Given today's rapid pace and instant media hyperbole that has a half life of perhaps 2 hours on a good day, it is not always easy to put in perspective what came before. And there is so much to learn from our history. I recently ran across a paper written by Laurence Taylor in 1989 while he was at Western Washington University. The title of his paper "Timber Beasts, Shingle Weavers and Capitalist Pigs" really caught my attention - capturing in so many ways the complex dynamics and socio-economic pressures that existed in the early 1900's. I grew up during the Viet Nam and cold war era (and by the way, we had really good music during the 60's) but the societal pressures that we faced then don't do justice to what came before. The 60's were a time of radicalism. The early 1900's were a time of more serious revolution.
Some of the posters back then were pretty fun - including Communist Rosie.
Talk about a child care controversy. How about Angry Babies for Change?
Even the kids were being organized.
On a more serious note, I just finished reading a trilogy of books about the history of Russia written by Robert K. Massie, including Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Nicholas and Alexandra - the last of the Tsars. Great reads. But what I learn from this history, despite the obvious geographic and other differences, is how strong the "revolutionary fervor" was in the early 1900's, not just in Russia and France, but here in the U.S. and the Pacific Northwest as well.
The International Workers of the World, or IWW, were at the forefront of this national movement. Here in the northwest, the Shingle Weavers led the charge with initial organizing efforts dating back to 1890 when the shingle weavers of the Puget Sound area of Western Washington banded together to establish the West Coast Shingle Weavers’ Union. Logging was tough and dangerous work and so was mining, but the Shingle Weavers faced great danger too (lots of fingers and hands lost). And since they could also dramatically outproduce their less skilled "scabs", they often had significantly more negotiating leverage than did miners and loggers. Perhaps the first of the skilled "craft" unions here.
Initial organizing efforts were short lived, however. A paralizing strike in 1893 during a sharp economic downturn doomed them. In 1901, a new organizing effort proved more successful with the formation of the International Shingle Weavers of America. In 1915, a wage cut for shingle weavers in the mills of Everett led to a strike the following year instigated by the more radical IWW. On November 5, 1916, events culminated in a pitched gun battle known as the "Everett Massacre" in which 5 strikers and 2 so-called "citizen deputies" were killed and approximately 45 others wounded.
The irony here was that the Shingle Weavers had agreed to a temporary pay cut with timber companies given difficult economic times but the IWW brought in outsiders to agitate, taking a hard line. The timber companies then hired and "deputized" locals to fight them and the whole scene spun out of control. Kind of reminds me of how our community now finds outsiders trying to "help us" manage our issues - but I won't go there for now. Let's stick with history and the lessons learned.
Of all the labels used during the past century, the pig endures as a perjorative of highest order even today. Poor pigs - don't get no respect.