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Friday, December 4, 2015

Fifty Thousand Lumberjacks - The Pacific Northwest Strike of 1917.

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I.W.W. Poster
           In late spring 1917 the Industrial Workers of the World struck the logging and milling industries of the Pacific Northwest for the 8-hour day, better pay and better camp conditions. It couldn't have come at a worse time for the U.S. government, in need of cedar and white pine to build ships, airplanes, barracks and boxes for the war effort.  By summer the strike had spread from Montana, across northern Idaho and into Washington State. In my novel, Marble Creek ( Please nominate it on Kindle Scout until July 3 for a possible eBook contract. And please share this post.  If  you vote for it and it gets a contract, you get a free download of Marble Creek from Kindle. ) my protagonist, Wobbly and Irish radical, Malachi O'Neill, recently released from the Everett jail as a result of the Everett Massacre, heads for the Idaho woods to order loggers belonging to the I.W.W. to walk out.

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Logging camp in Deer Park, north of Spokane, Washington
             A few weeks later, O'Neill organizes a picket line at the MacLean Lumber Mill in St. Maries, Idaho, when Moses Alexander, Governor of Idaho, who has been making whistle stops at struck Idaho mills, arrives.

O'Neill knew how it would be.  Governor Moses Alexander in an expensive dark suit and hat would step down, followed by his entourage, some in uniform.  The mayor and town fathers, boot-lickers all, would be waiting at the station.  And Alonzo MacLean, the mill owner, would don a suit for the occasion, laying aside his high laced boots, tucked-in pants and plaid wool shirt.  The previous day he’d spotted MacLean though his open office door coming down with the “Wobbly Horrors” when he learned a few more men had struck and walked out.  When he saw the group rapidly approach along the dusty road, O’Neill called out, “Here comes the governor.  Ye’ll be givin’ him respect, fellow workers,” adding under his breath, “though they be at their old tricks.”
Governor Alexander went down the crooked picket line, offering his hand to each man, who had to pull his own out of a pocket to shake it. . .  .

. . . O’Neill stood back with fists in pockets.  Son-of-a-bitch rascal, thinking he’s squireen of us all.
Alexander spread the eagle’s wings and unsheathed its talons, speaking of patriotism and their duty to assist in defeating Germany.  He had his spiel down pat, having made the circuit of struck sawmills on Idaho's numerous rivers and lakes, knowing better than to trek into empty logging camps.
           He’d pushed a syndicalism law through the state legislature, directed at the Industrial Workers of the World.  Guts twisted with resentment, O'Neill watched the governor from below.  The strikers weren’t all Wobblies, just sympathetic to I.W.W. aims.  The new treason law, though, frightened the mill workers.  Unlike rough and tumble lumberjacks, they were mostly family men . . .   
         . . . The strikers had listened quietly, even respectfully.  Alexander stepped down and

 shook more hands.  And that was that.  He and his followers raise a cloud of fine dust on their way back to his train. . . .  The men in front of the gate were talking among themselves when Sheriff Buck Noland and his deputized thugs moved in to arrest the Wobbly leaders.  O’Neill didn't struggle, but it didn’t save him from being punched in the face after he was handcuffed.  The sheriff’s men held guns on the strikers as O’Neill and two others were dragged to one side and searched for weapons.  As they were close-herded the few blocks to the jail, O’Neill called out to a Wobbly, “Jimmy, ye best be gettin' us a lawyer.”

 And the appropriate I.W.W. song "Fifty Thousand Lumberjacks" can be heard  HERE

1 comment:

  1. Oh, man. This is fascinating, hair-raising. I reread it listening to the song. Research for this must have been so interesting.