Seattle Union Record

(Seattle: 1912-1914 in this review)


Report by Josh Kaplan 

The Seattle Union Record was a major Seattle area labor newspaper of  the early twentieth century. With a publication run of nearly thirty years, the paper was a voice of labor during a dynamic period of Seattle’s labor history. Published by the Seattle Central Labor Council (and its predecessor, the Western Central Labor Union, until 1905), the Union Record was a full coverage newspaper, not merely a newsletter of the CLC.  The paper’s broad coverage of local, national, and international events provides insight into the attitudes of Seattle’s working people and helps us understand the world they lived in.   

This report studies The Seattle Union Record from January 20, 1912 through November 28, 1914. George T. McNamara was the editor and manager of the Union Record at the beginning of this period, but beginning with the April 12, 1913 edition, Harry B. Ault assumed this position.  The following review will discuss the paper’s overall characteristics, its intended audience, its regular features, its typical layout, and its overall message.  This review will also describe the Union Record’s coverage of major events in this time period and evaluate the stance the paper took on many issues.

Organization of the Seattle Union Record

While the Seattle Union Record was indeed a full coverage newspaper that contained articles about major national and international issues, its organization shows that it was clearly geared towards union members. The second page of every edition was headlined with “Co-operation Means Success,” a phrase that often graced the top of additional pages as well. The paper  also featured several regular weekly sections  dedicated to other labor councils based in the Seattle Labor Temple. A full page was dedicated to the Building Trades Council and another,  smaller section, titled the “Weekly Department of Women’s Label League, was dedicated to local women’s labor events.  In the middle pages of the paper, readers found  both the “Directory of Labor Organizations” and a “Roster of Unions”, which provided the contact addresses for a large number of locals. . A particularly interesting feature of the paper was its “Unfair List”, a constantly updated list of local businesses which maintained business or hiring practices deemed unfair to labor. The Union Record also reserved space for an editorial page and frequently featured cartoons.  In 1914, the paper began to run a regular section entitled “A Page for the Miners,” in response to the violent struggles of mine workers in Colorado and Michigan.  These “Miners’ Pages”  contained stories about  the mine workers, cartoons,  and messages of solidarity.  Indeed, the expressions of solidarity expressed on these pages reflected The Seattle Union Record’s ongoing commitment to build bonds between all varieties of working people.

Advertising to the workingman

Just like traditional newspapers, advertising  had a significant  presence in the Union Record. . The range of products and services that advertised to the union crowd covered most every good and service imaginable.  One similarity  among the many  advertisements was the wording and  symbols companies used to tout their  union friendly practices or exclusive use of union labor. An interesting ad for the Black and White Hat proudly declared their hats to be “The man kind”.  Such wording was used to  appeal to the manly pride of  workingmen. McCormack Bros. proclaimed that their “clothes are honor-made and sold by card men,” another appeal to the honor and dignity of  workingmen. Lawrence Morgan advertised their union made cigars with a more straightforward approach, declaring simply that “They Are Good”.

Leisure activities were also advertised. The J. & H. Bar on Occidental Ave. advertised wines, liquors and cigars under the banner of “The Only Strictly Union Saloon in the City” and continued with “we are union from basement floor to chimney top.”  For the union man looking to end a hard day with dancing, Dreamland on 7th and Union St. claimed to be “the only Union Dancing Pavilion in Seattle.” If drinking at home had more appeal, Rainer Beer advertised itself as “a fountain of health and happiness”. One can only assume this was the early 20th century’s version of beer ads featuring girls in bathing suits washing cars, dancing, or partying on the beach.

Advertisements were not only geared towards men. A “great premium offer” for a lot in the aqueduct city tract was promised to “the most popular lady member of organized labor” as part of a contest for women who purchased a yearlong subscription to the Union Record for $1. The Scandinavian American Bank advertised savings deposits for women, using the same appeal of pride and honor, yet geared towards the working woman. “The woman who makes her own way in the world” was encouraged to open an account, and the bank proudly declared that “nearly 8,000 of the 24,000 depositors of this bank are women.”

The message of the Seattle Union Record

Solidarity is perhaps the theme that best defines the message of the Union Record. More than simply conveying the news, the paper served as a rallying cry for the labor movement and union men and women as a whole. Stories frequently challenged readers to stand up and take action, or fulfill their  duties to  the labor movement. Stories  depicted most issues in the context of the greater struggle between  justice seeking working people and  tyrannical employers. To this end, articles supported working-class activism and championed workers’ sense of  decency, principle, pride, and honor. In a short article titled “Men with Principle, or Principle without Men?” the paper expressed its support for Paul Mohr and George McNamara, two union men running for city council, by stating that “those among our citizens desiring constructive legislation along right lines will make no mistake in voting for men who created principles and are the builders of their own platforms…” (02/03/1912) A cover page from July, 1914 inviting workers to the weekly Labor Temple Meeting also conveyed this theme. In bold print, the headline exclaimed, “Solidarity – Labor Forward,”  and the subtitle below read, “The Watchword Is “Solidarity.” (07/11/1914)

Another consistent theme of  the paper  was its  use of language that portrayed the issues of the day in the terms of class war.  There was also no illusion of unbiased coverage. The Union Record almost always took a strong and clear stance on the stories it covered. Employers supportive of anti-union legislation, other actions that undercut the labor movement, or otherwise unfriendly to workers  were characterized as evil and assailed as enemies of the readers.  During  a campaign against the Bon Marche, a popular Seattle department store, for unfair labor practices, an article titled “Shall the Weak Bear the Burden?” stated that “the fight against the Bon Marche is a fight for those who cannot help themselves.” (April 26, 1913) One cover page story, “Ballard Shingle Weavers Again Revolt” decried the industry in question as a “strong-hold of non-unionism” and called for fellow union members to support their brothers. Another headline on this same cover  cast the honorable union man as a fighter against the unjust. “Clerks Fight Against Exploitation of Weak” began by framing the conflict as another uphill fight of the David of labor versus the Goliath of unjust employers, claiming “times without number are the vigilant workers of organized labor confronted with the doubting”. (April 12, 1913) Time and time again, The Seattle Union Record evoked the rhetoric of class conflict and class war to argue that solidarity was necessary for workers to establish a just and fair society.

With such an emphasis  on working-class pride and honor , the Union Record  was understandably unkind  to  men it considered dishonorable, cowardly or unprincipled. An article titled “Man with the Yellow Streak” was unabashedly critical of such men and called on  readers to avoid associating with these sorts of individuals.

“Never choose a man who has a yellow streak to be your friend; never permit yourself to follow a man that carries the yellow, regardless of how loud he may shout and the grievances he may rave about. Such men are dangerous and treacherous; he will coach you on and desert at the first scent of a real fight.… He can’t help himself, because he isn’t man enough to own up and ask for assistance. He won’t tell you what is wrong with him. He wears the velvet of false pride over his threadbare patch, and you only see it when it’s too late and his cloak drops and shows his tattered courage.” (April 12, 1913)

Scabs,  the name given to strike breakers and nonunion laborers, were portrayed as the lowest form of enemy to the labor movement. In a headline article titled “Scabs Shipped Out,” the subtitle declared that the “Captain in charge of troops in Trinidad District turns back five degraded specimens of humanity who attempt to scab.” (May 16, 1914) One  was likely certain to readers of the Union Record: being on the bad side of the paper’s staff was a distinction to be  avoided. 

Race and gender in the Union Record

Early twentieth century Seattle workers and unions were constantly divided over questions of race and gender.  While some factions argued that racism and sexism were tools used by employers to divide the working-class and workers should be fighting the bosses and not themselves, others believed that working-class solidarity was the privilege of whites. . But surprisingly, the Union Record had little to say about race relations.  The article “Pacific Northwest Immigration Convention”, written by Charles Perry Taylor, was a summation of  events at  a meeting about the place of foreign-born and nonwhite workers in the labor movement.. Taylor wrote that speakers “described at length the squat labor performed by Japanese in beet sugar fields of California during hot weather, and how the Hindu and other long-legged long-backed laborers were not so satisfactory as the Japanese.” (March 2, 1912)  As this article shows, Asians were the target of negative attitudes and racist opinions.  But overtly racist articles were relatively rare, and occasionally a writer took a position against Anti-Asian bigotry, as in the March 1913 piece titled “Rainier Beach after the Japs.”  The article critiqued the Rainier Beach Improvement Club’s  attempt to discriminate against Japanese immigrants and sought to expose “the lie…that there is no anti-Jap feeling in Seattle.”

Black workers were generally portrayed positively in the Union Record.  In fact, the paper argued that solidarity between white and black workers was strong and they had a common enemy in employers. A piece in the September 13, 1913 editorial section titled “Organized Labor and the Negro” included very inclusive language intended to bond white and black laborers together.

“…white workers need not fear unfair competition from him for the job, as the Negro would not be satisfied with any less bearable conditions than his white brother. The result of this action on the part of the unions has been the formation of many Negro organizations, especially in the southern states, where are being developed hundreds of skilled Negro mechanics who take second place to none.”   …   “There is room in the labor movement for all workers, whether white, brown, black or yellow, just as soon as any of them desire to become part of it.” (September 13, 1913)

 

Overall it seems that the Union Record was inconsistent when it came to race.  On one hand, the paper used racist and divisive language and held many bigoted opinions.  But on the other hand, it also frequently decried racism and sought to strengthen white-black working-class solidarity.

For the most part, women were treated with  respect  in the Union Record. Not only was there a special section dedicated to the local women’s labor group, articles frequently paid respect to the women who fought alongside men  for the cause of labor. One such example appeared in the May 30, 1914 edition under the title “Economic Organizations of Women Great Driving Power.”  The article stated that “Label Leagues [are] of inestimable value in obtaining better working conditions” and continued  that “there have been many great women in history, women who have risen above convention, custom and precedent, and left their mark indelibly upon the period in which they lived.” (March 30, 1914) From the perspective of the paper, women’s purchasing power and willingness to stand up to the bosses gained them a great deal of reverence and respect.

The Bon Marche Dispute

During the 1912-1914 period, a struggle between workers and the Seattle retailer, the Bon Marche, was covered in great detail in the Union Record—in fact, barely a week went by without an article discussing this dispute. An article titled “Bon Marche Adds Insult to Injury” commented on  statements the retailer issued to its employees.  The article began by reprinting a message the Bon March printed on envelopes it issued to its workers: 

“Don’t be one of those who are always ready to fight for their ‘right.’ This ‘rights’ business is a joke. Some people feel offended if they are asked to do part of another’s work, or if anything not essentially part of their particular duties is asked of them. Don’t worry so much about your ‘rights,’ but use ‘horse sense.’ You won’t lose anything by having a reputation for being ‘willing.’ It doesn’t sound smart, but that little word ‘success’ is bound up in it.”

-THE BON MARCHE April 5th, 1913

 

Inside the envelope was the $5 weekly wage the Union Record deemed unfairly low. In January of 1914, the piece titled “Bon Marche Shows Its Teeth” alerted  readers to a notice placed in every window of the Bon Marche that stated “This firm is a member of the Employers’ Association and Employs its help For Efficiency Only.” (January 10, 1914) Two weeks later an article stated that the “building [will] be picketed until settlement is Reached; Label League Big Factor” (January 24, 1914) Following the resolution of the long-standing disagreement, the Bon Marche appeared to swallow its pride and agree to union demands—in fact, the May 30, 1914 printing of the Record included an advertisement for the store. Given the strength and size of the labor movement in Seattle, it is understandable that the Bon Marche  sought to regain lost union customers as quickly as possible. And while the add never admitted to unfriendly labor policies, it did  feature the logo for the union made Black Bear Overalls brand.

Other businesses also employed the tactic of courting union members after labor disputes had been settled.  Kristoferson’s Dairy was called out as unfair in the February 3, 1912 edition, gaining mention in a small article titled “Unfair Dairies and Why.” In the April 20, 1912 printing the paper “had the pleasure of announcing” that Jersey Dairy and Kristoferson’s were removed from the unfair list. Shortly after, ads for Kristofferson began appearing in the paper.

Examples such as these show  that Seattle’s  labor movement had a good deal of power at this  time.  They also show that the Union Record played an important role in coordinating and organizing boycotts against  unfair employers.

The Colorado Mine Strikes

Perhaps the most heavily covered national labor news of this time involved the plight of striking miners in Colorado and Michigan.  Upset over horrid conditions and abysmal wages, mine workers demanded changes from mine owners. The addition of the “Page for the Miners” section guaranteed weekly coverage of these strikes. In a March 7, 1914 article titled “Power of Calumet & Hegla Co.”, special correspondent Arthur Jensen questioned the unchecked economic and political  of copper mine owners. “We have seen the local leaders of the Progressive party, the Republican governor of the state, the Democratic leaders of the House committee, the local business men and the New York detective agencies meekly bow to the strong will of the copper companies” wrote Jensen. Indeed this important event involved all levels of government and was of chief concern to the labor movement as a whole. The Union Record’s constant coverage of the events was typical of the paper’s commitment to labor causes, large or  small.

Voice of a Movement

The Seattle Union Record is an important part of Seattle’s labor history.  Its pages highlight many major labor issues of the early twentieth century. It provides the context for major national and international issues and is also a remarkable lesson in Seattle history. Above all else, the Seattle Union Record gave the labor movement a voice and helped workers stay connected to national and international issues..

Click to enlarge

(May 2, 1914)

(April 12, 1913)

(January 17, 1914)

(April 19, 1913)

(April 12, 1913)

The Seattle Union Record was a major Seattle area labor newspaper of  the early twentieth century. With a publication run of nearly thirty years, the paper was a voice of labor during a dynamic period of Seattle’s labor history.


The Seattle Labor Movement

The primary purpose of the Seattle Union Record was to report on local union news.  The paper contained articles about struggles, strikes, and lockouts.  The paper also laid out the political platform of Seattle's labor movement.  

(September 13, 1913)

(February 24, 1912)

(January 20, 1912)

(February 17, 1912)

(March 16, 1912)

(September 5, 1914)


Race, Gender, and Immigration

The Seattle Union Record stressed working-class solidarity.  Articles argued that workers could not afford to be divided on issues of race and ethnicity.  The paper also highlighted women's role in the labor movement and ran articles in support of suffrage and women's rights.

(May 10, 1913)

(March 2, 1912)

 

(February 28, 1914)

(March 16, 1912)

(May 30, 1914)


The Bon Marche Campaign

During the 1912-1914 period, a struggle between workers and the Seattle retailer, the Bon Marche, was covered in great detail in the Union Record—in fact, nearly a week went by without an article discussing this dispute.

(May 24, 1913)

(January 10, 1914)

(January 24, 1914)

(February 7, 1914)


Supporting The Miners' Struggle

Perhaps the most heavily covered national labor news of this time involved the plight of striking miners in Colorado and Michigan.  Upset over horrid conditions and abysmal wages, mine workers demanded changes from mine owners. The addition of the “Page for the Miners” section guaranteed weekly coverage of these strikes.

(March 21, 1914)

Copyright (c) 2008 by Josh Kaplan