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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in Spokane: Wobbly organizer accuses lumber bosses of fixing books to prevent wage increases

Labor firebrand Elizabeth Gurley Flynn delivered a speech to a crowd of 1,000 people at Spokane’s Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) hall, The Spokesman-Review reported on April 16, 2017. (Spokesman-Review archvies)
Labor firebrand Elizabeth Gurley Flynn delivered a speech to a crowd of 1,000 people at Spokane’s Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) hall, The Spokesman-Review reported on April 16, 2017. (Spokesman-Review archvies)

Labor firebrand Elizabeth Gurley Flynn delivered her second speech in two days, this one to a crowd of 1,000 people at Spokane’s Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) hall.

Her talent for sardonic humor was much in evidence, especially when she described the hypocrisy of employers who refuse to let their workers organize, but who create their own “union” of employers to collude on wages.

“When the business man organizes his employers’ union, he doesn’t ask the other employer his religion or anything like that,” Flynn said. “He takes him off to one side and asks: ‘Do you believe in this $5 a day wage?’ ‘Oh, my, no. If the men get that much, they’ll drink and we won’t get any work out of them.’ ‘Do you believe in the eight-hour day?’ ‘Oh, no. If they only work eight hours, they’ll get lazy.’ ‘Do you believe in organized labor?’ ‘I should say not. I deal with my men individually.’ ‘Well, you’re all right. Come right into our organization for our mutual benefit.’”

Flynn and the Wobblies were working on a massive union organizing effort in the region’s lumber camps in the spring. She explained why organization was necessary.

“Suppose the men go into the boss individually and ask for a raise,” she said,. “They tried it with one boss in the woods here. The boss brings out his books, fixed for the occasion. ‘Really, boys, I’m not making any profit,’ the boss says. ‘You can see by the books here. I’m just keeping this plant going for your sake.’ And the poor boob goes out, glad he didn’t lose his job.”

She said, in a voice “dripping with sarcasm,” that bosses opposed unions because they were “afraid you’ll be forced into getting higher wages and better houses to live in.”

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