter than Ernest P. Marsh. Marsh was part owner of the Everett Labor Journal, a labor orientated newspaper which was considered the voice of organized timber industry workers, and was also part time editor, editorial writer, Recording Secretary of the Shingle Weavers’ Union and for several years after early 1913, President of the Washington Federation of Labor. He was also appointed to the Presidents (of the U.S.) Mediation Commission in 1917. The Shingle Weavers’ were lucky to have had a man of such ability on their side. Partly because of the intellectual prowess of E.P. Marsh, the 1901 incarnation of the union was the longest lived of them all. It was called the International Shingle Weavers’ Union of America.

It took considerable aplomb to attempt this effort at union organizing in 1901. Every local, except one in Elma, formed in the face of a strike. Part of the settlement was recognition of the union. Demonstrating their willingness and ability to fight, the shingle weavers won all the strikes without exception. The preamble to the Shingle Weavers’ Union Constitution spells out the basic tenets of the union:

"In order to cherish and protect our rights and interests as wage workers, to cultivate the social and fraternal ties existing among the workers in the shingle industry, to promote all movements to obtain for the producer the wealth he creates and secure the opportunity to permit its enjoyment, to abolish injurious privileges and promote working class solidarity, we, the International Shingle Weavers’ Union of America do declare and establish the following Constitution and By-Laws for our future government:"

The Constitution illustrates the issues of the day and gives instructions as to Jurisdiction, Laws (making or changing), Conventions Representation, Officers and Elections, Duties of Officers, Referendum voting, Vacancies in Office, Salaries, Revenue and Funds, Initiations, Dues and Reinstatements, Penalties, Appeals, Amendments, Appeals and Impeachments, Districts, Subordinate Unions, The Official Journal, Strikes and Lockouts, Holidays and Overtime, Members-at-Large, Changes and Conflicts, By-Laws, Election and Duties of Local Officers, Admission and Dues, Advice to Members, Order of Business of Locals, Rules for Governing the International Employment Department and a Price List of Supplies--All this information in a handy little book that fit in a breast pocket.

For five years after 1901, the Shingle Weaver’s were winning every struggle they encountered and organizing members in large numbers throughout the Pacific Northwest. The timber industry had exceptional years in "1901, 1902, 1905, 1906." The San Francisco earthquake in 1906 was a boon to the industry. Also, by 1906, shingle mills were very close to being one hundred percent organized. The weavers felt unbeatable. In early 1906 the manufacturers again formed an association, this time in an effort to control production and prices, boost profits, cut wages, and to stop the advancement of the union.

On April 1,1906 a strike began in Ballard. Coincidentally, this was the same location where the 1893 strike started. Three months later, with little sign of an agreement or even negotiations on the horizon, the union made the decision to expand the strike. "On July 17, a general strike of all shingle mills in the state was called. It was the most complete tie-up of the shingle industry in history." For the first time since 1901 the manufacturers were too strong and to many strikebreakers were available. The strike was called off in August. The Ballard mills were being run by scabs and Bellingham and Grays Harbor were close to being lost to the union through open shop provisions which allow non-union personnel to work along side union men. The union realized by with the loss of the strike that they had to concentrate their forces on organizing more of the industry if they were ever going to be able to combat the timber barons. During 1907 the weavers negotiated an industry wide raise of fifty cents and the membership was again on the rise.

Late in 1907 a new recession fell on the Northwest. Shingle prices plummeted. "Wages in nearly all lines went down, but the union weavers held their scale with the advance of the previous year."

In February of 1909, the socialistic lean of organized labor was exemplified when several shingle weavers took out a ten month lease on Senator Smith’s mill in Marysville and ran it as a cooperative. It was called the Home Shingle Company.

Three months later several of the boys who went to British Columbia are back in town.  A peculiar condition of affairs exists in several Canadian shingle plants. It is stated that the owners would prefer white men to the Asiatics if enough competent help could be secured to operate the plants, but that if one Chinese is discharged and a white man is employed in his place ‘all the rest of the Chinks quit’. If that is true, then we may well learn a lesson from the Chinese.

In September the mills in Chehalis County shut down over a wage dispute connected to the new shingle grading rules on wood quality. "President Folsom of the International Union is on the ground and will personally conduct affairs for the weavers."  C.J. Folsom had instituted a new program of organizing by district which seemed to be working well. The rationale behind this program was the fact that, "Perhaps no other trade union has a membership harder to keep track of nor so widely scattered as the shingle weavers." Several locals had an area in excess of sixty square miles and the union soon found out that workers isolated from meetings and union agents by distance tended to get behind on their dues and even to loose interest in being in the union during quiet times. Of course, when times got tough, back they would come again for help. These men had to be educated as to what unions were about after being organized and contacted on a regular basis. "After six months trial of the district organization plan the members are agreed that it was one of the wisest moves ever made for the upbuilding of their International."

An interesting resolution came before the Eight Annual International Shingle Weavers’ Union Convention in Marysville in January of 1910. This resolution "favored withdrawing from the American Federation of Labor and affiliating with the Industrial Workers of the World." The article claims that there was much "broadminded" debate and many views were presented. A few members were for adoption as the resolution stood and were for changing from a craft union to an industrial one. Others thought the resolution was ideal but also thought the timing was bad for severing relations with the main body of organized labor, namely the A. F. of L.  Still others believed there was a movement within the ranks of organized labor towards a centralization of effort, a coming together of various organizations for self-protection and the best interests of the shingle weavers demanded that they remain a part of the organized labor movement and work with it towards a goal of a united working class.

In a roll call vote the resolution lost and the article says, "there were no hard feelings."

In October 1912 the industry went on strike. "Shingle manufacturers have been on strike for two weeks, a strike against oppressive market conditions. And we concede the they have a real grievance for striking." That was a quote from a mill owner. Following that statement the column read, "Did you ever hear a shingle manufacturer admit that possibly a striking shingle weaver had a real grievance."

Organizing is, or should be, an ongoing project within every union. It keeps the membership already in the union united in body and purpose and attracts new members so the union will grow, enhancing its ability to accomplish the goals of the wage workers. Size means power, power means the capability to win from the management the demands and desires put forth by the rank and file of a labor union, to expand into new areas of industry and to keep non-union labor out of the workplace. This last goal is commonly called the "Closed Shop" and a union must be fairly strong for an employer to give in to this condition.

In November of 1912 the headline read, "Weavers To Branch Out. If the Federation of Labor...signs the request...for an extension of jurisdiction, the first step will be taken towards an organization campaign unparalleled in Northwest history." This was an effort to organize the entire timber industry under one union. The Shingle Weavers’ were asking the A. F. of L. to grant them the "right to take in every branch of the lumber and shingle industry, from the logger in the woods to the man who last handles the finished products it is ready for shipment to the worlds markets." The Weavers’ thought they could represent the industry better than the I.W.W. had up to this time.

1913 was a busy year. By January, the Shingle Weavers’ Union had received permission from the AFL to set about the task of organizing the entire timber industry. "Organization of Lumber Industry Aid To All Workers." In this article the writer points out that in 1913, the lumber industry was the dominant business in the Pacific Northwest. Included in this area were Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Northern California, Northern Idaho and Western Montana. The number of organized workers in this area was about fifty thousand but, "no less than 250,000 workers are employed in the forests or mills in this territory..." If the Weavers could organize all those workers "THE POWER OF LABOR WOULD BE MULTIPLIED ALMOST BEYOND CALCULATION." The article contemplates the possibilities available with those kinds of numbers.

There would be no more skinning employment sharks... hospital graft would be abolished...the time stealing system...would not be tolerated...no more such outrages as the Cosmopolis messhouse...Men would eat where they please...nor...the company store system...maximum working hours would be set and adhered to...

"Timberworkers Should Be United Before Canal Opens." The impetus of this article is the fact that European immigrants would be almost as close to the west coast as they already were to the east coast. Examples of the sweatshops full of unorganized immigrants back east were used to illustrate the situation that could arise if labor was not ready to combat it. It had been shown on the east coast that manufacturers would take advantage of the immigrants great need. This effort also shows the progressive tendencies of the Shingle Weavers’ in including new immigrants into their union.

We should make it possible for the thousands that are coming to be immediately absorbed into the great body of organized labor. We will thus make allies out of our fellow workers coming out of foreign shores, instead of being compelled to try to compete with them, the inevitable result of which is starvation wages and disease breeding conditions that we see in the Eastern States."

The list goes on talking about the other trade unions who would benefit from the backing of such a powerful organization.

Also in January of 1913 the Shingle Weavers’ President J.G. Brown considered aloud the question of how to organize other parts of the timber industry without jeopardizing their own union. "The increasing concentration of capital in the lumber industry has made it harder for the shingle weavers-being the only branch organized and representing but a small fraction of the men employed-to hold their own against these growing forces." The plan was to initially bring the new members into the existing locals so they could get a feel for how unions are run then to departmentalize the union into three sections; the shingle mills, the saw mills and the woodsmen. The thinking was that if the saw mill workers and or the woodsmen collapsed, the shingle weavers could still survive. Six months later the headline read "New Movement Succeeding-Plan Of Shingle Weavers To Organize Under One Industrial Head-The Entire Timber Industry Proves A Winner From The Start." They called themselves the International Union of Shingle Weavers’, Sawmill Workers And Woodsmen.

A chief issue to be addressed while organizing the entire timber industry was to point out the differences between the Shingle Weavers’ and the Industrial Workers of the World in union operations, industry successes and organizational ideologies. C.J. Folsom, past president of the Shingle Weavers’ and Organizer for the Washington State Federation of Labor in 1913, wrote a three column article elucidating these issues.

"Among the unorganized workers and uninformed public, much apprehension exists that the International Union of Shingle Weavers, Sawmill Workers and Woodsmen is the I.W.W. in disguise; that because the I.W.W. utterly failed with the general strike of the loggers last year, they choose to appear on the scene cloaked in a new name."

Among other things, the circumstances of who could call a strike were contrasted. The I.W.W. leaders could call a strike without speaking to their members first. The rank and file of the Shingle Weavers voted to tell the officers if they wanted to strike or not before any decision was announced.

On April 10,1913, once again, Ballard became a battle ground as a strike was called. At issue was the international minimum wage. The strike started and spread from the Seattle Cedar Shingle Company. Against state law, the companies of Ballard were employing underage kids during the strike plus other unskilled people. There was no way to know how many of these people had been hurt but, during the first two weeks of the strike, "at least six men have been seriously injured since the strike was called." It was well known that the employers were secretly and quietly transporting injured scab workers out of the mills when management determined that the workers were not hurt bad enough to need an ambulance. The situation deteriorated to the point that the Seattle Methodist Preachers, after touring the two mills still in operation, came out publicly for the Shingle Weavers’ in a ten point open report to the mill owners and the public in the newspapers. Public sentiment was strongly on the side of the union throughout the strike.

The length of the working day was an issue in 1886, again in 1890,1901, and almost continuously from 1914 through 1921, except for a short time during World War One. In 1914 the topic was hotly contested on both sides. The Shingle Weavers a felt enough time had gone by waiting for the employers to follow the other industries and make the change. Now it was time to act! Ernest P. Marsh, the newly elected President of the Washington Federation of Labor, "declared for the eight hour day in the Timber industry with a minimum wage of $2.25." In the next issue of the Labor Journal E.P. Marsh wrote a fairly long article about the hard fought twelve year history of the Shingle Weavers. He emphasized their on going fight for shorter working hours and backed his argument for the timber industry by stating that many other industries had gone or were going to the eight hour day, adding that the jobs within the timber industry were so dangerous that eight hours was enough. Marsh’s article was titled in part, "Timber Workers Declare For The Eight Hour Day...Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours to do what you will."

In 1915 unresolved issues and emotions were heating up. Between January and April the Everett Trades Council lost "the president and three of five council members." They were replaced by a much more radical group. "Among the board’s first decisions was to take the Labor Journal away from Ernest Marsh and give the editorship to Maynard Shipley, the Socialist firebrand who hated Samuel Gompers and the American Federation of Labor." In February, reacting to soft prices for shingles the winter before, the Everett mill owners in a united effort lead by David Clough, "posted a 20 percent reduction in wages that was coupled with a stern open-shop declaration: ‘We will employ only such men as we please, organized or unorganized, and will discharge anyone when in our judgment it is necessary." With the appearance in Everett of the Commercial Club’s vigilante force and Sheriff Don McRae, a former Shingle Weaver Union officer, anti-union violence escalated to a level previously unknown to the Shingle Weavers’. The local newspapers seemed to twist the stories beyond recognition in order to gain public sentiment for the business community. Through the Labor Journal, the official newspaper of the Everett Trades Council, the unions tried to get their side of the story, a more factual one, out to the public. "TO THE PEOPLE OF EVERETT: True Story of the Present Industrial Strife Between Mill Owners and Timberworkers-What Really Happened Last Saturday."

Hearing Laird (a hired gun for the mill owners) cursing them in a loud voice, menacingly, the few strikers who were near the mill gate turned to see what was brewing. Laird cried ‘I’ll get you now, you s-- of a b----,’ and lunged forward striking J. McNair right in the face. Gunman White at the same time landed on Bruce Hatch. Another big bruiser hit Lennon with brass knuckles. Christie, son-in-law of Baker, [the mill owner] rushed forward with a murderous gun in hand. The men attacked by the strike breakers had no weapons.

The Weavers defended themselves, bare fisted, and beat back the hired thugs. For acting in self-defense they were arrested, called "Law breakers" and "Trouble makers" by the Everett Daily Herald and the Everett Tribune, and McRae wanted to kick them out of town. "As for the Herald and the Tribune-well, they must say what they are ‘kept ‘ to say." E.P. Marsh in the same paper published an article under the heading of, Come, Let Us Reason Together." In this article Marsh, as President of the W.F.L., "Reviews Industrial Situation In Everett- Makes A Plea for Simple Justice for Organized Labor." He disputes the story published by the Everett Daily Herald as false and deceptive and touches on everyone’s concern for the smooth operation of the mills. Marsh also challenges the mill owners to support their "claim that they can not pay the old scale of wages and operate their mills at a profit." Marsh argues that a compromise can be worked out if the manufacturers will simply show their books to the union negotiators. By the end of May, J.G. Brown, the president of the union, declared the strike over. The union had lost. The International Timberworkers Union was in a shambles.

By February 1916 the Shingleweavers had started a new organization for shingleweavers only and were electing new officers. This organizational effort started at Blaine Manufacturing Company, a cooperative mill, and worked its way south. International President Brown and W.F.L. President Marsh were conducting the reorganization meetings. They were welcomed enthusiastically where ever they went. "It seemed something like old times in the Labor Temple...the Timberworkers’ union is dead. Long live the revived shingleweavers!" By April almost all of the old shingleweavers were reorganized. One of the reasons why the reorganization went so well for the union was because of an agreement manufacturers had made with workers nine months earlier after the last strike. In an effort to keep the union out they told the workers that as soon as the prices rose again on shingles, the owners would give the weavers a wage increase. In the two months leading up to May, the workers had watched the prices rise and no wage increase was forth coming. Realizing that the employers were not going to honor their word, the shingleweavers knew that the only recourse they had was to organize again, so they did. The Fourteenth Annual Convention which adjourned on April 12, 1916 in Seattle was attended by a huge number of delegates. "A new international constitution and a new wage scale for District No. 1 were adopted." The new organization was named the International Shingle Weavers’ Union of America, and it was quickly affiliated with the A.F. of L.

On May first, three weeks after the unions official reopening, Everett went on strike. The timber barons had beat the old union and they were determined to do it again before the new union had a chance to get off the ground. The mill owner’s vigilantes and Sheriff Don McRae made sure the situation became as ugly as they could make it.

August 1916 headline: "Some Of The Facts Of The Weavers’ Recent Trouble: A Little Bit Of the Other Side That Was Not Printed In Our Daily Papers." The article tells of seventeen picketers being attacked by seventy "mill guards" within view of several Everett police who did nothing because they claimed that the incident happened just outside the line delineating the city limits. The picketers were beaten badly. Ten hours later when the thugs tried it again there were more picketers and as soon as the picketers started to gain the advantage the city police stepped in, city limits or no, fired several shots to gain control, shot one picketer in the hip, and arrested the union men, once again, for defending themselves.

In September 1916, the headline read "The Real Cause Of Street Disturbances In Our City." This article was all about the small army of hired thugs the mill owners had brought into Everett. This article was published two months before the Everett Massacre. Was anybody listening? On November 8th, three days after the Everett Massacre, the Shingle Weavers’ voted to end the six month strike in the hope of establishing peace in their home town. No concessions of any kind were made by the mill owners.

The Shingle Weavers’ concentrated on two things in 1917:  organizing and the ongoing fight for the eight hour work day.

On March 2, 1917, there was an announcement and column stating that the "International Union Of Timberworkers Are Now Industrially Organized." Once again and after much debate, the Shingle Weavers’ had amalgamated with the rest of the timber industry. The first order of business was to make the logging camps more livable.

On July 16, 1917, William E. Iverson, President of Shingle Weavers’ Union Local #7 in New Westminster B.C., sent a short letter to the millmen of British Columbia stating, "We beg to notify you that on and after July 23, eight hours shall constitute a days work." Buoyed by the wide spread eight hour day movement in the U.S. which was backed by the state and federal governments, the Shingle Weavers’/Timberworkers were pushing for it everywhere. Everett, not surprisingly, refused to go along. On September 21, 1917, "The strike was called primarily as a protest against the action of the lumber interest, who have refused to comply with requests of both state and federal governments to grant the generally recognized working day of eight hours."

In November 1917, the President’s Mediation Commission came to Seattle and summoned the lumber operators and our representatives to appear before it. After hearing the evidence submitted, the Commission appealed to the operators to grant the 8-hour day. The appeals of the workers, the State Council of Defense, the Presidents Mediation Commission and the National Government were all ignored by the employers... As a result of these activities, on March 1st the National Government ordered the eight hour day put into effect in the lumber industry.

The fact that the timber industry barons would ignore not only the will of the workers which was not unusual, but also the Mediation Committee formed and sent to the Northwest by the President of the United States and the National Government itself when they all went against the timber barons wishes, shows just how unpatriotic the mill owners were, not to mention how much they cared about their employees. It took an outright order from the Federal Government to make the timber interest come into line with the rest of industry across the nation. This action by the Feds definitely gave a boost to the union organizing efforts.

In 1918, the chief concerns of the Shingle Weavers’ /Timberworkers Union were Colonel Disque and the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, (commonly known as the 4L), who were set on breaking down conditions and lowering wages which the Timberworkers considered as counter to the federal governments stance. The other issue addresses public image.

During World War One the public outpouring of irrational patriotic zeal made it necessary on March 24, 1918 for the Timberworkers to do two things to help their societal appeal. The first was to distance themselves from the "revolutionist" Industrial Workers of the World and refute the I.W.W.’s actions and positions. The second was to publish proof of the Unions’ patriotism. The Timberworkers were under public pressure to make up a six point pledge of patriotism. "...saving money in every conceivable way in order to lend it to the government...invest in War Saving Stamps...changes in industry must come. To win the war we must produce war goods...every man and every dollar doing full patriotic duty..."

1919 was a noteworthy year for the organizing within the Timberworkers Union. The Seattle General Strike in February seemed to have little or no affect on the union. The membership was growing quickly, the mills were operating at full capacity and the outlook was rosy, except in Everett, as usual, and across the border in British Columbia. A strike was called in Everett on June 2nd, against the Clough-Hartley and the Hartley Mills for wage increases equal to those already being paid by the rest of the industry.

In Canada the eight hour day was not forced upon the industry as in the U.S. so the union was compelled to act. On July 24, 1919, "Shingle Strike in B.C. is Confirmed. Chinese, Japanese, Hindus and Whites walk out in demand for eight hour day without pay decrease."

Most of William E. Iverson’s time between 1916 and 1918 was spent helping to organize the Chinese mill workers in British Columbia into the Shingle Weavers’ Union and also helping to set up The Chinese Labor Association in Vancouver B.C. His call to the mill men on July 16, 1917 quoted earlier was on behalf of the Chinese mill workers. A letter to Bill Iverson from the Chinese Labor Association on August 19, 1918, opened with, "We are glad to hear from you" and ended with, "and Also your letter has Translated in Chinese and read it to all the member hope that you are well, We are yours truly, The Chinese Labor Assoc." Also quoted earlier was and eight hour day strike headline from July 1919 which includes "Chinese, Japanese, Hindus and Whites Walk Out..." At least the Weavers were trying to include all ethnic groups.

By the end of 1919, the post war recession had begun to have an effect on the industry. In January of 1920, the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen,(4L), to no ones surprise but to the unions chagrin, "declared for the ‘open’ or more properly the ‘non-union’ shop, they betrayed every man and woman employed in the timber industry, they tried to crucify them with nails wrought by the employers." The article goes on to say that the reason the 4L stayed in existence after the war was over was to "play into the hands of the timber operators." In July of that year the eight hour day again became an issue because as the war ended, the federal oversight of the industry ended, and the Everett mill owners would not leave the issue alone.

By May of 1921, there were on going fights over wage reductions, the eight hour day was again slipping away, union walkouts and owner lockouts were beginning and the 4L were up to their old tricks of backing the employers every move. Times were getting tough.

On June 1, 1921 Everett Weavers’ went on strike after their third wage cut in eight months and the threat of a fourth on the horizon. They had gone from $5.30 per hour in November 1920 to $3.00 per hour on June 1, 1921. The threat was to lower wages another 50 cents in July. Deteriorating economic conditions contributed heavily to the loss of this fight.

The Union was never the same after 1921. The country went into recession, had a brief revival which the shingle industry did not benefit from, then the "Great Depression" of the 1930’s ended all hope. Cedar was becoming more scarce and composition roofing was quickly becoming popular because it was cheap and easy to work. Jobs went away and did not come back; they simply ceased to exist.

The Shingle Weavers’ Union of America did not meet its’ demise because of the makeup of the organization or any lack of loyalty from the members. It was one of the most democratic and progressive unions ever formed. Its’ structure was a model for many of the unions with their beginnings in the 1930’s and later including the rather small union, that represents shingle weavers today, the International Woodworkers’ Union. The once powerful Shingle Weavers’ Union succumbed to the invention of composition roofing materials and the reoccurring problem faced by all extractive industries, limited resources. Cedar trees are becoming more scarce by the day. The industry could not continue indefinitely at the pace set in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The number of cedar trees is down, the demand for cedar shingles is down, the industry is down and the union is down. It was inevitable.


©1999 Philip C. Emerson
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