100 Year Anniversary of Class Conflict This Year

Bonnie Johnson - Wednesday, June 08, 2016
“Our city is built upon the heads of corporations, by them conceived and rocked in the cradle of their nursery… their interests and that of the humblest citizen cannot be identical.” – Mayor of Everett Jacob Hunsaker, 1894

On November 5th of 2016, the city of Everett will come upon our dubious distinction of noting the 100th Anniversary since the class tensions in our early history culminated in conflict. The historical accounting of the event, known as the Bloody Sunday but more commonly as the Everett Massacre, vary widely. What we know for sure is, Free Speech and Free Assembly were denied to the working class, passions turned to unrest, and against the backdrop of smoke stacks and the pristine jut of the Cascades, each week ratcheted tensions higher and tighter. An aspect that makes the situation remarkably more unique than the classic tale of suppression of rights (American rights or workers) is that, Everett was a planned city. We’re not a traditional pioneer city; we were meant to be a workplace, bought and backed by many East Coast investors, including Rockefeller. Because of this, the associations and interests that ruled the town held a singular point of advantage above the mill workers, loggers and shingle weavers.

Wage reduction and work conditions remain some of the items set in stone that historians can cite as causation for the shoot out on that fateful day. After a workers strike in 1915, an agreement was struck between workers and employers which contained the promise that, should the price for shingles be raised, the earnings of the workers would be brought to scale, or at least to the pre-1914 figure, as 1914 brought a depression of the local economy along with it. The tensions didn’t overflow at the betrayal of this gentleman’s agreement, but the burgeoning presence of the Wobblies, formally known as the Industrial Workers of the World Union, stepped up their efforts. The Wobblies were known for being the rogues of the workers Union movement, even in Everett, which was among the most Unionized in the country at that time. Some say they were reckless, daring and extreme in their pursuit of goals for labor workers.

In the spring of 1916, delegates representing the Shingle Weavers Union demanded that throughout their jurisdiction, the raise should be brought into action and eight hour days and shorter work weeks be implemented. Some mills not only failed to do so, but they brought in “scabs” and used their influence as business owners to “thin” the picket lines through local law enforcement, to apply false imprisonment, deportation, or illegal detention until only 18 men stood on the picket. Those men were summarily searched, found unarmed, and beaten.

After multiple attempts to exercise Free Assembly and Free Speech left the workers rousted, beaten or imprisoned (or all three), on November 5th of 1916, approximately 300 Union members met in Seattle and boarded the steamers Verona and Calista. They were exercising what would have been a free Right to Organize at the corner of Hewitt and Wetmore, which was a popular place at that time for rallies and special interest groups to meet.

Upon arrival at the dock in Everett, the local Sherriff Donald McRae met them along with 200 deputized citizens, drew his gun and demanded that they leave the shores of Everett. After a very brief verbal exchange, a single shot was fired, the side of which it came from is still a mystery to this day. After a reported ten minutes of gunfire, where the Verona nearly capsized as her riders sought shelter on her one protected side, there were five known dead, six unaccounted for and presumably lost to the Sound, and 32 wounded. The subsequent trial absolved the Wobblies leader, Thomas Tracy, of any wrongdoing, and charges were dropped against the 74 Wobblies arrested.

For those interested, a plaque stands at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Seattle, in remembrance of the confirmed deaths of the Wobblies who died in the conflict.