Labor Archives of Washington


Anti-Labor Reactions and Labor Espionage

Notice identifying the Bon Marche as unfair to organized labor
Notice identifying the Bon Marche as "unfair to organized labor".

The rising power and influence of organized labor in the 1910s prompted a response from other groups who saw this trend as a threat. During World War I, both the government and business interests opposed labor’s use of its primary weapon – the threat of the strike – on the grounds of patriotism during a time of war. After the war ended, when the Seattle general strike erupted in part as a response to that wartime dynamic, businesses strengthened their opposition to organized labor, and sought to use new tools in their attempts to prevent labor from achieving its aims.

Once the United States had entered World War I, the military's need for lumber skyrocketed—especially spruce, which was used to construct airplanes. When labor unrest in the Pacific Northwest logging industry slowed production, the U.S. Army established the Spruce Production Division, which would send thousands of soldiers into logging camps to limit unionizing activity and help ensure a steady supply of lumber. These efforts were bolstered by the creation of the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, an organization conceived of by Colonel Brice P. Disque, the Spruce Division's commanding officer. The Loyal Legion was not a union—it was an alliance between loggers and employers designed to combat the pressure to unionize, and was particularly aimed at limiting the influence of the Industrial Workers of the World. The U.W.'s Digital Collections provide access to photographs and documents relating to the creation and activities of the Spruce Production Division, as well as documents describing the creation and activities of the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen.

The largest and most formal of the attempts to unify Seattle’s business interests was an organization called the Associated Industries of Seattle. Founded immediately after the General Strike in 1919, the Associated Industries was the first group to advocate for the "open shop" – an approach they called the "American Plan" – and became the model for similar organizations nationwide. The U.W.'s digital collections include speeches, articles and correspondence written from the perspective of the Associated Industries, giving their impressions concerning events in Seattle and the true intentions of the labor movement.

In order to be successful in preventing organized labor from achieving their goals, some local businessmen chose to employ spies to infiltrate labor organizations, particularly the Central Labor Council of Seattle. The U.W.'s digital collections present a large selection of labor spy reports from inside the Seattle labor movement in 1919 and 1920, primarily from two spies (Agents #17 and #106) employed by Broussais Beck, the manager of the Bon Marche, a downtown department store. Beck's spies were successful in winning the confidence of many prominent labor leaders – Agent #17, in fact, was chosen to assist in the auditing of a labor union's financial records – and their reports provide an outsider's perspective on the personalities and conflicts at the heart of organized labor’s work in Seattle.

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