Sources and Research Guide to:
The International Shingle Weavers' Union
By Phil Emerson
The Shingle Weavers' Union was the first organization in the lumber industry. In 1886, as other organized labor associations were agitating for the eight hour work day, shingle weavers' along the east shore of Lake Michigan liked the idea and organized in order to join the fight. The first shingle weavers' local was located in Muskegon Michigan. Shortly there after in the large lumber center of Manistee another local formed. At the time these locals were organized the working day was twelve and one half hours and girls were working in this dangerous industry along side of the boys. The organization abolished female labor and shortened the working day to ten hours through a strike. This branch of the Shingle Weavers' Union did not last long for several reasons. One, it was loosely run and the other was the fact that most of the shingle manufacturing had begun to move west.
In 1890, the shingle weavers' began to get together around the Puget Sound. The West Coast Shingle Weavers' Union was formed with locals in Ballard, Tacoma, Snohomish, Arlington, Chehalis and Sedro-Wooley. The Panic of '93 killed this attempt at organization.
After weathering the depression, as the economy grew, the shingle weavers' realized that they were earning less than they had ten years earlier and conditions were worstening. In 1901 local unions began poping up all around Puget 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" (Labor Journal 2/7/13, p. 2). At the same time a few new locals organized in Wisconsin and Michigan. At that time all the locals affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.
In 1913 the Single Weavers' and Timberworkers' Unions combined. This arrangment lasted three years then the Shingle Weavers' Union was reorganized in early 1916. This is essentually the union which survived until it was amalgamated in to the Lumber and Sawmill Workers Union after World War II.
Between 1901 and 1945 labor in general and The Shingle Weavers in particular were involved in many facets of human endeavor including political action, human rights and workers rights. They were instumental in securing a higher degree of safety in the workplace, health benefits, the ten, and then the eight hour working day, vacations, sick leave and the attainment of a living wage for their workers.
In the overriding and single minded effort to improve conditions for the members of the unions, there were unfortunate byproducts. One of these is the fact that organized labor seemed to be dominated by white males. This was true in the early history of the union movement, but there are documented accounts illustrating a very real effort to organize minority workers for example the Chinese mill workers of British Columbia from 1917 through 1921 by William E. Iverson, my grandfather.
To my knowledge, the Shingle Weavers’ Union has never been studied as a single unit but useful information can be found in the following sources:
Clark, Norman H. Mill Town: A Social History of Everett Washington. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1970.
Dembo, Jonathon, Unions and Politics in Washington State 1885- 1935.
Schwantes, Carlos A. Radical Heritage: Labor, Socialism, and Reform in Washington and British Columbia, 1885- 1917.
Primary Sources: This report will describe three categories that are especially useful in investigating the Shingle Weavers’ Union.
Labor Journal (Everett weekly 1906- 1938) [A6311 UW MicNews]
Union Record (Seattle weekly 1900- 1918) [UW MicNews A1659]
(daily 1918- 1928) [UW MicNews A1658]
The Shingle Weaver (Anacortes weekly 1935- 1938) [UW MicNews]
U of W Special Collections:
Schwantes, Carlos A. Left Wing Unionism in the Pacific Northwest (HD 8083.W3538)
LaRoche, Frank. Photograph Collection (283)
AFL Union Record 1913 (HD 8055.A5 S42)
Uof W Manuscripts and Archives:
Henry Suzzallo Manuscripts:
Box 4 Letter from the International Shingle Weavers’ Union Local #45 July 16 1917, declaring the eight hour day, time and a half overtime and recognition of the union.
Box 6 Two letters signed by the U.S. Secretary of Labor, W.B. Wilson strongly suggesting the eight hour day one to President Wilson and cc to Suzzello.
Box 15 Government and Industry Agreement insisting that the lumber mills in Washington that had ignored the government so far will institute the eight hour working day.
Personal Primary Sources:
Picture of the Ninth Annual International Shingle Weavers’ Union of America Convention in Raymond Washington, 1911.
International Shingle Weavers’ Union of America Working Card and Constitution, including Bylaws, April 5, 1916.
A letter from William E. Iverson to the Millmen of British Columbia dated July 16, 1917, instituting the eight hour working day.
A letter form the Chinese Labor Association for Canada to William E. Iverson appraising him of the situation and thanking him for his time, effort and friendship.
Sorting through the newspapers is very time consuming but the rewards are great. Manuscripts and Archives has been of limited use, Special Collections has been somewhat better.Seattle General Strike Project home page