Labor Archives of Washington


The I.W.W. in the Pacific Northwest

Silent Agitator
Silent agitator issued by Industrial Workers of the World.

The Industrial Workers of the World is an international union that was founded in Chicago in 1905, and reached its height of influence in the United States in the 1910s and 1920s. Above all, the I.W.W. was devoted to the principle of "One Big Union"; the idea that all workers should be united in a single organization in order to place maximum pressure on their employers. While the I.W.W. was successful in recruiting in many places throughout the country, its influence was most widespread in the Pacific Northwest, as can be seen in the Digital Collections material spotlighted below:

Tensions surrounding the Shingle Weavers' Union strike in Everett, Washington became heightened in the summer of 1916 when organizers from the I.W.W. arrived in the town to support the strikers and demand free speech. The opposition to the I.W.W. became increasingly violent, ultimately boiling over in a deadly episode on November 5, 1916, known as the Everett Massacre, in which five I.W.W. members and two sheriff's deputies were killed. The U.W.'s collection, The Everett Massacre of 1916, displays news clippings, printed ephemera, handwritten documents, and photographs connected with the Everett Massacre and the resulting arrests and murder trial for the 74 I.W.W. members charged in connection with the event.

Some citizens of Centralia, Washington assaulted I.W.W. members (often called "Wobblies") and destroyed their meeting hall in 1918, setting the stage for a new confrontation in 1919 when the new I.W.W. hall was completed. During a parade on Armistice Day, November 11, 1919, members of the American Legion attacked the new hall, which the I.W.W. members defended. At the end of what became known as the Centralia Tragedy, four Legionnaires were dead, one man had been lynched, and ten Wobblies were on trial for murder. The U.W.'s collection, The Centralia Tragedy Collection, displays news clippings, printed reports and ephemera, and photographs connected with the Centralia Tragedy, particularly the attempts by the I.W.W. to defend itself against the charge of violence by explaining the history of anti-I.W.W. violence in Centralia and by clarifying facts about the event that had been distorted by media nationwide. Another collection, the Pacific Northwest Historical Documents Database, also contains documents relating to the Centralia Tragedy, primarily the reports of labor spies about the impact of the events in Centralia on the labor movement in Seattle.

The Industrial Workers of the World played a prominent role in other, less violent labor disputes throughout the region, and therefore many documents referencing the I.W.W. appear in the U.W.'s collection, the Pacific Northwest Historical Documents Database. Some of these documents are I.W.W. local charters, as well as letters and manuscripts written from a viewpoint sympathetic to the I.W.W., by individuals involved in organized labor in Washington. In addition, our digital collection contains dozens of photographs, from the entire IWW Photograh Collection. More frequently, however, these are documents from the papers of individuals and organizations opposed to the I.W.W.: the reports of labor spies employed by the Bon Marche's store manager, Broussais Beck, and the materials they gathered as evidence, along with the private and public statements of other men allied against the Wobblies.

More information can be found in the U.W. Libraries' subject guide "Industrial Workers of the World Photograph Collection" which is an interpretive exhibit that examines the collections' historical and cultural context.

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